Despite being roundly punished for their collaboration with the Tories, it looks like the Liberal Democrat response to a pasting in the polls – both local election and AV referendum – is to perform their very own version of Groundhog Day.
Somehow we’ve come full circle and returned to last May. Every sound-bite from the Liberal Democrat leadership is laced with a reminder that they did their coalition deed ‘in the national interest’. Reference to the ‘mess’ left by ‘Labour’ is obligatory (as if the banks are child-like innocents).
No interview with Clegg or Huhne is complete without the macho-man rhetoric – ‘we knew this would be difficult but we are in it for the long-term’. Thankfully, at this point, they stop short of roaring loudly, baring teeth and ripping off those nice yellow ties.
I suppose, for them, it makes sense to talk about the the long-term, particularly when the immediate future looks so apocalyptically bad. But it’s all very well looking to the horizon; if your feet are on fire, you need to lower your gaze a touch – and quick.
Yet there seems little sign of any genuine re-evaluation of plans, strategies or tactics (aside from Huhne throwing his weight around). What is genuinely odd, is that this seems to have come as something of a surprise. Wasn’t it obvious this was going to happen? Yet the boy Clegg seemed genuinely chastened by the events of the last few days; as if he thought people would still deep, deep down be agreeing with Nick.
Surely (surely!) he has known for a long time – about a year, say – that he and his Party are now seriously damaged goods? Has he really not noticed Cameron and Osborne looking calm amidst the fray, while the kicks and blows reign down in his direction?
For those of a yellow persuasion, the way out from this mess seems unclear. The current course seems untenable, yet that seems to be the plan – there’s talk of nothing more than ‘dusting down and moving on’. Is this really the strategy?
I see the Tory vision: to get to the next election with a deficit brutally cut to nil, a generous tax-cutting hand-out in the Budget before polling day and a clear message that the tough choices taken will now lead to glorious economic revival.
Tory voters will stick with this plan – they will look past the likely social devastation brought about by such an approach. But will Liberal Democrats? Will they really swallow bitter pill after bitter pill for four more years?
If Clegg is right on this – that this is a hiccup and, come 2015, people will thank him for all he has done ‘in the national interest’ – then he is truly a politician of extraordinary foresight. If Clegg is wrong, he may well have destroyed a political party – his own.