Leading article: Experiment in pluralism may have run its course

 

Share
Related Topics

The anger of senior Liberal Democrats following on from David Cameron's flawed diplomacy at last week's EU summit becomes more intense and vocal. On Friday the party's leader, Nick Clegg, appeared gullibly supportive of Mr Cameron's actions, choosing instead to lay the entire blame for Britain's veto of a new eurozone deal on President Nicolas Sarkozy of France alone.

It was a reaction that appeared weak and unconvincing – at the very least conveying the impression that Mr Clegg was willing to accept almost any departure from deeply held convictions in order to sustain the Coalition. Fortunately, over the weekend senior Lib Dem figures have been less restrained, and Mr Clegg himself has found something closer to his true voice. Among the most telling words were those of the former Lib Dem leader, Lord Ashdown. "We have isolated ourselves from Europe and diminished ourselves," he said.

Meanwhile, David Owen, writing in The Independent today, refers to Mr Cameron's "serious miscalculation" and warns of a "chasm" opening up in the Coalition. His one-time SDP partner Shirley Williams believes that what has happened is "a massive defeat for Britain in Washington, Beijing, New Delhi – capitals that value the influence they believe we have in Brussels".

We have reached a pivotal moment in the short history of the Tory-Liberal-Democrat Coalition, with a devoutly pro-European party propping up a Conservative Prime Minister who appears to have voluntarily excluded Britain from vital decision-making in the EU, a mind-boggling contortion.

The more that Mr Cameron insists that he made only modest demands of his European colleagues, the more urgently the question is raised about why, if those demands were so modest, they obtained no support from any other EU members. Mr Sarkozy and Angela Merkel are two leaders on the centre-right, like the British Prime Minister, and yet they evidently felt no inclination to help him. This raises a number of other questions, first about whether this isolation is part of the price being paid for Mr Cameron's previously disdainful attitude to Europe, and also about whether Mr Cameron is being held hostage by his party's Eurosceptics . Has he simply revealed his true colours – recklessly wielding a British veto without thinking of the consequences?

For the Liberal Democrats, this is cause for serious reflection. They have already failed to secure electoral reform from being in the Coalition. They suffer in the polls for spending decisions that the two parties have taken in Government. They are tied into the contentious economic policies of the Chancellor, George Osborne, for two years beyond the next election. Now they find themselves sustaining Mr Cameron's diplomacy in Europe that in terms of euroscepticism goes well beyond any act of hostility that Margaret Thatcher attempted.

With good cause, Mr Clegg and his party are passionate advocates of pluralist politics. The Coalition has been an experiment in pluralism that is rare in British history. But even worthwhile experiments have their limits and it must be increasingly clear to many Liberal Democrats that they have gone well beyond them.

There are obviously huge risks for the party if they pull out of the Coalition, and some for the country, too. In such circumstances, Mr Cameron might call an early election, win a majority and lead an even more Eurosceptic government. But in the light of recent events, the risks for party and country of sustaining the Coalition are greater.

Liberal Democrats must consider whether remaining partners with the most Eurosceptic Prime Minister in the EU is not more damaging both for them and the country than the option of walking away.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?