The Only Way To Stop A Huge Right-Wing Majority Is An Assault On The Tories’ Left Flank.

One thing that seems certain after last night’s by-election results, Copeland in particular, is that on current trajectory, the country is heading for huge Conservative majority at the next general election. 

It’s clear that, whilst Jeremy Corbyn is still leader, Labour will struggle to win a single vote from the Tories, whilst at the same time haemorrhaging votes elsewhere. This means that in many constituencies, the Conservatives only need to hold their share of the vote from 2015 in order to take them from Labour. 

The only way such a large victory for the Conservatives can be stopped is, if not Labour, then another party stealing its voters. After last night, more than ever UKIP appear to be a spent force, and who can blame them when Theresa May’s hard Brexit, nationalist rhetoric gives them very little room to manouvre, however the Lib Dems on the other hand increased their vote share for a fifth by-election in a row, and it’s here that the opportunity to hault the Tory march arises. 

The Lib Dems are perfectly positioned to chase relentlessly after liberal-Tory votes, and must do so successfully if decades of Conservative rule are to be avoided. This means embracing a more economically as well a socially liberal platform, as well as perhaps weakening opposition to both Trident and grammar schools. The idea may not sit comfortably with all Lib Dem members, but in reality it’s either this or resigning to years of almost unopposed Tory governments.

Many of May’s government’s actions since she took office should bring alarm to liberal-Tories, whether it be the “citizens of nowhere” speech, the determination to harm British business by needlessly ejecting the country from the Single Market, or the apparent desire to curb immigration at seemingly any cost. The Lib Dems are strong in these areas, however they must start framing their arguements from a centre-right as well as a centre-left position.

The whole time the Conservative left flank remains unscathed, the more and more their leadership will feel able to chase after the remaining UKIP vote, so therefore in order to restrain the government’s march to the right, it is imperative someone starts to make liberal Conservative voters look elsewhere. It cannot be Labour, and so it must be the Lib Dems.

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A Plea To The Moderate Conservative Voter

If a week is a long time in politics, then a year is an eternity. In such a short space of time the party that so many voted for, myself included, is barely recognisable. It was not so long ago that David Cameron stood on stage at the Conservative party conference promising an end to discrimination, but yet a year later and Amber Rudd, on the very same stage, gave a speech that was treated as a “hate incident” by the police. A year ago the Conservatives were lead by a man who once branded UKIP a party full of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”, today Nigel Farage and Suzanne Evans praised Prime Minister Theresa May, claiming she had been “using words and phrases they’d used for years”, and it had been as though May was “channeling UKIP”. Quite frankly, the party the country voted for in 2015 barely seems to exist, any notion of “One Nation Conservatism” has been replaced with a short sighted, ideologically driven surge to the right, to the extent that 48% of the population are barely viewed as citizens of this country at all.

However, there is an alternative. Just over a century ago, the Peelites, Conservatives who argued passionately against protectionism, with a firm belief in free trade, broke with their party to form the Liberals; today that path must once again be trodden. Between 2010 and 2015, the Conservative / Lib Dem coalition provided this country with both a stable government and a strong economy, whilst also delivering liberal outcomes ranging from gay marriage to taking the lowest paid out of income tax. As Theresa May, with all the zeal of a convert, takes this country ever closer to the economic abyss, those alliances must be redrawn, and moderate Conservative voters must desert their traditional party in favour of its former coalition partner, to best provide the opposition this country needs, and to put a stop to an impending disaster. During the coalition the Lib Dems proved their economic competence, as the Brexit government pushes for a hard, damaging departure from the EU, its seems as though the current crop at the top of the Conservative party have lost theirs. Now is the time for liberals of all colours to unite, and to return home to the party that historically has always been their own.

@Briggs_AndyJ

 

My Top 10 Political Heroes of 2016

As the year draws to a close, most (at least in liberal circles) would agree that 2016 has provided us with far more political villains than it has heroes, so much so that many will look back in years to come at a year engulfed in thick black cloud. However, through much of the darkness, there have been several glimmers of light, and so below I’ve compiled my list of political heroes for 2016, covering those whose resistance continues to give me some hope, or in some cases those who simply provided a brief moment of light relief.

1 ) Tim Farron

Originally not on the list, Tim Farron squeezed in at the last moment when only yesterday he was awarded with the prestigious title of “Remoaner of the Year” by Leave.EU, thus sending him sky rocketing to number one. As much as his opposite numbers make it appear so, successfully doing ones job does not automatically make one a hero, hence the late inclusion, however particular moments of note for Farron this year include his stance of refugees (indeed, what bought me to the party), and his passionate Autumn Conference closing speech which I may or may not have rewatched several times since.

2) Nick Clegg

No-one personifies the Lib Dem fightback this year quite like Nick Clegg. He began the year trying to keep a low profile having been (wrongly) tarnished by the Coalition and the resulting General Election result, indeed he must at times have considered taking a similar path to that now trodden by David Cameron. However ever since the disastrous referendum result in June he has risen from the ashes to become one of, if not the most important MP on the Brexit issue, with his knowledge of the EU and it’s institutions second to none.

3) Norman Lamb

The third and final Lib Dem MP on this years list, Norman Lamb’s appearance is mostly if not entirely down to his continued one-man crusade in the name of mental health. As the mental health crisis in the UK spirals further and further out of control, the Lib Dems can be proud that their man is front and centre in trying to ease the suffering of so many. Another Norman Lamb highlight this year has been his robust use of social media to defend his position on any vote to trigger Article 50, which, considering it’s more or less the same as that of the next name on this list, who is a darling of the Remainers, it’s hard to understand why he gets so much stick for.

4) Anna Soubry

At the beginning of the year Anna Soubry was a lesser-known Conservative minister whose views more or less aligned with those held by her government, 12 months on her party treats her as a renegade. Following the referendum result, as so many of her fellow Conservative MPs seem to have all but forgotten the cause that they passionately campaigned for, Soubry continues to fight in the name of the 48% who voted with her, which, in a political climate left so hostile by the events of the 23rd of June, is courageous and brave, and worthy of the upmost respect.

5) Hilary Benn

Another fine performer in the Remain campaign, Benn makes this list not only for his pro-EU credentials but also for being the most high profile MP to be sacked by Jeremy Corbyn. A constant thorn in Corbyn’s side, Benn’s defiance is made all the more glorious by Corbyn’s obvious disappointment he has not turned out more like his father. Quite frankly Benn Jnr. makes the idea of being referred to as a “Bennite” rather more palatable, and no doubt were he leader of the Labour party as opposed to his left-wing ‘comrade’, the party as whole would find itself on a much firmer footing.

6) Mark Carney

It’s perhaps of no surprise that a man whose very existence annoys Brexiteers makes my list of political heroes for 2016, even if he himself would argue he’s far from political. Being both foreign and an expert, the likes of Mark Carney have had it tough this year, however his continued instance to only deal in fact, no matter how inconvenient for the Brexit government, makes him one of 2016’s biggest if not most reluctant heroes. Here’s hoping he continues in his role for many years to come.

7) Gary Lineker

Rubbing Brexiteers up the wrong way is something of a theme in this year’s list, and Gary Lineker’s emergence as a competent political commentator as well as excellent television presenter has certainly been a highlight. Reaching areas of the Twittersphere that others could only dream of due to his alter-ego as a sports presenter, Lineker serves as a constant reminder to Brexit supporters up and down the country that they’re ugly, old fashioned view of the UK hasn’t taken over just yet.

8) John Major

There were of course many memorable moments of the EU Referendum campaign, and many could have deservedly appeared here (a special mention goes to Michael Deacon’s coverage of the ‘battle of the Thames’), however if I was to pick one individual highlight, it would be John Major’s savage attack on Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith on the Andrew Marr Show, available below.

9) Polly Mackenzie

By far the most obscure selection in this year’s list, this is all down Tim Farron’s Autumn Conference speech. As the Daily Politics’ guest for the duration of their coverage, Mackenzie’s performance up against the formidable Andrew Neil was one of the best seen all year, swatting away his questions dismissively without any of the political spin we’re now so accustomed to, see in particular the exchange on immigration in the video below from 1 hour 34 mins. This combined with more excellent work on mental health mean Mackenzie more than deserves her spot.

10) The Lib Dem Press Office

Last but by no means at all least, the razor sharp wit of the Lib Dem Press Office Twitter account has been one of the highlights of 2016 for many people both in and outside of the party. With a clear idea of what works and what doesn’t in the weird and wonderful world of social media, the press office not only bring a smile to the face, but also spread the Lib Dem message far and wide. If the next general election is fought on Twitter, the Lib Dems are in with a good chance.

 

 

Have a happy new year and a fabulous 2017, here’s to the continued Lib Dem Fightback.

 

 

 

Should The Lib Dems Vote For Article 50?

It’s of no doubt that parliament getting a vote on Article 50 is a good thing, however, despite publicly welcoming this news, it now leaves Liberal Democrat MPs with a tricky decision to make.

Ever since June 23rd, the Lib Dems have been walking the tightrope between standing up for the 48% and appearing “undemocratic”, now there is (most likely) to be a vote on the beginning of the Brexit process, they must finally choose which side of the line they wish to fall on.

After much thought, I have come to the conclusion that the Lib Dems have only one choice, they must vote against the triggering of Article 50. Although their inclination as democrats may be to reluctantly vote for it, it seems more and more likely that this may be their only chance to put their anti-Brexit feelings on the record. 

In many ways, I may have been felt more uneasy about this decision if it were likely to have an affect on the outcome, however, with a majority of both Conservative and Labour MPs surely likely to vote in favour, any Article 50 legislation is almost certain to pass. Regardless, those that still firmly believe the UK’s future is best served by remaining in the EU will be watching closely, and with the likes of Anna Soubry, Kenneth Clarke and Owen Smith all likely to vote against, many will wonder why the Lib Dems too could not be so bold if they choose to vote in favour. If the Lib Dems want to be the voice of the 48%, they must not only talk the talk but also walk the walk.

The only reason I can conclude it would ever be worth voting for Article 50 would be if the government were to concede to having a referendum on the terms of Brexit. However, as currently only the policy of the Lib Dems and the Greens, totalling a whole 9 parliamentary seats, the government is unlikely to be listening. Incidentally, I can’t help but feel this would have been a better policy on the Article 50 vote for Labour to adopt, as opposed to their demand for “access” to the single market* (*correct at the time of writing, it’s very hard to keep up with Labour’s policy on this / anything). With “access” being fairly meaningless (as anyone will tell you, North Korea has “access”), it’s a shame that Labour have decided that this is the best “opposition” they can come up with, although of course meaningless virtue-signalling is something of a speciality for the current Labour leadership. 

Finally, although less significant nationally but none the less important for the party, it seems likely that voting in favour of Article 50 would see the thousands of new members who’ve joined the party post-referendum massively disheartened. With a crucial by-election in Richmond Park coming up, it’s vital that all party members are at best content, so as to keep the momentum gathered from Witney and council by-elections going, rather than falling into Labour-style infighting. As a party already with an unfortunate reputation for going back on past promises amongst large swathes of the electorate, now is definitely the time for the Lib Dems to stick to their guns. 

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Witney: A Lib Dem Acid Test

In the past few weeks, much has already been made of the importance of the Witney by-election to the Liberal Democrats. A strong performance here would surely be a signal to the rest of the country that the “Lib Dem Fightback” is well and truly on, and may finally cause the party to reappear in the public / media’s conciousness. 

But Witney is more than that, it is a test of the whole direction the party has set itself on ever since the disaster of May last year. Anything less than a strong second place will be seen as a major disappointment, and should be setting off alarm bells at party HQ.

As a constituency that voted to remain a member of the EU, and as a traditionally Conservative seat seemingly unlikely to be the first to fall to Jeremy Corbyn’s quest for a socialist utopia, the question will be asked that if the Lib Dems cannot do well here, where can they? Whilst I am a supporter of the party’s current position on Brexit, a poor result here should be taken as a warning sign that perhaps the message of a second referendum on the terms of any Brexit deal does not resonate with as many voters as we perhaps would like, and a new approach may be required. Meanwhile finishing behind a Labour party  in absolute disarray,  in the firm grip of the left, will pose major questions of its own, and do nothing but embolden those within the party who already call for the end of Tim Farron’s reign and a return to the helm for Nick Clegg (who in my opinion, despite his media cut through, comes with plenty of obvious heavy baggage of his own). 

The last thing the party needs right now is to join the others on a search for its own soul. Whilst Labour and the Conservatives peer inwards, the Lib Dems need to continue to look outwards towards the many disillusioned voters in this country,  and this as much as anything else is why a strong result in Witney is crucial. All the signs suggest that we are on course, but if the last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s that nothing should be taken for granted. 
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Brits Finally Have What They’ve Always Wanted

“They’re all the same” – a response heard time and time again when asking British people their views on U.K political parties. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this party conference season, “they’re all the same” is certainly no longer the case. 

Whereas in the past we’ve been used to seeing the major political parties fight tooth and nail over the centre ground (by which I do not mean Theresa May’s warped definition) in order to try and win an all important parliamentary majority, we’re now in a position where the space between the two main political parties is as wide as it’s ever been, leaving the centre ground strangely uncontested.

The one party that has to refused to shun its centre ground roots is the Liberal Democrats, for whom the new political climate should be seen as a massive opportunity. For the first time in what seems like an age, it is down to the Liberal Democrats alone to represent all streams of liberal thinking; in the past, economic liberals may well have felt just as comfortable voting for David Cameron as they would have done voting for Nick Clegg, whilst social liberals (and indeed social democrats) would have felt at ease voting for Tony Blair or potentially even Ed Milliband. Now all of a sudden liberal representation within the two main parties has been all but banished, and liberal leaning voters from both sides will be looking for a new home. Tim Farron’s closing speech at this month’s party conference was a great pitch to these voters, and he’d do well to continue down this line.

And so when the next election comes the choice has never been so clear, if Democratic (potentially Revolutionary, we’ll wait and see) Socialism is your thing, the Labour Party is the one for you, if you’re more into your Christian Democracy (perhaps with a bit of Facism thrown in for good measure), then you’ve got the Conservatives on your side, and if you’re a liberal, well, the clue’s in the name, you can call the Liberal Democrats your home. British electorate, you’ve never had it so good.

The Death of Compassionate Conservatism

In a political period where so little is certain, the one thing we can seemingly be sure of is that new Prime Minister Theresa May is desperately keen to distance herself ideologically from her predecessor David Cameron. Whilst many would argue that there is nothing that can be considered “compassionate” about a government that leaves thousands relying on food banks, if you thought the Cameron administration was bad then, in the immortal words of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

It is of no doubt that throughout his premiership David Cameron could often be accused of pandering to the right of his party, highlighted in particular by the disasterous EU Referendum, but, whilst Cameron pandered, May appears to have let them take (back) control. In the past weeks we have seen EU citizens living within the UK be treated as bargaining chips, talk of drastic cuts to the overseas aid budget, and most recently the introduction of an education policy described by Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron as causing the majority of young people to be “relegated to the second division at the age of 11“. For someone who rose to fame amongst Conservatives for urging the party to lose its “Nasty Party” image, Theresa May seems to be doing a pretty good job of making sure it sticks (although the current Labour shambles is running them close).

Despite the many glaring faults of the Cameron era, I look back at what good was achieved and wonder whether any of it would have been possible in this May-lead, post-Brexit world. Gay marriage is of course the first thing that springs to mind, followed by prison reform, year on year increases in overseas aid etc.. Even a strong economy, at the heart of Cameron’s brand of Compassionate Conservatism, seems no longer the focus of the Tories under May, as it appears increasingly  likely that vital access to the EU’s single market will be dumped in favour of an even tighter grip on immigration. Following May’s first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of 10 Downing Street, there was talk in some circles of her returning the Conservatives to a less divisive, pre-Thatcher style of government, what I imagine they did not expect was for May instead to take her inspiration from the time of Enoch Powell. For all Cameron’s faults, it could at least be argued that his government’s mindset was firmly in the 21st century; an education policy of academisation may have been divisive, but at least it wasn’t straight out of the 1950s.

I ceased my support of the Conservatives earlier in the year when they refused to do more for refugees, but at least a few months ago it was on the agenda. Now it seems that our new Prime Minister has no interest in the respect / votes of the “liberal mainstream”, and would instead focus her attention on the Britain first brigade. Therefore it is with a not so heavy heart that I say R.I.P. Compassionate Conservatism (2005-2016), taken from us at least four years too soon.