A couple of weeks ago Nick Clegg, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats was interviewed by Andrew Neil. It seems he is still unaware of why his party was trounced, why they lost 50 odd seats in the space of one parliament and why his rose tinted and extraordinary account of their time in government wasn’t fully appreciated by the electorate.
Whilst they are now little more than their former selves, the repository of those votes that give their benefactor a warm but indefinable feeling, they haven’t learned and still pretend that their catastrophic failure was so unfair and unwarranted whereas it is far more likely that they were rumbled many years ago as being quite a different kettle of fish.
My own personal view which, despite it being that will be shared by others, can explain their electoral castration far more comprehensively than the consistently unrealistic bleating as displayed by the recently interviewed Mr. Clegg. He may, by now, actually believe the oft repeated rhetoric of how they did this for the country when the reality and the explanation is quite the opposite. My analysis is from a behavioural perspective embodying human nature and human motivation. Self interest is a prime and fundamental driver and should never be overlooked.
Firstly the Liberal Democrats, formerly the Liberal party have always been a party of protest, always espousing high and imprecise ideals but never with any concrete proposals (except those that were wrong, joining the Euro for example) or with the slightest hope of having to actually enact any of their ideas including the bonkers and not so bonkers ones. They were seen as a safe and impotent place to drop off a vote if you didn’t like any of the other options and wanted to feel good about yourself at dinner parties.
Then came an opportunity that could quite easily be described as a once in a lifetime chance. They had an opportunity to influence government and it was right to seek to achieve that which they could never otherwise expect to do. But, how should they go about it?
There were three options:
- A version of supply and confidence
- A bill by bill arrangement
- A full blown coalition.
Supply and confidence or some less stringent arrangement would have had the benefit of allowing the Liberal Democrats to maintain a separate position and adhere to that which they had promised their voters. In particular their opposition to tuition fees played very well indeed before the election and bearing in mind that they went as far as signing pledges to oppose them one might have thought that this was too important to allow it to be swallowed up by the messy compromises of coalition. Such space could have been maintained by a supply and confidence arrangement and would have allowed them to retain a position of integrity on tuition fees by, perhaps, abstaining instead of opposing.
However, the path of integrity (supply and confidence) doesn’t bring all those lovely important and well paid jobs with it whereas coalition, well, that’s an entirely different matter. Deputy Prime Minister sounds really important. A position with little substance but where the media hang upon every word, your opinion is sought by all and you are indeed a very important chap. One might have thought that the unremarkable Prescott, a previous eunuch in this position would have been a deterrent in that one might wish to avoid comparisons with the oaf but, if the price is right?
It then becomes a simple task to get others on-board who would also be showered in golden ministerial appointments for at least five years. Just pretend that we’re doing it for the country and nobody will notice.
Choosing personal advantage over promises made when such an attractive offer wasn’t available is simply human nature. It takes a great deal of personal integrity to turn down political power and all that’s needed to justify acceptance is a clutch of suitable words to try and make betrayal seem an ok thing to do. There really aren’t many with the strength of character to ignore such huge bribes.
The first step in the annihilation of the Liberal Democrats was their decision to put their personal political desires above all else and try and portray that as something it really wasn’t. It’s wrong and has proven to be devastating for the party but, even so, it’s simply what most of us would do in the same circumstances. Power is very compelling and transient so snatching the opportunity when it arises is important. Despite the Liberal Democrats protestations to the contrary this agreement to go into coalition was first and foremost one driven by personal ambition. The lesser but honest path would have been Supply and Confidence. Had they done that, a major self-inflicted wound could have been avoided.
Even, perhaps in coalition and despite the personal reasoning for taking that route a red line could have been drawn. After all Mr Cameron was desperate for a five year parliament with him as prime minister so what red line would it be?
As it turned out is was a referendum on AV. A form of proportional representation which, like all other forms of PR was fundamentally flawed in so many ways. Even Mr Clegg unwisely referred to it as a ‘miserable little compromise’, but it sent out an entirely different message altogether to the populace.
Having already decided that their political ambitions were the first priority they then set about reminding everyone that their second highest priority was their own party advantage. PR, of whatever formation, was clearly a way to simply get the Liberal Democrats more seats. Students, we should remember, feature much lower down on this list of priorities because they are no longer important as their votes have already been cast. For most of us onlookers the dismantling of the Liberal Democrats and whatever ideals they held dear was set the day they betrayed their core support.
What made it worse was that Mr Clegg didn’t want AV but something that would advantage his party even more but was prepared to sanction and support it. These are the acts of a politically naive operator, or one who doesn’t care too much about the aftermath, despite his smooth TV persona. The AV referendum result was as much a vote against the Liberal Democrats as it was against the system itself. The British people probably didn’t like the blatant self interest behind the push for the referendum.
Thirdly and even though a re-drawing of constituency boundaries was a part of the Liberal Democrat manifesto they managed to oppose it simply out of spite. What can one make of a political party that opposes its own manifesto items due to umbrage? Do we not expect our leaders to act with a little more rationality? Anyway, another message was clearly transmitted to the British people that the Liberal Democrats aren’t to be trusted at constituency level or at governmental level. Not only will they betray their voters but themselves also it seems.
So, the four reasons why the Liberal Democrats are no more are:
- They put their own jobs first
- They put the party second
- They showed they couldn’t be trusted at any level
- They put their voters very firmly at the bottom of the pile.
Where they put the needs of the country, the right thing to do and all that stuff, well, it’s probably mixed up with 1 and 2. It’s simply not possible to go a whole five year parliament and not make the right decisions sometimes. I’m sure that there were honest desires to do what was best but only after the nest had been fully feathered but that, of course is rather the point.
There may be people who disagree with this analysis but it does cast aside the wringing of hands and the sentiments of’ where did it all go wrong’ and explain exactly why their vote collapsed. The extraordinary absence of quality in the recent and rather irrelevant leadership contest will do little to resurrect a party whose time has come and very probably gone.
Never underestimate human nature and the power of inducement. Its web has encased many over time and will continue to do so. Fine words attempting to re-write the reality just make matters worse
The moral, of course, is to remain true to ones supporters and ones principles. The only party driven by these fundamental characteristics is UKIP and we must ensure that remains so.