Before Election Day 2010 BC (Before Coalition), there was one party which many on the left saw as the one that they could rely on to be vociferous when it came to protecting national and international human rights and civil liberties. Whisper its name today, however, and many ex- and would-be supporters will scoff in disgust; some even rate it alongside everyday expletives. So whisper it now: yes, that's right; we're talking about the Liberal Democrats.
In the past, the LibDems were to be found at the forefront of campaigns and demonstrations calling, for example, for the end of the Labour-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan; at rallies against racist and Islamophobic anti-terror legislation; and at protests supporting Palestinian human rights against Zionist atrocities. Moreover, during the 2010 election campaign, the LibDems stood out from the other two mainstream parties by stating outright in their manifesto that they support a two-state solution predicated upon pre-1967 borders, which neither the Conservatives nor the Labour Party included. One New Statesman blogger suggested that this was an example of the "progressive politics" that Nick Clegg and his party were bringing to the fore. For many on the left, including Muslims, Palestine and the Middle East were the key issues that swayed them towards voting for the LibDems; support was strong for key outspoken MPs such as Sarah Teather (Brent Central), Ed Davey (Kingston & Surbiton) and Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark).
Now, as part of the coalition government with the Conservatives, many of the aforementioned MPs have prominent positions in the Cabinet Office and their alleged solidarity with the Palestinian people is long forgotten. Sarah Teather no longer champions the cause of the Palestinians in Gaza, who are now into their 5th year of Israel's siege of the territory, probably because she works alongside arch neo-Con ideologue and Zionist Michael Gove in the Department for Education with whom, the Guardian claims, she gets on "like a department on fire"; in January, the same newspaper reported, "After rowdy fringe meetings and a defeat in the conference hall [Sarah Teather] retreated, bruised, to her hotel room to find champagne and flowers, sent by Michael Gove, her departmental boss." Ed Davey can't be approached to speak out against daily Israeli incursions into Gaza's territorial waters, where Israeli gunboats attack Palestinian fishermen plying their trade, despite being at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. As for Simon Hughes, although he is better compared with the other two for bringing up Palestinian issues in Parliament, he has also moved away from posing questions that may challenge the status quo; his silence on the Sheikh Raed Salah Affair is mystifying given that his websites trumpets his pride "to have been one of the busiest parliamentarians, speaking out on all sorts of issues", including "civil liberties and equality". The character assassination of prominent Palestinian leader Sheikh Salah in the media, and the Home Secretary's subsequent arrest of, and exclusion order (the full details of which she is still struggling to recall) against the human rights activist has prompted a resounding silence from the LibDems.
Politics is not for the faint-hearted. To think that a politician will always have their constituents' best interests at heart, even when they stop being anonymous backbenchers and move up in the political hierarchy, is naïve to say the least. Nevertheless, that is precisely what many believed and, in order to teach the Labour Party a lesson that ten years of Blair-Brown foreign policy had ruined Britain's standing in the international arena and would not be accepted any longer, on 5th May 2010 they voted Liberal Democrat. A hung parliament was their expectation, knowing full well that all the Clegg-mania in the country would not be enough to bring the "alternative" party to power. We got the hung parliament; the LibDems won many seats; the Coalition was formed; Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister; and that was the end of the Liberal Democrats as we knew them. The pro-Palestinian, pro-justice movements are bemused: exactly where are the LibDems and support for human rights, justice and freedom of speech in all of this?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.