25 October 2008

What do the LibDems want?

Given my last post - that the SNP might find it advantageous to cut the LibDems a bit of slack in Glenrothes - this one might appear strange. But it's based on the reflections of LibDem bloggers discussing Glenrothes.

And it hit me: they're talking more about the SNP than about Labour. They're challenging us more than Labour. They're more interested in attacking the challenging party (for remember, everyone, this is what the SNP is in Glenrothes) than the incumbent Labour party or even discussing their own campaign in any great detail. Instead, their eyes turn to Peter Grant.

Now, any publicity is good publicity, but I still have to ask - why?

At first glance, the answer is clear: the LibDems are third, the SNP is second, so this By-Election might not deliver the goods in terms of winning the seat, but a second place would enable the LibDems to put out those bar charts they love come the next Westminster election. But it's not going to come to that as 1) they have been sidelined from a lot of the press coverage - they have a fair point and an understandable reason to be hacked off about that - and 2) the LibDem campaign machine is not in the A1 condition we remember from Dunfermline: after over-reaching itself in Moray, the party's promises looked increasingly hollow (perhaps even bizarre) and the so-called Party of Real Momentum ended up making a net loss in 2007. The LibDem challenge in Crewe fizzled out; plans to unseat the Tories in Henley didn't even come close to fruition, making the battle for third place more interesting; and the party lost its deposit in Glasogw East, being overtaken by the Tories. Which, given the fact that both Labour and the SNP took time out to stick the boot in to the last Tory Government, shouldn't have been possible. But it was, and it happened. So what's really going on?

Could it be that the LibDems are terrified that the SNP will squeeze their vote again, and this is a rearguard action to hold on to what they have? If so, it seems suicidal: if former LibDem supporters are tempted to make the switch, pouring scorn and vitriol over the SNP and SNP policies isn't going to help. Labour have tried this several times and it's stopped working. If anything, it's self-destructive: if LibDem voters are getting interested in SNP policies, then attacking the SNP and everything it stands for is only going to re-inforce the point that the two parties are different animals, then with previous LibDem voters looking more interested in what the SNP has to offer than what the Liberal Democrats have to offer, highlighting the gap that exists will serve only to persuade voters that it's worth crossing that gap and voting for SNP policies that they agree with.

But there's another matter: I recall the polling in advance of Glasgow East, when voters across Scotland were asked who they wanted to win that By-Election: Margaret Curran or John Mason. The Tories saw the delicious chance to embarrass Gordon Brown, and went in the SNP candidate's favour. LibDem opinion was more evenly split but Curran had the edge. If our LibDem bloggers are anything to go by, we're seeing the same factor come into play.

Now, I hate to break it to my LibDem friends, but the Coalition is over. Tavish Scott went on the Politics Show and killed it the Sunday after the Election. He wasn't Leader then, but he is now, so that pronouncement carries even more weight than it did 18 months ago.

In fact, in Fife, the LibDems seem more at home supporting the SNP in Coalition, but that, apparently, is by the by.

Nevertheless, while the Council and Holyrood dynamic are in play to a limited degree, this is a Westminster By-Election.

Labour have been in charge of the Westminster Government since May 1997. And the LibDems have been in Opposition that whole time.

So looking at all the bodies to which Fifers send elected representatives, the Liberal Democrats work in partnership with Labour in precisely none - count 'em, none - of them.

And yet, one cannot help shake the feeling that they would prefer to see Labour's Lindsay Roy represent Glenrothes rather than Peter Grant.

If this is the case, what does this mean?

It means that they support the Party that dragged the UK into Iraq - which they opposed, as the SNP did.

It means they support the Party of tuition fees - which they opposed, as the SNP did.

It means they support the Party that has had its hand on the econmic tiller and having claimed credit for everything that's gone right, cannot escape blame for the things that are now going wrong - which their own Finance spokesman predicted.

It means they support a Party that offers nothing more than the grey, lumpen status quo.

And they prefer that to a Party which has been working to deliver real, positive change. A Party that their colleagues in Fife have been working with.

They prefer things as they are. Things are in a bad state but they prefer them as they are, with Labour.

And they call themselves Liberals.

Well, let them keep supporting the status quo. Let them keep attacking the SNP and letting Labour off the hook. Because if the bloggers are a reflection of LibDem members and the party's campaign, the voters who do want change will realise that they won't get it with the Liberal Democrats. And they'll know that change is what the SNP is seeking. On their present course, the LibDems may themselves deliver the squeeze that I advised the SNP against applying.


Stevie said...

The Lib Dems are thick as mince. They think they can beat the SNP?
No chance. They've never had any presence in the constituency.

And don't they realise that if Labour win Glenrothes, then there is a good chance they will try to build on it by focussing their sights on Dunfermline? A resurgent Labour party is the last thing the Lib Dems need, surely? Unless they are hoping to piggy back their way into government again..

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Union is the elephant in the room - not so much of a problem at the council level.

But if you're alluding to a Lib Dem lack of principle then the SNP don't have to continue in coalition with them in Fife after the election.

But they will, Will.

Unknown said...

I've had quite a bit to say about Glenrothes over the last few weeks - about all of the campaigns. Well, maybe not so much the Tories, but they're irrelevant and pretty much invisible anyway.

In the last few days, the SNP has given me a fair bit of ammunition -Alex going everywhere except the House of Commons to vote for the crucial vote on HBOS, that awful tasteless e-mail sent by SNP Cllr John Finnie in Highland. Those things couldn't really go uncommented on....

Will said...

Stevie, a good point - and one I hadn't considered.

Stuart, I'm not alluding to a LibDem lack of principle at all - I'm alluding to an apparent second preference (which can't even be expressed at the ballot box under FPP) that seems to make no sense - and is perhaps self-destructive - given the political landscape. What I wonder is what principle is driving the LibDem approach? If it were the Union, we'd have heard more on this. As it is, we hear the attacks on everything but the Union, and mostly it's complaints about Alex Salmond. That doesn't seem to have anything to do with Unionism per se. Maybe they haven't forgiven him for winning Gordon last year.

And incidentally, if the LibDems really feel such anathema to further SNP progress, then they surely they rralise that local government is a part of that, and would place a rule of non-co-operation with the SNP at any level into the Party's procedures, as the SNP did with the Tories.

Caron, I agree with you about the Tory campaign, at least (the only thing worth noting about Maurice Golden is that he appears to watch TV but still can't say the name Iwelumo, which is pronounced 'I-we-lu-mo' so needn't be overly difficult.

Caron, in the last month you've made five posts that refer uniquely to Glenrothes, the matter at hand - there's also one more post on experiences on campaigns inspired by Glenrothes, but that's not actually about Glenrothes itself. Of those five, three are about the SNP and Alex Salmond being in the seat. One is about your campaign and the last one is about Labour. So unless my RSS feed is missing a great big raft of posts on your blog, I'd say that the SNP campaign seems to be generating the most interest for you.

But while you're here... my hunch is Mark Foster and Heather Small in the dance-off and Foster going out. Thoughts?

Stephen Glenn said...

I have to agree with Caron on this. The Nats have provided more ammunition with which to get my teeth into.

Whether it says something about the state of the Labour Campaign, the lack of much real Labour blogging precence on the campaign (therefore leading to less need to feel the need to conter attack), the lack of much on the crowd presense when out there in rain (yesterday) or shine.

All I can say is watch my blog you may soon not have that argument to stand by.

James Higham said...

That's no reason, Stevie, not to try.

Anonymous said...

Tavish's speech at the LD conference (which I blogged on) attacked the SNP & Tories & stuck well clear of mentioning Labour. The only thing that makes any sense is that they hope to shore up another Labour government some time which is a bet I would only take on long odds. To think that at the last Westminster election they were the 2nd party.

What Scotland needs is a liberal party committed to improving people's standard of living in a free society. That the nearest we get to that is the SNP shows how incompetent Scotland's political class is.

Anonymous said...

As you say, the Lib Dem campaign has entirely centred around attacking the SNP. The reason is quite simple: the Lib Dems know they can't win, and are terrified that the SNP will. If Labour win, the Lib Dem hierarchy will let out a collective sigh of relief. The Gordon fiasco still rankles - as evidenced by the persistent ad hominem gripping about Salmond, but more to the point, a resurgent SNP seriously damages the Lib Dems' ability to pick up protest votes, without which they are an electoral irrelevance outside their geographically restricted heartland.

boxthejack said...

I'm surprised by these comments. Glenrothes is of course a specific case and I've not been paying much attention to the campaign, but my impression has been that Tavish has pointed a great many LD attack guns at Labour since he became leader.

I'm a lot more comfortable with this alignment, and think much of the mutual antipathy between the SNP and LDs makes very little sense.

@neil craig, if your talking about his autumn conference speech you're way off. There's loads as much aimed at Labour as at the SNP. If you're talking about the federal conference speech you're even more wrong!

Anonymous said...

boxthejack, there would be considerably less antipathy between the SNP and the LDs if, following the May 07 election, the LD leadership had complied not only with the wishes but with the constitution of their own party, and held a special conference to decide how and on what terms to discuss the possibility of a coalition. Instead, the LDs were bounced to an oppositional stance by a party hierarchy more concerned with the view of eminent Westminster politicians, including Labour politicians.

Stephen Glenn said...

Actually Agent Mancuso there is no constitutional requirement to hold a special conference to debate the terms of discussing a coalition.

In 2003 unlike in 1999 a special conference was called for the parties to approve the outcome of such an agreement.

That does not of course take away your point that some of us felt like we'd been bounced straight to opposition stance without consultation.

Unknown said...

Glad Heather avoided the dance-off - but agreed with you that Mark would go out.

Thought Craig was particularly mean to Christine - her a 3, and John S a 2 - come on.

I have had a fair bit to say about the Labour campaign in Glenrothes as well as our own - but I suspect that this might be on other people's blogs and not my own. I know I had a bit of a rant about Sarah Brown's visit in a few places.

I also answered your questions in more detail in a post of my own on Sunday - and Jeff went all sniffy on me:-).