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The Liberal Democrats are a shambles, widely reviled for betraying people’s trust on tuition fees and led by an old man with no charisma. Yet they are topping the opinion polls. How come?

The proximate reason is parochially British: they are unambiguously against Brexit and have refused to compromise on their position. The underlying reason, though, is much more fundamental and common across nations; we are seeing a political shift which could result in the Lib Dems becoming the natural party of power or main opposition for years to come.

First, Brexit. The Brexit Party is the party of choice for people who want Brexit. It might be joined by the Conservative party depending on who they get for leader and those two parties will compete for the nativist vote.

The other half of the country loathes Brexit, loathes Farage and loathes what the Conservatives are becoming. They will therefore vote for the opposite, and the opposite is the Lib Dems (or maybe the Greens).

Labour have now become the new party of the centre, representing compromise, and will suffer the fate of centre parties, which is to be a distant third in first past the post elections. This is ironic because they have the most genuinely socialist leader they have ever had, and could hardly be described as a centrist party.

If the Conservatives do not continue their path towards nativism and challenge Farage, they too will suffer the same fate.

When I was young, we had two parties; a socialist Labour party and a free-market Conservative Party. These parties were poles apart, were mutually antagonistic and opposed everything that each other stood for.

In the 1980s, the SDP briefly filled the gulf between them – the main parties reacted by tacking to the centre, eating up the SDP’s votes but also resulting in looking very similar to each other, variants on liberal democratic parties in all but name, much to the resentment of their traditional supporters.

This is a trend that happened in most democratic countries, and then came the reaction against it – with the emergence of anti-liberal parties which are picking up large numbers of disaffected votes; for example Le Pen in France, Law and Justice in Poland, La Liga in Italy. Indeed, it is becoming hard to find a country where this is not happening.

But now we are seeing a reaction to the reaction: who are people going to vote for that are terrified or appalled by these people? They will vote for parties that unambiguously stand up for liberal values; Macron, Civic Platform in Poland, the Greens in Germany and the Liberal Democrats.

What does this mean? First of all the Lib Dems, should make a voting pact with the Greens, the party known as Change UK, possibly even the SNP – people are at the moment voting anti-Brexit rather than the party platforms.

They should think of novel ways of attracting or helping reasonable Labour and Conservative politicians to join the central movement. Ironically, it makes sense for the Conservatives to pick a leader (at least for the narrow short-term survival of their party) who can compete with Farage. A certain blonde buffoon springs to mind.

It is no longer a time to compromise. You have to throw in your lot with the side that represents your values: internationalist liberal democracy, or isolationist nationalism. Take your pick.

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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.

Comments

  1. Stephen Gwynne says

    False dichotomy.

    Remainers represent supranational (neo)liberal technocracy, or supranational nativism, which seeks to constrain pluralism and ideological diversity.
    Leavers represent national liberal democracy, or national nativism, free from the constraining dictates of a supranational neoliberal technocracy.

    The reason why parties became so similar is because of the Mastricht Treaty which codified into UK law supranational technocratic ordoliberalism which remainers in particular have capitalised on hence their belligerent denial of national liberal democracy.

    The main basis of nationalist orientated parties is to create sufficient democratic autonomy to create national sustainability, national sufficiency and national resilience and ensure national economic, social, cultural, political and ecological security.

    The main basis of supranationalist orientated parties is to deny national security concerns and instead make Europe a free trade area which seeks to emulate the USA.

    The emotional gap between the two competing and equally valid points of view is best seen within the context of an economic, ecological or environmental crisis. EU Supranationalism does not enable the ability of member states to create national sustainability, sufficiency and resilience due to the EU law of the 4 economic freedoms which is deteriorating the UK’s ecological means of survival. With food security at 60%, in the event of a European crisis, 40% of the UK population will be forced to transit to other European regions where there might be surpluses. Therefore for the europhile, a supranational framework which does not impede transit seems like the secure option. However this perspective does not give adequate attention to the fact that UK food security has been impoverished due to the same supranational framework.

    Brexit therefore is seeking to address that ecological deficit which for europhiles breaks the emotional security link with the EU 4 freedoms. Similarly Brexit puts into sharp relief the fact that the country is not sustainable, not sufficient and not resilient and with 60% food security, europhiles are afraid that underlying perceptions of food insecurity will morph into xenophobic expressions.

    This paradoxical dilemma has been created or at the very least sustained by EU entanglement. The question therefore is whether national sustainability, national sufficiency and national resilience should be pursued or whether we should continue disregarding national ecological security and allow national ecological insecurity to become even worse.

    This question was put to the nation and a voting majority decided to pursue national sustainability, sufficiency and resilience. Yes this breaks the emotional security link in case of a European crisis but it also gives us the capability to reduce national economic, social, cultural, political and ecological insecurity. This ultimately is the price we must pay for years of largely undemocratic EU entanglement which has been accomplished by centrist politicians not making clear distinctions between what was EU policy and UK policy including the fact that the EU free trade system is designed to not be easily changed through national democratic legislation.

    The current outcome of the Brexit debate so far is a quarter way split between the Brexit Party, LibDems, Tories and Labour which means no party will be likely to have a working majority in Parliament. This means hung parliaments may become the norm for the foreseeable future as the emotional security gap is resolved.

    This is a good example of how democratic systems work and how they easily adapt to changing circumstances unlike the largely static technocratic framework of the EU Treaties.

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