It must be hard being in the Liberal Democrats. Yes, I said it. I went there. But before you assume that I've donned a yellow tie, let me assure you that my favourite way of describing them is as not so much a political party, but more a terrible surprise party. A party where the hosts have thought hard about everything you want for your birthday and perhaps even heavily hint at giving you, before you arrive on the day only to find they've made a cake full of everything you have allergies for and invited everyone you hate. This is perhaps a bad analogy because as time has passed, it appears more that they are a party where the hosts have invited everyone but the invitees have realised there are far better places to be, and the four people that attend really wish they were more popular and could be somewhere else. They all then spend the evening sitting around as no one can decide what's the best course of action and consequently fail to do anything.
But it must be difficult. After years and years of being a party whose purpose seemed not all to be viable electorally, but instead just to provide enough alcoholism and sexual deviance to parliament, to suddenly being part of the big, scary House of Commons and have a teeny, tiny minute say on the ways of the country, its got to be intimidating to an extent. After a strong campaign then disappointing result in the 2010 vote the Lib Dems have now been in office for nearly two years. In that time Clegg has desperately tried to get the balance right between not upsetting his Coalition partners, loving that comfortable feeling of being situated right under their right wing thumb, and the needs of the public, who for a while, he pretended he was going to care about. Instead he turned away just about all of his new voters, the ones who believed there was maybe a third way beyond that of the Tory right wing and the Labour, er, right wing. The students hated him for his defiance against his own promise against tuition fees, in a move that could have made him a prime candidate to become a Butlins Turncoat. Then there were all those who originally supported the LD's views on Europe until the day Cameron severed all relations with the EU with a big pair of Euroskeptik scissors, while Clegg was somewhere under some stairs crying, probably. As a result, their yellow has just become assimilated in the eyes of the people into the blue of the Conservatives. A blue so strong that not even the slightest bit of green has appeared, at least not in terms of their original environmental policies.
This week alone, the Liberal Democrats have gone from saying they can't ask the Conservatives to drop the NHS bill, saying that that would be a 'Labour win' which they couldn't possibly let happen. So instead of voting for an outdid bid for a motion to get rid of the reform entirely at the Spring conference, the majority back Baroness Shirley Williams' rather insubstantial changes and general support to the bill to be put forward instead. This would have very much been putting icing on a particularly nasty turd. But then today the Lib Dems have gone against all of that, voting earlier today (this blog was written on Sunday, FYI and that) to reject a call to tell peers to back the bill. Within 24 hours they have appeared in support of keeping the bill, and then decided they won't encourage peers to back it, yet not at any point helping to Drop The Bill entirely, leaving the whole debacle feeling like a half arsed waste of time and in no way any help towards gaining them any support. If anything, it makes it seem that they are a party who are working using a similar plan to one I had when I worked in an office. I made an important choice to offer to make colleagues a cup of tea, early on in said job. I would then make a particular crap cup of tea - weak tea, too much milk, not enough sugar etc - only to then be never asked again and spend my days being mostly ignored and surfing online. It seems a bit like the Lib Dems don't want to have any power in office and if they continue to be such a vanilla presence then they can go back to farting about with no real dreams of responsibility. Patrick Wintour, political Editor of the Guardian wonderfully summed it up on Twitter by saying 'only LDs could have three days of debate about whether to have a debate, have the debate,vote and then have a debate about what they debated.'
Clegg's speech today was filled with rhetoric, making promises to the young people he's so far let down on education and with backing of the 'make slavery legal' program. Sorry, I mean Workfare. There was the further banging on about Tycoon Tax, an initiative that doesn't really appear to be anything when you align it with government proposals to already tackle tax dodging and tax loopholes. I can only hope he keeps going on about it on Twitter and has a Milliband like spelling error leading to racist accusations. The Tycoon Tax was part of his further speech about unemployed families 'struggling to make ends meet' without ever really saying how he'd save this. Finally, after 20 long minutes of many words but no real substance, he said he was proud of the Coalition, because it has proved 'two very different parties can work together.' Yes, if you refer to one calling all the shots while the other gets so confused and indecisive that they can't muster up any courage to challenge it 'working together' then yes they can. It feels like an oppressive relationship where one meek partner never says what they want to do so the other gets what they want everytime. A political Hedda Gabler. Only it appears Clegg is far more likely to keep shooting himself in the foot rather than the head.
Clegg ended with this:
"The other parties are bound and gagged by vested interests. We are not. The other parties are hemmed into certain parts of the country. Look at the electoral map: blue seats in the south, red ones in the north. Look at where the money comes from: trade unions on one side, City financiers on the other. That is why we can say today: the Liberal Democrats are the only true one nation party."
No Nick. It means you are nowhere in the nation. If you can't be found in the South or North, then it appears you are scattered so scarcely that no one can see you. Stop making shit tea and you might become a worthy presence again. Until then, the country will keep looking for some actual decisive liberal democracy elsewhere.