The beginning of the end of the LibDems?
Extended post – words by Rupert Read photo, unknown (let us know if it’s yours and we’ll credit you).
The last month of student protests, culminating in the Parliamentary vote on Thursday in favour of trebling fees and thoroughly marketizing British higher-ed, have delivered what well could spell the beginning of the end of the Liberal Democrats in British politics.
Hovering now around just 10% in the polls, the Liberal Democrats have broken their promise to the young, to the hopeful with aspirations to achieve their full potential in life. Many young people from working class backgrounds who feel they have something special to offer society have told me or fellow Greens / fellow academics that they will now be put off studying at University because of the back breaking chain of debt that weighs them down if they decide to pursue their dreams. How can a Party that got their MPs elected on the promise that not only would they refuse to increase tuition fees, but would actually scrap them after a few years, look at themselves in the mirror after the last fortnight? In Norwich South, Lib Dem MP Simon Wright won by just 300 votes because his Labour opponent Charles Clarke – who introduced tuition fees – refused to promise students of tomorrow something he couldn’t keep. The prospects there (here, where I live) now look very good for the Green Party, who scored over 7000 votes – for how many people are really going to vote for the LibDems in seats like Norwich South, next time? Every political party wants to win votes where possible, but the kind of u-turn we have seen from the LibDems will undoubtedly stick in students’ minds and in their craw for generations to come.
And it is important to be clear, of course, that these fees were always going to come in, from the moment the coalition agreement was signed. The whole dance of which LibDems were going to vote for the fees, which to abstain, and which to vote against was just for show, and to try to minimise the damage to the LibDems in student seats – there was no way that the LibDems would let the vote actually be lost, because that would have put the Coalition itself at risk. Don’t be fooled by some LibDem MPs having voted against fees in the end – they were in effect allowed to do so because there was no risk of the bill itself being defeated.
People are fed up with lying politicians from the old Parties. People are sick to death of their broken promises: here, the LibDems are merely the latest in a long line, and Nick Clegg is surely bitterly regretting his ‘No more broken promises’ theme during the General Election campaign! And, with their role in government, comes greater attention to the tension between the LibDems’ alleged credentials on political reform, and the reality of their being on the ground the dirtiest campaigners of all. Many people can no longer stomach the twisted attacks the Liberal Democrats direct at other political parties and candidates (see the ‘Straight Choice‘ website, etc. ad nauseum ). It is striking how dirty they are already playing in the byelection to fill Phil Woolas’s seat – very ironically, given the reason for Woolas’s resignation!
The Liberal Democrats may be thinking, despite the backlash against their student-fees u-turn, that if a week is a long time in politics, five years of coalition politics may be enough to turn around the perceptions of the people. Voting reform may ‘do the trick’ after all, and Nick Clegg tells us this was the real reason he came into politics. But this is merely wishful thinking. Millions of young people around Britain are just too adversely affected by this decision by the coalition government to weigh them down in debt before their working lives begin. We’re taking about debts between £30,000 and £50,000 for each and every student once our stars of tomorrow graduate.
And the reason the Lib Dems are finished, not just in 2015 but for good? The protesters who felt so incensed about the maximum £9000 per annum tuition fees co-authored by the Lib Dems were not just current 16 year old and above A-level students but also children in their early teens, 14 and 15 year olds. These schoolkids came out onto the streets in unprecedented numbers in the last weeks. These are the people who will be voting not just in 2015 (when they will vote for the first time) but in the next 10 general elections. These are the people whose children will vote with the knowledge of the treachery the Lib Dems waged on their parents. And these are the people who won’t be placing the Lib Dems favourably in their AV voting preferences if it is selected by the people next year…
The LibDems will now be taught a lesson; when you promise the voters of tomorrow the earth and you deliver a black hole, as a Party you’ll never see the light of day again…
Who stands to gain from the LibDems’ loss?
Labour have been doing well in recent Council byelections – but so, in a number of cases (e.g. in Lewisham, in Manchester) have the Greens. Recent opinion polls have shown the Green Party on level pegging with the LibDems in Scotland, and poised to win our first seat ever on the Welsh Assembly, in our target area there. If we break through into Wales, then we will be represented in every nation of these islands – a distinction unmatched by any other political Party.
There is still an abiding distrust of Labour among many former LibDem voters; and Labour is very weak now, barely-existent, in large parts of the country. Furthermore, it is of course Labour who began this whole fees farrago – they come out of this smelling of something the opposite of roses…
Only the Green Party emerge from this whole thing with any credit. Buoyed up by the historic moment that was constituted by Caroline Lucas’s election in Brighton Pavillion, the Green Party is poised to advance significantly on many Councils next year, and possibly to take over the running of one or two, which would be another historic moment in British politics. And our prospects in the devolved elections in Scotland and Wales may be particular bright, given the Libs’ fall from grace. (Of course, the fact that the fees voted for on Thursday are for England only makes the contrast between the devolved nations and the Westminster centre all the more striking…)
Three times in British history, the Liberals have propped up a Conservative government. Each time, it has ended in electoral cataclysm for them, the junior partner, and in a fullblown split of one kind or another. The historical omens are grim for the neoliberal clique that has taken over the LibDems – and rightly so.
Meanwhile, around the world, Greens are growing in strength. The Green Party has overtaken centre Parties in Germany and in France, and is running there at its highest ever levels in the polls. In Australia, the LibDem equivalent Party, the ‘Democrats’, have collapsed, and the Green Party, which also won its first seat in the lower House there this year, now stands unchallenged as the 3rd Party of the country.
The Liberal Torycrats are discredited. As the Party of the future, the Green Party here is now following the Australian, French and German Green Parties in the march toward power.
The vote last Thursday makes the beginning of the end of the Libs as a party. Every time they have gone into government with the Conservatives in the past, they have ended up splitting – and now we see the start of the same splitting process here, in their chaotic 3-way split over fees. This split is very real, between the neoliberal / right-wing clique around Nick Clegg who actually agree with this awful, regressive policy of marketizing higher education, and the ‘social liberals’ / more social-democratic MPs in the Party including several former LibDem Leaders who emphatically do not.
The chaotic and shoddy outcome of last Thursday’s vote shows that the LibDems are on the way down and on the way out — and it is increasingly clear that the only growing progressive force in British politics is the Green Party.
For those who have been betrayed by the LibDems, for those who are being cut, whose futures are being mortgaged, who are paying through the nose so that the bankers can laugh all the way to…the bank, for our soldiers dying in pointless wars, for our children who are poised to inherit a ravaged Earth; for all these and many more, the rise of the Greens won’t be a moment too soon.