Lifted wholesale from Conservative Home website – hope no one minds.

By yesterday, even those paid to take an interest in proceedings had given up. C4 news uttered not one word about the Liberal Democrat conference last night. This morning, Today in its first hour devoted maybe 15 seconds (in one of those dreary scripted two-way ‘conversations’) to say that not much good had happened. I suppose the Lib Dems should count themselves lucky that the mischievous Evan Davis didn’t jump in to mention the beached whale as a fitting metaphor for the week’s activities.

Even that would have been too kind. A whale, beached or otherwise, is a magnificent fact of creation: graceful and terrible and mighty; hardly a fitting metaphor for the Liberal Democrats who, in a week they must wish is quickly forgotten, offered at least a trinity of disasters:

(1) Nick ‘Savage Cuts’ Clegg put on his ill-fitting guise of the Angry Young Man of British Politics, in a determined effort to sound stentorian. I imagine him lying in bed, in the early hours, gazing at the ceiling, and dreaming, in that between-sleep-and-wakefulness moment, of the conversations to be overheard at the Dog and Duck: That Nick Clegg! ‘E tells it ‘ow it is! I’m gonna vote for ‘im! Perhaps he sees himself as Elizabeth I? Manning-up in order to deliver the message that his party – let alone the electorate – doesn’t want to hear? We will savagely scrap our free tuition policy! he – well, not announced, more sort of tangentially ‘let it be known’ – only to retract the (non)commitment when the massed ranks of something called the Federal Policy Committee responded with that most lethal of Lib Dem weapons, a letter to the Guardian.

(2) Is he human? Or just a dancer? That’s the question not on anyone’s lips after Vince Cable announced a local taxation policy which no-one could explain. I thought we were supposed to genuflect at the altar of this man’s intellect? Given the house prices in the constituency he represents, perhaps this was just Dr Cable’s coded message that he’d like to retire at the next election to spend more time with his dance partners. Whatever the rights or wrongs of punitive class-based anti-southern market-distorting local taxation (I’m hinting at my feelings about the policy, there), to announce something you cannot then explain makes the action of that poor whale seem rational by comparison.

(3) And then we had Chris Huhne. It would be cheap if I wrote Chris Hu-he, wouldn’t it? Ah well – I’m a cheap date. This leader-never-to-be decided that what the Lib Dems really need at a national level is a wannabe Tebbitesque attack-dog figure. Psychologically incapable of hiding how much David Cameron’s lovebombing rankles him, he went for that Lib Dem campaign classic, the Smear. William Hague – he’s bald you know! And he drinks beer! He must be an anti-semite then! So must all Tories in fact! Can’t you see, British people?! They’re all disgusting homophobic anti-semites, those Tories! DO YOU HEAR ME?! That dragging sound, Chris, is the scraping of chairs as your audience edges backwards, towards the door, fearful of meeting your eye in the process. Dr Kiosk is ready to see you now.

Two thoughts in conclusion:

Neither the Lib Dem leadership nor the British mainstream media have a clue what is meant by love-bombing. By highlighting our civil liberty instincts (on ID cards, detention without charge, the surveillance state and so on), we (liberal Conservatives) aren’t in the slightest bit interested in winning the affection of the Lib Dem MPs or activists. It’s your voters we’re after, Nick, and every time you respond to a generous statement of common purpose from David Cameron, with an ill-tempered shriek or smear, you drive more of them back to their historical electoral home. No-one likes a shrieker, Nick, ferocious or otherwise.

Realignment isn’t coming in British politics, at least not yet, and not in the replace-Labour dream of most Lib Dems. Danny Finkelstein points out this morning that the biggest third party winners of the anti-Labour shift at the moment are the ‘Others’. That means that the Lib Dems aren’t even seen as a protest party anymore. They’re just a residual lump of ill-determined thought, fighting Tories in the South and Labour in the North, with nothing, absolutely nothing, of any intellectual substance to bind them together. I’m the original anti-fan of unbridled ideology in politics, but some sort of raison d’etre, other than ‘we’re not the other ones in this immediate geographical area, though sometimes indeed we are the other ones, in other geographical areas’, is a sine qua non for political existence.

What, in the end, is the point of the Liberal Democrats? Maybe the poor whale was trying to tell them something, after all.

Posted by Graeme Archer

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