Show Hide image

Lib Dem website goes off message with new attack on Labour

The party's new 404 page features Ed Balls and the message "Just like Labour's plan for the economy, this page doesn't exist."

It looks like the Lib Dems' web designer didn't get the memo about going softer on Labour. While searching for the party's Spring Conference papers (not available at the stated address), I discovered its new 404 page which features Ed Balls (despite his recent rapprochement with Nick Clegg) and the message "Just like Labour's plan for the economy, this page doesn't exist."

It might be a humorous innovation (and look what happens when you click on Balls) but the Lib Dems would have been wiser to enjoy a joke at the Tories' expense. As defeated deputy leadership candidate Lorely Burt rightly notes in an interview with the Huffington Post today, to hold most of its seats, the party needs to focus on winning tactical votes from Labour supporters. Of the Lib Dems' 57 seats, the Tories are in second place in 37 and in 14 of the 20 most marginal.

Burt observed: "What we also need to do is talk to Labour supporters, who have lent us their vote in the past, to keep the Conservatives out. Because the message is stronger now than ever. In places like Solihull, you’ve got a small Labour vote but it will make the difference between winning and losing."

Meanwhile, with Burt's status as one of just seven female Lib Dem MPs in mind, Guido Fawkes's Alex Wickham has designed the alternative below. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.