For the second year in a row, Liberal Democrats across the country took a bashing at the local elections.
Such was the extent of this bashing, that the party now has the lowest number of councillors nationally since its creation in 1988. In national opinion polls, support for the Liberal Democrats has collapsed from an average rating of 21 per cent in early 2010 to a lowly 10 per cent – it has been stuck at 10 per cent for more than 12 months.
I was one of those Liberal Democrat councillors who lost their seat last Thursday.
Eight years of round-the-clock work for local residents, with probably my best election campaign ever, was meaningless against a national tide of anger against both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties.
So where did it go wrong? I think the biggest reason is that The Liberal Democrat parliamentary party has repeatedly been forced into supporting unpopular decisions that previously it would have opposed. As a result the Liberal Democrats have lost some of the trust of the public.
The Liberal Democrat parliamentary party has supported issues – such as the increase in university tuition fees and the passing of the controversial NHS Bill – that have had little public support and that the Liberal Democrats would have opposed if the previous Labour government had tried to introduce them.
While the Liberal Democrats can rightly be proud of a long list of excellent, popular policies – for example, taking thousands of low income families out of paying income tax and ensuring children from poor backgrounds get the support they need in school – these have been outweighed by unpopular ones.
Can this downward spiral be reversed? I honestly believe it can, and without the need to break the national coalition. However, I’m afraid – and I would like to be proved wrong on this one – it can only be done if Nick Clegg resigns as leader.
This is a shame, as Mr Clegg is clearly a very talented leader – his leadership saw the party hitting the dizzying heights of 30 per cent in the opinion polls during the 2010 General Election.
However, Nick Clegg is tainted with the tuition fees fiasco and everything bad that has happened since. If the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are going to press the ‘restart’ button on the national coalition, then we need new faces at the top to show the public we are serious.
Whoever takes over needs to get the parliamentary party focused on bread and butter issues like getting the economy growing again, creating jobs to reduce unemployment and sorting out the national squeeze on police resources.
Issues like reforming the House of Lords should be pushed back until after 2015 – this is simply not a priority now and makes the party look disconnected from the real issues that affect people every day.
Bread and butter politics is what gets Liberal Democrats into local councils. It is a return to this type of politics in parliament that will save the Liberal Democrats from complete oblivion.
* Martin Mullaney was Liberal Democrat councillor for Moseley and Kings Heath for eight years.