Brit Dopers: What do you think are the prospects of the LibDems?

Damn and blast - you’re right - I know why I mixed the two up, but I haven’t a clue why a search engine would have returned Newsnight when I searched for Question Time.
My Bad.

Having said that, they’re quite similar programmes.

Hey, any excuse to watch that most excellent clip again. Paxman can be an ass, but that was just fantastic.

Well, all that doesn’t sound too politically damaging. Not nearly as much as it would be in the U.S., anyway.

These things haven’t been too damaging in and of themselves, but it’s closed an avenue of support for the Lib Dems. The last years of the Conservative control of parliament were characterised by a lot of scandals; Labour presented themselves as the squeaky-clean party, and promised an “end to scandals”. Of course, what with the Iraq war and the E.U. Constitution on a global scale, and David Blunkett and John Prescott on a party level, the Lib Dems could have had the oppurtunity to be seen as the “decent” party.

Just to point out, Mark Oaten, Simon Hughes and Charles Kennedy are all still MPs - so really it only seems to have damaged their leadership (and leadership campaigns), not their political careers entirely.

I think Mark Oaten lost a great deal of respect; not because he likes having rent boys lay turds on him or whatever it is that floats his boat (it was something along those lines though, in case anyone thinks I’m indulging in hyperbole), but because he was dumb enough to presume that he could stand as a candidate in a leadership election without this secret coming out into the open. I can forgive almost anything, but stupidity is the hardest.

Well, the last Tory leadership contest was held chiefly between David Davis, perceived as hard-right, old Thatcher-era Tory; pro-business, pro-military, anti-trade union, anti-enviromentalism, “tough on crime” and all that stuff. He lost, however, fairly convincingly, to David Cameron.

Cameron is young, he’s a new father, he’s extremely photogenic and media-savvy. Basically, Cameron has adopted a kind of “compassionite conservatism”- he hasn’t said much about his policies yet, but seems to be pushing for a softer approach to drugs, crime, European integration and foreign policy than his party has traditionally stood for. He’s also quite pro-public services (the NHS and so forth) and has abandoned his party’s traditional call for lower taxes. He has also made the enviroment a major plank of Tory policy, advertising his commuting by bike, travelling to Iceland to view a glacier melting, and that sort of stuff. Traditionally, the Tories have ignored enviromentalists, because of their alliances with big business (the Tory’s alliances, not the enviromentalist’s), but all in all, Cameron has been much “softer” and “friendlier” and that, coupled with a series of recent Labour scandals, has done very well for them in the polls (they are about 8 points ahead, which is roughly what they need to break even with Labour in terms of a general election, given our electoral system).

However, while some people have gone so far as saying that Cameron is planning to abandon traditional Tory neo-conservatism (strong state, “morals-based” social policy, economic liberalism) in favour of a return to Conservative Paternalism (he has made a number of speeches in which he has seemed to echo Disraeli, famous Conservative PM who introduced “One Nation” conservatism in the 19th century, with the idea that the rich are morally obligated to care for the poor), the rest of his party is somewhat…annoyed. In particular, they feel he is alienating the right-wing English base in favour of appealing to floating voters and gaining seats in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (all much more left-wing than the main English population). There is also a lot of predictable whinging from the older backbenchers, complaining about touchy-feely left-wing rubbish (soft on drugs, working against global warning). It looks, however, like Cameron is here to stay. Whether that means a real, long-term change in Conservative policy is debatable.

[Pedant]Actually, he was never the front-runner, and he had actually withdrawn from the race before that revelation came out.[/Pedant]

I sincerely doubt it. You see, the First Past the Post system is very hostile both to third-party candidates, and to parties with a widely spread base of support. Labour benefits under the system, because their support is not concentrated into a few constintuencies (as is the Tory’s) nor is it a minor presence in each constituency, making it impossible to win more than a few seats (as is the Lib Dems). Given that, and given that the governing party never has a serious incentive to reform the electoral system, I forsee the Lib Dems being out of power for a very long time. As someone pointed out at the last election, if they go on with their “slow and steady” strategy, they will form a majority government around, oh, 2119.

As for the prospect of them acting as kingmakers, I still see it as unlikely, but not impossible. The Lib Dems could never have allied with the old Tories- but given the new friendly-look Tories under Cameron, they might be able to and still retain some of their base. However, kingmakers are rarely necessary under the First-Past-the-Post system, since even a very small majority can be workable given rigid party discipline (there have been successful governments with minorities as small as 6 our of over 600 commons seats), and it is probably not going to be common for the left-wing (and increasingly so) Lib Dems to agree to oppose Labour with the Tories over policy. An alliance with Labour is also unlikely while Blairite elements (including Gordon Brown) remain the dominant force in the Labour party.

[QUOTE=Happy Clam]
[Pedant]Actually, he was never the front-runner, and he had actually withdrawn from the race before that revelation came out.[/Pedant]
It may only have seemed that way to me, because he’s from a neighbouring/overlapping constituency to the one in which I live - so the local news was buzzing about him all the time. He was also ‘in’ the race (as far as the media were concerned) quite a while before he announced his intention to stand.

Curiously, nobody has yet discussed this question in terms of what the LibDems stand for, and whether their message is likely to become more or less appealing to the voters in coming election cycles.

Actually, to come full circle, I would say their modest progress in national politics is symptomatic of exactly this; nobody really talks about them; it’s not that they wouldn’t be interested, but perhaps they’ve cast themselves as middle-of-the-road and too bland to be interesting.

Interesting question. There is, briefly, a contrast in the party between the “liberal” elements (who are vociferous on protection of civil liberties, economic liberalism and personal freedom) and the “democrat” elements (traditional left-wingers, pacifist, semi-socialist, enviromentalist). Of late, the second wing has predominated, due to the party’s need to pick up voters abandoned by Labour in its recent shift to the right (“recent” as in 15 years ago, but demonstrated over the Iraq war). Now, traditional “sandal-wearing, museli-eating” Labour voters have come to be seen as the core of the Lib. Dems. As a result, many of the original, liberal (as in libertarian) members are getting rowdy, more so because their man, Simon Hughes, lost in the leadership election.

At the moment, the Lib Dems tend to be defined by negation: they are the only party to oppose the Iraq war, they are the only party to be taking a strong stand against the authoritarian elements of recent Blair policy, and they oppose the market-based reforms that both Labour and Tories have brought to public services. Once they start having to put forward some positive policies, the ideological split in the party may well become more pronounced.

Are those positions likely to become more or less popular with the voters in future election cycles?

Unlikely; the Iraq war gave a short-term boost to the Lib Dems in 2005, but as it fades from the public eye (and by 2009 it will have faded), support on that issue will lessen. Re: civil liberties, I doubt it. The majority of the population is actually in favour of measures like ID cards and a universal DNA database, with only the political classes (journalists, academics and politicians) being strongly opposed, so they sit in a circle of mutual intellectual masturbation, telling each other that of course Blair will suffer for his repressive measures, while in populist tabloids like The Sun the nation polls 60-80% for ID cards.

The general issues of public services (which we take very seriously here in Britain; the Tories have lost the last 3 elections not least due to Labour saying they would wreck the NHS) is a trickier one. It looks as though short-term market based reforms instituted by Blair are delivering the NHS into massive long-term debt, and if the Lib Dems were to step in with the promise of “fixing” the health and education services… but the Tories have recently filled that gap with their attempts to get back in touch with the people, so who knows?

The Lib Dems greatest chances probably lie amongst the young (one reason why they are trying to lower the voting age to 16), who like their socially liberal (only party to completely support gay marriage in all forms), anti-war and anti-“tough on crime” stance. So in 2009, they may poll better than in 2005…but don’t hold your breath.

IMHO the LibDems concentrate more on local politics and local issues than national ones. They appear very active on local issues around here. For instance, apart from election-time, I get a flyer from them once a month or so whereas I get one a year from Labour and nothing in over 3 years from the Tories.

That 60-80% of Sun readers support ID cards does not mean the majority of the population do (I certainly don’t know anyone who wants to be forced to spend £30 on a new piece of identification). I also don’t agree that the country as a whole is generally right-leaning and that the Blair regime is actually pushing an agenda people want. As for Iraq going away - it’s left a very prominent mark on the Blair regime and on the Labour party as a whole that they so quickly and easily went into a war for causes that has been since proven to be a hoax. A big part of the trust issues people have with the government are to do with that and trust (or lack of it) in the executive’s ability to actually do what it says it will (like listen to anyone) is probably going to cost them the next election.

Shouldn’t we be asking Bob?