Lib Doom?

If there’s one overwhelming result of the 2011 local council elections, it’s that the Liberal Democrats are utterly doomed. Tomorrow, Nick Clegg will hand in his red box at the Cabinet Office reception, make sure he’s got Vince Cable’s set of keys for the party’s Cowley Street headquarters, pick up Miriam and the kids, and head off to a job as an ambassador’s assistant in the Canary Islands where he can spend the next forty years ruminating on the shame.

Or at least so the general consensus goes. Chris Huhne is apparently sharpening the knives, and Paddy Ashdown is shaking is head sadly. Twenty years of steady growth (I’m writing a quick post here, haven’t checked that one) sacrificed in one awful year of coalition.


The party has lost a huge chunk of council seats. It has gone from being everyone’s favourite protest vote to everyone’s favourite governing party to kick. Previously it was the recipient of anti-government votes on both “sides” – now, as part of that government, they are perhaps reverting to their “home” parties. It is also looking likely that the party will lose its not-very-cherished compromise referendum on voting reform. This is about as bad as it gets, yes, but that means it can invoke Labour’s infamous 1997 anthem “Things Can Only Get Better” with gusto.

Soon the Fixed Term Parliaments bill will become law. Even as barefaced an opportunist as David Cameron will surely not junk that, having (tacitly) supported it through two Houses of Parliament. So the next General Election will be in May 2015.

That gives the Liberal Democrats plenty of time to decide the right moment to leave the government. I haven’t re-read the Coalition Agreement yet today, to remind myself which bits have been implemented, which are in progress and so on, but maybe another year might be enough to get some chunky things done while pandering to the “economic reality” that looks so counter-productive to those of us who think a “big society” funds itself collectively, rather than expecting its individual members to decide how much they can each afford.

And then, maybe when the Olympics are over, Clegg can tot up the things he’s got done that wouldn’t have happened without a Liberal Democrat presence in government, pull the party out of the coalition, and spend the next two years going “all guns blazing” for Cameron on the topic of “bad faith” which has started to creep out of the Cabinet Room in the last few days.

Even the most bright-eyed Liberal Democrat would probably call this “looking on the bright side” (although not at the extremes – I haven’t even considered the possibility of a shock referendum result), but I suspect it’s not nearly as bad as the mood music this morning is suggesting. Those of us who follow England’s sporting representatives are familiar with the concept that victory indicates the best team ever, and defeat demands immediate dissolution of the entire structure. In the end, things carry on much as before, and significant improvement or decline is gradual. Nick Clegg should probably take heed.

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