Figuring out what policies a particular political party is leaning towards, or is going to pursue in the short-term but not long-term is often like trying to decipher divine prophecies from goat entrails; in other words, it is often a matter of bizarre coincidence or wide enough goal posts whenever a correct prediction is made, however, this is not the case with the Liberal Democrats. One can be rest assured knowing that the Lib Dems hold the exact midpoint between actual policy and feel-good rhetoric.
If the Conservatives say they are going to do a period of austerity, then the Liberal Democrats will say that austerity is necessary, but that it’s also really bad and harmful and why are the Tories so damned evil for this austerity nonsense. If the Labour party wants to nationalise energy companies then the Liberal Democrats will say that more state intervention is needed, but all this Labour socialism is really going to mismanage the economy. This general principle of ‘concede to a bigger party, dilute, then sing kumbaya together’ is derived from the fundamental lack of purpose that haunts the Liberal Democratic party. It wants to be the party of middle- to upper-class urbanites/suburbanites who like taking long country hikes through the downs, but that group of people is so small that it basically becomes a group of people who just aren’t cut out to be either Labour or Conservative. They win votes from Tories when the Tories fail to conserve anything (which is often), and they win votes from Labour when Labour fails to be rational (which is equally often). This makes their base a weird mess of ideologies, and their politicians a weird collection of people who run on vastly different promises and priorities. To IMBY or Not IMBY, that truly is the Lib Dem question as we were told by no finer source than the Chair of EUCA in the university cross-party question time.
I do not have much to say about the leader of the Lib Dems, Ed Davey, beyond that I simply don’t think many people care to know who he is. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even realise he was the leader of the Lib Dems until a few months ago, that is how utterly irrelevant the party he leads has been for the last few years – truly the best days are behind them. Ed Davey’s criticisms of the government aren’t inspiring, nor are his vain appearances on media channels making him any more popular. He is simply a centrist politician who is stuck in a crowded field where centrism is basically so thinly differentiated from the ‘right’ and ‘left’ parties that it’s incredibly difficult to see a path forward for Ed Davey in this current situation.
I realise many Lib Dems are holding out for Starmer’s great victory and then riding the anti-Tory coat tails to a form of victory, yet let us just analyse a likely future in this scenario. Let us say that come the next election, Ed Davey wins over 100 seats for the Lib Dems and everyone finally remembers that his party exists; the orange wave comes crashing into the Tory party and routes them into total obscurity – what exactly is going to happen next? The answer is that Ed Davey is going to have to fill a vacuum, that vacuum is the position of a centre- to centre-right party, otherwise Reform UK or whatever Farage-esque body rises up to supplant them will become the new Tories, and the Lib Dems will once again become pointless centrists. Ed Davey and his colleagues will, of course, ignore this blatant reality and pretend as though the voters just really wanted him and his buddies to be given a good college try at being in big important opposition benches, rather than just hating the Tories for their incompetence and voting for the least-insane party left. Thus ‘centrism’ will begin and then fall just as quickly, and as the Labour party collapses under its own contradictions as I have laid out previously, it will still be the Lib Dems who are the most embarrassing party on the stage.
Their flagship policy of introducing PR (proportional representation) may certainly provide them with a greater voice, if this policy actually gets implemented which is… doubtful, but I also don’t see them retaining a significant role as they are kind of destined to be a small party between the two broad ‘left’ and ‘right’ parties that would dominate politics, even in a PR system.
To conclude, the Liberal Democrats really don’t have a very important future ahead of them as I personally see it. Their policies are feel-good, ‘middle of the road’ policies that don’t really inspire any serious political will or movement, they are a centrist party struggling to differentiate themselves from the Tories and Labour in just how centrist they are. If they can, in future, actually manage to find some politics that aren’t primarily supported in A-Level politics classes they wish to promote, then perhaps I and everyone else will finally be able to remember, and potentially care about, who their leader is.