I doubt I will make many friends here by linking with some measured approval to this Matthew Parris column, which may be partly wishful, but surely contains some true insights. Discussing Brown’s ‘moronic’ remark about Clegg being ‘Anti American’, Parris writes:
The expression that briefly stalked the Liberal Democrat leader’s normally bland face, however, betrayed a loathing that went beyond the routine attitude-striking of a British election campaign. It was deep and it was personal. . . Mr Clegg, I speculated, is a man on a mission. He wants to kill the Labour Party and he wants to kill Gordon Brown. The Tories couldn’t be more mistaken about his strategy. There is no way that in a hung Parliament the Liberal Democrats would prop up a Labour Government in office . . .
Over the years I’ve tried to follow the remarks, guarded or unguarded, of the Lib Dem leader; and the body language too. Ideologically, Mr Clegg is not far from the Conservative centre-left, but he has a distaste (more Dutch than it is left wing) for the Tory association with class and privilege; he thinks that culturally the party lacks instincts of fairness. I doubt he particularly admires Mr Cameron or feels much personal warmth towards him, but his overall attitudes towards the Tories are better described as irritable than murderous.
I am not going to come near attempting to answer the question: “should Lib Dems be closer to Tories than to Labour”. I know just what the blogosphere would serve up – a ferocious battle of the straw men: “So you think liberalism is about crushing the hopes of millions of people? Favouring privilege?” or “so soggy lefties always end up the same”, and so on.
But given a predominantly them’nus webosphere, with ‘them’ being Conservatives, it is worth remembering how differently liberal progressives and Labour progressives see the world*. An example: how positive I tend to feel towards the school reform ideas supported by David Laws and Michael Gove (read this Economist piece); while Labour launched the Academies, it has been against the most basic statist instincts of that party. Parris tries to put some thoughts into Clegg’s head:
He thinks Labour has traduced and betrayed progressive politics and that there are strands in its DNA — the old Left, the trade union links, the inborn, knee-jerk collectivism, the State-authoritarianism and the suspicion of individual liberty — that condemn it for ever to lead Britain’s centre-left astray. Ideologically, Mr Brown embodies that genetic inheritance.
I have no idea how all this will play out. Even the Times Leader today concedes that its traditional support for FPTP is weakened if we really do have a three party system. This election will be the first that ever produces a greater return for “neither of those two” than “either of those two”, I reckon.
I have not even heard of this polling company that puts Labour on 23%. But way too much emphasis has been put on how the Clegg surge has provided an alternative home to the anti-Labour vote, than the realisation that people who don’t like the Conservatives now realise they don’t have to vote Labour. ( Are those people who are waking up to that realisation following a similar path to that taken by the Liberal Democrat leadership in their political journey?
UPDATE: to those (tiny number of) undecided voters out there, reading this, who also want to send a powerful message against the Labour party, ask yourself this: what is the most important ‘result’ that would do this: Labour being beaten by the Conservatives (almost a cert); or Labour being pushed into Third? Use your vote wisely …
(*update: read Anthony Painter here on the same topic: “Just out of curiosity, I engaged with a few Liberal Democrats on Twitter this morning to market test my hunch that Liberal Democrats see themselves as an alternative to Labour not an ally, a contender not a collaborator.”)