The old saying about opera is, “It’s not over until the Fat Lady sings’. In this case it’s Tony Blair doing the singing!
As Tony Blair said yesterday the election really is over. There is no realistic chance of Labour winning the 2017 General Election or the 2022 one for that matter. Labour are losing ground in Wales where they might lose half their seats; in Scotland; where they might lose their last one and in England where any Labour MP with a majority of less than 5,000 is almost certain to lose.
So the likely outcome is:
- A large Tory majority
- A much reduced number of Labour MPs
- A better but not massive number of Lib Dem MPs
- 1 Green
- UKIP totally losing all over the Country
- Plaid Cymru about the same
- SNP losing a handful of seats.
This is not fanciful thinking but an intelligent assessment by the pollsters, Tony Blair and others about what is happening in the Country. It also corresponds to what we are being told on the doorstep. I have been our canvassing in Wavertree, Church and Childwall wards in the past few weeks. Labour members, never mind Labour voters, are telling me that they are in a quandary.
They don’t like Corbyn and are not happy that the view of their Party has been to support, in Parliament, a hard Brexit. Labour having thrown the towel in during the last session of Parliament are now talking about trying to negotiate a better deal. Too bloody late. What they announced earlier this week is totally meaningless. It is a fudge that isn’t edible!
The civil war in the Labour Party is not over. When two former Leaders and two current MPs go on the media to say that Corbyn is a vote loser; when Peter Mandelson says he hasn’t a clue what Labour EU policy is and when Labour MPs are desperate to disassociate themselves from the main Party and especially the Leader the war has more to play. Indeed the snap General Election has saved the bacon for some of the anti Corbynites. They will be fighting their seat again because Momentum has been kept out of local contests by automatic reselection. There will not be a happy and contented parliamentary party.
So if the General Election is not about the Government what is it about? Well to my mind it is about who will form an effective opposition.
I have been incredibly proud of the 9 Lib Dem MPs and 100+ peers who have provided more opposition than the entire massed ranks of the Labour Party. Not only on the issue of Brexit but also on things like benefits for the most needy where Labour MPs and Peers have sat on their hands. Their behaviour has been shameful. They now tell us that in the manifesto they will oppose these matters. The horse has bolted already you muppets.
So with possibly 10 years before a new none-Tory Government can be formed people from the centre left should be looking at two things:
In the short term they should be asking which Party will be best able to hold the Tories to account not only about the EU but on a range of other policies. Divided Parties spend their time looking inwards. They are fearful of taking on their opponents because they are worried about what their competition may be doing. Lib Dems have a very clear view on the main issues that the Country is facing and will be able to challenge the Tories in a way that Labour cannot.
In the medium term they should be asking which people from which Parties will be able to come together to rebuild a new vision for the Country and an organisation to deliver it.
You may say that that is what people who are calling for a progressive alliance are asking for. Let everyone else gang up on the Tories and UKIP to defeat them. The problem with that is that most of the Labour Party and especially the Corbynites are not progressive. They hanker for a day long dead of big businesses, big plants, big unions. In many ways they have the same destination in mind as UKIP – the 1950s! Many, if not all, the Greens are economically illiterate.
In some constituencies it is possible because of the nature of the people there to not compete in the short-term. Certainly I believe that it is right to give Caroline Lucas a clear run in Brighton.
So what we need is a coming together of people who share, at minimum, the following ideals:
- A strong view on internationalism; our role in the World and our relationship with the rest of Europe.
- A belief in the need to grow trade but reasonably constrain it so that it works for all;
- A strong view on the need to defend and improve our environment.
- A taxation and benefits policy which recognises the needs of those who cannot, for whatever reason, fully compete in our society.
These are clearly liberal virtues but not all liberals are in the Liberal Democrats. I can think of Tory and Labour MPs and Councillors who would share the same basic philosophy. What has stopped us coming together is our roots. But those roots should no longer stop us coming together to face the challenges of the future.
Having been in my Party for 50 years I am reluctant to see it change too much. BUT if a new form or a new way enabled us to bring together all those who believe in the above ideals then I would make that sacrifice.
But those decisions and discussions are for post June 9th. When the dust settles and we have had a little break from the election we need to consider whether we can take a big break from the past and talk openly and honestly with each other about a future free from the tribalism that has stopped us coming together for decades.