Record Number of Lib-Dem Activists go to Eastleigh: Why?

by Ray_North on February 25, 2013

imagesWe are told that over 700 Lib-Dem activists turned up at Eastleigh this weekend to trudge the streets, stick letters and pamphlets through letterboxes and persuade the poor people of this Hampshire town that they should vote for Whathisname the Lib-Dem candidate.

The Lib-Dems are to use a Shaun Ryder phrase – ‘mad for it.’


I am confused. Not by the fact that all these people are interested in getting involved in the democratic process, they should be commended for that, but why the Lib-Dems and why now and why in Eastleigh?

My confusion was compounded by a conversation I had with a Lib-Dem peer (not of the bottom pinching variety I hasten to add, well he’s never pinched my bottom anyway!), someone who I know hates the coalition and has little time for those who lead his party, but there he was on his way to spend two days in Eastleigh ‘doing his bit.’

Why? I asked him? Why on earth do you want the Lib-Dems to win this by-election?

His answer was that it was important for the party to hold the seat, so that the party faithful would be in better heart come the next general election.

I didn’t know whether to scratch my head or plunge my eyeballs into my cranium – sod the Party faithful, what about the people! But in any event there are times when political parties need to be defeated, times when they need to be reminded that they have got it terribly wrong. And, alas, for the Lib-Dems, now is that time.

Of course, the Lib-Dems may well win Eastleigh, in fact, despite the business about Lord Rennard and what he may or may not have done (not a great deal from what I read, I, hold no brief for Mr Rennard, but, I mean are fat ugly nerdy blokes not allowed to make passes at women and be rebuffed, though perhaps I’m over simplifying things!), it looks as though the Lib-Dem vote will probably hold up enough for them to return Whatshisname to Westminster.

But what effect will this have on the party?

Well, first, it will regalvanise the leadership. They will suddenly be allowed to say that the voters are with them, that they understand the difficult decisions they have made and will not punish them – in short, the leaders who brought us tuition fees, the worst economic performance in memory, and massive cuts to social and public services, will feel personally and politically vindicated. It will allow them to say more of the same. It will make it more likely than not that the party will go into the next election with a fairly robust right of centre manifesto and more likely that the Lib-Dems will once again put a Conservative government in power in the event of a hung parliament.

And I’m not sure that either the people or indeed, a majority of Lib-Dem activists actually want this.

I would wager that if I went to Eastleigh today, for every Lib-Dem activist who was an enthusiast for the coalition, I would find at least two who were lukewarm at best. So, to go back to my initial question – why are they there, why are they working so hard to justify the failings their leaders have made in the last three years, and why are they working so hard to make it easier for their leaders to continue to make the same mistakes in the next three years?

I am afraid that the answer lies in the arrogance of tribal partizan politics (this piece could have been written at different times about Labour and, of course the Tories) – we’re here because we believe, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that what our party says is right. It is a tribalism I hate, it stifles political debate and keeps our leaders lazy.

If I were the Lib-Dem activists in Eastleigh, on this occasion, I’d swap my orange rosette for a red one, and in this particular by-election campaign for John O’Farrell – because, knowing many Lib-Dems as I do, he is almost certainly articulating something closer to what you actually believe in than Messrs Clegg, Cable and Alexander.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East February 25, 2013 at 2:40 pm

On Rennard – the allegations are about unwelcome touching, not just propositions.


Ray_North February 25, 2013 at 2:45 pm

On Rennard – I’m being flippant, but, I often finding myself doing these type of cases in the Crown Court where the offence never went beyond a touch on the leg or similar, and asking myself the question, if the ‘toucher’ had been a bit more attractive, would the complainant have been either as surprised or as bothered. I’m going to stop now, as this is a can of worms I don’t want to dive into!


Bobby_West February 25, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I think the most damaging accusation in relation to Rennard is that it was an abuse of position i.e. innappropriate touching or not, making a pass is different when in a position of relative power…


George_East February 25, 2013 at 2:55 pm

If there is no consent, there is no right to do it. Full stop. Very simple. If the allegations are correct, they are also exacerbated by the relative power imbalance between Rennard and the women involved.


Ray_North February 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I agree with that, but let me put it another way, and I’m musing here about the law as much as the Rennard allegations:

Scenario 1 – bloke grabs womans leg in a clumsy sexual way having misread the signals – woman is freaked out, says nothing, but makes it clear there is no interest from her, bloke removes hand and does not repeat the act. Woman makes a claim of sexual assault to police – man is charged as prima facie there is an offence committed by him.

Scenario 2 – bloke grabs woman’s leg in a clumsy sexual way – woman says, ‘look I’m not interested,’ bloke removes hand, apologises and is suitably contrite. Although there is an offence of sexual assault – hard to see a complaint or charge following.

Scenario 3 – bloke grabs woman’s leg in a clumsy sexual way – woman quite fancies bloke (although she has never conveyed that to him), and they get married.

My point about Rennard, I suppose, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, is that his offence is using his abuse of position, as Bobby says, but, how different would it seem if he had said, look I found the person attractive, I made a pass at her (them), she (they) wasn’t (weren’t) interested, I feel very foolish.

In ‘low level sexual assault cases’ on the facts the law often seems excessive as the intent is one of ‘a pass’ rather than an ‘assault’, whilst the issue of consent is also difficult to determine – I mean, the first time you go in for the snog, there’s always a chance you’ll get a slap and not everyone is particularly good at determining which is about to happen.


George_East February 25, 2013 at 3:25 pm

We are not talking about criminal offences here, where plainly issues of misread consent and intention might come into play by way of defence.

We are talking about allegedly inappropriate uninvited touching by a man in a position of consdierable power over women with much less power. Whatever the criminal law position, as a matter of employment law you would be in some considerable difficulty to run a ‘whoops, I mis-read the signals defence’, and rightly so. Express consent or don’t do it. In fact in positions of power imbalance of this nature, you are mad even in situations where there is express consent.


Eduardo Reyes February 25, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Interesting blog – it’s a bit of a lose-lose position for disaffected Lib Dems. I can think of a few senior people who aren’t going elsewhere, but who say they would struggle to stand at a general election for the party with the current leadership in place.

The party still contains lots of people I feel I have a political future with, but I haven’t gone to Eastleigh. And apparently I won’t be missed by the leadership – as ‘social liberal’ Clegg says I have no place in the party.

For many of the social liberals who have campaigned there, I think the aim is to maintain the campaigning stripes of their bit of the party. They still hope to retake the party’s soul. Good luck to them, but I can’t bring myself to do it. As a position it’s I think it’s just too compromised.

BTW, anyone else notice Chris Rennard ‘deactivated’ his Facebook account over the last week?


Ray_North February 25, 2013 at 3:36 pm

I wouldn’t disagree with any of that George and I’m conscious of sounding like an apologist for boorish behavior – but I do worry about the degree of hysteria about this kind of stuff and the inevitable conclusion that relations between people will become excessively formal.


George_East February 25, 2013 at 3:44 pm

In the context of power relationships, a degree of distance is a good thing for all involved. ‘Hysteria’ is a dangerous word to use I think in the context.


David Cloke February 25, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Lots one could say in reply, including that with the new tuition fees regime applications to university from lower socio-economic groups continue to rise. However, the key point is I fail to see how the election of a Tory MP on Thursday (especially the candidate they have) or, perish the thought, a UKIP MP, sends the message that the Liberal Democrats or the Government as a whole have been in sufficiently progressive!


Ray_North February 25, 2013 at 8:11 pm

David (how nice to see you on this blog old friend!) – keeping the Tories out is, to me, about the one argument that holds water for justifying going to down to Eastleigh to campaign for the Lib-Dems – but, what sparked my piece was not so much an analysis of why the Lib-Dems might be going down there, but the fact that so many of them are and with such enthusiasm – how can anyone who calls themselves a social democrat or even a social liberal or even someone who does not agree with the ethos of Conservatism justify campaigning for a government which has been so right wing and so fundamentally wrong in the way in which it has tackled the big issues of the day. It baffles me.


George_East February 25, 2013 at 7:42 pm

I’m not convinced that something that happened three decades ago is of any relevance, however disgraceful. Cathy Newman on the C4 News Blog utterly debunks the idea that the timing of the story is down to Tory dirty tricks. Having said that I don’t doubt that the proximity of the Eastleigh by-election has been part of the reason the Tory press have gone in so hard on it (with barely a whisper about Osborne and the downgrade).


Ray North February 25, 2013 at 11:01 pm

I’ve not read Cathy Newman’s blog – I’ll try to.
I agree that Clegg’s incompetence is now the story (and rightly) – but the Tories want to kill off the Lib-Dems – they’d dearly love to win Eastleigh – it smacks of ferrets fighting in a particularly unhappy sack.


George_East February 25, 2013 at 11:22 pm

I agree with that – but this is the Tories taking an opportunity given to them by a shockingly incompetent operation around Clegg, not a manufactured concoction on the part of the Tories. The interesting thing is what happens if (i) despite Huhne and (ii) despite Rennard and (iii) despite Clegg and (iv) despite the Lib Dem collapse in the polls, the Tories still can’t win the seat. If the Lib Dems do hang on in Eastleigh (and there is a new Populous poll out tonight which puts them 5 points up), I think we could see the outbreak of Tory civil war. Pass the popcorn.


Charlie_East_West February 26, 2013 at 6:20 pm

To paraphrase Malcolm Tucker:- “the Lib Dems are the fucking Shawshank redemption, except with more tunneling through shit and no fucking redemption.”


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