Lib-Dem road to nowhere

THE ROUND of national party conferences traditionally tops off the British “silly season” and this week it’s been the movers and shakers of the Liberal Democrats who have taken centre stage at their annual bash in Brighton. Nick Clegg tried to fend off criticism of his leadership with a half-baked “apology” over tuition fees last week. But Clegg’s eve of conference mea culpa did him no favours as he wasn’t regretting reneging on the pre-election pledge not to increase fees but merely apologising for making the promise in the first place.

It hasn’t been a good year for the Lib-Dems. Labour has a commanding 10-point lead in the opinion polls, with the Lib-Dems trailing way behind in third place firing demands for a change of course as well as rumours of leadership changes. But their nose-dive began the day they chose to collaborate with the Tories to form the Coalition Government in 2010.

When Labour was in office the Liberal Democrats posed as radicals with a platform that many of their supporters claimed was to the left of what Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had put on the table.

The Liberal Democrats opposed the Iraq war and the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system, defended the National Health Service and argued for an increase in income tax for high earners. And they encouraged “tactical voting” in favour of their own candidates, arguing that this was the best way to keep the Tories out.

All this was dumped when they went into coalition with the Conservatives and they rubberstamped austerity, privatisation and the punitive attack on benefits in exchange for the deputy premiership and a few seats in David Cameron’s Cabinet.

Now their leaders are singing a different song — opposing the parliamentary boundary changes, challenging austerity and talking about “liberal and social-democratic principles” in a renewed attempt to win back their lost voters.

Though the Lib-Dems say the sinking of their House of Lords reform bill by Tory back-benchers was the last straw, the real reason behind their change of tactics is that we are in the run-up to the next general election, which must take place in 2015 and could be held earlier if the coalition collapses.

They calculate that the Tories will lose and they clearly don’t want to go down with the sinking ship. Better still they hope to retain enough support to, once again, hold the balance of power in Parliament this time in coalition with Labour.

This is the last thing in the world we’d want to see. The Liberal Democrats may draw their support from the middle strata but all they actually represent is part of the pro-European section of the bourgeoisie. They supported most of the past Tory anti-union legislation and virtually all the privatisations that have swept away the substantial public sector and nationalised industries that bankrolled the “welfare state”. Unfortunately that is also the view of Miliband & Co and the Blairites who still hold prominent positions in the Labour Party.

From the very beginning of his leadership Ed Miliband has assumed that Labour could win the next election simply on anti-Tory sentiment boosted by waves of disillusioned Lib-Dem voters. And the Labour leader has refused to make any pledges to the organised labour even though virtually all Labour’s money comes from the affiliated unions that set the party up in the first place.

The Liberal Democrats are just another reactionary businessman’s party, whose true nature has been exposed by their performance in the current Coalition. They have nothing to offer working people one way or the other.