September 19, 2010


Lib Dems: They love the power, but they're not sure about the responsibility: As some Lib Dems suffer from buyers' remorse, Nick Clegg will have to remind his party why they chose coalition (Andrew Rawnsley, 9/19/10, The Observer)

It was with considerable audacity and skill – and measures of desperation and duplicity too – that he negotiated them into the coalition with the Conservatives. They didn't achieve the Lib Dem cabinet that he imagined 12 months ago. That was a fantasy too far. But Liberal bottoms occupy seats around the top table for the first time since the 1940s. They have at least one minister in nearly every department. The third party has not wielded such power for generations.

There is tangible evidence in Liverpool that they have been transformed from hecklers on the touchline of politics to players at the centre of it. There will be living, breathing, swanking Lib Dem secretaries of state boasting that they are implementing the party's manifesto – well, some of it anyway. These ministers will have announcements to make on behalf of the government – "sweeties" as they have been dubbed in Downing Street. The media will be there in greater numbers than before and so will the lobbyists, the exhibitors and all the other lifeforms that cluster around power. Mr Clegg will leave his conference early because he has a speaking date at the United Nations. This time last year, he could walk the length of a crowded railway station and was lucky if anyone recognised him. Now the Lib Dems have a leader who is invited to address the world.

They will applaud him, they will congratulate themselves, but there will also be a deep undercurrent of unease at this conference. It is not hard to find Lib Dems who are already wondering whether they made a terrible mistake when they hitched themselves to the Tories. The optimists such as Mr Clegg view it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to legitimise the Lib Dems as a party of power and make Britain much more comfortable about choosing coalition government in future. The pessimists fear that the third party will end up split, swallowed or smashed. History is on the side of the gloomy: evisceration has been the terrible fate of the Liberals every time they have gone into coalition with the Tories in the past.

It's remarkable how uniformly the rules hold true across the Anglosphere: the electorate wants Third Way policies but the ideologues within the parties can't stand the compromises they have to make to deliver them, so parties in power implode themselves in order to return to the wilderness and restore their useless purity.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at September 19, 2010 6:56 AM
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