Friday, 8 May 2009

Do Lib Dems lack ambition?

Don't worry, I haven't died of swine flu - been busy with all sorts of things over the last few weeks which didn't leave much time for blogging.

But I've been prompted to get back into the swing of things by a couple of articles on Lib Dem Voice in the past couple of days. First of all, Stephen Tall had a discussion about what the Lib Dems need to do to become the official opposition in place of Labour. And then today Steve Pitt followed that up with this piece about what the Lib Dems stand for.

I do agree with a lot of what the two Steves have to say. But the trouble is that both are based on the notion that what the Lib Dems really want to do is become the official opposition.

I have to say, as a pitch for votes, that's not the most inspiring one I've heard: vote for us, even though we intend losing the next three or four elections. Why should people get active for the party if the best we can dream of is having almost no influence for the next couple of decades or so?

Well, I don't know about the rest of the party, but that's not what I want. I want the Lib Dems to be a party of government, preferably by ourselves but with another party if we're able to get a significant amount of Lib Dem policies through, as we did in Scotland from 1999-2007.

And this isn't just dreaming: I've never known politics to be quite as fluid and volatile as it is at the moment. Labour is heading for a significant defeat next year and is then likely to indulge in a period of bloodletting as it tries to work out where it goes next.

I agree with Stephen Tall that this presents a significant opportunity for us and I agree with Steve Pitt that if we can be clear about what we stand for, we could benefit tremendously.

But let's add a fourth condition to Stephen Tall's article: a Tory government rapidly becoming unpopular as a result of having to take difficult decisions to sort out the mess left by Labour. In such a situation, is it really beyond the bounds of possibility to see the election after next resulting in something along the lines of LD 32%, Con 34% Lab 28%, Others 8%? In such a scenario, given the random nature of our electoral system, that could result in almost anything from a Tory majority through to Lib Dems being the largest party in a hung parliament, or possibly even scraping a majority depending on how the votes stack up in individual seats.

OK, I admit this is probably a tall order to achieve in practice. In reality, we probably face a long, hard struggle to make progress. But unless the Lib Dems start thinking big and showing some real ambition, we're never going to get anywhere near being either the official opposition or the government. And I can certainly think of better things I could be doing than busting a gut for a party which is not serious about being anything other than a minority interest.

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