02 January 2008

Liberal Democrats and Conservatives: A Love Story

Anybody else noticed how obsessed the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are with each other, at the expense of attacking Labour? From the Clegg / Cameron debate through to donation rows and instant-a-fisking of policy proposals (and not-so-instant-a-fisking), the two parties (or rather, their activists, it has to be said) can't take their eyes off each other. If the political system was a playground, they'd be pulling each others hair and pushing them down by now, in a remarkable, but transparent, display of latent sexual tension. Labour would probably be the swotty kid who stayed in the classroom and got on with his work (receiving poor marks for it in the end of course).

And it isn't just on the internet that the parties have an abiding obsession with each other - I've heard LibDems in some local constituencies tell me about their "informal alliance" with Labour designed to keep the Tories out of power, whereby they agree not to stand in wards where the other party has a realistic chance of winning. Depriving people of a real choice (if their instinct is progressive / liberal), this is good politics maybe but bad democracy certainly.

The dangers of this obsession, for both parties, are obvious - Labour is, for the time being, the Government Party, and it is governments that lose elections, not oppositions that win them. Just because it's a cliche, it doesn't make it any less true. We need only look at 1997 and 1979 to confirm the validity of this adage. Labour obviously hasn't avoided criticism during its time in office, but think how much more effectively we could undermine them if, rather than allowing the opposition (and I mean both parties here) to be divided and ruled, we went on a joint attack against the government. It might be anathema to some grassroots, but there are real areas of policy where we can work together, most notably (as Guido has pointed out) civil liberties and we should seek to remind voters of how weak Labour are and how alternatives do exist. Both parties will then reap the rewards, perhaps not in equal measure, but that depends on how well they can lay down their vision for the country.


Tristan said...

Its true, we seem to have a huge anti-Conservative thing going with a more softly softly approach to Labour.

The only system I can advocate is to approach it on an individual basis - either policies or people (or council groups).

We should be working hard with the Tories over ID Cards for instance, but pointing out some of the idiocy of many of their other policies.

We might be able to work with Labour on some things (although I can't think of much... most of the issues where we could work together have happened it seems, now they're into the solid core of illiberal policy).

GaffaUK said...

I hear about people talking about the Libdems having equidistant from Labour and Tories but often I have found Libdems much prefer Labour despite Blair's shocking illiberal 10 years. At Libdem party conferences they would boo when the Tories was mentioned (but not Labour). This is a shame as I think any opposition first priority is holding the government up to scrutiny rather than be over obsessed with the out of power Tories. Libdems forget that there are people who have joined them and/or vote for them who used to vote Tory - therefore (and there are some examples) Libdems should work with Tories whenever they can on issues they agree - in the same way they do with Labour.

Unfortunately the biggest stumbling block in my opinion to sharing power in government with the Tories is they are particularly more hostile to much needed electoral reform than Labour. Even Iain Dale's campaign to get fixed parliament has them spluttering over change:(