This weekend, Layla Moran has set out her stall in terms of what her leadership of the Lib Dems would look like. Unsurprisingly, Layla plans to move the party to the left. Possibly, far to the left. “I will be more radical than Labour and I will be unapologetic about that,” she said. She ruled out ever working with the Tories again while leaving the door open for a Lib-Lab something or other. She wants to “fundamentally change how people perceive the Liberal Democrats”.
There is almost no way this course of action won’t result in total electoral annihilation for the Lib Dems. I just don’t see where the new seats are under this strategy, while I think pretty much everyone of them currently held by the party would be under threat. I have to concede that there is one way I could see it working, however. I can’t see what I’m about to lay out actually ever happening, for reasons I will go onto explain, but it’s not totally impossible. It would be the only conceivable way the Lib Dems don’t get wiped out as a parliamentary force if they move even further to the left than they are now.
Basically, the hard left of the Labour party would have to join the Lib Dems en masse. For this to happen, I reckon it would take all the most visible members of this clan in media terms, Owen Jones, Ash Sarkar, Zarb-Cousins, Bastani, to defect to the Lib Dems on the same day and make a really big deal in the media about having done so. While doing this, they would have to intimate that they have taken over the Lib Dems and that it is now a radical socialist vehicle that has very little in common with the old Liberal Democrats. The idea would be to communicate that the far left has essentially eaten the Lib Dems. This is the one thing that would probably get the target voters Layla wants so badly to think again about the party. Should this happen, the old right of the Lib Dems would be off for good but you would have a lot of new, young members. Also, the new influx would get along well with most of the remaining Lib Dem membership. A lot of what has separated the Corbynistas and the Lib Dem left over the past few years is down to little more than tribal loyalty and semantics. One calls what they want socialism, the other radical liberalism, but it all boils down to nationalising utilities and introducing UBI in the end. You can call that whatever you like.
Again, it is very difficult to see this mass defection happening, however, for loads of reasons. The first is the most simple: those people that I mentioned, Jones, Sarkar, et al, are Labourites with varying yet strong degrees of loyalty to the party. They are not going to flounce off just because the short term politics might make sense. The second point is, from their perspective anyhow, the short term politics don’t even make sense anyhow. As they saw when the other side of the Labour family tried to leave Labour for the Lib Dems, they would be departing from one highly structured, highly organised party to join another that is, sorry to say, a bit shambolic and extremely hollowed out in every sense. Third point: hatred of the Lib Dem has been a constant part of their lives for years. This is sort of an addendum to the first point, I realise, but does need to be spelled out separately – when you’ve spoken of a party as the enemy for many years, joining them would be a massive step, even if the plan is to change that party entirely. The fourth and final point is that the hard left of Labour think they have a good shot at getting the Labour party back after the next election anyhow. Once Starmer fails, which they all figure he will, they can reassert themselves. Just bide their time and they can have the big prize back again.
Layla Moran and Lib Dems of her political persuasion just cannot grasp how much the left hates their party. The coalition years happened, whether they like it or not. And unless some very visible part of the left joins them en masse, I don’t see how they have any hope of getting those voters back again any time within the next couple of decades at least.
I have a new book out now. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and 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. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
It’s available here:
Dave Chapman says
‘Bout twenty-five years ago or so, a Cruise Liner in the Med suffered a catastrophic fire. it was abandoned. The night before she sank, a BBC reporter said of it ‘It’s still burning, listing and taking on water. There is now no crew left on board. Nobody knows what will happen to it next’. And I thought, ‘It’s going to bloody sink, you idiot’.
I think that’s where the LibDems are approaching now. Not exactly there, but have reached a point where no return is clearly visible. I don’t vote for the LibDems for the two main factors I’ve discussed with you before. I diametrically disagree with PR and I do not wish to see the UK in the EU. However, in terms, with the state of the other two parties, the LibDems ought to be in a far better place. It’s not all down to the voting system and Rupert Murdoch\The Daily Mail. That doesn’t explain how in Parliament, the only football game LibDem MPs could play is five-a-side.
I look upon the party with a small indolent curiosity. Like a small boy who returns daily to the top of the garden to lift a stone to see if that small creature still lives under it. The Hobhouse manifesto I read, I think it’s the only one. It sounds to me (I could be wrong) that Moran’s ambitions are in a similar vein. I’m not sufficiently interested to look into it. She may become LibDem leader. She will not be a Prime Minister and her policies will not be those of a LibDem Government. If anything, Davey presents even less of an impressive figure to me. However, I think you’re right about their leftwards inclination to be informally linked to the extreme left of the Labour Party.
Looking at LibDem Voice, it’s clear the recent report into the 2019 GE defeat was a waste of time. It’s gone over most members, through them, below them, but hasn’t impacted in any strategic sense. They still have a tendency to speak among themselves about themselves and resent the remotest suggestion that their party could get anything wrong in policy or principle stance.
It’s exceptionally rare I might ever suggest this Nick but on this occasion I’ll take the plunge. I think it’s time for you to jump ship. Maybe the SDP or the remaining Liberal Party, but I suggest to you the LibDems are beyond repair, and don’t even want to be repaired. They’re too happy losing as they are.
William Francis says
You esstenially saying that the Lib Dems can’t rebuild using the more or less same stragtey the old Liberal party used in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Dave Chapman says
‘it’s clear the recent report into the 2019 GE defeat was a waste of time.’
William Francis says
Where in the report does it say that people reject the Lib Dems because they thought they were too left-wing?
Dave Chapman says
Don’t blame FPTP when you get wiped out.
William Francis says
“Don’t blame FPTP when you get wiped out.”
We survived the early 1950s.
We survived the fallout of the coalition.
You think you threats mean anything?
We have lived on the edge for decades at a time, and we are still here.
The phoenix says
Let’s get this right
The Liberal party went hard right under your mate Nick Clegg
An ideological assault on the public sector that even Thatcher would have baulked at
You know it was shit
Banking crisis my arse
Watch the present tories go into long term debt and invest to save themselves
Your party enabled this from the right
What you proudly still label orange book
Labour has a huge mountain to climb
But in Starmer they have brains and competence
He can wipe out an 80 seat majority
Due to an incompetent lazy sloth like the PM
Moran positioned from the Starmer left of centre would be perfect for a coalition to run the tories out of government
Not least save your Liberal party from the disgrace and shame of governing with a thatcherite party
You’re absolutely correct. I’ve been part of the Young Liberals for almost a year now and the standard of debate has just gone into the gutter. Anybody in there who expresses an opinion anywhere near the right of center (especially on social and cultural issues) is vilified on the forums or “cancelled” on social media.
Recently – somebody shared an article on the Facebook group by Chris Bowers (Ex-Councillor for Lewes and three time parliamentary candidate) in which he made an argument against the tearing down of Colston’s statue in Bristol. This prompted intelligent responses such as “my only thought is that this man is clearly a moron” which was probably the most liked post on the entire group. Of course when I suggested that this wasn’t a very mature way to refer to someone who’s been in the party for about 20 years and has done a lot for the party the response came that “maybe there’s a reason he’s always the candidate and never the MP”.
God forbid anyone tries to bring up any trans issues as well any objections to the “trans men are men trans women are women” mantra will probably have you removed from any group for being “transphobic”. I recently encountered the chair of the English Young Liberals spreading false information about J.K Rowling on social media claiming that her alias “Robert Galbraith” was honoring a gay conversion therapist. When I posted a Guardian article refuting this I was promptly blocked.
There seems to be a complete culture of denial that a large portion of our voter base is on the center right of the political spectrum with many so desperate to show voters we’ve moved on from the coalition that they are willing to completely abandon large sections of the party in order to pursue policies (such as Layla Moran’s abolish the treasury bullsh*t) which are designed to pander to disillusioned Corbynites who have hatred of our party ingrained in them and also deliberately sabotaged our campaigns in Finchley, Wimbledon and Cities.
Indeed many still wholly blame the coalition for Jo Swinson’s disastrous general election campaign and willfully ignore the absolutely dreadful “Jo Swinson – our next PM” messaging during the campaign along with any criticism of her character being labelled as “misogynistic”. In fact it’s the very people who were in charge of the disastrous messaging and who told anyone who told them that that they were “bringing the party into disrepute” that are now running or involved in Layla Moran’s campaign.
To conclude, Tim Farron’s words in March in his UnHerd column are becoming more and more relevant by the day “I believe that every person should be free to live as they see fit, to hold their beliefs and to express them as they wish. I rejected conformity, whether from the law or from social pressure. Today’s liberalism does not uphold these liberal values”. These liberal values such as Pragmatism and Tolerance which I and many others hold dear are being eroded and in their place values which are the “epitome of illiberal” (as Tim puts it) are starting to rear their ugly heads.
If Layla Moran and co win their Liberal Democrat party will bear little resemblance to the party I joined as it will have left the members and values that the party was founded on in the dust instead opting to court the dogmatists whom the party they chose to masquerade as opposed for decades.
Thank you for this comment. It is good to hear from a young liberal as well as to get an insight from within the Young Liberals, however depressing. All I can tell you is that whatever happens to the Lib Dems, let’s keep liberalism alive. There are enough of us out there to do that.
It is fair to call out the immaturity (and worse) that you describe, however I would be more concerned if the Young Liberals were not at the vanguard of radicalism. The Young Liberals really need to find percipient leaders and the Party is prepared to promote vigorously.
The key issue that I see from the leadership campaign so far and comments about it is that of promoting Liberalism as a political outlook. Cow-towing to our most vehement opponents is certainly no substitute.
Alex Macfie says
There is no “kow-towing to our most vehement opponents” from either of the leadership candidates. I had concerns about Wera because she was amplifying some of the Hard Left criticisms of the Lib Dems, by saying it was a mistake to attack Labour in the last election. Specifically, she said we “shot ourselves in the foot” in seats we were targeting from the Tories. But we were successful in squeezing Labour in those seats; where we struggled was trying to persuade soft Labour voters to support us in seats we were targeting where Labour was also strong (mainly straight Lab-LD contests). Layla, by contrast, has stated that we were right to attack Labour, and were right to stand against Labour in seats like Canterbury, because to have stood aside would have handed the seat to the Tories.
Julian Tisi says
That’s shocking, Jeqen. I commented on that post – thinking little of it – that the discussion had been thoughtful and thanking Chris Bowers for raising the important questions that needed to be raised. Sadly it appears Chris himself received a lot of the sort of abuse that you mention. There’s something distinctly illiberal about this sort of intolerance and it’s something the next leader – whoever it is – will need to deal with.
Alex Macfie says
The leftish mood music from the Layla camp seems to be aimed principally at shifting soft Labourites to us, rather than the Hard Left (who will never support us, because to them we are the competition). These are people who generally aren’t at all keen on the politics of the Hard Left (the political intolerance and party chauvinism, the obsession with Israel, the ClassWwar BS etc) but at the same time still haven’t completely forgiven us for the Coalition and thought that we might prop up the Tories again (especially being led by a former Coalition minister). A leader unconnected with the Coalition would be our best shot at winning them back.
Alex Macfie says
Regarding social and cultural issues and “wokeness” (God I hate that term) there are fundemantal differences between Lib Dems and the Hard Left as well. I agree that fixation on fringe issues isn’t a route to electoral success. (IMO trans rights is something to be put as a footnote on p94 of the manifesto; Blair understood that you talk about the NHS in campaigning and leave issues like civil rights to when you actually get into power). But transphobia exists across the political spectrum, including the Hard Left. And there is a tendency in the Hard Left to turn a blind eye to brutal homophobia and misogyny among groups and regimes that they perceive as “allies”, such as Hamas and Iran. This can be directly linked to the way various far-left groups in the 1980s used to demonstrate loudly against Apartheid, but were nowhere to be seen when atrocities happening behind the Iron Curtain were under scrutiny. Lib Dems don’t have the knee-jerk anti-westernism or attachment to communism that are in the DNA of the Hard Left and lead to that confused thinking.
Its the same with antisemitism. To the Hard Left this is not a form of racism that matters, because to them its victims are linked to the state of Israel, which they have elevated to the ultimate evil. Liberals don’t have that dilemma either.
Chris Cory says
When I was young the few Liberals I knew were kindly folk, middle aged or older. They believed that people should be independent and self supporting if possible, but that there needed to be sound health care and education for all. They gave to the local cats home and baked cakes for the charity stall. They were, in essence, nice Tories, who thought that the Conservatives had been taken over by people who were a little bit avaricious and, well, common.
Leaving out the “common” bit, there are still a lot of people around like that. People of all ages who are centrists, who find both the main parties unattractive for reasons that are obvious to anyone who follows politics. Until recently they had a home of sorts in the Lib Dems, but as you imply Nick, it looks as if they are soon to be booted out onto the street. Another boat load of political refugees, homeless in their own country.
William Francis says
You seem to utterly ignore the post-war history of the Liberal party.
The Grimmond lead recovery was based on exactly the same thing Layla is promoting- work more with Labour and create a radical (non-socialist) alternative to it. In many respects the party was more radical than Labour on the enviroment, industrial democracy, the EEC, and devolution.
Under Thorpe the party won 20% of the vote, whilst having a Youth Wing which earned the title of “the red guards” for their left wing extremism.
Let us not forget the 2000s where the Lib Dem campaigned to Labour’s left and won 60+ seats in 2005.
William Francis says
Centrists still voted Liberal enmass back in the 1970s even as the Young Liberals were calling for Britain’s withdrawl from NATO.
Today’s “red guards” are hardly as radical. I doubt centrist exodus will occur anytime soon.
Julian Tisi says
I’m not so certain about this. Layla didn’t actually say that she plans to move the party to the left. She said that the “beating heart of the party was on the centre left” plus she wants to be “more radical than Labour” and that Keir Starmer should be worried. She’s clearly trying to push left now – perhaps to win the leadership contest (and it may be paying off, with Wera now pulling out and backing her). But this doesn’t necessarily mean she is abandoning the centre. She has stated her priorities to be “education, environment and the economy” – the first two are bread and butter Lib Dem issues, while the third is good to hear; perhaps she wants to punch both left and right – if so, this could be a strong combination; more radical than Labour and better on the economy. The big minus to this story is her commitment to UBI, which is IMO hugely unaffordable and not a vote winner, once its costs become clear.
Tim Stevens says
Remember the origins and history of the Liberal movement. It was born out of the Whigs, who were radicals opposed to the landed interests and status quo of the Tories. In our present divided, undemocratic and elitist country, we need this radicalism more than ever.
The core Liberal message has always been that each individual matters, and should be free to develop to their full potential, unconstrained by conformity. But crucially, the right social and economic conditions must be in place to enable people – all people – to succeed and flourish. Sadly we are a long, long way from that position in the UK at present.
I doubt if Layla Moran, or indeed any leading Lib Dems, seriously want to cuddle-up to the embittered, partisan and outdated “hard left”, who are always fighting the day-before-yesterday’s battles and can hardly be termed “radicals”. On the other hand, to beat the Tories, some sort of progressive alliance will be needed. Liberals have always had the dilemma of where to position themselves in relation to the other parties. It’s not an easy call …
Abolition of FPTP and replacement with a proportional voting system is key to improving our democracy and ensuring everyone’s vote counts. UK is one of the few major countries to cling onto FPTP. In 2019 45% voted Conservative, and 45% voted for other parties (Labour, Lib Dem, Green). A finely balanced parliament you might think? No, a whopping 80 seat Tory majority. Undemocratic!
Fianlly: don’t dismiss UBI without further analysis. It may give a valuable safety net to the poorest in society, and could be partly financed by withdrawal of other benefits and simplification of our horrendously complex social security system.
Alex Macfie says
You ignore that there are fundamental ideological differences between radical liberals and the Hard Left. Perhaps the clearest manifestation of the big gulf between them is that you would NEVER catch Layla sharing something that included an antisemitic conspiracy theory. She has already openly repudiated the Corbyn line on Israel~Palestine and antisemitism. The hard left absolutely hate her position, and were she to become leader, they would denounce her as a “sell-out” because she’s of Palestinian heritage and she takes a non-sectarian position on Israel~Palestine, in which she not consider the geopolitics of that region to be a valid excuse for either terrorism or antisemitism. However, hard-left attacks on the Lib Dems based on Israel~Palestine wouldn’t gain much traction because most ordinary voters don’t give a sh*t about Israel~Palestine, but they do care about antisemitism and disapprove of it.
What tends to put voters off the Hard Left is the baggage such as the myopic obsession with hating Israel and trying to crowbar Israel~Palestine into every conversation, the knee-jerk anti-westernism (leading to support for regimes like Iran and Russia), the Marxist-Leninist student revolutionary BS, the class-based and simplistic oppressor-victim analysis. Radical liberals in the Lib Dems carry none of this baggage, and any hard leftist who tried to turn the Lib Dems into an equivalent of the SWP would have a hard time. The Lib Dems did well between 1997 and ~2007 when they positioned themselves as more radical than Labour under Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. At no point then did they adopt any of the aforementioned ideological baggage that defines the Hard Left.