There can be few more exasperating political leaders that Jo Swinson, currently claiming to lead the Liberal Democrats. She wanted rid of the minority Tory Government, but would not countenance Jeremy Corbyn as interim Prime Minister, despite him leading the largest opposition party. She wants to stop Brexit, yet seems to lean towards the Tories, who want to go at it full steam ahead. And she has abandoned one key principle of British Liberalism.
It was Jo Grimond, that greatest of post-war Liberals, who stated unequivocally that his party was about “The realignment of the left in British politics”. Under his leadership, the party reversed its decline and became electable again. The Liberals’ manifesto for the 1964 General Election shows the party’s radical stance. His speech to the Commons in April 1960 on our failure to join the then EEC should be required reading.
But now the tradition of British Liberalism has lost its way: since the last great leader of the Lib Dems, Charles Kennedy, there has been an inexplicable detachment from Grimond’s key principle. Coalition with the Tories all too predictably almost ruined the party. Now it has a leader prepared to shun any arrangement with Labour, even as the Tories and their press pals muscle the Brexit Party out of the electoral calculus.
For Jo Swinson, the moment of truth is at hand: if she truly wants to give the UK a chance of either a Brexit that does not lay waste to jobs, or even an option to remain in the EU, there is no point in her being sniffy and refusing to deal with Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. The right is being realigned tactically: she has no option but to do likewise.
The frustration with a lack of arrangement between Labour and the Lib Dems has been expressed in characteristically forthright terms by Femi Oluwole of Our Future, Our Choice. It is not too challenging a task to Do The Math, as they say: Labour could get the Lib Dems over the line by pulling back in Cheltenham and St Ives, and the Lib Dems could help Labour by doing the same in Canterbury and Chipping Barnet.
There are many other seats where the two parties could do each other a favour. But what point is there in Labour deciding to do the right thing if Jo Swinson refuses to consider a quid pro quo? Here in Crewe and Nantwich, the Lib Dem vote all but collapsed in 2015, and has not recovered since. But even though their candidates poll a mere 1,500 votes or so, that could be the difference between Labour holding the seat, and losing it.
The forces of the right, those determined to impose the hardest possible Brexit on the electorate, and hoping not to be rumbled before imposing it, have already effectively realigned themselves. A recession three times worse than 2008? That, it seems, is fine with the Tories and the Brexit Party. So Jo Swinson has to ask herself a question.
Do you feel lucky? Because without getting real, you won’t be getting lucky.
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