But what happens next?


A political collapse along the lines of that suffered by the Canadian Conservatives in 1993 – when they fell from a Parliamentary majority to just 2 seats – has long been the stuff of fantasy in British politics. Such implosions hardly ever happen in Western democracies and yet the chances of a near repeat by the British Conservatives later this year have climbed from “impossible” to merely “highly improbable”.

Conservative whips are struggling, I am told, to identify more than fifty colleagues confident of victory in the Autumn, while the steady trickle of senior Conservative MPs standing down – Theresa May last week, Brandon Lewis this – reinforces the impression of sinking ships and guinea pig-like rodents.

Lee Anderson’s defection to Reform UK is likely to be more an effect than a cause of decline but party leaders fear that things could quickly snowball, were others to follow suit. And that’s without Farage showing his hand, which many suspect could tip the Conservative party over the edge.

In a ‘normal’ election, the roughly 35-40% of the right-wing vote consolidates over the course of the campaign around the Conservatives, driven by fear of the alternative, but what if Labour is insufficiently fear-inspiring to drive voters home, the Conservative don’t anyway look like a credible alternative government and the right wing vote splits down the middle?

It is perfectly conceivable that the Conservatives and Reform UK might each finish on between 15% and 20% with the Lib Dems just behind on 10%-12%. Under the perversities of first past the post, Labour might then reasonably expect 400+ seats in return for its 40-45% vote share, with the Conservatives might indeed plunge below 100, with the Lib Dems either side of fifty. Meanwhile, a disgruntled Reform UK, despite potentially even coming second in terms of the popular vote, might be lucky to return more than the handful of seats the Liberal party achieved with its 19% in February 1974.

Unlikely but not impossible, so it’s worth asking what next?

The incoming Labour government would garner an economic and political inheritance like no other, zero wriggle-room and huge expectations. By mid term, things could turn very bad and the electorate might once again be on the outlook for an alternative.

Meanwhile, it is hard to see a demoralised Conservative rump getting its act together in such a short period. Indeed, in such circumstances, a further lurch towards the right would seem the most likely outcome, with the next leader chosen from a much depleted field. It is also not inconceivable that the Conservatives might collapse altogether or – drawing on the Canadian experience once again – reverse engineer into Reform UK.

With Trump perhaps once again in the White House, populists performing strongly in elections across the globe and an increasingly unpredictable and volatile electorate, the appeal of such a reinforced Reform party – reinforced by self-righteous indignation arising from their treatment at the hands of FPTP – could well make them very serious rivals to Labour by 2029, especially if the UK remains in the doldrums.

Is that the only alternative?

Almost by default, the Lib Dems might emerge from the 2024 elections as the third Parliamentary force once again. For them, the question is how to make the most of the opportunity that this could open up?

Going into these elections, the party seems determined to mirror Labour positioning by simply “not being the Conservatives” to attract soft Conservatives and tactical Labour votes where the latter is perceived to be unable to win.

But while, undoubtedly, this positioning is right for this election, is it enough? Should the Lib Dems not also consider how “not to be Labour”, if only to have something with which pressure the party once it begins to falter in power?

I have previously argued that the Lib Dems should publicly declare that in the choice between tax cuts and supporting public services they will always choose schools and the NHS – a position that Paddy Ashdown (“a penny in the pound for education”) would surely have supported. Might the party not also now explicitly call out Labour’s withdrawal from its pledge to fund a massive investment in green infrastructure, a policy without which its economic strategy is set up to fail? And then of course there is Europe and internationalism and civil liberties and political reform…

Differentiation for differentiation’s sake is as Ed Davey might say “pure think tankery”.

Differentiation for political advantage is just good sense “Get Brexit Done”, for those who see a unique opportunity ahead.

Rate this post!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 6

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. [email protected] says

    Very well put Ben. LibDems will have a much stronger voice in the next Parliament and need to be clear about how it will be used to hold Labour to account. As well as the areas you Identify Id add the decentralisation of power and resources away from Westminster to cities and regions.

Leave a Reply

The Author
Latest Related Work
Follow Us