Thursday, 23 September 2010

A Liberal Gamble

I have spent the last day or two watching pictures come out of the Liberal Democrat Conference in Liverpool, and I wonder if I am the only one who has my head in my my hands when I hear Nick Clegg speaking.

In contrast to the way that Vince Cable strains at the leash, mouth foaming in his restrained desire to put capitalism to the sword, Clegg seems limp and deceitful, a man who postured pre-election firmly at the side of the centre left that forms the backbone of his own party but knows all too well that he is now sleeping with the enemy and is in way too deep to pull out.

The chilly echo that greeted his keynote speech at the party conference is all too telling. Liberal voters have been swift to denounce the Orange Book cognoscenti within the party and many are now of the opinion that the party has completely sold out to the Conservatives. By moving away from the core of his own support, Clegg is now running a lonely three-legged race with David Cameron, and faces the likelihood that while failure to resolve the crisis within the country will see blame apportioned equally, credit for any successes is unlikely to be shared by the blue half of government.

These are unique and uncomfortable times for the Orange Book politicians. Regrettably for the Liberal Democrats, many of their big name politicians are not, in fact, big names at all. Chris Huhne, Mark Oaten and Susan Kramer are not the profiles that will save the party from rejection by its own faithful. In Vince Cable they have at least one extremely knowledgable and respected trump card; however, he is bogged down in the unpopular Royal Mail privatisation debate, and will not win internal political arguments about bank taxes and bonuses.

As the stakes are raised progressively higher in the coming months as those bank bonuses continue unabated and the real scale of economic cuts becomes apparent to the voter on the street, I believe that Clegg will begin to look increasingly like a man gambling in a casino at stakes where he simply cannot afford to lose. Clegg spoke earlier in the week about the 'quiet courage' of the party in choosing to form a coalition government with the Conservatives. These are fine words which fool no-one, and he will not genuinely expect things amongst his own party to stay quiet for long.

But then, this is a new kind of politics, and Clegg speaks of taking risks in government. His supporters will hope that he is aware of just what kind of risk he is taking. The very future of his party is at stake. However, rather than acknowledge this truth, it seems that Clegg has taken to the ether and started to believe his own hype. The Liberal Democrats are, after all, the new kingmakers - it just seems that somewhere along the line, they have begun to fool themselves that they are the kings.

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