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Let us hope that the Liberal Democrats have turned over a new leaf

THE LIB DEMS are a party so steeped in the politics of deception and double dealing that when former leader Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister in the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition government, tells us in his new capacity as mouthpiece for a giant US social media monopoly that there is no evidence to support allegations of intervention by the Russian state in the US presidential election, even people who know his testimony to be true began to doubt it.

The Liberal Democrats speculate that the passage of time has erased the memory of their most infamous betrayal, the promise to abolish university tuition fees, which led many students and their families — a disproportionately middle-class demographic it must be said — to vote for them, blissfully unaware that the key people in this party were even more intellectually and ideologically committed to the neoliberal policies by which we came to know the coalition government than were the Tories themselves.

Liberal Democrats like to work both sides of the street. Literally. In some areas their favoured election tactic is to scrutinise council lists of planned improvements in local amenities, swiftly launch a campaign to demand those very things and claim credit for their community politics.

The party is currently led by the most prominent turncoat in the current parliament. Vince Cable defected from Labour to join the Social Democrat Party in the 1980s political manoeuvring that kept Thatcher in No 10. 

Before entering Parliament he sold his professional services as the chief economist to the oil monopoly Shell. This post at the heart of the fossil fuel business may have given him the insight to see the oil and energy wars for what they are and, like his party leader Charles Kennedy, he voted against the Iraq war.

This gives him and his party something of a moral advantage over the not inconsiderable number of present-day Labour MPs — not to mention Alastair Campbell — who dutifully backed Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in sanctioning that war crime. 

In many ways he exemplifies the contradiction at the centre of his party’s politics which is reflected in the politics of confusion over its aims and the problems that have arisen since its intellectual core was colonised by the neoliberal Orange Book faction.

Orange Book liberals, of which Cable is one, who may generally hold socially liberal views on a wide range of issues, are most definitely neoliberal in their loyalty to the European Union and to its compulsory programme of privatisation, marketisation and public spending controls.

And this is a trap which may lure some voters, and even some Labour Party supporters, into deluding themselves that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is in any circumstances a risk worth taking. 

Not just to their party membership. Campbell’s grandstanding functioned as a recruiting mechanism for an assault on party policy and this inveterate schemer calculated the risk to his party card was worth taking for the Blairite grand plan.

Whoever succeeds Cable as leader of the Liberal Democrats, we must hope that they are sincere in turning over a new leaf and will keep to their promises.

Both leadership candidates have pledged not to form a coalition government with the Labour Party so long as it is led by Jeremy Corbyn. We must hope that this is one undertaking on which we can count.

An alliance with the Liberal Democrats would ensure that Labour’s election-scoring manifesto remains on the drawing board while the foundations of the system which the Lib Dems and Conservatives are not alone in sustaining would continue unchallenged.

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