Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Don't Neglect The Nuts

Interesting debate going on at Peter Cuthbertson's place about Chuckie K and the Lib Dems role in life. Just to expand on a point I made over there, I think a mistake many people make when dealing with the Lib Dems is to treat them as though they followed the same paradigm as the Conservatives and Labour.

Of course, Lib Dems seek to pick up votes from disgruntled socialists and conservatives. Equally obviously, many of their current problems stem for their attempts to simultaneously appeal to people who think the Conservative Party is too Conservative and people who think Labour isn't Labour enough. But, the X-factor that I think many people neglect is that there is, at the heart of the Party, a core of people who are committed Lib Dems.

The temptation is to say 'committed to what ?'. Certainly, so many of the Lib Dems actual policies are so slippery, tactical, short-term and contradictory that it's a fair comment as far as politics goes, but that ain't what these people are about. Consider CK's attempt to brand the Lib Dems as the 'anti-politics political party' or their current strategy which, stripped of qualifiers and blather, boils down to 'Go back to your constituencies and prepare for opposition'.

Conservatives and socialists want to win power and bring about change. Lib Dems want to be James Dean in 'Rebel Without A Cause', Socrates and Galileo all rolled into one: wild, iconoclastic, devil-may-care yet also brilliant. Or, alternatively, geeky, political glue sniffers. Whatever, but the point remains that a large part of the base regards being wacky as more important than being electable. This is why Kennedy saw nothing wrong with sharing a platform with people like George Galloway and Tariq Ali. This is why every year Lib Dem conference, without fail, passes at least one motion of the 'free heroin for schoolchildren' type.

The Lib Dems can't become a mainstream party, since so much of its core support is heavily invested in an image of themselves as outsiders. There's cause and effect here, obviously. Take the notorious penny on income tax, which will be used to pay for everything in the whole world twice over. Never mind the political effectiveness of promising to raise taxes, the sums don't stand up to any kind of scrutiny, but then that's not the point. It's meant to establish the Lib Dems as different. They know, and we know, that they'll never have to put it into effect. They're not here to do things, they're here to be noticed. What more can you say about a Party whose main objective in the next election is to unseat Michael Howard ? As ever with the Lib Dems, mooning the squares is as far as their strategy goes.

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