David Frum

11.30.12

Politics Across the Pond

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Nick Clegg (Getty)

Tom Doran chronicles the woes of Britain's third party, the Liberal Democrats. He notes their ability to capitalize on opposition to the Iraq War as an impetus for uniting voters from the hard left and the center, but blames this same awkward coalition for making them unable to govern when given the chance:

[A]fter David Cameron spectacularly failed to win a majority against Labour at its weakest, he made his “big, open and comprehensive offer”. Suddenly, the Lib Dems were confronted with something they'd managed to avoid for a very long time, something terrifying: a decision. Nick Clegg, true to his Orange-booker instincts, signed his party on to a decidedly centre-right programme of austerity and market-oriented reform.

This decision was, in many ways, brave (not just in the Sir Humphrey sense) and defensible, but it came at a price. The left-wing end of the pantomime horse, particularly the leg composed of students, felt their votes had been betrayed – which, in fairness, they were. Labour immediately benefited to the tune of several million votes, leaving the Liberal Democrats battling with UKIP for third-party status.

Like I often worry about my own party, it wasn't their opposition to something that led to their downfall, but rather a coalition unable to govern once in control.