“What is the point of the Lib Dems?” ask politicians, journalists, Lib Dem activists, Labour activists, students, taxi drivers and anyone else who has ever expressed a view on – or even a passing interest in! – British politics.
Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander have been touring the broadcasting studios trying to defend the Lib Dems’ position (well, what position? They u-turned – again! – between Friday and Sunday) on Cameron’s Euro deal (or lack thereof).
But consider this: in my mind, the Lib Dems had five issues which made them so distinctive and appealing to progressives: support for immigration; support for the European Union; support for electoral reform; opposition to tuition fees; opposition to the Iraq war.
Let’s look briefly at the record of the past 18 months:
(1) Immigration: before the general election, the Lib Dems backed an amnesty for illegal immigrants. An amnesty, for crying out loud! And what have they done in government? Backed a cap on net migration.
(2) Europe: the Lib Dems were the most Europhile of the three major parties and, upon forming their coalition with the Tories, claimed they could constrain the Tories’ Eurosceptic tendencies. In office, however, Nick Clegg finds himself Deputy Prime Minister of the most isolated and marginalised British government of the post-war period, with the UK now looking like its heading for the EU exit door. Bravo!
(3) Electoral reform: for the Lib Dems, PR used to be the be-all and end-all of British politics. But what happened? They agreed to a Tory proposal for a referendum on the non-proportional alternative vote (AV) and then lost the subsequent AV referendum, thereby closing the door on electoral reform for a generation.
(4) Tuition fees: the Lib Dems, lest we forget, pledged not just to oppose any increase in university tuition fees but to scrap them altogether. In government, however, not only did they fail to scrap the fees but ended up tripling them. Good job!
So that just leaves, (5) Iraq, which the Lib Dems opposed but, given their track record, will probably perform an inglorious and screeching U-turn on sometime between now and 2015. Keep an eye out for the press release from Danny Alexander welcoming the fall of Saddam Hussein and reports of a “furious” Vince Cable said to be on the verge of quitting…