One thing that we can say for certain is that politics will not be as tense in 2020 as it has been for the past 2 years. For the whole of that period the Parties have been on an almost permanent alert for a General Election. Many things will happen in Parliament and in Council Chambers. There will be lots of policy to be discussed and lots of opportunities to pursue politics but not with the threat of a General Election hanging over us.
I see loads of opportunities for the Lib Dems in the coming year but as many of those will be created for us by the shortcomings of the other Parties, I am starting with them and will thereafter discuss how best the Lib Dems can take advantage of them.
The Tories now seem to be on cloud 9. Their dreams have come true and they are a majority government and a good majority at that. In theory they are in place not for one Parliament for two so that for 10 years Johnson and a likely successor could be lording it over us. In pure seats terms that is undoubtedly true but there are three issues that will haunt the Tories over the next few years:
- Their vacuous manifesto but overstated promises at the General Election. Their manifesto can be dismissed as little more than a pamphlet backed up by lies. Somehow, however, they managed to make a lot of promises. They would put more money into education, the NHS, social care, transport, the North of England – in fact you name it and they gave promises that have already been shown to be false.
Just take the nurses. 40,000 more nurses except that 19,000 wouldn’t be new but retained instead of leaving! So that’s 21,000 more then but where will they come from. It takes 3+ years to get a nurse fully onto the wards and up to 7 to get them fully proficient into a specialism. So, for most of the next 7 years if things go well, we will be training nurses and not fully deploying them. Ok if they put the money in, they can recruit them from abroad. Well there’s a problem. They cannot do that because of their immigration policy especially vis a vis Europe!
The money, however, won’t be there for this or any other purpose. The economy will go into a slow but steady decline which means that none of the promises to spend more can be achieved.
- The areas that they now represent. They have taken seats in parts of the North that they have never had to think of before. The MPs for those areas and the people that they represent will expect a payback. Tories have always given more money to the Tory shires of the South East, East and South West. Now what little money that will be available will be spread much more thinly. It will satisfy no-one.
- The people that they now are. Almost all the one nation Tories have walked. There are a few left in the Party but there is now a huge rift between them and the other two groups that now fit into the Tory pig-pen. The Rees-Moggs of this world who are contemptuous of the Chavs and the Chavs of this world who are contemptuous of the Rees-Moggs! Many of the new MPs fall easily into the Chav barrel. For a while they will be amazed by the wonder of Parliament. Then the shades will drop from their eyes and there will be class warfare within the Tory Party
What then of the Labour Party? Will their change of Leader bring them new success? It hardly seems likely.
One the one hand we have the Corbynites grouping behind Rebecca Wrong Daily and her mini-me Richard Burgon. I understand that they are both lawyers of some sort which makes me despair of the legal profession. They are quite convinced that Labour won the arguments and that the only thing that stopped them winning was that people voted the wrong way!
They cannot accept that Corbyn was the most unpopular Leader of the Opposition since records began. They believe that people would really have liked their 1950s style manifesto if only had the right wing press not scared them off. Dream on! It was quite clear on the doorstep that people disliked the manifesto and Corbyn in equal measures. In places like Liverpool many people voted Labour with a peg on their nose.
On the other hand, we have the pragmatic, sensible middle of the road Labour MPs who seem to be rallying under the slightly off pink banner of Keir Starmer. Starmer is someone who the Lib Dems could work with (that’s lost him a few votes in the leadership election!) but is not a credible figure to regain the Northern losses. He is clearly a member of the London chattering, middle class elite. It took a Neil Kinnock to prepare the ground for Tony Blair. Starmer is no Kinnock.
Whoever wins the election a large part of the Party will not like the outcome. My guess is that the hard left will win because they have such a commanding control of the Party machinery. If that is so then they will continue to be the Corbyn grouping and the democratic socialists will have to come to a conclusion about whether the Labour Party could ever again be one that they could support or be a member of.
For the next four months Labour thoughts will be internal and for the next four years Labour actions will be based on control of the Party.
So, what of the Liberal Democrats and how will we take advantage of the fracas in the other Parties? The way ahead will not be easy for us. We will have our own challenges of having a small Parliamentary Party and some of our members who joined us for one reason only will leave us. We need to have our own debate about why we threw away the huge advances and popularity of the first 10 months of 2019.
I believe that we will have this debate in a friendly and liberal way. Our Party is not like the other Parties because we are much more familial and collegiate.
We need to concentrate on two things:
- Making our policy much more fit for purpose. This does not mean creating more policy but on using our policy more effectively. We have to be far clearer about how we get our policy across to people. Of course, we need to continue to use Focus and other door step tools but we need to be far cleverer than that.
We need to talk housing to housing people; and education to education people; and health to health people. We have concentrated for the past 50 years on the community that people live in but we are all part of many other communities. The communities we work in; the community we travel with; the community of parents; the communities of age; the communities of gender. We need to focus on them and find new ways of getting our messages across.
This will involve us listening more and talking less. If we were to pin all our hopes now on an immediate policy of trying to re-join the EU we will take our Party down one long cul-de-sac. We need to talk to the electorate about the issues that they care about and not the issues that we care about.
- In case anyone thinks I am going soft the last paragraph does not mean that we stop doing the door knocking and in your face stuff! As politics gets nastier the people who will come through it relatively unblemished are the politicians that people see every day in their streets and on their door steps. So, we still need to be out there gaining respect, taking up issues and garnering support.
There is no easy way forward for Lib Dems but there can be a steady way forward in which we become a small granite rock to which others, both members of other Parties who share our issues and voters who realise that neither of the other Parties really cares for the whole Country and the everyday concerns of the men and women of the UK, can swim to.
I believe that 2020 will be a year of consolidation for our Party. Under the trusted leadership, most likely of Ed Davey, we will review our policies, people and practices. That review will mean that we make continued advances in local elections which will presage greater advances in subsequent General Elections. Some lucky by-elections and stolid progress will be the order of the day for 2020 and 2021.