Well there’s a headline that I didn’t foresee me writing just 4 weeks ago! True its only one poll but it’s by no means an outlier. A number of polls recently have shown Lib Dems moving up through the teens and Labour moving down through the teens.
Whether that is how it will quite turn out and who precisely gets a couple of percentage points more than the other is almost irrelevant. The fact is that consistently in poll after poll what were considered to be the two ‘main’ parties are getting less than 30% of the vote between them. This poll, which has the Tories at 9%, gives a 24% combined figure for both Her Majesty’s Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition.
These, of course, are polls for a European election. They are hugely distorted by the fact that the only real item on this agenda is Brexit and the way that Parties have handled it. The situation does not look much better for them in Westminster polls. In the last one that I have seen Labour have 24% and a lead over the Tories. Some of this, of course, will return to normal after the EU elections but the question that we should all be looking at is, “What does normal mean now?”
We can perhaps look to the local elections where the Tories lost 1,300+ councillors, Labour about 100 councillors and the big winners were the Lib Dems with 704 gains.
Last Sunday we canvassed in my own Church Ward. After a few minutes I knocked on a door and the lady behind said, “Wait a minute Councillor I want to show you my waste paper basket!” Now that’s not something I have ever been offered in 52 years of door knocking! I feared the worst and that she would show me our Party’s latest leaflet. In fact, she fished out her Labour Party membership card neatly cut up into three pieces. “that’s me gone after 18 years as a member and a lifetime as a voter. She will be voting Lib Dem next Thursday.
This is not an isolated incident. The Labour membership department put out a Tweet lately about how to dispose of your Labour membership card. “If you cut it up and put it on Twitter please don’t show the name and phone number of your membership secretary”, it plaintively asked. I have seen literals dozens of cut up Labour membership cards on my Twitter and even more saying, “Goodbye UK Labour I’m off to the Lib Dems”.
This is all fundamentally different to anything that I have seen before. The people leaving Labour noisily or quietly are the ones who sustain a Party and keep it moving. The people who knock on the doors; who do the canvassing; who make sure that candidates are selected properly; the people who raise the funds and brave the elements for their Party. Replacing them are flag wavers desperate to defend a totalitarian and corrupt regime in Venezuela or go on Anti- Israel marches. Their response to the problems facing our Country is nationalise although most of them have absolutely no recollection of how bad so many of the national industries were.
What they don’t understand but those leaving Labour do is that there will be no improvement in services if we leave the EU. It may well be that Corbyn will cut the national cake in a different way to avoid some of the tax evasion of both wealthy individuals and wealthy companies. Lib Dem would actually agree with some of the measures and, indeed, have already been leading the way on items like the gig economy. The problem will be that the cake will be considerably smaller if we leave the EU and there will be other problems too.
Labour oppose the free movement of Labour – just like their Tory mates. The restrictions already in place have led to a massive fall in the number of much needed doctors and nurses coming to the UK. We are 100,000 health professionals short and 100,000 care workers short. They are either not coming to the UK or have already returned home because they, like us, want to be able to plan their lives and decide for themselves where to settle and bring up a family.
At the other end of the labour market farmers are ploughing in crops because they cannot get the seasonal workers to actually pick them. There are job opportunities in Eastern England which could be filled by unemployed youngsters from the North. That would, of course, involve getting out of bed at 4 a.m. to work for little more than the minimum wage. It would be right to argue that the minimum wage should be increased. I think the level is much too low. But beware and plan for the consequences of that. One person’s pay rise is another person’s cost of living increase. Pay workers more and unless there are rapacious profits in the system, you will have to charge more for what they produce.
Lib Dems and Greens are gaining votes for two related reasons – bravery and consistency. When shortly after the referendum Vince Cable coined the term, “Exit from Brexit” and started the work which led to one million people marching through the streets of London he was derided as being out of touch and pursuing an impossible dream. He stuck to his position arguing that public opinion would come around once the enormity of the reality of Brexit dawned on people. He is absolutely right and has proved to be a magnificent and popular Leader.
Contrast that with Corbyn, the great ditherer. Labour haven’t had a consistent policy on the EU since the referendum. Even this week staring down the barrels of electoral ignominy one MP on Radio 4 said that Labour were basically a Remain Party while immediately after another said they were basically a Leave Party. Confused? So are they!
So, what does that mean in the long term. One of the things that I have to endure all my political life is absolute tribalism which drives many voters and therefore many votes. “Well I agree with you but I’ve always been Labour, my parents were Labour and so were theirs” has been given to me so many times but may well now be beginning to be broken.
In my ward a lot of Labour voters and indeed Members have voted Lib Dem for some time only to revert to Labour for national elections. This time many of the people I expected to move away from us as per usual are not doing so. Many of them will be voting Lib Dem twice in three weeks in a way that they never have before.
This, of course, is the view from Liverpool where we fight Labour and there are few who admit to being a Tory. However, in other Tory facing areas my colleagues are saying exactly the same thing about Tory members and voters. In this case only a handful of the more centrist one-Nation Tories are voting for us or joining us but they are certainly leaving the Tories behind in a way which may mean that they never go back.
I foresee a future in which the ‘First Past the Post’ system which is supposed to give us stable government because it depends on just two Parties being able to win will be broken. After all we have now had three General Elections in a row with no decisive victory. We move to an age of multi-Party politics and multi-Party Government. This means an enhanced role for extremists on the right and left but certainly a greater role for strong radical centralists such as the Lib Dems (but not Change UK which I think will soon disappear without a trace) in the Government of this Country.
In the meantime, I am back to delivering and door knocking today to ensure that here in the North West there is at least one strong Remain candidate is elected – Chris Davies of the Liberal Democrats.