This Thursday (May 3rd) the four-yearly elections take place in 21 of Wales’ 22 local authorities (in Ynys Môn, run since March 2011 by commissioners appointed by the Welsh government, elections are postponed until further notice). There are no local opinion polls to give a clue to what might happen in Cardiff, where 34 LibDems out of a total of 75 councillors form the controlling group, but I have my finger permanently positioned on the city’s pulse and from my soundings in the artisan cottages of Adamsdown, the round tables of Roath and the salons of Splott I fear Cardiff’s LibDems are facing wipe-out, or to tweak The Sun‘s infamous headline stitching up Neil Kinnock on the morning of the 1992 UK election: “…will the last person to leave please put out the empties…”
There is only one reason why the LibDems are in this position – and it’s nothing to do with their so-so performance running Cardiff over the last 8 years. Although I could draw up a lengthy charge-sheet listing their many errors and failings, if anything they have been an improvement on their Labour predecessors, with their vaguely progressive, vaguely green, small ‘L’ liberalism and platoon of hard-working councillors counterbalancing their slavish devotion to big business and their embarassing efforts to turn the capital of Wales into a trashy, bread’n’circuses tourist destination. No, their plight is all to do with the ConDem coalition at Westminster. Hijacked by the neo-con ‘Orange Book’ Liberals when Nick Clegg ousted Charles Kennedy as leader in 2007, they delivered the UK into the clutches of the most rightwing government in living memory in 2010, a betrayal of such staggering magnitude that the entire party has been tainted by association. Nothing any of the fairly decent LibDems of Cardiff might say or do can neutralise this toxic fact. Because of the coalition a LibDem vote now equals a Tory vote in the public mind; so their leftish voters will switch to Plaid or Labour and their rightist voters might just as well vote Tory and get the genuine article. Moreover, if they are capable of working with Tories in Westminster then they can do it anywhere, raising the frightening prospect of a ConDem coalition here in Cardiff if the numbers stack up. The Tories haven’t run Cardiff for more than 50 years, and the chance of them being let in through the back door of County Hall by the LibDems is so alarming that any vote for a LibDem, even where their candidate is demonstrably superior, is now loaded with doubt and distrust. Prediction: the LibDems will be left with around six councillors come Friday morning and be plunged back 30 years to complete irrelevance in the city. All their activists’ toils over the decades building up the party from nothing will be turned to dust. Clegg, for the sake of a sniff of power, has committed hari-kari in the UK’s biggest political blunder since the Suez invasion. It will take generations to forgive and forget.
This is what happens in the end when you have no political principles. LibDems will get into bed with anybody because there are no philosophical lines which they will not cross. They currently have a coalition with Plaid’s six councillors on Cardiff council, they have had coalitions with Labour at Westminster and the Senedd, and they happily form coalitions with Tories, not just at Westminster but in councils across England. They would probably form a coalition with the Klu Klux Klan if it were to their short-term advantage. They’re not fussy. This isn’t flexibility or pragmatism; it’s prostitution, being what the other wants you to be. It has been their tactic for years: in Labour seats they position themselves on the left, in Tory seats they position themselves on the right, in Plaid seats they position themselves as champions of Wales. Running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, they stand for nothing – except their hunger for the perks of office. Long before the ConDems in London decided the poor and the weak should pay for the bankers’ bailout and long before Rodney Berman’s administration signed Cardiff over to unaccountable corporate plunderers, I had the LibDems well sussed: they’re just squeamish Tories who like a pint. Now everybody knows it and there is no reason left for anyone to vote for them.
Labour are sure to make gains from the LibDems, while the Tories bedrock tribal support in the snobby, philistine middle-class suburbs of north Cardiff will probably see them retain most of their 15 councillors. The best hope for Cardiff is for Plaid to win enough seats to stop Labour getting an outright majority and then go into coalition with them to keep the Tories out and try to mitigate the worst aspects of Labour’s blind fixation with ‘growth’ that only entrenches inequality, disguises unfairness and surrenders to financial capitalism. From what I’ve heard there’s a chance of this scenario happening in western Cardiff, where Plaid’s canvass returns are encouraging. Another compelling reason to vote Plaid is to give new leader Leanne Wood the confidence boost she needs to gather early momentum. We shall see.
This piece has been very difficult for me to write. I’ll tell you why: I have LibDem acquaintances, LibDem friends and, indeed, a LibDem life partner who I love with all my heart and who happens to be a candidate in Thursday’s election. See the problem? But if my blog is to have any credibility, if only to myself, I can’t let that cloud my judgement or compromise my beliefs. The LibDems richly deserve to return to the political wilderness; but while half of me will be cheering on their annihilation, the other half of me will be handing out the kleenex and picking up the broken crockery come Friday morning. Ooh-er: conflict of interest – how zeitgeisty!