Welcome to my day: 19 February 2024

It’s been a slightly depressing week in some ways, and promising in others.

Two by-elections saw crushing defeats for the Conservatives, which I think would generally be seen as a “good thing”, even if we weren’t the winners. In truth, it was hard to see a scenario where we would be – in both Kingswood and Wellingborough we’ve been a long way adrift even in relatively good years – and 2024 isn’t that good. There’s an increasing clear sense that voters just want to see the Conservatives gone, and will vote for whoever is seen as most likely to achieve that.

And now the Conservatives can give us all a preview of what will happen after a crushing General Election defeat (if that comes to pass), as they fight like rats in a sack for whatever cause floats their boat this week. Should they respond to Reform’s vote by moving even further to the right, or can relatively centre-right MPs move the Party back towards the centre? We kind of know who’ll win that argument, given that supposed One Nation Tories have folded at every key moment, and can only hope that, if they do veer rightwards, their demonstrable incompetence will prevent too much damage to our society.

It is, occasionally, hard to credit that we have a sister party in Russia, and even harder to do so when you consider how brave you have to be to oppose the Putin regime. But Yabloko continue to operate, maintain a social media presence, and attempt to hold the Government to account. And Alexey Navalny’s death at the hands of Putin’s goons demonstrates exactly what the risks are to anyone opposing a brutal, authoritarianism regime.

The ongoing response, arresting anyone laying flowers to mark Navalny’s death, is proof if proof were needed that Putin is not going to go quietly or at all, if he can help it, so it seems obvious that he will need to be resisted by the liberal democracies with, or without, the United States if need be. That means supporting Ukraine by supplying arms, training and key infrastructure. Using frozen Russian assets to do that seems like the obvious route, especially given that foreign investments and assets in Russia are either already seized or so will be.

One odd thing though was Tucker Carlson’s interview with Putin. Odd, because Carlson appears to have signed up to be an apologist for the Russian leadership yet presided over a truly bizarre interview in which viewers were given a rambling historical justification for a massively expanded Russian Empire. Hardly the way to reassure the Baltic States, or the Central Asian or Caucasus states that their boundaries are secure going forward. A former Mongolian President offered possibly the best response though…

And what has the world come to when American conservatives become fanboys for a Russian dictator?

Finally, Rochdale. As an advertisement for our democracy, it probably lacks something but I hesitate to condemn either the Greens or Labour. There but for the grace of God, etc, etc. as no political party can guarantee that their candidate approval process is 100% perfect. We don’t have the means to police every action that a party activist takes and instead rely on their honesty. If that fails, ordinary members have a responsibility to call out behaviour that transgresses our values and principles. If one were to fault Labour for anything, it is that ordinary members heard the comments that got their prospective candidate into trouble and did nothing.

It does mean that Iain Donaldson finds himself with an opportunity that nobody envisaged even a week ago, but it may be too late to fully take advantage. We’ll see how the Party responds over the next ten days…

* Mark Valladares is the Monday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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12 Comments

  • Mark, with a reasonably proper campaign we would have come third in both seats

  • Jenny Barnes 19th Feb '24 - 9:48am

    The Tories are not incompetent. They have managed well to funnel much taxpayers money to their cronies while generally supporting the rentier class – landlords etc. However, at the GE, with a swing like that at Wellingborough, I understand they may be left with only 4 seats :)))))) Can’t come soon enough! I might stay up to watch J. Hunt be defeated…

  • I’m inclined to draw a different conclusion from Rochdale: Shouldn’t we be more forgiving of what people have said in the past and possibly now regret? After all, most of us grow, gain experience, and change our views as we live. And most of us sometimes say or do things in the heat of the moment that are unwise or that we don’t really mean.

    Otherwise, we risk creating a climate where no one (at least on the progressive side) can be a politician unless they have spent their entire lives ruthlessly censoring themselves to suppress any opinion or remark that might one day be controversial or that some other people might find offensive. The Labour candidate in particular has now apologised for his remarks – which in any normal World ought to be enough. I don’t know what the Green candidate’s problematic social media posts were but from his actions I’m guessing he maybe also regrets them. Yet thanks to this intolerant attitude of no-forgiveness-for-past-comments, we now have a crazy situation of no Labour or Green candidate (and a much greater risk that either the Tories or George Galloway might take the seat).

  • I am disappointed that Yabloko decided not to nominate a candidate for the 2024 Presidential election – they knew they were unlikely to win having only gained 1% of the vote in 2018, but the did have an opportunity to build their support and their profile to position themselves for what will eventually follow Putin. The decision to only nominate a candidate if the could gather 10 million supporting signatures was clearly just a strange and disappointing tactic to give the party an excuse not to stand.

  • In response to Simon and Mark: I’m afraid all parties seem equally guilty of disciplining those who say anything controversial, speak against the party line or “offend” one group or other. This isn’t very J.S. Mill or very Liberal.

    I suspect the general public at large actually prefer people who speak their mind. If mainstream parties police police speech to an excessive degree, you will end up creating political space for populists like Reform UK who have no such qualms. In fact, it is already happening.

  • James Moore 19th Feb ’24 – 12:36pm:
    If mainstream parties police police speech to an excessive degree, you will end up creating political space for populists like Reform UK who have no such qualms.

    While I’m not aware of Reform UK expelling anyone, in their previous incarnation as The Brexit Party they expelled two prominent members: Andrew England Kerr MEP for making “comments about a business and a product that he has a direct financial investment in and we think that is unacceptable” and John Longworth MEP for “repeatedly undermining” their election strategy by calling for more candidates to be stood down.

    While most political parties have their loose cannons there comes a point when they risk injuring the crew or damaging the vessel’s superstructure where they have to be forcibly restrained or pushed overboard.

  • David Evans 19th Feb '24 - 6:07pm

    Mark is right when he says “There is, in any political party, a question in terms of how far beyond the mainstream view you can go and remain a credible member of that party.” However, the problem arises when some senior figures or even just the leader unilaterally try to change what “the mainstream” is.

    This can be done in numerous ways from the what seems to be the Labour way under Kier Starmer of bureaucratic deselection and expulsion as applied to left wingers, the Conservative way under Boris Johnson of removal of the whip and deselection, or just by the removal or redefinition of a few words as when Ed shortly after becoming leader, unilaterally moved us from being a clear “Brexit will result in massive self harm for our country and we stand for EU membership” party to a “No we’re not” party, without any democratic debate at all.

    Each of these massively weakened their party by cutting off a whole part of its membership – Labour has lost most of its left wing members and MPs, likewise for the Conservatives who lost sane one nation wing, while we lost nearly half of our party’s membership in just three years.

    However, in each of these three cases, I don’t think voter’s expectations were met, and that could develop into a real problem.

  • Martin Gray 19th Feb '24 - 6:44pm

    “But voters do have certain expectations when they vote Liberal Democrat, and we have a responsibility to ensure that, to a greater extent, those expectations are met”…… Voters / supporters must of been feeling very aggrieved when in the coalition those ‘espoused principles ‘ were jettisoned pretty quickly ….
    Mainstream politics has delivered mediocrity – a reaffirming of the status quo with no fundamental changes in people’s lives for the better….

  • There’s an increasing clear sense that voters just want to see the Conservatives gone, and will vote for whoever is seen as most likely to achieve that.

    It’s mostly a widespread sense of betrayal as expressed in this leading letter in the Telegraph…

    ‘Letters: It won’t just be Tory voters who express their despair at the general election’ [19th. February 2024]:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2024/02/19/letters-wont-just-be-tories-who-express-despair-at-election/

    Sixty-two per cent of voters in Thursday’s by-elections didn’t bother to vote. I submit that this was mostly not due to idleness, but rather a simmering and widespread sense of betrayal. There is scarcely a voter in the country who hasn’t felt betrayed by our Government or Parliament at some point in the past decade, whether Leaver or Remainer, Labour or Conservative, or Irish, English or Scottish. Trust in politicians has completely gone.

  • Alex Macfie 20th Feb '24 - 8:52am

    “There but for the grace of God” indeed:
    Lib Dems suspend Rochdale council candidate after LBC reveal he was campaigning for George Galloway
    https://www.lbc.co.uk/news/lib-dems-urged-to-suspend-rochdale-council-candidate/

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