Disappointing Liberal Democrats

The Times rightly gives the Liberal Democrats Euro campaign launch the cynical cartoon treatment – Kennedy at the podium with his slogan ‘Making Europe work for you’ behind him and the words ‘Making Iraq work for us’ on his lips – while the Telegraph shows disdain by allocating just a few short paragraphs. Next month’s European elections aren’t about choosing the best members of the European Parliament, say the Lib Dems, but a referendum on Iraq.

It seems the party feels that xenophobia is in and its traditional pro-European Union stance might not do so well. The Tories clearly feel the same with leader Michael Howard coming out against a European constitution because ‘countries have constitutions’. What nonsense; chess clubs have constitutions too and we won’t become one of those if we sign up. Meanwhile Labour refuses to state the case for any policy – be it hospitals, schools or Europe – other than war.

Standing up for something simply doesn’t come easy and it’s even harder for the Lib Dems because their campaign technique – pavement politics – involves finding out what people don’t like by surveying an area with ‘crumble sheets’. They’ll then ring the council about the potholes etc (something anyone could do) and when the work’s done claim victory. Inevitably this builds a coalition of irritating whingers rather than a coherent political force. I left the Lib Dems because the local party refused to discuss creating a positive vision for the city (too difficult; easier to bash Labour).

In Manchester using local council elections to protest against the war is particularly dangerous. The city’s remarkable regeneration – great new architecture housing new museums, the best shopping facilities and a busy and diverse nightlife – has been driven by sport and leisure. In the run up the Commonwealth Games, a multi-sport event second only to Olympics in scale, Lib Dems plotted for failure with scare stories that city residents would face embarrassment and a massive bill. Now the party wants to see museums turned into office blocks and fights for the closure of trendy bars and restaurants in suburbs like Didsbury. Voting Lib Dem in Manchester City Council elections risks putting the city back twenty years.

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