It’s not surprising that the leaders of a party so long in the wilderness should be politically naive. However the extent to which the LibDems are bearing the brunt of opposition to Conservative policy, particularly on tuition fees, must amaze even the most hardened Tory strategists.
Vince Cable famously said of Gordon Brown that “the House has noticed the Prime Minister’s remarkable transformation in the last few weeks from Stalin to Mr Bean”. Cable himself has made an equally remarkable conversion from Father Christmas to Ebenezer Scrooge. The LibDems today fell to just 8% in the polls. Translated into an electoral vote, that would actually mean fewer seats under proportional representation that they have now.
The mistake that the LibDem leaders made was to join the Tories in a full coalition rather that a confidence and supply agreement. In doing so the Tories would have had to agree to enact more of the LibDems’ manifesto and politically the LibDems would have avoided being tainted as a full coalition partner in an unpopular government determined to cut spending . They would certainly have not been dragged into supporting a policy on university fees that they so clearly opposed.
To regain popular support, they must return to the path of principle and it is likely that those who vote with their conscience today will emerge post-crisis at the helm. The alternative is to continue to take the rap for the cuts and to consign Liberal politics to political history.