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Lib Dem conference: The battle for the soul of the Liberal Democrats

24 September 2012

The Liberal Democrats are a party facing an identity crisis. During their many years in opposition, they had a slight all things to all men quality. But now they are in government, they are rapidly becoming defined in the public mind. How to respond to that is a question that they have been grappling with for the past two years.

In a packed and over-heated fringe meeting last night, Nick Clegg’s former director of strategy Richard Reeves provided his answer—which is, although more starkly stated, the leadership’s. Reeves’ argument is that the party should become a Liberal party of the radical centre. In other words, he wants to take off the Social Democratic hand brake.

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Reeves makes this case with verve and one can see the political space he’s talking about. The question, though, is how this translates into an electoral strategy on a constituency by constituency basis, the way the Liberal Democrats have always fought campaigns. As Reeves himself asked last night, ‘does a distinct national identity make it harder for us to build local coalitions?’

One thing that was particularly striking last night was the concerted effort by the leadership to shock the activists into realising that a whole bunch of voters are just not coming back. Reeves declared that ‘out of necessity, as well as principle, we can’t be a party of the centre left anymore.’ Jeremy Browne, the Home Office minister and one of the leading Orange Books liberals, said that ‘there’s now no need for lazy, let wing oppositionist people to vote Liberal Democrat as they can now vote Labour.’

The implication of all this is that like Viking warriors the Liberal Democrats have burnt their boats on the beach by entering government, and now need to make a success of it and stick with Clegg. There’s undoubtedly some truth to this. But the leadership murmurings will continue as long as the polls suggest that Vince Cable would boost the party’s poll ratings.

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Show comments
  • Andy Car Park

    Quiz: Match the men in the picture to the following descriptions:
    – closet queen
    – expenses cheat with closet boyfriend
    – coprophagiac
    – paedophile
    – necrophiliac
    – brown bowler
    – gargler on the jism of Beelzebub
    Meanwhile, the one at quarter to ten to Beardie appears to have gone blind – while stropping the mulligan.

    • Noa

      Priceless! A Classic! and in ” gargler on the jism of Beelzebub”, a new insult for the Ark’s library..
      No royalties paid though…

  • michael

    Matured students waving their first ever bills … Quizzically.

  • an ex-tory voter

    I think Reeves has a point, andd there is definitely political space between David Cameron and UKIP. Why shouldn’t that space be filled by a centre left Liberal Party?

    • Vulture

      There is such a party ex- : It’s the one led by Dave
      PS> Sorry for the aspersions on the WI.

  • patricia

    Spot on Vulture except the WI bit who are too intelligent to visit Skegness on a wet Sunday.

  • 2trueblue

    Soul of the party…. whatever that is. They have no idea what a real policy is. They have never had to be questioned about what comes out of their mouths until now, and frankly the result is not pretty.
    I loved the bit from Cable about the new bank, it would lend to those who have not been able to borrow from all other sources and will be backed by public money. The loans will be packaged up and sold on to investors. Where have we heard that before???? Isen’t this one of the main components of how the mess all started? Novel.

    • David Ossitt

      Spot on.

  • Jules

    Yes, up and down the land people are talking of nothing else but the need for a ‘Liberal party of the radical centre’.

    GET REAL!!

    Labour majority in 2015, here we come.

  • Austin Barry

    You just know, don’t you, that the pictured Green Man teaches enviromental studies at an inner city school, smells vaguely of urine, tobacco smoke and dead insects and probably has intimate piercings. One would like to see him suspended by his Prince Albert from a wind tower while the hooded crows take their revenge.

  • David Ossitt

    “The battle for the soul of the Liberal Democrats”

    They have no soul, wankers to a man; especially the women.

    • Showusyertitz

      Really, I think that might be Zeinab Badawi in the middle distance.

      • David Ossitt

        I think you are correct.

  • Vulture

    Look at them…just look at them. As Dorothy says, this picture says it all. The woolly, the sanctimonious, the well-meaning but hopelessly vague, the sad little failures with a misplaced sense of their own importance. OK for organising a WI outting to Skegness on a wet Sunday, perhaps…but governing the country? Sandal-wearing, muesli-munching beardie weirdies all of them. (Including the women).
    You must be joking! No wonder we are up to our ears in the brown stuff

    • anyfool

      What have you got against the should not conflate the skills of a sound organisation with the totally useless dung beetles burrowing around in Brighton.

    • dorothy wilson

      I’m not, nor ever have been, a member of the WI but it is doubtful if any of this bunch would qualify for membership!

  • dorothy wilson

    That picture says all you need to know about the LibDems!

    • 2PINGU

      That’s exactly what i thought

    • Douglas Carter

      I take the point, but consider it from another angle.
      Imagine being in a previously historic and successful Political party, which was once led by some of the greatest leaders in history. Imagine being a member of that party which has become so weak, it is only the party of the people in that photograph which keep that other party in Government.
      Sad. Very, very sad.

    • trevor21

      The only question that remains is where will this collection of idiots go when the Libdems are wiped out in 2015? One would imagine a sudden small spike in the membership of the Moonies and the Scientologists.That picture induces an almost uncontrollable gagging to vomit.

  • james102

    Does the photograph show what you would picture as the Radical Centre?
    The LibDems are finished; they were sacrificed in order to stop the risk of a rerun election producing a Eurosceptic Conservative majority government.
    By the time we have an election continental Europe will be in economic meltdown and we won’t be much better.

  • Heartless etc.,

    “slight all things to all men quality”

    That would be the quality the Hero of the H2B affected so well, and indeed that which the H2B tries to ape.

    Whoever it applies to, ‘slight’ is an understatement.

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