Getty
Show Hide image

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. 

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.