By common bubble consent, Labour have had the best start to the election campaign. The Tories seem to have not got started yet, either tactically or accidentally; the Lib Dems have been a little wobbly out of the gate, but nothing even close to the magnitude of “homosexuality is a sin”, so plenty of time to get better. Meanwhile Labour have managed to make the early campaign about non-Brexit stuff, just as they wanted. They were handed a gift in the form of Trump calling into Nigel Farage’s show and suggesting that a Boris-Nigel “dream team” would be the ideal governing pair for the country, but still, I have to hand it to Labour’s campaigning team for getting the best of the first week.
All this means very little. Six weeks is an eternity in campaigning terms, as we found out in 2017, when at this point in the whole thing, the Tories looked unbeatably ahead of everyone. I think there are things to take away, however. The Lib Dems aren’t doing the one thing they need to do in order to give themselves a fighting chance of halting a Tory majority and getting 50+ seats: they haven’t taken on the Johnson Brexit deal at all yet.
This is key to Lib Dem success in GE 2019 for several reasons. One, selling his Brexit deal is the cornerstone of Johnson’s bid to gain a parliamentary majority. The Lib Dems cannot count on Labour to do this as they will avoid talking about Brexit as much as they can possibly get away. They might have been able to rely on the Brexit Party for some of the heavy lifting here, but they have been punishingly crap thus far, so bad it’s hard to see them coming back. The BXP folk are either doing this intentionally or because they actually really do just suck. Either way, this is all on the Lib Dems now.
It is key to the Lib Dems’ fortunes because so much of their potential vote will be people in Tory-Lib marginals who will be thinking along the following lines right now: I just want Brexit to be over and done with. Boris’ deal sounds like it has problems, but at least it finishes Brexit and we can start to talk about other things. Besides, I worry that a vote for the Lib Dems will let Corbyn into Number 10. The Lib Dems have worked on defeating the last point (well, I’d say), but they are avoiding how important breaking down the first portion of the thought is to their campaign.
It’s so important because if you can debunk the myths around Boris’ deal in simple terms, you can probably swing enough of these voters round to lending the Lib Dems their vote (I think the Lib Dems should even use the word “lend us your vote” in messaging). The Lib Dems don’t need to re-invent the wheel either: they can attack the Johnson Brexit deal using the tried and trusted “CCF” model: Cost, complexity, fear.
Watch how easy this is.
Cost – the deal will cost the British taxpayer £39 billion, for which we get nothing other the chance to go into transition – in which nothing will change, not Freedom of Movement, not fishing and agriculture; we are basically still in the EU, just with no say. £39 billion. For absolutely nothing. Say it over and over again, Lib Dems. Put it on the side of a bus if you have to.
Complexity – the Boris Brexit deal does not mean we leave the EU in any meaningful sense. We will be in transition for years and years and years, during which nothing changes and the EU hold all the cards. A new trade deal with the EU is estimated to take eight years – just imagine the idea that are we not even a third of the way through the Brexit nightmare yet. It will even get worse from here as the trade negotiations begin.
Fear – With a Tory majority, Boris will be unrestrained in his next move. He will get his withdrawal bill through parliament – and then we will have less than a year to get a new deal with the EU. We almost certainly won’t – which means that we have every chance of crashing out with no deal as we will no longer have a parliament that will be able to stop this. It will be up to Boris – do you trust Boris with this decision?
This is the most important element of the whole Lib Dem campaign, I reckon. They need to start talking about it and getting their lines straight now. Get it right and a lot of seats start to look in play. Get it wrong and it could be a disaster for the party. Most general election campaigns end in brutal disappointment for the Lib Dems – don’t let it happen this time. The country is actually counting on you guys this time round.