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Published on February 13th, 2012 | by David Christie
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="182" caption="Nick Clegg at the Lib Dems' Autumn conference last year. The Liberal Left with be trying to cause trouble for him at the upcoming spring conference. Image from the Liberal Democrats' photostream"]Nick Clegg at the Lib Dems' Autumn conference last year.  The Liberal Left with be trying to cause trouble for him at the upcoming spring conference.  Image from the Liberal Democrats' photostream[/caption] A group of disaffected Liberal Democrats who are opposed to the coalition government will launch at the party’s spring conference next month.  Called the Liberal Left, they claim that the coalition has been a disaster for the party, and they aim to co-operate with Labour and other centre-left parties such as the Greens.  It is surprising that left-leaning Lib Dems who are unhappy with the coalition have taken this long to voice their discontent.  There have been several previous moments when one might have expected them to do so, such as when the education reforms (which included the notorious rise in tuition fees) were going through Parliament, as well as after the AV referendum defeat. But with the party having alienated much of its core vote, what can the Liberal Left group hope to achieve?  They are unlikely to persuade the party’s leadership to leave the coalition, given the prospect of an electoral wipe-out.  As a fairly small group, they are probably not strong enough to pressurize the leadership into implementing more ‘muscular liberalism’ (which would involve taking a more assertive stance when dealing with the Conservatives).  However, the group recognise that they are unlikely to persuade the party's leadership to withdraw from the coalition, and are focusing instead on building alliances on the left, in the hope that they can pave the way for a centre-left coalition after the next general election. The group expects that other Lib Dem members will rally to their cause and join them.  But is this likely?  There are many in the party who will not be sympathetic: the right-wingers (which includes Nick Clegg and other leading members, such as the new Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey), as well as those who believe that the party’s ideology transcends the left-right divide.  It is also possible that many left-wingers in the party’s grassroots may have already departed the party in frustration over the course of the previous year and a half.  Therefore the group’s support base might not be as wide as they expect. They could also have difficulties gaining support outside the party.  Some on the left may be happy to work with them, seeing an opportunity to undermine the coalition: Neal Lawson, Chair of the left-wing pressure group Compass, has already welcomed the group’s formation.  But they might not receive a welcome response across the whole of the left.  The Lib Dems’ co-operation with the Tories has made them poisonous in the eyes of many left-wingers, who may consequently see the Liberal Left as tainted, simply because they remain within the Lib Dems.  Therefore if the Liberal Left really want to expand their support and strike a blow against the coalition, surely the best tactic would be to leave the party altogether.  This would have a much greater impact, and cause more embarrassment for the Lib Dem leadership, than simply staying put and grumbling until the next election.

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The Liberal Left – a new force for ‘muscular liberalism’?

Nick Clegg at the Lib Dems' Autumn conference last year.  The Liberal Left with be trying to cause trouble for him at the upcoming spring conference.  Image from the Liberal Democrats' photostream

Nick Clegg at the Lib Dems' Autumn conference last year. The Liberal Left with be trying to cause trouble for him at the upcoming spring conference. Image from the Liberal Democrats' photostream

A group of disaffected Liberal Democrats who are opposed to the coalition government will launch at the party’s spring conference next month.  Called the Liberal Left, they claim that the coalition has been a disaster for the party, and they aim to co-operate with Labour and other centre-left parties such as the Greens.  It is surprising that left-leaning Lib Dems who are unhappy with the coalition have taken this long to voice their discontent.  There have been several previous moments when one might have expected them to do so, such as when the education reforms (which included the notorious rise in tuition fees) were going through Parliament, as well as after the AV referendum defeat.

But with the party having alienated much of its core vote, what can the Liberal Left group hope to achieve?  They are unlikely to persuade the party’s leadership to leave the coalition, given the prospect of an electoral wipe-out.  As a fairly small group, they are probably not strong enough to pressurize the leadership into implementing more ‘muscular liberalism’ (which would involve taking a more assertive stance when dealing with the Conservatives).  However, the group recognise that they are unlikely to persuade the party’s leadership to withdraw from the coalition, and are focusing instead on building alliances on the left, in the hope that they can pave the way for a centre-left coalition after the next general election.

The group expects that other Lib Dem members will rally to their cause and join them.  But is this likely?  There are many in the party who will not be sympathetic: the right-wingers (which includes Nick Clegg and other leading members, such as the new Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey), as well as those who believe that the party’s ideology transcends the left-right divide.  It is also possible that many left-wingers in the party’s grassroots may have already departed the party in frustration over the course of the previous year and a half.  Therefore the group’s support base might not be as wide as they expect.

They could also have difficulties gaining support outside the party.  Some on the left may be happy to work with them, seeing an opportunity to undermine the coalition: Neal Lawson, Chair of the left-wing pressure group Compass, has already welcomed the group’s formation.  But they might not receive a welcome response across the whole of the left.  The Lib Dems’ co-operation with the Tories has made them poisonous in the eyes of many left-wingers, who may consequently see the Liberal Left as tainted, simply because they remain within the Lib Dems.  Therefore if the Liberal Left really want to expand their support and strike a blow against the coalition, surely the best tactic would be to leave the party altogether.  This would have a much greater impact, and cause more embarrassment for the Lib Dem leadership, than simply staying put and grumbling until the next election.

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