Liberal Democrats

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Why Brexit is No Longer Boris Johnson’s Superpower

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/07/2022 - 2:14am in

Sam Bright reviews exclusive polling for Byline Times, revealing the public’s newfound pessimism towards Brexit

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Brexit has been the defining feature of Westminster politics since 2014, thwarting progressive parties and helping to sustain a long period of reactionary Conservative rule.

The intricacies of Brexit have been rehearsed and rehashed for more than half a decade, and the common narratives are difficult to dislodge.

However, evidence increasingly suggests that attitudes to Brexit are changing; that it’s no longer the binding force that propelled Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party to an 80-seat majority in December 2019.

This is confirmed by new Byline Times polling, conducted by Omnisis, showing that previously pro-Brexit cohorts of voters are now increasingly apathetic towards the policy – all while anti-Brexit voters are still firmly opposed to our separation from the EU.

While the 2019 General Election was cast as the Brexit election – with Johnson famously pledging to ‘Get Brexit Done’ – the issue is less consequential in the minds of some voters than three years ago.

Nearly half – 46% – of voters surveyed said that Brexit won’t be a significant factor in how they vote at the next election. Notably, however, Brexit is a significant factor in the political decisions of the most anti-Brexit groups.

Take age, for example, which is a reliable proxy for support for Leave and Remain (older groups being more heavily in favour of leaving the EU). Brexit will be a significant factor at the next election for 64% of 18-24 year-olds and 66% of 25-34 year-olds, compared to just 45% of 55-64 year-olds and 43% of those aged over 65.

Brexit is also more significant to those who didn’t vote Conservative at the last election. Some 74% of those surveyed who voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2019 say that Brexit will be a significant factor in how they vote next time around, matched by 62% of 2019 Labour voters but just 47% of 2019 Conservatives.

This trend is also seen among those who voted Remain – 64% of whom say that Brexit is still a significant factor in their electoral choices – while 47% of Leave voters share this opinion.

In short: Brexit is no longer the binding force that it was in 2019 among Leave voters, whereas it is still a unifying issue among those who voted Remain.

The polling also shows that Mr Brexit, Boris Johnson, no longer draws political strength from his association with the project.

Only 21% of those surveyed by Omnisis – a politically and demographically representative sample of 1,000 people – said that they are more likely to vote Conservative based on Johnson’s Brexit stance. In contrast, 48% of people said that they are less likely to vote Conservative due to Johnson’s views on Brexit, and 31% are neither more nor less likely.

A greater proportion of people in every age bracket say that they are less likely to vote for the Conservatives due to Johnson’s Brexit policies, than those who are more likely, while apathy towards Johnson’s Brexit position grows as age increases.

Are you more likely to vote Conservative at the next election based on Boris Johnson’s views on Brexit?

18-24
16% more likely; 61% less likely; 23% neither more nor less

45-54
19% more likely; 50% less likely; 32% neither more nor less

65+
24% more likely; 31% less likely; 45% neither more nor less

Once again, voters who opted for Brexit-averse parties in 2019 are unified on this question, whereas the pro-Brexit vote is increasingly split.

40% of 2019 Conservatives are more likely to vote for the party next time around, due to Johnson’s views on Brexit, whereas 68% of 2019 Labour voters are less likely, as are 63% of Lib Dems.

This perhaps explains why the Liberal Democrats have notched up recent by-election victories in North Shropshire, and Tiverton and Honiton, both of which firmly opted in favour of Brexit in 2016 – matched by Labour’s success in the ‘Red Wall’ seat of Wakefield. The anti-Brexit populous in these seats is still firmly opposed to the Conservatives, while Brexiters who previously backed the Tories are increasingly apathetic and disloyal.

But what are the reasons for the gradual erosion of pro-Brexit sentiment, while those opposed to the project are unmoved?

One explanation could be the situation in Northern Ireland, with the country’s Assembly experiencing another period of paralysis while trade with the rest of Great Britain is increasingly inhibited.

Indeed, some 63% of people say that the UK Government is to blame for the current trade problems in Northern Ireland – a sentiment shared by 90% of the 18-24s, 78% of the 25-34s, 70% of the 35-44 age bracket, and 68% of the 45-54s.

Even the oldest age group, the over-65s, are divided in their attitudes: 39% believing it’s the Government’s fault and 61% blaming the EU.

This trend – of anti-Brexit unity and pro-Brexit uncertainty – again crystallises around the three main Westminster parties, with 64% of 2019 Tories saying the problems in Northern Ireland are the EU’s fault, while 83% of Labour voters and 87% of Lib Dems believing the blame lies with Johnson’s administration.

Another factor in the disintegration of the Brexit coalition could simply be personal experience. An overwhelming 81% of those surveyed said that they are not personally seeing any benefits of Brexit, including 88% of those over the age of 65 – the highest proportion of any age bracket – 73% of those who voted Conservative in 2019, and 72% of Leave voters.

This confirms the findings of a similar survey that we conducted in May, finding that 67% of voters think that leaving the EU has driven up prices, while only 5% think that Brexit has reduced the cost of living.

In our latest poll, 66% of people say that they do not expect to see any Brexit benefits in the next five years. This figure decreases as age increases, though a majority of over-65s (60%) don’t expect to see any Brexit benefits in the next five years.

2019 Conservative voters are more optimistic than others, with 54% expecting to see Brexit dividends realised in the next five years – matched by 59% of Leave voters – while 77% of Labour voters and 85% of Lib Dems are not so optimistic.

Starmer’s Dilemma

Keir Starmer is today conducting a speech on Brexit, without cameras and without journalists in the audience – epitomising his nervousness towards the subject, that contributed to his party’s worst election performance since the 1930s three years ago.

Evidently, however, voters aren’t as hostile to Starmer’s views on Brexit as they are to Johnson’s. While only 21% of voters say that they are more likely to back the Conservatives due to Johnson’s views on Brexit, this figure rises to 31% in the case of Starmer and Labour.

Every age bracket up to the 55-64s are more likely than less likely to vote Labour due to Starmer’s views on Brexit. The level of neutrality towards Starmer’s Brexit views is also consistent across age brackets, with more than 30% of people across the board saying that they are neither more nor less likely to vote Labour due to Starmer’s views on Brexit – increasing to 42% among the 65+ age bracket.

A significant minority (47%) of 2019 Conservative voters either say that Starmer’s position on Brexit would make them more likely to vote Labour (13%) or would neither make them more nor less likely (34%) to vote Labour. Only 22% of Remain voters are less likely to vote Labour due to Starmer’s stance on Brexit.

Although Brexit isn’t necessarily a winning issue for Starmer’s Labour Party, he does seem to have created a delicate coalition – offering an alternative to unhappy Conservative Brexiters while not alienating anti-Brexit ideologues.

If Starmer has an appetite to shift his position, however, our polling shows that voters may be more receptive to a stronger stance on Brexit – which is perhaps why Starmer has indicated that he’s ‘ready to fight’ Johnson over the issue.

53% of surveyed voters want to see a closer relationship between the UK and EU in the future, only 28% want to see a more distant relationship, while 19% don’t mind.

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This feeling is consistent across all age groups, with 47% of the over-65s wanting to see a closer relationship with the EU, compared to 31% who want a greater degree of separation.

Again, 2019 Conservatives are split (40% wanting more distance from the EU in the future and 35% seeking a closer relationship), while Labour and Lib Dem voters are more certain – 70% and 67% respectively wanting a closer relationship.

Overall, the direction of public opinion is clear, with 56% of Leave voters seeking either a closer relationship with the EU or saying they don’t care, while 76% of Remain voters want a closer relationship.

The question for Labour is also whether adopting a new stance towards the UK’s relationship with the EU – not simply attacking the Conservatives more aggressively on the outcomes of Brexit – will win more votes for the party, in the right areas of the country.

Our polling suggests that 42% of people would be more likely to vote for Labour if the party came out in favour of single market membership – while 31% would be less likely and 26% would be neither more nor less likely. Yet this skews in favour of younger voters who are already much more likely to vote Labour. For example, 62% of 25-34s say they would be more likely to vote for the party if it backed single market membership, falling to 30% among 55-64s – while 48% of this older bracket would be less likely to vote Labour if it adopted a pro-single market policy.

Of those who voted Conservative in 2019, 58% say that they would be less likely to vote Labour if it backed rejoining the single market, while 19% said they would be more likely to plump for Starmer’s party.

We also didn’t point out to those surveyed that rejoining the single market would invariably involve accepting freedom of movement. If we had, it’s likely that the results would have shown even less support for this policy among older, more socially conservative demographics.

Labour decision to criticise the outcomes of Johnson’s Brexit, while supporting the thawing of tensions with the EU, therefore seems to be a politically sound one – for now.

In the medium term, however, if and when the benefits of Brexit firmly fail to materialise, Labour may be able to offer a stronger policy.

64% of the respondents to our poll said that they would support a new referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in the next 10 years. This idea is backed by more than 70% of people under the age of 45 and has a majority of support among all age brackets aside from the over-65s.

Most significantly, 40% of 2019 Conservatives and 40% of Leave voters back a second referendum in the next 10 years. This is matched by 83% of 2019 Labour voters and 87% of 2019 Lib Dems.

Labour’s line today is that “We cannot move forward, deliver change or win back the trust of those who have lost faith in politics by focusing on the arguments of the past.”

Yet Brexit is an ongoing issue for voters, and it’s clear that a substantial proportion do not see the issue as settled.

The full tables and methodology can be found here

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Pledging to Rejoin the European Single Market would be a Brave Move from our Opposition Parties

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/06/2022 - 10:11pm in

As Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood calls for the UK to rejoin the Single Market, a Liberal Democrat peer asks cautious opposition parties to consider its benefits

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Opposition parties are rightly celebrating their triumphs in the recent by-elections, which saw the Conservatives suffer severe and historic defeats in both a 'Red Wall' seat and a traditional Tory heartland. But strong pro-Europeans have one serious concern: Labour's recent announcement that it will not reverse Brexit but seek to improve it. Is this the right strategy at this perilous time?

In the face of Russian aggression, Chinese expansion and uncertainty about America’s future role, we need the strongest possible EU, militarily and economically, to defend freedom and justice in the world. 

Britain should surely draw as close to the EU as possible, strengthen the world influence of both, and not endorse the Conservative claim that Brexit is “done”. 

To propose that the UK should rejoin the EU is clearly unrealistic. But, as evidence mounts almost daily from nearly all leading economists of how withdrawal from the bloc has not only helped to make Britain, once again, the sick man of Europe, with the weakest industrial economy after Russia, is a refusal to accept the realities of Brexit  weakening Europe and the West?

One solution that has recently had some prominent publicity is that the UK should rejoin the Single Market – powerfully argued by a leading Conservative, Tobias Ellwood. He has argued that this would strengthen the British economy, no longer separated from what was its biggest and closest market; and to some extent strengthen the economy of the EU as well. 

It could also solve the problem of the Northern Ireland Protocol – as joint members of the same market, there would be no need for a border in the Irish Sea or for that matter between Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. All would gain. 

However, politically – perhaps understandably – from Labour’s point of view, given that a third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, rejoining the Single Market would likely be a step too far for the party to endorse. This is because such a move would require freedom of movement of labour – which Boris Johnson and his friends in the right-wing press would make great use of for their own ends.

Perhaps the wisest policy for opposition parties to propose would be to work to bring the UK and the EU as closely together as possible within the framework of the present EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. This could allow opportunities for improvements, for instance, to enable us to renew the UK's participation in the Erasmus and Horizon programmes.

In any case, the agreement will be reviewed in 2024 – by which time much could have changed. A bitter, prolonged and deeply damaging trade conflict looms. The negative consequences of Brexit may become a much bigger issue in the public consciousness. Furthermore, immigration has already lost much of its unpopularity and may no longer be an obstacle to pro-European reforms.

In the years ahead, Labour and the liberal Democrats may come to the conclusion that joining the Single Market is an idea whose time has come.

Lord Taverne is a Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords. He was the Labour MP for Lincoln from 1962 to 1972, when he was deselected by Labour. He resigned his seat and won re-election in the constituency as a Democratic Labour MP in 1973 to 1974

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End of the Brexit Era? Wakefield Gives Labour a Second Chance

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/06/2022 - 7:14pm in

The country has moved on from Brexit and won't be distracted by 'culture wars' – where does this leave Johnson and the 'Red Wall'?

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It’s not always greener on the other side. At least that is the conclusion of voters in Wakefield after three years of Conservative rule.

The seat, which in 2019 flipped to the Tories for the first time since 1931, has now returned to Labour.

The by-election was called after the MP elected in 2019, Imran Ahmad Khan, was convicted of sexual assault. Khan had been suspended from the Conservative whip in 2021 pending the outcome of the prosecution, and this scandal undoubtedly played a role in Labour’s political revival in the West Yorkshire seat.

But other factors are relevant too. In particular, Boris Johnson's inability to find a replacement for Brexit – the campaign that converted much of the 'Red Wall' to the Conservatives.

Mirroring other Red Wall seats – former industrial areas in the north of England, the Midlands and north Wales – Wakefield voted comfortably in favour of Brexit, by a margin of 66.4% to 33.6%.

Following three years of parliamentary prevarications, Wakefield and other similar constituencies wanted to ‘Get Brexit Done’, as Johnson promised.

Brexit had herded the electorate into new political tribes, with many traditional Labour voters supporting a cause that had been largely championed by the hard-right. Brexit arguably became a religion – dominating political debate and polarising voters into two aggressively opposed camps.

Through years of national soul-searching – refracted through the lens of Brexit – the campaign to leave the EU morphed from the technocratic to the emotional, coming to define the personal and political identities of all those invested in its outcome.

Prior to the UK's departure from the EU, polls showed little change in retrospective support for Leave and Remain, with the nation pretty much split down the middle.

With the figurehead of Vote Leave placed in charge of the Conservatives in July 2019, Brexit was a unifying force for the party – coalescing these voters under its flag. A few months later, in December 2019, Labour lost 25% of those who had voted for Brexit in 2016 after voting for Labour in 2010, along with 45 Red Wall constituencies.

Now, this has all changed.

Johnson’s personal popularity has collapsed, owing to his ‘Partygate’ lies and anaemic response to the cost of living crisis.

After seizing a host of Labour seats in 2019, the Prime Minister acknowledged that local voters had “lent” their votes to the Conservatives. “I, and we, will never take your support for granted. I will make it my mission to work night and day, to work flat-out to prove you right in voting for me this time, and to earn your support in the future,” he said.

Three years on, this trust has not been repaid – at least in the eyes of voters in Wakefield.

Brexit Betrayals

The apex of this political conundrum for Johnson is the waning potency of Brexit and the issues that it evokes. In YouGov’s tracker of the most important issues facing the country, according to voters, ‘Britain leaving the EU’ is selected by 19% of people – down from 65% on the eve of the election in 2019 – while ‘immigration and asylum’ is selected by 24%.

The Prime Minister has never been wildly popular, contrary to the myths perpetuated by the Conservative Party, having merely been adopted as a Brexit battering ram. Now that Brexit is ‘done’, his usefulness is increasingly unclear, including to those who supported him in 2019.

In a poll conducted by Omnisis for Byline Times in April, 51% of Leave voters surveyed said that the ‘Partygate’ scandal has made them less likely to vote Conservative at the next election, while a clear majority, 63%, no longer trust Johnson to tell the truth.

As for the most important issues facing the country currently, 65% of people opt for ‘the economy’, followed at a distance by ‘health’ (35%). These are the issues of the day, on which Johnson and his party are floundering.

In an Omnisis poll for Byline Times in May, before Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a new package of cost of living support, an overwhelming 81% of those surveyed said they were dissatisfied by the Government’s response to the cost of living crisis.

As of now, 56% of Conservative voters believe that the Government is handling the economy badly, while 57% think the same about the party’s handling of healthcare.

And on this front, Brexit is increasingly a hindrance to the Conservatives. This newspaper's Omnisis polling in May found that 67% of people asked believe that leaving the EU has made their cost of living higher – a belief shared by 48% of Leave voters – while 64% of people think that Brexit has been negative for the UK.

These perceptions are only likely to harden after this week’s Resolution Foundation report, showing that the north-east of England – one of the country’s poorest regions and also one of its most avidly pro-Brexit – will be hit hardest by the UK's departure from the EU.

In contrast, “there is early evidence that London is, in fact, adapting to Brexit faster than other regions,” the report says.

So, while Jacob Rees-Mogg cautioned that the benefits of Brexit could take “50 years” to materialise – a theory seemingly accepted by most Leave voters – they appear not so tolerant now that the country is forced to trudge through the economic quagmire on the long road to finding those “sunlit uplands”.

There seems little evidence either for the supposed cultural and democratic benefits of Brexit. The Daily Mail carried a front page on the day before the referendum, painting a stark choice for the nation between “Lies. Greedy elites. Or a great future outside a broken, dying Europe”.

With Johnson’s Vote Leave Government tainted by accusations of corruption and mendacity – rewriting the constitutional rulebook for its own ends – the anti-establishment promises of Brexit seem far from reality.

Brexit also appears to be a strategic distraction for the Conservatives. With the country clamouring for policies to solve real-world issues around jobs, wages, bills, and public services, the Conservative Party is still waging a Brexit 'culture war' – attempting to rehash the playbook of the previous election through ‘anti-woke’ identity conflicts.

Labour has been the beneficiary of a Conservative collapse in Wakefield; the Liberal Democrats in Tiverton and Honiton, as well as previous by-elections in Chesham and Amersham, and North Shropshire.

The question is whether these two opposition parties can capitalise on Boris Johnson’s weakness to such an extent that they have a chance of forging a coalition after the next election. Or if, less probably, Labour can win a majority of its own.

In the Red Wall, that still seems uncertain. Labour’s results were unconvincing in these seats during the recent local elections, although Westminster-level polling has suggested that the Conservatives could lose all but three of their Red Wall seats when a general election rolls around.

Either way, Labour has been given a second chance to prove its calibre in Wakefield, while the Conservatives are forced to wrestle with the reality that the tag-team of Johnson and Brexit has finally lost its golden touch.

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Boris Johnson’s ‘Culture War’ Runs Into the Ground in Tiverton and Wakefield

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/06/2022 - 3:57pm in

The Prime Minister's focus on 'wedge issues' is turning voters away from the Conservative Party as it suffers two heavy by-election defeats, reports Adam Bienkov

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Boris Johnson’s election strategist David Canzini told ministerial aides earlier this year that they should “find the wedge issues in your department and hammer them".

They certainly heeded his advice.

In recent months, the Prime Minister and his media supporters have hammered away on a whole series of such issues – from deporting refugees to Rwanda, to taking on trade unions, tackling ‘left-wing lawyers’ and the question of whether women can have penises.

Canzini, who is a protégé of Johnson’s campaigns guru Lynton Crosby, assumed that such 'culture war' issues would succeed in cleaving voters away from his political opponents. They didn’t.

Last night the Conservatives suffered two huge by-election defeats in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton, on what was one of the worst nights for the party in decades.

In Wakefield, Labour won back the former 'Red Wall' seat on a substantial 12% swing, which would be enough for Keir Starmer’s party to win an overall majority, if repeated at a general election.

In Tiverton, the picture was far worse, with the Liberal Democrats seizing one of the safest Conservative seats in the country. The scale of the defeat is hard to overstate. There are just 40 other Conservative seats with larger majorities across the country and Conservative MPs have represented Tiverton for almost 100 years. 

On the ground, the Lib Dems reported that the Conservatives appeared to be “bereft of a message”, with the party having nothing to say about the big issues that most voters care about.

In advance of the result, one senior Lib Dem figure told Byline Times that the Prime Minister’s focus on 'wedge' – or culture war – issues appeared to be backfiring for his party.

“People don’t think much about these issues and fundamentally just want to be nice and decent human beings to each other,” they said. “And if you’re really concerned about the state of the NHS, as people are here, then hearing the PM going to town about trans women in sports events actually sounds as elite, metropolitan, and out-of-touch as the people he’s attacking.”

In different times, the Prime Minister’s focus on such “elite” issues may have had some traction. But, with inflation soaring and with even Conservative voters dissatisfied with his Government’s handling of the economy, this relentless focus on culture war issues has only helped to emphasise how out-of-touch the party has become.

This week, pollsters Ipsos published the latest findings from their regular survey of the top issues concerning voters.

Ipsos Issues Index: June 2022

Right at the top of the list was inflation, cost of living and, for the first time ever, “lack of faith in politicians".

Nowhere to be seen on the list was any of the issues Boris Johnson and his Government have been 'hammering' away at in recent months.

Johnson's Culture War is Failing

Asked about the upcoming by-elections at this week's Prime Minister's Questions, Johnson predicted that voters would stick with his party, saying "I have absolutely no doubt that the people of this country, and the people of Wakefield and of Tiverton and Honiton, would much rather vote for a solid Conservative Government".

Two days later and his prediction was badly disproved.

In the aftermath of the results, the Conservative Party Co-Chairman Oliver Dowden resigned, with an incredibly pointed letter, saying "somebody must take responsibility" for the defeats.

That somebody won't be Johnson. Asked in advance of the result whether defeat in both by-elections would trigger his resignation, the Prime Minister described the idea as "crazy", suggesting he was determined to remain in Downing Street come what may.

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Following the result, he told reporters in Rwanda that he would "listen to voters" but "keep going".

Yet, unless something major changes, Johnson is leading his party towards likely defeat at the next general election.

Like the Russian tank battalion slowly ground into the dust on the road to Kyiv, Johnson's culture war forces are failing to make the advances either he, or his election strategists, so confidently predicted.

And if Conservative MPs now come to the same conclusion, then the biggest loser of the culture war could soon be the Prime Minister himself.

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Are Voters About to Hand Boris Johnson the Defeats of his Life in Tiverton and Wakefield?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/06/2022 - 9:00pm in

The Prime Minister is turning off traditional Conservative voters on the doorstep as he faces a potentially historic by-election defeat in Tiverton, reports Adam Bienkov

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On paper, the Liberal Democrats should not have a hope of winning the Tiverton and Honiton by-election on Thursday.

A pro-Brexit rural area that has stuck with the Conservatives for almost a century, Tiverton was held again by Boris Johnson’s party in 2019 with a stonking 24,000 vote majority.

Yet 'Partygate', Johnson's collapsing ratings and the growing cost of living crisis have all combined to give the Lib Dems a real shot of pulling off what would be a truly historic victory.

“The Conservative majority here is absurdly large,” one senior Liberal Democrat figure told Byline Times. “There’s never been a majority of this size overturned in a by-election ever. It’s slightly absurd that we should even be in with a chance."

For this reason, few are placing huge sums on the Lib Dems winning the seat. Sources in both parties say that it is still very close, but after weeks in which it looked like the Conservatives were set for a huge upset, both sides believe the Tories could now just cling on.

“Some of our people who I know down there are starting to think we may just hold on,” one Conservative MP and critic of the Prime Minister told Byline Times. “And these are not usually vocal supporters of the Government so I wonder whether maybe our majority there is just too big a barrier for the Liberal Democrats.”

Despite this, the central assumption among most Conservative MPs is that the party will be defeated in Tiverton.

“There's a bit of a feeling that it may be getting a bit tighter and maybe the Tories might just hold on, but I wouldn't put too much on that,” the MP said. “I mean, we've seen the ability for the Lib Dems to be the receptacle for protest votes, particularly among stay-at-home Tories and soft Tories, and lots of these have moved away from us because of what's been happening over recent months.”

The Lib Dems are cautiously optimistic about their chances, in part because of the poor performance of the Conservative campaign.

“Neither their candidate, their message or the behaviour of the Government is going down well with voters on the doorstep,” one Lib Dem who has been campaigning in the seat explained to this newspaper.

Both sides put the recent decline of the Conservative vote in the area down to Johnson’s shift towards seeking votes in the so-called 'Red Wall' seats of the north of England, rather than in the Tories' traditional southern heartlands.

“If you’re a pro-Brexit Conservative voter in the Red Wall then I can see what they might offer you,” one Lib Dem campaigner said. “But in seats like Tiverton and Chesham they're just really bereft of a message.”

In the run-up to this week's by-elections, the Prime Minister and his party have focused on picking fights over 'culture war' issues such as immigration, trans rights and train strikes. However, the Lib Dems believe that such issues are really second or third order concerns for most voters in Tiverton.

Much of the build-up to the election has coincided with Johnson's failed attempts to put his plans to deport refugees to Rwanda into action. However, while public concerns about immigration were key to the result in the Brexit referendum, national opinion polls show that it has significantly declined as an issue for most voters in recent years.

“What we’re finding is that people now don’t view that immigration is a problem for public services in the way that they perhaps did in the past,” the source said. “Rwanda is a polarising issue but people can see how stretched public services are and they seem to be more worried about the fact that their neighbour can’t get an ambulance because the NHS is short-staffed, than they are about immigration.”

Johnson’s focus on issues like trans sportspeople also seems to be out of touch with what most voters are concerned about, the Lib Dems believe.

“People don’t think much about these issues and fundamentally just want to be nice and decent human beings to each other," said the source. “And if you’re really concerned about the state of the NHS, as people are here, then hearing the PM going to town about trans women in sports events actually sounds as elite, metropolitan, and out-of-touch as the people he’s attacking."

A ‘Red Wall’ Rebellion?

Defeat in Tiverton would spell serious trouble for Boris Johnson’s party, if replicated across its many other seats in the south of England. However, when it comes to the Prime Minister's own chances of remaining Conservative leader, then heavy defeat in Wakefield could prove to be more serious.

Two recent polls in Wakefield suggest that Labour are on course for a thumping victory in the seat that Johnson’s party took from them in 2019.

Not everyone is convinced by this, with one senior Labour figure telling Byline Times that it was “ludicrous” to believe it could win back the seat with such a large majority after losing it only three years ago.

However, if the polls are broadly accurate, then it could pose serious problems for the Prime Minister.

During the recent confidence vote, Johnson was able to cling on in large part to the fact that he retains support from most of the Conservative MPs in Red Wall seats who were elected under his leadership in 2019. If Labour wins back Wakefield with a large majority, their calculation about the benefits of keeping him in power could change.

“I still think that the Wakefield by-election is more significant because colleagues in the south and south-east have been picking up the fact that the Government appears to be out of tune with our core vote for quite a while, so defeat in Tiverton wouldn’t be such a surprise," one Conservative MP told Byline Times.

“Wakefield is different and would get a whole other chunk of the parliamentary party starting to look over their shoulders."

Whatever the margin of victory in Wakefield, it still looks overwhelmingly likely that Labour will win it, whereas the result in Tiverton still looks very much in doubt.

Internal canvassing returns put out by the Liberal Democrats this week suggest that the race is neck-and-neck, although it is difficult to know whether these numbers are merely expectation management from a party that privately expects to win.

“It’s looking very promising,” one senior Lib Dem MP admitted. “We think we’re in with a good shot of winning it. We really shouldn’t be, but we are.”

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Local Elections 2022: Boris Johnson is Leading the Conservatives to Disaster

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/05/2022 - 4:50pm in

The Conservative Party is refusing to deal with the Prime Minister's failing leadership as he leads the UK into a recession which could expel him from office, reports Adam Bienkov

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Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party have suffered a terrible night in the local elections, losing votes right across the country, as well as the control of several flagship councils in London.

Margaret Thatcher's favourite council Wandsworth was the first to fall to Labour, with fellow Conservative stronghold Barnet following shortly after. 

However, it was the loss of Westminster Council that has caused the biggest shock overnight. Even the most optimistic Labour sources Byline Times spoke to in recent days had downplayed their chances of taking this council, which has been held by the Conservatives since its creation.

The London losses are totemic for the party.

The party's former leaders in Wandsworth and Westminster were both hired by Johnson as his chiefs of staff while he was London Mayor, while their boroughs were portrayed as a model for his own future premiership. His two victories in London also helped create the myth of him as a 'Heineken' politician who could reach voters that other Conservative politicians simply couldn’t.

Last night’s results have ended that myth. Across the city, Conservative politicians spoke out against the Prime Minister, with the party’s outgoing leader in Wandsworth saying that “the issue of Boris Johnson” had been raised “consistently” by voters.

Meanwhile, Conservative MP for Wimbledon, Stephen Hammond, said that his party's voters had deserted them in large numbers due to Johnson’s handling of the 'Partygate' scandal.

Yet, while voters across the country are clearly turning against the Prime Minister, the results suggest that there is not yet evidence of any great enthusiasm for Keir Starmer's leadership. Although Labour’s vote share is up on last year, it appears to be broadly unchanged from its performance in the 2018 elections. Its performance also appears to have been decidedly more mixed in those parts of northern England it lost to Johnson's party in 2019.

Overall, the picture in these elections is that voters are turning away from the Conservatives rather than turning in great numbers to Labour.

Johnson Sailing Conservatives Towards the Rocks

However, this last fact risks lulling the Conservative Party into a false sense of security that could cost them dearly at the next general election.

The fact that Labour’s overall performance does not yet indicate a party heading towards forming a majority government will give many Conservative MPs yet another excuse to avoid tackling their own leadership crisis.

Across the news channels overnight, Conservative ministers queued up to dismiss the results as mere mid-term blues that could be easily recovered by the party. This would be a mistake.

The big losses suffered by the Conservatives overnight were due in large part to the Prime Minister's own unpopularity. While Conservative campaigners right across the country avoided mentioning the Prime Minister on the doorstep, opposition parties featured his name heavily on their leaflets and doorstep pitches.

Speaking at the result of Labour’s victory in Wandsworth, London Mayor Sadiq Khan described that Prime Minister as “a vote-winner for Labour” in the capital.

In other parts of the country, campaigners from all parties told Byline Times that Partygate had turned Conservative voters against the Prime Minister, with older voters in particular seeing the issue as one of “morality” in which Johnson had fallen short.

The Prime Minister's character failures, which were exposed so vividly by that scandal, do not appear to be going away.

Asked by Good Morning Britain this week about a pensioner who had been forced to ride buses all day because she could not afford to heat her home, Johnson responded by boasting about his own role in introducing the 24-hour free bus pass. This response was both callous and dishonest. In reality, the pass is only available in London where it is funded by local boroughs, and it was slashed at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic due to a deal forced on the city by Johnson’s Government. 

This cost of living crisis is also only going to get worse. The Bank of England on Thursday suggested that the UK is heading for recession and a painful period of stagflation. This would be difficult for any government which has been in power for as long as this one has, but it will be even more difficult for one that has deliberately chosen to avoid using the powers it has to help people.

Johnson's refusal to help those suffering from surging energy prices or to raise the benefits of the nation's poorest people, will only make his party's prospects worse at the next election.

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As the leading elections expert Professor John Curtice told Byline Times this week, while Labour may not currently be on course to winning a parliamentary majority, it will not take much for Johnson to lose his. And once lost, it will be very hard for him to find the friends in Parliament he needs to sustain a Conservative administration.

This fact has led to some speculation that Johnson is planning to call an early general election, potentially as early as this summer.

There will be very few Conservative MPs looking at today’s results who would welcome such a prospect. However, as long as Boris Johnson remains in post, their prospects will only continue to deteriorate.

Speaking to Byline Times earlier this week, one Conservative MP and former Cabinet minister said that the party was now “strapped well and truly to be the mast of the good ship Boris”.

The message from these local elections is that, unless there is a sudden change in course, the entire Conservative Party risks going down with the ship.

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How Can We Solve the House of Lords Problem?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 28/03/2022 - 7:00pm in

John Lubbock speaks to parliamentarians about how the Upper House could be reformed to reflect the modern age

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The House of Lords is the Gordian Knot of British constitutional reform; a problem that almost everyone agrees needs to be fixed, though nobody can figure out how. Both Tony Blair and Nick Clegg had a go at it, with mixed success – and the question remains: is it too difficult to solve?

As of March 2022, there are 766 members of the House of Lords, while 92 of those members are ‘excepted hereditary’ members. Labour’s 1997 manifesto promised “the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended” – yet they still exist, 23 years after Lords reform.

When the 1999 reforms took place, threats by Conservative peers to hold up all legislation due to their opposition to the proposals led to a deal between Viscount Cranborne, the Conservative leader in the Lords, and then Prime Minister Tony Blair. Labour agreed to keep 92 hereditary peers, most of them Conservatives.

“Blair was completely hoodwinked by Cranbourne who persuaded him that, unless he made concessions, he’d never get it through the Lords”, Liberal Democrat Leader in the Lords Dick Newby told Byline Times.

When a hereditary peer dies, there is a by-election to replace them. This process has become at times embarrassingly undemocratic, with just a handful of electors voting from among their colleagues to fill the vacant place.

This position was supposed to be a temporary one, but when options were laid before the House of Commons for a fully reformed Upper House in 2002, MPs could not make up their minds on the final make-up of the chamber. Then the Iraq War began; reform was stalled and eventually forgotten.

“It got put into the ‘too difficult’ category,” Lord Newby concluded.

Fast-forward to the Coalition Government years of 2010 to 2015, and the Lib Dems made Lords reform one of their main targets, along with electoral reform.

In the end, they got neither – and lost 80% of their MPs to boot. The party’s leader during this period, Nick Clegg, proposed Lords reforms that would have seen peers elected on a regional basis, sitting for a single term of 12 years with elections every six. Again, the bill failed when Labour and backbench Conservative MPs voted against it.

While many agree that the House of Lords is an imperfect system, nobody can agree on what a better system would look like.

There is still an expectation that peers are ‘the great and the good’ – often independently wealthy – and so shouldn’t take a salary, while only claiming moderate expenses.

Byline Times recently examined the peers who rarely attend, including Lord Evgeny Lebedev, who only attended the Lords on one day between becoming a peer in December 2020 and August 2021.

As well as the remaining hereditary Lords, there are also 24 Church of England Bishops who sit in the Upper House, making the UK one of two countries with legislative offices reserved for clerics. The other is Iran.

Removing the hereditary peers was meant to get rid of the unprofessional, work-shy Lords and – while there are far fewer of them – they have not totally gone away.

Many peers like the ambiance of the Palace of Westminster and, while it’s not known for fine dining, taking guests to its restaurants is a way for some peers to show off their status.

In the Long Grass

There are currently five private members’ bills seeking to reform parts of the House of Lords, introduced by members of both the Conservative and Labour parties. None of these has much chance of becoming law without Government support.

“On five occasions I’ve introduced a private members' bill to end the by-elections for hereditary peers," said Lord Bruce Grocott, a former Labour Chief Whip in the Lords. "There are always by-elections pending and there’s one pending at the moment."

Lord Grocott only proposed the limited reform of removing the last hereditary peers when they die because “all attempts to have 'all singing, all dancing' reforms to the House of Lords have failed. The ones that have succeeded have focused on a specific issue.”

"To try to get a majority when it’s covering everything from the method of elections to the frequency of elections to the eligibility of candidates... unfortunately it’s like trying to write a constitution," he told Byline Times. "The capacity to foul up a complete parliamentary system, if not two, is overwhelming.”

Lord Grocott’s comment about rewriting the constitution is important. The UK has no written constitution, but institutions such as the monarchy and the House Lords are part of an unwritten constitution glued together by hereditary privilege, convention, patronage and money. Try to change this unwritten system and you will quickly meet with opposition from those who benefit from it.

“I know how difficult it is to get a private members' bill through”, Lord Grocott said. “I’ve got about 10 or 15 resolute opponents in the Lords, and the thing that makes it easy for them is, the longer you make a bill, the easier it is to sink it.”

One of Lord Grocott’s opponents is Malcolm Sinclair, Earl of Caithness. For his part, the earl says that he is “not opposed to reform”.

“In fact, I want more than Grocott wants,” he said. “I don’t want a totally appointed chamber in the hands of the Prime Minister. The problem is everybody wants reform but there’s very little common ground. I feel the time has come that we had an elected house. I don’t like the appointments system.”

Another MP who has a private members' bill seeking to reform the Lords is Conservative MP Paul Maynard.

“There are so many disparate views as to what should occur next and indeed what the end point should be,” Maynard told Byline Times, maintaining that he wants to stop by-elections to replace hereditary peers, at the very least. 

He said that “many of my more thoughtful colleagues agree with me" on Lords reform.

For Maynard, reform of the Upper Chamber is "not top of anyone’s agenda and maybe it shouldn’t be". “But one analysis is that, ever since the early Blair years, we’ve tinkered with the constitutional balance in this country without ever taking a step back and looking at the picture overall,” he added.

Maynard’s bill argues for “some form of directly elected senate”, in which the members have “an inferior mandate” compared to the Commons, elected under an Alternative Vote system.

Unfortunately, “there’s very little appetite at all” in the Conservative Party for these sort of changes, but Maynard has tried to make the point to his colleagues that “future governments of differing persuasions might try to institute far-reaching constitutional reform and we might want to consider whether we should pre-empt that".

"Politics is partly about planning for the long-term as well as dealing with today’s headlines,” he added.

It appears that there is more appetite for Lords reform among Conservatives at the moment, given that they are having trouble winning some votes in the Lords.

According to Conservative hereditary peer Lord Charles Crathorne, “there does need to be Lords reform" because "one of the problems relating back to voting is that the Government finds it almost impossible to win votes. There is a big discrepancy between the number of Lib Dem MPs and peers”.

At the moment, however, it appears that Labour has also kicked Lords reform into the long grass, with Keir Starmer having abandoned a pledge, made when elected as leader, to pursue it. But the issue will not go away.

It promises to keep lurking in the background, much like our unelected peers moving through the corridors of Britain's Upper Chamber of power.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Government Only Took Minutes in Two Out of Eight Randox Meetings, New Watchdog Report Reveals

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/03/2022 - 11:01am in

The National Audit Office points out significant transparency holes in the Government’s approach to the healthcare giant Randox, which won COVID contracts worth hundreds of millions

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The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) sidestepped normal transparency rules in relation to the contracts awarded to the testing company Randox, that won COVID-19 deals worth more than £400 million without competition, the National Audit Office (NAO) reveals today.

The contracts were the subject of a major parliamentary row earlier this year when private messages revealed that former Conservative minister Owen Paterson, who was at the time employed by Randox, had personally lobbied the then Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock to consider the firm for Government work.

Paterson last year faced a 30-day suspension from Parliament for breaching lobbying rules, in relation to his previous efforts to advocate on behalf of Randox, but resigned before Parliament voted on his suspension.

Boris Johnson had intervened on Paterson’s behalf in an effort to relax parliamentary standards rules, but backed down amid the public and political uproar. The Conservatives subsequently lost Paterson’s North Shropshire seat to the Liberal Democrats in a by-election, losing a 23,000-vote majority.

The NAO report reveals that, in total, Randox and its strategic partner Qnostics Ltd won £776.9 million in business during the pandemic through 22 different contracts.

Almost all of the contracts were for the provision of testing services, and 60% (£463.5 million) of the total value of the contracts was awarded directly without any competition under emergency procurement rules. By 18 October 2021, the DHSC had paid Randox £407.4 million for its testing contracts.

The DHSC told the NAO that a competitive tender process was ruled out due to the need to move quickly, and that it could not award the contract from an existing framework – essentially a contract already agreed by the department between multiple potential suppliers – as the value of the contract exceeded the framework limit.

The NAO’s enquiries revealed that Randox attended eight meetings with ministers – mainly with former junior Health minister, Lord Bethell – but only four were declared on the public record under transparency rules. Minutes were taken at only two of the eight meetings. Meetings that were not made public, during which no minutes were kept, included ministerial decisions of the need to recall some of Randox’s tests, and the growing backlog of cases being tested by the firm.

The NAO pressed the DHSC to reveal all the documentation it held on Randox contract negotiations and whether any conflict of interest issues had arisen.

The watchdog sought access to Whitehall records of discussions and ministerial meetings with Randox, and private email accounts held by former ministers and special advisors. Altogether, 11,000 items were checked but little or no documentation emerged. The NAO also revealed that no work had been done on price comparisons for the services that Randox was set to provide – or the level of profit margins the company would make from the contracts.

The watchdog then insisted that the department also check the email accounts of senior ministry officials who were in charge of the deals, including Dido Harding, who formerly ran the UK’s ‘Test and Trace’ operation. The DHSC provided all the emails except those held by Dido Harding.

The NAO concludes that the gaps in the audit trail mean that it is not able to provide its normal conclusions, but that it has not seen any evidence that the Government's contracts with Randox were awarded improperly.

“The overriding need to create a high volume testing capacity rapidly at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that standard public procurement approaches were not appropriate. Even taking these exceptional circumstances into account, the documentation of the decision-making process for such large contracts was inadequate,” Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said.

Dame Meg Hillier, Labour chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: “Government didn’t document decisions properly and the public is right to raise questions about whether it was playing with a straight bat.

“Over 75% of testing contracts were awarded to ‘high priority’ companies, including those referred by ministers, MPs or Number 10. The public needs to trust that their taxes are spent on the basis that it’s what you know, not who you know.”

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Firms Employing MPs Won £1.1 Billion in Contracts During Pandemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 27/01/2022 - 8:00pm in

Firms Employing MPsWon £1.1 Billion in Contracts During Pandemic

Andrew Kersley tracks the public sector deals awarded to companies that have MPs on their payroll

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Ten companies received more than £1.1 billion in Government contracts during the Coronavirus pandemic while employing Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs as advisors or non-executive directors, Byline Times can reveal.

This includes one company that was awarded hundreds of millions in contracts despite the Government previously being advised to put a three year hold on awarding it any contracts due to allegations of “recurring professional misconduct”.

The data, sourced by Tussell, covers the period from January 2020 to December 2021 and gives an insight into the public contracts awarded to firms that are advised by MPs.

Responding to the investigation, opposition figures warned that the data was further evidence of a “cash-for-access culture” in Government.

The second-largest beneficiary was ‘big four’ accountancy firm Ernst & Young (EY), awarded £378.6 million in Government contracts between January 2020 and December 2021. During this period, the company was employing Conservative backbench MP and former chief whip Andrew Mitchell, who was paid £30,000 as a consultant in return for up to five days of work each year.

Allpay, a payment solution company, received £79.9 million in Government contracts. It employs backbench Conservative MP Bill Wiggin as a non-executive director, paying him £4,000 a year for only 10 hours of work.

Transport company Abellio (which is wholly owned by the Dutch Government) received £18 million for contracts, while employing former Cabinet Minister Damian Green as a consultant. Abellio paid the Conservative MP £40,000 for 24 hours of work a month.


20% Increase in Child Povertyin Constituencies Represented by MPsWho Have Earned £6 Million
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Former Conservative Leader and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith received £20,000 annually until November 2021 for 30 hours of work a year as an advisory board member to healthcare digital healthcare giant Tunstall Healthcare. Between January 2020 and his departure, the company received £14 million in Government contracts.

HR software and outscoring service MHR received £9.5 million between May 2021 and December 2021, while it was paying Conservative MP Ruth Edwards £5,000 a month for 16 hours of work.

Law firm Weightmans LLP received £2.5 million in Government contracts between January 2020 and January 2021, during which time backbench Conservative MP Robert Neill served as a consultant, earning £15,000 a year for six hours of work a month.

Sigma Pharmaceuticals, taxi company Veezu, and law firm Herbert Smith Freehills all received less than £1 million in Government contracts during the pandemic, while employing Conservative MPs Steve Brine and Alun Cairns and Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey as paid advisors.

A spokesperson for Veezu said: “Veezu is awarded public sector contracts through a standard and regulated procurement process. Many of the contracts in the private hire operator sector are invariably ‘framework’ agreements of which Veezu will be one of a number of suppliers.” 

The total figure also includes £619 million in contracts awarded to the healthcare firm Randox since the start of 2020, formerly and controversially advised by ex-Conservative MP Owen Paterson.

Randox has insisted that Paterson had no role to play in these contracts, though the Government ‘lost’ the minutes of a meeting held between Paterson, Randox and then-Health Minister Lord James Bethell at the outset of the pandemic. Paterson resigned from Parliament in November over the scandal surrounding his private sector lobbying.

Seven of the MPs employed by these companies had previously served in government. Overall, the 10 companies received £1.1 billion in Government contracts during the pandemic while being advised by MPs.

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Power and Impropriety

Despite receiving such a bounty in contracts, EY has a chequered history. The company is currently reportedly facing a £1 billion lawsuit for its alleged failures during audits of UAE healthcare company NMC Health, as well as an investigation over its audit of UK hedge fund London Capital Finance.

Prominent campaign group Spotlight on Corruption called on EY to be banned from bidding on public contracts for three years in November 2020 due to “recurring professional misconduct”.

Just last summer, EY was fined £3.5 million for failures in its audit of transport firm Stagecoach’s East Coast Rail franchise in 2017, which would go on to collapse and be forced to be renationalised the next year.

His job with EY was also far from the only consultancy role taken on by Andrew Mitchell. The Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield, who lost his role in Government as Chief Whip in 2012, earned £155,600 from consultancy jobs last year. He has since left two of the roles, including the one at EY, after his multiple extra jobs became a subject of controversy in November.


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Indeed, the second jobs of MPs have been in the spotlight after former MP Owen Paterson was found to have breached parliamentary rules by lobbying ministers on behalf of two private firms. A public backlash occurred after the Government attempted to defend Paterson – leading to his resignation from Parliament.

There is no evidence that any of the companies mentioned have won Government contracts as a direct result of lobbying on behalf of individual MPs. However, it does show the intermingling of the private and public realms, of the sort that caused such an outcry in the Paterson case.

Fleur Anderson, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, said Byline Times’ findings were “a further reminder of the cash-for-access culture the Tories have established at the heart of Government”.

“Labour would ban MPs having paid consultancy and directorship roles and set up an independent integrity and ethics commission to ensure government always works in the interests of the British public,” she added.

Aside from Veezu, none of the other MPs or companies responded to Byline Times’ requests for comment.

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Reasserting liberalism: Wera Hobhouse’s agenda to revive Liberal values

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/03/2020 - 1:18am in

Wera Hobhouse (picture: Bath Echo)

With the Labour Party leadership election continuing to drag on – longer than Götterdämmerung but likely to bring much the same outcome for that benighted party – little attention has been given to the other British political leadership that will take place later this year – that for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

It’s undeniable that the Liberal Democrats had a disappointing election. Buoyed by good European Election results and with Jo Swinson talking about how a Liberal Democrat win would be a mandate to stop Brexit, the outcome was brutal, especially in England; only 12 MPs and the apparent wholesale rejection of Liberal values in favour of an unashamed populist nationalism – English nationalism – of the right.

Assuming that Labour cannot reverse the Corbynist tide, that result provides possibly unique opportunities for the Liberal Democrats – if they can grasp them. Brexit was never simply about the question of whether the United Kingdom should leave the EU; it was one battle in a much larger culture war about the sort of society we want to be. Those battle-lines have become much clearer in the weeks since Johnson’s election win: a government that defines itself by its attacks on the institutions of liberal democracy – the judiciary, the Civil Service, even the BBC – while seeking a hard Brexit that will inflict untold economic and social damage in the name of satisfying nationalist cravings for what will clearly be an illusion of independence. Everything that has happened since the election – including the Labour Party election, characterised by its refusal to understand what really happened in December, and its participants’ apparent determination to anaesthetise its members with comforting, unthreatening narratives rather than dealing with root causes – points to the fact that the dividing line in British politics is no longer about left and right, or class, or identity, but between the politics of post-truth, populist nationalism on the one hand and of the core values of liberal democracy – of empirically-based, evidenced reform on the other.

Into that void comes the first avowed Liberal Democrat leadership candidate – Bath MP Wera Hobhouse. In both an article on the PoliticsHome website and on her own, new, campaigning website, Hobhouse sets out a vision for how the Liberal Democrats should move forward; she makes a persuasive pitch for the case for locating the party firmly on the centre-left.

There are two ideas that appear central to her case, and I think could offer the way forward for Liberal Democrats to seize the political agenda.

The first is essentially ground-clearing. It is essential that the Party acknowledges that coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives was an appalling mistake – however well-intentioned – that seriously traduced the party’s values and damaged its credibility. In my view it is absolutely essential that we repudiate the coalition, publicly and unequivocally. It remains a huge political handicap that we have to deal with.

Second, Hobhouse argues that we should “keep the flame” of rejoining the EU burning. The language here is careful; I note that she does not say that we should campaign to rejoin, and I think she is absolutely right in that. In England in particular such a position would be politically disastrous; we have to accept that, whatever we think of the electoral system, Johnson has within the terms of British constitutional practice a mandate to take forward Brexit, most of all in England where Tories and Brexit Party combined took 49% of the vote. Technical arguments that the remain/people’s vote parties had a small majority of votes cast aren’t going to cut it in the current climate, and risk reinforcing the electoral coalition – many of whom are far from being natural Tory voters – that formed around Johnson’s message of getting Brexit done last December.

I think that the key message is slightly different. We Remainers constructed the largest popular movement seen in recent British politics; we twice got a million people on to the streets of London, got six million people to sign a petition calling for the revocation of Article 50, and how a network of active, grassroots campaign groups sprung up around the UK, often with little support or encouragement from a confused and conflicted anti-Brexit campaign in London. And those people where, whether they knew it explicitly or not, campaigning for liberal values. In many ways, that big Liberal Democrat vote in the European Elections in May 2019 looks like the triumph, not of the Liberal Democrats as such, but of the “for Europe” grassroots groups around the UK, who, while explicitly and rightly cross-party, created the climate in which that vote could happen; and they are the Liberal Democrats’ natural constituency. Their values are our values.

And likewise Liberal Democrats would do well to examine how the “for Europe” groups managed, with little in the way of structure or resources, to organise grassroots campaigns that made an impression and achieved a profile that many local Liberal Democrat groups could only dream of; and often did so with a minimal resources, but with passion and imagination; a lesson, perhaps, that there is a lot more to campaigning and engagement than sticking Focus through letter boxes. If Liberal Democrats want to engage with the grassroots politics that got a million people on to the streets of London – or indeed got a thousand people on to the streets of my own city of Cardiff – they should have the humility to learn lessons from that movement too.

The biggest strength that Liberal Democrats have now is the ability to rewrite the narrative in a time of crisis: to reach out and re-engage with the millions of people who yearn for Liberal values in populist times; the decent people who, outraged by the Liberal Democrats’ role in supporting Cameron’s austerity government, looked elsewhere – most of all to the movement against Brexit – to find expression for those values. And, as Wera Hobhouse writes, in order to do that her party needs to make common cause with the people who share those values and to make a clean break with the last ten years.

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