Friday, 28 October 2016

Lib Dems Rising? A Successful Progressive Alliance Needs It

I know, I know. Writing those words amounts to the most difficult, even gut wrenching, post I have ever written. Unfortunately, there is a truth in those words though.

However unpalatable it may be, and it certainly is for me, the nature of British politics and our extremely undemocratic electoral system for Parliamentary elections, means that if the Tories are to be thrown out of government next time around, the Lib Dems will need to prosper.

It hardly needs to be mentioned that this is a party, so opportunist that they were prepared to prop up the most right wing Tory government I can remember (I can remember Thatcher’s Tory government, too), despite posing as a left of centre party before the 2010 general election. Student fees to be abolished, err well, no we will actually increase them, to name but one example of their treachery. All done in the name of ‘financial stability,’ apparently. Getting into power, is much more likely to have been the truth.

Under the leadership of the late Charlie Kennedy, who came into the party via the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which went under in the late 1980’s, and merged with the Liberal Party as it was, to form the Lib Dems, it was centre left politically. The social liberals were in the ascendancy at the time, but under Nick Clegg’s leadership, the economic liberals (free trade etc) took control of the party, and moved it onto similar ground as the left of the Tory Party.

The new Lib Dems were thrashed in last year’s general election, losing nearly fifty seats in Parliament, and retaining a meagre eight. They now need to re-brand themselves under new leader Tim (who?) Farron, and he is probably onto something with his call for a flag ship policy of remaining in the European Union (EU). Over 16 million people voted to remain in the EU, so it could well be fertile ground for the Lib Dems.

It often goes unmentioned by acolytes of Tony Blair, when they eulogise his election winning credentials, winning three general elections in a row, the first and only time Labour has done this, but the electoral situation at the time was very favourable. Not so much pro-Labour, as anti-Tory after their 18 year stint in power, the scandal, corruption and incompetence having caught up with them.

From the time (1992) of Britain’s humiliating exit from the European Monetary System, which attempted to tie the value of sterling broadly with the German Deutschmark, and the billions of pounds lost by the Treasury in a vain attempt to remain in the EMS, the Tories were finished. They bumped along around 31% in the polls and in actual elections.

But although Blair would have won anyway in 1997, the size of Labour’s win was magnified by the Lib Dems doing well also. They won a lot of seats from the Tories, which were beyond Labour, and the idea of ‘tactical voting’ took hold. Basically, this amounted to leftish voters voting for whoever was best placed to beat the Tory in your constituency, often the Lib Dems.

With the reduction of Parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600 likely to happen before the next general election, which will advantage the Tories, some form of tactical anti-Tory voting will be even more necessary than it was before, if the Tories are to be beaten. Incidentally, the Lib Dems stopped boundary changes in the last Parliament, as retaliation for Tory MPs blocking the reform of the House of Lords. This was probably the best thing the Lib Dems did in government, which speaks volumes about their ‘achievements.’

If the Tories are to be vanquished at the next election, with or without a progressive alliance, which I am broadly in favour of, then I’m afraid the Lib Dems will need to do well. Sometimes, your enemy’s enemy, needs to be embraced. The next general election will be a case in point.  

1 comment:

  1. As a mature undergrad and then post-uni jobseeker, I was a Lib Dem activist 1996-1998 in LB Camden and elected member of the Hampstead & Highgate constituency party. My experience of other Lib Dems' attitudes was largely that of being looked down on even while there were no concessionary rates at their fundraising do's, and that while I wanted to write letters on larger-world issues along the lines of stated policy as outlined in the official Lib Dem policy documents I had purchased, I was instructed that letters to local press should be about the minutiae of street politics relevant to getting elected to Camden Council -- eg, littering and the like -- practically to the exclusion of fair trade and other such issues. Meanwhile my great hero in the Lib Dems was their Social Security Spokesperson in the House of Lords, Conrad Russell.

    I did have a few friendly contacts there that clearly did not look down on me, but they were very much in the minority; and a Lib Dem cllr did help refer me to the Council's welfare rights support at a time when I required it.

    By contrast, my contacts within the Green Party and Green Left particularly have been much more affirmative, to the point that I have been a member of Green Party of England & Wales for 11 years now. I do occasionally worry though that 'electoralism' and 'messaging strategies' can veer internal attitudes more toward 'being respectable' than 'being respected'.

    Alan Wheatley — aka 'Dude Swheatie of Kwug' when blogging for Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group