UK Election: Trying to destroy the Lib Dems

The fightback by the UK two-party system has begun with the accusation that anything else is ‘anti-politics’. But it is democratic politics that has broken through the spin
Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
20 April 2010

On the Today programme yesterday morning, Monday 19 April, Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home, standing in because no official spokesman from his party was yet ready to go on air, said that the support for the Liberal Democrats meant “what we are seeing is an anti-politics phenomenon”.

On the contrary, it is political in the best sense. It is a rejection of domination by the two-party system, and its evident corruption. The polls that reported more voters want a hung parliament than support either Labour or the Tories, before the Lib Democracy surge, suggest that Clegg caught a pent-up force in his sails. It’s not that his rigging wasn’t attractive, it is just that it didn’t create the wind.

The two ‘big parties” will now collaborate in a dance of the undead to belittle the Lib Dems, intimidate the public and insist that the only choice is Brown or Cameron. Later in the day Liam Fox was let loose on the BBC’s World at One to give one version of what we can expect. He said the Lib Dems wanted to get rid of our deterrent and give asylum to illegal immigrants. I am not a Liberal Democrat. But I thought Martha Kearney should not have let these two assertions go unchallenged as both were clearly lies, i.e. Fox knew he was mis-describing the two policies.

The Lib Dems are right to oppose the replacement of Trident, a colossally expensive deep water offensive system designed to give the UK second strike capability after an overwhelming Soviet assault. The Soviet Union no longer exists. A global nuclear disarmament process is under way. To participate in the latter by shifting, as they suggest, to a modest nuclear capacity – not getting rid of it altogether, a rather important distinction, politically -  as a step towards participating in complete multilateral nuclear disarmament, is clearly in the UK’s security interests. It is building a new Trident generation that increases our vulnerability, as it sets an example of further proliferation.

It is worth noting that Brown committed Labour prematurely to the Trident replacement almost certainly as part of the deal to get Blair’s agreement to step down. Blair tied his successor into the corporate military-security complex. The policy then went through the Commons with the support of David Cameron. It was an early example of the shared Blairite agenda of the two traditional contenders (that I discuss here) the electorate now profoundly dislikes.

On their amnesty policy, again the Lib Dems are proposing something eminently reasonable that would help secure better controls over immigration. I am for immigration, which has rescued this country from torpor and collapse. But I’m not for illegal immigration which embeds criminal networks and exploitation in the black economy. When Labour won in 1997 Ken Livingstone advised the then Home Secretary Jack Straw to put through an immediate amnesty, as the immigration service would never be able to catch up with the backlog left by John Major’s useless administration. Livingstone was proved right, though his advice went unheeded.

Today, our chillingly renamed Identity and Passport Service cannot get itself on top of existing people flows and at the same time undertake the draconian work involved in identifying illegal immigrants who have worked here blamelessly for ten years in order to tear them from their homes and expel them. All that the Lib Dems propose is that these people are given fully legal domicile. The loser will be the black economy and the gainer will be the tax-payer. It is not a proposal to diminish control, as Liam Fox implied, but to extend it.

This is just an early taster of the fear tactics and distortions that will be used to try and destroy the Lib Dem challenge. It’s important that the Lib Dems keep pressing home the larger picture. The political system is broken and the two main parties are collaborating with each other to protect its central powers of “strong government” by presenting themselves as proponents of ‘change’. This is the politics that the Lib Dems have now challenged. It’s a democratic politics, not an anti-politics, and it has broken through the spin. Stand by for every kind of counter-assault that can be dragged from the gutter in the next two weeks.

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