That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Birds of a feather…

Can I make up an adage? “If you don’t water the grass, the roots will cause you problems.” Maybe it’s a real adage already, but in this hot English summer, I just thought it apt.

There’ve been elements of dissent in Lib Dem ranks since the coalition deal was first signed, but I suppose such dissent, however expertly quelled at first, was always more likely to increase over time, rather than diminish. Disputes over policy design will ensure that – and now that we’re out of the Rose Garden and into policy-making war rooms, evidence is mounting that the Parliamentary Lib Dem Party hasn’t been keeping its grassroots concerns very well watered.

This month’s Austerity Budget, with its projected million+ lost jobs, has almost certainly ratcheted up internal tensions. Nick and Danny, seemingly lost for words much of the time, are either implicit in the design of this job-slashing budget, or they’ve powerlessly acquiesced to it. It’s either active or it’s passive malevolence, so the Lib Dem base asks itself, and you can almost hear the votes bleeding out of Nick Clegg’s very pores.

David Cameron’s helping, too. He’s being very clear that the Liberals have lots of influence – that they are an “active partner.”

But of course! The PM is in a remarkable position: able to speak as though he’s shoring-up his oft-insecure coalition partners – but his intent is only to hang this budget around their necks too. “They aren’t just witnessing this butchering – no, no – they picked out the axe.”

This bird may not be flying with the flock

And so it is that the Liberals begin to, even accidentally, expose their frustrations. One small example: an upcoming 6 July 1 July local council byelection, right where I live. Our local Lib Dem candidate in Tulse Hill (Lambeth), Terry Curtis, has implored us (in a lovely, faux-hand-written letter!) to think this way:

“This election is not about the government – whether you love it or hate it! It’s simply about who is the best person to represent us on the Council.”

Shouldn’t Curtis want to say things like “The Lib Dems are a party on the rise, we’re in government for the first time, we’ve got a referendum on electoral reform, we’ve quashed the higher threshold for inheritance tax, we’ve got a hand in reviewing Trident, join us on this journey to a better future” etc. etc? No. He says “Never mind the government – it’s me personally you should focus on.”

The use of pretend hand-writing is a lovely communication tool (sweetly, it’s even on airmail blue paper, as though sent to me by a long-lost lover), but this explicit distancing from the government – of which his party is part – takes all the love away. It’s not the sign of a happy family, or that there is much confidence amongst the party’s grassroots that they’re getting things done in government that they’re proud of. Remarkable to be communicating in this way, not two months since the general election.

Sure enough, it’s a council byelection, and yes, let’s vote for the local candidate with local credentials, etc. etc. But a local Lib Dem concession of the “hateability” of the new government seems to betray a bit more Orange Anguish than I’m sure they intended.

There are growing pains in the party, sure – the country and the system is not used to coalitions, and party organisations aren’t used to seeing their erstwhile heroes nodding and smiling alongside erstwhile enemies.

My fear for Nick Clegg generally is that Orange Anguish will catch on and find its own minor leaders in the backbenches, and, encouraged by the discouraged local party organisations (evidently, Lambeth is one), HoC Lib Dem rebellions will begin to flower. They’ll be perpetrated by LD MPs seeking to restore public faith in some original and pure Lib Dem ideal – but the public will just see a party that’s not only “sold out,” but is also disorganised and riven by feuds. That will exacerbate the perception that “they don’t know what they stand for.”

Rightly or wrongly, it’s a perception that Opposition Labour will happily encourage. How the Tories will respond, god knows.

Filed under: Politics, UK, , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. […] think the latter. A former leader has gone public, and all manner of signals indicate that party puritans don’t care for the compromises that Clegg has had to make in […]

  2. […] the first opportunity – his approach offends his Parliamentary Party, it offends the Lib Dem local organisations, his own deputy leader, and most severely, his fragile […]

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July 2010

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