There is something unbearably sad in witnessing a once formidable and respected political presence fall from grace. On the other hand, there is sadistic delight to be had in seeing a mendacious leadership of a fragmenting political party sign its own death warrant.
At their spring conference in Gateshead, Liberal Democrats first decided not to vote on voting not to vote on the selling off of the NHS. Then they voted to vote for a vote to back David Cameron`s agenda of destruction. Nick Clegg became increasingly worried. First he said that he would ignore the membership if they didn`t agree with him. Then he informed conference delegates that any rebellion against his Tory policy would be a victory for Labour and not a stand to protect a vital and cherished health service. Then, with a last desperate throw of the dice, “national treasure” Shirley Williams was wheeled out to end her distinguished career in a cess pit of betrayal and ignominy.
It is unusual for a party leadership to go from irrelevant to a laughing stock in such a short period of time and today sees the final absorption of the Liberal Democrat leadership into the Conservative party.
The real grass roots Liberals, however, realising that Lansley`s odious Health Bill is a crock of guano, did not capitulate in the name of party unity and misplaced loyalty to a parliamentary leadership grown accustomed to the trappings of power but not any actual influence. Clegg and his privileged cabinet Tories spoke of their influence in curbing the ongoing madness spewing out of Downing Street and pointed to their success at achieving nothing in the coalition agreement. No mention of the party manifesto or the slight misunderstanding over tuition fees or protecting the NHS.
For all the hot air, Libdems have done precisely nothing to halt Cameron`s plan to asset strip the state and fill the pockets of the rich. Libdem MPs and Peers do what they are told to do and troop into the Tory lobby when it`s time to vote on taking away the rights of children, people with disabilities and the vulnerable. Kicking beggars might be par for the course for Conservatives, but now Libdems will be remembered for stopping benefits to children with terminal cancer. Without any shame, they still sleep soundly in their second or third homes.
The party faithful, however, fearful of the possibility of verbal abuse and even physical attack should they dare to knock on doors in the run up to council elections in May, go back to their constituencies and prepare not to renew their party membership. After sticking two fingers up to Clegg, there is talk of a leadership challenge in the ranks of the rank and file and Clegg`s spinning apologists are already attempting to pour their oleaginous slime onto the troubled waters. “Just a minor piece of conference procedure”, they claim. “Nothing happened, nothing to see, move along now.”
The Deputy Prime Minister himself said: “It is not a Liberal Democrat health bill, but it is a better bill because of the Liberal Democrats. The health bill was stopped in its tracks and rewritten because this is a coalition government.”
The disturbing thing is that Clegg`s state of mind seems to actually believe this delusional nonsense. He has been assimilated into the Tory strategy of devastating the state in the name of more profit for the greedy and the avaricious and then tells the nation he is doing the exact opposite. “Nothing happened, nothing to see, move along now.”
Clegg and his well-off friends have abandoned any pretence at principle or liberalism and the Tories at the top of the Liberal Democrats intending to ignore the party membership will do so at their peril. Yellow MPs and local councillors staring annihilation in the face at the ballot box will, like all politicians, put survival first and distance themselves from their duplicitous and self-interested superiors. Support for Clegg will vanish and the veneer of an open and democratic party will disappear. The resounding silence from Clegg on the need to publish the health bill risk register is an indication that the process of amalgamation with the Conservative Party has already started.
With Liberal Democrat activists unlikely to defect to a woefully inadequate Labour Party, the alternative is to remove the leader, break the coalition and force a general election. With no credible opposition, the result would be chaos. Not that Clegg will care. Having bulked up his CV, he will depart on the gravy train to become an EU commissioner leaving his party in tatters.
Should the Libdems survive the ensuing carnage, their only hope is to elect a leader with a backbone strong enough to lead an independent party. David Laws and Chris Huhne are unavailable due to dalliances with illegality, Vince Cable is bonkers, Simon Hughes is below contempt and Danny Alexander has a previous engagement touring in the stage version of Balamory. That leaves Lembit Opik who, if he can persuade a gullible constituency that he is not actually barking mad, could form a coalition with the Monster Raving Looney Party. That prospect would be a vast improvement on the current bunch of dead dingo`s gonads slashing and burning their way through society under the cover the cutting the deficit. Oh, just for clarity, borrowing and the deficit has increased under the stewardship of the present coalition.
After an illustrious career, spare a thought for poor Shirley Williams ending up being duped by a time-share salesman like Clegg. As a Labour cabinet minister, she joined the picket line at the infamous Grunwick strike in the late seventies prompting complete head-case Sir Keith Joseph to describe her as a moderate “behind whom Red Fascism spreads”. She would surely not want to be remembered for that.
As part of the gang of four who founded the SDP, she was complicit in destroying the old Liberal Party and rendered the Labour Party unelectable for nearly a generation. Surely, she would not want to be reminded of that.
The SDP went the way of the old Liberals and now the Liberal Democrats face the prospect of being unelectable for a generation. Two political parties gone and two others wrecked. Surely she should do us all a favour and join the Conservative Party. Surely she…
Stop calling me Baroness Williams of Crosby.