The Liberal Democrat leadership contender Norman Lamb has made the perfect case for the continued existence of his party. In highlighting the idiocies of the law on cannabis, Mr Lamb – fast carving himself out a reputation as a true liberal, set against the more socially conservative Tim Farron – has spoken plainly, as few do, of the need to consider legalisation. Why, he asks, criminalise young people for having a joint?
Why indeed. Many Tory and Labour MPs have done the same – and got away with it – but want to wreck the lives of those unlucky enough to be caught. It was a brave thing for Mr Lamb to say, and the right thing to do; it also serves another purpose. Given where the Lib Dems are, it is as good a strategy as any to rebuild a constituency for the party as a liberal and libertarian voice. As we see with the Government’s doomed attempt to reform our human rights legislation, the Lib Dems exist to challenge orthodoxy and speak the truths the bigger parties know that they will eventually themselves adopt.
The Lib Dems and their predecessors have done that repeatedly – over Europe, home rule for Scotland and Wales, abortion and divorce law reform, and, most recently, freeing the low-paid from income tax. The script usually runs as follows: first Labour and Conservatives profess themselves appalled; then they set up commissions to gain cover for adopting Lib Dem policies; then they legislate; and finally they take all the credit. We have seen this cycle so often we have almost come to take for granted the Lib Dems’ role as the catalyst in our politics.
The Lib Dems have made mistakes, and been punished by the voters accordingly. They need not, though, be placed in eternal purgatory for the tuition fees fiasco. Mr Lamb has reminded us that his party still exists and, after a fashion, matters. The process of redemption begins.Reuse content