Alex Massie

Could You Vote for the Liberal Democrats?

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Sometimes, you know, I wish I could. Then the Liberal Democrats come along to remind one how difficult it is to support them. But, in theory, could one vote for a truly liberal party? Of course one could. And would, if only one were so available. In Massie's Better Ordered Political Landscape the Liberal Democrats would, roughly speaking, be the equivalent of Germany's Free Democrats*.

It's true that there are some liberals** in the Lib Dems - one thinks of the gang at Liberal Vision and other bloggers such as Charlotte Gore - but they're a minority within their own minority. As Mark Littlewood says, a new BBC poll confirms this: asked who the party should support in the event of a hung parliament, twice as many Lib Dem councillors favour a coalition with Labour as would support a Tory-led coalition.

Doubtless this reflects the number of Tory-Lib Dem battles in English councils but it's still a telling result, not least because in the event of a hung parliament the electorate will clearly have rejected Labour. Lib Dem voters, mind you, seem to be more sensible, preferring a Cameron-led government by 61-26%.

This divide between the party activists and the people who vote for it ought not to be too surprising. The members are always vastly more frightening than the actual voters. This is true of all political parties. But the Lib Dems, one can't help but feel, would be more palatable if they were just a theory and not, alas, a reality.

And, of course, they have form when it comes to propping up terrible Labour ministries. For eight years the Lib Dems cheerfully betrayed their name and their heritage and supported the Scottish Labour Party in Edinburgh. The result was as predictable as it was enraging: illiberal bill after illiberal bill passed into law and all so that cheery Jim Wallace and Captain Mainwaring*** could sit at the cabinet table.

Still, David Cameron can be well pleased with all this since he may now suggest, not wholly unreasonably, that a vote for the Lib Dems is half a vote for Labour. That's a clarifying matter indeed and bad news for decent Lib Dem MPs - such as my own Michael Moore - who face a Tory challenge.

UPDATE: The promise of electoral reform might also explain this - and, frankly, Labour's own interests are served by changing the voting system - but if that happens there's every chance, surely, that the Lib Dems would split themselves? How long could the alliance between liberals and lefties endure?

*Technically, they may claim they are since they sit in the same group at the European Parliament. But Fianna Fail are in that group too so let's not pretend this establishes your liberal bona fides.

**That is, of the classical variety.

***Also known as Ross Finnie.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.