By John Charles Dyer, UK Correspondent
26 Sep 2012.
The 2012 Liberal Democrat Party Conference closed in Brighton to the thunderous applause of the janitors.
Who are they fooling?
Liberal Democrats once again demonstrated utter dedication to fooling themselves.
Leader Nick Clegg grandly pronounced them no longer a Party of opposition but the third “major” Party of Government. At less than 10% of the electorate in most polls that’s some “major,” isn't it.
Environmental Secretary Ed Davy sought to reassure the remaining faithful. Davy reminded them that Liberal Democrats polled only 4% when he first joined the Party. That’s some reassurance, that is.
Mr. Clegg predicted the United Kingdom would move “from austerity to prosperity” by sticking to Plan A. He described Plan A as “flexible,” although Coalition leaders regularly insist it can’t be changed. He ignored indicators the nation’s economy faces years of stagnation without definite end. He ignored the fact that more than 11 million are either unemployed or underemployed. That’s a third of the UK workforce. He ignored the lost generation of youth for whom he infamously offers “free internships” that lead nowhere. He ignored the government’s growing borrowing to cover a growing deficit caused by falling tax receipts due to an economy once again in recession. He ignored the deepening public despair.
One wonders what parallel universe Mr. Clegg occupies.
On camera, the activists agreed. Their reception for Mr. Clegg and Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander, on the other hand, was far less enthusiastic than for the announcement former leader Paddy Ashdown will coordinate their 2015 General Election campaign.
What were leadership to do? The economic Titanic hit the iceberg.
Privately, Liberal Democrats ask me, rhetorically, what were Mr. Clegg and company to do? When they came into government there was no money left in the Treasury. We can’t all be college educated. We can’t all be middle class. We can’t all even be saved. The Titanic hit the iceberg.
I appreciate the facts, but “the Titanic” is an analogy. It is an artificial construct imposed on the facts to interpret them. Such constructs provide an adherent a logic and a predictability that gives the narrative a range of options the mind can grasp quickly without too much agonizing. But like all constructs, it is more self-fulfilling prophecy than the result of empirical research. In this case the construct leads to a downward spiral into stagnation.
But taking it on its own terms, the Party still has uncomfortable facts to face. Conservative Coalition partners approach the “Titanic event” with “First Class to the lifeboats. Keep the Plebs back.” Liberal Democrat leaders claim to moderate their partners. But to the outside world it looks more like appeasement, with nerve failing at every vital juncture.
What would I have them do? Grow a spine or stop pretending.
From the point of view of those who once hoped the Liberal Democrats would provide an alternative for raising all boats, one word sums it all up. That word is, “disappointed.”
It is true that some of us are not convinced Labour offers better. Mr. Clegg played that card in his closing speech.
Labour’s Conference kicks off soon. The news coming out of Scotland concerning the Scottish Labour leader’s recent remarks on the “something for nothing culture” are less than encouraging.
But, whether or not Labour measures up is all about Labour. The issue is separate from whether the Liberal Democrats measure up. On that point, everyone should now be all-too-clear.
If Liberal Democrats actually believe what they say on camera, they fool only themselves. In the public mind they are the Party who made pledges which, at the time they made them, they had no expectation they would have to fulfill, and which, upon entering into Coalition, they repudiated. They have yet to hold the line on any pledges of importance to the "man in the street." They caved on Tuition Fees, privatization of the NHS (under the laughable rubric of “choice”), high earner tax rate reductions, the substitution of a universal elitist filter called "EBAC" for the more egalitarian GSCE, even adulterating banking reform.
Leader Clegg argues they are the only Party of “fairness.” But we have seen what "fairness" means. Wrapping a large reduction in tax for top earners in jolly Christmas rhetoric and a meagre reduction in tax to the lowest disguised to no one the large reduction for the top. My generation has been given so much, had so many doors opened, I cannot acquiesse to slamming them shut after us and calling it "fairness." How can Liberal Democrats?
If they think the public will forget, they are wrong. If they think Britain will “austere” itself back to prosperity, they are wrong. They are on the wrong side of the economics, the wrong side of the public on NHS reform, the wrong side of the facts on welfare reform, whose ugly details are only now breaking onto public awareness.
For many who watched the performance in Brighton, this conference marks the end of patience. It is the end of third second chances. It is a final, “buh-bye.”