Lib Dems of principle

John Rentoul

kennedy Lib Dems of principleIn my column for The Independent on Sunday today I say that the only Liberal Democrat MPs entitled to hold their heads high (ish) are Charles Kennedy (right), John Leech* and “the third man”. They are alleged to have abstained on the vote to join the coalition at the MPs’ and peers’ meeting on 11 May. (Does anyone have any further intelligence on the identity of the third abstainer?)

My argument is that the coalition agreement was pretty clear that the Lib Dems would not oppose the findings of the Browne report on university finance, expected at the time to involve higher fees. So the decisive moment was 11 May not 9 December.

But I argue that Vince Cable could have done a better job of selling the pass, as it were. He should have called his plan a graduate tax, even if it technically wasn’t, as Paul Waugh reported last week that he wanted to in July. Interestingly, the BBC reported his speech at the time as proposing a “graduate tax” (had it been briefed?).

I conclude by taking a negative view of the Lib Dems’ prospects of recovering from last week’s disaster. It is easy to say that we should not write them off yet; but I don’t think it’s true.

However, the excellent Iain Martin has a five-point plan to get the party back on track:

1) Change the party’s name. ‘Not the Liberal Democrats’ is currently available.

2) Change Nick Clegg’s name.

3) Ban Simon Hughes from going on radio and television. It will probably require a control order.

4) Hope for the best.

5) Er… that’s it.

*I described Leech as the “new” Lib Dem MP for Manchester Withington, which my good colleague Ben Chu points out is only true in the sense that 2005 is not that long ago.

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  • David Alexander Hough

    Judging by their actions since the coalition was formed, it was either Bob Russell or Mike Hancock.


    Charles Kennedy was a much be3tter leader than Nick Clegg. As for the Libdems, my dad used to say give someone enough rope and they will hang themselves.

  • jamietaylor

    Now now John – play nice! Its unkind to point at people when they’re not very good at something and the Liberal Democrats deserve some sympathy – after all they never thought they’d have to actually deliver on their manifesto; and a “promise” is just another pledge for them – discard able and excusable. So we can see that though real politics isn’t a skill that they’ve got much of or even really needed for several generations now that they’ve been found out at the top table for being frauds as well as for being incompetent and betrayers of both their principals and electorate do we think that they now have the necessary and vital elements to survive another 4 & 1/2 years? I would argue not. Instead I think they’ve been called to account for themselves and they’ve been found very much wanting.

    Yes I know that there’s a sweet irony to it all; Hague and his pals will have smirked up their sleeves all the way back to Tory Central Office during the negotiations. And the real ball breaker is that the Liberals deserve this public battering – and then some… The speed and ease with which they have so airily discarded some of the real key pieces of their manifesto is testament to the fact that they didn’t really think too much about it in the first place. By taking the Tory line of funding University education and by arguing almost the complete opposite position to the one that they were elected on – by this they are choosing to spit in the faces of their electorate. They are totally screwing themselves. But fear not, they’ll be nice safe seats for Clegg and the inner circle lined up for when it all starts to go seriously wrong for them all. I don’t think he’ll goto the Lords because that place is rapidly showing even to old Tories that the reform train needs to carry on until the end. So, I reckon a safe Parliamentary Tory seat instead of an Earldom in a House of Lords which might be made an electable chamber sooner rather than later.

    I’m starting to really wonder how long this co-ilition will last!? I remember that many old and experienced Parliamentarians of various hues back in the time just after the election gave it 18 months. I’m not sure if its going to last that long! And who is going to cross the floor first? I wonder if it’ll take a new Labour leader to deliver on that one? I’m not sure if Charlie or Ming would be altogether comfortable with ‘R’Ed’ running the show.

    Maybe the Labour group need to start to sharpen their knives too – whilst keeping a close eye on whether or not our favourite fratricidal friend can start to deliver on his erstwhile promise? Now that would be a turn up for the book!

  • Ciaran Rehill

    I’d rather a reforming alcoholic with principles than a louse like Clegg without.

  • Paul Odtaa

    The only survival strategy for LibDems in south west London is to rename themselves the Liberal Conservatives, (affiliated to the Conservatives). In that way they would not be running against any Conservative candidates. This is the only way Vince Cable or Ed Davey have any hope of surviving the next election.

  • razcat

    I realise that journalists have to have SOMETHING to write about, it being the nature of their job, and that therefore the LibDems recent troubles have been something of a boon to them, but this is still a rather poor effort.
    The nature of politics, the very definition, is that it is a process of making decisions by reaching compromises. If one is of voting age we should be mature enough to understand that.
    You want a politician of principle that never bends with the wind ? I give you Joseph Stalin, Hitler, Mugabe, take your pick.
    I’m no card-carrying LibDem supporter, but personally I would prefer politicians who are HONEST ENOUGH to admit their original ideas don’t bear out in the realities of the situation, and who are flexible to devise a new strategy based on the principles of the most achievable solution.
    Seems I’m alone….

  • LancashireLad

    Norman Baker has got good reason to hold his head high, his campaign to force a proper investigation into Dr Kelly’s death made a new stride today when the Daily Mail published legal documents that expose facts that the government can no longer ignor.

    Five point plan to get New labour back on track

    1)Begin a murder investigation into Dr Kelly’s death

    2)Investigate politicians, civil servants and the police for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice regarding Dr Kelly’s death

    3) Put Blair on trial for waging a war of aggression.

    4) Get some policies

    5) Lose some crooks

  • LancashireLad

    I’d rather have a full bottle in front of me than a full frontal lobotomy.

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