If it’s true that people feel better disposed to pay a little more for products that are Fairtrade, kinder to the environment and respect animal welfare when they’re feeling affluent, it’s probably true that they guiltily skimp on these things when they’re worried about their own future. And so they turn to the traditional party of self interest and the focus moves away from better public services to cutting tax.
Consequently, the Lib Dems flagship policy of a penny on tax to pay for whatever has been ditched. While that policy was always simplistic and gimmicky, it did earn the party a reputation for a kind of honesty: ‘if you want better services, you’ll have to pay.’
This is not the only reason Nick Clegg’s radical decision to switch tax policy to other end of the spectrum is so foolish. It’s a move designed to appeal to disaffected Conservative voters at a time Tories are on the rise, a time when voters are switching from Labour, a time when (the polls show) those voters are going Tory without giving the Lib Dems a second glance.
Here in Lib Dem Manchester Withington, MP John Leech has already sought to assure this blog that Nick Clegg has no plans to back the Tories in hung parliament. John Leech knows that ‘vote Lib Dem get a Tory government’ is a slogan that could sink him in 2010. Here the Lib Dems found success by concentrating their efforts on council estates filled with working class voters who feel Labour has left them behind, topped up with opponents of the war and a bit of NHS scaremongering. These voters will run a mile at the whiff of a Tory government.
The underlining problem for the Lib Dems is their failure to find a coherent uniting philosophy. The parliamentary party is an increasingly loose coalition of independents, elected through a process of energetic pavement politics that is incredibly localised. It’s a strategy that has left Lib Dems defined by their opponents on whose agenda they are used to fighting; those who fight Labour form the party’s left wing and those who fight Tories its right.
Clegg’s programme, designed to take seats from the Conservatives, will not only fail on its own terms, but leave the likes of John Leech behind.