Vernon Bogdanor suggests in today's Times that Gordon Brown, if he is to avoid a "new Conservative century" should now reopen the discussions with the Liberal Democrats that were terminated after Tony Blair decided to ignore the Jenkins Commission. Bogdanor, who was David Cameron's tutor at Oxford, argues that the recession, although underlining the validity of Social Democratic ideology is in fact undermining Labour, the Social Democratic Party. Bogdanor's solution is to "reunite the left" and that the Prime Minister should talk to the Liberal Democrats.
Well sorry Vernon, the Liberal Democrats won't get fooled again.
The Labour Party has had nearly twelve years in office. During that time they have presided over a period of substantial erosion of our civil liberties. They have conducted an illegal war, they have failed to understand that the boom was not "an end to boom and bust", but rather the prelude to the biggest bust any of us has ever seen. They did not create public accountability, since their version of the "Freedom of Information Act" is a toothless and politically partial farce. They have centralised local government on shadow regions, despite a firm rejection of that policy in the only referendum that was held. They did not hold a referendum on PR, despite making a manifesto commitment to do so in 1997. In short the Labour government has been almost the antithesis of what Liberalism stands for. Labour has also betrayed the explicit commitments they made to the Liberal Democrats concerning the reform of the voting system that they glibly made in their quest for power.
Now Labour is clearly headed for a massive defeat that- ironically enough- may only be mitigated by the unfair and undemocratic voting system. However, I can not feel any regrets. I do not have any confidence in the competence of Cameron's Conservatives, but for the wider electorate the hope- however weak and unfounded- that Cameron offers is a lot more attractive than the reality of today's tired and pusillanimous Labour government.
The Liberal Democrats recognise that if the Liberal agenda is to be enacted, there is no use relying on anybody else to do it for us. Labour is not- if it ever was- an ideological party, it is a pragmatic vehicle for power, so too is the Conservative Party to a great extent. However, the "Labour movement" that created the Labour party no longer exists. The massed society that spawned the Labour movement itself no longer exists. There is now no ideological agenda behind the new Labour project- only "whatever works".
In 1979, when Labour last fell from power, the extreme left-wing of the Labour movement seized control, and it was only with their defeat and the imposition of the "New Labour" project by Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Campbell et al that the party regained its electoral credibility. Even then it was a very close run thing. In 1983, the Labour Party only just squeeked into second place, ahead of the Alliance. The ultimate defeat of the left by Blair replaced Militant Tendency entrism with middle class entryism.
Yet Blairism was not Liberalism. It was centralising and authoritarian. It was based on the certainties of a cult - and their heroic determination to stay "on message" was politics as monologue. It is a lesson that David Cameron has learned well.
A swing to the Conservatives has histroically damaged Liberals. Yet the past 12 years has tripled the Liberal Democrats' representation in the House of Commons. Even a substantial setback will probably not take the Liberal Democrats down the the levels of the 1980s. The party will retain many of its seats even against the head.
Relative to the Labour losses, the Liberal Democrats will probably be more resilient. In that sense, as the political pendulum swings back from the Conservatives by then it could be the Liberal Democrats who can finally gain enough support to enact their agenda in national government. After thirty years membership of my political party I still have my eyes on the prize. I think it would be crazy to compromise our ideology and principles by shackling ourselves to the political corpse of the Labour Party, which has already demonstrated its ill faith and bad will every time we have entered into discussions with them.
Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy, Robert Mclennan have all talked to Labour- even taken cabinet commitee places. Each time Labour broke faith.
Labour would do the same again, no matter how desperate thay may be. Whereas the Liberal Democrats should keep their eye on the next political cycle and get ready to destroy the husk that still remains of the modern Labour Party.