The LibDems: closing soon

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This is good analysis by Philip Stephens in the FT:

Many of the party’s supporters have already deserted, charging Mr Clegg as a collaborator in the Tory assault on the state. Others worry the party’s identity is being smothered. More are likely to flee when the spending cuts begin to bite. If the squeeze pushes the economy back towards recession, the flight could become a flood.

Many Lib Dems do not accept their leader’s definition of liberalism. Mr Clegg draws inspiration from John Stuart Mill, marrying social liberalism to limited interference in the economic lives of citizens. Many in his party prefer the party’s 20th century icons John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge — champions of active government as an architect of progress.

Mill would have applauded Mr Clegg’s strategy of lifting those on low incomes out of the tax net. Keynes would have cautioned against rapid fiscal retrenchment, and Beveridge would have noticed that the poorest gain least from income tax cuts.

In his own terms, Mr Clegg’s legacy may be a more liberal Britain. Whether the Lib Dems survive to enjoy it is another question.

I think the distinction between forms of liberalism is important, and right.

There are many on the left who rightly think themselves liberal and rightly have a desire to ensure government, important as it is, also knows its limits. I’m with Keynes and Beveridge in the latter camp — and proud of it.

This is a mantle Labour has to wear now. The LibDems have closed themselves down for this business. Probably for good.

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