Why the Lib Dem Surge is a Good Thing

Published by Banzai in the blog Banzai's blog. Views: 85

[Copied and pasted from my external blog. Please do take a look. I'm trying to update regularly, every few days or so]

The immediate answer to this is obvious: because a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote not for the Tories.

But I promised myself (and now am promising you) that this won’t be an anti-Conservative rant. I’ve done enough of that in the nineteen-and-a-half years I’ve been on this earth, and will no doubt do a hell of a lot more before 6th May. No, this is about something else. For those of you not familiar with British politics, allow me to do a quick background filler:

The Liberal Democrats are the third party in Westminster. They have consistently in the last half-century been a weakened, ineffective force, and the but of many a political satirist’s joke. Their politics are middle ground, slightly left-leaning, and they are usually seen as the safe, protest vote against Labour or Conservatives. I don’t have a clue when was the last time they were serious contenders in an election.

Except no. That’s not quite accurate any more. Over the weekend, the Lib Dems and their leader, inoffensive Cameron-a-like Nick Clegg, climbed to dizzying heights in the polls, and overtook the Tories. This really was breaking new ground. Since before the announcement of this election, the Lib Dems were touted as the kingmakers of any potential coalition government, being able to choose who would govern the country. But at no point would anyone have pegged them as being up their competing with Labour and the Conservatives.

It’s a glorious blow to the Tories hopes’ of victory, and to David Cameron’s “patriotic duty” to become the next Prime Minister, and I have been loving every moment of it. Of course, it probably won’t last. Already the Tories are regaining the lead, and whether the Lib Dems will stay in the same kind of contention in two and a half weeks time is anyone’s guess. But what’s really worth commenting on is precisely how this came about.

And say what you like about votes disenfranchised with the two major parties, or people liking their policies. That no doubt does contribute. But the real poll-swinger was the first ever televised party leaders’ debate. It was last thursday, on ITV, and took place on a set that looked like it had been borrowed from a cheap daytime gameshow presented by some washed up comedian or actor. Or Noel Edmonds.

This was a historic occurring, the first time that any such debate had taken place. In the past, opposition leaders have frequently challenged the incumbent to televised debates, with the incumbent usually refusing on grounds that the election should be decided on policy, not personality. Personally, I agree with this argument, and wasn’t looking forward to the whole palaver, expecting a smarmy display of PR from Cameron, a lot of embarrassing blustering from Brown, and pretty much nothing from Clegg. I think everyone else was expecting the same.

But I was wrong. David Cameron looked like a Madame Tussauds wax model (except for one memorable moment where he looked like a haunted Madame Tussauds wax model), Gordon Brown seemed relaxed and at ease, even cracking jokes, and Nick Clegg came across as the reasonable everyman. Personally I thought that Brown came out the best, but apparently the British public disagree with me, and I suspect that it’s because they have never seen or heard anything from Clegg before. The Lib Dems have been in the background so long, as British politics marches on towards a US-style bipartisan system, that everyone had forgotten they exist. Now they have gotten themselves noticed, and although their surge in support may just be a novelty, and may not last, it will hopefully last long enough to cause some bloody change when the election results come in.

They won’t win, I’m not deluded enough to think that. But when the hung parliament is a reality, they will be major players in a coalition, rather than just the quiet kid picked at football to make up numbers. Frankly, any move away from a two-party system is a good thing (well, not if the third party were the BNP or UKIP, obviously). Bipartisanism leads to extremes. Two parties that are polar opposites of each other, with no happy medium. The Lib Dems, no matter what you might think of their policies (and believe me, they have some which I myself think they can go shove where the sun doesn’t shine), are that happy medium.

And the irony of it is that this move away from a US-style bipartisanism, came out of a US-style televised political debate. Brilliant!
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