How can Sir Vince Cable’s party bolster its chances at the next election?
Since the birth of the Liberal Democrats thirty years ago, the party’s electoral performances have improved with each passing election – that was until 2015 when the party’s time in government led to their electoral demise. After five years of governing with the Conservatives, they returned to the opposition benches with just eight MPs.
During that time, the party were mainly associated with tuition fees and their deal with the Tories. This continued as Tim Farron took over, but since the vote to leave the European Union on 23rd June 2016, the thing the party is most probably associated with is Brexit - or rather that they are the anti-Brexit party. “Exit from Brexit” has become something of a party slogan and they have championed the prospect of a new referendum at every chance.
While the public have not forgotten about the coalition and the tuition fees debacle – just look at recent poll numbers – the party has done a stellar job in transforming into the anti-Brexit party, all with the gamble that with the Conservatives going for a hard Brexit and Labour without a solid position, it will pay off in the long-run.
The problem with this strategy is that in the public’s eyes, the party lacks a clear agenda other than opposing Brexit. The lack of a leadership contest following Tim Farron’s departure led to only limited exposure for Vince Cable. A leadership battle would have allowed for a contest of ideas, and an extensive period of exposure for the party, resulting in a better policy platform.
The party is all for having a second referendum with the option of keeping the UK inside the EU. But what else does it stand for? With Corbyn pulling Labour to the left and the Conservatives on a seemingly persistent right-ward trajectory, there is space in the centre to champion an open, positive, liberal message. But to do that, the party needs to shout its other policy ideas from the rooftops alongside Brexit.
The party needs to be more vocal about its plans to reinvigorate British democracy. There is significant demand for reform of the country’s outdated FPTP voting system and the archaic House of Lords, which it needs to capitalise on and call on Labour to back. Together, the progressive parties have a unique chance to transform Britain's democracy for the better at the next election.
The party needs to highlight environmental champion credentials, working with the Greens to build a better future for the country and the planet. In early January, the Independent reported that Theresa May announced plans to end the UK’s plastic waste problem by the early 2040s. According to the BBC, the Liberal Democrats attacked the plans and called for immediate action. The party sees the environmental as a clear priority and thus needs to get its message out there by promoting a handful of eye-catching, ambitious pro-environment policies.
The party’s 2017 manifesto was broadly successful but was crowded out by talk of Tim Farron’s faith, as well as the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. Nonetheless. it was a basis for a coherent alternative vision.
In order for the Vince Cables' Liberal Democrats to have a remarkable comeback, the party needs to make significant progress on other issues otherwise it risks remaining the anti-Brexit party when Brexit is no longer an issue.