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What do Lib Dems believe in? Take your pick

Duncan_Hames_at_Sheffield_2011As the Liberal Democrat conference unfolds, it has given me cause for reflection of my own experience over the last few weeks, speaking to voters in the towns and villages that make up the Chippenham constituency, particularly Bradford, Chippenham, Corsham and Melksham, I have been struck by how many voters feel personally betrayed by Lib Deb MP, Duncan Hames.

I spoke to one woman from Corsham, a life long Labour supporter, who was persuaded to vote Lib Dem in 2010 after meeting Duncan Hames in the street, and him looking her in the eye and assuring her that the only way to stop a Conservative government was to vote for him. Since then Mr Hames has been staunch supporter of the Conservative led government.

Having specifically pledged to “vote against any increase in [student tuition] fees in the next parliament”, according to They work for you, Mr Hames:

In the lead up to the 2010 election, the Lib Dems warned of “a Tory VAT bombshell”, warning that “You’d pay £389 more a year in VAT under the Conservatives”

According to They work for you, Mr Hames:

The Lib Dems also betrayed voters over the Mansion Tax. Party leader, Nick Clegg, made a speech to the Resolution Foundation on 26 Jan 2012 saying:

The Mansion Tax is right, it makes sense and the Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case for it. We’re going to stick to our guns.”

But as BBC news reported on 12 March 2013:

MPs have rejected Labour calls for a “mansion tax” on properties worth more than £2m to be introduced before the next general election. Conservative and Lib Dem MPs joined forces to defeat the move by 63 votes after a Commons debate.”

Despite representing themselves as a party of individual liberty, the Lib Dems are Backing the Tories’ Gagging Bill, which threatens to stop charities and campaigning groups speaking out on the issues that matter to them.

Even the non-partisan Electoral Commission warns that this bill is a significant threat to campaigning organisations.

“the Bill creates significant regulatory uncertainty for large and small organisations that campaign on, or even discuss, public policy issues in the year before the next general election, and imposes significant new burdens on such organisations”

Duncan Hames MP supports a bill that could potentially make it a criminal offence for his constituents to campaign in the year before an election on matters such as whether Corsham has a railway station, whether uniform postal prices are maintained by Royal Mail in rural areas, or over service cuts by Wiltshire council. It would limit public debate over issues like the badger cull; or hunting with dogs, gagging both supporters and opponents of the Avon Vale hunt.

Although it is a shock for many voters to discover how duplicitous the Liberal Democrats are, it is no surprise for activists involved in local politics, where the Lib Dems have a foot hold. In local town halls and boroughs around the UK the Liberals prop up Tory administrations in coalition, committed to a cuts agenda; while professing to be completely different. These cynical operators are the last people on earth who are going to “clean up politics” and give it a fresh start.

The Nasty Lib Dems website is an invaluable resource in documenting the dirty tricks and underhand tactics of these carpet-baggers.

The strategy guide titled Effective Opposition, first exposed back in 2002 but remaining available for several years until discontinued, set out clearly the group’s attitude to how Lib Dem campaigners should approach local elections.

Published by the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors (ALDC) – an autonomous but official ‘Associated Organisation’ of the party – the handbook’s most controversial recommendation was to: “be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly”.

However it also advises candidates to “exaggerate” claims and to use a range of other negative campaigning tactics.

As a blog posting on The Guardian’s website reminded us in 2010, on page 23 the handbook advises candidates “Don’t be afraid to exaggerate” and on page 4 “Positive campaigning will NOT be enough to win control of the council.”

On page 6 the handbook encourages duplicity, saying “you can secure support from voters who normally vote Tory by being effectively anti-Labour and similarly in a Tory area secure Labour votes by being anti-Tory.”

We’re finding evidence of all these tactics being employed in the Lib Dems’ local campaigning.

What this publication shows is that the incidents we’re uncovering can’t just be dismissed as the ill-judged actions of the occasional ‘bad apple’, but are instead symptomatic of broader, rotten attitudes to democracy.

The Liberals also brazenly position themselves to benefit from tactical voting, rather than campaigning on their own beliefs, they trumpet that they are “the only ones who can beat Labour here” or “the only ones who can beat the Tories here”. “It is a two horse race!

Rather than campaigning on their beliefs or their record, they tirelessly produce “Focus team” leaflets, photographing their hapless, no-mark candidates awkwardly posing in front of local landmarks, and claiming that they are well known community activists. If you are unlucky enough to have a Lib Dem councillor you will receive regular leaflets that never enlighten you about what the party actually stands for, but full of gushing stories of heroic victories over black bin-bags and dog-poo. The Focus Team leaflets seek to build a cult of personality around these rather unremarkable councillors that would have made Stalin blush.

Paradoxically, the biggest victim of this electoral cynicism is the Liberal Democrat Party itself, who have hollowed out their own ideological content, and undermined any foundation of political principle. They have become an artefact of the first past the post electoral system, giving voice to a form of contentless anti-politics individualism. Liberal Democrat supporters project their own expectations onto what is effectively a blank canvass; and Lib Dem politicians are often maverick individualists, who will say or promise anything for votes.

This is why the Liberal Democrat Party is riven with division between those more politically aligned with Labour, and those who prefer the Conservatives. As Andrew Rawnsley observes, the Lib Dems are deeply split on which party they would prefer to form a coalition with, should no party win an overall majority at the next general election.

But the very nature of that debate shows the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the Lib Dems. Instead of looking to the electorate to make a clear choice of government based upon the manifesto commitments of the parties, the Lib Dems see the opinions of the voters as a mere formal prelude to the business of horse trading by professional politicians, scheming in closed rooms about which commitments they will cynically ditch. Groucho Marx described the Liberal Democrat outlook perfectly

Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”


One Comment

  1. Rob the cripple says:

    I know I keep on saying it but it’s the same within Labour, yes the Liberals sold out, so what your in power so things change. I’m not saying it’s right, but my MP stated proudly she would not vote for a war in Iraq or tuition fees, she voted for the lot then came back to state it’s different once your an MP you have to toe the party line.

    Then at the last election she came out to say now we have a socialist leader in Miliband she could return to her roots, yet seems it easy to sell out your roots and the tell us you have found them again.

    I never listen to people at election time because they are simple electioneering, and out to either win or keep the seat.

    Being disabled I’ve seen what labour have done to keep power and sell out principles.

    In the end I just listen to them smile and then sit at home, a or at least I did.

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