It’s election season everyone. In just seven weeks voters will flock to the virtual polls and have their say on a new direction, a fresh future, a brave new world.
If you are confused about what I am referring to, that is probably because you are one of the 99.9% of the country who couldn’t give a flying yellow bird about the upcoming Liberal Democrat Leadership Election. And hey, that’s understandable. There are a few other rather important things going on right now. But while the Lib Dems may seem like a spent force (if force was ever the right word in the first place), their fate will have serious implications on the political landscape, and ultimately on who is in charge.
The last 10 years has been a rollercoaster for the Party. It was a journey that started in Government, and then crashed to electoral oblivion in 2015. Since then there have been numerous attempts at a #LibDemFightBack that have all ended #badly, resulting finally in the 2019 General Election, which delivered a hammer blow possibly more devastating even than 2015.
The only thing the Lib Dems have clung to in recent years is unapologetic opposition to Brexit. That position is now pointless. Not only is the war to stop Brexit over, but Corbyn is gone too, and as a result, there is no longer a gap in the market for a Pro-EU Party. That is the real, severe and existential question that faces Lib Dems now. Quite literally, what is the point of them? A centre-left progressive pro-EU opposition now exists, led by a man that many Lib Dems admire, against a Government that is the antithesis of all the Lib Dems aspire to be. It is a two party world now, and the next Lib Dem leader will have to convince their base to support the Judean People’s Front when the People’s Front of Judea are the only ones who can realistically achieve change.
It is easy to think a bit of extra Lib Dem support wouldn’t make a difference for Labour anyway. But remember this is First Past the Post – just because the Lib Dems don’t have many seats doesn’t mean they don’t have many votes to lose. They got 12% in December’s election. If this Lib Dem bloc really got behind Keir Starmer it would propel him to a level of popularity not seen by a Labour Leader in many a year. Yes, Labour would also need to take some votes directly from the Conservatives, but this would be a very serious worry for Boris Johnson.
So, with questions like “what do we stand for?”, “what is the point of us?” and “is our existence actively harming our cause” on everyone’s lips, Wera Hobhouse, Ed Davey and Layla Moran have got their work cut out in pitching themselves to their electorate. All three of these are perfectly passable politicians, although Ed Davey is a bit boring, tried and tested, while Layla Moran and Wera Hobhouse are a little bit more fresh and risky. But ultimately, who is chosen is not that relevant, the same existential problem will remain regardless of who tries to steer the ship.
I must disclose a personal interest at this point: I am a card carrying, flag waving, socks and sandals wearing Lib Dem. Or at least I was until last month, when I quit the party, ultimately because I no longer know what it means to be a Lib Dem, and frankly see a more appealing progressive movement elsewhere. In that sense, I am what the Party will be fearing more than anything. To what extent will others do the same? Who knows. Frankly, middle class political consultants are probably not exactly a bellwether for anything. But I know many other members are at least being troubled by the line of thinking that ultimately led to my departure. The Party needs a plan, a vision, a unique selling point. Otherwise, this could really be the end of the road.