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Chimera / n ; a mythical beast with two heads: those of a lion and of a goat, and with a serpent's head upon its tail 

Right-thinking, left-leaning people always thought that the Conservatives were inherently greedy and cruel. Even if was going too far to say that they were actual Nazis, we agreed that they flirted with racism, xenophobia and hatred of "the Other". Nick Clegg seemed to speak for the anti-fascist wing of British liberal opinion when he accused David Cameron in the second of the general election leaders' debates of allying himself in the EU with "a bunch of nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists [and] homophobes". Guilt by association was still guilt, he implied. Conservatives did not care enough about fascistic hatred to renounce without equivocation all those who played with murderous ideas.

In the 1990s, the liberal-Left thought that Labour was the antidote to such right-wing extremism. As far as we were concerned, it was a warm, generous party that believed in community, help for the poor and all other good things. As that unjustly underrated political commentator Bridget Jones noted in her diary in 1997: "It is perfectly obvious that Labour stands for sharing, kindness, gays, single mothers and Nelson Mandela, as opposed to braying bossy men having affairs with everyone, shag shag shag left right and centre and going to the Ritz in Paris then telling all the presenters off on the Today programme."

Unfortunately for right-thinking people, Tony Blair was too fond of overthrowing dictators for their taste and the consensus grew that Labour was a party that waged "illegal" wars abroad and destroyed civil liberties at home. If that wasn't bad enough, it also taxed the upper-middle class. Throughout the last two decades, however, the reputation of the Liberal Democrats for virtue has remained unchallenged. The clichéd picture of the party as a collection of sandal-wearing, latte-slurping, tofu-eating teachers may have been patronising but it was not frightening. Liberals could be woolly-minded on occasion and their ideas might be impractical, but they remained good people. If their schemes for social improvement were doomed to failure, that was because of fallen human nature and the ways of a wicked world, not because liberals themselves were fallen or wicked. On the contrary, the world would be a better place if more people were like them. I suspect that if your son or daughter said they wanted to marry a Lib Dem, you might sigh and think that they could do better but you would not fear that a life of abuse and betrayal lay ahead of them. 

The strange alliance between Lib Dems and Conservatives is therefore causing less consternation on the Left than you might expect. By any rational standard, an election which sees a Tory government replace a Labour government is a straight defeat for the Left. Many leftists cannot see their defeat for what it is, however, and accept the obvious. For them, the presence of the Lib Dems in the new government is as reassuring as the presence of a police officer outside a rowdy pub. They will keep order, the thinking goes, and stop the Tory Right running wild. Many are privately going further and among the intelligentsia an incredible thought is taking hold. "Perhaps," they are saying, if only to themselves, "a moderate Conservative-led government is what we wanted all along. It could deliver on causes dear to our heart — proportional representation, greenery and civil liberties — and if in time it offers tax cuts for people like us, well, would that be so bad? We've had years of a Labour government helping the poor, and what do we see: tattooed chavs and feral children bingeing on beer and burgers at our expense. That's hardly an advertisement for social democracy."

As a correspondent put it to me after I had written a firm but, I like to think, fair critique of the new coalition, "Hang about — this lot have cancelled the third runway, scrapped ID cards and promised to stop incarcerating children at Yarl's Wood — not a bad start even though it pains me to say so. I, for one, would rather have the Tories tempered by the Lib Dems than the Tories undiluted. Let's hope it works because we need a different kind of government right now and this is very different."

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March 5th, 2012
5:03 PM
I share everyone's hope to see a just, durable and comprehensive peace in the Middle East but Israel's current Prime Minister Mr Netanyahu continues to build settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Last November, there were a further 6 UN Resolutions on Palestine and the Middle East. There are over 150 UN Resolutions (including 181, 191 and 194). Furthermore the ruling of the International Court of Justice in the Hague pertaining to the 'security barrier', which is 3 times the length of the Berlin Wall, has been ignored by Mr Netanyahu. At present I cannot envisage a two-state solution, if settlements and the 'security barrier' are finally completed. Palestinian communities will be separated into pockets of territory that lack contiguity, surrounded by settlements only accessible by settler only roads. 'Natural growth' settlements too were not acceptable as part of Phase I of the internationally agreed Road Map (2003) either. Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve peace and security, but how is this possible with Mr Netanyahu's refusal to end these policies and to reject the US President's 1967 lines. There are 130 nations in the world that recognise Palestine including India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brazil. Day by day, the 'security barrier' and settlements erode the possibility of a two-state solution, the viability a comprehensive peace, the contiguity of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (including Arab East Jerusalem) and the relevance of the Palestinian National Authority. Nevertheless, UNESCO's recognition last year of Palestine (supported by France, Spain, Ireland and Norway amongst many European nations) was a step forward and a counter balance to those who deny Israel or Palestine's right to exist. Dignity and peace is paramount for both peoples and recognition of both states ensures that the rejectionist camp is marginalised even further.

March 1st, 2012
10:03 PM
An excellent article. You mention Lord Wallace as saying "The worst he could say about the baroness was that she was "over-emotional"." Might it be that the Baroness was "tired and emotional" - and not for the first time? Nevertheless, I hereby nominate Baroness "Loose" Tonge for the inaugural Helen Thomas Mezizah Cup of the Year for Unscripted YouTube Appearance.

March 1st, 2012
3:03 PM
You can wilfully misinterpret the "Israel will no longer exist" line all you like, but the point that Israel's policies towards the Palestinians are not only brutal and immoral, but also AGAINST the long term security interest of Israel is a valid one. The status quo IS unsustainable, particularly when Israel treats even its allies such as the U.S. with such contempt Supporters of Israel would be wise to take her comments not as a threat but as a warning

March 1st, 2012
1:03 PM
Lib Dems are not always as nice or as moderate or as well-meaning as ignorant outsiders imagine. They are often duplicitous, selfish and irresponsible. Hmm, Huhne anyone? putting the criminal allegations aside for the courts to deal with, how about his 'let's build 35,000 windmills at truly enormous cost' (and CO2 output from production) proposition that may or may not produce electricity when we need it? where is the money going? who benefits? just asking.

February 29th, 2012
4:02 PM
It feels churlish to comment any way short of ecstatically on such a beautifully written article. That, however, won't stop me... first of all, kudos to Cohen for putting the spotlight not just on the batty Baroness but also on the hopeless Lib Dem leadership. However, the Lib Dems' heart of darkness is that of the contemporary Left. For decades the preserve of the Right, antisemitism now provides a frisson for self-described progressives of all parties and none. Their ability to get away with it is indicative of how far mainstream society has worked to 'move on' from the uncomfortable mirror that 20th century history put up to its civilised face. Jews are berated for hanging on to history: "Let go! Stop harping on about it!" But we can't wave away 2,000 years of hatred and horror just like that - and especially not when those who would claim to be our friends breath new life into old bigotry. We're about to celebrate the festival of Purim, commemorating the Jewish People's deliverance from genocide in ancient Peria. The antisemitic lies and distortions whispered into the receptive ear of the Persian king by his henchman Haman are eerily familiar to the modern ear. Plus ca change. Tonge puffed last week that Israel will not be around for ever. But it is she who should prepare to be forgotten. And the sooner the rest of us drown out her name with our contempt the better.

June 20th, 2010
10:06 AM
Nick while I agree that she is indeed a George Galloway in drag, I think the Lib Dem leadership are being sensible in not expelling her from the party, however vile and nasty her beliefs may be. The last thing you want to do in make a martyr out of this wretched individual, which will only confirm her suspicions and those of her ilk that the Jewish/Israeli lobby is secretly running the country. People like her have to be challenged openly and mocked so the world can see them for the ridiculous people that they are.

Michael Petek
June 7th, 2010
9:06 PM
The likes of Jenny Tonge are de rigeur these days. No popitical party is complete unless it has its own George galloway.

May 31st, 2010
8:05 AM
I'm fed up with people like Cohen telling us that anyone who objects to this is an antisemite. The Israel lobby is too powerful and it needs to be challenged.

May 30th, 2010
6:05 PM
Anonymous, you are far too easy on the Liberals. Baroness Tonge is clearly a disgrace and Clegg's refusal to chuck her reflects badly on him. As a student I have met too many Liberals who simply hated Israel to believe that the majority of the party would seriously oppose Baroness Tonge's comments. Where I think Mr Cohen goes wrong is in ascribing this to anti-Semitism. He actually identifies the true cause earlier on: a self-loathing hatred of the West.

May 30th, 2010
4:05 PM
On a point of information - I believe that Tonge has recently revoked her patronage of the Palestine Telegraph. It might be related to this scandal but I'm unsure.

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