Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Lib Dems: here comes your 19th non-existent breakthrough

The Liberal Democrats – or the Social and Liberal Democrats, or the SDP/Liberal Alliance, or the plain vanilla Liberal Party – have perpetually been ‘on the verge of a breakthrough’ ever since I was a zealous teenage Bennite who still looked good in tight trousers.

Come to think of it, they’ve probably been on the verge of a breakthrough even longer than that. The Orpington by-election of 1964 springs to mind.

Accordingly, ‘go back to your constituencies and prepare for power’ seems to have been the implicit subtext of every Liberal leader’s conference speech in living memory.

Ahem. It still hasn’t happened, fellas.

It's not that they don't try their best to appeal to as many people as possible. Pinning the Lib Dems down politically is like trying to nail jelly to a wall made of jelly, in front of a partisan audience drawn from the ranks of the National Jelly Protection League.

Are they essentially a party of radical Evan Harrises, arguing against the Iraq war and in favour of both the legalisation of all drugs and the Denis Healey lite demand of taxing the rich until the pips vaguely consider making some kind of sound?

Or are they a bunch of Vince Cable-style Orange Book free marketeers ready to unleash a brand of refried Thatcherism that would gladden the heart of Alan Milburn if they ever made it into coalition talks with either of the other main parties?

Or does it depend on whether they are canvassing in a Labour or a Tory marginal at the time?

Here’s a thought experiment. I have long thought that ballot papers in all British elections should contain a box marked ‘none of the above’.

Where ‘none of the above’ secures a plurality of the votes cast, the election should be held again, with all of the previous candidate debarred.

If that simple reform was ever instituted, I reckon the number of Lib Dem elected representatives would plummet to almost zero.


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