AV loss is good for the Liberal Democrats

The alternative vote system would have been a disaster for the Liberal Democrats.

What we are seeing in the local elections and the recent opinion polls are the birth pangs of the liberal party as a serious party of Government.

The Liberal Democrats were never going to win an overall majority and enter Government alone. Eventually, we were going into coalition. And this was going to involve sloughing off part of our vote: the part that never wanted us to be in power.

The Liberal Democrats were treated as a bin for protest votes, a ‘none of the above’ vote. Most perniciously, we won single-issue votes from people who don’t share, or in many cases were actively opposed to, liberalism as an ideology. Many of these people would have realised they disagreed with the Lib Dem manifesto, if they’d read it. This includes a lot people who voted for us because we happened to make the right call on the Iraq War.

A lot of council votes were based on time-honoured Lib Dem skills of pointing at potholes and then getting them fixed. Or, in urban seats, particularly in London and the North, because the Liberal Democrats represent a competent alternative to disastrous, corrupt, and bankrupt Labour councils.

All this is ok, because however they get into power Liberal Democrats do liberal things. But its too precarious without a real ideological support base behind it.

I think that in the long term, coalition with the Tories is significantly less harmful than coalition with Labour would have been. Labourism is more offensive to liberals than Toryism. With the Tories we have essentially only had to compromise on tuition fees, which is merely a policy, not a principle. With Labour, we would have had to compromise on real principles, including respect for individual freedom and choice, civil liberties and the principle of subsidiarity.

A coalition with Labour would have deprived us of the voters that never wanted us to be serious about power – but with the same blow it would have deprived us of our distinctive liberal ideology.

Our true task, which I think Nick Clegg recognises, is to build ourselves an ideological core base. The only way we can be secure in power is if enough people vote Liberal for liberalism. Our current polling probably represents the extant British liberals – and while it’s lower than we would like, it represents a start. Clegg has been a good leader because at all times he has consistently put across a distinctive liberal ideology. The height of Cleggmania maybe represents the amount of people this speaks to: our potential core, even if they are not liberals yet.

AV would have made the Lib Dems forever aspire to be the mushy centrist party that is everyone’s second preference. This would have seriously harmed our true task: to create and nurture an ideologically liberal society.

Published in: on May 6, 2011 at 6:34 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I voted Yes to AV, and I wanted the Yes campaign to win, but I applaud the broad thrust of your pro-Coalition argument.

  2. You are precisely correct but I would add that the Party should VERY seriously consider concentrating virtually all of its time and money on that area of the UK where it can most successfully grow its base.
    Not Scotland, not Wales, and NOT the North of England. These areas are in likely permanent economic decline and will vote accordingly in the future, as the State is just about their only salvation. It’s not at all surprising that they are Labour/Nationalist hotbeds. The future of the Party is in the South of England where its goal must be to keep Labour out, and to be considered THE alternative to the Conservatives. The South is where the money, the votes, and the opportunities are.
    Trying to be all things to all people will invariably lead to tears and lack of cohesion.

    But opinions may differ. 🙂

    • Of course, I’d say that these areas are only in economic decline because of the way that they have been governed, both locally and from Whitehall.

      I’d say that there is nowhere that more desperately needs liberalism: a doctrine of independence, self-reliance, and free trade. The doctrine that made Manchester, Liverpool, and Newcastle great in the first place!

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