Charles Kennedy, who was believed to be contemplating a new political grouping in his last days. Photo: Getty Images
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It's time for Labour and the Liberal Democrats to talk about a merger

The reconfiguration of Scottish politics means a rethink is needed in England and Wales.

The Scottish independence referendum established many of the conditions that led to Labour’s catastrophic 2015 general election defeat. In the process it also illustrated three fundamental truths now shaping politics in Britain.

The first truth is that there is still a huge market for big political ideas; these ideas don’t come much bigger than breaking up the United Kingdom. The second is that it has never been harder to communicate a simple, popular, progressive political platform. The third, of particular relevance to the Labour Party, is the need to expect and prepare for the unexpected.

In the run-up to the referendum ballot, Gordon Brown regularly explained to anyone prepared to listen that the ‘No’ campaign would win the poll, but that a sizeable ‘Yes’ vote would extract revenge for its defeat on the Labour Party at the next general election.

Labour should have been prepared for the beating it took in Scotland, but a combination of ignorance, arrogance and a misplaced intellectual snobbery that lent itself to some truly appalling political judgments, meant that the party walked headlong into an avoidable disaster.

For the sake of the Labour Party – and every person and community for which it exists to serve – these lessons must now be learned.

It is no longer unthinkable for anyone to imagine the disintegration of the United Kingdom – this may even be likely – so Labour must now prepare for life in a country without Scottish Labour voters.

Welcome onto the stage yet again, the issue of the realignment of the English Left. This may be a tired canard, but in terms of principle and practicality, this looks increasingly necessary. This realignment could take a number of forms; the adoption of a federal party structure for the Labour Party, including the creation of English Labour to sit alongside Welsh Labour is something that the party should now consider in any event. But a more profound, all encompassing re-alignment would pursue a comprehensive merger between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

No longer the effete fancy of Jenkins, Blair and Ashdown, a United Kingdom without Scotland would demand such a realignment in order for England to secure the kind of progressive government needed all over England and Wales. These decisions are upon us and they cannot be wished away. It would be a tragedy for progressive politics in England particularly if the need for such change was now foolishly ignored out of hand. The next leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats must recognise that the unthinkable is now normal and that business as usual will likely result in permanent irrelevance. Change or die; this is the brutal truth.

Writing in this publication before the general election, Professor Richard Grayson wrote of the creation of a possible Labour-Liberal coalition in the event of a hung parliament. The choice facing Labour in these circumstances, he wrote, was “how it can best represent the people whom only it represents…”

By definition, an identical choice would have faced the Liberal Democrats and this logic must now be applied to a future disunited Kingdom without a progressive Scottish bloc. Partisan tribalism – naturally – could kill such notions. For many, the purity of irrelevance and opposition will always remain preferable to the compromises and pragmatism necessary to securing power. For Labour and the Liberal Democrats, read the Montagues and Capulets- the ancient blood feud may yet deprive each of the objects of their love. That object? A progressive England.

George Eaton, again in the pages of this publication, reported on the joint report commissioned by the Fabian Society and the liberal think-tank Centre Forum entitled ‘Common Ground’. The report highlighted those many areas where Labour and Lib Dem policies were almost identical, but the conclusion of the report noted, “It will be politics, rather than the policies of the two parties, that will decide whether a partnership is possible.”

True enough and the politics are now clear. The Conservatives won the last election in large part because it successfully pitted England against Scotland and sold the lie that only the Tories would represent England. No matter what offence this caused to Progressives of all parties in England, this lie suits the SNP just fine.

It may or may not be too late to save the Union. In any event, England is home to a strong progressive tradition that its two major progressive parties should work to unite, not divide. Labour must learn the lessons of Scotland: it’s time to think the unthinkable.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.

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Winning tears: Chad Le Clos is a great swimmer, but his display of emotion shows real strength

The South African Olympian and his parents offer something we rarely see.

Headlines from the swimming world championships might well have been stolen by Adam Peaty’s world records and golds, but Chad Le Clos’s reaction to winning the 200m freestyle last night had a victory all of its own.

South African Le Clos was visibly moved to tears during the awards ceremony, unafraid to appear emotional after having left the world’s best in his wake. His parents Bert and Geraldine were also filmed wiping away tears in the stands.

Bert had already gone viral at the 2012 Olympics in a BBC interview with Claire Balding, during which he described his son as “the most down-to-earth, beautiful boy you’ll ever meet in your life”. If “beautiful” doesn’t quite chime with expectations of a chiselled, Adonis-like athlete like Le Clos, perhaps even more refreshing was Bert blowing his son a kiss from the commentary perch, saying through the TV: “I love you”.

Last night’s tears were all the more emotional given both Bert and Geraldine are receiving treatment for cancer. It was something weighing on Le Clos, who said that it was “an emotional race, before, during and after it".

Men being so openly affectionate in public is still rare. But it comes during a week in which ITV aired Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, with Princes William and Harry talking about their love of their mother.

When interviewed before the programme, William said: “I think it's been quite cathartic for us doing it. It's been at first quite daunting – opening up so much to camera... but going through this process has been quite a healing process as well."

The Le Clos family might be leagues away from the upper reaches of fame occupied by the Princes, but they both speak to something wider – that it is perfectly fine for men to be emotional, either in times of triumph or of difficulty.

Jack Urwin made the point for Vice and, later, in his book Man Up: Surviving Modern Masculinity, that “the stubborn lost-husband-refusing-to-ask-for-directions might be a handy caricature – one that's helped people like Martin Clunes sustain a career in television for over 30 years – but it's also rooted in a very real, very destructive notion of masculinity. We're conditioned from an early age to believe that acknowledging weakness is somehow a weakness in itself.”

It is relevant when considering that suicide is the leading cause of death in 20 to 34-year-old men in the UK. The epidemic of young male suicide in the UK cannot be simplified as having one defining cause, or one defining solution. But preventing male suicide and being more willing to accept very natural male tears, are two concepts which stem from the same roots: expression, communication, and destigmatising emotion.

The emotion shown by the Le Clos men is not, however, born out of difficulty – it is born out of happiness and, at the risk of being trite, love. “The Le Clos only cry when we win,” Bert told Sport24 after the Olympics. “We don't cry when we lose and that's the bottom line.”

The reality is that everyone loses as often, if not more often, than they win. Yet in being so willing to display their love for each other, the Le Clos men continue to set a bold precedent. Any criticisms of a snowflake generation, or even predictably crass tweets citing Dunkirk as evidence of 21st century men’s weakness, are spectacularly missing the point.

Yes, Chad Le Clos’s performance in the Budapest pool was muscular, powerful and dominant – but in his tears and his admission that his “family's health is more important than gold medals," he showed another form of strength.