Nick Clegg must be wondering whether he drowned a bag of black cats in a previous life. It could have been so different. The first Liberal leader in government since 1945, ready to convince the British people that coalition could deliver and finally, an opportunity to get rid of First Past The Post and give the British people a change to give themselves a fairer voting system.
Instead, it has been a nightmare. The AV referendum failed and the Lib Dems have shed years of built-up voter support based not on ideology but on gripes and grudges direct towards the other two parties, support that washed away at the first sign of the difficult choices of government. And now Lords reform has collapsed. What’s a Lib Dem to do?
I was a very enthusiastic supporter of the coalition, because I come from a political background where politics is about getting things done, not remaining saintly forever on the opposition benches. It hasn’t worked out as expected, but there is still time. But what to do?
First of all, f**k the Tories and their boundary review. They have harped on about how “real people” don’t care about things like AV and Lords reform, and they are probably right. But those people don’t give a toss about boundaries either, so screw it. And anyway, it’s a bit rich for the Tories to be whining about an unfair voting system. Tory voters may be unhappy. So what?
Next is the question I cannot answer. Why will someone vote Liberal Democrat at the next election? Let’s be honest. The next election could see the party returned to the pitiful numbers of the 1950s and 1960s. Who votes Lib Dem, or is likely to vote Lib Dem? I’m not sure myself, but I would hazard a guess that many Lib Dem voters are turned off by the nastiness of the Tories and the bossiness of Labour. Could the Lib Dems be the antidote party? The party you vote for to stop the Tories beating poor people but also stop Labour being the puppet of the trades unions? Is there a market for that, and is it enough to keep Lib Dem seats?
Clegg has a serious problem in that many of his members, possibly a majority, see themselves not as centrist but on the left. But if he takes the party to the left, he sheds centre voters to the Tories in seats where they are battling the Tories for the seat.
Is there a solution? That is debatable. But one thing is certain. The Lib Dems are fighting for their lives, and that means being as brutal as Labour and the Tories. It means recognising that hurting and humiliating the Tories and stopping them in government unless they deliver Lib Dem objectives makes the Lib Dems relevant.
Secondly, the party has to recognise that relevance is the vital goal of the Lib Dems now, and that means putting on the niche stuff like votes for prisoners and Lords reform to one side now, and delivering populist stuff like tax cuts for low paid workers and stopping the Tories depriving employees of their rights. The Lib Dems need to get into economic populist mode. Stop having fights with the Tories over things like Europe, because they’re onto a loser, and any way, let the rest of the EU fight over that with Cameron. Instead, put these bastards on the back foot, having to defend the unpopular for once. Fight them on workers rights too, but clarify what you mean: not some vague European Social Charter, but that you are not going to let the Tories sack pregnant women for being pregnant. Remind voters of the stuff you have done. There are thousands of low-income people paying less tax thanks to the Lib Dems: that should be coming out of every Lib Dem spokesperson on a daily basis, maybe even as a “My Vote” style badge, as it is a major achievement, and it is something ordinary voters can clearly grasp.
And start dropping UKIP leaflets with your own in Tory seats. It’ll hurt them much more than you, depressing their vote. You’re stuck with FPTP, so you might as well manipulate it to your advantage. They pulled a knife in the AV referendum. You should pull a gun. It’s the Chicago way.