Two and a half years ago or so Theresa May called a General Election in an attempt to get a stonking majority, crush Jeremy Corbyn and get her vision of Brexit done and dusted. It would be her legacy and boy she was on course for that big victory. She knew that plenty of former Lib Dem seats could drift back to the party but Labour were so downtrodden that picking up huge swathes of red seats seemed easy enough.
Then a funny thing happened. Theresa May had a dire campaign, which would surely mean the Lib Dems would pick up steam in those Tory/LD battlegrounds but an even funnier thing had happened before the then Prime Minister shot her own campaign in the foot, the Lib Dem leader Tim Farron just wasn’t sure where he stood on gay sex and that was the end of that.
For you see, a lot of the Lib Dem vote is extremely soft because – and I’ll tell you a little bit of a secret here – not a lot of people actually want to vote for the Lib Dems. They will find any excuse to not do so. I’ve had people email me when I ran a local party website telling me they were going to support us but found a small part of our manifesto that they disagreed with so they wouldn’t. They would instead vote for Labour who had the same thing in their manifesto but that was ok.
Even today I got a message from a supporter telling us that we had lost their vote. Did it have anything to do with policy or something a local candidate had done? Lord no. It had to do with what was going on in Canterbury (although he said it was Cambridge so I’m not sure exactly how clued up they are…) and because we still intend to stand a candidate, we have lost their support. I’m seeing it all over twitter as well. Anything to not vote Lib Dem and instead vote for Labour’s version of Brexit.
This is a problem for Jo Swinson and the Lib Dems. A big problem. The media narrative is already pushing this towards a two-party race. This is what the media like as it makes life a whole lot easier and for many people, they too like this because it sets up a straight contest. The fact the Labour Party and the Conservative Party both want a version of Brexit means very little to a lot of people. Remainer types see Labour as the party of Remain despite their policy being completely different to that. They’ll change people think. Will they heck.
Political campaigns are all about momentum and in the early running of the 2019 General Election one, the Lib Dems are at best – and I mean at best – treading water. The Con to LD vote among Remainers seems pretty solid and significant. It is why many Conservative seats in these areas are very much in play for the Lib Dems. Their problem is Labour Remainers are just itching for a reason to flock back home. They don’t care if their party is racist, antisemitic, actually led by a Brexiteer, what they want is to still vote for them. The Labour vote is more engrained than any other among supporters.
This is why Canterbury causes such a problem for the Lib Dems. Labour stole the seat on the Jeremy Corbyn bounce in 2017 with a candidate who could easily sit on the Lib Dem benches in a parallel universe. Plenty of Lib Dems could go out and vote for her as their MP but she is still standing on a Labour platform of negotiating a version of Brexit, which she says would be a bad thing. She wants to win to change the party from the inside but didn’t we see that play out last time and look, plenty of moderate, Remainer type Labour MPs have either left the party or decided not to stand again seeing the direction the party is going in. Clearly Labour are moving even further left – just like the Tories are moving further right – as the moderates in each party decide they’ve lost the war.
Would Rosie Duffield be an excellent MP and voice for Remain in the House of Commons? Sure. Would she get there by standing behind a manifesto promising a Labour version of Brexit? Yes she would. Now in Labour’s scenario there would be another referendum where presumably she would support Remain so go against her parties negotiated position. Surely that makes little sense? Yet folks, that is where we are.
So do the Lib Dems parachute in a candidate who at this late stage have next to no chance of winning? Probably not, yet by sitting back they aren’t giving Remainers a viable party to vote for who could on a good day win the seat. It is hard Brexit vs. negotiated Brexit and for many that would in itself be a bad thing but because it is a Labour Remainer who is the MP, standing against that would be a disgrace.
The Lib Dems cannot win this situation. All they can do is manage it. Would I at this late stage parachute someone in who’ll enter a local party who don’t want to stand someone and who is highly unlikely to win? Probably not but by standing down, you aren’t giving the residents of Canterbury a Remain manifesto to vote for. You also are giving something to Labour but getting nothing in return. A pretty crap position in itself.
This leads me to think that should the Lib Dems not stand in Canterbury, it wouldn’t do much good as soft Labour supporters will just find another reason to stick it to the Lib Dems and vote for the party they want Labour to be. If they stand they’ll get pilloried by many for actually wanting to win seats in the House of Commons.
Damned if they do and damned if they don’t, the Lib Dems know that they are held to a higher standard than the other two major English parties and should they fall short of those lofty expectations, they’ll get punished, even if they reach a mark higher than the Tories or Labour.
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