Marx, discussing ideology, made the useful distinction between appearance and reality. This distinction is invaluable when assessing the LibDems’ latest attempt of salvation. The LibDems intend to emphasise their social democratic roots; the roots that had led so many to believe they were different, that they offered people a real change to all the out-dated callous rhetoric that the Tories utilise so well. But with the LibDems firmly embedded within a coalition where they have sacrificed basically everything for next to nothing; trying to make people swallow the ‘LibDems are different’ pill wont work.
The key figures associated with the social democratic tradition such as Simon Hughes and Charles Kennedy have been a disappointment. Simon Hughes, for example, whilst professing his ‘opposition’ to higher tuition fees and EMA abolition then abstains from the former, votes for removing the latter and then becomes the government’s education Tsar.
There is a disjuncture between the LibDems’ reality and praxis. The old line that the LibDems are in a coalition and that is why they have become so unprincipled will no longer wash. The Tories are also in a coalition and the compromises they have made have hardly dinted their party identification; there aren’t massive poll reductions and sways of Tories cutting up their membership cards. The Tory right may be causing a few problems, but name a time when they haven’t? They have been influential in bringing down numerous Tory leaders, especially over issues such as Europe.
Also within this ‘renewed’ LibDem strategy, they intend to distance themselves from the Tories; emphasising the supposedly good things they have pressurised the Tories into doing. This will anger the Tories, especially given many of the things the LibDems take credit for would have happened anyway (cancellation of ID cards, Cameron talked about House of Lords reform, the income threshold has been described as a ‘Tory dream’ etc etc). Furthermore, this rather undermines the argument that the LibDems can count on tactical voting of the Tories in future elections. If the LibDems are intent on fighting a separate battle in aid of making themselves look like the jewel in the crown then I can hardly see the Tories maintaining their anti-Labour voting as some have suggested.
The LibDems have become too involved in this coalition for them to recast their image as some fresh invigorated social democratic party. They may have roots in this tradition, and it is sad they have forgotten them, but no strong centre-left progressive party would endorse £81bn cuts. Not even Labour’s existing plans on the deficit make them centre-left.
Today, my dad has just left the LibDems; he has been a member for around 20 years (I forget specifics) and whilst he still respects the likes of Charles Kennedy he can no longer bring himself to support them. No amount of Malcolm Tucker can save the LibDems now.