|If he could talk to the Liberals...|
Times change, and this morning on Radio 4 Today, the now long-merged Liberal Democrats have only one head in charge, but several different faces on show.
Party leader Jo Swinson, walking, talking proof that there is nothing more irksome than an incompetent narcissist, held forth, chuntering on her party's latest "bold" decision - to cancel the UK's withdrawal from the European Union without even bothering with the fig-leaf of holding a referendum.
After all, she hubristically declared, if the country elects a majority Liberal Democrat government with cancelling Brexit as its major (some might say only) policy, "then that's what they'll get." PM Swinson would have a mandate to cancel.
It may seem a fanciful scenario, to say the least, but nonetheless galling coming as it does from the party that has spent decades decrying how our first-past-the-post voting system routinely returns parliaments that do not represent the views of voters. As she well knows, and must be banking on in her delusions of grandeur, if the other parties' votes split fairly evenly, a lead party can win outright power with as little as one in three of the votes cast - Tony Bliar achieved his third and final win in 2005 with just 35% of the poll.
So Ms Swinson has somehow executed a mathematical miracle whereby something slightly less that 35% could conceivably count for more than the 52% vote to Leave in the 2016 referendum.
Not so democratic Democrats, it would seem to most rational observers, though with Swinson somehow squaring this with her party supposedly championing liberalism against authoritarianism, reason may not be a word to lightly associate with this band of chancers.
Swinson was not finished though. As the BBC's Justin Webb asked her to confirm in that case that she was now against a so-called People's Vote rerun of the referendum, she changed tack. Not at all - it is party policy after all the have a new vote (perhaps with only one box to tick to approve Remain) before any General Election. It would only be different afterwards and meantime, shame on Jeremy Corbyn, just because... well, shame on him!
So, if you don't want a second referendum, vote Lib Dem.
And if you do want a second referendum, vote Lib Dem.
Ok, said Webb - his eyes rolling even on the radio - what about Scotland? Why is she against a second referendum on Scottish independence but apparently in favour of a second one on Brexit?
Ah, totally different, she opined. The best way forward for Britain was to be united but in the European Union.
Fine, so if she wins power at Westminster and that is a mandate to cancel Brexit without a referendum, presumably if the SNP win at Holyrood, that is a mandate for them to declare independence without a referendum.
Of course, you already know her answer was "No."
Essentially, a referendum is only a good thing if you promise to agree with Jo.
And so what we are left with is what we have always known - liberals are not democratic. Their idea of democracy is that the great unwashed turn up every few years and confirm their right to govern at their patronising best. Public votes are fine as long as they go the right way. If they don't, well, time for some of Jo's incredible, liberally illiberal Magical Mathematics.
These are testing times for our society. It was the market-liberal consensus, developed on from Thatcherite monetarism in Nu-Labour and accepted by the wider Political Class, that created the conditions for the Leave vote: the inequality, the competition between marginalised domestic labour and vulnerable migrant workers, the plundering of the state through PFI and financial deregulation that triggered the 2008 recession. The evident self-entitlement of so many MPs in the expenses scandal at the same time did nothing to reconcile growing numbers of disaffected voters with our political leaders. Not the worst by far, Swinson still didn't forget to keep her receipts for a 29p pack of dusters and 78p for a can of Mr Sheen: Lib Dems are nothing if not shiny.
And it was the continuation of this disaster capitalism by the Coalition Government that Swinson was a fairly senior member of that sealed it. And of course the referendum itself was a response by David Cameron to divisions in his own party, one backed by Swinson's party when it was voted on in the Commons in 2015 (she herself to be fair had lost her seat and wasn't in parliament at the time) - our liberal masters assumed of course a comfortable victory would ensue.
That it didn't, as we know, has been met by furious rebuttals that Leave voters didn't know what they were doing and should effectively be disenfranchised. While some Remainers and People's Voters would protest, the Lib Dems' enthusiastic adoption of Swinson's pledge to scrap Article 50 without a vote confirms that people who claim to be democrats and who have campaigned repeatedly for equal votes are in truth not democrats and are in fact perfectly happy for their own votes to count somewhat more heavily than those of their opponents.
As so many times in history, liberals (of all party hues) proclaim their superior knowledge of the facts and through that assert an informed knowing that eludes ordinary punters but entitles them to govern. The recent resort to the Courts over both the referendum and more recently the proroguing of Parliament betrays an almost naive if arrogant take that they can prove their opponents wrong and if so, everything will go back to meritocratic normality. In doing so, whatever their technical skills level may well be, what is clearly absent is any degree of emotional intelligence.
As we saw with the tick-boxing of Lib Dem policies through the austerity of the Coalition, these people will trumpet getting a deal on introducing a plastic bag tax in exchange for agreeing benefits cuts to the poorest and most vulnerable in society. They will claim that getting some extra funding for mental health counselling somehow makes up for all the suicides caused by introducing arduous tests for disability that were designed to fail vulnerable claimants. They are either clueless or callous, or both.
They will even try to excuse the most execrable decisions by promising to review their procedures to get it right next time, as Chief Whip Alastair Carmichael assured conference doubters over worries about the influx of expelled Tory MPs into their parliamentary ranks. Apparently, each of them was subjected to a 90 minute "grilling" by him to see if they shared the party's values. In spite of this undoubted Ordeal, perhaps via trial-by-lunch, former Tory MP Philip Lee, who opposed gay marriage and introduced legislation to ban migrants with HIV, ticked the relevant boxes.
So illiberal, but so job done...
They are of course playing with fire and are dreadfully ill-equipped to do so. Their actions do nothing to reconcile the deep division in our country, quite the contrary. And with their latest wheeze, they may well have already overplayed a hand they are viewing through a centrist magnifying glass.
The polls suggest that they have already plateaued and started to fall back from their May upsurge in the local and European elections. Swinson's smug style and twisted logic are unlikely to yield many more votes from rival parties. Yet what the polls do show is that her relentless focus on misrepresenting Labour and denouncing Jeremy Corbyn opens up the path to a potentially overwhelming victory for Johnson's Tories, especially if as is not entirely unlikely, they do come to some accommodation with Farage's Brexit Party. Combined, the Tory-BP vote in the current rolling average of polls is 46% to 25% Labour, 18% Lib Dem, 5% Green and 5% Nationalists. Repeated at a General Election, this would produce a Commons with somewhere over 470 hard right MPs out of a total of 650.
Now by Jo Swinson's logic that would be quite a mandate. Even although it might still be the choice of less than half the voters, No Deal would be a dead cert. But perhaps by then Jo will have defaulted to wanting a referendum.
Or maybe not. Maybe she'll be down at the ranch looking for a new pushmi-pull-u.
|Illiberal and undemocratic - Swinson and Carmichael|