Why Labour party members should consider becoming Lib Dems in 2019
In recent times a number of debates within the council of the Social Liberal forum, of which I am a member, have turned as much on where the Labour party as well as our parent party the Liberal Democrats is heading. Extrapolating from these as a Liberal Democrat I am bound to ask whether, given the current crisis of leadership within and support for Brexit by the latter (with which 88% of Labour’s members appear not to agree), there is scope for some and possibly even a great number of Labour activists either to join the Liberal Democrats or to set up a new centre party which they in their turn may then want to invite others to participate in.
Inevitably a short essay like this will be accused of opportunism or, worse, being no more than cheap party-political propaganda. It isn’t intended to be either. Whilst I am – since 1981 – a near-lifelong Liberal or Liberal Democrat it was my voluntary opting-in to this, the Social Liberal forum, which by its very nature attempts to bring together/assimilate adherents of more than one political grouping, which prompted me to put it here in print. Whilst I would clearly like to see the Liberal Democrats grow from their current modest base of eleven MPS and a few hundred councillors I can also see greater or equally great gains for the country in the emergence of any new centre party comprising initially those with solid representative or campaigning experience at any level but representing that large swathe of ‘middle England’ at present without any voice in the Westminster legislature on account of the Brexit debacle. This is that very same establishment we thought of until recently as the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’!
Why should any Labour party member still think of joining the Liberal Democrats? We can well understand the sense many of them may have had, especially during the Coalition years, of having been ‘stung’ i.e. we asked them often to lend us their vote in Conservative-facing seats where Lib Dems were in first- or second-place in 2010 and other years, promising greater social equality only to facilitate the raising of student tuition fees, introduction of the bedroom tax and attempts to protect ‘hard-working families’ vis-à-vis migrants who may in fact have been far more desperate. Here still, however, ‘methinks the lady doth protest too much’; such prospective tactical voters were never invite at the time either to join our party or even to campaign for us; merely to help us part-neutralise the far greater threat to a more healthy society of open –ended Conservative market capitalism, something which to an extent the Coalition govt did in fact achieve. Yet let’s not dwell on years during which many social liberals were also just as offended by the ways in which economic liberalism invariably seemed to trump its social counterpart at national level.
Instead let’s look at the present where things may soon become very different. For who exactly is speaking up for equality now? Not Theresa May nor, manifestly, Jeremy Corbyn; but neither are there many (or any) ‘Orange-bookers’ such as David Laws or Danny Alexander in key influential positions within the Lib Dems either. The future of centre-stage political Britain, for which there has almost never been a greater need, is more a wide-open than either a blue, red, green, yellow –or even orange – book. Many countrywide discussions have taken place, including some led by the late Paddy Ashdown, others allegedly by Tony Blair or Chukka Umunna, without the general public being very much the wiser regarding their outcome. However the truth is that the United Kingdom cannot continue with either its only anti-Brexit, broadly centrist party, the Liberal Democrats, remaining as weak as it is while its larger competitor for many of the same voters cannot decide whether it is a) pro- or anti-EU, b) socialist or social democratic, or c) responsible in the sense of being fit for government or merely populist.
In the larger interests of British democracy per se one must earnestly hope that the Labour party can make up its mind on all these issues – but also others such as welfare, state education, energy policy and public transport – and as early as possible during 2019.
Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats continue to develop essentially balanced and credible policy which – on issues such as migration, welfare, housing, transport etc is, I would say, sufficiently radical to attract any currently-mesmerised (otherwise) Labour attractee. Almost irrespective of where he or she sits on the political spectrum at this present critical time.
Please do at least speak to us through the Social Liberal forum; or think of beginning a new party of your own; or even do consider what you yourself could do to help to transform our existing party into what could become your own natural home a truly revitalised, well-led and equality - conscious Liberal Democrats.
Neil Hughes is a county councillor in Cumbria, has stood several times for Parliament and is a national council member of the Social Liberal forum.