Monday, January 09, 2006

The Lib Dems at a crossroads

With Charles Kennedy gone, the race is on to find a replacement, and it looks like being a bitter contest between the economic liberals on one side and the beard and sandals brigade on the other.

Two recent articles by Stephen Pollard, written before Charles Kennedy's resignation, sum up the predicament the Lib Dems find themselves in.

The first article suggests the death knell for Charles Kennedy's leadership was David Cameron's election to the leadership of the Tory party.

The second is even more to the point, the real problem isn't Charles Kennedy, it's the party.

All the resignation has done is to bring forward the inevitable, the fact that the Lib Dems have to find a purpose. Unfortunately, it seems to me they're damned either way. If they vote for 'Ming' Campbell, they face the prospect of chasing votes in an already crowded political centre. And if they choose to move leftwards under Simon Hughes, they may pick up the dissaffected Labour voters, but voters in the Tory marginals will be scared off in droves.

The Lib Dems have always seemed to me like something of a fantasy party. As the Paddy Ashdown character on Spitting Image used to say: "Neither Left nor Right, but somewhere in between". The Lib Dems would do British voters a big favour if they dissolved their party and redistributed their MPs among the Tories and Labour instead. 'Ming' Campbell and Mark Oaten could join the Tories, Simon Hughes could join Labour. The Lib Dems have some fine MPs, this way their wasted talent might be put to good use, they may even breathe some life back into British politics.