It’s fascinating to see how the Liberal Democrats locally and nationally are adjusting to being in government, and how they are approaching the tricky issue of responsibility for the deeply wounding cuts being inflicted on local communities by government-imposed, ideological cuts to council services.
Does a Liberal Democrat EVER take responsibility? Is the Pope a Buddhist? Listen, is that a constipated bear I hear grunting and straining in the woods?
It seems to me, after five years of observing the ungainly policy somersaults of Lib Dems here in Lambeth, their absurd dancing from populist pinhead to pinhead, their eager climbing aboard of any bandwagon like it was the last bus home, their oily, pompous grandstanding and their desperate airbrushing from history of their own history of failure, that Liberal Democrats are not in the business of taking responsibility.
But that’s why, it seems to me, Lib Dems become Lib Dems. They yearn to be a bit provocative (but not too much, we want the neighours to like us, Muriel), a bit different from the mainstream (typical attention-seeking tactic, like rich kids living in squats) and a bit oppositionalist (but only ever if they think it will be a magnet for votes).
Let’s not forget that Lib Dems are peculiarly skilled at concealing their lack of principle (Tory-sounding on one doorstep, Labour-as-they-come on the next, UKIP, Green, SWP – you choose, they schmooze). They are political chameleons, adapting their electoral appearance to circumstances and always looking for ways of explaining away any actions or decisions that could become questionable.
So that’s why it’s interesting to see what the Lib Dem chameleon, now caught in the headlights of government, looks like when startled by the consequences of its own actions.
Take Lib Dem government minister Sarah Teather, attending a meeting in her constituency, where impending closures of six libraries in the London Borough of Brent was being discussed. An uncomfortable place to be for any Lib Dem on the wrong side of an argument. What to do? Rather than taking any responsibility and explaining that a massive cut in (her) government’s grant to local government is necessitating closures of many local facilities like libraries, Teather thought in this case she’d do the usual hand-wringing thing, whilst half joining in the save libraries campaign and half staying out of it. Typical.
Local resident Philip Jones said that Teather ‘Did seem a little bit embarrassed about being there when everyone was talking about saving the [Kensal Rise] library because of the cuts, and she suggested that people take all the books out of the library and clear the library of books … we were all a bit stunned really because she is a member of the Government and it seemed opposed to the policies of the Government’.
Taking all the books out of a library is a gesture. It doesn’t amount to a strategy that saves a library in the fierce blast of Tory-led, Lib Dem following government cuts.
In Lambeth, look at Lib Dem Leader Cllr Ashley Lumsden, who had this to say in the South London Press about the effects of his own government’s £37 million cuts (this year) on this one borough: ‘Residents will neither forgive nor forget Labour for this butchery to local services’.
Oh, so he rushed to the Lambeth Lib Dem comfort zone – it’s all Labour’s fault. If that isn’t avoidance of responsibility, I don’t know what is. The online comments on the article, mainly directed at Cllr Lumsden’s misfiring sophistry, are instructive:
‘It’s your government’s cuts you ridiculous little twunt’
‘Its more likely the people of Lambeth will never forget or forgive the Lib Dems for being traitors and Tories in disguise!’
‘The Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition seem to be particularly punishing inner city areas like Lambeth with their spending cuts’ [True, see here]
And, finally, the particularly illuminating: ‘Ashley Lumsden is a dishonest fool’