I’m still debating whether to follow the example of 2010 and 2015 and do a daily general election post here. Part of me feels like I should if only solidarity with the academics who about elections and have suddenly found that they’ve now got to add ‘write an election book’ into their already overstuffed 2017 diaries. While I debate that, here’s the first of my election hot takes, as everyone with a blog is mandated by law to do at least one of these today.
This election has the potential to start rebuilding the Liberal Democrats as a Westminster force after the catastrophe of 2015. However, what Tim Farron has to be careful of is not falling into the trap of the Alliance in the 80s (and, to some extent, Clegg in 2010) of piling up lots of votes but not turning them into seats. To do that – and to have any chance of denying Theresa May an overall majority in Parliament on May 9th – I think he needs to do three things.
1) Keep up what he’s done for the last four hours – The party’s press team was on the ball, getting out press statements as May was speaking, and Tim was quickly delivering a clear and confident statement about the party and its prospects. Some of the framing was slightly lucky, but in PR terms, the fact that he was making his statement in the Cornish sun surrounded by activists while Jeremy Corbyn’s was delivered indoors in an empty room, is a good start at delivering the image of him and the party as active and campaigning. He (and the rest of the party) need to keep that up for the next seven weeks.
2) Make a statement about coalition – 2010-15 is still an albatross around the party’s neck, and ‘you’ll just go into coalition with the Tories again’ is still being repeated as a reason not to vote Lib Dem. He should look at the way Theresa May has pitched this election – her vision for Brexit against all those opposed – and take it as an opportunity. A statement on the lines of ‘Theresa May is committed to delivering a hard Brexit which we’re totally opposed to. There are no circumstances under which we could enter a coalition with the Conservatives or support them in Government after this election.’ would be entirely in line with the party’s policy and positioning. With Jeremy Corbyn talking about a ‘Brexit that works for you’, it would be a clear positioning of the party as the real opposition on the key issue of this election.
3) Make alliances with others – Given the current state of the polls, the only way to deny the Tories a majority is with widespread tactical voting. The only way to have a chance of getting widespread is for the parties to actively encourage it. Tim needs to demonstrate a real commitment to this and there’s an easy way for the party to do it: announcing we’re not going to oppose Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion. We already know she’s in favour of cross-party pacts, and making a clear signal like that is the opportunity for Lib Dems, Greens, Plaid Cymru, anti-Brexit Labour and Tories, and others to get together and work out where and how we can make deals for local electoral alliances. This election is too important for everyone to sit around waiting for someone else to make the first move, and Tim can use this opportunity to build a strong Parliamentary force against May’s Brexit.
Our political climate is changing rapidly, and this election will help create the future political rules of this country. It’s a time to take risks, not play it safe, and Tim needs to take the chance to put the Liberal Democrats at the heart of the new politics.