The increasing irrelevancy of the Lib Dems is bad for politics

Written by Kevin Maguire on 9 December 2015 in Opinion
Tim Farron is struggling to be heard just as there is a desperate need for a loud liberal voice

Irrelevancy is the gravest enemy in politics and the pointlessness of the Liberal Democrats is dangerous when Britain is crying out for a party to defend civil liberties against a Conservative government’s increasing authoritarianism.

Leader Tim Farron is a spirited campaigner, an indomitable figure in Westminster who strives bravely to look on the bright side as rival MPs, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and SNP, groan audibly whenever he climbs to his feet to speak in the House of Commons.

Yet surely even he must recognise the deepening marginalisation of a once potent political force which was in government as recently as seven months ago. Taken to the cleaners by a scheming David Cameron, the Lib Dems paid an extortionately high price at the polls for Nick Clegg’s five years with a title in a chauffeur-driven Jag.

Nobody expected a sudden revival in the party’s fortunes after losing in May all except eight of its 57 seats. The Lib Dems were lambs to the slaughter as voters extracted revenge for 2010’s great betrayal including that notorious university tuition broken promise

But Farron both delayed the day of redemption and splintered the Westminster rump by shepherding his hugely diminished flock into the lobby to support David Cameron’s bombing of Syria. That hardly anybody noticed, and far fewer caring, must be a major concern to a leader seemingly unsure of his way.

Because the Liberal Democrats will stand for nothing as long as they trot after Cameron as if still in the ConDem coalition with the same Conservatives who earlier this year went for them with the savage mercilessness of a pitbull devouring a three-legged sheep.

In backing the bombardment of Syria, endorsing British military action devoid of a coherent strategy or exit plan, Farron illustrated how depressingly far the Lib Dems have travelled from 2003 and the glorious optimism of Charles Kennedy as the then third force in the nation’s politics refused to believe the propaganda lies about WMDs, 45 minutes and all the rest before the catastrophic invasion of Iraq.

Two of the eight Lib Dem MPs, Farron’s defeated rival for the tarnished crown Norman Lamb and Ceredigion MP Mark Williams, stood firm and voted against the latest war. That they represent 25% of the parliamentary party underlines how small it is as much as a split.

None of this would matter if there wasn’t a desperate need for a loud liberal voice in politics.

Labour is fundamentally divided and may resemble the Tower of Babel as competing factions speak in many tongues. Yet Jeremy Corbyn speaks for a large part of the country in fighting bombing and the electorate knows the party helped save tax credits, defends employment rights and is anti-austerity.

The Lib Dems? Disinterest mingles with derision. The tragedy is this is a moment when the ailing party should matter. The snoopers’ charter, threats to freedom of information, dangers of global warming, rising Islamophobia and that Lib Dem cause, European partnership, remain issues desperate for a progressive liberal voice. Instead there is deafening silence.

The now traditional lost deposit in the Oldham byelection was another £500 donation to the Treasury from a party at best flatlining and at worst edging closer to political death.

It’s easy to mock Farron and the Lib Dems. I often do so. The party’s irrelevancy, however, isn’t healthy for British politics. If Farron is a man with a plan he’s doing a bloody good job hiding it.



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