The parallels between the plight of today's LibDem activists and that of many Labour supporters during the Blair years.
Contribution by Councillor Bob Piper*
Ed Miliband’s appeal for those Liberal Democrats dismayed by the coalition with the Conservatives may attract some waverers, but I doubt it will lead to the complete demise of the Lib Dems that some people are predicting.
Personally I have a sympathy with those on the radical wing of the Lib Dems who feel betrayed by Clegg, Alexander and co. They will have spent years listening to their leaders in opposition decrying “the two main parties” and promising nirvana if only they were in power. Ok, most will surely have accepted that getting power in their own right was not achievable in the short term, but they hung on to the belief that they could hold the balance of power in a coalition. And so it came to pass. But I doubt many Lib Dem members thought that entering a coalition would result in their MPs accepting a complete u-turn on issues like tuition fees. Accepting a review of Trident is one thing, they may even have accepted that the Tories and Labour, whichever they joined up with, would combine to ensure Trident was renewed. But to see their leaders vociferously arguing for a measure which they had spent over 10 years decrying… that was not what they were expecting.
The reason I have some sympathy is that some of us in the Labour Party have been there and bought the t-shirt. We spent the best part of two decades on platforms condemning the Thatcherite market-led NHS reforms, the privatisation of public services, the anti-trade union laws, the Private Finance Initiative etc. Then we suddenly discovered that these things were not going to be reversed, but worse, they were actually at the heart of Blair’s New Labour party. I remember only a few months in to the Labour Government of 1997, when the euphoria was still pumping through Labour veins, moving a resolution at UNISON’s Affiliated Political Fund conference calling for a halt to PFI schemes. The resolution was passed but was opposed by two leading lights of the union, Dave Anderson and Ann Picking (both destined to become Labour MPs) which made me uneasy at the time. And also opposed by Keith Vaz who, without a hint of shame or irony, told the conference that previously we had quite rightly opposed ‘Tory PFI’ …this was different… it was ‘New Labour PFI’!!!
And this was years before Blair’s wars and infatuation with Bush, or plans for 90-day internment, or ID cards and all of the other authoritarian post-9/11 measures. You know, those things that Ed Miliband confessed were errors or misjudgments during his leadership bid.
So, if there are Lib Dems out there thinking of packing it all up, my message to you is don’t despair. Clegg may be just a blip, a small hiccup in the long history of your party. Stick to your principles and one day you may be secretly stifling a smug grin as speaker after speaker stands up to denounce Clegg and his ilk and all of their crypto-Tory machinations.
In closing though, comrades, I have no wish to form a coalition with you. We should both want to trample the Tories in to the dirt and ensure a permanent democratic socialist/social democrat political future for Britain. A strong Liberal Democrat opposition to what you perceive as the excesses of a Labour Government should be the short term aim, not the shabby little compromise you now find yourselves locked in to.
Of course, for those who really don’t have the stomach to endure five years of the current horror show… I’m told our membership is still open to applications.
*This article was originally posted at Councillor Bob Piper.