We could have been anything that we wanted to be

We could’ve been anything we wanted to be
But don’t it make your heart glad
That we decided, a fact we take pride in
We became the best at being bad

If you don’t know it, it’s from Bugsy Malone, but for me it sums up a lot of my feelings about the coalition. I know it seems hopelessly naive now, but there was optimism back in May 2010, and a feeling that this was a government that might do things differently. Instead, that optimism has been methodically dismantled, piece by piece, as the government’s revealed itself to be even more cynical and mean-spirited than its predecessors, and the Liberal Democrat leadership has collaborated in this rush to the bottom, eager to prove that it can be just as horrendous in Government as the Conservatives and Labour.

Clegg’s immigration speech on Friday was just the latest humiliation in this series. I’d say it shows him reaching the abject depths of political cynicism and triangulation, but there are so many times he’s gone and drawn deep and deeper from that well that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him going deeper on something else. LIke the immigration speech, it’ll no doubt start with a few paragraphs of boilerplate liberalism, then veer wildly into appeasing tabloid sensibilities and saying we must support invading Iran and introducing ID cards while removing all benefits from anyone Iain Duncan Smith doesn’t like the look of.

The one flash of a silver lining is that the mood in the party feels much more mutinous than it has done at any point in the last few years. The leadership have dumped so many petty humiliations on the membership in recent times, from secret courts to Clegg’s speech, that a lot of people seem to have finally felt the straw that broke their back. (For instance, see Stephen Tall’s post on LDV and the comments below it) Any residual goodwill from Eastleigh and the party conference has been dissipated, and perhaps the only thing preventing a full on howl of rage is that most activists have one eye on the fast-approaching local elections.

What we have to decide as Liberal Democrats is not just whether we as a party can take two more years of this, but whether the country can survive two more years of it. As I’ve stated before, we came into this government because we thought it was in the national interest to do so, but it’s now clear to me that we’re merely supporting a narrowly ideological administration that’s on the verge of condemning the country to years of economic stagnation while dismantling the social framework. I think it’s time to end the coalition, but I also think we’re now beyond the point where those in the party who want to continue it can just trot out the ‘we have to show coalitions work, that’s why we can’t leave before 2015′ line. You have to show what will actually be achieved in the next two years beyond getting to sit round the cabinet table and showing we can make ‘tough decisions’.

It’s also time to question whether we need to replace Nick Clegg as leader. He’s shown a complete disregard for the party and its opinions, and when his statements get reported as being party policy, despite them being the complete opposite, it drags us all down with him. The question we need to answer is whether we want a leader who’s at war with his party, and seems to want to replace it with another, more pliant, membership or one who wants to actually lead a liberal party and make the case for liberalism, instead of capitulating and triangulating in the face of any criticism.

To got back to the start, what kind of party do we want to be? A liberal party, making the liberal case or a party that ranks power over principle?

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4 Comments to "We could have been anything that we wanted to be"

  1. March 24, 2013 - 10:56 am | Permalink

    I thought the government would be terrible, right from the start (though, not being a Lib Dem, it was easier to formulate that opinion). What I got wrong, though, is that I thought that the Lib Dems would crack under the pressures of government, and that a big chunk of the party would spiral off into an ever-closer Tory orbit (eventually merging with the Conservatives), and a minority would split away and become a centre-leftish parliamentary pressure group. But that doesn’t look like happening (or, at least, not yet): the party’s been much more disciplined than I anticipated, with the curious result that it’s been able to be a solidly right-wing force in British government while more or less retaining its independence as a political party (hence the various Labour types who want to cosy up to them in the hope of a different post-2015 coalition). And that’s a combination I didn’t expect at all.

  2. James's Gravatar James
    March 24, 2013 - 7:45 pm | Permalink

    “You have to show what will actually be achieved in the next two years beyond getting to sit round the cabinet table and showing we can make ‘tough decisions’.”

    The thing is, Cowley Street believes that we’ve already got what we came for, at least to look at central office messaging. We are the party of the £700 TAX CUT (which on closer inspection turns into a £500 tax cut). We’ve ‘won’, and if the voters don’t see that at a time when we’ve frozen all their other goodies, unemployment is high and wages are stagnant, well, it’s their own silly fault, isn’t it?

    • Adam's Gravatar Adam
      March 26, 2013 - 12:14 pm | Permalink

      I’m certainly not prepared to crow about the tax cut when benefits are being reduced. I think Nick Clegg has had rather too many last chances.

      • James's Gravatar James
        March 28, 2013 - 12:01 am | Permalink

        Agreed on both counts.

Comments are closed.