In The Times today Danny Finkelstein is rather rude about the LibDems – “There is no point to the Liberal Democrats.
I have a couple of things in common with Lord Finkelstein (maybe more, you never know). One is that with both joined the SDP back in the early 1980s. The other is that neither of us joined the Liberal Democrats, that strange hybrid party that saw Roy Jenkins embrace David Steel. Not in pragmatic electoral alliance but in undissolvable union. I stuck with David Owen for a while in the “Continuing SDP” , until he was very rude the only time I met him. Since then I’ve not been a member of any political party.
For years when I’ve voted it’s been AGAINST Tories not really FOR anything. Blair’s New Labour was the SDP with a new name. Owen wanted nothing of it, nor they him. Shirley stayed with the LibDems, and Roy went off to write fine books and be the great European we loved him for being.
The LibDems did really well for a time and it is churlish not to recognise this. But with New Labour being, really, the New SDP there was no ideological logic to them. Essentially they became the party that middle class people like me, living in leafy constituencies with a social conscience, voted for. Twickenham in my case. Richmond and Kingston down the road. Charles Kennedy briefly created a role to the left of New Labour. He opposed the Iraq War and I greatly admired him for it. But under Clegg they became light Blue and even entered a Public Schoolboys’ Coalition with the Conservatives. Ugh.
When the preposterous Jeremy Corbyn hijacked Labour and surrounded himself with dinosaurs the LibDems weakened by the Coalition could not step in. They had been humiliated by the 2015 General Election and in the Referendum the next year. Ill led, they faded into insignificance. But I’ve kept voting for them because anything that however ineffectually opposes Johnson’s gang has to be done. Twickenham has stayed loyal. The awful Zac Goldsmith was booted out in Richmond. Good.
And now in Chesham and Amersham it seems that the “Blue Wall” has been busted open. Good again. There is perhaps a place for an effective “Woke” party unencumbranced by outdated hard Left ideology to fight the Conservatives on their traditional territory. I wish them well.
Frankly the recovery of Labour under Keir Starmer is the only big political game in town. And that’s really tough going. That the Tories are becoming the Party of the patriotic Working Classes is vaguely comical – the ultimate triumph of the Alf Garnetts. But actually it’s not a joke if people vote for politicians who deep down neither understand nor care about them. That’s how Trump came to power and what delivered Johnson his 2019 victory.
The LibDems cannot appeal to the gut and to self-interest – they can only be decent, cerebral and liberal. Not a bad mix you might think. But it won’t lead to a landslide shift however pleasing results like Chesham and Amersham might be. I think that there will be quite a few more, but not enough really to make much difference.