Local election week and there’s a default assumption playing in the media that the Liberal Democrats will take a battering in the local, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections on Thursday.
In the right-wing press the Lib Dems are loathed because they are Liberal and dare to part-govern, and in the left-wing press they are hated because they had the audacity to step out of the shadows of tactical usefulness and occasional woolly protest they had hitherto existed in.
Some of that of course is entirely the fault of the Lib Dems: not being able to resist the urge of championing leftish, populist policies at the same time as giving up on telling people what the values of Liberal Democracy are.
If the party’s meaning to people was only as a vessel for a protest vote or a tactical shot at the Tories, then what purpose does it serve to those people now?
This is why the left-wing press has been predicting the party’s demise on an almost daily basis since the coalition formed: because Liberalism is as alien to the Left as it is to the Right.
To these commentators, if it wasn’t a progressive ‘B’ team which was basically a more earnest version of New Labour, it was nothing. This is why to them Clegg’s part in the coalition is “betrayal.” Had a Lib-Lab coalition formed it is unlikely any Tories would have described it in the same heartbroken way.
This kind of hatred from the left is something new for most Liberal Democrats; who identify more easily with principles of social justice and of the role and value of a public sector.
And of course a vote for the Lib Dems is still a worthwhile protest vote to beat the same Conservatives who were stopped from forming a majority government by the Liberal Democrats a year ago; the majority of their seats were won in contests with the Tories.
But it would be typical of the Left to shoot itself in the foot – punish Clegg for the “betrayal” and let the Tories get exactly what they want on Thursday: wounded Liberal Democrats, a Labour leader failing to get his message across, and an electoral reform status quo now mandated by public approval.
Little wonder one of the most successful Labour strategists has stepped in to the AV debate: someone who knew the difference between strategy and tactics.
For what it’s worth, this blog is predicting about 16-17% of the share of the vote for the Lib Dems. There will be some non-Labour councillors elected in 2003 as a result of Iraq or in 2007 in the weeks before Blair’s resignation. It’s natural some of those seats would go back to a Labour party in opposition.
But there are plenty of strong, organised local campaigners who will get the backing of people who aren’t sure about Clegg or the Coalition. Not that this would stop the media reporting whatever happens as a disaster for the Lib Dems.