I have written a series of articles, mostly in for the Spectator but sometimes elsewhere, about the state of the Lib Dems. I’ve written about what I think the party should do, what I think they will do, and what I think other parties need to be mindful of when it comes to the Liberal Democrats. There seems to be some confusion about what I believe to be the case, with some accusations thrown at me for being supposedly inconsistent. This, I believe, mostly comes down to people being confused between what I think WILL happen and what I think SHOULD happen, which are not the same things at all.
- I believe the only space for the Lib Dems is roughly Orange Book shaped.
I know the word “Orange Book” is instantly emotive in Lib Dem circles, but what I really mean to say here is that the Lib Dems’ available electorate is made up of mostly middle-class people in the “yellow halo” around London. St Albans is a classic of this kind that is actually held by the party at present. Remainers who are vaguely centre-right in their politics; people who would never vote Labour but have certainly voted Tory in the past and might do so again if someone less odious than Boris Johnson became leader.
Now, yes, it so happens I would like the Lib Dems to be this kind of party myself. Having said that, I’m so fed up with British politics, I would like any party that was vaguely decent and had a broadly okay vision of the future. Whether that was a little to the right or a little to the left of my “perfect” politics, I wouldn’t mind. So, I don’t describe the shape the Lib Dems can take as being Orange Bookish simply because I want the Lib Dems to be like that, but because I actually, genuinely believe it is the only place for the party to go that will not result in their annihilation. I do not believe that hoards of young, left-leaning voters will vote Lib Dem again unless something drastic happens – loads of Labour far left figures visibly joining or something very formal agreed with the Greens that was borderline merger.
2. I said the Lib Dems WOULD merge with the Greens
I even said this was inevitable. However, I don’t think it will happen anytime particularly soon. If it is going to happen it might as well happen now, when the Lib Dems are on what is probably going to be a relative high of local seats and activists – a hangover from summer 2019, essentially – but given the nature of both parties, any merger will not happen until both parties are crushed almost completely, which I figure will take another five to a dozen years to see through. Getting this straight: I think a merger between the Lib Dems and the Greens WILL happen (although not for a while) but I think it’s kind of a bad idea all round (I’m not saying it SHOULD happen).
3. I said that the Lib Dems SHOULD chuck it all in and join Labour
Actually, specifically what I said is that unless the Lib Dems are interested in carving a realistic niche out in British politics in which they are not any closer to one party than another, and instead of that they will always prefer a Labour government to any other realistic other option, then they should just join Labour as an entity a bit like the Co-Op grouping. I still believe this to be the case. Weirdly, this has caused some people to label me a Tory (more on this in a bit), which is odd because the Lib Dems merging into Labour would make a Tory win at the next election way less likely. Getting this straight: I do not think Labour should “take over” the Lib Dems. That would be weird. What I said was that the Lib Dems should melt into Labour of their own free will if what they want is a Labour government – which is what both leadership contenders keep saying they want.
I have also said very recently that I think Labour should be careful about the price the Lib Dems are saying they will want to extract in order for there to be a Labour prime minister after the next election, should Labour be the largest party in a hung parliament. This is not inconsistent with saying the Lib Dems should melt into Labour; if they were part of the Labour Party, the problem I highlight – that the Lib Dems would demand PR – goes away.
4. I am not a Tory
Trust me, the easiest thing in the universe for me to do would be to become a Tory and announce it to the world. I would have the protection of the whole of the right; there are any number of vocational opportunities that would arise quickly for me; I would take my place in the Tory ecosystem, which is a pretty cosy looking place to be. I haven’t done this because I’m not in fact a Tory. More to the point, I detest Brexit more than ever and think Boris Johnson is one of the worst if not the worst prime minister ever. Actually, even more to the point, not being Tory enough has actually cost me some concrete opportunities in the past few years.
Instead, the thing I have advocated more than anything over the last few months has been a Starmer-led Labour government, with a few caveats (if the progression he has made since becoming leader continues, essentially). I know some people like to throw around the word “Tory” like it’s an insult – I don’t feel insulted when someone calls me a Tory. I know and love a great number of Tories; in fact, career-wise, Tories have been more helpful to me than anyone else (again, this is why becoming a Tory would be very useful to me!). But I do feel like calling me a Tory is a way of avoiding my actual arguments, which is irritating. I know when I say mean things about the Lib Dems, the easiest thing to reach for is “he’s a Tory” – except, when I’m saying that I’ll vote for the Labour Party at the next general election instead of the Lib Dems, this doesn’t actually make a whole lot of sense.
To recap: I think the Lib Dems should accept that their available electorate is Home Counties Remainers who liked the Coalition. Since it’s clear they aren’t going to do that, I think they should melt into Labour. Since I know they aren’t going to do that, I reckon at some point a Lib Dem-Green merger is on the cards; yet given the impractical nature of both sets of activists, this merger will not happen until both parties are much smaller and thus much more desperate than they are now, making the merger mostly meaningless and ineffective. That’s what I have said and whether you agree or disagree with some or all of it, nothing in there is inconsistent with any other part of it. If you’re going to have a go at something I said, go for it – but at least take on my actual arguments.
I have a book out now called “Politics is Murder”. It follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. There is also a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters thrown into the mix while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!