Not thegrauniad’s bit on the side

by Stephen Tall on June 9, 2006

thegrauniad has taken to being rather scratchy about the Lib Dems in recent weeks. Ten days ago its editorial unfairly dismissed Ming Campbell’s impressive speech on crime without seeming to have troubled to read it. Today, it is just as sceptical about the priorities for a liberal Britain Ming yesterday outlined:

What – and whom – are [the Lib Dems] for? Hunting for a maturity justified by the 6 million votes won at the last election, the party risks blunting its brave edge, especially with the loss of the 50p top rate. … Sir Menzies wants a reputation for clear thinking and authority. He will need to fill in yesterday’s blanks and make it clear his party cannot cherry-pick his plans if they are to be seen as something more than a bribe for the votes of middle England.

What is interesting is to compare thegrauniad’s disdain for Ming’s “hunting for maturity” with what the newspaper has previously argued the Lib Dems should be striving to achieve.

For example, in its absurdly wet and hand-wringing leader article in May 2005, justifying re-electing Labour on a “don’t mention the war” ticket, thegrauniad praised the Lib Dems’ anti-war stance, and our vigilant tenacity in sticking up for civil liberties. But, ultimately, it argued the Lib Dems were not yet fit for government:

There is too much that is unconvincing about Liberal Democrat thinking on too many important subjects. The party needs to stare more unflinchingly at the possibility and reality of power than it has yet done.

Six months previously, in September 2004, thegrauniad’s editorial commended what it termed “the emergence of a new tougher and more market-oriented approach on economic and social policy, notably on tax and public spending”. It continued:

The old tendency to fall back on big government solutions, embodied in the post-1997 criticism of Labour for not spending enough on health and education, has been rethought. Mr Kennedy has simultaneously reasserted his leadership, encouraged a new generation of spokesmen (not enough women at the top), and has worked hard to have the party cohere around him. This week will be a big test of whether the activist grassroots can learn to love the new Lib Dem party that the leadership is fashioning.

I think the phrase is: damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

What perhaps thegrauniad should realise is that the Lib Dems do not exist to salve its political conscience, allowing a supposedly progressive newspaper to feel better for continuing to support this monstrously illiberal pro-war Labour government.

We are not their ‘bit on the side’, available for easy pleasure without the fear of commitment.

What Ming and the rest of the Lib Dems are seeking to be is a forceful political player, a mainstream party, with serious policies and serious leadership. thegrauniad will just have to get used to it.