With friends like these….

This post was originally posted here on Labour Teachers on 23rd October 2015.

I’ve just read this post from @teach_well on Labour Teachers. It’s a terrifying hatchett job which suggests the new Labour leader is similar to the infamous leader of the British union of fascists.

With an almost worryingly bizarre irony the post suggests that Mr Corbyn is working against democracy. Corbyn has been elected by a massive majority of party members. And membership has swelled even further since his election. This shows that he has a massive democratic mandate to create policy. The others in the parliamentary party backed their own horses and found them, and their policy ideas,  rejected by the party as a whole. It seems to me that it’s actually the PLP that are working against democracy by blocking the policies that the party as a whole selected democratically over the summer when it elected Corbyn.

These personal attacks on Corbyn and his followers are all too prevalent in the media and in social media. Coming often from purported supporters and members of the party. But bizarrely we also hear of Corbyn supporters attacking the non “Corbynistas” as tories. I’ve not seen any of these attacks, but masses of attacks the other way.

The post attacks Corbyn for answering a question about policy disagreement with the phrases “I would try to change their minds”, suggesting this is undemocratic. But actually this is the very crux of democracy. The whole point of the parliamentary system is to engage in debate and try to persuade others to come around to your way of thinking. That’s why we have commons debates, Lords debates etc etc. So to suggest that a debate is undemocratic is an absolute nonsense.

The post also attacks the right to peaceful protest. A democratic right that we have in this country. The author seems to think that party conferences should be exempt from this, and that by exercising a democratic right to protest those involved are campaigning for a dictatorship, which is ridiculous inference. By protesting and lobbying the general populous can show the political classes their views, and potentially affect policy decisions.

It’s bizarre that so many members of the Labour party, a democratic socialist party, are so vocal in their opposition to Corbyn, a socialist who was democratically elected leader. The party is a broad church, often referred to as “the coalition on the left”, Corbyn has embraced that and wants involvement from all areas of the party in policy making. Yet those who didn’t want him don’t seem willing to engage, the knives are out and they’re being sharpened. With friends like these….

Will the Lib Dems rise again?

Last week saw an unprecedented wipe out of one of the main 3 political parties in the UK, the Liberal Democrats. Anyone who has been on twitter or Facebook over the week since will have seen the popular hashtag #LibDemFightback and your bound to have noticed the posts pertaining to the amount of new members they’ve gained since the election. A decent amount, around 11000 last I saw, but still less than half the new members Labour have gained and still a fraction of the overall members Labour have and less too than the Greens. So what next for the Lib Dems? Will they come swinging back at the next election, or will they continue to be a minor party with a single figure number of MPs? 

What went wrong?

A lot has been said about this, but I think to fully understand it you need to look at what had previously gone right.

The Liberal Democrats are quite a new party, formed from the remnants of the once great liberal party. (A party that were one of two main parties with the Conservative party. Parties that were not overly different, which showed when Churchill and others regularly crossed the floor. They suffered a massive wipe out in the twenties after entering a coalition with the labour party who were on the rise trying to make things better for the working man.) And the SDP, a breakaway ftom the labour party who thought it was too left under Michael Foot. The Lib Dems built themselves up to over 60 seats in 2005, and this success was twofold.

Firstly, they had built a following of liberal Conservatives in the south and mobilised the labour tactical vote well in many areas to keep the tories out.

Secondly, in traditional Labour heartlands they appealed to disillusioned Labour voters who felt Blair had taken the party too far to the right, picked up a number of protest voters from Labour with their repeated rhetoric on the ‘illegal war in Iraq’, won the student vote with talk of tuition fees and mobilised the tactical tory vote to “keep Labour out”.

What does this have to do with their downfall

In 2010 the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government with the Conservatives. One of the first things they did in that government break a pledge they’d made on raising tuition fees. These two things meant that instantly they’d lost the student vote for 2015 and the traditional Labour vote who’d voted tactically, as a protest or because they felt Labour were too far to the right were likely to go too.

2015

When the election came strange things happened. I like in Leeds NW, predicted to be a Lib Dem / Labour marginal, even a three way marginal. Although the sitting LD MP had a 10000+ majority in 2010. The tories didn’t name their candidate until nominations were due to be handed in. They didn’t campaign and an analysis of the general election results against the local election results show masses of tory voters voted LD. A similar story was seen in Sheffield Hallam and other Lib Dem / Labour marginals.

In neighbouring Pudsey, a Conservative / Labour marginal the reverse happened. The Lib Dems didn’t campaign and a local vs general analysis showed LD tactically voting Tory.

I’m sure the Tories are quire happy with the way the deal panned out, but I’d wager the Lib Dems didn’t felt the same when the Conservative machine steamrollered them in the South as the Labour tactical vote deserted them.

So can they recover?

I think it will be tough for them to recover in the traditional Labour areas. A lot will depend on the new Labour leader and the direction that party takes, but it is currently difficult to imagine a recovery there, or in Scotland.

In the south, however, they maybe able to make some ground. There’s no doubt that they reined Cameron back during the coalition, and I think when the tactical voters see the true face of Cameronist Conservatism they may find it in them to vote LD again to keep the Tories out. I think the LDs should have focused more on this in the campaign, their southern wipe out may not have happened. I feel it wasn’t shouted as much as it should have been due to the need to appeal to Tory voters in seats like Leeds NW and Sheffield Hallam.

A lot will rest on their own new leader. They need to distance themselves from the worst of coalition, and celebrate the successes they had in stopping Cameron. I’d assume that Tim Fallon is the candidate to do this. I think that their rebuilding process will be long, and that it won’t happen in the Labour heartland, so they should focus their efforts on regaining the Labour tactical vote and “Keeping the tories out”.