Liberal Democrats and Labour want the Tories out, but we must resist the descent into cheap culture-war politics

Liberal Democrats and Labour both want the Tories out, but we must resist the descent into cheap culture-war politics

 My job as the Liberal Democrat Leader of the Opposition in Southwark is to hold Southwark’s Labour Council to account. There’s much we don’t agree on: the lack of affordable homes for local people, rising crime, the state of our estates, poor customer service from the council, Labour feathering their own nests and marking their own homework, the lack of urgency on the climate emergency… to name but a few!

 However, Liberal Democrats and Labour are both progressive parties and have more in common than divides us. We share a goal that becomes more desperately important every day – getting the Tories out of government.

 The last decade of Conservative government has been a financial, social and environmental disaster for the UK. Public services are crippled by strikes, people are feeling the pinch and the economy is set to shrink, Brexit has been a disaster and any kind of meaningful response to the climate emergency is entirely absent.

 The only response the Conservatives have to their endless failures is to drag political discourse down to cheap, culture war battles. They attack the vulnerable and heighten divisions to distract from the downward spiral they have left the UK in.

 It is vitally important that the opposition parties resist this degradation of our political landscape. Unfortunately, Labour seems unable to resist the temptation. We all want rid of this terrible Tory Government. As Ed Davey said at Spring Conference “[Labour’s] only goal seems to be: “Not as bad as the Conservatives”. Talk about a low bar!” We all deserve so much better.

 Labour’s recent attack ads have been, correctly, described as a ‘descent into the gutter’ by the party’s own MPs. The lazy, inflammatory statements made in their latest material will worry the reasonable majority in this country about the nature of our next general election campaign. 

 By engaging with the Conservatives at their level, Labour are letting down the vulnerable groups who have been worst affected by this uncaring government.

 Keir Starmer’s cowardly flip-flopping on his and the party’s support for Trans rights has left the LGBTQ+ community utterly clueless as to whether Labour are their ally. Sir Keir seems entirely content with the Trans community being used as a political football.

 Thankfully Ed Davey, in comparison, has steadfastly pledged his and the Liberal Democrats’ support for Trans rights. He has refused to let our party be dragged into this anti-progressive quagmire.

 Additionally, any resistance to the Conservative’s horrifying rhetoric around refugees and asylum seekers from the national Labour Party is distressingly mute. Even more worrying are the comments of their shadow chancellor, who stated that the failure of the government is not deporting enough people. It seems compassion for people is an afterthought for both the Conservatives and Labour in this area.

 We are all hoping that the 2024 election offers a light at the end of this tunnel. Sadly, if Labour continue to their descent into gutter politics, those who need the most support may still find no respite. Together, Labour and the Lib Dems have to rise above these petty attacks and barbs and focus instead on how we can undo the damage of this Tory government.

 This article is adapted from Cllr Victor Chamberlain’s 27/4/23 column for Southwark News. 



* Cllr Victor Chamberlain is a Liberal Democrat member of the Local Infrastructure and Net Zero Board at the LGA and is the Leader of the Opposition on Southwark Council.

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  • Chris Platts 26th Apr '23 - 9:37am

    I agree with Victors view point. Slipping into the nasty politics is not a good move,we need to demonstrate we are above that,there is too much disillusionment amongst voters about politics and politicians without moving further down. We need candidates that show integrity and are responsible and sympathetic to the electorate plight that we are to be trusted. We can win by demonstrating that we cam improve things and reverse Tory policy.

  • Katharine Pindar 26th Apr '23 - 9:56am

    Well said, Victor. There is so much that is important that Liberal Democrats need to be talking about, including the desperate position of so many fellow citizens this winter with the huge rise in the price of basic foodstuffs and now the increase in Council Tax, and the decline in local services because central government isn’t granting local councils enough, as you must know so well. I also want us to be saying, in addition to deploring the health service terrible shortfalls and the failures of the water companies to control sewage overflows, that the Illegal Migration Bill is wrong and the new amendments are making it worse, drawing attention as you say to the shocking way that refugees and asylum seekers are being treated. A lot to talk about; I shall be trying to mention at least some of these things in canvassing locally this evening to try and get a local councillor re-elected!

  • I detest the Tories as much as you do, but the Labour Party are little better. I have unpleasant memories of the Blair/Brown years where the NHS was set on its destructive course by Brown’s insistence that the public sector couldn’t deliver. (See NHS plc by Alyson Pollack), when we went to war in Iraq, when immigration policy was at least as bad as under the Tories and economic policy was almost indistinguishable from what is going on now. Add to that the increasing emasculation of local government, the refusal to create regional government, and the creeping centralisation of the state and the total failure to sort out the former nationalised industries and the unwillingness to do anything major about the environment and there is little to choose between the two so-called major parties.
    Take off the rose tinted spectacles. A Labour government will be slightly less awful than the Tories, but don’t pretend that it will be different in any meaningful way. All we can do is offer an alternative and seek to win as many seats as we can, so that we have enough MPs to hold any future Labour government to account. Labour are not progressive and are increasingly pandering to Tory messages in the hope of gaining back seats lost in the red wall. Starmer will be at best a mediocre Prime Minister.

  • Michael Cole 26th Apr '23 - 1:20pm

    Victor, I can’t agree with your statement that “Liberal Democrats and Labour are both progressive parties”.

    Far from being a progressive party, Labour is an obstacle to progressive politics.

  • Steve Trevethan 26th Apr '23 - 4:00pm

    Thank you for your time and effort in writing this timely piece!

    Might we seize this golden opportunity of shoddy, negative politician-speak to explain positively, and clearly promote, whole society socio-economic policies such as a robust, well-funded publicly funded and run infrastructure which provides much needed competition for our increasingly self-centred and society harming private sector?

    Think water, dentistry, extra charges on direct labour income, the running down of health and education and so on an and on!

  • Mel Borthwaite 26th Apr '23 - 5:31pm

    It does worry me when contributors suggest that there is little to choose between Labour and the Conservatives. I suspect that thinking like that contributed to the disaster that was the Liberal Democrats backing the Tories in government from 2010 to 2015. Labour is far from perfect but to suggest it is no better than the Tories is, frankly, bizarre.

  • Nonconformistradical 26th Apr '23 - 7:06pm

    I agree with Michael Cole

  • George Thomas 26th Apr '23 - 8:28pm

    I would like to remind Labour and Tories that the contest at hand is who has responsibility for managing the UK and people’s lives within the UK. It’s not a game or simply debate over hypotheticals down the pub with someone who may have a different life view to yourself.

    I want a culture where criticism of the Tory party is only taken seriously if it comes from a Tory party member out, the culture where PMQ’s is a pointless event because it’s who can create the best soundbite to be shared on social media out, and anyone who remarks “trickle down economics works” out too.

    Please go high, LD’s, when everyone around you taking the low road and still winning more votes than you. Even if you’re left standing alone, or standing with nationalist parties, please be bold, look to the future with your ideas and go high.

  • Tristan Ward 26th Apr '23 - 9:57pm

    How can a party that exists to serve the interests of a subgroup of the people be progressive?

  • Jo Biden (according to Paul Waugh of the ‘i’ today) appealed strongly on the issue of workers rights and jobs and is doing that again now, together with green jobs. What about a strong message opposing dilution of EU regulations for workers and a much stronger push for green jobs here, as the US and EU are now doing ? If we lead on this as part of our economic message, maybe Starmer will follow ?

  • Micki Taylor 27th Apr '23 - 6:28am

    Mel. You clearly don’t remember the last Labour Government nor previous ones. I said that Labour is marginally better than the Tories, but both parties are centralist, have inhumane immigration and asylum policies, are terrible on trans rights, are anti Europe, have damaged the NHS through assorted privatisation and support the economics of the madhouse. Labour pretends it is progressive, but even a cursory examination of its policies will show that it isn’t. Both parties pander to the right, Labour to try and win back the red wall and the Tories in a desperate attempt to retain power.
    I am not, never have been and never will be a Tory supporter, but I have absolutely no illusions about the Labour Party either. Cosying up to the Labour Party will do Liberal Democrats no good and any governmental arrangement with them after the next election will damage us just as much as the coalition, unless we get PR out of it.
    Please wake up and smell the coffee

  • Chris Moore 27th Apr '23 - 7:20am

    However unprogressive Labour has been in government and is in some of its current attitudes, we are still much closer as a party to Labour.

    I see little in common with the Tories.

  • I often find myself on the overlap between LibDem and Labour policies, more so than with the Tories, and my best realistic option for the next election would be for them to lead a coalition/minority government with them giving priority to the values and policies we have in common. There are times when the LibDems do or say things that I’m unhappy with, and I think I could be tempted to vote Labour. But then Labour pull silly stunts like the attack ads, and I’m reminded of all of their other stupid policies that prevent me from voting for them.

    I really dislike those attack ads. They are so willfully dishonest, and their senior members trying to justify them on the grounds of it being politics really doesn’t help. Do they really want all politics to descend into the gutter?

    I get that political parties aim to appeal to a wide range of voters who don’t all think like me, and that means a lot of the messaging is aimed at people who are not me. And yes there’s messaging that’s not aimed at me, but deliberately creating messaging that is actively offensive to people who are decent and honest is hard to swallow.

  • Alex Macfie 28th Apr '23 - 8:44am

    @Mel Borthwaite: Ed Davey has ruled out working with the Tories after the next election. In 2010 the Parliamentary arithmetic made it the only viable option, but our leadership messed it up.

  • It’s true that Labour are better than the tories, in the same way that the common cold is a better disease to have than cancer. But equally its also true that I’d rather not have any diseases at all.

  • Peter Martin 1st May '23 - 1:19pm

    “I really dislike those attack ads. They are so willfully dishonest…..”

    Me too, plus many others in the Labour Party – yet the decision to run them has to be down to Keir Starmer who is claiming to be a person of integrity.

    However, it must be clear to all the Keir Starmer who emerged after he won the Labour leadership in early 2020 isn’t the same Keir Starmer we knew before, or thought we knew before. He clearly made a series of promises he had no intention of keeping simply to secure the votes he needed. If he can do that in a party election, why would we expect anything different in a general election? Why would we expect him not to use ‘dishonest’ attack ads

    Having said this I should say that Starmer isn’t the Labour Party. I doubt if he would win the leadership if he had to stand again now especially if we could somehow put up a decent candidate like Andy Burnham against him.

  • Peter Hirst 8th May '23 - 1:00pm

    With a GE approaching, we must allow the electorate to make an informed decision about who to support. This includes countering lies, untruths and misleading campaigns. We must be confident that given the facts it will vote for progressive, far sighted and liberal policies. Sometimes this means attacking the other Parties directly in order to allow a balanced view to be achieved.

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