The Independent London Newspaper
25th March 2017

NEW JOURNAL COMMENT: Lib Dems should have known better

    Labour’s Phil Rosenberg (left) beat Lib Dem leader Keith Moffit in West Hampstead

    Published: 29 May, 2014

    THERE is nothing that can concentrate a person’s mind more than facing the hangman’s noose, as Samuel Johnson said.

    Strangely enough, this should have been the state of mind of Camden’s Lib Dems in the weeks leading up to the local elections on Thursday.

    Just about anyone could have told them that they were going to be hit by a blizzard.

    But many of them seemed to be in such a state of denial, or gave the appearance of being in one, that they went about electioneering as if nothing untoward was going to happen.

    It is difficult to discern why they appeared to be so naïve.

    We can assume that several Lib Dem councillors were simply into “street politics” and left what could appear to be high-flying national politics to others. But quite a few were fairly hard-wired ideologues and should have known better.

    Why didn’t they simply stand aloof from what some of their peers were up to in Parliament – as they should have done – and steered their own course?

    Frank Dobson showed them how it should have been done.  He made no secret of his dislike of some of Blairite policies and won admiration and support from both his fellow party members in Holborn and St Pancras as well as – and this is more important – from swathes of the electorate.

    Lib Dem MPs and local councillors all over the country are now trying to change course. But it is all a bit late to affect next year’s national election.

    Leading figures among Camden Lib Dems should have had the courage to publicly disown their party’s contribution to the Coalition’s policies.

    They remained silent. Now they are paying the price.

    In terms of representative democracy this is pretty disastrous.

    While opposition voices will be heard at the Town Hall from the Conservatives, the thoughtful input from several of the defeated Lib Dem councillors will be missing.

    Meanwhile, we all have to pick up the pieces.

    The Tory Lord Hailsham once described parliamentary democracy as an elective dictatorship. In some ways he was right.   

    The Camden election results have created a bit of a monster – a lop-sided chamber with Labour in possession of a massive majority.

    This can lead to outrageous arrogance.

    Or it can be seen as an opportunity to begin to create a new kind of local democracy, a more participatory one in which representatives of non-party organisations in the borough – tenants, leaseholders, pensioners and members of amenity bodies – are invited to attend council meetings as observers with the right to speak, perhaps even to table motions. 

    This could be a spark to create a new form of politics.