The Thick of It

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Monday, September 21, 2009

What is the point of the Lib Dems

This week's Lib Dem conference really kicks off the run in to next Spring's general election. Lib Dems will be hoping that this week can be the spur to a resurgence for our third party against an untrusted Tory party and tired Labour government. For a third party to survive in a two party electoral system requires them to have clear goals and radical ideas.

The Lib Dems have always struggled to define a single, clear purpose. Are they the party of opposition - to both left and right? Are they the party of radical ideas? Are they the party of social democracy or the libertarianism?

Today's policy announcement that Lib Dems would tax properties valued over £1m, to take the poor out of income tax, is both radical and socialist. Nick Clegg's constant assertions that "savage" cuts are needed to the public sector is lthat expected of a traditional liberal - today mostly found in the Tory party.

Within the last 24 hours these two events have shown that the Lib Dems are still facing in two directions. Which one the public gets to hear from depends on which Lib Dem voice is speaking. Former Labour Party adviser Vince Cable or the remarkably Tory sounding Nick Clegg. The Lib Dems are still in the shadow of their late 1980s formation from two very different political parites - the SDP and the Liberal Party. Cable and Clegg are each from these different arms.

Until the Lib Dems work out who they are and what they stand for they will struggle to define clear ground for themselves. Without this and a clear identity it will be difficult for them to attract votes on a national basis. Without that, they will always struggle to compete effectively with Labour and the Tories.

Clegg's savage calls strike of a desperate swipte at headlines without really thinking about the effects on economic confidence. Creating a vision of an aggressive and painful future isn't attractive. One criticism that certainly can't be levelled at Gordon Brown is rash decision making. His often well deliberated solutions to problems often get lost in the mire of news headlines, while sometimes managing a little praise for quantitative easing and stabilising the banking system.

More discussion follows tonight on Five Live's Richard Bacon show. Me, Bacon and Mark Oaten...at 11.

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