Baroness Williams aka Shirl the Sheep
It is a critical time for the LibDems. They have their conference beginning today and have the chance to salvage some political credibility. The portents are not good if Polly Toynbee has it right.
“On Thursday Shirley Williams led her erstwhile rebels into the government lobby to vote for hospitals' right to use 49% of beds for private patients. Baroness Jenkin, PR consultant and wife of Bernard Jenkin MP, gloated on Twitter, "Just walking through the lobby with Shirley Williams." Ha ha! Baroness Williams complained of the Twitter storm that greeted her buckling on the NHS bill. What did she expect when she marched her people out to rebel – and then turned tail? "Sheep in sheep's clothing," said Labour as they watched the Lib Dems troop through the lobby this week, abruptly abandoning close co-operation. Serial displays of sheepdom have led to the bizarre spectacle of Lib Dem peers voting in several cases against amendments they themselves tabled, obediently herded into the opposite lobby by their whips.
Shirley Williams and Vince Cable are two of the most likable politicians, warm, humane social democrats, good speakers and empathic listeners – it's no accident they are known as Shirley and Vince. So it's especially sad and surprising to watch these two humiliate themselves. What for? What is the mission so important that they will vote for extreme Tory policies more shockingly damaging to the weak and powerless than anything Margaret Thatcher tried? Their party grasps at crumbs Cameron and Osborne let fall from the Tory table, while Lib Dems give them respectable cover for things that two years ago they would have thought abominable.
Watch the party nod through a trio of terrible bills – one commercialising the NHS beyond repair, another removing access to the law from the vulnerable, while the welfare bill condemns more children to poverty and evicts families from homes, jobs and schools.
Here's what Sarah Teather, the Lib Dem children's minister, once warned about the welfare bill: "It is vital we understand how many children with disabilities will have their care interrupted, how many will have to move school and how many may lose their homes." In the Commons, she stayed away for one vote despite a three-line whip, but after a dressing-down returned to vote for what she knew would damage the children she should defend. Is the pupil premium fair recompense? (I can't ask her, since I get no reply to repeated interview requests.)” Polly Toynbee, Guardian 8/3/12
The anger and outrage the LibDems met over their Tuition Fee U-Turn will be as nothing compared to the vitriol and opprobrium heading their way for shoring up this disgraceful Bill. They will be seen as the morons who allowed the Tories to be really really nasty to the weakest and most vulnerable in our society. The likes of Clegg and Alexander will be fine after the next election. Having secreted themselves so far up the Tories backside they will walk into well-paid positions within finance houses and banks with barely a backwards glance to the millions they betrayed.
As for their erstwhile party colleagues and activists? They are going to find the depth of anger on the doorstep, in the local press, and on the streets difficult to handle.
They need to be prepared.