Tag Archives: Liberal Democrats

Are the Tectonic Plates of British Politics Shifting?

Jonathan Calder thinks nobody knows anything about British politics any more.

In April I wrote:

“That party membership is such a minority taste now suggests that the 19th-century model of political parties we still embrace is hopelessly outdated.

Yet no politician has the vision or overweening ambition to wrench it apart and allowing something more attuned to our needs today to take its place”.

Party membership is growing again, so I was wrong about that. But maybe the tectonic plates really are moving.

Already, Remain and Leave across the UK, and Yes and No in Scotland, seem more vital and more coherent identities than the old party labels.

There is a high probability of a significant realignment happening within the next few months, and not just on the left. “Left” and “Right” no longer describe the real political faultlines in England, the big divides are more cultural than economic.

Labour is fundamentally split between its middle-class activist base and its working class roots to the point where there is no reason to exoect white working-class small-c conservatives to vote for a party more concerned with middle-class identity politics. And that’s before you throw the cultish behaviour of the old-school hard-left into the mix. Do you really expect people in Rotherham to support a party who seem to care more about Palestine and Venezuela than the north of England?

The Conservatives are just as split, between neo-liberal internationalists and little-England social conservatives, with cultish Randite libertarians mirroring Labour’s Trotskyite left. It may be that Theresa May will win the leadership election and hold the party together in the short term. If Andrea Leadson wins, all bets are off, and the chances of the party splitting are high.

The Liberal Democrats are seeing a surge of membership as one party who do still have a coherent idea of what they actually stand for. But in the longer term will liberal values be served by a small dedicated party, or as a faction with one of the new parties that may emerge from the breakup of Labour and the Tories?

Posted in Religion and Politics | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Election entrail-readings

Britain had mid-term elections on Thursday. Some in the media used the horrible Americanism “Super Thursday” to describe the combination of elections for the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the election for the Mayor of London, local government elections throughout England, and a couple of parliamentary byelections thrown in for good measure.

It was a mixed night for the Liberal Democrats; modest gains in the English council elections and just about holding on in Scotland, but very poor results in London and in Wales. One extrapolation of the results into a possible parliament puts the party on 19 seats, an improvement on the eight in the current parliament, but a long was from the 57 of the last one.  It’s a small step on a very long road to recovery.

It was just as mixed for Labour, with Sadiq Khan roundly defeating the disgusting dog-whistle racism of Zak Goldsmith in London, but at the same time the Scottish Tories have come back from the dead and pushed them into third place in Scotland. Scotland now has very different politics to England, and what was once the dominant party is facing a third-party squeeze. Scotland may be heading towards a two-party system, and Labour won’t be one of them. That has huge implications for British politics as a while.

Writing in Politics.co.uk, Ian Dunt minces no words, and says the zombie result is worst possible outcome for Labour.

So this week’s elections might just be the worst possible result for the party. There’s enough there for Corbyn supporters to pretend everything’s fine and that arguments to the contrary are a product of media conspiracy, but not so much that they might, you know, actually win a general election.

Dunt thinks Labour are dead, but like Zombies, they don’t know it yet.

Meanwhile Jonathan Calder asks why via Labour did surprisingly well in the south of England, and talks of his expreriences campaigning in Richmond & Barnes in the 1983 general election.

On the last weekend of the contest the young activists (this was a long time ago) were sent out to call on the Labour supporters identified in our canvass and ask them to consider a tactical vote for the Liberals.

This approach received two distinct reactions. Working class voters were generally happy to consider the idea, even if they had a Labour posters in their window.

Middle-class Labour voters, typically teachers, however, were often offended to be asked. You had to vote for what you believed, they told me, even if your candidate had no chance of winning.

It is this second group of voters, I suspect, that Jeremy Corbyn appeals to. Which means that he may well be surprisingly successful in maintaining his party’s Southern outposts.

But it also means that he may struggle to resist the appeal of Ukip to working-class Labour voters.

And speaking of UKIP. reports of their death appear to have been premature. Seven seats in the Welsh Assembly and second places in both byelections suggest that their rightwing populism is going to be around as long as nobody else is willing to address the concerns of the traditional working-class vote. More ominously, the odious BNP came within a whisker of winning a council seat in Pendle, Lancashire, which went to the Tories with Labour a distant third.

Posted in Religion and Politics | Tagged , | Comments Off

Will Oldham be Labour’s Eastleigh?

The Oldham by-election is going to be interesting. I’m not going to try and predict the result; maybe Labour will hold on with a much-reduced majority, or maybe Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour will get a very bloody nose at the hands of UKIP. Labour activists are speaking of his unpopularity on the doorsteps, and some Corbyn loyalists are shooting the messenger. Labour Twitter is ugly at the moment.

But even if Labour hold on, it will still be their Eastleigh.

Eastleigh, if you remember, was the by-election following Chris Huhne’s resignation, narrowly retained by the Liberal Democrats with the help of the opposing vote being split. But it was a pyrrhic victory, which allowed the party to remain in denial about the electoral consequences of coalition with the Tories and sleepwalk into electoral disaster this May.

A defeat at the hands of UKIP might actually be better for Labour, and for Britain.

Even though the Liberal Democrats have no chance of winning, they’re still taking this by-election seriously. This is a constituency where they came second in 2010, only to fall to fourth in 2015. If they manage to increase the share of the vote it will be a sign of the party’s slow recovery. It’s not inconceivable that they might even push the Tories into fourth place, especially if UKIP manages to squeeze the Tory vote.

Posted in Religion and Politics | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Why I voted for Tim Farron

So Tim Farron has been elected as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, and the long and difficult job of rebuilding the party following the catastrophic near wipeout in the last general election begins.

There’s a massive contrast between the Liberal Democrat leadership election and that of the Labour Party. The refrain we kept hearing from both Tim Farron’s and Norman Lamb’s supporters was “Both of them would make excellent leaders but our candidate will be better”. Compare that with Labour’s “The party is doomed if that other candidate wins”. The Liberal Democrats, unlike Labour, do have a clear vision of what sort of party they want to be.

It was a difficult choice between two very good candidates, but in the end I voted for Tim Farron. One deciding issue for me was his faith. There were one or two dark whispers early on in the campaign that his Anglican faith made him unfit for leadership of a party devoted to liberal values. For me the very idea that religion is a relic from a superstitious past that must be purged from public life is a profoundly illiberal concept.

The last Parliament saw the historic equal marriage act, which represented an unprecedented liberal shift in the Overton Window. But since then there have been situations that have bought the gay community into conflict with conservative religious groups. The extent to which different communities should have the right to express their own identity and the extent to which they should be required to respect one another’s spaces isn’t as clear cut as some people would make out. Would not somebody who is both a committed Liberal and a Christian be in a better position to recognise where the boundaries lie?

We live in a time when large parts of the left have fallen into a dangerous authoritarianism for whom a vaguely-defined freedom from offence trumps freedom of speech, and sometimes competing sectarianisms seek to drive each other from the public square. A party committed to liberal values must oppose these sorts of zero-sum identity politics, and prevent the right from positioning themselves as the sole champions of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Sometimes it is the liberal thing to defend an unpopular minority against the tyranny of the majority.

So, congratulations for Tim Farron as the newly-elected leader of the Liberal Democrats. It’s a long and difficult road ahead for the party, but he is the right person to lead the party along it.

Posted in Religion and Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off

What now for the Liberal Democrats?

The result of the 2015 General Election are taking a long time to sink in, especially if you have been a lifelong supporter of the Liberal Democrats.

All my adult life I’d seen the Liberal Democrats, and the Liberals before them slowly but steadily grow in strength. There were setbacks of course; for years the party was good at winning byelections in seats that proved impossible to retain in the following general elections. But they slowly built up from a dozen or so seats in the 1970s to more than 60 MPs in 2005. To see them reduced to single figures is heartbreaking. And the tragedy is that while nobody seemed to see it coming, it was all too obvious in retrospect.

Yes, they made tactical errors in their campaign, failing to emphasise core Liberal values, and let the two bigger parties squeeze their support. It became obvious just how many of their seats had only been held over the years though tactical voting by natural Labour supporters. Once those voters had enough and went back home, swathes of formerly orange parts of England and Wales went blue. And no party survived the SNP steamroller in Scotland. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Time for Nick Clegg to go?

Now that they’ve had a big enough bite of the reality sandwich to go down with severe food poisoning, one or two Liberal Democrats are finally starting to get it. As reported in The Guardian.

In a sign that unease is spreading to normally loyal MPs, Sir Nick Harvey, who was sacked as a defence minister in a reshuffle in 2012, called on the party to put more distance between the Lib Dems and the Tories.

Harvey told The World at One on BBC Radio 4: “There is a perception on the part of voters that we have got ourselves too embroiled with the Conservatives. When they look at things like the NHS changes, Michael Gove out on adventures in the education field; when they look at some of the more draconian benefit cuts, people are asking themselves if there is a point having the Lib Dems in the government. Surely it is to stop some of these things happening.

“We must be willing to say no to the Tories more. When you have a coalition between a larger party and a smaller one it is difficult for the small party to make the larger party do things it doesn’t want to do. But it should be relatively easy to stop it from doing things we don’t want it to do. That does mean that we need to be more willing to say no.”

Yes, Nick Clegg. Nick Harvey has correctly identified why this previously lifelong Liberal Democrat (and Liberal before that) voter supported The Greens in this election. Privatising the NHS, Gove’s reactionary philistinism and the petty vindictiveness of Ian Duncan-Smith’s benefit changes are anathema to the sorts of people who have traditionally voted for your party.

Over to you…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Comments Off

Don’t Disengage, Vote Smarter

Russell Brand is wrong. We’ve got a terrible crisis of democratic legitimacy in Britain at the moment, but the solution isn’t to disengage with electoral politics altogether. Instead we need to re-engage and take back democracy from the elites who have subverted and captured it.

What we desperately need is a forward-looking, self-confident and strongly non-sectarian left in Britain. I don’t believe we need another new party; all that would achieve would be to split the vote and benefit the right. But we do need noisy and influential factions in both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties to drag them away from being part of the beige dictatorship. Yes, both parties are badly compromised by past and present alliances, Labour with Tony Blair’s complicity in George W Bush’s war crimes, and the Liberals for enabling the worst of the Tories war on the poor, the disabled, the young and the old. But both parties need to be taken back from the faceless technocrats who have sold their parties to the Devil, and some of the present leadership needs to be put to the sword.

One thing we need to ask all candidates from all parties is this. “Would you ever vote against your own party on a point of principle, and if so, what principle do you hold that are inviolable”. If they answer “No” to that question, they do not deserve anybody’s vote, especially yours. We do not want or need machine politicians who make obedient lobby-fodder; backbench revolts are the stuff from which democracy is made. Vote for someone who will be the party whip’s worst nightmare.

Not voting isn’t the answer. If you are one of the 25% who live in a marginal constituency where you vote actually has a chance of affecting the makeup of Parliament, then regardless of whether it’s Labour/Tory, Tory/LibDem or LibDem/Labour, one of the two is always going to be the lesser of two evils.

If you live in a “safe seat”, any vote is a wasted vote as far as deciding who you sent to Westminster goes. But that’s not the only value of voting; local and national shares of votes have a longer term impact beyond the current election. And this is where voting for an “unelectable” smaller party isn’t any more wasted than voting for one of the three main parties. If you get significant percentages of the vote going to smaller fringe parties, it sends a strong message to any machine-politics technocrats in the other parties that the electorate wants “None of the above”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments Off

That Racist Van

Now that that infamous “Racist Van” with its crude “Immigrants go home” slogan has been reported to the Advertising Standards Authority, it’s left me wondering about the purpose behind the extraordinary behaviour from the Home Office over the past couple of weeks.

That racist van, the Gestapo-like “Your papers please” intimidation of non-white commuters at tube stations, and the stream of threatening messages in the Home Office Twitter feed all appeared to reflect a Tory party running scared of UKIP and desperately trying to woo back racist white voters.

But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this all happened the week David Cameron was away and left Deputy PM Nick Clegg minding the shop. The whole think reeks of an ambush by the Tory right to stitch up him and his party, and put him in a position where he couldn’t win whatever he said or did.

It reminds me of the time the odious Michael Howard left his deputy Ann Widdecombe to defend a prisoner having to give birth in chains. She would have her revenge with her “Something of the night” comment that torpedoed his leadership bid.

Will the Liberal Democrats have their own “Something of the Night” moment, perhaps during the next election campaign? We can but hope, even though we may be hoping in vain.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off

What The Liberal Democrats need to do now

So the Liberal Democrats, to nobody’s real surprise, did very badly in last week’s local government elections.

Part of it is down to the fact that government parties always do badly in mid-term council elections, and this is a new experience for the Liberal Democrats having not been in government before. It’s unfair on hard-working local councillors who lose seats through no fault of their own, but sadly that’s the way that it is as long as voters are more interested in “Sending a message to Westminster” than they are about electing a local council over local issues.

The Tories did badly as well. Nadine Dorries, recently described as the “Tories’ equivalent of Lembit Öpik”, is taking of leadership challenges, and demanding the return of traditional Tory values of anti-Europeanism and homophobia, oblivious to the fact that the Tories didn’t actually win the last general election, which is precisely why we have a coalition government.

Some sectarian Labour types are gleefully prophesying the end of the Liberal Democrats altogether “So that we can get back to proper two-party politics”. But The Liberal Democrats are not going to disappear any time soon, no matter what the tribalist wing of the Labour party would love to happen. It’s precisely because of their tribalist machine-driven politics that a party like The Liberal Democrats are necessary in the first place

But I do think this may well mark the turning point in the coalition.

The coalition hasn’t worked as well as many people had hoped. LibDem blogger Jonathan Calder, who enthusiastically supported the coalition in the early days rightly says

It was inevitable that the Coalition would run into trouble. One of the constituent parties had long been out of power, had leaders with no experience of government, and hordes of backbenchers and activists with bizarre views and little concept of party discipline.

I’m talking about the Conservatives.

To quote a former US president, “It’s the economy, stupid”. And the Very Big Stupid in question is Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, whose policies have failed in a way just about everybody but himself had predicted. If there is one thing Nadine Dorries is right about, it is that it’s time for him to go.

George Osborne is facing a double-whammy here. Not only is he hopelessly compromised by close association with the Murdoch clan in the still-unfolding scandal which may yet engulf the Prime Minister himself, but he’s proved himself spectacularly incompetent at his job. And the entire country is paying the price.

The way he allowed himself to be “intellectually persuaded” by ideological nonsense about Laffer Curves shows far out of his depth he is. Osborne doesn’t just not know the price of milk, his understanding of economics is reminiscent of the typical 17-year old libertarian troll on the internet. He comes over as a prime example of the Dunning-Kruger effect in action; he understands so little he doesn’t realise how little he understands.

At this point, the Liberal Democrats in Parliament have reached the point where they have nothing to lose from rocking the boat. The price of their remaining in government must be the removal of George Osborne as chancellor, and his replacement by someone who is both experienced and a pragmatist rather than an intellectually-challenged ideologue.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments