Election Diary: The opening week

This has been a week of gambits; each party has spent the first days of this campaign issuing their first pitches to the country, and trying to set the tone of the debate to their liking. From now on the endless series of pledges, manifestos and almost certainly ludicrous spending ideas will dominate the party events and news headlines for the ensuing weeks. We have even began to see the inevitable debate over debates; Jo Swinson has been excluded from the major ITV event announced at this stage, and we are to be left with the repartee of two stale men, who are both ardent Brexiteers. 

In many ways, the first part of this election campaign has gone largely as could have been predicted; Labour has tried to turn away from any attention on Brexit, not surprisingly given that its official position is about as clear as cloudy lemonade infused with a touch of cyanide; as enigmatic as it is dangerous. Indeed, an internal Labour memo advised the party to ‘not mention Remain … [and] that European Referendum topic, whatever it was called.’ Jeremy Corbyn has tried to shift the debate towards his plans for gargantuan public spending and fighting the ‘elites’ that run British business – ignoring the fact that as a long-standing MP who has been involved in London politics for his almost his whole adult life he epitomises the perception of the establishment. The shadow chancellor John McDonnell has been rather quiet of late – perhaps announcements of his iconoclastic economic policies and lynching of those who disagree with him will be saved for later. 

On the other side, the Tories have been constantly stuck to the message that they are the only party who will ‘Get Brexit Done.’ I fear that this is an extremely attractive, if meretricious, tagline. Like the Vote Leave slogan (dreamt up by Dominic Cummings), it gives a short, sharp message that gives security of a kind, and contrasts them with Labour – whose ambiguity is losing its previously strong support in the North and the Midlands. They have also been attempting to portray their vision of post-Brexit Britain and their investment into public services – which misses the point that  leaving in any form will cost Britain’s economy.

There is, of course, the new phenomenon of the Brexit Party – intent of displaying that they are even more devoted to Brexit – as if the future of the country was merely a giant machismo contest, to use the words of exiled former Rory Stewart put it. Nigel Farage has tried to position himself as the true believer – a strategy that could well mean that the Brexit vote is split to let a Remain party through in many constituencies – whilst seeing Johnson’s target ‘Workington Man’ stereotype, potentially turn to the former UKIP leader. 

The task for the Lib Dems in the weeks ahead is to firstly consolidate their position as the party of Remain – as opposed to Labour’s meandering around in the search for an oxbow lake. Secondly it is to show a vision that goes beyond Brexit, on climate change, public services and education, which prepares Britain for a future that is internationalist and outward-looking. We have to show that Remain does not mean staying with the status quo when it comes to issues such as electoral reform, the monarchy, and the church and the state and even our relationship without Europe. The tendency of the media to focus on the two main party leaders means the Lib Dems have to fight a continual air war, whilst also running the largest campaign ever seen before in the Party. 

The poetry of Shelley is often quoted by Labour in order to show both their supposed intellectual prowess and radical credibility. Let us hope that it is this message that Corbyn and Boris Johnson leave for their successor after December 12: 

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away. 

* Patrick Maxwell is a Liberal Democrat member and political blogger at www.gerrymander.blog and a commentator at bbench.co.uk.

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