A requiem for the Liberal Democrats

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When the Higgs Boson particle was fully discovered, my physics teacher remarked how the entire understanding of physics could be reshaped; science degrees could become useless, assumptions would be un-assumed and as one question is answered, many more would are raised. My feelings were akin to this the day after the election. Every concept I held true about British politics, liberal-democracy and the British public disintegrated.

steve bradleyShocking as the Tory majority was, its feeling of magnitude was dwarfed only by my dejection at the Lib Dem collapse. This was my first vote-able general election. Eager to be involved I campaigned for the Lib Dems; not, I might add out of a particular passion for the party. I would not call myself a Lib Dem, but my apathy for the other parties, and appreciation for the good, yet minimal and underappreciated work the Lib Dems have done in the preceding semi-decade propelled my activism.

Before going any further the Lib Dems deserved to be punished for their failed promises; most obviously their pledge on tuition fees. Most people anticipated this punishment to be half of their seats however, and the resulting single figure result seems an un-proportional response from the public.

For all their failures, the Lib Dems implemented 80% of their manifesto. I would imagine a figure similar to what our slim majority will achieve. With a limited number of MPs they made changes which were not headline grabbing but important: two million apprenticeships, lifting three million of the poorest out of income tax, raising the minimum wage to £6.70 per hour, doubling the number of solar panels in the country.

Also significantly, as I tried to expound to many a voter on their doorstep, there were crucial things to liberal Britain which they prevented from happening. Binning the Human Rights Act, decriminalising fox hunting, preventing the snoopers charter, and stopping cuts to mental health and education. What’s more, when you consider the fact that had the Lib Dems done nothing in 2010, or joined a coalition with Labour, the country would almost certainly have been in a worse state economically than it currently is.

But in 2015 this message fell on deaf ears. The British public, like the “ostriches” described by Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson, had necks flexible enough to bury their heads in the sand. Many simply refused to listen to the party who lied about tuition fees. Perhaps then they lost this election as early as 2011.

Many voters I met did not want the Tories in Bath, but did not deem the Lib Dems vote-worthy, favouring the Greens or Labour. Many of them rationalized that there would be enough people voting Lib Dem to keep Bath liberal. Where these people were on 7th May, I have no idea. Whether the smugness these lefty voters felt at watching the liberal annihilation is greater or lesser than the discomfiture of knowing that they now live in a constituency that said yes to Tory spending cuts is unknown. Ultimately Ian Hislop’s words summated my feelings, that “this is the problem with democracy, people just don’t vote the way you want them to”.

Although passionate, well-to-do new MPs are coming to the Commons, like our very own Ben Howlett, several good Lib Dems, who prioritised the lives of their local constituents have lost their seats. Seemingly centrist liberalism been replaced as the third largest force in British politics by socialist, and right wing nationalism. So what now?

The death of the Lib Dems?  The death of British Liberalism? The fact that 5,000 joined the Lib Dems just 72 hours after the election suggests not. Furthermore as James Kirkup wrote in the Telegraph, the Lib Dems will likely be remembered in better favour in the history books, although there are currently 49 people who that won’t mean much to right to.

Whilst maintaining their position as the central party of British politics, they cannot be afraid of putting bold issues on the mainstream agenda. Legislation such as the decriminalisation of certain drugs, assisted suicide, and putting the green agenda back in to centrist politics. I still don’t call myself a Lib Dem, but with the Tories committed to a clear programme, Labour in desperate search of identity, the Lib Dems have an opportunity to quickly reclaim a large empty space currently unoccupied in Parliament, the Liberal centre. Our democracy will need a voice against nationalism, right wing domestic policy, and ideologically rigid anti-austerity socialism. They will have their opportunities for this on the EU debate, and with Human Rights Act. Whether a revival will be a case of Lazarus or a return to the small protest party, haunting the corners of the Commons, is yet to be seen.

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Jamie Leich is a Politics and International Relations. He writes about national British politics.

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