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Liberal Democrats turn right
WITH MENZIES 'Ming' Campbell newly elected as leader, Liberal Democrats will att-empt to put the crises of the last few months behind them. This follows the forcing out of previous leader Charles Kennedy because of his alcoholism, and various revelations about party leading lights.
In particular they are facing the threat of being squeezed out by new Tory leader David Cameron's attempt to revive his own party. Cameron has "spun" himself as a more "liberal" Tory leader. Although the Lib Dems won a by-election in the previously safe Labour seat of Dunfermline and Fife West with a 16% swing, they may suffer in some of their seats south of the border where the Tories have more of a base. It is not guaranteed that they will reap the benefits of disillusionment with New Labour.
On the one hand many of their recent successes have been the result of opportunistically outflanking Labour to the left with pretence at an anti-war stance, opposing attacks on civil liberties etc. On the other hand there has been a decided shift towards economic 'neo-liberalism', in other words right-wing Thatcherism.
The "left face" on things such as the war has been more style than content; they supported the war when it started. Campbell refuses to put forward a date by which the occupation of Iraq should end, in other words he doesn't really oppose it.
Their support for civil liberties does not extend to trades unions either. They have argued for the extension of anti-union laws, including the right of companies to take action against unions for loss of earnings during strikes.
Proof that he wants to shift the party right came almost immediately on Ming's election, when he gave support to a successful resolution at the Liberal spring conference to privatise the Post Office.
In the election for Party leader, the candidate of the traditional 'Liberal left', Simon Hughes came a miserable third. Right-wing economics spokesperson, Chris Huhne, who has only been an MP since the general election, came within 8,000 votes of Campbell.
Yet many of Campbell's backers (would they be called "Mingers"?) were from the new generation of Orange Book economic neo-liberals. The so-called Orange Book is a collection of essays advocating a sharp right-wing turn.
These include the likes of David Laws, who wants to cut the benefits of single parents, forcing many back to work against their will in order to save £2 billion for the treasury. He also advocates the disbanding of the NHS and its replacement with private provision and insurance.
There has been speculation about the possibility of a fall in New Labour's support at the next general election and an increased Tory vote resulting in a hung parliament, and consequently the Liberals forming a coalition government with one party or the other.
In reality, the policies of all three main parties are so similar that it would not make much difference to the character of the government. All three parties support privatisation, cuts in public services and attacks on living standards.
We need a real alternative to these pro-big business parties, one that stands for the interests of working class people.
In The Socialist 9 March 2006:
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