Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

In which I continue the time-honoured internet tradition of providing unsolicited consultancy to political parties which I do not support...

I do not have a "tribal hatred" of the Liberal Democrats - I voted for them in 2006 when I was angry at the Labour Party (this was back when I was the most important person in British politics). And I think a number of the points I'm about to make are shared by a few friends who have been much more LibDem-friendly in the past than myself, including a couple of former party members. So while I would be absolutely lying if I didn't say that I was enjoying the spectacle of their support melting down, lying if I claimed not to be intent on the destruction of their leader's career and probably even lying if I claimed to want them to survive as a political party, I am not lying when I say that the following advice is sincere and not motivated by simple hate.

The point that Liberal Democrats don't seem to understand is that they have entered into a coalition government with the Conservative Party and that there are consequences which flow from that. This is odd, as one of the things Nick Clegg is fondest of telling us all, is that he is in a coalition with the Conservative Party and that there are consequences of that. But "political realities" is a term with general application; it doesn't just mean "I am about to break some promises and there is fuck-all you lot can do about it". Here's the political realities as I see them.

1. The LibDems entered into a coalition with the Conservative Party
2. Therefore, the LibDems lost the presumptive trust of the Labour Party
3. Therefore, arguments based on adding LibDem votes and/or seats to Labour votes and/or seats and calling it "the centre-left" have lost credibility
4. Therefore, one cannot assume as of right that Labour voters will support electoral reforms that chiefly benefit the LibDems.

That's why they lost the AV referendum. (NB: the leadership of the Labour Party supported AV, but this is of marginal relevance since party membership is a small fraction of the Labour vote). Moving on:

5. Furthermore, LibDems cannot presume that they will benefit from tactical voting support from Labour voters.
6. Furthermore, LibDems cannot gain support from voters to their left by changing their policies, because nobody cares about their policies; while they are in a coalition government, they "own" the policies of that government.

This is, to a large extent, why the vote share has collapsed. The median LibDem voter between about 2002 and 2010 was quite likely someone who believed (sensibly, a respectable case could certainly be made for this) that they were to the Left of Labour. Their signature policy was a hypothecated income tax increase for education, along with did-they-or-didn't-they opposition to the Iraq War. Now, their electoral support consists of electoral reform trainspotters, about a dozen people who read the Orange Book and daydream about being Gerhard Schroeder, plus that part of the West Country that doesn't get regular newspapers and believes that it is still voting for Gladstone. They have lost precisely that set of voters who they have spent the last year more or less intentionally losing.

So, if the LibDems are interested in being a political party, rather than a political-party re-enactment society, what do they do? I am taking it for granted that the current strategy of fanning out across the internet looking for "progressive" voters to berate and insult for being too babyish to understand coalition politics isn't a goer - the Democrats can get away with this in the USA but that doesn't mean everyone can. In general, the LibDem political hack base really lacks strength in depth - they have very few ideologues and lots and lots of people (including their leader) who only ever joined them in the first place out of the biggish fish's instinct for a smallish pond, and I genuinely believe that they don't understand how badly they're hated. In my analysis, their only real political asset was the presumptive trust and second-preference of Labour voters, and they need to build that back in baby steps.

Since we've already established that I'm the median voter, how would the LDs go about rebuilding trust in me? Difficult. Currently, they are cemented in my view as a bunch of opportunists. I don't think they're ever going to convince me that the Liberal Democrats are anything else, and I now regard myself as having been very, very naive in the past to think otherwise (in the face of literally everyone I know who has had active involvement in electoral politics telling me).

So, I think the LibDems need to convince me that their opportunism has some good purpose. Specifically, I would need to see evidence of coalition policies that they have ameliorated or mitigated. And, at this stage, I think it would be better if this was presented in as neutral and factual a form as possible, preferably with reference to specific amendments to legislation or to public statements. Things like "we are responsible for Lansley's pause on health reform" aren't really good enough, because that's the sort of thing I would only take from a party that had my presumptive trust.

So, that's my analysis. Any ideas, liberals?

Update: This is the sort of thing I'm talking about (not coincidentally, I think, from someone with no background in LibDem politics). Although I have to say, I regard the actual list of "concessions" it links to as very small beer indeed.
36 comments this item posted by the management 5/10/2011 01:13:00 AM

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