How far the Lib Dems have sunk is debatable. Some say that they were pretty low on the food chain even before their distasteful deal with the Tories for a seat or two at the big boys' table. But the distance of their fall is measured in the fact that the yellow-blue coalition held its first Cabinet meeting yesterday, but Deputy Prime Minister and groveller-in-chief Nick Clegg is only going to his members to seek approval of the deal on Sunday. Tough luck if you happen to be a member whose last possible ambition was to climb into bed with the Tories, but that's the way it goes with these most undemocratic of democrats. Chairman of the party's federal conference committee Duncan Brack even had the brass neck to claim that, "in holding this special conference, we are demonstrating again that we are a democratic party which listens to and trusts its members." Stable doors and horses, Mr Brack. No harm in getting used to the doublethink that the Lib Dems have to keep working on if they are to keep even a vestige of self-respect, one supposes, but Mr Brack really ought not to be wasting the two-faced flannel on his own members. They can see as easily as him which way the wind's blowing. It remains to be seen if they have any more spine than their parliamentary colleagues demonstrated. And the wind's blowing in a very chilly direction as far as anyone who thought that the Lib Dems had any trace of progressive credentials is concerned.
Gone is the opposition to any "like-for-like" Trident replacement. In its stead is a commitment to the continuation of Britain's nuclear weapons status, with just the sop that Trident replacement will be judged on value for money. No matter how much the posh chaps at the top wriggle and writhe, that certainly wasn't the rank-and-file Lib Dem understanding of the position. As far as civil liberties are concerned, ID cards are certainly going and good riddance to them, but new blue-yellow Home Secretary Theresa May's first utterance was "more police on the street and less paperwork for them to fill in." Suggestions of the old "sus" laws spring immediately to mind, with all that implies for black youth in the inner cities. In the new Cabinet, the cracks have started appearing even before the first week has ended. New Business Secretary and Lib Dem economics guru Vince Cable has taken a public slapping down by George Osborne. No sooner had rumours started circulating in the City that Mr Cable was to take responsibility for the reform of Britain's banks than the phone calls were made and Mr Osborne leaped in to quash the rumours. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills had said that Mr Cable would jointly chair a Cabinet committee which is to determine the shape of the UK banking industry.
But Mr Osborne put an end to all that nonsense, briskly stating that the Treasury was going to remain in charge of banking policy and the financial services sector and that he would be chairing that key committee. That was a short old rise to glory, wasn't it Vince? To cap it all came the coalition's so-called accord on National Insurance. The deal worked out put paid to any pretensions that the Lib Dems might have had to positive policies. Under it, the bosses won't face Labour's proposed rise in National Insurance contributions, but the workers will. Progressive, it ain't. And it's all put into perspective by the suggestion that the coalition will legislate to raise the threshold for a successful no-confidence vote in Parliament from the traditional 50 per cent-plus-one level to a new 55 per cent mark. Not a lot of trust there between the so-called happy partners, it would appear. It's not difficult to discredit this lot. In fact it's rather like shooting fish in a barrel. But it remains to be seen if Labour can ditch its new Labour losers and reform itself into a fighting progressive force to oppose a new generation of warmongering, cutback-obsessed profiteers, this time outside their own ranks. We live in hope. So it would appear that the people have spoken and the Tories and Lib Dems have not listened to a single word they said - as is usual. For it is a completely and absolutely reactionary government that now holds the reins of power. The Lib Dems, who made such a play of being neither Tory nor Labour, but something completely different, have shed their protective coloration and come out in the open for what they are, at least in their national leadership, just plain old closet Tories.
The tens of thousands of people who voted Lib Dem in this, and indeed in many previous elections, just to keep the Tories out, have been discarded and their views ignored by a Lib Dem leadership which, sniffing at a couple of seats at the top table, jettisoned everything that they claimed to believe in to get a taste of it. And in country constituencies, many of which have seen resounding battles between Liberals and Tories and in which the Labour Party regularly comes a poor third, what choice now faces the Lib Dem voter? The answer is, precious little. They can now vote for the yellow Tory or the blue Tory and that isn't going to please them in the slightest. And what of the thousands who voted Lib Dem because that party's policy on Trident was better than anything else on offer? That particular policy hasn't been exactly prominent in the posh chaps coalition's utterances so far and merely including it in a spending review will convince no-one. Then there's Europe. Granted that Tory scepticism on Europe wasn't for the best of motives, how will William Hague sit with the Europhiles in the Lib Dem fold? Again the answer is brief. Not very well. All in all, it would seem that the Lib Dems have just committed a very public act of hara-kiri in the pursuit of a few seats in the second rank of a Tory government. Not that that need concern us very much.
They were always the acceptable face of Toryism anyway, and their pronounced anti-trade unionism will probably be a good fit with the Tories as they nestle into their new blue-yellow brotherhood. And brotherhood it most definitely is. The lack of little except white men in suits - with the exception of Theresa May, whose policies seem to be more anti-women than pro - is the most evident thing about the Cabinet line-up so far. So what does this mean for Labour? Well what it should mean is that the battle for the centre ground, which was always new Labour's flagship strategy, has failed dismally and that should mean the unmourned end of the dismal new Labour project. It should mean a return to policies to benefit working people and an end to the nonsense about being the "natural party of business" and all the class-collaborationist drivel that was spouted during the Blair-Brown era. But the new Labour clique don't give up that easily and there are already signs that they are regrouping and preparing to put up yet another set of candidates for the vacant leadership slot who will dance to the City's tune whenever the bell rings. This quite simply cannot be allowed to happen. With the new unity of declared and previously undeclared Tories that this improbable coalition represents, it would be unthinkable to to try to approach Parliament with anything other than a progressive platform of policies clearly differentiating Labour from the Libservatives.
New Labour has failed, even in its own limited terms, and it is time for the trade unions and the other organisations of the working class to flex their underused muscles and warn that only a radical and progressive opposition will succeed in toppling this government. It's time for Labour to remember its roots, to rebuild its relationship with the labour movement and to abandon the pale impersonation of a government for suburbia that it has adopted for so long. There is a huge fight on cuts and jobs coming and it has to be won. And if Labour hasn't the belly for that fight, it will be fought without, or in spite of, them.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.