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After the debate

Victor Hugo once wrote that "On résiste à l'invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l'invasion des idées", which is usually translated as "There is no power on Earth that can resist an idea whose time has come".

Amidst the Liberal Democrat euphoria after the decisive victory of Nick Clegg in the leader's debate, a few people have become rather excitable about the prospects for the party this election. The immediate, dramatic moves in the first opinion polls do not yet mean that the Liberal Democrats are poised for government. However, what they do mean is that the voters may now be prepared to listen the the party's ideas in a way that they were not doing previously. It may also mean that the threat from the Conservative Party in many of our own seats has now been checked- though even this is far from certain. It probably does mean that several hoped-for gains may now materialise. In short, the Liberal Democrats may be able to hold what they have and make gains- and that seemed a wild hope only three months ago.

The next phase of the campaign is now going to start, and the temptation for the Conservatives may well be to launch an all-out attack on the Liberal Democrats. This, however has got to be done exceptionally carefully- the voters are saying that they don't want the old style politics, and negative attacks could easily backfire. The Tories, for the moment, still think that they can ignore and patronise the Liberal Democrats- but if the spike in Lib Dem support continues, then they will certainly move into attack mode. As for Labour, the hapless performance of Gordon Brown is a clear problem. They have tried to love-bomb the Lib Dems. Such a wooing is not really taken seriously in Cowley St, because the Liberal Democrats will need to protect their Tory flank- attacking Labour is the best way to do this, but it could be significant later. The hostility that the Conservatives feel may mean that the Tories may refuse to go into coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and yet not have sufficient support to go it alone.

In the aftermath, many punters are being tempted towards hyperbole: words like "game-changer", "tipping point" and even our old friend "breaking the mould" are being mentioned. After so-many election disappointments, I remain a little cautious. However something big did happen in the first debate: the British people- disillusioned with the Labour government and only luke-warm about what is seen as a slick, PR driven Conservative Party have now begun to think that the Liberal Democrats offer a really different agenda. It is an agenda that they recognise as bringing about the rather inchoate desire for "change" in the wake of the economic disaster and political scandals that have beset Britain in the last five years. They like what they see: Vince Cable and Nick Clegg are a more inspiring team than George Osborne and David Cameron, let alone Gordon Brown and Gordon Brown. Perhaps they recognise that the Liberal Democrats have been in the right on some important issues: the economy and the Iraq war not least. They may understand that the Liberal Democrats ideas on constitutional change rest on a commitment of decades of clear principles.

Most importantly though the voters are beginning to alter their attitude to the party from "Liberal Democrats: Why bother?", to "Liberal Democrats: Why Not?". That does not mean that we have won their votes, but it does mean that we have got them listening.

Now the Party is going to have its mettle tested in a way that we have never seen before. Our ideas will rightly be scrutinised in far more detail. Our candidates will come under pressure. There will be damage and embarassment along the way: no party is perfect. However, this examination will be nothing compared to the test of responsibility if the election does deliver a minority Parliament. The focus and discipline that will now be required will be beyond anything we have ever known. However we should be grateful that after so many years of setbacks and false dawns, that finally we can put forward our views without the sniping that they are irrelevant and that a vote for our party is simply a "wasted vote".

I have believed for a while that the Liberal Democrats may do better in 2010 than we did in 2005. The question for the last phase of the campaign will be simply how much better can we do? That question will irritate Conservatives, many of whom still think that their victory is both likely and necessary, but it should terrify Labour, whose failure to replace Gordon Brown when they had the chance now looks like a death wish.

When- or should I say "if", given the problems of the volcanic cloud- I return to the UK, I shall join the campaign in Scotland with renewed determination and hope. Hope that at last the country can finally escape the shackles of a political system constructed for the 19th century, not the 21st century. Hope that the big state of Labour can be replaced not by the "Big Society" of the Cameroons, but a genuinely Liberal country where people make decisions for themselves.

An idea whose time has come? I still believe it is worth the fight.


Newmania said…
Ideas have nothing to do with it . Liberals are promising £15 billion of tax cuts ( I wish) accounting for about 12% of the deficit gap with tokens and vaguely suggesting loopholes can be closed to make up the rest . Anyone who can add up knows these are the fantasies of a child .This is an X Factor moment .

It is already taken for granted that Lib Lab pact is the objective and , no doubt a thousand year progressive Reich manipulated by professional politicians at the centre .
This would represent the victory of the left leaning middleclass and it’s the areas of agreement that are terrifying
1 Immigration – Both favour flooding the country with foreigners so as to loosen Nationalist ties which both consider old fashioned and faintly evil .70,000,000 is nothing .
2 Europe – They have already conspired once to hand over yet more of our voting rights to Brussels’ and the truth is both want the country to be the sort of Socialist Democracy we see on the Continent. It will be a post democratic regime
3 – See 2 The size of the state has not really been a Liberal objective since Gladstone whatever Clegg pretends . They will redefine Liberal as consisting of positive freedoms ( as they always do)and head towards 70% state on the Swedish model.
4 – Every trendy nostrum from letting criminals out to teaching by dance and play will be churned out of Whitehall into the schools where our children will; be brainwashed into the belief that their parents are not with the programme . The programme is a sort of feminine fascism; multiculturalism, internationalism , breaking the country into regions “ Consultation” will replace politics
5The losers will lose forever
Marriage …forget any support it will continue to be denigrated and despised so will spiritual belief of all sorts
The whole minority victim agenda will have the full backing of a despotic state as iof it were not bad enough
Private Sector Small Business – Neither know or care about it . It will be legislated off the face of the earth
Taxation- Will of course go up to pay for all this whatever the Liberals say . They are incapable of cuts , more so than Labour
This could be the end of the country .

The mistake you have always made is in imagining the Liberals are serious about ID cards and their weeny token quibbles .They never want anything but more spending more rules more taxes more Europe , more single mothers , more social workers more public sector , more Political correctness and feminine fascism , more and better paid public sector layabouts. Their freedom is only freedom to agree with Liberals
If that You Gov Poll is the truth the country is finished I can hear the laughter of Polly Toynbee now

What infuriates me is that what you think is free market of ideas.It is nothing of the sort . Its a triumph of the political class by mean of bribing one group who hate them with money stolen from another who hate them more.

My only hope is that this nightmare will be ended by bankruptcy
Anonymous said…
Great post Cicero. Labour were clearly the big losers, and will continue to be if your lot keep doing well. Apart from any other consideration, that's got to be good news!
E. J. Frogster said…
On the subject of songs and fighting,
the song "Gordon Brown be my Angel" is about fighting in 125 years of legal history, also fighting the problem of antisocial personality disorder which costs 31,240 pounds of British tax per ASPD case per year. Surely a huge burden by any standards, nobody talks about it. (lyrics annotated) (BETTER SOUND QUALITY)

Brahms Lullaby

Gordon Brown! Gordon Brown!
Will you be my angel?
Guardian angel is what I meant
Will you rescue my soul?

For you are in charge
Of these people I wrote to
Stephen Timms, Jack Straw
Let me place my trust in you

Gordon Brown! MP’s!
Let me sing out loud
For what you do, for my country
For my reproductive system

You right wrongs! My right’s been wronged
I am desperate for you
Not just you! There’s Jon Herring
I’m a violated woman

Gordon Brown, help me sleep!
Help me sleep like a baby
Will my babies ever come out?
Maternal desires!
I lost my womanhood
In a sinister curse
Gordon Brown! Bring it back!
You are perfect for that!
Cicero said…
Oh dear Newmania- your disappointment in your leader's performance is making you irrational and petulant.

I won't bother going through your rant line by line: there is just no point. The Liberal Democrats are not a conspiracy and do not believe the utter nonsense that you ascribe to them. You do not debate with us, you just ignore what we actually say and then make up drivel and argue with that instead. So if we say "white", you will say that we did note really say it, and in any event what we really meant was "black" and that it is all a plot to cover Britain in darkness.
Quite frankly that kind of childishness is why politics in Britain is such a mess. It is the failure of the Conservatives to genuinely engage with the argument, rather than creating silly PR driven slogans that is driving the Conservative campaign onto the rocks. The British voter is sick to the back teeth with politics based on hype, bullshit and PR. So the Conservative response of getting a leader who is an airbrushed PR guy looks pretty ill judged from where I'm sitting. Even more ill judged is to pretend that just tinkering with politics is enough to restore trust. Radical changes- including to the electoral system- are critical: and the British people are ready to insist on real, genuine and complete change, not the cosmetic branding changes that the Tories are offering

So, go and have a lie down in a dark room and stop coming up with crappy and just plain wrong attacks on what you would like Liberal Democrat policies to be. In short it is time the Tories behaved like grown ups not like fractious school children at bedtime.

The country is in a mess. The Tory solutions do not go far enough. The electorate what more, and they are beginning to think that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are a better bet that your party.
Newmania said…
'The British voter is sick to the back teeth with politics based on hype, bullshit and PR.'

Apparently not. A Poll has just come out showing the Lib Dems as the largest Party. I wonder how that principled advocacy of PR will fare once the hush puppies are under the table Reminds me of the Lady Di insanity , I just did not get it

I have to mention that I went a hustings the other day where Norman Baker was being acclaimed by his local supporters and a less likely collection of fiscal realists would be hard to assemble from the dregs of a hippy commune . The same was true in Islington and very much so in Bermondesey under its “Straight choice “ Simon Hughes .I speak as I find CS
Baker and Hughes are both prodigiously popular local MP`s, and in many ways admirable people but both far left of New Labour ( The Iz Coucil by contrast was lead by a cretin last time I looked ).

If there is Lib Lab pact , and that is the only option , my only consolation will be to see the great Weimar poseurs obliged to take responsibility for the overspend they supported and wanted more of .
Cicero said…
Constitutional and electoral reform is so central to the cause of Liberalism that to abandon it would mean the end of the party. It is a non negotiable part of our political DNA. To assume that such a fundamental principle would be abandoned once the Liberal Democrats had the ability to enact it is just stupid.
I don't know what the electorate are going to deliver, but if the Tories would accept PR I see no particular reason to prefer a pact with Labour. The trouble is that they won't, so we have to deal with the situation as it emerges.

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