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Sunday, 31 March 2013

image for Museum of London Lib Dem in a box Exhibit criticized
Nick Clegg

"Are there still Lib Dems in London?" ''Are the Lib Dems a protest party?"

Nearly 4 years after the Coalition formed, there is no more sensitive an issue in British life as the role of Lib Dems. With fewer than 10,000 Lib Dem members among the UK's 64 million people, few British people know any Lib Dems or much about them.


To help educate younger generations, an exhibit at the Museum of London features a Lib Dem man or woman seated inside a glass box for two hours a day through August to answer visitors' questions about Lib Dems and Lib Dem politics. The base of the box asks: "Are there still Lib Dems in London?"

"A lot of our visitors don't know any Lib Dems and have questions they want to ask," museum official Tina Lovelace said. "With this exhibition we offer an opportunity for those people to know more about Lib Dems and the life they leave."

But not everybody thinks putting a Lib Dem on display is the best way to build understanding and mutual respect.

Since the exhibit - "The Whole Truth, everything you wanted to know about Lib Dems" - opened this month, the "Lib Dem in the Box," as it is popularly known, has drawn sharp criticism within the Lib Dem Party - especially from those who serve the Tories in government.

"Why don't they give him a banana and a glass of water, turn up the heat and make the Lib Dem feel really cozy in his glass box," prominent Lib Dem figure Charles Kennedy told The Associated Press. "They actually asked me if I wanted to participate. But I told them I'm not available."

The Museum say the exhibit is about debunking stereotypes of the Lib Dems. Another part of the exhibit shows pictures of former Lib Dem leaders as well as yellow and black hats and orange rosettes.

"With so few of us [in the country], you almost inevitably feel like an exhibition piece," volunteer Leo Smither said. "Once you've been 'outed' as a Lib Dem, you always have to be the expert and answer all questions regarding anything related to voting systems, income tax, tuition fees and so on."

"I feel a bit like an animal in the zoo, but in reality that's what it's like being a Lib Dem in London," Jenny Felps said. "You are a very interesting object to most people here."

Derek Pats, one of the volunteers in the glass box, said many Londoners have an image of Lib Dems that is far removed from the reality of contemporary Lib Dem life. "They associate Lib Dems with the Tories and turning their backs on supporters. Lib Dems don't have a history before or after the coalition. In London, Lib Dems have been stereotyped as prags. It is important that people here get to know Lib Dems to see that Lib Dems are alive and that we have individual histories. I hope that this exhibit can help."

Prime Minsiter David Camerson said "Look I think it's great that we put them on display. They are hard working people and do a lot of work fagging for us. I was surprised that they still consider themselves to have a political future so we have to work a bit harder to get that thought away from them."

Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg declined to comment.

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