“I think we’ve got an opportunity now to truly bury the hatchet with the Labour Party,” said Layla Moran, who is very likely to the be the next Lib Dem leader, while on talk radio a couple of weeks ago. She also said she wouldn’t rule out a more formal relationship being established between the Lib Dems and Labour. This is a classic example of the Lib Dems misunderstanding the Labour Party in a comically absurd way, something that has gone on for a while but now, after the election, seems to be getting a lot worse.
The Lib Dems are looking at the December result and the Labour/Lib Dem “infighting” (which is a ridiculous way to put it, but a lot of Lib Dems are using the term, so let’s roll with it) and thinking they wish both parties could have found some way to work together to stop the Tories getting a majority. The one comfort the Lib Dems are taking out of the election result – too much comfort, if you ask me – is the fact that they came second in around 90 seats. All of them are Tory-facing, so they figure Labour will understand that it is in their interest to come to some sort of alliance that will allow the Lib Dems to take a chunk of these seats while they stand aside for Labour in a host of places only they can win.
Now, let’s talk about the way Labour sees the 2019 general election. The Lib Dems lured us all into the thing against our will, mostly for their own perceived benefit, only to screw up royally and deliver a huge Tory majority. Their leader spent the whole campaign doing down our leader, ultimately helping Boris Johnson. At best, the Lib Dems are in the way of a Labour government being possible and need to be destroyed; at worst, they are Tory-abetting hucksters who, as we know because they already did it, will jump into bed with the Tories any chance they get. And so, the Lib Dems need to be destroyed.
I’m not saying I agree with either point of view. But this is where the two sides are, and the Lib Dems are dreaming if they think any Labour leader is going to be remotely nice to them, never mind form some sort of electoral pact.
One of the easiest ways to get a cheap laugh at Labour conference is to make a joke about the Liberal Democrats. It is one of the few things that unites every faction of the Labour Party, Lib Dem hatred. Since the coalition government was formed, I feel it is fair to say that your average Labour activists hates the Lib Dems way more than the Tories – and I understand why. See, the Labour Party is a lot like a church, a religion, a faith. The only way for the country to be good is to elect a Labour government. At Labour conference you will hear a lot about how this group of people or that “needs a Labour government”, with particularly emphasis on need. Not want, need. In this context, the Tories are the devil – but Satan is always going to be there, nothing you can really do about that. The Lib Dems, on the other hand, don’t really need to exist. The yellows, in the Labour mindset, simply suck up votes, airspace and political oxygen from the Labour Party. As such, they are easier to hate since one can feel like the hate might have an end product – you can never really kill the Tories but with enough effort, perhaps the Labour movement can kill the Lib Dems.
What I’m trying to say here, Liberal Democrats, in a long winded way, is this: Labour people hate you. They really hate you. And the hatred runs deep and dark. They don’t want to form some “progressive alliance” with you. They want to destroy your party. And once you understand the Labour mindset, that goal seems totally rational. If you think the Labour Party is the source of all good, the one true faith, the only way to salvation, why would you want the Lib Dems to succeed? So you can form a government with them where they interfere with what you want to achieve before ultimately saying you’re a shower when the general election hovers into view, letting the Tories back in?
I close with something I’ve said many times before, but worth repeating here: all of the Lib Dems’ target seats are Tory-held. In order to win them, they need to convince Tory voters to vote Lib Dem. Labour voters are never going to vote Lib Dem tactically in big enough numbers for lots of reasons. This means the space for the Lib Dems is very Orange Book shaped. But almost none of the activists want to go there; they still think they can win back the parts of the left that deserted them when they went into government with the Tories. Which that can’t. If the Lib Dems keep trying to be Labour’s little buddy, they will continue to fail, and fail badly. I think that’s where we’re probably headed.