lexit-supporting labour lies about ‘democracy’

The Lib Dem manifesto: missing the moderate opportunity
Editorial, Groon, Nov 20 2019

Britain’s electoral system is cruel to small parties. What prominence they achieve in mid-term local government ballots and byelections is lost in a general election, when cultural habit and constituency arithmetic see the traditional Labour-Conservative duopoly reassert itself in England. In a general election the identity of the next prime minister is also uppermost in voters’ minds. That person is unlikely to be Jo Swinson. The Liberal Democrat leader insists she is capable of the job and her credentials are no worse than those of any other candidate. But Ms Swinson will not command a majority in the next parliament and the public knows it. Yet the Lib Dems’ most prominent policy, of cancelling Brexit by revoking article 50, is predicated on that outcome. Their credibility suffers as a result. The party’s manifesto, published on Wednesday, recognises that “in other circumstances” EU membership would be defended in a second referendum. How those circumstances might be engineered is not clear. Nor, in fairness, are potential deals and coalitions a matter for the manifesto, which has to presume Lib Dem government even if no one else does. But revocation is an extreme step that sits awkwardly with the party’s reputation for moderation.

This election presents a unique opportunity for the Lib Dems to occupy electoral space vacated by radical shifts to the left and right by Labour and Tories. There is a lot of room between Corbynite socialism and the Tories’ hard Brexit. To fill the vacancy, Lib Dems need to eschew unrealistic promises and speak plainly of complexity, compromise and trade-off. The implicit promise should be a leavening influence, bringing rational scepticism where others pump out ideology. The improbability of outright victory can liberate Ms Swinson to speak uncomfortable truths. One example of welcome candour is the Lib Dem pledge, carried over from the 2017 manifesto, to finance the NHS with a one penny income tax rise. All parties are in a bidding war to fund public services and national infrastructure. The arguments over deficits that dominated politics for a decade have made way for a new post-austerity consensus, with even the Conservatives promising looser purse strings. Much of this fiscal bounty will be achieved by higher borrowing (regardless of who is in power) but a serious recalibration of what the state provides also requires tax rises. There might be loopholes to close and fat cats to squeeze, but the reality of a broader, more sustainable tax base is that many ordinary middle-income voters will also be expected to contribute. Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson pretend otherwise. To the Lib Dems’ credit, they do not.

Most of the manifesto is sensible and unremarkable, covering terrain familiar to those who pay regular attention to Lib Dems. The party is in favour of well-resourced public transport, a greener economy, civil rights and their niche speciality of wide-ranging constitutional reform, including proportional representation and enfranchising 16-year-olds. The case for structural reform is bolstered by the spectacle of Brexit ripping up informal conventions of British democracy in recent months, but there are always more urgent matters demanding limited public attention in a general election campaign. Under such constraints it is easy to see how the Lib Dems came to think their Brexit annulment policy was clever. It declares a simple position and speaks directly to millions who think leaving the EU is a terrible idea, a position many had hoped in vain to hear from Labour. But even within that hard core of remainers, many are queasy about flatly dismissing the 2016 referendum result. There are excellent reasons to oppose Brexit, but the means by which it is done matter. The sensibilities of leave voters should not be dismissed out of hand, least of all by a party that names itself after the principles of liberalism and democracy. Ms Swinson is right to be defending Britain’s membership of the EU. But her task in the coming weeks is to do it in a way that is realistically aligned with public awareness of the available outcomes in this election.

Lib Dems get their Jo back as Swinson drops pretence she could be PM
John Crace, Groon, Nov 20 2019

Feedback screeched through the PA system as Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrats’ candidate for St Albans, took to the stage of a small club in London’s Camden Market that hadn’t been cool even seven years ago when my then 17-year-old son’s band played its first gig in front of me and my wife and a handful of their friends. Now it didn’t appear to have got round to taking down its Halloween decorations. Through the darkness you could just make out a poster saying “Building a Brighter Future”. Except not round here. It already felt like the kind of party you want to leave the moment you arrive. “Good evening everyone,” Cooper yelled, trying to spark a reaction from some of the 100 or so activists who had turned out for the party’s manifesto launch. “How many of you were members before 2015?” About 20 people put their hands up. “Now who became a member after 2015?” This time another 25 or so reluctantly raised their arms. “Keep your hands up if you joined after 2016.” Several arms went down. This continued until we got to 2019 and just three hands were left in their air. “That goes to show we’re a party on the up,” Cooper declared, her triumphalism laced with desperation. After a short video of Jo Swinson getting on and off buses and meeting people, Matt Sanders, an earnest 1980s Blue Peter presenter impersonator, introduced himself as the local candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn. He might make a more effective canvasser if he learns his constituency boundaries. The club was in Holborn and St Pancras. Quite why the Lib Dems wanted to launch their manifesto in the seat being defended by Keir Starmer, the remainers’ brightest star, wasn’t entirely clear.

Then came Swinson herself. Early on in her campaign, the Lib Dem leader had appeared confident. A woman embracing her destiny. Now it seemed rather more of an effort. She wants to believe. Hell, she spends 30 minutes saying affirmations to herself in the mirror every morning. But she just can’t maintain the fantasy any more. Reality keeps getting in the way. Mostly she is just bewildered. There’s the opinion polls that show that voters like her less the more they see of her. Now it seems her best chance of a breakthrough is to keep her head down for the next three weeks. It wasn’t meant to be this way. After all, she had the best story to tell, providing you could overlook her voting record on austerity and tuition fees during the coalition government. Boris Johnson was a proven liar, in league with Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, who couldn’t even guarantee he wouldn’t deliver a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020. Jeremy Corbyn was the secret Brexiter who refused to say how he would vote in a second referendum. What more could the 48% who voted remain want than a party committed to keeping the UK in the EU? And yet the Lib Dems still can’t seem to make a breakthrough. And finally she couldn’t maintain the pretence any more. She used to insist that she was going to be the next prime minister. In her mind she had even been able to imagine herself walking into Downing Street and picking up the phone to Michel Barnier. The sheer joy of telling him that the last three and a half years had been a terrible nightmare.

She had said enough. She hadn’t said enough. This time the denial cracked and the words started tumbling out. She wasn’t going to be PM. She had never been going to be PM and she was sorry if anyone had believed her when she said she was. The best she could promise was that the Lib Dems might be able to win enough seats to deprive the Conservatives of an overall majority. Whisper it softly, but she might do a deal with Labour to secure a second referendum. The audience seemed perfectly happy with this. They had their Jo back. They had never fallen for her ego trip. No one ever votes Lib Dem because they hope to form a government. They vote Lib Dem to stop other parties from forming a government. But the truth didn’t seem to set Swinson free. Rather, it left her feeling deflated. She tried to talk up her mental health and childcare policies, the sort of issues that really matter to most people, but her heart wasn’t in it. She couldn’t even bring herself to talk up her plans to get everyone so stoned they might vote Lib Dem by accident. Another time. As she left the stage, a solitary wind machine blew strips of silver foil over one corner of the room. A dismal end to an underwhelming half-hour set. One that neither offered the gravitas of a serious party nor the happening vibe of one about to break through. Just half an hour of their lives that no one would ever get back. Swinson peeled off her fixed grin. Sod the environment. Sod Brexit. The planet could die. She would be firing those nukes. The sooner the better.

Jo Swinson wants the nation to go to rehab, but it’s saying no, no, no
Tom Peck, Independent, Nov 20 2019

In Camden Market, fifty feet from a giant bronze of Amy Winehouse, could hardly have been a more appropriate place for Jo Swinson to launch the Liberal Democrat election manifesto. She is trying to make the nation go to rehab but, if the polls are to be believed, it is saying no, no, no. That the event took place on the dancefloor of a trendy nightclub just set in sharper relief exactly what the Lib Dems have become. Which is, specifically, the baffled, exasperated and slightly square one in a group of late-teen friends, still trying to talk her mates into a normal night at the pub when they’ve all suddenly got massively into drugs. On a small stage in a dark room, what she had to offer was an increasingly impassioned plea for a return to normality. Stay in the EU. Spend the £50bn or so you’re not going to spaff up the wall for nothing on things like the social care and housing crises. Revoke. Remain. A cab home. If we go now we might even make the last Tube. Oh for God’s sake. It’s a MONDAY NIGHT. What has happened to you? But they don’t care Jo. Can’t you see? They’re all absolutely off their tits. They’ve just rubbed two whole days worth of temp money into their gums and they’re not leaving now. Not on your life. Not very long ago at all, anyone offering anything *not* in the Liberal Democrat manifesto would have been thought to have gone mad. But we can’t have nice things now. No way. Instead, as Jo Swinson made clear, the public must make a completely false choice between lies and fantasy. she said:

If Boris Johnson thinks he can negotiate a free trade deal by the end of next year he is deluded.

Of course he is. We know that. And Jeremy Corbyn is offering a second referendum, one in which he, the actual prime minister, won’t offer an opinion on the deal he himself has negotiated, and will scarcely take part. That’s properly mad. Building towards her faintly rousing conclusion, she said:

Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t get better than Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. That we are destined to stand alone. The future of our country is in our hands, and we can make a better choice.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t go back to the future. That tomorrow can’t be more like yesterday. That everything will be fine if we could just get an early night.

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