Following the crushing defeat of the Liberal Democrats in the general election, the centre of British politics could best be described as a bit of a no man’s land. It is a centre ground stained with yellow-orangey blood, and the feathers of a dove. Nick Clegg tells of how the Lib Dems will become the comeback kids of UK politics, but a growing disillusionment with centrist politics means this looks increasingly doubtful.
As one Edinburgh Lib Dem councillor put it, the Lib Dem decision to side with the Tories in 2010 put all of the hard constituency level work of bringing up the parties reputation into jeopardy. That the work had been wasted. Squandered. This lamentable comment from the now ex-Lib Dem councillor, however, is rooted in a wider shift in the nature of British politics away from centrist policies. A movement which we should all cherish and – with the demise of the Liberal Democrats as a political force – rejoice in.
The Lib Dems have always occupied a unique position in British politics. Unlike the Tory or the Labour party, they have never truly had a core ideology with which members or voters have had to engage with. They are a typical example of centrist politics, a political cross-dresser and chameleon able to present an open field into which its members throw their own ideas of what the party stands for into the void, and hope for the best. It is exactly why so many Lib Dem conferences will draw the strangest concoction of those who are left and right, and those who have not really thought about their individual politics.
The Lib Dems have subsequently fallen victim, at this last election, to their very nature. As long as they remained outside government, they could continue to engage in all acts of electorate soliciting to draw them in no matter what voters’ political persuasions were. The moment that they enacted policy and violated what was considered as core principles of the party, their base eroded and 49 seats eventually dissipated towards the Tories and the Labour party.
Why the abandonment so rapidly of such key supporters? Because fundamentally, the Lib Dems have no core ideology beyond that which the electorate constructs. Catching all ultimately leads to catching none. As Liberals you would think that they support equal marriage, however the recently elected leader, Tim Farron, abstained on the matter. Not exactly strong credentials for a middle of the road liberal.
This whole movement away from centrist politics in the UK reflects the electorate’s distaste for parties with no core ideology.
The Tories have returned to their usual policy of slamming the poor and the Labour party has once again found its soul with the election of Jeremy Corbyn. With the return of ideology to these isles, the sweeping away of centrist politics, devoid of passion, principle and policy is necessary.
When Nick Clegg says that they will be the comeback kids of UK politics, he would do well to remember that his party needs to find a crutch on which to stand, and a foundation from which the party can spread their views. For now, thankfully, this catch all party will catch none and their reduced influence will ensure, for years to come, that voters are going to choose between the politics of the Left or the Right and shirk the baseless centrism represented by the Lib Dems. The comeback kids? I think not.