Three ways the Lib Dems could fail themselves if rumours are right

Rejection of “progressive alliance”, bottling out of cabinet places and electoral reform with a gove

This is clearly a very time-sensitive post, so let's get to the point. If the rumours about the Clegg-Cameron agreement are correct, there are three potential ways in which it would fail both progressive politics and, in the long term, the Liberal Democrats themselves.

1. By avoiding a "progressive alliance" with their natural bedfellows in Labour and others, the Lib Dems will have let go of the possibility of not just proportional representation and a number of seats -- perhaps six or seven -- in the cabinet. They will also have failed in the immense historic possibility of reunification between two movements -- Labour and Liberal -- that belong together and that were, once, together. From such a reunification, there might have flowed a fairer Britain, if not a fairer world, with a more progressive tax system and a more ethical foreign policy.

2. Much is being made of this bizarre concept of "supply and confidence", under which the Lib Dems would prop up a minority Tory government, passing through the "emergency Budget". The Tory-supporting press in particular is excited about it. Not surprising. But what is not clear is how it benefits the Lib Dems, other than to retain an element of their already heavily qualified "purity" as they avoid becoming tainted by a party with which they have been in intense talks for days. It is hard to see how a one-party government of the Tories would support the progressive politics advocated by people such as Charles Kennedy. Further, it would mean the Lib Dems have bottled out of sitting in the cabinet and making politics better and more plural. I do know some anti-Tory voters who are happy for a Tory-Liberal coalition, but -- far away from the Westminster village -- it has not occurred to them that there will not be any Lib Dems in the cabinet. "Supply and confidence", they would neither understand nor welcome.

3. Even if there is some sort of perceived Tory concession on electoral reform, it would be a mirage, not least because the Tory government would campaign for a "No" vote, resulting almost certainly in just that, and in the Lib Dems having squandered their most real chance in decades for genuine change.

Nonetheless, some version of the above seems likely to happen, if rumours are to be believed. If so, a progressive moment this is not.

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James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear