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25 Aug, 2020 17:31

UK desperately needs an alternative to Conservative or Labour... a dynamic new leader for the Lib Dems is crucial

UK desperately needs an alternative to Conservative or Labour... a dynamic new leader for the Lib Dems is crucial

The UK’s third party, the Liberal Democrats, elect a new leader this week after a disastrous 2019 general election. And it’s imperative the incomer delivers if the country is to bridge its political divide.

The superiority of the UK’s political system is the absence of a duopoly. Unlike the US, it isn’t a choice of two.

Ten parties comprise the House of Commons in Westminster.

Of course, the heavyweights are the current ruling Conservatives and their opposition, Labour. The Scottish National Party is next in terms of numbers, but doesn’t field candidates in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, so isn’t a true national force. The role of being the UK’s third party has traditionally fallen to the Liberal Democrats, and this week, they will elect a new leader.

It’s a choice between Britain’s first openly pansexual MP, the edgy Layla Moran, or the more experienced and orthodox Ed Davey. Many will dismiss their duel as the equivalent of two bald man fighting over a comb. After all, the Lib Dems have 11 MPs (out of 650), after a shockingly bad showing at the 2019 General Election.

Their then-leader Jo Swinson campaigned with a singular focus on scuppering Brexit, to keep the country in the European Union. It was a chronic misjudgment; the British population was utterly sick of the constant Brexit debate, and whether there should be another referendum on any proposed agreement with the EU.

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While Brexit had been a simple Yes or No vote in 2016, so much was said and speculated on in the following three years that fatigue set in to the degree that everyone wanted progress, whatever form that took.

Swinson’s notion of rerunning the entire thing appealed to virtually no one, hence why the Lib Dems ended up as a marginal party with little power or influence – and her tenure lasted less than five months.

Despite that shambolic episode, they haven’t always been a joke. In only their second general election in 1997, with Paddy Ashdown as leader, they garnered an impressive 46 seats. Then in 2005, under the charismatic Charles Kennedy, they walked away with 62 seats. Most of those slipped out of Labour’s pocket and marked the beginning of the end for Tony Blair’s Cool Britannia era.

And you could argue that it’s only due to the Lib Dems that the Conservatives are in power now. In 2010, Gordon Brown had taken over from Blair, and took on a fresh-faced David Cameron. Cameron needed the Lib Dems’ 57 seats to get the keys to 10 Downing Street. As a quid-pro-quo, he made their leader Nick Clegg – who had stolen the show in the pre-vote debates – deputy prime minister, and they ruled as a coalition.

The marriage worked out horrendously for the Lib Dems, as they had to pursue policies that didn’t fit their progressive agenda, the most contentious being a row back on student tuition fee increases.

They only won eight seats in 2015, 12 in 2017 and now have a miserly 11. While that number is desperately low and leader Swinson herself lost her seat, it was her fatal misunderstanding of what mattered most to the British people that has left the party where it is now.

And that’s not healthy for UK politics, because the country needs the Lib Dems to be a strong, effective third force.

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Their default setting is centre-left. Lazy pundits may tag them as falling between two stools, but that’s grossly uninformed. They can play a powerful and influential role to keep the entire British system earnest.

They have never relied on the traditional endorsement from newspaper proprietors. They don’t have big union backing like Labour, and they aren’t pushing to nationalise industry. But in the same vein, they aren’t trying to cut taxes for the rich or seek to clamp down on immigration like the Conservatives. Without them in the fight, Britain ends up where it is now – bitterly divided.

Boris Johnson is a classic Tory, a man who’s more comfortable reciting Latin and holidaying on Caribbean islands than dealing with the plight of a struggling working class. His premiership is seeing the country ripped apart into an unhealthy ‘us and them’ scenario. He’s able to drive home any policies or decisions he likes because he possesses a majority of around 80, something that was unthinkable a decade ago.

The reason he commands such a big buffer is because his chief opponent at the last election, Labour’s former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, came across as London’s answer to Fidel Castro, eager to radicalise Britain into a socialist utopia. Faced with the thought of never owning their own home or having to pay higher taxes, worried Britons opted for Boris.

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But if someone had occupied that middle ground, and floated sensible progressive ideas that appealed to either left or right, then it could have been a different matter. And that someone should be the Lib Dem leader.

What may look like a poisoned chalice is actually a goblet of opportunity to help return Britain to a forward-thinking, well-rounded nation. No more pandering to Brexit architect Nigel Farage, as the Conservatives do, and no more of Labour conducting endless witch hunts for anti-Semites to appease the woke brigade.

The Lib Dems have a head start on the big two in that they don’t have to reach out to a radical base for approval. They can sweep in and announce a manifesto for reasonable folk who want meaningful morality but also expect a prosperous way of life. Their target base exists in all parts of the UK, but they won’t vote as a token gesture, only if they have true belief in the policies – history proves that.

That’s why anyone with an interest in Britain’s future should be watching this week’s election intently. Ms Moran or Mr Davey could be our saviour. Let’s hope whichever one gets the nod rises to the occasion.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.