Sunday 26 July 2020

What Are The Lib Dems For?

There is a Liberal tradition that is not the authoritarian "centrism" of New Labour and, if you can remember this one, of Change UK. Nor is it a universal welcome wagon for any and all Remainers and Re-joiners.

But the Conservatives moved sharply to the left economically, and they became far more dovish internationally, when they ceased to be in government with the Liberal Democrats, including Ed Davey, who seems to be on course to become the next Leader of that party.

Be in no doubt that it was the Conservatives who were the moderating influence in the Coalition. The subsequent record fully bears that out. Davey wishes to restore the cry of the fiscal and international hawks to the British political field, but Keir Starmer has already done that. Whether fiscally or internationally, the Lib Dems or anyone else would struggle to be even more hawkish than Labour was now.

Davey's opponent, Layla Moran, professes to reject the terminology, but is generally described as wishing to position the Lib Dems to the left of Labour. As if that were saying anything in this Parliament.

Free of the Lib Dems, even Theresa May wanted workers' and consumers' representation in corporate governance, shareholders' control over executive pay, restrictions on pay differentials within companies, an investment-based Industrial Strategy and infrastructure programme including greatly increased housebuilding, action against tax avoidance including a ban on public contracts for tax-avoiding companies, a cap on energy prices, a ban or significant restrictions on foreign takeovers, a ban on unpaid internships, and an inquiry into Orgreave. Try suggesting any of that in the Labour Party these days.

Half of the Red Wall turned Blue in 2019, as most of the other half will in 2024. The Conservative Party became electorally dependent on constituencies that had voted for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017, and which would have done so again if he had stuck to his Bennite guns on Brexit. Next time, it will acquire many seats that had voted for Corbyn both times. Accordingly, and not because of Covid-19, the Government has adopted Modern Monetary Theory for the purpose of heavy reindustrialisation under close central government direction, including a strong dose of public ownership, and with the trade unions in government, where they will soon be joined by the BAME community leaders who twice mobilised Corbyn's most solid bloc of voters.

On yesterday's edition of The Week in Parliament, even Iain Martin casually described this as the Conservatives' historical norm, with Thatcherism as an aberration, a blip. Whether or not that is true, it is the line. The Durham Miners' Gala is now the national cultural mainstream, with ambitious Conservative MPs anxious to be associated with it. The Lib Dems or anyone else would struggle to be to the left of that. The claim that parties may govern like this, but they do not win on this basis, was arguably refuted last year, and it will be blown out of the water when Boris Johnson beats Starmer in 2024. The Centre is the think tank for this new era. It already has plenty going on.

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