Instead of ridiculing Britain’s third force, Keir Starmer’s party should learn from history and co-operate with the next Lib Dem leaderby Ian Kearns / July 17, 2020 / Leave a comment
We’ve heard the jokes. It’s unfair of the government to say people can meet in groups of six: how are the Liberal Democrats expected to meet such a high threshold? Or, when physical meetings are allowed again the Lib Dems are expected to ignore the one-metre plus rule: members will be instructed to spread out to make meetings look full!
Such banter is understandable. It’s hard for a third party at national level to grow and make itself heard in a first-past-the-post-system. Even harder if it makes mistakes and isn’t as well organised as it should be, like it was last December. But for anyone who wishes to rid the country of Conservative rule, such banter is dangerous. It propagates the idea of Lib Dem irrelevance when the party’s performance at the next election is likely to be anything but.
The recently-published Labour internal review of that party’s own drubbing explains why. Labour now needs a swing of 1997 landslide proportions simply to become the largest party. To gain a majority of one it needs to add 123 MPs, which would mean increasing its parliamentary representation by 60 per cent—something that no major party has ever done in the post-war era. It must deliver these results in a context in which it has only one MP in Scotland, and any fight back there must start from third place, behind both the SNP and the Conservatives. Worse, Labour has to put a lot of energy into defence: 58 of its current seats being vulnerable to a small swing to the Tories. A Labour majority next time, then, may not be impossible but nor is it even remotely likely.
In that context, the fact that the Liberal Democrats came second to the Conservatives in 80 seats in England is significant. And if the party can be revitalised enough to win dozens of them, the chances of removing the Tories from office will massively increase.
This does not, as some seem desperate to suggest, mean the Lib Dems and Labour should simply jump into bed together. Despite the scale of its challenge, Labour is not yet ready to accept it cannot win alone. And mistrust…