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Friday May 30 2014

Dan Hannan:

It’s over for the Liberal Democrats. They may not realise it, but it is. Before the 2010 general election, the party was pursuing two contradictory strategies at the same time. On the one hand, it presented itself as a moderate, centrist party, liberal on both social and economic issues, broadly pro-business if occasionally interventionist. On the other, it was a radical, anti-war alternative to Labour.

As long as the party was in opposition, these two stories could be maintained simultaneously. As with Schrödinger’s cat, both states were, so to speak, co-existential. But, when the Lib Dems entered government, the box was opened. Only one version of events could now be true. And it was clear which version that had to be.

Nick Clegg could no longer lead a protest party of the Left: half his voters had walked away in disgust at his deal with The Evil Heartless Tories. The Lib Dems’ sole remaining option was to make the Coalition work, to show themselves to be competent and responsible, to make a virtue out of having put the national interest first. To behave, in short, like an adult party of government.

Oh, dear. For once, the string of mixed metaphors that the Daily Mail often makes its house style is apt: “The poison at the heart of the Liberal Democrat party burst into the open last night after an explosive resignation statement which rocked the political establishment…” The impression of haplessness and hopelessness, to say nothing of nastiness, is overwhelming.

The Lib Dems have, in short, managed to make a mess of both strategies, showing all the inept crankery of a party of permanent opposition, but without any commensurate principles. Schrödinger’s cat lies cold and stiff.

What a miserable, tawdry end for a party with such noble antecedents. ...

Actually, this Schrödinger’s cat metaphor is itself pretty chaotic, because the question originally posed by Schrödinger was not: What kind of cat is Schrödinger’s cat?  It was: Is Schrödinger’s cat alive or already dead in the box?  Hannan’s own piece is about both what sort of Lib Dems the Lib Dems are, and about whether the Lib Dems are themselves, now, alive or dead, on account of them previously having been contradictory things.  What the Lib Dems were concealing was the contradiction between two different versions of the Lib Dems, not the possibility that the Lib Dems might already be dead.  So, as so often in human affairs, Hannan accuses the Daily Mail of just the sort of metaphorical muddlem that he is guilty of.  It’s like that rule about how, if you ever accuse someone of spelling something wrong, you spell something else wrong yourself.  No doubt there are other mixed metaphors in this.

But the box bit of the metaphor works okay.  The box is now open, and we are seeing the Lib Dems for what they are.

However, I think that saying the Lib Dems are merely two-faced is an absurd understatement, as Hannan himself goes on to say, later in this same piece:

The rest of the party became what it is today: a tricksy, self-righteous alliance of convenience, prepared to say whatever local people want to hear.

In other words, they present not a merely two faces, but as many faces as there are people to be talked to.  They tell you what you want to hear, no matter what that is.  Almost every former Lib Dem voter will thus have been swindled by the Lib Dem bit of the Coalition.  All have been promised things that the Lib Dems subsequently didn’t even argue for, let alone make the Cameron government do.  Even people like the Greens were promised far more and far Greener stuff than the Lib Dems have come near to delivering on that front.

If the Lib Dems now start fighting like cats in a sack, good, because that will also destroy another carefully cultivate Lib Dem myth, which is that they are nice people, unlike all the other nasty politicos.  Ask any nasty Labourites or nasty Tories with any campaigning experience, and they will all agree on this one thing, that the Lib Dems are utterly unprincipled shits (this being the private between-ourselves version of Hannan’s “tricksy” above).  The ones who are not unprincipled shits are deluded idiots, their big delusion (usually one among many) is that their particular version of LibDemery is getting somewhere, by being a part – big, small, tiny, one solitary member - of the Lib Dems as a whole.  No, as current events are now proving.  A vote for the Lib Dems really is a wasted vote, because it’s anybody’s guess what voting Lib Dem means.  Mostly what it means is that if you voted Lib Dem, you were lied to, successfully.

What the Lib Dems are now actually finished remains to be seen.  Hannan clearly hopes so.  So do I.

Perhaps the Lib Dems are dead, but there will be a dead cat bounce.

If I have a particular hatred of the Lib Dems, it is because the old Liberal Party as was – pretty much all of it - used to stand for something very like my particular opinions, which of course they went on telling me were really what they all wanted, long after that had stopped being even remotely true.  Hannan feels the same.

More responses to the Hannan piece at Samizdata (in the form of a different selected quote), and at Libertarian Home (ditto). Between the three of us, we quote pretty much all of it.