With the EU election results in, the “I told you so” and “Here’s what it really means” brigades are out in force, letting us know what the voters are really saying with their ballots. For example, Here’s Graeme Archer measuring up the Lib-Dems for an early grave:
Since “Europe” (elections about, scandals involving etc) this year is bound up temporally, and hence a little psychologically, with “Eurovision”, which is about as camp an entity as is possible to conceive; since we’re going to talk about the Liberal Democrats’ existential crisis, let’s set the mood music accordingly. Close your eyes and think of Shirley Bassey. Or better still click here and sing along, especially if your name is Nick Clegg, leader of a party which really does have nothing.
I’m not here to gloat, seriously. Anyone who stands for election is worth celebrating, because you don’t fight for something unless you’re prepared to lose. But, OK, I’m a tribal Tory too, so here’s a couple of things that amused me last night. The sight of arch-federalist Lib Dem Edward McMillan Scott, newly defeated, telling the BBC that he’d be back in some other new role, demonstrating perfectly the anti-democratic “hanger-onnery” that infuriates Eurosceptics about the institution (Matthew Woods, an old Hackney Tory mate, coined “hanger-onnery”, and it’s perfect). The other laugh is that the Lib Dem wipeout was secured in part by the wretched Proportional Representation system, whose algorithmic horrors they’re so keen to foist onto every other election. Be careful what you wish for, Fair Voters!
Seriously, though, this is the existential crisis which the Lib Dem construct has spent this parliament pretending it could avoid. Changing the leader won’t help. [...]
Now repeat the exercise from the perspective of a “Lib Dem”, which, after last night, isn’t so much a thought experiment as a glance at the newspapers. Remove every elected Lib Dem from the map: what are their voters left with?
Nothing. Utterly nothing. There is a historical tradition of political liberalism in Britain, but as any fule kno, most of it was absorbed by the Conservative Party at key points in the last century. None of that tradition lives on in the “Lib Dem” construct.
What of its emotional disposition, the mirror to my gloomy Toryism? Well: to judge from their record in power, the “Lib Dem” instinct is for greater state intervention, to alleviate the plight of the less well off. So: nothing you can’t get from Labour, then.
“We want to reduce tax [by increasing thresholds]!” Nick Clegg would say, as evidence of the intellectual strand his party represents. Um, so do the vast majority of Conservatives. Again, no need for a “Lib Dem” representative to secure that outcome.
My point is that those Lib Dems who prioritise liberalism — whether about reducing tax, or fighting ID cards and so on — must know in their hearts that they should vote Conservative. Those who prioritise social democracy, similarly, must know that they should vote Labour.