Support for the Lib Dems equates to an open declaration that one is politically, morally and intellectually dead. They are not just a party in denial of reality, from their lords to their backbench tea-boys, they are party of naked hypocrisy that denies precisely the liberal democracy they call their own. The disparity between their calls for Lords reform and their denial of a EU referendum exhibits the point.
For reasons beyond the ken of any thinking person, it seems that Lord Patrick Ashdown is somehow protected from criticism, even by those who rightly condemn the party he formerly led. Yet far from being a political sage, he is mired in the same hypocrisy and capable of issuing the sort of fatuous rhetoric that characterises the whimsy of his party.
In a recent article on Lords reform, he writes that ‘on streets worldwide they’re pleading for democracy’ and that ‘we can’t sit in our golden chamber resisting it’ . He continues: ‘In a democracy, those who make the people’s laws should be the people’s representatives’, that ‘We send our young soldiers to other people’s countries to die for democracy – and kill for it too. Yet we haven’t got it in our own country.’ Amen to that Lord Patrick Ashdown. His home truths continue in earnest:
We think we are facing an economic crisis. But we are also facing a political one. The people have lost confidence in politicians – and with good reason. The gap between government and governed has grown dangerously wide. If we will not refresh our democracy we could see it under threat.
Just so. Disaffection in politics is at an all time high to the extent that the electorate are becoming a disenfranchised minority; one might even be inclined to nod in agreement. Lord Ashdown continues:
Some say our priority should be the economy. And so it should. But Parliament can do more than one thing at a time. Others ask, ‘Why reform now?’ Because we have to refresh our democracy to put politics in touch with the people. Because the Lords can’t be exempt from that. Because the Lords can’t hold the Government to account while we are its creature. Because while everyone else is having to cut, the Lords is only set to get fatter. Above all, because in a nation proud of its democracy we should be ashamed that a part of our Parliament remains an undemocratic leftover from a bygone age.
The penny drops. How does Lord Ashdown square his indignation at the lack of democracy in the House of Lords with his attitude towards the EU? Repeatedly he and his tin-pot party are quick to remind the British public that now is not right time for a referendum on the EU because of the unfavourable economic circumstances; but here claims that the economic circumstances are secondary to the issue of a democratic crisis of identity, so the need for reform is absolute. He talks of cutting the engorged House of Lords, but continues to advocate closer political union with the EU, a bureaucratically obese institution greedily fatting its stomach on a financially ruinous and democratically suspect tax-payer substituted diet.
Rather like Lord Ashdown, Vince Cable also seems to be revered by critics of the Lib Dems, yet he is no less evasive and no less hypocritical. He, too, claims ‘Reopening a big debate about Britain being in or out the European Union and the referendum associated with it is horribly irrelevant at a time of upheaval taking place in Europe’  yet he also insists that the UK (also a country in upheaval) ‘get on with’ Lords reform . It is small wonder, as Lord Ashdown laments, that democracy is out of touch with the people when a subject that has repeatedly shown itself to be a major concern of and for the electorate, is dismissed as an irrelevance by a party and a person as incongruous as Dr Cable.
There will be little surprise that this message is filtered down to the Lib Dem back bench where it is lovingly issued by fawning acolytes. Take John Leech MP who without a hint of irony tweeted about Lords reform saying ‘I believe that the people who make the law of the land should be elected by the people who have to obey the law of the land.’ This from the man who seems happy to advocate the jurisdiction of the EU over the UK with an article entitled ‘why a euro referendum now would be barmy’ wherein he claims he is not against an EU referendum (proudly announcing he voted for the Lisbon treaty) but expresses rather theatrical astonishment at the demands to have such a vote immediately:
I’m amazed that during a time of real economic uncertainty there are people who would support a referendum that, by the uncertainty it would create, would further destabilise the European Economy and threaten the UK recovery. 
Mr Leech then parades a list of tawdry ‘facts’ that, had he researched his subject, would reveal themselves as erroneous:
[…] for the record, I would vote to stay in the EU because it means more jobs for my constituents. An estimated 3.5m jobs in the UK depend on the EU economy. 40% of the UK’s exports are to the EU, compared to just 2% to China. Some or all of those jobs would be lost if we left the EU.
Mr Leech’s article would not pass a GCSE exam on politics with its ingratiating register, its simplistic regurgitation of unsubstantiated ideas, its recourse to an emotional rather than an intellectual argument and with its meandering line of argument and flat prose style.
What the Lib Dems choose not to appreciate is the gulf between their calls for domestic democratic reform and their insistence that the UK is better off with the pronouncedly undemocratic EU. Lord Ashdown claims that the House of Lords is adrift from the electorate, that by turns both it, parliament and democracy risk become an irrelevance. With unintended precision he describes his own position and that of his party and its elected representatives. Never has the discussion on the UK’s political relationship with the EU been more prominent; denial of this not only sounds absurd but has the affect of making those who say so look even more foolish, a state to which the Lib Dems are by now accustomed.
During the composition of this article I tried to think of a collective noun for the Lib Dems. I came up with ‘an irrelevance of Lib Dems’. Contributions are welcome, please leave a comment.
© thepanopticonblog, 2012.
- 1. Lord Ashdown. “‘On streets worldwide they’re pleading for democracy. We can’t sit in our golden chamber resisting it’: Lord Ashdown’s powerful response to attack on reform”. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2170358/Lord-Ashdowns-powerful-response-Lord-Carliles-attack-reform-party-leader.html#ixzz206mWuygo All subsequent quotes from Lord Ashdown are from this source.
- 2. ‘Vince Cable: referendum on EU is horribly irrelevant.’ The Telegraph. 1 July 2012. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/eu/9368394/Vince-Cable-referendum-on-EU-is-horribly-irrelevant.html>
- 3. ‘Vince Cable: Get on With Lords Reform.’ BBC News. 8 July 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18759634>
- 4. John Leech. ‘Why a Euro Referendum now would be barmy’. John Leech MP. <http://johnleechmp.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/why-a-euro-referendum-now-would-be-barmy/> All subsequent quotes from Mr Leech are from this source.
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