Originally posted yesterday on Liberal Democrat Voice
“Bye bye, new Labour”, “Death of New Labour,” “Red and buried,” (actually, that’s quite a good one, not often you find me saying anything complimentary about the Fail on Sunday). So scream today’s headlines. A casual assumption that the party is well and truly over for Labour, leaving the Tories in power forever.
I am not scared of socialist ideas suddenly being put into the public space. We need to have a grown up debate about them and as a liberal, I’ll utterly oppose anything that reeks of centralised state command and control, but it’s a perfectly legitimate discussion to have.
No, the most utterly terrifying prospect at the moment is the thought of the Tories getting a free pass. This lot make Thatcher look like a cuddly teddy bear. Another victory in 2020 and they could soon be making Sarah Palin look positively sensible. The Tories think they are going to walk the next election and that they will not have any credible opposition over the next five years and they will spend millions on demonising Corbyn in a manner which will make the Miliband puppet poster look like a puff piece.
They think that they will be free to pursue their nasty, small-state, isolationist, xenophobic agenda and nobody will be able to touch them.
The SNP exploits those fears of untrammelled Tory power with the false hope that Scottish independence is the answer, floating the possibility of a second referendum when the ink is barely dry on the result of the first. Labour look like they are going to spend all their time fighting each other. This is not new. It’s what they have always done and they should have learned that it doesn’t really help.
The Tories need proper, effective opposition and parties need to work together where they agree to campaign against the truly awful things they are doing. What does that mean for the Liberal Democrats? For a start, it means that we shouldn’t do anything that legitimises the Tory’s Corbyn-bashing. The Labour leader is going to say some outrageous things that we disagree with and we should say when we do, but let’s keep the character stuff out of it and, as I said yesterday, be seen to be fair by calling the Tories and the media out when they go too far. I think we legitimised the erroneous and misleading Tory nonsense on Labour and the SNP during the election – and look where that got us. Our failure to stand up to it cost us seats and we’ve ended up with a Tory government controlled by its right wing doing far more damage than Miliband and the SNP could have managed even if they’d intended it.
There will be times when we agree with Corbyn – on refugees, on civil liberties and when that happens, the two parties need to find some way maximising effective opposition to the Tories along with anyone else who cares. When we disagree, and there’s plenty of potential for that when it comes to the economy and foreign affairs particularly, we should do so by highlighting our liberal values rather than demonising Corbyn.
The SNP needs to do more than get the popcorn & plan Indyref 2, Labour needs to give up habit of a lifetime & quit the toxic factional in-fighting, sense of entitlement to power and tribal hatred of anyone who isn’t them.
As for the Liberal Democrats, we just need to make sure that we are authentically and instinctively liberal in our responses to things. We should not be painstakingly calculating which centimetres of space we should be inhabiting on the political spectrum. We should be boldly advancing a radical and reforming liberal agenda, tackling vested interests wherever we find them. If we can avoid phrases like the meaningless centre ground, then so much the better. Tim Farron did well in this tweet yesterday, probably better than both Sal Brinton and Willie Rennie in their rather formulaic responses to Corbyn’s election:
.@libdems will stand in the liberal space in British politics. Compassionate & socially just but also economically competent & pro business
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) September 12, 2015
There is too much for this country to lose. By working together on campaigns, for example, progressive parties can reach more people and build an anti-Tory consensus which will help overcome them. No party is big enough to do it on their own. The bonkers electoral system we have simply won’t let that happen. There are too many vulnerable people who are set to suffer enormous hardship at the hands of this government. We need to make sure we have their backs.
Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign’s relentless focus on the economy took him from being an outsider to the Oval Office. We could learn something from him and British politics would be all the better for it.