"follow my head, not my heart" , indeed many in the party did and still see the most suitable bedfellow being the Labour party and the formation of a grand coalition of the centre left. Needless to say seat numbers, practicalities, some old school Labour tribalists and an ill-prepared Labour negotiating team (if the accounts from Nick Robinson's recent documentary are to be believed) put paid to any chances of a meaningful workable coalition. Indeed it is probably best for Labour to go back, lick their wounds, reinvigorate themselves and form a strong and stable opposition.
What happens now, well it seems that the predominant modus operandi of the Labour party at present is to target their attacks on the junior partner of the coalition
So the Liberal Democrats help the Conservative party into power amongst accusations of figleaves, cries of traitor and snide remarks about craving power and chasing ministerial cars.
The recent rise in the playing of #labourbingo via the medium of twitter has amounted in drinking games and new alliances between Liberal Democrat and Conservative bloggers forging new links in friendship, comradeship and comedy! The Labour-o-matic developed from the Daily Mail o matic by @artesea and @jamesgraham is a veritable delight and can be found here Labour-o-matic.
It led me to explore some of the recent (and historic) criticisms of the Liberal Democrats
Figleaves: The perhaps cynical, perhaps wise accusations that the Liberal Democrats will be used as the soft friendly front behind which the Conservatives will pull strings to operate the most drastic cuts since Thatcher (apologies Darling I know your cuts were going to be worse, you just haven’t said where they would be yet). As the junior member in a coalition, which the Liberal Democrats numerically and rightfully are, this accusation is expected.
Traitors: To deal with this one, the Liberal Democrats aren’t a composite wing of the Labour party. Having had fingers burnt before the Lib Dems were very aware that talk is cheap. Despite extensive pre 97 election talks about a possible coalition between the parties any chance of a ‘grand coalition of the left’ floundered as Blair decided to go it alone following Labours landslide victory. Indeed the plan of Blair to draft in senior Liberal Democrats into his cabinet also fell down at the behest of messrs Prescott, Hain and Brown. All Paddy Ashdown was left with was the Jenkins commission which Labour spectacularly failed to make any progress on.
Power cravers: Oh yes every politician goes into parliament with the delightful intention to talk shop but never exert any influence or control. I for one would see it as tantamount to betrayal to me, Liberal Democrat members, voters for the party and every Liberal Democrat MP past present and future if given the chance the Liberal Democrats did not attempt to try and forward their ideas, plans and ideals in government. I think too if they were chasing ministerial jags for this I absolve Saint Vince the public transport king, they might just have fought for them a bit harder in the coalition agreement.
Sandal Wearers: This criticism is an oldie but a goodie of course it is a stereotype but whereas there will be a few sandal wearing, beard growing, tofu knitting academics at the Lib Dem conference this year they wont be the majority. Perhaps these are just the folk we need to come up against the baby eating neo-cons in the Conservative party! :)
Closet Tories: Ah, the Orange Book and a call to reclaim liberalism. The 2004 collection of essays by current Ministers Cable, Clegg, Huhne, Laws (watch this space) and Webb amongst others was a fantastic think piece exploring what Liberalism means. For me it was an inspirational read and I managed formulate my thoughts and logic on what it means to be a Liberal. A few weeks before its launch I had a meeting with David Laws and the late 5th Earl 'Conrad' Russell and we spoke at length of the potential ability of economically liberal principles to deliver social liberal goals. It answered many of my questions, at a time when Blair was pursuing a communitarian dialogue about rights and responsibilities and developing soft workfare strategies it seemed right to talk about the individual. This coupled with a desire to roll back many of the Orwellian excesses of the state imposed by Labour has led to the criticism that these orangebookers are closet Tories. Indeed if the Tories can talk about society (no matter what the size) then this kind of dogmatic criticism is way off.
Unprogressives: Well the quick and easy answer with this is how do you define progressive, frankly it seems to be the most conveniently imprecise word currently in the political vernacular. When Labour and the Conservatives we looking to build a coalition both sought to build 'a progressive one'. If you define progressive as non conservative (small c) then the Liberal Democrats are progressive, if you define it as having a belief in changing society and narrowing the gap between rich and poor then the Liberal Democrats are progressive. I think its stupid to define 'progressivism' as a domain only available to the left and this kind of though probably means that those spouting it don't get it.
Gerrymanderers: Well lets see, the last real accusation (and admittance) of gerrymandering was by Labours 'Big Jim' Callaghan in 1969 when he blocked boundary changes in what can only be described as 'a cynical partisan manoeuvre'. To accuse a party of gerrymandering is a serious business as it is tantamount to electoral fraud, however many Labour MPs and members seem to be pursuing this furrow. The crux of their argument is that many members of the potential electorate are presently unregistered particularly in large urban areas (strong Labour territory) meaning that newly drawn boundaries will cause a potential loss of Labour seats. Well to be honest, Labour had 13 years to sort out getting people registered to vote, but due to the voting system didn't feel they needed to bother in their heartlands. It seems that could be a critical mistake. (nice article by Martin Kettle on gerrymandering accusations here)
Two faced: The dichotomy of fighting southern countryside constituencies against the Tories and Labour in urban constituencies in the North has always positioned the Liberal Democrats as Janus. All it took would be for someone in Plymouth to send an election leaflet to someone in Rotherham and all hell would break loose as the Lib Dems accused the Tories of this or Labour of that whilst going into coalition in local government with them elsewhere. Needless to say politics is politics, electioneering is electioneering. If you meet local party members of any party political persuasion all will interpret things differently and will be far from central office drones or twitter list clones. At election times it seems that many MPs are all things to all people. The accusation that the Lib Dems were two faced with regards to building a coalition they had to be, they had to get the best deal for those that voted for them, for themselves and for their members. I think they played the game very well and the manifesto was designed with coalition negotiations in mind.
Unprincipled: Principles or pragmatism or both? Recent criticisms of the Lib Dems surround the idea that they are ill principled for going into coalition with the Tories, that they have ditched their progressive credentials for power. I would like to think that they are being pragmatic in pursuing power to get their progressive principles and policies put on par with their partners (perhaps).
Single Issue Party: All Liberal Democrats are interested in is voting reform is another criticism that is often delivered to the Liberal Democrat doormat. Yes voting reform would benefit the Liberal Democrats, there is no denying it, but of course they would only be getting the seats that their voting share deserved. That is simply fairness. Perhaps then the single issue for the Liberal Democrats is fairness (like fair taxation and removing low earners from income tax), actually no perhaps its about freedom and assuring the rights of the individual. No its definitely about...
Ah just read the manifesto and the coalition agreement and make your mind up or think of some new names!
A tune to go with this weeks blog is from Echobelly (for spotify users)
I would welcome any more suggestions of names to call Lib Dems with definitions of the whys and wherefores of each name or accusation. Fun, serious, malicious, kind or critical. Get commenting below...