But this time, for good reasons. Mr. Kettle has an interesting piece on the Lib Dems prospects, a window through which a post-Blair LD Party can squeeze through with a combination of a continuation of Blairite economic policies and liberal social and cultural policy. The trick is to get the europhile Tories while keeping the urban liberals on board while also attracting the burgeoning, under 40 middle classes (especially women, disillusioned by the Blairites as well as the "nasty party") without strong political affiliation, a task I think is by no means impossible and does not require the kind of economic leftism (even to keep on board many of the folks who voted Lib Dem in Hornsey/Wood Green and Birmingham Yardley) of their last election manifesto.
Anyway, Kettle's piece suggests a strategy along exactly these lines. Here's the key passage(s):
Now the big question is whether that damage is the shape of things to come or merely a one-off. Here the argument becomes political rather electoral. Were those million or so new votes for the Lib Dems from ex-Labour voters a protest or are the proverbial tectonic plates on the move? The Lib Dems cannot afford to get the answer to this question wrong. Indeed, it goes to the heart of their dilemma.
Liberal Democrats often wince when this language is used, but the question comes down to whether they now attack Labour from the left or the right. In 2005 they did the former, detaching a significant part of Labour's support. But the Lib Dems are not a natural party of the traditional left, especially in class terms. They would be mad to go further in that direction. They would lose much more than they would win. . . .
Kennedy needs to steer more to the centre than he did in the election. His early moves since May 5 suggest he recognises the truth of this. Last week he announced a policy review that presages a much wider clear-out of health, education and local government policies than he has publicly acknowledged. Yesterday he reshuffled his frontbench team to bring in new spokesmen on all these subjects. These are decisive acts of leadership from a man with something to prove. Kennedy knows his party has to become a lean, mean, winning machine.
Some Liberal Democrats may wince at this language too, but they need to position themselves as plausible inheritors of the Blairite coalition. Yet their long-term interest is surely as a party of the European liberal-left, offering a Blairite programme of economic efficiency and social justice, along with liberal policies on individual freedom and international affairs. Kennedy seems to agree.
His cabinet reshuffle is interesting in this regard, although it probably does not lend itself to definitive conclusions about the party's ideological trajectory (just yet, at least).
Meaders, at the Sharpener, has more, (as part of a post explaining why it was foolish to expect the Lib Dems to offer a "real" "left alternative" and how the LDs turn back toward the center only serves to enhance Respect's - yes, he's a Respect man - chance: "For the first time in generations the potential is there to build a mass party of the radical Left in Britain, in opposition to an enfeebld New Labour and all the other parties of neoliberalism." well, whatever gets you through the day . . . but I digress . . . )
Vince Cable, on the same page in the printed edition, concurs. Cable is one of the few senior Lib Dems with a degree of ideological clarity about the direction the party should take - which is, as far as he and the Orange Book crew are concerned, still further over to the right. It is possible to imagine a coalescence of socially liberal but economically conservative votes around such a programme: roughly, gay rights plus the free market. As the newly elected MP for Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg, wrote of his free-market comrades, “Other strands of liberalism might place greater emphasis on social reform, on radical constitutional reform, on the abolition of inherited privilege.” But not his, and not Cable’s, and not a whole crowd born-again Thatcherites. An alliance, explicit or otherwise, with socially liberal Tories would make perfect sense, over and above the habitual opportunism that has delivered Lib Dem-Tory coalitions in cities up and down the country. On Europe, a key issue for British politics in coming years, the alliance already exists in the blind support for the EU that left Tories and all Lib Dems espouse. Charles Kennedy, days after the result, drew this conclusion, and precisely the opposite to that hoped for by tens of thousands of Lib Dem voters: drop the “high tax” image so disagreeable to Tories of any stripe, question the party’s opposition to nuclear power, and align the Lib Dems still more explicitly with a perceived business interest.
Indeed, a left Tory/Lib Dem alliance is what this Respect voters spits at, but it is exactly the path I think the Libs need to take. While, on the surface the LDs position does not seem especially promising (despite their recent gains), the (what I perceive to be) the current ideological fluidity of the British political landscape potentially offers a much more promising - if tenuous - opportunity to Charlie's gang than meets the eye.
Of course, this "window" will not remain open forever - indeed, it might not open in the first place. As Kettle concludes,
But the Lib Dems will not have this territory to themselves. Gordon Brown clearly knows that his success depends upon regrouping the Labour vote of 1997 and 2001, while the next Tory leader may not be as rightwing as the last. The great political question of the age is the future of the Blair coalition after Blair. For the next four years, this is where the political battle will be. And Lib Dems know enough of their own history to know that they must always march towards the sound of the gunfire.
I'd say the prospect of Brown kissing and making up with the electorate is probably more likely than the Tories getting the right man (woman!?) for the job, but Gordon's charm might not be enough if the economy turns sour enough and Brown just proves to be an ultra-Blairite with less charisma and leadership skills. Kettle is right to point out that both of the above continencies not happening is probably unlikely, but nevertheless, by no means beyond the realm of possiblity. The key, then, is for Charlie and co to play their cards right: and it seems, so far, that they are doing so.