They say journalism is the first draft of History The first draft of anything isn’t very good so that seems to fit. But there are times when journalism manages to get onto the second draft. There was a very interesting article by Patrick Wintour in the Guardian this week. It told the inside story of the Liberal Democrats’ election campaign and indeed of the years leading up to it.
I like to think of myself as a worldly guy who knows all about this kind of thing,but I was quite surprised to learn that they had succeeded in keeping all of this out of the public domain. There are not many advantages to being a small party but I suppose ease of keeping things quiet is one of them. But what I found most interesting was that none of the Liberal Democrats foresaw the scale of the disaster that they were heading towards. This was something in which they were not alone. None of the pundits saw it coming either.
Not that I was any better.
Despite the polls showing quite clearly that not many people intended to vote Liberal Democrat, I didn’t make the logical mental jump to that meaning that they would not get many MPs elected. I’m human, and humans are very fallible when it comes to logic.
But getting back to the account in the Guardian, the way it read was was very much that it was telling the final end of the Liberal Democrats. Of course this could be just as deluded a perspective as the one that suggested that they weren’t going to suffer badly in the last election was. But it does look like they are now gone for good. It is hard to see a way back to even the relatively modest level of success they were enjoying only recently.
Nick Clegg himself suggested that the Liberal Democrats still had a future because the concept of liberalism was still one that was needed. Well maybe so, but the question is whether liberalism really needs the Liberal Democrats.
Political parties are a means to an end. The question for the orange team has always been what exactly the end is? This has been the weakness of the Liberal Democrats from day one. What exactly is it they are trying to achieve? Take away the prospect of getting anywhere electorally and the lack of purpose becomes almost painful.
This is something that people in the Labour Party seem rather clearer about than the Liberal Democrats. One reasonably senior Labour politician could say that Labour could conceivably cease to exist in 10 years time. I’m inclined to doubt that will happen, but it is certainly a healthy state of mind. It’s probably easier for left wingers to countenance. Predictions of the imminent demise of the Labour Party have been around since just about long as the movement itself, so they have probably had more chance to think it over.
Politics is in any case a very unpredictable business. Few foresaw the wipeout of the mainstream UK parties in Scotland until it was obvious from the opinion polls. It was far from obvious in 1992 that Labour was going to pull off a landside at the next election. If 2020 surprises us, it will be in a way that is surprising. I know that is the definition of surprise, but you get my meaning.
Nonetheless I still think that what we have seen in 2015 is the final demise of the party which traces its origin back to the great Liberal party of Victorian England. The current Liberal Democrats are the lesser sons of greater sires, but will still earn their place in history as the ones that finally wrecked the carriage. The second draft of history has not been kind to them. I don’t think the next one will be much better.