and I were listening to Radio 4 over breakfast, as we do in this household, and some Tory politician said something, and Mat got this look on his face that was somewhere between wounded and confused and said "when did the Tories get so incompetent?"
I shrugged, intending to express the thought that as far as I was concerned they always had been, but he elaborated:
No, seriously, you used to know where you were! Lefties were well-meaning but incompetent; right-wingers were evil but capable*. Now both of them are evil AND incompetent! How are we supposed to cope with THAT?
While I initially thought this was just an expression of Adams' Law**, and he was merely demonstrating his elderliness, I do think Mat's little outburst is an illustration of how many people who are far less politically engaged than Mat and I feel about politics.
People used to know, broadly, what the main parties stood for:
- Labour are for the workers, and for redistribution of wealth on fairer grounds.
- Conservatives are for fiscal responsibility and low taxes.
- Liberals are for maximising freedom - both from and to - within the constraints of the harm principle.
- Greens want to save the planet via environmental campaigning.
- UKIP want to take us back to some mythical 1950s paradise that never actually existed.
- The Loonies are for taking the piss.
et cetera, et cetera, et bloody cetera. The thing is, each of the parties - certainly each of the top four - has, in either local or national government or both, betrayed those core principles often enough that voters don't actually believe a word any of us say any more.
And yes, at the moment it's worse for the Lib Dems than it is for any of the others. But it was Labour before us, and the Tories before that, and each time one of the parties has a crisis of trust with the electorate that party goes down in trustworthiness, but none of the others come back up again. Nobody thinks Labour are better now than they were towards the end of the Blair years, it's just that we Lib Dems are EVEN WORSE. And whichever party it is who has the shit thrown at them next time will be even worse than us; we won't be rehabilitated in the eyes of the public, it's just that there will be somebody even LESS trustworthy.
And thus the spiral continues. Voter turnout at each election gets steadily lower and lower as the layers of natural support for each party give up and stay home. The politicians*** turn to ever more cynical methods of getting their remaining supporters to turn out, and that just exacerbates the problem.
So how do we fix it?
Well, I can't be the one who tells the Tories and Labour and the Greens and everyone else what to do, but for the Lib Dems? It's very simple. We are Liberals. Lets behave like Liberals
. We believe in open justice, so no more backing secret courts. We believe in freedom from poverty, so no more turning a blind eye to the tories on their systematic screwing of the poor and disabled via the benefits system, and no more unjustified attacks on Oxfam
either. We believe in the freedom to communicate ideas, so no letting Teresa May resurrect the Snooper's Charter
. This list could go on forever; there are myriad ways in which this party in government has failed miserably to live up to our core principles, and to articulate clearly where and why compromise has been reached when it has.
It needs to stop. It needs to stop now.
Sadly, I don't think it will. The one man with the power to put an end to all the ridiculous infighting we're having at the moment, so we have the opportunity to rebuild and build better, has shown absolutely no inclination to do so. Our parliamentarians appear to be happy to sacrifice themselves**** on his altar. It's entirely possible we're going to go back to being just an asterisk, for "no discernable level of support".
Now I don't think my party is going to die. I, for one, am not prepared to let it. Liberalism is a way of life, not just a tickybox on a ballot paper. But things carrying on as they are means we are just going to get more and more damaged and debilitated, and it will take longer and longer to come back once we do start to rebuild. And if those parliamentarians who are clinging on to Cleggy and supporting him through this are doing so because they think they
are going to be the ones to do the rebuilding when it all comes crashing down? Oh dear. They really
don't know what we're like, do they?
* Aside from the fact that conflating lefties and Labour (or Tories and Rightwing) gives me the heebiejeebies, this is basically another way of stating my belief that Lib Dems are closer to Labour on aims but closer to tories on means of achieving aims.
** Adams' Law states that anything that is in the world when you are born is normal and ordinary and just part of the way the world exists and works. Rule 2, anything that is invented between when you are 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and world changing, and you can probably get a career in it. Anything that is invented after you are 35 is against the natural order of things.
*** and, for the avoidance of doubt, I include myself in this
**** and the remaining councillors and MEP