Is it time for the Liberal Democrats to go after the eurosceptic vote?

Time for Nick to play as dirty as the Tories?

Time for Nick to play as dirty as the Tories?

These are challenging times for the Liberal Democrats. Having seen electoral reform cruelly snatched from them not by their political enemies but by the British people themselves, and seen their polls ratings plummet, they must be racking their brains for options for the future.

The party needs to examine options it would never have considered before. First of all, it has to accept that First Past The Post is here to stay in the medium-term at least, and use it.

The party has got to come to grips that its appeal as a party has been to a great degree as a centre-left protest party. It’s hardly surprising that so many of its voters dropped off after coalition, because those voters were onboard only as long as the party pandered to their particular grievances. Don’t forget that there are Tory rightwingers going about ranting that David Cameron has been “captured” by the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dem vote seems, probably because of its historical position as the perennial third party, to be particularly soft. Every party has soft voters. The problem is that most Lib Dem voters seem to be opportunistic rather than actual liberals.

So, what lessons can be learned?

1. The failure of electoral reform is a serious setback, and means that if they are to survive, the Lib Dems, on leaving this government eventually, cannot reenter government again until PR in some form is on the agenda. PR is the only way of protecting the party as it sheds its opportunistic voters.

2. Until PR is assured, the party must remain outside government, fighting a guerilla style campaign against the government of the day, building up its support, and being as selfish about protecting its own interests as the Tories and Labour were about theirs in the AV referendum. I have previously argued that the party should participate in coalition, but that was on the clear basis of getting electoral reform. Now that’s off the table, everything changes.

3. As part of that, the Lib Dems should attack the Tories from the right over Europe. There is nothing inherently anti-European about supporting a referendum to confirm or repeal Britain’s membership of the EU. Should the Lib Dems consider a stand down pact with UKIP in seats where Tory MPs are vulnerable to a UKIP challenge, in return for UKIP agreeing to do the same in Lib Dem seats? Imagine the effect on Tory MPs in Con-Lab marginals who suddenly wake up to the potential of a viable UKIP candidate in third place, specifically targetting eurosceptic Tory voters. Transforming UKIP candidates from a few hundred to a few thousand votes would have them sweating spinal fluid in Central Office, and good enough for them. They lauded the system, and so the Lib Dems should use the much lauded First Past the Post for what it is: Crude, ugly and open to manipulation. It is the choice of the people, after all. AV would have given the Tories UKIP transfers. Now that it is off the table, the Lib Dems helping UKIP drain off Tory votes is in the Lib Dem’s interests, in that preventing a Tory majority (or making a further mockery of FPTP) allows for more opportunities for the party in a new parliament, as well as possibly getting a “loan” of UKIP votes in Lib Dem marginals.

We’re not in Kansas anymore.

8 thoughts on “Is it time for the Liberal Democrats to go after the eurosceptic vote?

  1. Values schmalues. It’s a poor show when one party in a debate claims to be the offering the mainstream/middle of the road. Let the pipple decide ! Oh wait, being an unreconstructed Europhile, you believe the pipple need to be led to the promised land of Rumpy.

    There’s only one real policy that the Lib Dims as a whole care about, and that’s Proportional Representation – which confirms the idea that all Lib Dims really care about is the fortune and success of the Liberal Dimocrat Party.

    Because of this, the one non-negotiable concession they wanted from the Cons was the referendum on electoral reform, in this case on AV (which, just possibly, might lead to another Coalition and a further referendum for PR). It was a classic example of short term triumphing over long term strategic thinking.

    The Lib Dems had one objective going into the Coalition, and that was to prove to everyone how trustworthy and competent (no, really) they were, how their ideas when put into practice delivered real benefits and improved people’s lives.

    If they’d been willing to go into Coalition without the referendum promise then people might – just might – have been willing to believe that they went into the partnership in the national interest rather than their own.

    The LibDims long since abandoned any ideas it might have of winning an election in its own right and has instead taken a path to which the voters, quite rightly, resent and object.

    If they want PR, they need to win a bloody general election. Simples.

    Kind regards

  2. Well David, I suppose we’ll see in the end how our values pan out. There are those in the mainstream of politics who represent my views. You could be waiting a little longer.

  3. I’m suggetsing that they use FPTP which forces millions of Brits to vote for parties they don’t like to hurt other parties. Nothing new about that.

  4. “We’re not in Kansas anymore”

    But you (judging from your lessons learned) apparently are.

    Apologies for the poor phrasing.

    Kind regards

  5. I’m not suggesting the party become eurosceptic.

    You are suggesting that they tell their voters in a large number of seats to vote for a hard-right Europhobic party (the “BNP in blazers”). They would still be savaged.

    The Lib Dems’ problem was one of naivety; they concentrated on getting an AV referendum (which the Tories were always going to do their utmost to defeat) while not insisting that the redrawing of constituency boundaries (which suits the Tories) be conditional AV getting through. But most importantly, while they got some concessions on civil liberties issues which don’t affect people’s lives very much, they got little or no influence over economic issues – all the big cabinet positions are in Tory hands, the budgetary policy shows no sign of Lib Dem moderation of Tory obsessions, and they were forced into a humiliating about-turn on university fees. They’re a left-liberal party who are being smothered and outmanoeuvred by much sharper operators on the right.

  6. Cyn, I think you may has misunderstood my point. I’m not suggesting the party become eurosceptic. Advocating an In/Out referendum has been suggested by Lib Dems in the past. I’m suggesting short term tactical alliances with another small party to attempt to manipulate FPTP for their benefit. After all, it’s not like British elections are about electing a diverse parliament. By the way, the PDs did have a voting pact once with the Democratic Left, to help nullify a particularly obscene part of the Irish political system.

  7. This is a question to which the answer is No.

    The Lib Dems would have no credibility, either with their former voters or the ones they would be pursuing, under those circumstances. While they could reasonably argue for an “in or out” referendum – as far as I know they supported the idea before the 2010 election – they could hardly do a 180-degree turn on the issue of membership and still be considered a semi-serious party.

    In addition, UKIP’s views on issues beyond the EU tend to be anti-immigrant (especially anti-Muslim) and authoritarian on law and order – again the polar opposite of where the Lib Dems stand.

    Imagine, if you will, Michael McDowell or Mary Harney trying to attack Fianna Fáil from the economic left after the 2007 election and proposing an electoral alliance with Richard Boyd-Barrett and Joe Higgins. Now think what the reaction on all sides would have been.

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