Back to the future

I have spent a fair bit of time in recent years studying the history of the Liberal Party.

One period that particularly interests me is the years following the end of World War One when Labour replaced the Liberals as the principal opposition to the Conservatives in this country.

There were a number of factors that contributed to this, not least the very damaging split in the Liberal ranks between Asquith and Lloyd George factions.

The widening of the franchise and a growing working class also worked in Labour’s favour. Once it had been relegated to third place there was no way back for the Liberals and in the 1950s the party nearly disappeared altogether.

Since then there have been some mini-revivals from ‘Orpington Man’ through to ‘Breaking The Mould’ and ‘Cleggmania’ but no major breakthrough, as the majority of voters who oppose the Tories stubbornly remain loyal to Labour.

That could be changing as, like many of its sister parties in Western Europe, Corbyn’s Labour are in decline. Their electoral base is shrinking and they cannot square the circle created by the EU referendum vote. In any General Election they don’t just have the Tories to worry about.

The Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party are snapping at their heels as well. To add to those woes they are internally divided and the party machinery is controlled by left wing zealots intent on forcing out any unbelievers, evidenced by the recent attempts to abolish the long established post of Deputy Leader simply because it is occupied by someone from the moderate wing of the party.

The Liberal Democrats have never been in a better position to stake out a position as the principle non-socialist centre left alternative to the Conservatives. – The UK’s most united party with an energetic youthful leadership and a growing membership.

The tide of history is flowing in the direction of organised liberalism. We could well be heading ‘Back To The Future’ with the 2020s reversing what happened 100 years ago. As that decade beckons the key issues look set to be the future of work, the environment, health and social care. Radical policies that tackle these challenges can sweep a Liberal back in to number ten Downing Street.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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  • nigel hunter 25th Sep '19 - 4:03pm

    Yes Labour are split,it shows in the polls. We ave everything to play for to change the mould.
    It is also the Tories who seem to be splitting .However they are a tougher party to deal with but it must be dealt with for us to come thru the middle.
    Whilst the Westminster media live in the bubble of Parliament.(they cannot be bothered to tour the country to see what is really happening) Farage is being selective in mini rallies where he expects to win seats. It would seem he is campaigning on an’ us and them scenario’ .Us the people. Them the Establishment. He forgets that he is one of the establishment. He is playing the divide and conquer game of the old ways.ALL 3 PARTIES MUST BE SHOWN AS OUT OF DATE. The country and the people TOGETHER have to face an uncertain future if we leave. Revoke A50 can end that. Stop the ‘us and them’ divisiveness and hate that is being exploited.

  • Paul Barker 25th Sep '19 - 7:22pm

    Just over 2 Years ago the gap between Libdems & Labour in the Polls was averaging 39% .(Britain Elects) Today it stands at 4%.
    We can do this.

  • Katharine Pindar 26th Sep '19 - 12:30am

    A worthwhile article, thanks, David. But it’s far from certain that we can regain our former position as main Opposition to the Conservatives. We need electoral reform and introduction of STV nationally to ensure we maintain our favourable position.

    True, it’s hard to see Labour while dominated by its ‘left-wing zealots’ as you characterise them being swept into power, and their full socialist programme isn’t likely to attract majority support. But, hey, you may get into power with only 35% of the vote in the present system, so we understand. And what if Corbyn resigned, Keir Starmer took over, David Milliband flew home and John McDonnell moderated their programme? I think we will not see a fatal decline in social democracy in Europe. If and when extremists are diminished, at that glad time in our country it will perhaps be uncertain whether Labour or ourselves have first claim on the allegiance of instinctive social democrats.

  • David Warren 26th Sep '19 - 4:14pm

    Thanks Katherine. I believe that the key to future Lib Dem electoral success is our policies. I know you have been advocating a radical approach to welfare and I agree with that.

    We need to propose substantially higher levels of benefits and trials of a universal basic income. That combined with getting it right on things like the environment will catch the imagination of voters.

    As far as Labour are concerned I really can’t see them shifting to a moderate position any time soon.

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