There is a great (though sadly, totally erroneous) quote attributed to Catherine the Great, which says:
You can be a murderous tyrant and the world will remember you fondly, but f*ck one horse and you will be a horse f*cker for all eternity.
It strikes me that there’s a lesson in there for us Lib Dems.
There’s an increasing tendency within the party to accept that our languishing in the polls is a natural price for being in government, especially during the worst economic maelstrom for 80 years. In such circumstances you do all sorts of unpopular things you’d rather not do — and no-one likes the person administering the nasty medicine.
To adopt such an attitude ignores the fact that the other party in government is riding high in the polls regardless of the treatment they’re doling out, while the Prime Minster remains the only national party leader with positive approval ratings.
So how come David Cameron gets to play the role of beloved tyrant, while Nick Clegg…?
It is because the nasty medicine is not at the forefront of people’s minds when they think of the Liberal Democrats. It is lack of trust. Betrayal. An inability to keep a promise. It is still tuition fees.
Most people in the party are pretty bored talking about this now — which is fine. But the country isn’t. Is there a pantomime in the land that didn’t feature a “Nick Clegg breaking a promise” joke this Christmas? I suspect not.
We can write a long list of positive, liberal achievements in government — the pupil premium, lifting nearly a million low paid workers out of income tax, restoring the pensions to earnings link. Next year there’ll be a load more — like the Green Investment Bank.
But no-one will really be listening or giving us any credit. Because we still haven’t put the original sin to rights yet. We could stand on a street corner throwing out £50 notes to strangers, and everyone would look at us quizzically before holding them up to the light to see if they’re fake.
Of course, we must still carry on delivering on our manifesto and championing liberal causes in government. But we shouldn’t expect the polls to change one iota when we do — just as they didn’t change last year. Because we’ll get no credit for anything unless we resolve the tuition fees debacle.
Nick needs to say sorry. And sort it. Because until then, everyone has us marked down as horse f*ckers.
Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference