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Lib Dem fightback! The political veterans trying to reclaim their seats

With an early election scheduled for 8 June 2017, some familiar faces are hitting the campaign trail...

In 2015, they teetered and fell. Vince Cable, the Coalition Business secretary, thudded to the ground in the London suburb of Twickenham. Danny Alexander was toppled in Inverness. As a resident of Southwark, inner London, I knew it was over for Simon Hughes when the curry house bearing his posters quietly removed them a week before the poll. 

Progressive voters were fed up with the party that once wooed students becoming the handmaiden of Tory austerity. Nick Clegg, once the darling of TV debates, scurried away from corridors of power. 

But now an early election has been announced, it's time for the Lib Dem fightback! Apparently the big beasts of liberalism are willing to forgive the public for their 2015 misjudgement and will be coming to reclaim their seats. Here is who is standing so far:

Vince Cable - Twickenham

In 2010, the Lib Dem veteran Vince Cable had a comfortable majority of 12,140. Then he landed a plum job in the Coalition government, tasked with restarting the economy. Surely his voters would be grateful? But no - they booted him out and elected the Tory Tania Mathias instead with a majority of 2,017.

Cable may be 74 by the time of polling day, but he's not ready for retirement just yet. He tweeted: "I plan to lead fight back to recapture Twickenham for Lib Dems. Brexit. Heathrow. School cuts. Social care. Plenty to campaign on."

Simon Hughes - Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Hughes first won his seat in 1983, after a controversial by-election in which the openly gay Labour candidate Peter Tatchell suffered homophobic abuse from the media while the Lib Dem's leaflets promised "a straight choice". However, Hughes became a respected constituency MP (and has apologised to Tatchell for not doing more to change  the tone of the election debate). 

In 2015, Labour candidate Neil Coyle kicked out Hughes with a majority of 4,489. But his predecessor will now be stalking him on the streets. He tweeted: "Ready 2 lead #LibDemFightback in Bermondsey & the north of Southwark - vs Conservatives & Labour on housing, NHS, education & Brexit.Join us."

Julian Huppert - Cambridge

In 2010, Julian Huppert posed happily next to the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg holding the pledge to end tuition fees. As the MP of a university seat, the picture would come back to haunt him. Meanwhile, Huppert had to contend with rude parliamentary backbenchers, who bullied him and sang the Muppet theme tune when he stood up in the Commons.

But when the knife of 2015 came down, Huppert only lost by the slimmest of margins. His Labour successor Daniel Zeichner has a majority of just 599, and is now the one attached to a floundering national party while his Europhile constituents get very annoyed about Brexit. Huppert was selected to stand again by his constituency party as early as July 2016 and he's already recruiting his campaign team.

Ed Davey - Kingston and Surbiton

Two years ago, Davey was the canary in the coalmine. He was the first secretary of state to crash out of the general election and lose his comfortable seat in the London commuter belt. He was trounced by James Berry, a Conservative, with a majority of 2,834.

So perhaps it's no surprise he was one of the first to throw his hat in for the next election. If Cable also wins, and Sarah Olney holds on in Richmond, the Lib Dems will have made a little corner of Greater London yellow again. 

John Leech - Manchester Withington

Leech clung onto his seat for ten years, before losing definitively to Labour's Jeff Smith in 2015. But not that definitively! Leech has attached himself to the Lib Dem campaign, and hopes to suck up some support in time for the general election in June. 

However, to win again, he will have to overturn his successor's majority of 14,873.

Gordon Birtwistle - Burnley

Manufacturing man Gordon Birtwistle pulled off a coup in 2010 when he took Burnley from Labour, but his victory turned out to last a mere five years. In 2015, Julie Cooper took it back for Labour with a majority of 3,244.

Birtwistle, like Cable, is a septuagenarian, but he's so keen to get back into work that he's already been selected as the Lib Dem candidate.

Tessa Munt - Wells

The Lib Dems often get criticised for their lack of women MPs - so welcome back Tessa Munt, who has her eyes on her old seat of Wells, which she lost in 2015.

James Heappey, her Tory successor, has a majority of 7,585. But will Munt benefit from the post-Brexit Lib Dem surge? We'll soon find out. 

 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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Nicola Sturgeon is betting on Brexit becoming real before autumn 2018

Second independence referendum plans have been delayed but not ruled out.

Three months after announcing plans for a second independence referendum, and 19 days after losing a third of her Scottish National Party MPs, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon booted the prospect of a second independence referendum into the heather. 

In a statement at Holyrood, Sturgeon said she felt her responsibility as First Minister “is to build as much unity and consensus as possible” and that she had consulted “a broad spectrum of voices” on independence.

She said she had noted a “commonality” among the views of the majority, who were neither strongly pro or anti-independence, but “worry about the uncertainty of Brexit and worry about the clarity of what it means”. Some “just want a break from making political decisions”.

This, she said had led her to the conclusion that there should be a referendum reset. Nevertheless: "It remains my view and the position of this government that at the end of this Brexit process the Scottish people should have a choice about the future of our country." 

This "choice", she suggested, was likely to be in autumn 2018 – the same time floated by SNP insiders before the initial announcement was made. 

The Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie responded: “The First Minister wishes to call a referendum at a time of her choosing. So absolutely nothing has changed." In fact, there is significance in the fact Sturgeon will no longer be pursuing the legislative process needed for a second referendum. Unlike Theresa May, say, she has not committed herself to a seemingly irreversable process.

Sturgeon’s demand for a second independence referendum was said to be partly the result of pressure from the more indy-happy wing of the party, including former First Minister Alex Salmond. The First Minister herself, whose constituency is in the former Labour stronghold of Glasgow, has been more cautious, and is keenly aware that the party can lose if it appears to be taking the electorate for granted. 

In her speech, she pledged to “put our shoulder to the wheel” in Brexit talks, and improve education and the NHS. Yet she could have ruled out a referendum altogether, and she did not. 

Sturgeon has framed this as a “choice” that is reasonable, given the uncertainties of Brexit. Yet as many of Scotland’s new Labour MPs can testify, opposition to independence on the doorstep is just as likely to come from a desire to concentrate on public services and strengthening a local community as it is attachment to a more abstract union. The SNP has now been in power for 10 years, and the fact it suffered losses in the 2017 general election reflects the perception that it is the party not only for independence, but also the party of government.

For all her talk of remaining in the single market, Sturgeon will be aware that it will be the bread-and-butter consequences of Brexit, like rising prices, and money redirected towards Northern Ireland, that will resonate on the doorstep. She will also be aware that roughly a third of SNP voters opted for Brexit

The general election result suggests discontent over local or devolved issues is currently overriding constitutional matters, whether UK-wide or across the EU. Now Brexit talks with a Tory-DUP government have started, this may change. But if it does not, Sturgeon will be heading for a collision with voter choice in the autumn of 2018. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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