Lib Dem bring crisis on themselves

IT'S open season on the Liberal Democrats, with Labour and the Conservatives lining up to batter a party which has lost a leader through alcoholism, a would-be leader through a rent boy scandal, and one of the leadership contestants yesterday forced to admit he has had gay relationships he had always denied.

By Graham Dines

IT'S open season on the Liberal Democrats, with Labour and the Conservatives lining up to batter a party which has lost a leader through alcoholism, a would-be leader through a rent boy scandal, and one of the leadership contestants yesterday forced to admit he has had gay relationships he had always denied.

While the Labour and Conservative parties are bitter rivals, they at least respect the other's campaigning tactics and consistent nationwide policies. Neither will, as the late Ipswich MP Jamie Cann so trenchantly remarked to me, “trust a Liberal Democrat as far as you can throw him.” Knowing Jamie, he probably had in mind the corpulent figure of the late Cyril Smith, one-time MP for Rochdale whom nobody could lift!

The simple truth for the Lib Dems is they are reaping what they have sowed. Over the years, particularly in by-elections, their tactics have, to say the least, been highly dubious, issuing leaflets with graphs purporting to show the demise of the Tories or Labour and claiming “only the Lib Dems can win here.”


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More than 20 years ago, Labour candidate and gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was defeated by Mr Hughes in the Bermondsey by-election, the Liberal battle being based on the “the straight choice.” Mr Tatchell said yesterday: “The Liberals ran a very dirty campaign which stirred up a lot of homophobia against me. Simon benefited from these dirty tricks.

“Based on information (my campaign) received we had a very strong suspicion that Simon was gay despite the homophobic campaign against me. The Labour campaign team took a decision not to retaliate. We decided it was important to pursue a clean, principled campaign based on policies not people's private lives.”

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The Lib Dems have also thrived on Tory turmoil - admittedly, self-inflicted - and has replicated Methodist rectitude in its pitch to the voters in the High Tory shires offended at the shortcomings of the party they would normally support.

I recall how Charles Kennedy was forced to apologise to the family of Michael Colvin when within hours of the Romsey MP and his wife Nichola being killed in a fire at their Hampshire home, Lib Dem activists were publicly rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of a contest which they went on to win.

So when former West Suffolk Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Adrian Graves defected to the Tories this week, there was no surprise that it was milked for all its worth. Central Office persuaded The Independent newspaper to devote an entire page to the story on the basis that it heightened Lib Dem fears that party their was in severe danger of being marginalised.

Welcoming Mr Graves to the Conservative Party, the Chairman Francis Maude said: “The Conservative Party is changing. We are leading the way on major challenges such as climate change and global poverty. We are committed to decentralisation and defending civil liberties. There is now a new home for Liberal Democrat voters and those who want to see a change of Government at the next election.”

While all this was going on, a mail shot in Ipswich from the town's Labour MP Chris Mole ignored the Conservatives and had a real go at the Lib Dems' failure to support Government measures to tackle the yob culture.

The Lib Dems stand in the way of the Labour capturing control of Ipswich borough council in May and his leaflet played on voters' concerns, pointing out that under Kennedy, the Lib Dems voted against the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, dispersal orders, and measures to limit the sale of spray paint to teenagers.

He said the Lib Dems' annual conference in Bournemouth in 2004 voted against sending teen criminals to court and the party's election manifesto last year came out against jail sentences for drug possession.

Mr Mole said: “The introduction of anti-social behaviour laws means that action can be taken to close down crack houses, our councils can tackle graffiti, fly posting or people dumping rubbish in our streets. Our police can now disperse the gangs of youths in our town that frighten and intimidate passers-by. “

DESPITE MPs' protests - including Chancellor Gordon Brown and former Home Secretary David Blunkett - the BBC is determined to dump Radio 4's UK theme - a medley of tunes from the British Isles - which heralds the opening of the station at 5.30 am each day.

The medley, by Fritz Spiegl, comprises Rule Britannia, Early One Morning, Greensleeves, Men of Harlech, Scotland the Brave, What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor? Londonderry Air, Trumpet Voluntary and Ye Banks and Braes.

Despite the Chancellor's new found enthusiasm for patriotism and a UK Day, the BBC says the bulk of the audience at that time of day would be better served by a pacy news briefing.

Imagine France and the USA putting up with such nonsense.

Three House of Commons motions have been tabled calling on the BBC to reverse the decision and reinstate the medley. One, sponsored by Philip Davies (Con, Shipley) regrets that “political correctness has sparked the removal of the UK medley” and claims it is detrimental to patriotism.

Another, sponsored by John Spellar (Lab, Warley), deplores the decision, saying that the theme symbolises the unity of the United Kingdom.

Spot on, Mr Spellar!

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