In our latest incisive opinion piece, Young Academic’s Features Editor Robert Gant gives his view on what the future holds for the Liberal Democrats.
The political landscape, both globally and in UK is constantly changing, such is the pace of political and economic developments gripping the world at the present time. Decisions are being made, forecasts are constantly being changed and history is being written at an alarming speed.
One decision that has altered the history of the UK forever and will also shape the future of both him personally, and his party, is Nick Clegg’s decision to lead the Liberal Democrats into a coalition government with the Conservatives.
The Liberal Democrats at the next election will cease to be a significant entity. Startling and bold as that prediction may seem, everything is indicating that will be the fate suffered by the Lib Dems when the British public get to pass judgement and have their say in 2015 (assuming this coalition government survives the full term).
The decision to sit with the Tories in government was never overly popular with Lib Dem grassroots party activists. After increasing tuition fees, embarking on the most aggressive public spending cuts in history and taking the UK into conflict in Libya and possibly in Iran over the coming two years, party activists are disillusioned to say the least.
That is without even mentioning the debacle that has been the coalition’s response to the ongoing EU crisis and the UK’s position on the idea of rewriting treaties and creating a fiscal union for the euro zone.
Party activists aren’t the only ones disillusioned with the Lib Dems. The latest YouGov polls show the Lib Dem support down at 9%, down from 24% of the vote they received at the 2010 elections. Labour seem to be gaining some of the Lib Dem vote as their support now stands at 42%, up from 29% at the 2010 election.
This may seem natural. Governments do lose popularity during tough times economically but often bounce back at election time. This will not be the case with the Liberal Democrats.
The gamble Nick Clegg took when he agreed to enter the coalition has failed. If the coalition could make all the necessary cuts and see the economy growing, with our deficit reduced and our debts under control before the next election, Clegg would stand half a chance. He could argue that the Lib Dems took tough decisions and sat in the Commons alongside their rivals, the Conservatives, for the greater good of the country. They had fixed the economy. They deserved public recognition and would hopefully benefit from more support in the next election.
Unfortunately for Nick Clegg and his party, that isn’t going to be the case. Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement declared we’d have to have an extra two years of severe austerity that would take us beyond the next general election.
That was followed up by Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander announcing that the Lib Dems would include all the measures announced by Osborne in their next election manifesto, effectively putting them in a kind of election pact with the Conservatives. Even Jeremy Paxman was shocked by the scoop he’d achieved on his Newsnight programme. It was an astonishing admission from Alexander.
The fact that Nick Clegg’s main gamble can’t and will not pay off isn’t the only reason his party won’t be successful at the next elections. During their time in government the Lib Dems have broken their biggest pre-election promise.
The Young Academic knows firsthand how Liberal Democrat candidates went around to university campuses promising they wouldn’t increase tuition fees. In fact they signed pledges. When they broke their pledges and student anger spilled out onto the streets they lost one of their core demographics.
At the trade union rally in Sheffield (location of Nick Clegg’s constituency) during the day of strikes on November 30th, a speaker vowed that Nick Clegg would never be elected in that city again. He said that there and then, public sector workers and students together were promising never to vote for him or his party in that city again. Political sabre rattling it may have been, but it received the loudest cheer of the day.
The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that their urban constituencies all have large student populations and a large amount of public sector worker constituents. Both groups not only feel let down by the Lib Dems, they feel they are under attack from the government. That means they are extremely unlikely to vote for them at the next general election.
Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander look every bit the Tory in Prime Ministers Questions these days. Lib Dem politicians sound every bit the Tory when they appear on the Daily Politics Show or BBC’s Question Time. Perhaps the only way they will be re-elected is to make the switch official and join the Conservative Party.