The Lib Dems and their dissociative disorder

by Kevin Meagher

Making a diagnosis for multiple personality disorder (MPD) requires the presence of two or more distinct identities which recurrently take control of a person’s behaviour.

Two competing, contradictory personalities vying for supremacy? Now I am no psychiatrist, but if organisations could develop the condition, then the Liberal Democrats are surely a classic case?

Take Simon Hughes. He is the personality who dominates the airwaves when the Lib Dems have done something bad. Every time they sell their soul to the Conservatives up pops Simon, combining earnestness and convoluted circumlocutions to explain away why they have not done what the dogs in the street can see they have done.

He is like a bank robber pleading in mitigation that the gang were only interested in notes and at least had the decency to leave the loose change alone. They may have waved the sawn-off shotgun in the bank teller’s face, but they didn’t actually pull the trigger. He is a splitter of hairs so fine that it would require the Hubble telescope to be trained on his logic in order to make out the nuances.

He was out there on Wednesday and Thursday, distancing himself from the decision to scrap the 50p top tax rate – the signature proposal in the budget – and one to which the entire cabinet is actively signed-up. “The chancellor took a view that he wanted to do things that mattered a lot to Conservatives” the deputy leader of the Lib Dems told Radio Five Live. “What mattered to us [the Lib Dems] was not that at all.”

To the casual eye, this kind of form looks like rank disloyalty, the actions of the cynical and unscrupulous. The modus operandi of those looking to make sure their rumps are squarely rested in the lifeboat in the event that the ship starts to go down.

But take pity. Multiple personality disorder is also called dissociative identity disorder. Dissociative – that sums up the Lib Dems perfectly. When they going gets tough, when a traumatic moment occurs in the life of the coalition, when a difficult decision has to be made, they simply disassociate themselves from it. ”Power without responsibility – the prerogative throughout the ages” as Rudyard Kipling put it.

They did it on tuition fees and the NHS bill too. It’s a habitual impulse stemming from the Lib Dems’ basic lack of political coherence. Much of the party is afflicted by it, no doubt in the quaint hope that they will not be held responsible for unpopular decisions.

But not quite all of them. Clearly to suffer from multiple personalities some must go the other way.

Take Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander. He represents the Lib Dem personality which invites chaos and eschews self-preservation. The recklessness of youth, lunatic bravado, the folly of inexperience; call it what you will. He doesn’t want to sit in a lifeboat with Simon Hughes – he wants to throw away the oars and remain on the deck.

While poor old Simon is all wild-eyed sanctimony as he tries to argue that down is up, Danny Boy, in contrast, is all manic mumbling with an unfortunate physical tic which compels him to smile nervously at inopportune moments.

He leaves the impression he is enjoying it this governing lark a bit too much; especially the cutting part. He suffers from none of Simon Hughes’ pangs of guilt about the government’s programme.

He is a true believer, a fully signed-up supporter of the oxymoronic “expansionary fiscal contraction”. Or to put it another way, the logic that you have to “burn the village to save the village”. Like his boss in the Treasury, George Osborne, he puts his politics firmly before his economics – and unlike most Lib Dems, his anti-Labourism is the genuine article.

So two quite separate and contradictory strands co-existing within one party. The trauma of being in government and having to make real decisions is splintering the Lib Dems’ identity into maximalists and minimalists in terms of whether they think the government has got it right or not. How long can this go on?

Some sufferers of this disorder are lucky and see the reintegration of their divergent personalities. Others are not so fortunate. With three years of this partnership to run, the Lib Dems’ show few signs that equilibrium is being restored.

In fact, with another five years of austerity in the pipeline, it is likely there will be much more trauma to come. As they languish in single figures in most opinion polls they must be hoping each of their splintering personalities gets a vote each.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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2 Responses to “The Lib Dems and their dissociative disorder”

  1. swatantra says:

    Hughes is a disgrace; if ever there was a two faced politician then its him. Danny Alexander at least has the courage of his convictions and is pressing on with a policy regardless. It may not be popular but the other options are even worse.

  2. james says:

    All parties are coalitions and could be described to have MPD. How many of the far left are in the Labour Party that the more sensible ones nod their heads gravely and then ignore? How’s `I’m in favour of restoring the 50p tax rate before I was against it an hour later` Chuka Umunna doing?

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