Thursday 20 February 2014

Mis-Communicator of the Week: The Liberal Democrats

In 1988 Mario Vargas Llosa was a pinned on certainty to become the next President of Peru. With a country sick of being run by a political establishment who ruled through horse-trading in smoke filled rooms’, voters turned to Vargas Llosa, a middle class intellectual.

Vargas Llosa appealed because he was different, not part of a party machine; an outsider with new ideas and a new way to approach the problems which made Peruvians so poor. He was a sure bet because he was anti politics.

Then the writer and novelist shot himself in the foot and did a deal with the old parties to secure an open run on the presidency. This cynicism was rewarded by voters looking elsewhere for a candidate who was an outsider. Instead of Vargas Llosa Peruvians elected Alberto Fujimori, the son of Japanese immigrants and an agricultural engineer who had never been in a smoke filled room in his life.

And so to this week’s Mis-Communicators. The Liberal Democrats. Their appeal to the British electorate has always been that they were not one of the other main parties. This allowed them to build up a strong local campaign network and secure a succession of stunning by-election victories in the first decade of the 21st century. At times their appeal was hard to fathom, for example they have had great success in the firmly Eurosceptic South West despite being a pro-European party. It seemed the lure of being seen to make a protest was too good to ignore for many.

Then came the 2010 General Election and an undecided electorate gave the Lib Dems an opportunity to join the coalition government. With this, as part of Nick Clegg’s negotiations for the coalition agreement, they threw away one of their few totemic, defining policies of opposing student tuition fees. Worse still, this was binned in favour of a national referendum to change our voting system. A change the British people rejected.

In a short time the Lib Dems popularity had plummeted from the highs of the "Clegg bounce" after their leader's strong showing in the live TV debates to an all-time low of single digit poll numbers. Now Lib Dems lose their deposits at by-elections rather than win them. Clegg himself is even more loathed.

The response from the party is so horribly cynical it is straight out of a TV satire. The Liberal Democrats are abandoning manifesto policies that would be opposed by both Labour and the Tories to make it more likely they will be able to join a future coalition. There is little wonder Nick Clegg is now known as “Madam Fifi” for his desperation to cling to office. 

There is a lesson for Mr Clegg and the Lib Dems who appear to have lost any defining mission to their continued existence and it is events that happened 30 years ago in Peru. For that reason I make the Liberal Democrats my Mis-Communicators of the Week. 

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