DEFLATED Lib Dems bemoan their loss of policies to the magpie mainstream parties, writes David Maddox
Danny Alexander began the Liberal Democrat party conference in Glasgow by loudly proclaiming that he is “p****d off” with the Tories. There may well have been mutterings around the country of “you’re not the only one”.
And, to be fair, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who has worked hand in glove with Conservative Chancellor George Osborne, has a lot to be “p****d off” about, although most voters have decided that, frankly, it is of his own making, and that of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
But let’s be clear. Mr Alexander is not “p****d off” about austerity, the bedroom tax, tuition fees, welfare reform or any of the other measures many of his own party activists are still feeling very sore about.
No, what’s bothering Mr Alexander is the way the Tories and Labour have both stolen his party’s manifesto ideas for the next election – and, in particular, he is hopping mad that the one substantial thing his party has achieved in office (thanks to his own efforts) is now being credited to the Tories.
The issue of who is responsible for raising the personal income tax threshold from £6,500 to £10,500 is an important one for the next election. It was a Lib Dem policy on the front of their manifesto, but the Tories have taken the credit for it. Now the Tories have stolen the policy, extending it to £12,500. And Labour have nicked their mansion tax idea for the wealthy.
But the problem is that, after almost five years of government, the Lib Dems have taken little credit and instead have suffered much blame. The conference in a rainswept Glasgow somehow picks up the gloom of a party which for months now has been languishing on single figures in the opinion polls.
Nothing the Lib Dems do or say currently seems to be able to persuade people that they are still worth voting for, and they are now merely the fourth largest party in Scotland, while in England and Wales they have been passed in popular support by Ukip.
The conference has had an atmosphere of a party that has accepted its fate. No big ideas, no great announcements, but a lot of complaining about the unfairness of it all.
And in some ways they have returned to the old comfort zone of fringe issues, such as pushing for the right to die or passing a motion to legalise prostitution.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of the Orange Book, which the party’s professional, ambitious, right-leaning representatives used as a tool to modernise it and turn it into a party of government.
That project for now appears to be over, unless the Lib Dems can find their voice again in the next seven months.