June Election 2017 – whither now?
I had a proxy vote for the June Election because I returned to Brazil for my 70th birthday party (some of you may have seen the pictures from that very enjoyable day) so I was already out of the country by the date of the election. One advantage of watching the election results from here is that by the time I was ready for bed at midnight most of the results were already in (we are four hours behind, here in Brazil!)
So I didn`t lose any beauty sleep and was sufficiently compos mentis to appreciate the fact that Mrs May had been royally stuffed in her excess ambitions. Sadly I was also conscious of the lack of progress of my own party`s fortunes and had seen Nick Clegg`s deep look of loss as his result in Sheffield was revealed to the world. Also sad that Simon Hughes suffered the vote squeeze that meant the Labour majority in Bermondsey tripled.
As I start writing this reflective piece, Mrs May is ploughing ahead with the very dubious support of the “DUP ten”. Will it last? George Osborne does not think so – “dead woman walking” was his take.
Jeremy Corbyn is still glowing with the limited progress his Party made in the face of the media harassment he suffered before and during the election period. The fact that Labour did NOT, in fact, implode as all the forecasts suggested is certainly a notable achievement for him. One that I will look at again below because it is relevant to my argument.
Very little, however, has been made of the fact that Labour`s relative success flowed from a major tactical voting exercise to keep Tories down as much as possible, rather than it being a positive vote FOR Labour. For me this was very apparent from the various threads appearing on Facebook where it struck me there was a general sense of nastiness in comments made by many self-declared Labour supporters who seemed to be more influenced than one might have expected by right-wing inspired media knocking of the Lib-Dems.
Remember the start of the campaign? The focus then was on Brexit and the hope that we might benefit by a huge surge in “remainers” of all parties congregating around the pro-European stance the Lib-Dems were taking. Mind you the leadership did not take any notice of my advice (see a few blogs ago where I said we should promise to revoke Article 50!!) but then they never have.
Strangely, a very large number of gullible, politically active, people appear to have thought that voting for the Labour Party would somehow save them from leaving Europe. Weird!
All of which leads me on to the purpose of THIS blog. My advice to the party, now, is that those of us who would call ourselves Liberal radicals should make a concerted effort to assert ourselves and move the Party away from its centralising pattern of behaviour. A pattern that has been apparent over many years. Let me explain how and why – see if you agree with me
My assertions and assumptions.
1 The sometimes-self-styled “leadership/platform” groups of Lib-Dems over many years have argued strongly that the Party should not try to present too much in the way of so-called radical policies, otherwise the Party would prove to be “unelectable”. I cannot tell you how frustrating it used to be to have good ideas quashed by the platform before conference debates or have excellent radical policies spoken against by the platform`s so-called heavy hitters.
Frankly it was this sense of banging one`s head against a brick wall (for example on nuclear power and nuclear weapons over many years) that eventually persuaded me that I was better spending my efforts on sustainable development issues outwith the Party. At that point, as far back as 1998, I “retired” from party-politics to become Founding Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development in Business at Nottingham Trent University.
2 As I have argued before in my blogs, the Lib-Dems target of trying to place themselves “centrally” between Labour and Tory was doomed to failure as the two parties both moved to the centre themselves and the “centre” simultaneously shifted towards the right. Unfortunately, now that the two parties have each swung strongly to their previously outlying Left and Right wings the “platform” call within our party will probably be to try and stake out the “centre-ground” for reviving Liberal Democratic Party fortunes.
In fact that call has already been flagged by Ming Campbell on the Election night punditry and I have seen other similar references in some of the post-election commentaries and quite a few Facebook threads.
A recent irritating thread of discussion commenting about which of the 12 MPs should now be the Party leader (when we already have one in place) shows a similarly valueless attempt to move or keep the party politically central with a “big-hitter” even though the thread is supposed to be “for a bit of fun”.
For me the much bigger problem is to get our policy platform correct to maximise our electoral appeal.
3 This over-weaning desire to centralise led to the disastrous 2010 coalition decision to support the Conservative Party too uncritically. It will be argued quite legitimately that the LDs restrained the Tories in comparison to how they would have behaved without us and have, indeed, behaved in the two years since 2015.
Please be aware, however, that the most significant words in my first sentence were “too uncritically” – Clegg`s failure was to be much too “pally” with Cameron and, sadly, the Party mostly fell into line behind him for the sake of unity. Seen from Brazil the unctuous nature of the coalition was sickly to behold and any successes of restraint applied by the party were not then made apparent to the electorate.
The next most-significant word in that sentence – “disastrous” – was proven beyond doubt in 2015 and, with very little leavening, was demonstrated again last week. The party is barely above the six MPs the Liberal Party had in 1964 when I first stood as a candidate in a mock election at my school so I feel safe drawing the conclusion below.
My conclusion from all this? Being “Radical” will not make the Party any more unelectable than it is now. It is up to us not to let the Party Platform bully radical Liberals any more – ever. For me the most significant sense of forward movement of ideas was in the early 1980s when the Liberal Party had a set of policies rather more radical than today and then when Charles Kennedy was leader and the opposition to the Iraq war gave us a unique radical stance.
Two other issues add weight to my view that radical would actually be good for us. The first is the point I have already referred to. The fact that Corbyn`s left wing views did not, in the end, prevent a large percentage of the voting population from supporting the Labour Party. In particular the large degree of support from young voters is something we should be rather jealous of.
The second is the similar radical appeal that Bernie Sanders generated among younger voters in the USA. The centralising, elitist, focus of the Clinton camp had a similar effect there to undermining Sanders radical appeal. And now we all have to live with the resulting Trump effect.
Let us be clear, the First Past the Post (FPTP) system does us no favours, but we must somehow USE FPTP to win the power to change the system. We cannot rely on either Labour or Conservatives to suddenly see the light on the inequity of the current corrupt system. We therefore need to persuade the electorate we are worthy of their votes in our own right. Seeking to be the “Nice” party and wanting to become the “opposition” – which appears to have been our USP (unique selling point) in the recent election – clearly cuts no ice with voters.
We have to stand FOR something more substantial.
We have to stand tall FOR Europe.
We have to stand tall FOR tackling Climate Change
We have to stand tall FOR a nuclear free world, showing leadership by scrapping our useless, targetless Trident nuclear weapons as a starting point for disarmament, providing loads of money to support the NHS and all the other “nice” things we are FOR.
We have to stand tall FOR compassion to refugees (and well done Tim Farron for doing that in the GE campaign just past)
In short we have to BE radical and NOT be centrist.
If you agree with me please say so in the comments below, or in a discussion thread, share widely and follow the blog to let me know you are with me in my attempt to shake the party up a bit. If not I might just as well go back to watching from the comfort of my armchair again, drifting into quiet obscurity whence I came, enjoying the samba and planting trees.