EARLIER THIS YEAR, The New Statesman ran an issue focusing on the apparent absence of an effective opposition to Theresa May’s government. Railing against the left-wing stance of Jeremy Corbyn, its contributors unhappily portended a future of unchallenged Tory dominance. Today, however, it appears that Corbyn’s Labour Party is that opposition after all, with a number of polls showing the gap between the two parties narrowing. But The New Statesman also called for the establishment – if the Labour Party could not be reclaimed from the left-wing – of a new centrist party, taking in moderates from both major parties and absorbing the Liberal Democrats as they went.
The question is, why would such a party have any kind of electoral success when the Tories and Labour have both veered away from the centre ground to no apparent detriment? Surely an electorate in desperate need of a moderate, centrist party would turn in no small number to the one that already exists, the Liberal Democrats? Yet, according to recent polling, it’s not impossible for the Lib Dems to lose seats, having gained little support since their 2015 electoral drubbing. You can see how hard Tim Farron is trying to win back his party’s credibility, but there seems to be no appetite among the British populace for liberal politics.
But why not? It’s not difficult to argue that the Lib Dems have the best manifesto: reversing welfare cuts, remaining in the European single market, giving equal parity to mental health and raising taxes to increase funding for the NHS. Though removed from the more robust market liberalism of the Clegg-era, it is undeniably liberal, putting civil liberties and individual freedoms at its forefront while emphasising the need for social justice and equality of opportunity. As such, they are willing to spend more money on health and education than Clegg’s party, but remain committed to principles like rolling back the surveillance state, legalising cannabis, and reforming our broken electoral system.
It’s not difficult to argue that the Lib Dems have the best manifesto.
It is this liberalism, both economic and cultural, that has led The Economist, that great bastion of free markets, to endorse the Liberal Democrats for the first time in its history. Although – and this is not uncommon for the magazine – they seem to regard them as the best of a bad bunch, it is evidence that the Lib Dems are still the best hope of the sensible, moderate, centre ground of British politics. For the narrative to be reclaimed by the liberal middle, parliament needs a glut of new (and old) Lib Dem MPs. The tragedy is that this is not forthcoming.
Indeed, while the party is likely to pick up wins in seats like Twickenham and Kingston and Surbiton (where former ministers Sir Vince Cable and Sir Ed Davey hope to win back the seats they lost two years ago), it seems that North Norfolk and Carshalton and Wallington will be lost to pro-Brexit Conservative candidates. Worse still, it’s not impossible that Nick Clegg himself will lose his Sheffield Hallam seat to a focussed and determined Labour campaign. A further decline would be a disaster, not just for the Liberal Democrats, but for any hope of reviving the political centre in the United Kingdom.
Questions have been raised over Tim Farron’s personal attitude towards homosexuality, but closer inspection will reveal his inherently liberal approach to the issue, and a voting record far stronger than that of Theresa May. He has long been an advocate for LGBT+ issues, including campaigning for the repeal of Section 28 (which prohibited schools from ‘promoting’ homosexuality) and fighting for an amendment to the ‘spousal veto’ which harms married trans people. Perhaps he does believe homosexual sex is a sin, but his record shows that he can be trusted to guarantee and fight for equality for LGBT+ people.
With that out of the way, what reason is there not to vote for the Liberal Democrats? In most constituencies, a vote for the Lib Dems is simply not enough to stop a Tory victory, and, while I am fundamentally uneasy with tactical voting, it is clearer than ever that this Conservative government must not continue. Although Labour has abandoned sensible liberalism for left-wing politics, theirs is still preferable to the heartless and authoritarian manifesto proposed by Theresa May. Letterhole’s recommendation is to vote for the Labour Party in every constituency where they are the main opposition to the Tories, and for the Lib Dems everywhere else.
Image credit: IMG_3566 – image by Liberal Democrats via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)