With politics edging back into the news after the summer break, it returns with a slightly violent streak.
Up here of course, the barely established referendum campaigns are already degenerating into spite filled bitter warfare with very little intelligent debate and lowest common denominator point scoring. All stuff guaranteed to generate a long and bitter hangover post referendum regardless of the result. What is new is the new found hatred towards the former teddy bears of the political scene, the Liberal Democrats.
While Clegg has become a hate figure almost overnight for students, the latest Lib Dem to enter the hall of hate is Matthew Oakshott (above), who has become something of a hate figure for those on the right of British politics. So much so that Jerry Hayes penned this post on Dale & Co citing Oakshott as having a “face that is invitingly smackable”. He did qualify this by saying “Seeing him relaxing in television studios coiled like a cobra, hissing venom with smug self righteous tribalism is almost as revolting as Peter Mandelson in charm mode or a cheery smile from Gordon Brown.”. This quote begs the question, has Hayes seen Ian Davidson recently?
The reason for Oakshott’s recent tours of the Millbank television studios is the meltdown for the Lib Dem’s in the polls, what is strange is that this meltdown has been obvious since… well since Clegg performed his double u-turn on Tuition Fees and on deficit reduction. The obvious manifestation of this meltdown though was the 2011 Holyrood election, which saw the Lib Dem’s reduced to 5 MSP’s. My own suspicion was that the Lib Dem’s part in the Coalition upset the grass roots so much that when it came Holyrood 2011, they were not nearly as vigorous as they normally are.
Oakshott’s timing is on the one hand slightly strange too. While the autumn Lib Dem conference is a couple of weeks away, this will ensure that the Westminster party with the most schizophrenic tendencies will have the microscope on them. It also reminds people of the tensions within the Lib Dems, with the Social Democratic wing perceived to be at odds with the “Orange Book” wing. On the other hand, this could be perceived as the phoney war before Clegg’s successor is elected.
What is clear is that this experience of coalition is not nearly as successful (for the Lib Dems) as the two terms the Lib Dem’s shared with “Scottish” Labour at Hollyrood. During that period, the Lib Dem’s saw themselves being given the credit for most of that coalition’s best policies, while the brick bats were thrown at Dewar, McLeish and McConnell. With this current coalition the complete reverse is true, where there is virtually no electoral benefit being generated for the Lib Dem’s. It is for this reason why there has been kite flying with regard to mansion taxes and other wealth taxes, argued for by Clegg himself and "St" Vince Cable - Oakshott's ally in the Lib Dem's.
Not that the coalition experience is entirely a walk in the park for the Tories, who have been the main architects of their own miserable 2012. The “mid term blues” is the probable reason why both the Tory and the Lib Dem leadership’s are being urged by various backbenchers and “grandees” to put the other partner in their place. However the disconect between the Lib Dem leadership and the activist base is much more advanced than the developing issue among grass roots Tories with Cameron. Those low poll ratings only add to the activist base's anxiety for a credible exit strategy from the coalition before the next Westminster election.
Oakshott’s tour of the television and radio studios is on the one hand just the same as Tories doing the same and arguing for a return to true blue Conservative values. On the other, this mini-revolt is the sort that will have long term ramifications. Oakshott’s appearances in the media look like being part of the long game. One that may well result in the replacement of Nick Clegg with someone firmly not from the “Orange Book” wing.