Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Lib Dems are a very odd sort of "Power-hungry"

I keep seeing the phrase "power-hungry" used in conjunction with the Lib Dems. Admittedly it is often amongst the frothing anti-coalition comments on a "Comment is Free" or "New Statesman" article but there is a perception that is gaining momentum that the Lib Dems have done and pretty much will do anything to get and retain power.

The thing is, that doesn't really make any sense, at least from a Westminster perspective.

Let's imagine that you are a fresh-faced Nick Clegg embarking on your political career in the mid-Nineties. You are working for the European Commission in various jobs and are then given a position as a policy adviser and speech writer for the Conservative appointed Trade Commissioner Leon Brittan. Now at this point your star is definitely on the rise and the possibility of winning a seat in the European Parliament is on the horizon given your experience and background. So, if you are truly power-hungry and wish to be a member of the Commons in a few years time and eventually in government do you:

a) Use your contacts through Mr Brittan to get yourself selected as a Tory candidate?
b) Plough your own furrow and try to get selected for a party that has never held power in Westminster in your entire lifetime?

Surely, someone who was obsessed with getting and retaining executive power would have done a)? But we know that Nick Clegg did b). What on Earth was he thinking, running for a party that since the end of WWII had had at most a few dozen MPs? Under the First Past the Post system that party was unlikely to be in a position to form a government in the following 20 or so years.

Or what if you were Vince Cable who actually did used to be a member of the Labour Party but defected to the SDP in 1982 and then stuck with that party as it became subsumed into the Liberal Democrats even when its poll ratings were in a statistical tie with zero, and his former party ended up in government for 13 years from 1997. Surely an unprincipled, power-hungry politician would have found an excuse to defect back to them? I'm sure a nice juicy cabinet position could have been found for him.

The same applies to Chris Huhne, Ed Davey, David Laws and countless other Lib Dem MPs and ministers. They all could have chosen a much easier path to power than joining the third party and then waiting for the electoral dice to fall the way of a coalition (which judging by historical standards is a very rare occurrence indeed). Instead they all stuck with the Lib Dems through thick and thin, opposition, ridicule and taunts of being irrelevant.

There must be another explanation then? Maybe, just maybe these politicians believed enough in the cause of their party to want to stick with it and even if only in opposition try to affect the national debate using the small platform it afforded? And then maybe, just maybe when the opportunity to be part of a government came along those same politicians weighed up the situation and decided in the national interest that it was best to form a stable coalition with the largest party in parliament largely for the sake of economic stability*?

Whether you believe that or not though, the idea that the Lib Dems are completely unprincipled and power addicted does not stand up to even cursory scrutiny. If the MPs that make up the party really were like that, they would never have been in the party in the first place.

*We will never know the counterfactual of what would have happened if they had declined but I bet it would not have been pretty - the markets would likely have punished our country for having delivered a hung parliament that then could not form a majority government programme.

This post was first published on Dale & Co.

1 comment:

Voter said...

When have they stood up to the Conservatives on principle?

Like the current issue with Assange