Here we go again. Two years since the nation rejected the prospect of a Labour government and one year since the divisive referendum over our country’s place in the world, Britain will return to the polls on June 8 to cast her verdict on Theresa May’s “Plan for Britain”. The view in Oxford, where 70 per cent of electors voted to remain in the European Union, is not one that is replicated throughout the country—on current polling, the Conservatives are likely to increase their narrow majority and reduce Labour to its lowest number of seats since 1935.
The reality for progressives at this moment is that the Labour coalition of urban liberals, blue-collar workers, and ethnic minorities has been splintered to within an inch of its life by the slow-burn effects of globalisation and the political earthquake of Brexit. Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour party languishes twenty points below the Tories in the polls; in any case, the Conservatives are yet to mobilise their arsenal of black magic to attack the Labour brand over socialism, the SNP, and Corbyn’s ambiguous relationship with the IRA.
In any case, it’s not entirely clear whether Labour under Corbyn is the progressive force it claims to be. On Brexit, which threatens to dramatically restrict our ability to make a fairer and more tolerant Britain, Labour has acquiesced to the Tory right over issue after issue. The referendum, which dealt solely with the question of EU membership, has been hijacked by Tory hardliners to push restrictions on immigration and pull Britain out of the single market—and Labour has made no serious effort to oppose this. Election or no election, our tired political system seems hopelessly unable to vocalise the wishes of progressives across the country.
Resigning ourselves to the high likelihood of a Conservative majority would, however, be a dereliction of our democratic duty. There are practical steps to be taken to blunt the edge of the Tory victory. The Conservative majority in 2015 was not built on gains from Labour; in net terms, the Conservatives actually lost a seat to Labour. Rather, the Tories were able to form a majority because of their 27 gains from the Liberal Democrats and the total collapse of Labour in Scotland. With a Conservative revival north of the border, the only viable route to denying the Tories a majority lies in the revival of the Liberal Democrats.
It’s a fightback that has already begun. Since 2015, the party has defied expectations to win council by-elections across the country and overturn Zac Goldsmith’s 23,015 majority in Richmond Park. Meanwhile, the party has been working hard to scrutinise the government in parliament; it was Liberal peers who caused the government’s Lords defeat over a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal. There’s much evidence that the Liberal Democrats pose a credible threat to the Tories: Lynton Crosby is reported to have personally warned May that the party could lose almost all its London and south west gains to deprive it of a majority.
No political party is perfect. The Liberal Democrats in coalition made decisions which, to many voters, felt like a betrayal. Due electoral punishment was delivered. Two years on, however, and the Conservatives now have all but free rein to transform Britain far beyond the mandate of 2015. What matters now is not the past, which cannot be changed, but the future. This involves being smart—looking for Tory weaknesses on our electoral map—and ruthlessly challenging their hard Brexit vision. With only the Liberal Democrats in serious contention to defeat the Tories, there’s no better option for the progressive voter today.