Monday, 20 September 2010
The fear of power
You may have thought that after 65 years out of power, the Liberal Democrats would be excited about having government ministers address their conference and putting Liberal Democrat policy into effect. However, the ordinary Liberal Democrat members are uneasy, and not just because they are in coalition with the Conservatives. After so long without it, power can be very frightening.
I should point out that to say the Liberal Democrats have been out of government since 1945 is somewhat inaccurate. The Liberal Democrats as a political party have only existed since 1988, before then they were two parties, the Liberal party (which used to formed governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries) and the Social Democratic party (which split from the Labour party in 1981). So, although the Liberals haven't been in government since the coalition during the Second World War, the Social Democrats were technically in power as part of Labour in the 1970s.
However, the membership of the Liberal Democrats is very different from the party itself. This is true of most political parties, but the Liberal Democrat members are a particularly interesting group. Unkindly described as "sandal-wearing" or "tree-huggers", in general they are dramatically to the left of their party leadership and the rest of the country. For most of them, being in power is a very strange experience, and in such a difficult time, with such a large deficit to deal with, many Liberal Democrat members are wondering if being in government is such a good thing.
Today Nick Clegg (David Cameron's Deputy Prime Minister) tried to convince his party membership that the coalition was a good thing. He was very careful not to sound triumphalism, but instead asked the party to trust that what he was doing is 'right for Britain'. Whether the Liberal Democrats will continue to follow their leader when the spending cuts begin will only be known at next year's conference.