Friday, June 22, 2007

Red Ken and the yellow Tories

Many, if not most, Liberal Democrat supporters in London like Ken Livingstone. In 2000 and 2004, some voted for him, others at the very least second preferenced him, and most will be planning to do so again next year. Liberal Democrat voters tend also to be quite interested in issues of electoral process, and not keen on undemocratic stitch-ups.

All of which makes it rather odd that the Lib Dems joined with the Tories in the House of Lords to try to prevent Ken from running again, and even boast about doing so on their website. I wonder if they did a survey of their members or supporters before trying that little stunt?

I think there is a big gap opening up between the people who vote for the Liberal Democrats in London, and their political leadership. Particularly since the 2006 local elections, a lot of active Liberal Democrats have found themselves working together with the Conservatives running centre-right administrations in town halls across London. Holding power also means that they have less time to spend keeping in touch with the people who voted for them. And, of course, the 'young turks', many of whom are based in London, are also fighting an internal party struggle against many of the older members, who tend to be less keen on working with Tories and feel a greater affinity with Labour and the idea of the 'progressive coalition'.

The London Lib Dem leadership and top activists, therefore, loathe Ken and feel greater affinity with the Tories, particularly the modernising Tories. This gets reinforced every time Ken slags them off when they cut services or mess things up or demonstrate their own ideas about promoting diversity. But the people who voted Liberal Democrat like Ken, because like them he is on the centre-left, he is radical on climate change and social justice, he annoys the Americans, he is independent-minded and so on.

This split in the Lib Dems has already caused them a lot of embarrassment this week and highlighted the terror that they feel about the idea of having the chance to become part of a governing coalition. Over the next year or two, Ken and Gordon have an excellent opportunity to win back the voters who only ever voted Lib Dem to tell those of us in the Labour Party that we needed to do better, not because they actually wanted what they got - a group of centre-right politicians who ally with the Tories to vote undemocratic stitch-ups through the House of Lords.

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