Saturday, 7 May 2011

What Next for the Lib Dems?

As the election results rolled in yesterday, the next battle started - to spin the results. Michael Gove, on the BBC's Election 2011 program, tried to spin the results as a disaster for Labour and did a fairly convincing job. He managed to pull talk away from the Lib Dem failure and towards the supposed Labour failure.

But of course the reality is that the results for Labour were not bad considering the position that they are in - i.e a year after the end of a long period in government and before any real policy development has taken place. Considering how weak their leader looks I think frankly they did fairly well.

In Wales their vote advanced. In England they gained around 800 councillors and 26 councils (mainly at the expense of the LibDems who lost nearly 700 councillors) and in Scotland, the news behind the headlines was that the Labour vote was roughly the same as four years ago. The SNP won their votes from the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.

It was the Liberal Democrats that have had a set of shocking results. The lost everywhere - heavily.

Back in May, the Liberal Democrats negotiated a coalition agreement and put everything into gaining agreement for a referendum on the voting system - and then lost it. Disaster.

The Liberal Democrats had become absolutely obsessed with the idea that our voting system was a wrong that simply had to be righted at all costs.Then, failing to win agreement for a referendum on PR (which they would also have lost - who would have voted for the nonsensical system we use to vote for MEPs?), they convinced themselves that a move to AV would be a major step in the right direction.

Absolute nonsense.

The Lib Dems deluded themselves even further when they then crowed that they had out-negotiated  the Conservatives in May and had won massive concessions. They didn't. They gave away the opportunity to keep some of their vote retaining election promises on a gamble that they could convince the electorate to change to another voting system.

Then. They failed completely to put together a convincing argument - the Yes campaign had all the advantages but simply didn't make it happen. The results weren't even marginal. They lost spectacularly.

So where do they go from here?

A year ago the Lib Dem Party was looking like a good home for disaffected Labour members embarrassed by the appalling failure (again!) of Labour's economic policy and record.

Today, the Labour Party looks like a good home for disaffected Liberal Democrats.. And to an extent this is inevitable.

But. If Clegg shows some mettle then all is not lost. The Lib Dems need to get the wastage out of the way as quickly as possible and then be united, credible and effective. Otherwise the coalition may not last and the Lib Dems may crumble to nothing.

Chris Huhne was a credible Liberal Democrat some time ago, but now he just looks like the nasty boy. Likewise Saint Vince has reincarnated into a bumbling then angry nasty boy too.

If Clegg got rid of them and replaced them with David Laws and some one else with some credibility (another Danny Alexander type) then the Lib Dems would start to look credible again. Clegg would look decisive and leaderlike and the biggest electoral embarrassments would be consigned to their rightful places on the back benches.

The argument for not doing so would be that they might be a threat from the back-benches. Which, in this scenario, is an argument for doing it - because it would show bravery.

All the pictures of Clegg over the last few weeks have showed a weak, simpering misery on the edge of despair. If he can pull this round and demonstrate leadership then he can re-emerge.

If not, he might as well resign now.


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