Several hours ago I attended 'An Evening with the Liberal Democrats' at Sheffield University. Representing the Liberal Democrats were Nick Clegg, Paddy Ashdown and Paul Scriven (LD councillor and leader of Sheffield City Council). After a sickening propaganda video with various LD voters praising Clegg and the LDs (without identifying a single policy), the representatives got down to business. All three gave a brief polemical stint mostly involving slating Labour and the Tories and asking, rhetorically, "who do you trust".
After this the floor was opened for questions.
I managed to get in first and went straight for a salvo aimed at Clegg. I identified myself as a member of the Libertarian Party and said that there were many reasons I was a member of LPUK and not the LDs. This was because, I explained, they did not deserve the name 'Liberal' and should instead, as others have remarked, more accurately call themselves "social democrats". I pointed out numerous examples where they seemed willing to eject their liberal principles in the interests of (what they thought were) populist sentiments. I specified in particular their attitude to the EU and the fact that they no longer supported a referendum and ended by saying that the closer they got to power, the more they were willing to eject principles, pander to populism and therefore were just more of the same - the same political class as the 'big two'.
Clegg got very shirty with me. He got on a full head of steam, gesticulating boldy as he told me (and everyone else) that he passionately disagreed with everything I said. What was particularly amusing is that just prior to the questions starting he said that he was really pleased to see everyone attending, whatever their political background and said he welcomed disagreement and discussion.
According to Clegg, the Liberal Democrats are "not a sect" and "are intending to win an election" and therefore "need to make our [their] policies understandable." and "not preaching on matters of principle" I heckled back "so what are your principles?" he ignored me and continued his tirade, claiming that being in Europe was best for the country.
Now I don't know about you dear reader, however I interpreted that as a direct vindication of what I said: Clegg was admitting that he and his party were perfectly happy to jettison their principles in order to gain votes. I had to hold back the urge to respond with expletives.
Paddy also responded to me shortly after, though only on the issue of the Lisbon Treaty. According to Mr. Pantsdown - and see if you can get your head around this cognitive dissonance - "Lisbon is not a big shifting in power. It's a pooling of sovereignty." Unless we both have diametrically opposed understandings of the meaning of 'sovereignty', the compromising of it is - to me - about the largest shift of power I can imagine between states. He went on to claim "if it was a big shift in power, and not just tinkering around the edges, the Liberal Democrats would not be supporting it."
So there you have it folks - no answer to the question of a referendum, they know better than we do. And the pooling of sovereignty is "not a big shifting in power". Go back to sleep silly little people asking questions.
But there's more.....some of their answers to other questions were equally hilarious and/or disturbing:
"My home is on loan from the British taxpayer" In response to a question about being caught out on expenses, Cleggs' response was hilarious. Apparently the reason he thought it was fine to land the taxpayer with the bill for his gardening was because he considered his home "on loan" from the British taxpayer and he wanted to make sure it was nice. He also said that as a result when he sold his home, any profit made would go straight back to the taxpayer.
Of course Nick, of course. (Incidentally, he also got very shirty with this questioner as he did with me).
All three representatives continually referenced the idea of handing power back down to local levels. I couldn't help thinking that what they actually mean by this is handing over to Brussels' plans for regionalisation.
This was fun. Clegg made some astonishing and worrying commitments here. Not only should 1st world taxpayers apparently pay for third world nations to "leapfrog" industrialization and use "sustainable" technologies instead, but - wait for it - Clegg wants to give legal force to the AWG consensus. Amusingly, after all this preaching, someone asked him if he would be in Copenhagen. His excuse? Apparently he's not going because his place is here in the UK harassing the government on these issues. Right.
As an extra, hilarious addendum, councillor Paul Scriven boasted how Sheffield City Council was now giving away green waste sacks for garden refuse. Apparently this is a "green" measure. No it isn't you twat. You're just giving away bags to people who a) have gardens to tend and b) have the time to tend them usefully. How does it reduce anyone's carbon footprint. He also claimed they were "free". The fact that political officials can still say this kind of thing with a straight face highlights the woeful financial literacy of the nation. Of course it isn't free. It's paid for by the Council, funded by Council Tax which is paid for by.....
I've had quite a few interactions with Sheffield's LD councillors. I've watched them debate issues I've had an interest in also in the council chambers. They make lots of grand promises, then break them. The clearest thing to any observer is that what they care about most is giving the Labour Councillors a kicking and looking good to the electorate.
Imagine Mr. Scriven's response then, when a man suddenly stood up at the front and identified himself as a teacher and LD member who was having serious second thoughts about the party since they had taken control of Sheffield City Council. Apparently the council were closing his school down and he thought this was completely unjustified. I don't know the details of this one, but Scriven's response was very telling, especially after the teacher alleged that another councillor, one Andrew Sangar claimed that "whatever Clegg says doesn't matter, Sheffield City Council will still do what it wants."
Scriven went on to state how badly the school was failing, that most pupils came out with five GCSEs or less. A woman in the audience suddenly said "my daughter got thirteen GCSEs from that school". Scriven dismissed her, saying "well done", and continued his rant. He said that the LDs were not closing the school, but in "consultation", at which point I let out a loud belly laugh and everyone stopped to look at me, even Scriven. He went on to give a rousing case for making sure every kid had a fair chance blah blah blah. Unfortunately his delivery was good enough that he got a big round of applause.
So - in summary - the Lib Dems, from this performance, were far worse than I thought they were already. Top grade snake oil salesmen from Lord to MP to councillor. And they proved me right - all they offer is just more of the same.