BY JOHN ISMAEL
Whatever happened to the Liberal Democrats? That bastion of a political party that brought us Jeremy Thorpe, Cyril Smith, Mark Oaten and Lord Rennard?
Just a few years ago Nick Clegg and his party comprised a significant part of the cabinet. They were part of the political furniture. Remember names like David Laws, Simon Hughes, Ed Davey and Danny Alexander? Regulars on television and radio – voices of Westminster.
Then came the kaboom.
At the 2015 Election the Liberal Democrats were reduced to single figures in the Commons following a devastating election result that led to the resignation of Nick Clegg, whose personal reputation was burned after his student fees U-turn. The party’s vote nationally was dwarfed even by UKIP.
At the 2017 election new Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron increased the number of Lib Dems in the Commons from nine to twelve but this was seen as a failure. Farron announced his resignation in June last year – his Christian beliefs were incompatible with being party leader, so he said (he was a bit rubbish too). Sir Vince Cable was elected the month after.
Just a year later, Cable – having had no impact on the Lib Dem’s lacklustre polling results – announced that he will stand down as Liberal Democrat leader once Brexit “is resolved”, which will then prompt yet another leadership election. Non-party members will be allowed to take part in the election in a bid to transform the party into what Cable called a “movement for moderates.” (This kind of drivel is what teachers used to come up with in that wishy-washy period between summer exams and the start of the summer holidays).
The Lib Dems of today seem to have diminished into nothing more than another Brexit protest group. No-one seems to want to join them let alone lead them. The most remarkable event in their party-political conference this autumn was the Brexit protester and C-rater Gina Miller showing up to make a speech saying she didn’t want to be party leader either. (That’s got to hurt).
Ipsos MORI’s monthly political monitor poll for the Standard was published two days ago. Topline voting intentions were CON 39%, LAB 37%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 5%. 10% is not a lot but the fact remains that, extraordinarily, 1 in 10 people still seem to want to vote for this party, which no-one seems able to properly define.
Jo Swinson, who some people know, is favourite to be the next party leader. Then there’s Layla Moran who few people know. Even David Miliband and Anna Soubry are given odds by the bookies, the competition is that jaded. Clegg has seen the light and nipped off to work for Facebook but he’s a possible, as is Basil Brush. (Whatever happened to that Sarah Olney woman with her car crash radio interviews?)
The Lib Dems have sunk so low that the Guardian has run stories on them entitled “Lib Dems aren’t all sandal-eating, yoghurt-wearing, bearded weirdos”. A former Liberal democrat minister Jeremy Browne became inspired to call his party pointless. Nick Clegg even last year argued that people should join Labour or the Conservatives – not the Lib Dems – to stop Brexit.
How can we best sum up the Liberal Democrats in this post-liberal world?
Last word to Pete: