The Secret MP #9: Lying in the hull of a sunken ship.

by The Secret MP on May 27, 2014

The Secret MPI am a Liberal-Deamocrat MP.

You can call me Keith.

But that’s not my real name.

I’ve picked up the phone. I’ve put it down again. I’ve picked up the phone. I’ve put it down again. At least five times, I’ve picked up the phone with the intention of calling Nick Clegg’s office to ask for a meeting or at least a conversation with our blessed leader, so that I can tell him what a few of us are currently thinking. The reason I have yet to dial the number is because, I don’t think for a second that he’ll talk to me, and even if he did, I’m not sure what I’d be telling him to do.

The situation for me, and every other Liberal Democrat elected or otherwise is dire. In fact if the results from last week’s Euro and local elections were replicated in next year’s general election – I would finish fourth behind the bloke who stands outside Greggs the Bakers every Saturday wearing a sandwich board protesting against either the closure of the local library or the use of Hal Al meat in pasties.

I’ve spent the last month doing my duty by the leader and the party – I’ve been out trudging around estates and up and down roads and streets telling anyone who will listen that actually things could have been an awful lot worse if it wasn’t for the Lib-Dems.

And it’s been hard.

It wasn’t always like this.

When I first started out in politics, canvassing for the Lib-Dems was easy – everyone hated the Tories, some people hated Labour, but no one hated the Lib-Dems, we were seen as a fairly benign alternative, we were seen as nice people who might not have all the answers, but at least seemed to care. The worst you would get would be a dismissive, ‘well, you’ll never get in power so why should I vote for you?’

Now, things have changed, now, the reaction on the doorstep is one of outright hostility from both former supporters and those who may once upon a time have considered giving you their vote in the alternative to Labour – or, just as irritating, gratitude from Tories.

And why?

Why is there so much hostility – because in theory, Nick Clegg has acted responsibly, the party has acted responsibly. Clegg is a democrat and at the last election, the Tories got the most votes and the most seats – and as such there was without doubt a logic to going into coalition. Similarly, the overriding issue of public policy, or so it seemed, was the need to reduce the deficit and so forming a coalition with that in mind made sense.

And, yes, I confess, that at the crucial meeting I did not offer much by way of dissent – none of us did.

And, yes, in the intervening four years although I haven’t done much by way of rebelling, though I have consistently felt uncomfortable with the coalition – instinctively it never felt right. Some might say that that is because I was never offered a job in government – and, alright, maybe a car and a Whitehall wage might have tempered ,y disillusionment – but, it goes beyond that. And now, as the Lib-Dems sit at the bottom of the sunken ship with the air all but sucked out of the overturned hull, I think I realise why the electorate have responded so negatively to the Lib-Dem decision to coalesce with the Tories – and it doesn’t have anything to do with ideology, it doesn’t have anything to do with broken policies, nor does it have anything to do with policy success or failure actual or perceived, it is more fundamental than that, it is almost a matter of human nature.

There is an old Gilbert and Sullivan song that the Lib-Dems used to sing at party conference where the refrain goes:
‘Every child that’s born alive, is either a little Liberal or a little Conservative.’

And, maybe there’s something in this – because, it seems to me that those who are naturally predisposed towards the Conservative way of thinking are, by instinct slightly harder, more ruthless, more able to say, ‘if they’re not strong enough to survive, then that’s their fault.’

Liberals, and the party I joined and campaigned for, are not like that – there is an instinctive empathy towards those who are weaker and vulnerable and different – and in the 1990s when the party grew with the support of former SDPers, it accepted that to support these people, to create our liberal paradise you couldn’t simply ignore the role of government, local, national and international. Unlike Labour, we were not wedded to the idea of state, but, we accepted it as a tool for good. These Tories are diametrically opposed to this notion – they are more than happy to cut the weakest adrift in the hope that they work hard themselves to catch up with the rest of us – and, there may be something in that – but, I instinctively don’t think so, I just wasn’t born that way, and the vast majority of those who have voted Lib-Dem over the last twenty or so years don’t think so either. That is why they feel betrayed – they no longer feel that the Lib-Dems are on the side of what is morally and socially right. And they will not vote for us, because of that.

And, one year on from a general election there isn’t much that the party or the leadership can do to change that.

I see that Ray North has written on this website of the need for the Lib-Dems to regroup around the issues of Europe and public services – and, yes, I agree that there is something in that. Alas, it looks as though we will be regrouping from a position of almost irrelevance which I believe will be a shame for a British politics.

For me, I will probably get round to making that call – but first I will take some more soundings from others (including the Weebles who have wobbled about the coalition from its early stages) and I will see if there is any possibility of a rival candidate being put forward to take the place of Clegg. Sadly, I doubt that there will be – sadly, I expect that the prevailing attitude of the party will be that we are now too far down the line to make such a fundamental shift, and as such a year from now, I, along with most of my colleagues, perhaps even all of my colleagues, will be looking for alternative employment.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Killingworth May 27, 2014 at 10:51 pm

I’m afraid so, pseudo-Keith, although you might care to work out whether Nick or Vince is more likely to get you a peerage in the dissolution Honours List.

The truth is that over half your vote in the good times was a “none of the others” vote, and such people now vote Green or Kipper with the added bonus that neither of those parties will be going into coalition any time soon…

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Pete May 28, 2014 at 10:02 am

“I would finish fourth behind the bloke who stands outside Greggs the Bakers every Saturday wearing a sandwich board protesting against either the closure of the local library or the use of Hal Al meat in pasties.”

Perhaps if you stopped dismissing us Ukip voters as racist idiots and listened to our concerns about “uncapped immigration from the EU” “Gay marriage forced down our throats by politicians” and “not being able to deport foriegn criminals.” You might realise most of the UK is fed up with the main 3 and their lies. Stop trying to tell us what you think is right and start listening to our concerns

My party just can first in the EU election, but keep shouting racists loud enough and I’m sure we’ll go away by the next election!

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Ray North May 29, 2014 at 10:59 am

Pete, I’m not sure that Keith mentioned UKIP once in his piece on the travails of the LIb-Dems – he certainly didn’t accuse anyone of racism!
Your party did finish first in the Euro elections – but, on these pages, we accept that there are people who are concerned about immigration and gay marriage and the deportation of foreign criminals – but we also reserve the right to say, we disagree with you on some of these things.

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alx w May 30, 2014 at 10:58 pm

I think you would have a better chance of having a chance (see what I did there) if the party could look back on a defining moment in the coalition in which they genuinely made the tories eyes water from the pain of losing/having to let go of a genuinely cherished policy as the price of power. Instead all you have probably got them to compromise on is things which they would have probably not gone through with due to their unpopularity.

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