The Liberal Democrats have seen an increase to their polling since Jo Swinson became the party leader in July 2019. The Lib Dems may have already overplayed their hand, and risk alienating voters. Firstly their changed position on Brexit, which essentially is to ignore the 2016 referendum result will alienate many even on the remain side. The second has been the cynical and misleading messages encouraging voters to “tactically vote” for their party.
Who are the Liberal Democrats?
The Liberal Democrats were Founded in 1981. They were a Coalition of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. The Liberal Party was the direct descendant of the 18th-century Whigs and prior to the creation of the Labour Party were the main rival to the Conservatives in the House of Commons. The Social Democratic Party were a slightly less pathetic version of Change UK formed by breakaway Labour MPs in the early 1980s. These two parties formally merged in 1988.
The Lib Dems have at times made a positive contribution. When Tony Blair’s New Labour Government were pushing to invade Iraq in 2003, the Lib Dems were strong opponents of this. As someone who was active in opposing the Iraqi invasion, this certainly earned them some respect in my eyes.
In 2010 the Lib Dems held the balance of power after the General Election. Naively before the election, then party leader Nick Clegg gave away his leverage by saying the Lib Dems would likely go with whichever party got the most votes. Given at this point the Conservatives were only polling a few points ahead of Labour this was a clumsy move. Probably as a result of this blunder, the Lib Dems went from polling around 30% (neck and neck with Labour and Conservatives) to getting just 22% of the vote on election night.
For the next 5 years the Lib Dems were in coalition with the Conservatives. These were the years where austerity cuts hit hard. Funding to local government services were slashed, NHS funding was frozen, Student tuition fees sky-rocked, police numbers were cut and the mantra of doing more with less became common in Whitehall.
In 2015 election the Lib Dems were punished. In 2017 the Lib Dems vote increased, however due to the First Past the Post electoral system they did not increase their number of seats in the Commons.
But now its 2019. UK politics is a mess. The Lib Dems have a new leader and this could be their year. Except its already gone to their heads, and they are making poor decisions.
My previous post outlined the parties Brexit positions. The Lib Dems have since 2016 been advocating for a second referendum. Now that most opposition parties in parliament, including Labour, have adopted this as their policy the Lib Dems want to go further. They now are saying if they win a majority in parliament they will withdraw Article 50 and just stop Brexit in its tracks. Plenty of people don’t like the Brexit result. and there are plenty who’d like to see and end to Brexit and the chaos it is creating. But its a big call to say you are going to ignore a democratic decision by the people. And an arrogant one. Even many of the most ardent Remainers will find this position to be a bridge too far. The Lib Dems could be saying, we campaigned for a second referendum from the outset, and now other opposition parties are copying us. Instead, the Lib Dems are trying to differentiate themselves, a position that could badly backfire on them.
Recently, the Labour opposition moved an amendment in Parliament seeking to prevent the Privatisation of the NHS in any post Brexit trade deals with the US. The Lib Dems decided it best to abstain on this motion, rather than being seen to support a Labour Party amendment. Yes as a party you want to show you are different to Labour and aren’t aligned to Jeremy Corbyn. But what signal does abstaining on an issue like this send? Especially after supporting 5 years of austerity cuts last time you were in government.
The Lib Dems are essentially a party that is economically on the centre right and socially progressive. They maybe aren’t too fussed if the NHS gets privatised as this is consistent with liberalism and their track record in power. The issue is that the Lib Dems present themselves as moderate economic centrists. Their history has been to back austerity and free market economics. In effect they are the pro Europe Tories. Conservative Party supporters who are pro the EU may find they have a natural home in the Lib Dems, in much the same way as Blairite politicians from Labour such as Chuka Umunna have. But winning these people over will only win the party so much support. They want more.
The Lib Dems have formed a pro Remain Electoral pact with the Greens and Plaid Cymru. The Lib Dems will likely be the main winners in such a pact. More concerning is the way the Lib Dems are trying to encourage voters to be tactical. Under a First Past the Post electoral system vote spitting is a challenge, and there are times when it is wise to be strategic. But this does not excuse dishonestly and deceit.
The above images shows a leaflet distributed my the Lib Dems in York Outer claiming there is a two horse race between their party and the Conservatives. The aim is to encourage Labour voters to tactically vote Lib Dem. Below this are the 2017 voting figures, showing in fact the two horse race is between Labour and Conservative with the Lib Dems coming a distant 3rd place. Similar leaflets have been put out by the Lib Dems in Labour held constituencies where they falsely claim that they and not the Conservatives are the main challenger.
The Lib Dems represent a section of the British voting public. On the issue of Brexit they have consistently pushed the remain cause, and there will be voters who support them for this. But integrity is important in politics. Trust in politics is already low. Being deliberately misleading, anti democratic and arrogant will not impress voters. The Lib Dems might really want to rethink how they are now approaching the upcoming election.