The Liberal Democrats look set to take a hammering in the European and local elections on 22 May; and I for one say that it serves them right. All the latest polls put the party on less than 10% in either fourth or fifth place. For a party in the coalition government that is not just bad, it is terrible.
Four years ago everything was different. Clegg was riding a wave of popularity, the Lib Dems were polling well, and they ended up with 23% of the popular vote at the general election. But in those days their image was one of a centre-left party. Indeed, the old liberal tradition that ran through the core of the party was often at odds with the free market instincts of the Tory party.
So I guess when they went into coalition with the Conservatives there were many like me who were surprised. For their traditional supporters I’m pretty sure it was quite a shock. And therein lies their problem. Despite Clegg’s claims about achieving much, their record amounts to little more than helping the Tories push through a string of right wing measures that have hit ordinary people hard.
Indeed, among their “achievements” has been the bedroom tax, the welfare cap, cuts to services, a massive hike in university fees, the post office sell-off, a reduction in employment rights, reorganisation of the NHS and so on. Sure, they were behind the personal tax allowance of £10,000, but they also supported a tax cut for the very rich. When David Steel once famously told his party to go home and prepare for government, I’m not sure this is what he had in mind.
But perhaps the most lasting policy failure of the Lib Dems concerns proportional representation. For the first time in decades the 2010 election result gave them an opportunity to finally bring change to our voting system. But rather than stand firm for a genuinely proportional system (which most pundits think Gordon Brown would have accepted), Clegg opted for the Tory compromise, went into coalition with them, and gave us a referendum on the alternative vote system. This hardly captured the hearts and minds of voters, and the campaign mounted by the Yes campaign was so appalling it was bound to fail.
Now Clegg faces a possible wipe-out in the Euro election, and big losses in the locals. This it seems will be the voters’ price for selling his party’s soul for power, ripping up their manifesto, and consistently voting through right wing policies from a conservative led government.