Who would have thought after the 2017 General Election that just two years later the appeal of the magic Grandpa would have almost totally disappeared? The European elections were clearly a total disaster for the Tories who now have only 3 MEPs but in some ways it was an even worse result for Labour. In elections which have a protest vote element the main opposition Party should benefit. In these elections the Labour Party fell back almost as much as the Tories.
Already as I have listened to the media this morning I have heard brave (or was it forlorn) voices from the Tory and Labour Parties saying how this was not a typical election and that many of the voters who came to the Lib Dems Greens and Brexit Party will revert to type and vote Labour and Tory again.
Inevitably there is an element in which that is true. The Brexit debate focussed on just that one issue. Behind that there were other concerns relating to the way BREXIT would affect our NHS; employment; education; research and other major policy areas but there was very little real understanding of that in the so-called debate.
But some things suggest to me that the swing back will not be as pronounced as the Labour and Tory Parties hope.
Firstly, there is a clear dissatisfaction with Corbyn outside the cult operation he has built to take over what used to be a democratic socialist Party. We all met person after person who are appalled by his behaviour. These ranged from 70 years old who told us that they had voted Lib Dem almost in tears as it was the first time that they had not voted Labour in 50+ years. Equally, we were told by first time and second time voters that they would never vote Labour whilst Corbyn was the Leader as they felt that his equivocation had sold their future within a strong Europe down the river.
We know that the way people cast their first vote often stays with them for most of their life.
Secondly, look at the places that we did best in. These were largely the places where from the 60’s to 2010 we moved the Party vote forward step by step. In 2015 and then 2017 they deserted at the General Election with our number of councillors going down by more than 50% between 2010 and 2015. Now we have had two elections in three weeks where they have come back to the Party in just one big and sudden step. This suggests to me that they were always natural Lib Dems who had voted against us because of the coalition. Now they are back with us and really consider us to be their natural home.
The angst over the coalition years is over. The only people that mention it now are people who would never, ever have voted for us anyway. People have either realised what Nick and Clegg and Co. prevented from happening or clearly understand that the coalition which has prevailed between Corbyn and May will be far more damaging than anything that the Tory/Lib Dem coalition had done.
Thirdly, people were telling us why they were voting for us rather than giving us the reasons they were voting against someone else. Europe seemed to be the cornerstone of a number of other policies which meant that those who voted for us, and to a lesser extent the Greens. People who have either been in or voted for Parties and who considered themselves to be liberal realised that there was no place for them in either Tory or Labour Parties. Anything that can get both Lord Heseltine and Alistair Campbell in a polling booth to vote Lib Dem presages a more lasting shift in political thinking.
So, what next for the three main political Parties:
The Tory Party do have a plan B but there is little sign that it is a realistic one. It doesn’t matter who gets elected as Leader by the cardigan wearing, grey haired, white pensioners who make up the vast majority of the Tory Party membership because to get elected they will have to lie about what is achievable. They will say that they can renegotiate a deal or that they will leave without one. Neither of these positions is deliverable.
The Labour Party do not have a plan B. Come to think of it they don’t even have a plan A! Logic says that the Magic Grandpas has to go but as with the Tories there is no obvious successor for him. Interestingly though the voices being raised this morning suggest that linking a deal with a People’s vote on that deal seem to be getting stronger.
The Lib Dems are having a Leadership election for the right reasons! Vince has done so well for us but knows it is time to let someone younger take over. But we too have lessons to learn. How will we relate to Change UK? They are a Party that has blundered into and through existence. They have made many mistakes but many of the people they have attracted are good people; people that our society needs in places of influence and authority. The possibility is that we will now ignore them as failures but that, I think, would be wrong, we need to talk to them and work out how we can work together.
We also have to be much clearer about our Green credentials. Lib Dems have delivered so much in both local and national Government (yes inside that much-maligned coalition) that we should be proud of. Too often we have failed to show how radical, yet deliverable, our environmental policies are.
I’m looking forward to the Lib Dem leadership election. It will be courteous; policy and idea based and will show up the best of liberalism both for old hacks like me and the 70% of our members who were not members just 4 years ago.
I’ve always been proud to be an active liberal exercising that liberality between either the Liberal or now the Liberal Democratic Parties. But I’ve never been so proud as I was last night when we soared to a height absolutely unimaginable just 4 years ago.