"I think they've changed". Such were the touching and heartfelt words of Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister when referring to the Labour party in a recent interview on BBC Radio 4. "...changed" Funny that, Nick.
See, the change that has occurred since 2010 has proved beneficial for Labour; Ed Miliband is not the bumbling Wallace figure that the Tories would like to have us believe, indeed he is quite the formidable opponent. In the last three years we have seen a Coalition government continue to fail its people with half-measures and stinging austerity, including measures such as the Bedroom Tax, which Nick Clegg and co., have meekly let slip by raising little defence. The Conservatives have showed their true blue colours, apparently unfazed by the bitterness of their companion's lemony pill.
But what of these companions, the Lib Dems, and more importantly perhaps, what of their leader Nick Clegg? Are they and he anything more than the Tories' rather peevish lapdog? Much of the electorate doesn't quite know what to make of the party. A lot of people are upset, and quite rightly so, at what they see as the betrayal and back-peddling of a party who promised much and have delivered little. Tired of the false smiles and yellow ties, voters are focusing more on the broken promises and yellow bellies of the Coalition's lesser half. Amongst those most disillusioned with the party are students, a group whose rights and views they once professed to champion. Along with presiding over the scrapping of EMA, after which there was an increase of those in 16+ education and training dropping out, they decided to add their two cents to the tuition fees debate. Yet, instead of scrapping tuition fees, the Liberal Democrats' earliest test of nerve met in failure. The result? Instead of defending students, they hiked the fees up from the little over £3,000 limit to a whacking great £9,000. No half measures eh, Nick? For the thousands of students and demonstrators who protested in 2010, the many tens, if not hundreds of thousands more since affected and the 54 arrested at the protests, such patent treachery was not taken lightly. For who doesn't recall the 57 MPs signing of a NUS organised pledge to prevent any rise in fees? Who doesn't remember that it was one of the key appeals to students made by the party in their election campaign and their explicit statement in their manifesto? For those betrayed it was no easy treason to swallow, least of all forget.
In the 2013 local elections, the Liberal Democrats suffered a crushing blow to their local representation, losing 124 council seats overnight. This left the party with their lowest share of local power in their history. Whilst the Conservatives lost a fair share too, it was the Liberal Democrats who saw a greater portion of their few fingered grip on the staff of power loosened by the ballot box. So where has this left them? Since their loss of local influence, the Liberal Democrats have been gearing up for the next election, distancing themselves from their coalition partners. In that Radio 4 interview mentioned earlier, Nick Clegg spoke of how the Tories have returned to their "familiar theme tunes" and a need for the Conservatives to return to talking more about mainstream policies. So, is Nick still keen to hold onto his kingmaker position? Is the role of coalition partner the only power play the Liberal Democrats can hope for in the future? Given that they have been running lower in the opinion polls than the now emergent UKIP (itself a very scary thought) for quite some time now, and their poor results in recent by-elections, the scramble for a positive image has seemingly become ever more desperate. Yet insider reports from Westminster show that the Lib Dems have been in fact back-channeling with Labour for some time.
Did Nick Clegg make the wrong decision in 2010? After the indecisive not-quite-victory for the Conservatives, power was finally handed to the oft-scoffed at third party. It is fairly accepted that the United Kingdom did not want to see another Labour government under Gordon Brown, who became the scapegoat for Labour's apparent failures and the financial crisis. Moreover, the sheer maths would have made holding a majority cross-party whip in a Lib/Lab coalition pretty difficult. Maybe Nick could have rung Gordon to say he wanted to work with a different Labour leader, but he didn't, instead choosing to try and temper David Cameron. And look how that's worked out: In the last three, nearly four years, the Liberal Democrats have either failed to help guide the helm, or simply had their advice ignored on many key issues. Trident is looking to be renewed, students have had their loans increased and now seen their book will be flogged at a slashed price, as was the Royal Mail; cuts to welfare have hit many millions of Britons; the bedroom tax made it through and has been a complete mess; corporate tax-loopholes still haven't been closed; not a single MP from the party who claim to defend civil liberties voted against the lobbying bill that gags charities and campaigns; and now the Scots want out.
So, can they redeem themselves? Nigel Farage recently agreed to debate Nick Clegg on the UK and the EU, which could prove decisive. I am partly torn on this, because I'd quite like rid of Clegg, who seems but a carbon copy of the post 1997 letterbox smile style politician we've suffered with for so long. Conversely, I'd really like to see Farage and his ilk's face muddied and come undone with facts and figures that show his euro-scepticism as nothing more than the sensationalist, smartly dressed xenophobic nonsense that it is. In the time when public levels of trust in politicians are at an all time low, the man who turned his back on a large part of his core base will probably find it tricky to find much enthusiastic support behind him. Once seen as a possible alternative to the Red and Blue corners, Yellow haven't shown much mettle and the man steering the ship hasn't done a particularly good job of promoting public confidence. Maybe a hammering 2015 defeat will see a shake-up that the Lib Dems need, or maybe he'll turn it around, but for now I doubt it.
With a seven point lead in the polls, Labour are in a strong position and could still come out on top with a parliamentary majority in 2015. There is however, a likelihood for the second time that they might need a coalition partner to strengthen their government and the Liberal Democrats are both the most likely and viable candidates - I struggle to imagine what a Labour-Ukip pact could possibly look like - but I think it would be ill-advised of Ed Miliband to shake hands with the man who demonstrated he had no issue with changing his mind and betraying not only his manifesto, but his politics to stay in power. Compromise is one thing, treachery another.