Martin Bright

The Lib Dem Appeal to Left and Right

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The Liberal Democrats have developed a reputation for being able to face in two directions at the same time. Their Janus-like qualities have stood them in good stead during their rise to parliamentary credibility over the past decade. This week, Nick Clegg has appealed to Conservative voters in the pages of The Spectator, while my old friend John Kampfner has explained why all our former comrades should abandon the Labour Party for the Lib Dems. Confusing isn't it? 

James was spot on in his politics column this week to say that our major parties are all giant coalitons. There are people on the centre ground of the Conservative and Labour parties that have more in common with each other than they do with MPs on the lunatic fringes of their own parties, 

But the Lib Dems remain something of a mystery. We still don't really know if they are they are the left-leaning party of civil liberties or right-wing Thatcherite neo-liberals. This week has not made this any clearer.

One senior Labour activist close to the Jon Cruddas project told me this week that he thought John Kampfner's analysis of the failure of New Labour was spot on. The following paragraphs will ring true with many on the left: 

"Alongside a million other voters, I deserted Labour in protest at Iraq, in favour of the Liberal Democrats – the only party to oppose the war. My decision to back the Liberal Democrats in 2010 is based on a more fundamental appraisal of Labour's record, together with a positive assessment of the Lib Dems' platform.

Their analysis of the failures of the deregulated market has been consistently, and painfully, accurate. Their tax reform plans, taking 4 million low-paid workers out of tax altogether, are the most redistributive of any party, alongside green taxes, a "mansion tax" on high-value properties and the closing of tax loopholes (on pensions and capital gains) exploited by the rich. The Lib Dem approach to criminal justice, human rights, foreign and social policy is close to mine."

I have been arguing for some time against the traditional "Westminster sneer" towards the Lib Dems. We now inhabit a three-party system. The sheer volume of people who vote Liberal Democrat demands that we should take them seriously. The question now, though, is how seriously they take themselves. Their two-faced approach is fine for street-fighting local politics but it will not serve them for much longer on the national stage.