Liberals didn't abandon Nick Clegg; he abandoned them
Whatever you think of the current Labour Party, there’s no denying that it knows how to lose an election.
The morning of 8 May brought a crushing defeat, but for all the upset there was no time wasted. Miliband resigned and straight away conversations started about what could be done differently – and under who – to win in 2020.
Coming, as it did, on the morning the party hoped to walk victorious into Downing Street, this was admirably resilient. But what of the night’s other losers, the Liberal Democrats?
While there is no consensus on why Labour lost it, the Liberal Democrats can be under no illusions: five years of propping up a Tory government had ground voter support down to a nub.
Yet somehow, the party seems to have missed this message. Its leaders speak as if the electorate lost the election, not them – as if no mistakes have been made, save for by the voters.
Clegg went on to say his MPs had lost their seats because of ‘forces entirely beyond their control’ and that the ‘politics of fear’ had cost them – the latter point was echoed by Vince Cable.
In a moment of undisguised contempt for the electorate, Clegg evoked a Liberal Democrat councillor who, on losing his seat, said he wholeheartedly accepted the voters’ verdict if it was their thanks for the scraps begged from the Tory table.
The notion that the coalition might have been a mistake, meanwhile, is not indulged at all. The party is agreed – it was brave and selfless to leap at power like a dog after a stick, and a move all should admire.
If a failure must be considered, it’s that the party did not adequately communicate its greatness. Yet this too can be someone else’s fault. One councillor told me they blamed the lack of a Liberal Democrat mouthpiece on Fleet Street.
Even Norman Lamb, who at least accepts some wrongdoing, seems to only give ground on the tuition fee U-turn, otherwise defending the Liberal Democrats’ time in Toryland.
One might expect something like humility from a party that lost 85 per cent of its MPs, but the talk is mainly of rebuilding, and – with the coalition not disavowed – it’s on these toxic foundations.
The year after entering the Conservative coalition, Lib Dem party membership plummeted 25 per cent. Herein lies the key.
The Liberal Democrat voter base was, in no small part, composed of people on the centre-left. Did Clegg and co really expect to get into bed with a right-wing party and retain that support?
For many, this loss will seem well earned and richly deserved. Here is a party that not only helped the Tories into power, but continued to support them even when its own values were the price.
Whether or not the party did the right thing by sporting a Tory leash (it didn’t) is neither here nor there. The voters have decided it was wrong and, until the survivors distance themselves from the decision, they will be starved of support.
Clegg may mourn a sad result for liberalism, but liberalism is alive and well. Its followers didn’t abandon his party; his party abandoned them.
What matters now is who liberals choose to support in the future and, at this stage, it’s not the Liberal Democrats.
Michael Havis is a blogger and reporter. Read more of his work hereLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.