Category: Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democratic Party

Why Labour might want No Deal… and why such thoughts are dangerous

No Deal would suit Labour for the same reason as it would suit the Conservatives: with Brexit done each of the two major parties’ main rival would lose its main selling point. If No Deal turned out badly, that would suit Labour even better. They could blame the Tories for it while still scooping up its benefits. Discuss.

I could have stopped there. But in politics, where duplicitousness is common, there is an ever-present temptation to think that it is universal and that one’s opponents are only pretending to oppose. “Relax!” says a soothing voice. “We don’t need to do anything. They secretly want us to win and will open the gates before battle begins.” Everywhere I see Remain supporters claiming that Boris Johnson, Bluffer Boris, knows full well that leaving without a deal would be a disaster and will arrange at the last moment for it to be avoided. They add that he never even expected or wanted to win the referendum in the first place; did you not see his shocked face the morning after? He just wants someone else to step in and stop it so that he can blame them for betraying Brexit while still scooping up the benefits of remaining in the EU.

Long may they believe this. By “long” I mean until 31st October 2019. But I fear that my half-belief that Jeremy Corbyn secretly wants Brexit is merely another manifestation of the same comforting delusion.

The real reason Jeremy Corbyn wants Brexit

Andrew Lilico of the Telegraph does Jeremy Corbyn an injustice. He writes,

Jeremy Corbyn will not stop no-deal, because he believes it’s his only route to power

Given that Corbyn could have forced a pre-no deal general election by holding a confidence motion on July 25, but his not doing so has made no deal hugely more likely, why didn’t he?

Here I must interject that unlike Lilico I do not believe for a moment that Corbyn could have won a Vote of No Confidence on July 25. For Corbyn to have won a VONC, several Tories would have had to side with him. For a Conservative MP to vote out a Conservative Prime Minister literally on his first full day of office would have been too spectacular a reversal of their loyalties.

Be that as it may, Lilico then argues that,

There are two parts to the answer. First, he may have feared a ‘Boris bounce’ in the polls, if an election had been held immediately upon Boris’ appointment. Some recent polls have shown Labour on barely more than 20 per cent (sometimes lower) and post-Boris polls have the Tories up as high as 30 per cent. Forcing a general election that gave Boris a majority to implement no deal could have backfired.

But the more fundamental reason is that Corbyn really sees no deal as an opportunity, not a threat. He doesn’t actually care whether the UK remains in the EU or not, provided he is not seen as responsible for either outcome. What he cares about is the overthrow of the current economic and political system and the introduction of a True Socialist state. Brexit is intrinsically a distraction, but in practical terms an opportunity.

The best outcome, from the point of view of promoting Corbyn’s vision, is a general election held at the maximum point of disruption post-no deal. He wants an election to be held, if possible, with strikes crippling public services, food shelves empty in the shops, medicine shortages at the pharmacies, chaos in Northern Ireland, and lorries backed up at the Channel. Then he can say: Capitalism has failed; give Socialism a chance.

I do not think it’s the case that Jeremy Corbyn is a cynical Disaster Socialist, although he cannot help but be aware that if disaster ensues he will stand to benefit.

But he does want Brexit. Firstly because he has wanted to be out of the EEC/EC/EU all his political life and his conversion to Remain was half-hearted at best, false at worst. But far more important right now is that Brexit – any sort of Brexit – finally happening will, at a stroke, wipe out the biggest reason for voting Liberal Democrat. Brexit will do for Labour what it will do for the Conservatives: destroy their biggest rival’s main selling point.

Most Remainers are left wing. What’s the point of them voting Lib Dem to stop Brexit once Brexit has already happened? To shake their fists at Labour for not fighting harder? That would be a futile gesture, and expensive if their wasted vote allows the Conservatives to gain by splitting the left wing vote. True, a hard core of Remainers will gird their loins and start the long campaign to rejoin the European Union. The Liberal Democrats will become the party of Rejoin, and as such will have a secure niche in British politics for decades to come. But faced with a choice between a long and possibly fruitless campaign and the best chance socialism has had in years, most left wing Remainers will pivot back to simply being left wingers.

Four ways Boris could fail, and in most of them Brexit fails with him

Professor Matthew Goodwin is the author of National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, which I have read and found good. As an academic he maintains an attitude of detachment but it is clear to me that he wants Brexit, partly from fear that if the referendum result is thwarted the result will be a resurgence of the nativist Right, who will have been shown to be correct in their claim that democracy is a sham.

Goodwin believes the most likely thing to happen in the next few months is that Boris Johnson will succeed in delivering Brexit and will win an election on the strength of having done that. In this article, “Boris Wins Big … Right?”, he details four scenarios that end very differently. I approve of that type of thinking.

One lesson of the past decade, as I usually point out in my talks, is that we should always challenge Groupthink. It’s not that I find the above implausible, because I don’t. If things do not change then Boris has a pretty good chance of winning a majority, albeit one that in my view will be much less spectacular than Twitter would have you believe. But it could also go very wrong and we should recognise that conventional wisdom has a dismal record. Long-time subscribers of this bulletin know that it is only by challenging Groupthink that we saw 2016 Leave victory coming. So where could it go wrong for Boris? Here are four things his team need to think about.

Of the four factors he cites, only the first two strike me as big risks. They are:

– 1. He fails to unify Leavers
– 2. Corbynomics remains popular

In all the hullabaloo about Brexit it is easy to forget that a generation has grown up who only know of Margaret Thatcher as a kind of Bogeywoman and who know nothing of the failures of socialism that caused her to be voted in. Corbynomics is indeed popular, more popular than Corbyn himself. Never forget that the hard Left was a vital part of the coalition that won the 2016 EU referendum.

Added later: I said I admired Goodwin’s willingness to think about how he could be wrong in his predictions and how things could go contrary to his desires. In contrast Polly Toynbee seems constitutionally unable to think for very long about uncongenial matters. She writes, “Only a government of national unity can deliver us from no deal”, without once mentioning the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems are as vital to the Remain coalition as the Hard Left are to the Leave coalition; to put forward the idea of a government of national unity (headed by Margaret Beckett of all people) that does not include them is to add an intra-Remain absurdity on top of the wider absurdity of proposing a government of “national unity” to force through something bitterly opposed by half the electorate, as a commenter called “Katherine1984” pointed out.

Lest I be revealed as unable to think of uncongenial things myself, let me say that unfortunately the Remain side includes many brains more flexible than Polly’s. Dominic Grieve, for one.

Jo Swinson’s Dilemma

“I want to thank all the people who put aside their normal party choice to vote for me today.” (Jo Swinson, acceptance speech, 2017 election – quoted from memory)

East Dumbartonshire was one of the top seven NO-voting districts in the Scottish indyref 5 years ago. Jo is well aware she is only an MP because a sufficient number of people (some of whom I know) who normally vote Tory or Labour put aside their party choice to prevent the SNP getting the seat. Of all the Scottish MPs in Westminster, none are more existentially committed to there being no second indyref.

Having won her seat, Jo has now won leadership of the LibDems and this too required her to commit to a couple of positions on a couple of referenda.

She wants a second brexitref. How to square that circle with her position on indyref? Could she say that, since she believes leaving a union of a few decades needs two affirming referenda, not just one, she naturally thinks leaving a union of a few centuries needs ten or twenty consecutive wins (plus another one to cancel out the referendum that the natz lost)? Suitably spaced, such win-them-all-or-lose neverendums would ensure the natz in effect kept their ‘once in a lifetime’ promise – even if they did not die before their time from mingled fury and boredom. I don’t see it ever working in real life – but meanwhile it’s a thing a politician can say.

So on the whole, I see her other referendum-related commitment as the more troublesome for her. The LibDem’s price for forming a coalition with Cameron was a referendum on ‘reforming’ (i.e. changing) our voting system. It was a crushing defeat for the idea and for the LibDems. Now Jo has made electoral reform the “front and centre” price of any coalition with anybody. Will the LibDems be content with the offer of two referendums (to be held sometime after a referendum on it that they must win just to annul their prior referendum defeat)? Will they be content with the offer of even just one referendum – even one in which their getting first to the post with just one vote extra would suffice for victory? This is another issue I hope never arises in real life – but meanwhile, what does a politician say?

Even in today’s LibDem-friendly media environment, the new leader may not be able to avoid the occasional question about why she thinks we common people must vote ‘Leave’ twice before she’ll let us leave the EU, but she’ll let herself change what our votes mean through a mere parliamentary deal.