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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why the Liberal Democrats will thrive again

As we gear up for the last day of Conference and Nick Clegg's speech, I have started to get back into the routine of reading the Welsh media. The impact of the Conference is difficult to gauge and in any case will fade as Labour and the Tories get underway with their annual shindig. Still this assessment in the Western Mail from David Williamson is generous and interesting:

The activists who have stuck with the Liberal Democrats through this difficult chapter in their history are battle-hardened, tightly knit, and they will almost certainly live to see their party enjoy higher poll ratings.

Just as Labour stalwarts who did not rush away from the party to join the SDP enjoyed a rare season in step with the zeitgeist during the Cool Britannia era, the men and women who came to Glasgow this week to cheer Nick Clegg may well one day see their party back in fashion as an alternative to Labour and the Conservatives.

Young Lib Dem zealots may look back at this time as among the most valuable in their political formation. Not only are they experiencing what it is like to keep a party’s flame alive when fair-weather supporters have vanished, they have also gained a crash course in the compromises that come as a party of Government.

Mr Clegg’s party can no longer be dismissed by its foes as a repository of middle-class righteous indignation; they have governed during one of the most difficult eras in modern politics.

The party will survive thanks to the loyalty and energy of its members, but will it thrive? The danger for any band of warriors schooled in the arts of survival against the odds is that their focus narrows and it becomes even harder to win mass support.

At the start of the last decade, morale among young Conservatives was high even though the party was careering towards defeat under William Hague. The brighter Tony Blair’s grin glowed, the more determined they were to stage a revolution.

Their support for deregulation and privatisation grew in fervency during the long nights of opposition but it means David Cameron now has to deal with backbenchers who are disappointed by life in a coalition, who dream of the policies they could let rip if only the public elected a majority

Conservative Government. But the electorate has not chosen to do this since 1992 and the party is struggling to connect with the Britain that exists today.

If the Lib Dems want to remain a true party of Government, it must be one that represents a country increasingly defined by diversity, weary of war and austerity, yet hopeful for the creation of a society both fair and free.

In Wales we demonstrated our resilience in the face of overwhelming odds at the Welsh Assembly elections in 2011. I fully expect that performance to be repeated at a UK level in 2015.
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