In yesterday’s news we posed the question “What is Labour good for?” And replied “absolutely nothing” (with apologies to Edwin Starr). If Labour has sold its soul to the devil, what of the Lib Dems, currently busy with their annual conference in Bournemouth?
The leadership has already been defeated on a flagship policy to scrap the building of 380,000 new homes in the private sector in favour of 150,000 new social housing homes. The defeat was led by the Young Liberals, who believe that the way to fire up the youth vote is to promise to build lots of houses that most young people can’t afford to buy.
The leadership, by equating rented accommodation with social housing, made it seem that renting was the second best option for an aspirational youth. Of course, other countries have a much larger share of housing in the rented sector. Switzerland, for example, has 61% of its population in rented accommodation, whilst Germany has just over half. In the UK only 37% are in rented accommodation, the majority of it managed by private landlords.
In this, as with so much else, the Lib Dems, not alone among the major parties, are chasing votes rather than promoting principles.
But then principles have never been key for the Lib Dems. They might believe that we have all forgotten about their austerity promoting coalition with the Tories in 2010. Who could forget the debate where Nick, now Lord, Clegg stood between Labour leader Gordon Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron and said something along the lines of “When I look from one to the other I realise how much alike they sound”. He never mentioned to all those students, who believed his promise about scrapping tuition fees, that his ambition was to be more like them, particularly the Conservative one!
Now the Lib Dems, buoyed up by their successes in Tiverton & Honiton and Amersham & Chesham, have abandoned their long standing pledge to raise income tax to fund the NHS. Rather than ask where the money might come from if not taxation, we should realise that, having abandoned students, they are now abandoning the NHS.
The Young Liberals were once considered the ‘Red Guard’ of the party, arguing for community politics, voting against NATO membership and generally being a left-leaning thorn in the side of the party leadership. Much like the Labour Party Young Socialists, they gave young people a political home that, at least, appeared to be arguing for radical politics. Now it is just a stepping stone for aspiring MPs who see politics as a career choice rather than a way of changing society.