Why do the Lib Dems suffer so many scandals?

From "Paddy Pantsdown", to Charles Kennedy, Mark Oaten, David Laws and Chris Huhne, the party has often been in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

If it feels as if the Lib Dems suffer a lot of scandals for a small party, it's because they do. To refresh: in 1992, the party's first leader Paddy Ashdown was forced to disclose an affair five years earlier with his secretary Tricia Howard after the tabloids learned of the relationship (prompting the brilliant Sun headline "Paddy Pantsdown"). On 7 January 2006, Charles Kennedy resigned from the same position after announcing that he had sought "professional help" for a "drink problem".

Just two weeks later, Mark Oaten (who had been due to run Kennedy's campaign for re-election) quit as the party's home affairs spokesman after the News of the World revealed that he had an affair with a rent boy. Five days later (it was a surreal month), Simon Hughes announced that he too had had gay relationships despite running a homophobic campaign against Labour candidate Peter Tatchell during the 1983 Bermondsey by-election in which he was presented as "the straight choice" (for which he has since apologised). 

Since entering government, the party has seen one cabinet minister, David Laws, forced to resign for claiming expenses to pay rent to his partner, and another, Chris Huhne, imprisoned for perverting the course of justice by allowing Vicky Pryce to accept speeding points on his behalf. Last year, MP David Ward had the whip withdrawn after writing on Holocaust Memorial Day that he was "saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians", and, most recently, Chris Rennard, the party's former chief executive and elections maestro, was suspended after allegations of sexual harassment.  

Why do the Lib Dems, generally thought of as a dull but worthy bunch, produce such an inordinate number of scandals? Perhaps the most plausible explanation is the lack of scrutiny the party received before entering government. The Laws, Hune and Rennard scandals all have their origins in the years before 2010. Oaten memorably recounted how shocked he was when one of his rent boy's companions recognised him from TV and greeted him with the words "You're Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat MP", prompting him to reportedly reply: "It can't be me, I must have a double. I'm not a politician". No senior Lib Dem frontbencher would attempt this defence today. Another theory put to me by one Westminster source is that "liberals tend to be very permissive and thus more prone to scandal." Whatever the truth, Nick Clegg will surely hope that his party's closet has now finally been purged of skeletons. 

Nick Clegg speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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In your 30s? You missed out on £26,000 and you're not even protesting

The 1980s kids seem resigned to their fate - for now. 

Imagine you’re in your thirties, and you’re renting in a shared house, on roughly the same pay you earned five years ago. Now imagine you have a friend, also in their thirties. This friend owns their own home, gets pay rises every year and has a more generous pension to beat. In fact, they are twice as rich as you. 

When you try to talk about how worried you are about your financial situation, the friend shrugs and says: “I was in that situation too.”

Un-friend, right? But this is, in fact, reality. A study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that Brits in their early thirties have a median wealth of £27,000. But ten years ago, a thirty something had £53,000. In other words, that unbearable friend is just someone exactly the same as you, who is now in their forties. 

Not only do Brits born in the early 1980s have half the wealth they would have had if they were born in the 1970s, but they are the first generation to be in this position since World War II.  According to the IFS study, each cohort has got progressively richer. But then, just as the 1980s kids were reaching adulthood, a couple of things happened at once.

House prices raced ahead of wages. Employers made pensions less generous. And, at the crucial point that the 1980s kids were finding their feet in the jobs market, the recession struck. The 1980s kids didn’t manage to buy homes in time to take advantage of low mortgage rates. Instead, they are stuck paying increasing amounts of rent. 

If the wealth distribution between someone in their 30s and someone in their 40s is stark, this is only the starting point in intergenerational inequality. The IFS expects pensioners’ incomes to race ahead of workers in the coming decade. 

So why, given this unprecedented reversal in fortunes, are Brits in their early thirties not marching in the streets? Why are they not burning tyres outside the Treasury while shouting: “Give us out £26k back?” 

The obvious fact that no one is going to be protesting their granny’s good fortune aside, it seems one reason for the 1980s kids’ resignation is they are still in denial. One thirty something wrote to The Staggers that the idea of being able to buy a house had become too abstract to worry about. Instead:

“You just try and get through this month and then worry about next month, which is probably self-defeating, but I think it's quite tough to get in the mindset that you're going to put something by so maybe in 10 years you can buy a shoebox a two-hour train ride from where you actually want to be.”

Another reflected that “people keep saying ‘something will turn up’”.

The Staggers turned to our resident thirty something, Yo Zushi, for his thoughts. He agreed with the IFS analysis that the recession mattered:

"We were spoiled by an artificially inflated balloon of cheap credit and growing up was something you did… later. Then the crash came in 2007-2008, and it became something we couldn’t afford to do. 

I would have got round to becoming comfortably off, I tell myself, had I been given another ten years of amoral capitalist boom to do so. Many of those who were born in the early 1970s drifted along, took a nap and woke up in possession of a house, all mod cons and a decent-paying job. But we slightly younger Gen X-ers followed in their slipstream and somehow fell off the edge. Oh well. "

Will the inertia of the1980s kids last? Perhaps – but Zushi sees in the support for Jeremy Corbyn, a swell of feeling at last. “Our lack of access to the life we were promised in our teens has woken many of us up to why things suck. That’s a good thing. 

“And now we have Corbyn to help sort it all out. That’s not meant sarcastically – I really think he’ll do it.”