Lib Dems – and now the hangover ………

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Having managed to secure an historic entry into the government of the UK, the Lib Dems are now struggling to appreciate the opportunity handed to them despite a less than sparkling endorsement from the electorate. Both Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown are now acting like the parents of a debutante whose virtue was lost too cheaply following the Ball. Commentators are saying that Lib Dem members are uneasy about their role in a Conservative coalition. This week’s special conference could see more whinging from the rank-and-file reportedly nervous that they could be swallowed up by Tory dominance. The evident discomfort of Vince Cable trying to respond to Cameron’s compliments in introducing him as the new Business Secretary is perhaps the most visible example of Lib Dems coming to terms with a new political reality.

How dumb are these people ? This represents a unique opportunity for the Lib Dems to eclipse Labour, despite the batting order of party power indicated by the recent election. The Labour Party is in the throes of electing new leaders, and with candidates like Ed Balls and the Milliband Bros will end up with a complete non-entity in charge; powerless in the face of a resurgent union powerbase. The Lib Dems by contrast need to focus their energies on maintaining their identity within a governing coalition and taking every opportunity to demonstrate their contribution to the electorate. They need a Campbell-figure who can take advantage of the Party’s role to reinvent Liberalism in the eyes of the public. A possibility exists – however slim – to consign Labour to the role of 3rd party in UK politics IF the Lib Dems have the wit to grab it. Time is short and all the signs are they will waste this chance with an extended bout of hand-wringing and petulance which will leave the Tories to demonstrate their leadership. Policy failures could be laid at the LibDem door if they are not careful.

Old hands like Ashdown and Kennedy (reported laughingly as representing the “radical” wing of the Liberal-Democrats – surely a contradiction in terms ?) need to contribute their political experience to the benefit of their party, or keep quiet. All Liberal-Democrats need to recognise the possibility open to them from this entry into government and use it to transform their party in the eyes of the public. Have they the depth and collective intelligence needed to grasp it ? Perhaps they are just too nice ……. but dim.

1 Comment

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