Monday, January 23, 2006

Do the LibDem Difficulties Herald the Return of Two Party Politics?

The short answer is no. Or at least, it's too early to say. The manner in which the LibDems pick themselves up off the floor will have a great impact on how they do at the next election. There is a school of thought which believes that Gordon Brown and Labour will be so unpopular by the time of the next election that people will automatically vote Tory to rid us of the "dour one". And as a by product, the LibDems will be stuffed like the dead parrot some of us always hoped they would turn into. Wishful thinking, I'd say. Matthew Parris, however, has a different take...

“Looking beyond the immediate, the future of this party matters tremendously to British democracy. Were Labour and the Conservatives allowed to divide the landscape between them, we should all be the poorer. I know how fear of losing decent, moderate voters to the Liberal Democrats has acted to restrain illiberal instincts among some Conservative politicians. If Liberal Democracy did not exist, an ever-present threat, I doubt David Cameron would have made it to the leadership of my own party.”

I happen to believe that's a load of bollocks. Especially the last bit. David Cameron's election had absolutely nothing to do with the existence of the Liberal Democrats, just as I think David Cameron's influence on Charles Kennedy's demise has been greatly overstated by many in the lobby.

The return of two party politics will depend on two things. Firstly whether and how the LibDems can recover from the traumas of the past few weeks. And secondly, on whether David Cameron's big tent and be expanded into the ground currently occupied by the LibDems and part of New Labour. There's every sign that Cameron's occupation of that ground is no 'one week wonder'. The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh must have been reading this blog, for he too predicted today that one or two LibDem MPs might defect to the Tories over the next few months. This is not just idle Westminster village chit chat, it's being talked about by serious people. And if LibDem don't regard Trevor Kavanagh as serious then that just illustrates the different planet they inhabit.

I don't think it's possible to totally neutralise the LibDems, but what is possible is to turn the orange tide back. I am perhaps the wrong person to pontificate on this subject after my result in North Norfolk but I am in no doubt that there will be LibDem seats up for grabs at the next election and our aim should be to push them back under 30 seats. If I had suggested this in early December many would have accused me of taking leave of my senses. I wonder if in their heart of hearts they are still so sure now. As I say, there's a long way to go, but there are all sorts of possibilities. No one can say politics is boring any more!


neil craig said...

I think you are wrong.

Firstly almost anybody who chooses the Lib Dems went into it knowing they could have chosen an easier life in one of the co-dominion parties so they are not easily bought.

Secondly if the Lib Dems were to implode, or split & join the other parties within a year UKIP would be at 20% in the polls. I know that UKIP & the Lib Dems aren't idealogicly similar but they both have the really popular appeal of not being the Lab/Tories.

The basic problem is that people don't like or trust the Lab/Tories & want to be free to vote for an alternative, or even several alternatives. The more Cameron makes it clear that he occupies the same political ground, as Labour (including agreeing to the same openly corrupt electoral system) the more people are going to refuse to vote for anybody. Since the fall of Thatcher the parties have all been fighting over a very restricted area & the next election with Cameron, Brown & Campbell doesn't look likely to be disturbed by disagreements (indeed the electoral system may well be the most serious genuine issue).

The Lib Dems may be a tactical problem but long term problem for democracts is that Her Majesty's Government & Opposition TOGETHER got the vote of only 40% of the registered electorate.

PoliticalHackUK said...

Nice to see that Iain and I have similar aims - I too think that it is possible to push the LD tide back somewhat. I was of the view after May that if the Tories failed to shape up, then they could potentially be reduced to a real rump after the next election, but Cameron's election has given them a confidence fillip not seen for a couple of decades. For once, there seems to be a genuine belief that they can start winning things.

Cameron will have to provide some policy meat, rather than just the good PR we've seen in recent months, but the chance of eroding the Tories seems to have passed the LDs by. Their only hope of that is to pick a leader who can drag them towards the Orange Book at a run.

Doing that, of course, will alienate their other supporters, the soft Labour vote. This will probably be enlivened by a fresh Brownite leadership and, probably, British troops out of Iraq within two years. Blair will take the blame for all of that and the soft vote will return.

All this will leave the LibDems in a VERY bleak position - relying on their core vote to turn out for them. I'm not sure on the sub-30 seat that Iain suggests, but I do predict some serious reverses. 2005 may well prove to be their high-water mark.