The almost impossible has happened. The left wing rebel MP, Jeremy Corbyn, has been elected to lead the Labour Party. From being an absolute outsider, Corbyn has seen a huge surge in support over recent weeks that has been so great, that he won Labour’s leadership election in the first round. Labour now has its most left wing leader since Michael Foot. Despite Tony Blair’s ability to win elections, he failed to provide many people with hope or social justice. It’s this disillusionment and mistrust of Blairism that fuelled Corbyn’s victory. But how should the Liberal Democrats respond to the Corbyn victory?

If Corbyn is successful in moving Labour to the left, it’ll be the first time in a generation that the entire Liberal Democrats are less left wing than the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats are not a socialist party, we are a liberal party. The distinctive philosophies of democratic socialism and social liberalism will naturally find areas of both agreement and conflict. Liberal Democrats must oppose some of Corbyn’s more left wing policies such as leaving NATO, re-nationalising the energy companies and re-opening the coal mines. In addition, there is some doubt as to whether Corbyn is a pro-European or whether he harbours some of the Euroscepticism of the traditional Old Labour Party.

Although there are some areas of strong disagreement between Jeremy Corbyn and the Liberal Democrats, there is no point in opposing Corbyn for opposition’s sake. The Liberal Democrats could find room for cooperation with Corbyn on policies such as housing, opposing Trident and opposing the welfare cuts. Ultimately, Britain’s progressive parties must work together to oppose Tory policies and to deprive the Conservatives of a majority in 2020.

There will be some in the Liberal Democrats who will believe that the party should return to the centrist position that it adopted during the general election. However just because Labour now has a socialist leader, it doesn’t mean that the centrist strategy that failed only a few months ago will now magically work. In fact quite the opposite is true. The Liberal Democrats are now the only political force left in England to defend centre-left values. Now that Labour is moving away from the centre-left, we in the Liberal Democrats must take advantage of this opportunity and embrace our centre-left liberal heritage. 

We Liberal Democrats must reclaim our position as the party of progressive welfare capitalism. We can achieve this by becoming the party of cooperatives and small businesses on the one hand, and the party of Beveridge’s welfare state and Keynesianism on the other. We should have a social liberal economic platform distinctive from Corbyn’s statist socialism and Cameron’s Thatcherism.

With Tim Farron leading the Liberal Democrats and Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party, both parties now have the breathing space to develop their distinctive progressive political philosophies. The revival of liberalism and socialism will enrich our democracy in the face of an increasingly ideological Conservative Party. Where Liberal Democrats disagree with Corbyn, we must oppose him. Where we agree with him, we must work together. Above all, liberalism must reclaim the centre-left; the recovery of the Liberal Democrats depends upon it.

Showing 8 reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Seems to me this debate (and I mean the one on this site) has become an example of two groups of people standing looking past one another and attacking what the others haven’t said.

    I broadly agree with Paul. Where Corbyn is wrong, we mustn’t pull our punches. Where he agrees with us, we show willingness to co-operate. Yes, the Labour Party is a competitor, one I spent most of my time on the frontline fighting, but we’re both in opposition and to co-operate with Labour on specific issues provided they’re willing to treat us as partners, is definitely NOT to become an adjunct of Labour. Under Blairism, there were some civil liberties issues where we found common ground with the Tories, expecially Dominic Grieve. It would be irresponsible for us not to explore whether there are issues where Labour would co-operate with us and with voluntary non-party organisations without (as they tend to do) trying to make it purely a “Labour campaign”. Nine or ten more years of this kind of Toryism would be an utter disaster for those we represent.

    It seemed to me Tim got it pretty much right when he attacked the irresponsible impracticality of some Labour policies rather than implying that we’d again define ourselves as sitting in the middle, even if sometimes the middle is the right place.
  • Broadly agree with Paul’s analysis from where I sit in Cheltenham. Agree oppose leaving NATO, or re-opening coal mines – though I haven’t hear Corbyn say that – those ideas are batty and dangerous. But for goodness sake don’t slag Corbyn off, I can tell you that loads of non-labour members are being energised by this new brand of politics where people tell it like (they think in their eyes) it is. Only today one of OUR supporters said I want to see politicians who are not clones, bring solutions and say what they think. Quite a lot of people want to renationalise the railways, maybe utilities too. Our policies are not Corbyn policies and they don’t need to be BUT – Paul is quite right – the Liberal Democrats are now the only political force left in England to defend centre-left values, and independent polling supports that as the median position of most Lib Dems- so find the common ground with the Corbyn people and build a progressive anti-Tory alliance. (That needs nuancing if you’re in a Labour facing seat!).
  • I agree with Paul’s analysis. If anyone is tempted to try to occupy the ‘centre ground’ I hope they will resist it. We have tended to flourish, not when Labour and Tories are miles apart but actually when their policies/positioning are close or identical eg Hong Kong Passports in 1989; raising taxes in 2001; the Iraq war in 2003.We should go step by step, issue by issue with Corbyn’s Labour, rather than any blanket opposition stance (or approval for that matter).
  • Some in the party seem extremely eager to express support for Corbyn.

    I can’t say I understand why, but putting aside policy aside for a moment, these members seem to be forgetting that he was just elected leader of a political party with which we are in direct competition, and it profits us nothing to sing the praises of a competitor.Especially when the overlap in our agendas is patchy at best.

    It is not opposition for opposition’s sake. The Liberal Democrats are not an adjunct of Labour, and we must not act as though we are. It is the duty of any political party with an independent vision to challenge their political opponents, not support them.
  • As a recent defector to the Liberal Democrats from Labour, I am very much looking forward to meeting members who share my opposition to Corbyn’s plans to take the country back to the 1970s. We have to be the sensible centre-left party and provide credible opposition to the Tories, without having to resort to full-blooded socialism. We need to campaign to remain in the EU and NATO, push for wide-ranging constitutional reform, and ensure that our economy is strong enough to fund the public services that we all rely on.
  • Socialism is back on the table as a serious offer. This actually gives us another thing in common with the Conservatives – i.e. the duty to oppose it.
  • Social Liberal Forum posted about How The Liberal Democrats Should Respond to Jeremy Corbyn on Social Liberal Forum's Facebook page 2015-09-15 07:17:06 +0100
    Paul Hindley suggests how the Liberal Democrats should respond to Jeremy Corbyn
  • @soclibforum tweeted this page. 2015-09-15 07:17:02 +0100
    Paul Hindley suggests how the Liberal Democrats should respond to Jeremy Corbyn