The World’s Worst Political Party

Tom Doran

Nick Clegg 226x300 The Worlds Worst Political PartyFirst, some clarification. When I say “worst”, I don’t mean “most evil” or even “most wrong”. Even Hamas and the BNP have their role in the political ecology, like those parasitic wasps that grow in the bellies of spiders. Foul as they are, they have a reason to exist, even if only to give decent people an enemy.

Nor do I mean the most obscure or ineffective. The estimable Alex Massie has often written of a shadowy group known as the “Scottish Conservatives”, whose existence has yet to be confirmed to my satisfaction. But should they turn out to be real, even right-wing Scots need a place to congregate, even if only to weep bitter tears of loneliness. A Northern Irish friend suggests the UUP, but even they have their place; not all Unionists are fundamentalist loons, after all.

The world’s worst party, by my idiosyncratic definition, has no reason to exist. It doesn’t inspire hatred or loathing, for these are vital emotions that effect change in the world. The world’s worst party should inspire the opposite, the sort of dingy anomie felt when contemplating an anonymous patch of pre-fabricated concrete in a multi-storey car park. They should make you wonder not only why you got up this morning, but why anyone gets up any morning.

They should be, in other words, the Liberal Democrats. I don’t ask this lightly, but just look at this picture of Nick Clegg (above), really look at it. There. Did that improve your day? I thought not. Now read what he had to say last year, in response to an independent report on the Rennard scandal:

It makes sobering reading. It shows that stretching over a 20 year period a series of mistakes were made which left a number of women feeling seriously let down and for that there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever.

The report also shows that the individuals who dealt with their complaints had the right motives, but there weren’t the right processes in place to support the women who’d come forward. And as Leader of the Liberal Democrats I take responsibility for that. That’s why we’ve made a number of big changes in the party in recent years and why we must and will do more.

Emphasis mine. Before we move on to current events, let me draw your attention to the phrase “a series of mistakes were made”. Perhaps Clegg sees this as a candid admission, but imagine reading that as one of the women concerned. “Oops! We accidentally treated you like interlopers in a 1950s gentlemen’s club. How silly of us! But our motives were impeccable.” Comforting, I think you’ll agree.

So really, the outrage greeting the news of Lord Rennard’s flight from karma is unwarranted: this is how it was always going to end. It particularly shouldn’t surprise anyone who followed the saga of David Ward MP. Despite the man’s self-evident case of what Jeffrey Goldberg calls “Jew-on-the-brain syndrome” (see this analysis by the much-missed Norman Geras), he slithered back into the fold after what can barely be described as a slap on the wrist.

But all parties have bad apples, don’t they? This is what every Lib Dem reading this will already be rushing to remind me. This is obviously true to some extent, but I submit that something inherent to the Liberal Democrats attracts unpleasant characters. For what really separates them from the other parties is their lack of a coherent ideology.

I go into this in more detail here, but essentially, the party’s nature as a ragtag coalition of the far left and mushy centre means they can’t stand for a philosophy of government, as such. Instead, they have come to represent compromise itself. Being a mushy centrist myself, I’m fond of compromise… but only towards some meaningful end. Many – even most – Liberal Democrats are perfectly nice people, but the sanctimonious, why-can’t-we-all-be-friends nature of the enterprise also attracts people with, shall we say, an inflated sense of their own virtue. And if you know you’re in the right – of course you do, or you’d be in one of the Two Old Parties – then what’s a little cover-up between friends?

Talk to any Labour or Tory activist and they’ll speak of their opposite numbers with grim wariness, but also a kind of battle-hardened respect. Mention the Lib Dems, though, and you’ll see something like genuine hatred. This is partly down to their reputation for dirty campaign tactics, but it also reflects a deeper divide. The Liberal Democrats, they feel, are cheating: they want the free popularity that comes with being “above politics” without the responsibilities of being elected. Like many people who want it both ways, they may end up getting neither.

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  • Neil

    That would appear to be an interesting mix of post-2010 Guardian-leaning irrational dislike of the junior Coalition partner, and outdated 2008 assumptions that the Lib Dems cannot govern.

  • Frankie D.

    Or the knowledge that lib dems are just power hungry tory whores.

  • Hrothgir Ó Dómhnaill

    I think ‘filthy Quislings’ covers it better.

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