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November 17, 2013 / ultrafox1963

Does demise of LibDems really herald broken politics?

Is this bird resting - or has it ceased to be?

Is this bird resting – or is it a parrot that has ceased to be?

Modern writers are sometimes accused of over-indulgence in social media to the detriment of more productive activity. However, every so often an online article appears, that stimulates sufficiently to provoke some fiery scritti politti.

The article by acclaimed blogger Mark Thompson, explaining his decision to resign from the Liberal Democrats, is one such example. Like thousands of other members of that party, he has been left deeply disillusioned by his party’s behaviour during its first period of national political office since the end of World War 2.

Thompson deserves credit for having the honesty to admit that his erstwhile party’s role in coalition with the Tories has been less than honourable. Many Lib Dem members of the House of Commons owe their status to the principled positions their party took in opposition to Labour on student tuition fees, military intervention in the Middle East and state encroachment on personal privacy.

So the decision by Nick Clegg to reverse his often publicly-proclaimed stance on all three of these key issues, for the sake of political expediency was always likely to provoke a severe emotional and electoral backlash.

This effect has been exacerbated by the adoption by the government in which he is Deputy Prime Minister of many economic and social policies which even Margaret Thatcher would have disdained.

Could he have played a stronger hand in negotiation with his coalition partners? Or were his private instincts always more akin to those of the party with whom he had a youthful flirtation during his days at Cambridge University?

Thompson avoids asking, let alone considering, these basic questions. Instead he bemoans the “tribal” nature of parliamentary politics, especially during the pantomime that too often passes for Prime Minister’s Questions. But the LibDems are by no means as detached from such antics as he would wish us to believe.

Indeed, Clegg and many of his senior colleagues have often been observed to be active and willing participants in them, much to the distress of many of their constituents who considered them an alternative to the Tories instead of shamefully submissive partners.

In addition, it is significant that none of the party’s numerous surviving former leaders have sought to distance themselves from Clegg’s actions in government. The likes of Lords Ashdown and Steel possessed leadership skills considerably in excess of those in evidence from the current incumbent.

Yet they have chosen to place party loyalties above the interests of the country and while they are obviously from alone in this, once again their party is indulging in the same base politics they have vociferously condemned when practised by their mainstream counterparts.

The stage of the 2010 general election campaign, when Clegg was briefly perceived by the public as the most trusted politician in Britain, now seems light years away.

The 2015 election is likely to see LibDem numbers severely depleted, with little representation outside their enclaves in parts of Scotland and the West Country. The destination of those voters who abandon them will be a crucial factor in the outcome of that election.

While evidence to date indicates that many will switch to Labour, other elements may turn to the Greens or even UKIP. A few may follow the path of despair recently promoted by Russell Brand and opt out of electoral politics altogether.

Although they are far from a homogenous group, Ed Miliband and others would be well advised to heed their concerns in order to build the base of support that will suffice to take Labour back into Downing Street.

Thompson concludes by forecasting that activists may choose to focus their energies and efforts into pressure groups rather than join political parties. He cites the success of groups like Change and 38 Degrees in using modern technology to mobilise and utilise mass campaigns, as well as occasionally setting the agenda for the mainstream media to consider.

However the overall impact of such groups, while generally progressive in character, should not be overstated. Recent developments both in the UK and elsewhere have illustrated that the powers of the state remain substantial and that the current government appears just as determined as its predecessors to retain them. Access to the corridors of elected office, at both national and local level, will therefore remain a prized goal.

Ongoing struggles may take various forms – in Parliament, council chambers, workplaces, businesses, and occasionally in protests on the streets. But the fundamental tensions remain, universally, the same as those identified by Karl Marx in the 19th century – a conflict between the forces of labour (small and large l), and the forces of capital.

Ultimately, there can be no middle ground, which is why parties like the Liberal Democrats, and their German counterparts, are always liable to wither away as their irrelevance becomes obvious to a wider world.

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