Influential Lib Dem calls for closer links with Labour

Tuition fees betrayal should make grass-roots members “sit up and think”, says former policy directo

In today's Observer, Richard Grayson, a former Liberal Democrat director of policy, reveals the deep anger among the party's grass roots over the coalition's higher education reforms. He argues that it points to a split between the party's centre right, which now dominates the Lib Dem leadership, and the centre left:

Those on the right generally favour privatised and marketised policies. On the left, we really do take the view that we are all in it together. We seek democratic and localised policies and yes, we do generally favour higher spending and more redistribution.

Grayson asserts that most Lib Dems have "more in common with members of the Labour Party and the Greens than we do with our own leadership". He also singles out Ed Miliband for praise in particular, arguing that his support for AV and his stated commitment to pluralism suggest he is a Labour leader who shares many Lib Dem "values".

He suggests that Lib Dem members, including MPs, should begin to work with Labour on areas of policy and even draw up joint amendments to legislation.

The intervention comes as a new poll commissioned by the Conservative deputy chairman Michael Ashcroft suggests that up to half of Lib Dem voters could desert the party at the next general election.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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The Brexiteers have lost battles but they are still set to win the war

The prospect of the UK avoiding Brexit, or even a “hard” version, remains doubtful. 

Before the general election, the Brexiteers would boast that everything had gone their way. Parliament had voted to trigger Article 50 by a majority of 372. The Treasury-forecast recession hadn't occurred. And polls showed the public backing Brexit by a comfortable margin

But since the Conservatives' electoral humbling, the Leavers have been forced to retreat on multiple fronts. After promising in May that the dispute over the timetable for the Brexit talks would be "the fight of the summer", David Davis capitulated on the first day.

The UK will be forced to settle matters such as EU citizens' rights, the Irish border and the divorce bill before discussions begin on a future relationship. Having previously insisted that a new trade deal could agreed by 29 March 2019 (Britain's scheduled departure date), the Brexiteers have now conceded that this is, in Liam Fox's words, "optimistic" (translation: deluded). 

That means the transitional arrangement the Leavers once resisted is now regarded as inevitable. After the eradication of the Conservatives' majority, the insistence that "no deal is better than a bad deal" is no longer credible. No deal would mean the immediate return of a hard Northern Irish border (to the consternation of the Tories' partners the DUP) and, in a hung parliament, there are no longer the votes required to pursue a radical deregulatory, free market agenda (for the purpose of undercutting the EU). As importantly for the Conservatives, an apocalyptic exit could pave the way for a Jeremy Corbyn premiership (a figure they previously regarded as irretrievably doomed). 

Philip Hammond, emboldened by the humiliation of the Prime Minister who planned to sack him, has today outlined an alternative. After formally departing the EU in 2019, Britain will continue to abide by the rules of the single market and the customs union: the acceptance of free movement, European legal supremacy, continued budget contributions and a prohibition on independent trade deals. Faced with the obstacles described above, even hard Brexiteers such as Liam Fox and Michael Gove have recognised that the game is up.

But though they have lost battles, the Leavers are still set to win the war. There is no parliamentary majority for a second referendum (with the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats still enfeebled), Hammond has conceded that any transitional arrangement would end by June 2022 (the scheduled date of the next election) and most MPs are prepared to accept single market withdrawal. The prospect of Britain avoiding Brexit, or even a "hard" version, remains doubtful. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.