In the build up to next month’s general election, the establishment has been wondering what to do about the Liberal Democrats. Traditionally promoted as a so-called “progressive” alternative to syphon votes away from Labour, the Tories are now worried by the threat posed by the Lib Dems in Remain-voting areas.
In the build up to next month’s general election, the establishment has been wondering what to do about the Liberal Democrats. In previous elections they have always been promoted as an acceptable alternative to Labour (acceptable to the bosses, at least), in order to try and split the anti-Tory vote. This rested on the historic base that the old Liberal Party had in certain sections of the working class before the rise of Labour in the last century.
The problem that the establishment finds itself in this time is that, if anything, the Lib Dems are threatening to take votes and seats back off the Conservative Party. A number of long-held Lib Dem seats were lost to the Tories in 2015 and it is feared that some may be won back – particularly those in Remain voting areas.
The broken promises of coalition
No wonder then that, after months of praising the Lib Dems in order to syphon votes off Labour, the Tory press are now sticking the knife in. One right-wing journalist in the reactionary Daily Mail, for example, had this to say about the Lib Dems:
“Anyone who has studied the history of the Liberal Democrats knows that the party, which presents itself as decent and principled, is often quicker than its larger rivals to embrace skulduggery, dishonesty and treachery.”
“Anyone entertaining such thoughts should first recall the deceitfulness of the recent past — for example, the way in which Nick Clegg and colleagues junked their solemn promise made during the 2010 election campaign to abolish tuition fees. Lured by the prospect of power in coalition with the Tories, they swiftly agreed to triple them.” Stephen Glover (Daily Mail 4th May)
What Glover is referring to is the time that the Lib Dems spent in government as part of the Tory coalition from 2010 to 2015. This was the reason why the party did so badly in the last election, with voters correctly punishing them for helping to put David Cameron in Number 10 and allowing the Tories to push through vicious austerity cuts.
The involvement of the Lib Dems in government, with Nick Clegg as deputy prime minister, revealed the real face of the party as just another Tory Party in all but name. Conveniently, they have been hard at work trying to pretend that this never really happened whilst remarkably, at the same time, making it clear that if the same deal as in 2010 was on offer from the Tories this time round they would take it.
A “progressive” alliance?
Incredibly, all this has not stopped the chattering classes from, once again, talking about the Lib Dems as being part of the so-called progressive forces in Britain. It seems that the hysterical middle class liberals have short memories indeed – frantically clutching at straws, joining the Blairites in scapegoating Corbyn for the Brexit vote, and laughably looking towards the Lib Dems as a supposed alternative source of opposition to the Tories.
Once again, we are seeing an army of Guardian journalists and the like demanding that Labour enters into some sort of rotten pact to fight the Tories.
The irony is that, so reactionary have the Lib Dems become in practice, that even some of their own supporters do not want a deal with Labour. Consider the words of one Chris Whiting, a Lib Dem supporter, writing in the Huffington Post:
“But simply put, the Liberal Democrats do not exist to act as an external pressure group for the Labour Party. Whilst they may be marginally preferred to the traditional enemy in the Conservatives, there are plenty within the Lib Dems, myself included, who find both equally unpalatable.”
Just to make it clear, Whiting confirms that, compared to Labour, the Lib Dems are “further to the right economically”.
Appealing to metropolitan Remainers and clinging to a utopian strategy of blocking Brexit, the Liberal Democrats cannot provide any real opposition to the Tories. Outside of the question of Brexit and the EU, they offer no alternative to the Tories on any other substantial issues.
Unsurprisingly, then, the hoped for Lib Dem surge in the polls has not yet materialised, with the situation becoming increasingly polarised (outside of Scotland) between the Tories and Labour. So there is nothing to be gained for Labour by linking up with the Lib Dems to fight the next election under some sort of pact.
Fight the Tories with socialist policies!
Of course, we should also remember that Tony Blair and others have over the years often talked about “healing the historic rift” and re-uniting with the Lib Dems to create a nice, safe, centre-left (i.e. pro-capitalist) party with no socialists left in it.
This should be a warning to us all. Labour should reject all this defeatist talk and have no truck with the Lib Dems and their so-called progressive credentials. They are nothing of the sort. Tim Farron, the current Lib Dem leader, even had a picture of Maggie Thatcher on his bedroom wall as a kid! That says it all.
The way forward for Labour is not to surrender to the myth of the “centre ground”, but to fight the Tories on the basis of a socialist programme.