Protest or Principle
Many portrayed the election of Tim Farron as leader of the Liberal Democrats as a swerve to the left – possibly even to the left of “Miliband Labour” (remember them?).
Then Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Leader of the Labour Party clearly intending to take Labour back towards its Socialist roots.
Tim Farron’s reaction to this says quite a lot about the 2015 Liberal Democrats.
I hope I am not overstating the case by suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the leadership of the Labour party has sent shockwaves throughout Westminster and politics in general. And for my party, the Liberal Democrats, it potentially changes everything.
Tim Farron writing in The Guardian, 17 September 2015 : For Lib Dems, everything has changed
But just what has “changed”?
One would suspect that it would be an acknowledgement that the area into which Tim Farron said he would take the Lib Dems has become more crowded. There would be welcome competition “on the left” and policies would have to be more precisely defined and debated.
But no, it appears that the Lib Dems are altering course:
… the result is the opening up of a massive space in the centre ground of British politics, for sensible, moderate progressives who are opposed to what the Conservatives are doing, but cannot bring themselves to support a party of the hard left.
This looks like a triumph of pragmatism over principle. Rather than leading his troops towards Jo Grimond’s sound of gunfire he is leading them to unoccupied space in between the two old elitist parties.
This positions them well to pick up protest votes from both these parties – provided protest voters can feel confident that they won’t be putting the Lib Dems back into government!
Today’s key announcement in Farron’s leader’s speech about prioritising housing is also consistent with seeking to gain protest votes. “Find an issue and build your protest movement around it”.
Whilst the loss of a principled “Liberal” or even “Social Democratic” focus is to be regretted, in the long term reverting to a party of protest roughly equidistant between the big two parties may be a pragmatic way back to credibility. It also saves them from examining the cohesiveness of their internal coalition.