Once upon a time, in an ancient and bygone era, the Liberal Democrats were a force to be reckoned with. From their anti-Iraq bounce in the 2005 election, to CleggMania in 2010, and even for a short while, the stop-Brexit crusade of 2016-2019, the Lib Dems always had some relevance in Westminster in one way or another.
But since Brexit ‘got done’, and with Labour moderating under Keir Starmer, we have well and truly returned to two party politics. Yes there is the SNP, but they are purely regional. There is no one who can compete against Labour and the Tories on a UK wide basis. So, is this a good thing? A problem? A new reality? A short term trend? I am going to sit on the fence on all of those questions (as a tribute to the great yellow fence sitters themselves). There are A-level politics textbooks dedicated to the benefits and draw backs of multi-party systems, but the short answer is, it depends who you ask. As for whether this new two-party dominance is here to stay – no it probably isn’t, but the prospects are bleak for the Lib Dems.
Johnson and Starmer are lurching in opposite directions right now and meeting in the middle, with Johnson becoming a tax-and-spend fiend, while Starmer runs away from the Labour left like a rat fleeing a sinking ship. In between all that boring centrism, there surely isn’t room for anymore, and as such, what is the point of Ed Davey? Seriously, who is the voter too conservative for Keir but too lefty for Boris, waiting desperately for another middle-aged white man to rise to the occasion and split the difference?
What is more likely is that a different party will become the challenger. The Greens have always been a bit part player in British politics, with Caroline Lucas on guitar, drums, bass and vocals in their one-person band. But there has arguably never been a better environment for the Greens to flourish. Net-zero is high on the agenda, people care about climate change these days, and with Corbyn gone, there is a vacancy on the left.
Similarly, don’t rule out an uprising from the right. Plenty on the right have an axe to grind against the PM, and however much red meat he throws their way on law and order, the axe will still be there. It is unclear who the outfit that challenges him will ultimately be, but there are plenty of candidates. Nigel Farage has theoretically buggered off, but he never does that for very long. And yes, Lawrence Fox is a failed actor and an all-round moron, but our transatlantic cousins elected Trump, so Fox should be placed firmly in the ‘wouldn’t rule it out’ category.
It is impossible for the Conservatives to please everyone from the centre to the hard right, and it is impossible for Labour to please everyone from the centre to the hard left, so two-party politics feels doomed to fall apart in the long term. But the Lib Dems, our former bronze medallists, are likely to fall off the podium altogether. Instead, expect someone more radical to challenge Johnson and Starmer.