21 September, 2006

Lib doomed

This cartoon by Steve Bell in The Guardian pretty much sums up the state of the Liberal Democrats at present.

Watching them at this week's party conference has been akin to eavesdropping on an overlit, understated tupperware party.

Old age reeked from every pore, along with equally ancient bugbears and brickbats. Everybody smiled and laughed on cue and nobody raised their voice too loudly. When they clapped, they clapped with reticence and timidity. Standing ovations quickly curtailed to modest muttering. Policies were debated but to no true end. There were no anti-climaxes because there were no climaxes. The conference merely began, quietly cleared its throat, then disappeared.

The fire has gone out of the Liberal Democrats and all that's left for its old-timers to do is rake through the embers. Menzies Campbell should have burst out the starting gates upon becoming leader and stamped his authority and personality throughout the party in his first 100 days, like all decent political helmsmen do. Instead he dithered and declined and withered and waned and said little of any consequence to nobody in particular.

The result has been a wasted year, a squandered inheritance (the highest number of MPs ever) and falling public credibility. I remember watching footage of a Lib Dem rally during last year's General Election and being amazed at the scenes of tumult and excitement ricocheting around the venue. People of all ages clamoured to lend their support to a party which had bravely and correctly stood up against the war in Iraq and student tuition fees and ID cards and denying old people free health care and a raft of other lunatic destructive Labour policies. The atmosphere, even at one remove, was palpable and potent.

By contrast the atmosphere detectable at the Lib Dem conference this week, what there was of one, was stale and indifferent. I voted for the party at the last election and, despite at the time living in an ostensibly safe Labour seat, helped make enough of a dent in the sitting MP's majority to turn it into a winnable proposition next time round. That was assuming the Lib Dems continued on the same kind of trajectory as they had up to 2005.

How quickly everything put together falls apart.


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