LibLink: Stephen Tall – “The Lib Dems are still suffering the hangover from hell”

Over at Total Politics magazine, Stephen Tall’s ‘The Underdog’ column focuses on the Lib Dem conference and how the party has been suffering the hangover from hell ever since the Coalition was formed:

My party is still suffering the hangover-from-hell that we woke up to on the morning of 7 May 2010. Until then, we’d been able to maintain the pretence, at least for our own benefit, that we would form a majority government and introduce our manifesto wholesale. And if that didn’t happen in one bound, we’d wangle it so that electoral reform guaranteed us our fair share of MPs the election after. The dousing of Cleggmania, followed by the crushing AV referendum defeat, was a double whammy. Our bright hope of changing the face of British politics has given way to the grim reality that 2015 will be what party president Tim Farron has termed a “survival election”. …

As the interminable hangover lingers, Lib Dems are getting grumpier with each other. Clegg accuses activists of “hankering for the comfort blanket of national opposition” – a pretty ungracious response to a party that has stuck by him and the coalition even as hundreds of our councillors are scythed away at successive local elections through no fault of their own. Yet Clegg and his team feel they get scant credit from activists for constantly battling to thwart Tory efforts to sneak through illiberal measures on civil liberties and immigration, within a coalition in which they’re out-numbered five to one.

In truth, both leadership and activists are coming to terms with having less power in government than they’d like. That feeling of impotence is turning into a destructive passive-aggressiveness directed at each other. It’s been on simmer for months, but we’re likely to see it bubbling over when the party meets in Glasgow this month.

You can read Stephen’s article in full here.

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2 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Sep '13 - 11:35pm

    Stephen Tall

    My party is still suffering the hangover-from-hell that we woke up to on the morning of 7 May 2010. Until then, we’d been able to maintain the pretence, at least for our own benefit, that we would form a majority government and introduce our manifesto wholesale. And if that didn’t happen in one bound, we’d wangle it so that electoral reform guaranteed us our fair share of MPs the election after

    No, I don’t think so. Anyone who thought this way was a fool. Anyone who has been involved in a tricky balance of power situation in local government – and that includes a good many Liberal Democrats – would have known very well what the coalition would have brought us – the major party that ended in opposition (particularly if it was Labour) would give up any sort of policy making and concentrate all its efforts on throwing abuse at us in the hope it would destroy us and they’d win all our votes without having to do any thinking, the major party we were in coalition with would make absolutely we sure we’d get all the blame for the more difficult aspects of government and none of the credit for what went right, and our own leaders would get so sucked into minor aspects of policy making, sucked into it by the officers, that they’d forget who put them there and why.

    I remember waiting as the last votes came in on the day after the election, realising the balance meant we would be forced into a coalition with the Tories, and feeling very grim about it. One of the first things that happened was that I tried to counter all the jubilation about being “in government” that was appearing in these columns, and got told off by the editor for using a word of four letters beginning with “sm” and rhyming with “rug”, which apparently was an unacceptable insult. I meant this was just how the electorate saw us, and the more we exaggerated our influence (remember the “75% of our manifesto implemented” nonsense – quietly dropped, with no apology from those who pushed it for the damage it caused and for it being so wrong) and looked pleased with ourselves for holding a few posts in a basically Conservative (and very right-wing Conservative) government, the more the electorate would dislike us. I’m sorry, but the word I was banned from using really did summarise so neatly how we were coming across, and how what we saw as us being very responsible was seen by most voters as us just saying whatever we thought would get us elected while not meaning a word of it really, just really wanting all that “power” we were boasting about.

    We should have entered the coalition in a grim sober mood, aware of how it would damage us, and so careful not to make things worse by playing up to the attacks that would come our way for it. Instead, our leader and those surrounding him made sure we did the opposite.

  • Well, colleagues, after a fairly unifying conference [despite what some will be printing] we have a few months left to attract as many election workers as possible for the biggest fight we have had for decades. I hope it will not be run as the AV referendum was! Sorry to say, I walked away from campaigning in London for AV because there was no strong LD driving force – just a wet acceptance that the press and Mr Cameron had turned against our hopes of a balanced voting system [I always supported STV]. That I recall solely so we don’t act like that from his moment on to 2015. I will be ashamed if we do!
    The next few months needs to be our short period of rallying-call. Gaining back our activists, rather than wasting their huge talents. Young, and not so young, all working to prevent the dam from bursting in 2015 – so we come out of the election with credit for the strength and determination of our campaigning. The call for membership must begin, the focus on holding many and winning new seats. There will be losses and new wins but we don’t need to work hard on a thin blanket of votes over the country – that will happen naturally as loyal voting LDs maintain a presence. We will mostly focus all activists on those seats which we can advance under FPTP. Hope you are reading this Mr Clegg. Put effort into this now. Don’t wait until 2014 to start the ball rolling. Starting now with signing back our activists. Target the right seats. Talk to us about the things we understand and the country will be surprised in 2015. Maybe amazed. Bring it on!

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