Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Syria, turkeys and Farron's Stockholm Syndrome

The Liberal Democrats are, in general, an irrelevance in Parliamentary terms.  Their punishment for staying the course while being simultaneous punchbags and human shields was brutal, and the final demonstration of catastrophic misjudgement - a grim-faced acquiescence would have been appropriate rather than identification by parts of the party with the hegemonic brutality of Tory ideas and strategy.

Sadly Nick Clegg did not pay the electoral price for this - and it was symbolic that he wheeled himself out to announce that the rump of the parliamentary Liberal Democrats would line up behind the Tories, irrespective of the outcome and content of the Commons debate on intensifying British involvement in Syria.  With 50 MPs that would have been a game changer, it now looks like both an immoral stance and the posturing of the deluded irrelevant.

Tim Farron's mistake is to continue to play the "statesman".  In writing to Cameron with a bunch of party grandees around five "tests" for Liberal Democrat support, the hubris and pathos is apparent.  It's a manifestation of denial that adopting self-styled "moderate" and "centrist" positions is anything other than a continuation of the intellectual and moral atrophy that overtook the party during its period of coalition.  It's also a further demonstration that being a party defined by triangulation is a failure, and which will stop any grassroots revival in its tracks.

In setting five tests, it would have been reasonable to argue that all of them needed to be satisfied before an active level of support should be given - rather than the balance of the party bunker's assessment.  At most, the response of Cameron and Hammond would have justified not taking an entirely oppositionist line.  In reality, the preconditions for proper engagement (a military and diplomatic strategy that commands wide multi-national support, and coherence around who is actually being supported) are even less likely to be met than when Farron sent his casuistical bleat to Cameron.

There is some misguided strategy in the Liberal Democrat bunker that seeks to differentiate the party from Labour by being weak, vacillating and centrist.  This plays into a Tory narrative that reinforces the "divide and rule" strategy that wiped out the Liberal base in May, and consequently continues their illegitimate rule within a flawed system.  To watch the pygmy politicians at work is revelatory.  While Corbyn has his troubles - watching Hilary Benn on Channel 4 News was creepy and morally disturbing - Labour is at least defining alternatives and regenerating its grassroots.  For every parish council election that wins massive Liberal Democrat crowing, there is no strategy and there is no vision or passion.

Charles Kennedy was right to adopt principled opposition to the Iraq disaster, despite the doubts of the party grandees as to whether principle was a successful strategy - but also created expectations that the Liberal Democrats would stick to some form of clarity and consistency.  Far better to be (disgracefully and revealingly) described by the Bullingdon scum as "terrorist sympathisers" than be perceived as lapdogs and fellow travellers.  Farron's self-justification has been so twisted that it resembles Jesuit casuistry rather than the evangelical Christianity that caused concern during his leadership election.

There is consensus that the illegal insurgency needs to be contained, suppressed and rooted out.  There is consensus that this can only be worked through by international co-operation - but this includes not turning a blind eye to the dictators and funders of the outlaws and murderers, rather than kow-towing to them.  Claiming the moral high ground is not enough - there needs to be a demonstration of why it is not just risible posturing.

Irrespective of the overall strategic issues around the Middle East, if, tonight, Cameron and his colonialist, gunboat diplomacy acolytes secure a majority of more than 8, then the Liberal Democrats will have destroyed much of their remaining credibility for nothing.  If it is less than 8, then I suspect many members and supporters will be considering whether their allegiance to the party is worth sustaining.