Politics is always both complex and very simple. 这 North Shropshire byelection, if we needed any reminder, proves it. The Liberal Democrats won big in this safest of safe Tory seats. And yet in six out of the past seven general elections, it was Labour and not the Lib Dems that came second here, so shouldn’t it have been the progressive’s choice? How do we answer that, and what does this result tell us about the chances of a non-Tory government?
The Lib Dems know how to finesse byelection campaigns; it’s their specialist Mastermind subject. Their people flood in from across the whole country, putting bodies on the line. Perhaps critically, their vote share can generally enjoy higher highs and lower lows than Labour’s. It can soar like yesterday or plummet like it did nationally in 2015. But in this seat Labour’s vote was arguably already at its ceiling at around 30% 在 2017, and so somewhat counterintuitively the third-placed Lib Dems were best placed to win.
Just think about any safe Tory seat – like North Shropshire was supposed to be. If Tory voters are going to kick their party, who are they going to use to do the kicking? 劳动, or the more centrist and safer Liberal Democrats? Even under that nice Mr Starmer, it’s an obvious choice for them.
As of the last general election, 有 80 Tory seats where the Liberal Democrats are second to the Tories. Labour can either step aside in these seats, or split the vote and let the Tories win. Attacking the Lib Dems for not always being as left as Labour on every policy issue is electoral suicide – whereas giving them room to win over soft Tory voters can help Labour into power.
But to some key people in the Labour party, the Lib Dems will always be the enemy to be crushed. This is a tragic misreading of history – not least, 的 1997, 什么时候 cooperation with the Lib Dems helped Labour to victory. It is also a misreading of Labour’s historic win in 1945, when its whole programme was based on the economic and social liberalism of Keynes and Beveridge. Attacking the Lib Dems along with the Greens locks the country into a Tory future.
Labour needs to win an impossible-seeming 125 seats just to achieve a majority of one in the Commons. But only 40 seats would need to change hands to progressive parties to deny the Tories a majority. No power, or the largest share in power: the example of North Shropshire poses a stark choice for 劳动.
当然, for some in Labour there is a strategy to get Tory voters to jump straight to them: it’s to follow the 1990s New Labour model. Back then “New” sent the signal to Tory voters that New Labour was in reality “Not” Labour. Tony Blair made it safe for millions of Tory voters to back him, precisely because he offered no challenge to their way of life or values. Inevitably this stirred up trouble in Labour’s backyard – it sowed the deep seeds of Brexit, the loss of vital Scottish seats and then red wall seats, and four straight Tory general election victories. It is not a place Labour should go back to.
Let’s return to North Shropshire. Labour’s campaign was a mess. It seems likely that a deal had been done on the quiet between Keir Starmer and Ed Davey that divided up Old Bexley and Sidcup for Labour, and North Shropshire for the Lib Dems. We can assume this because Starmer didn’t go to North Shropshire once, whereas Davey visited umpteen times. But locally, Labour ignored this and still campaigned robustly. They very well could have split the vote. Luckily the voters knew better.
This is the politics of both hypocrisy and failure: the party leaders do a deal, pretend they haven’t and confuse everyone. At a byelection there is enough noise for progressive voters to work out who has the best chance to win. But project this on to a national election and it’s a recipe for chaos. 同时, Labour keeps on supporting first past the post, despite its members overwhelmingly wanting change to the antiquated voting system that shores up the Tories and punishes progressives by splitting their votes. And for good measure, if any Labour member says, “Vote Lib Dem to beat the Tories”, they get expelled. For the Labour machine, maintaining the “two-horse race” feels more important than winning.
所以, some home truths. 第一的, while the Liberal Democrats can outperform their national showing at byelections, they often fail to hold the same seats at a general election. A byelection strategy is no replacement for a political strategy. The Liberal Democrats should enjoy their moment, but not kid themselves. They have a lot more work to do.
第二, Boris Johnson will either recover from this blow or be replaced. Tory politics won’t remain static. They are ruthless and determined. If they are to be denied a record fifth victory at the next general election, then all progressive parties are going to have to do better individually and collectively, not least to find a way to reward the Greens, who are now potentially king- or queen-makers for Labour or the Lib Dems in up to 30 座位.
这里, 然后, is the simple bit. The electoral map is crystal clear. It is progressives versus the Tories. All progressive parties need to do is work together to create a national mood for change, and then get out of each other’s way at the next general election. If local constituency decisions can be made for one-off “stand-asides” to beat the Tory candidate, along with an agreement that the next government would implement proportional representation, then progressives might stand a chance of both dislodging the Tories, and creating a new kind of politics. Last night voters showed this is what they want. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.