On the death of English Liberalism

Nick Clegg

You have to feel for Nick Clegg. Well okay, no you don’t. Indulge me for a moment though. Imagine you’re in his shoes the day following the last general election. You get to decide what form the next UK government takes. You’ve got three options, none of which are fun. Get into bed with a phenomenally unpopular Labour Prime Minister and form a ‘coalition of the losers’, spending the next term being constantly reminded that you don’t have a mandate to govern and go into the next election having built up the traditional public ire towards whatever the sitting government is coupled with the easily marketable line, ‘you didn’t vote for them anyway.’ Doesn’t sound great.

Of course you could stick to your guns and refuse to form a government with either party. This is doubtless what many would have liked to see but consider the plight of the career politician; charismatic, energetic and (at the time) popular but unable to do anything of what you think will make the country better, watching year after year after year as people across the aisle ruin the show and hurt the people you swore to protect. Even a little power is better than none, eh? Better to be at the big table weighing in than out on the street whining about the size of the building. Get some of what you want rather than none?

And so you come to your third option. One which will cause your twitter feed to explode with abuse, supporters to abandon you, opponents to deride you and comedians to systematically and ruthlessly reduce you to a whipping boy fetching the tea. Yes, you can form a government with the party almost diametrically opposed to everything you believe in. As compromises go, it’s a big one but power’s tempting for good reasons as well as bad.

Aside from anything else, a role in government raises the profile of the perennial third party. It’s not inconceivable that whilst the opposition flounder about trying to decide who they are and whether they’re still ‘new’ or not, you can work with the Tories on matters you agree on like… err… stuff, and in the alternative provide an opposition that is mature enough to disagree in friendship and so become a viable option in five years time. As the Prime Minister said at the wedding ceremony in front of the press, it could be a seismic shift in the way British politics is conducted. It’ll also get Dick Robinson off your back like he was in the election. The moment the Tories say you’re alright, so will the BBC’s Chief Political Editor and so your public image is buoyed yet again.

Of course, it didn’t exactly go down like that. Even the most pessimistic of Lib Dem strategists could hardly have predicted the backlash that would have come. Optimistic students, convinced that politics wasn’t just for the old and miserly, voting for the first time and putting a shiny tick in a yellow box may never vote Lib Dem again. Conservatism grows with age meaning nothing short of a political miracle will stop the Lib Dems from being savagely beaten back into obscurity come the next election and so we come to the heart of the problem facing English politics. Liberalism is no more.

‘The Greens’ cries one lone voice in the back. Nope. The Greens are an obvious choice to take over the disenchanted Left’s cause, but the parties aren’t the problem. It’s the voters. No one in England (which comfortably outweighs the Welsh, Scottish and Irish voting bloc) wants liberal politics to return. If they did, support for the Greens would have gone through the sustainable bungalow’s roof. It hasn’t. Instead we’ve seen the rise of UKIP.

UKIP is an easy vote for middle-income middle-Englanders reading The Daily Fail, constantly bombarded with terrifying images of millions of Romanians drugging people on doorsteps in order to rob them, Bulgarians leaving life and love behind to scam benefits off a welfare system which already costs more than the Andromeda Galaxy, Germans rigging the European economy to give British pounds to lazy Greeks and Italians, Scots trying to dethrone the Queen and the Welsh doing… well whatever it is they do. Are there still mines? Doesn’t matter. Just make sure we cut the budget next year as well.

UKIP is also a safe haven for those Conservatives put off by a formerly centre-right Prime Minister who likes gay people and is befuddled with the idiotic notion that being part of a union with Europe makes it easier to trade with them and so make more money. They’re not racist though. Should point that out. Christ knows they do it often enough.

I say ‘formerly centre-right’ PM because noting and being scared shitless of this run to the right, David Cameron has put his M&S trainers on and run hard to catch up. He’s not alone. Ed Milibandit, Defender of the Poor, Halter of Gas Prices and Champion of Cost of Living Debates, has also moved to the right. He doesn’t like immigration or Europe that much now either. His Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls & fellow bellends have made a point of saying they won’t necessarily reverse a number of Tory cuts. It took a backbench MP under fire in a Scottish independent debate North of the border splurting out a promise to repeal the bedroom tax to force the Milibot into admitting he would if he won.

Which he will. Short of a severe change in the weather, Labour appear to be on course for a majority government next time around. This isn’t the Labour your parents and grandparents supported though. This is a harder version of the New Labour everyone says they hated. A New New Labour if you will. A Labour that abhors the unions, is content with the idea that foreigners are largely to blame for the state of the nation and isn’t particularly opposed to cuts in welfare which hurt its base, because it can pick up more votes on the right than it will lose to the left.

Who’s to blame? Nigel Farage? Not a chance. Farage is the symptom of a disorder, not the cause. The reason UKIP is so popular is because the population of England has become more right-wing. Support for inherited privilege has gone up (not just the Queen but the cast of Made in Chelsea are oddly popular as well), support for internationalism has gone down. Support for faith schools is at a record high. Anger against teachers for failing to raise our children for us is up there too. In the countryside fox hunting and badger baiting are more popular than green energy. And for every person who complains about austerity, there’s two who won’t vote against it next year. The NHS is so valuable in our eyes, we’re prepared to carve it up and sell it to the highest bidder. We don’t want a nationalised postal service. We sit happily by as history is rewritten to make vindictive dead PMs heroes of the underclass. We’re not opposed to new builds for poor people who can’t afford nice houses like ours, just so long as they’re built somewhere else.

‘No matter who wins, the government always gets in’ goes the old proverb. Thanks to a troubling shift in the English psyche, no matter who wins the next general election, the Thatcherites are holding centre stage. Is it any wonder Scots want to distance themselves from it?

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