Are we witnessing the end of the Lib Dems? Possibly. The party is looking weaker and weaker each month, after a recent poll put them on only 8% – from an all-time peak during the election. Over one in five Lib Dem voters have now switched to Labour under Ed Miliband’s leadership, who in a speech to the National Policy Forum last month said Labour will fight for a ‘strong, equal and just society’, calling for the party to ‘move beyond New Labour’. This has the potential to sway many former Lib Dem supporters who feel betrayed by the party’s broken promises.
It is not just the Lib Dems who are looking weak: the Tory-led government itself suffered a huge blow yesterday when the CBI – the organisation of ultra-capitalists and business interests – downgraded its forecast for growth in 2011, further reducing the Tory’s economic credibility. The embarrassment proves what many socialists and prominent economists (such as Nobel prize winners Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz) have been saying for some time. With consumer confidence down in anticipation of the rise in VAT, which will come into effect in January, and 100,000 jobs expected to go by the spring, it is becoming clearer that the government’s economic plans will not help our economic recovery – they will in fact hinder it while simultaneously breaking up the welfare state and crushing the public sector.
With the Liberal Democrats, who are still a primary political force in Cornwall, becoming less popular with every torn-up pledge, Labour must seize the opportunity and support the anti-cuts movement and the demonstrations against student fees. If they don’t, the anti-cuts movement will have little standing in parliament save for radicals like John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas. Labour are gaining in the polls, but this is meaningless unless they put up a strong opposition to the cuts in Parliament. We are seeing the biggest protests for a decade in response to the most severe spending reductions since the 1920s, but without a voice in Westminster, the anti-cuts movement arguably stands less of a chance of success.
The ‘nuclear option’ of resignation suggested by Cable represents another shock to the government, but not a seismic one. Complacency isn’t an option. In fact, it would have been much better if Cameron had stripped him of his post, as he would make a powerful dissenting voice on the Lib Dem backbench.
Locally, we are seeing a surge in anti-cuts cooperation, with trade unionists, students and different party members coming together to oppose the cuts. What is most encouraging however is that because of the recent protests, in the words of The Socialist, ‘many students have decided…that they are socialists’. That the student movement is finally finding a basis to build around is inspiring development. Hundreds of those students have gone on to join the SWP and other left-wing parties, which though not a totally positive move will increase the spirit of genuine radical indignation and help organise grass-roots student activism across the country.
We have to ditch the petty factionalism of the past – members of all progressive groups must work with each other – The Green Party, Mebyon Kernow, Labour, the Socialist Party, and disgruntled Lib Dems in particular. No doubt there is an abundance of the latter in Cornwall.
And it is no use simply praying for the coalition to collapse, because it must be remembered – the ministerial cars and salaries are potent bribes keeping the Lib Dems in the coalition. It is going to take a lot before the coalition falls, but if and when it does, it will be because of action both in Parliament and on the streets.
The Liberal Democrat conference in the new year is going to be very interesting indeed – George Potter is tabling a motion of no confidence for Nick Clegg, and however it turns out it is likely to further divide the party. On our side, unity needs to become a reality and not just a slogan. The January 29th demonstration against education cuts will affirm that unity, but the March 26th TUC march will be the real test.