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The Liberal Democrat campaign in Stoke Central

Individually, some are great. I’d even count one of them as a friend. But as a party I cannot stand the bloody Liberal Democrats, and the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election reminded me why.

The LibDems will be quite pleased with their performance last Thursday. As the spotlight was on the other parties, their vote quietly put on five percentage points, the deposit was saved, and they recaptured some of the support lost since 2015. The Wheatsheaf Hotel was their base in Stoke, which was perhaps a little too from the beaten track for many London journos to find. And, by the sounds of it, ‘celebrity’ LibDems as well. Fresh from her triumph in Richmond, Sarah Olney was on hand and, well, that was about it. Oh yes, Tim Farron slid his way briefly into the constituency for a photo opp before a rapid, frictionless exit. They were never contenders, and having selected Dr Zulfiqar Ali – one of the few politicians to have lost more elections than Nigel Farage – they knew it too.Their campaign was the typical, disingenuous campaign you could expect. I don’t know if they bothered canvassing much but the leaflets, the leaflets. Next to me on the sofa are nine different pieces that made it through my letter box. Because we had a Labour poster in the window, perhaps their activists thought they were trolling me. Well, I’m biting.

Letter one was from Adam Carter, a winner of a council seat from Labour in Rotherham. The message? Labour’s taken you for granted so vote for us. Leaflet two, a Focus-style affair slamming Labour chaos and saying Britain needs a real opposition to stand up to the Conservatives. Yes, just like the LibDems did. Leaflet three, a faux letter from the candidate saying Stoke had been let down too long. A true museum piece this one – a doctor’s note with legible handwriting. Fourth, an A3 sized colour leaflet pledging that the LibDems will fight for jobs, protect the NHS and end neglect. The thrust, again, is another attack on Labour with the Tories and UKIP bolted on as an afterthought. Fifth, another colour leaflet of a similar size attacking Labour for backing a UKIP-style hard Brexit. Six, a piece attacking Labour and UKIP for not standing up for the NHS and attacking Labour for its “botched PFI deals”. If only the LibDems had been in a position to do something about them during the last six years. A nice little detail here is one side is red and purple, the other is yellow and the cross in the ballot cross next to Zulfiqar Ali is blue. Subtle. Seven, the real Focus deal itself promising that Dr Ali would deliver “real change” (interestingly, this was only posted out to Shelton, Hanley, University and Etruria – of which more shortly). Eight, their tabloid, Stoke-on-Trent News with a front page opposing the super local Zulfiqar Ali to the “UKIP candidate from Liverpool”. They couldn’t even bring themselves to name him. And lastly came the Take a Break-stylee Potteries Life. If you were in any doubt about Zulfiqar Ali’s Stokie creds, the cover promised “true life tales from Stoke” and “Why I love living in Stoke: Dr Ali’s Story”. The political content was as thin as their principles but, again, it is Labour who were the main target.

This begs the question. How Labour can possibly enter into a so-called “progressive alliance” with such a scabby outfit? With UKIP hyped up to be a huge threat and all the calamitous consequences that a win would have entailed, could they please explain to folks interested in such an arrangement a) why in the face of blackest reaction the party’s messaging was predominantly anti-Labour and b) why their campaigning efforts were concentrated around the student districts. We know why: talk of a progressive alliance is but a convenient fig leaf for them and their cheerleaders in the liberal press. It’s something for people in Labour to fret about publicly, folks who should really know better like Lisa Nandy and Clive Lewis, but similar expectations aren’t placed on the yellow party to show any serious intent in this direction. I’ll also note in the Stoke case that their underhandedness went even further. It is my understanding that sundry LibDems went around the mosques saying Gareth Snell isn’t interested in looking after Muslims or Asians, they need one of their own to do it. As they raised merry hell when a bunch of messages were texted to local Muslims threatening them with damnation if they didn’t vote Labour, they clearly don’t like it when someone tries playing their shitty little games against them.

And that is the Liberal Democrats. Rather than stand up to reaction, they tried undermining the one force opposing it. Rather than hit UKIP and attack the government, they concentrate their fire on Labour. While Nuttall and his helpers in the press play the politics of community division, they dilly-dally with it themselves. This was not an election campaign for them, it was an attempt to mug the Labour Party and damn the consequences. There is nothing liberal or democratic about this. It’s rank opportunism.


  1. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Let us talk real politic for a moment. Stoke was a two horse race. The Lib Dems had no chance neither the Tories. I read somewhere the Tories put a fair amount of money into adverts attacking UKIP as their preferred option was for labour to hold it and keep JC in post. I am not surprised.
    Back to the Lib Dems; in the absolute certainty they had no chance, who did Tim Farron and his team really want to win? I dont need to spell this out, this is not a multiple choice question, you know the answer.
    Lib Dems dont view the Tory orchard as easy pickings, that is rock solid, high walls, strong padlocks. Look over the other side of the road the gate is wide open, they dont even have to shake the branches.

  2. Tim Pendry says:

    And why is the Labour orchard such easy pickings? Because Labour is trying to be liberal and doing it less effectively than the Liberal Democrats. It still has no messaging that by-passes the university and southern middle class radicals and reaches out to nationally and community-minded working class people and cuts into the Tories as being essentially disinterested in their needs.

    This is the frustrating thing here – May is actually quite popular but the Tory Party is not. Her rhetoric provides cover for a distrusted bunch of toffs and her rhetoric is contrasted not just with the whinging rhetoric on our side but the flaccidity of a policy that involves dancing around on a line between liberalism and socialism and speaking only of Tory policies that affect the public sector base of the party.

    It is not made crystal clear that these policies affect everyone and that major socio-economic changes in a sovereign country, impossible within the EU, are necessary to secure the people’s future. And there are fundamental economic issues arising out of 2008 that the Tories do have an answer to in their own interest but which Labour seems not to have – or rather no one is listened to or debating with McDonnell’s alternatives because everyone is obsessing about cuts, Brexit and internal divisions instead of the economic fundamentals.

    It may seem old-fashioned to go back to the Labour of Hardie, Lansbury (a real working class liberal socialist), Attlee, Bevan, Bevin, Wilson and even Gaitskell but there is merit in returning to the core national values that underpinned their politics alongside a genuine inter-nationalism, very different from the project for a United States of Europe, a federal Atlanticist USA of the East with a bit of social liberalism tacked on to a fundamentally neoliberal project.

    The Liberal Democrats and Labour are now contesting the same territory while the Tories are moving in on ours. UKIP need not even exist on Labour territory except as a front for the sort of sentiments you used to find in the BNP if London liberals backed off, let the Party override its activists and go straight to the people. But it won’t happen … the forces involved are too embedded. This idiocy is going to go on for a very long time.

  3. David Pavett says:

    Phil BC clearly doesn’t like Lib Dems or what he considers to be the “shitty little games” of the “bloody Liberal Democrats”. That’s his right but he cannot rationally draw the conclusions he tries to draw from his animosity to them.

    (1) Alliances are made on the basis of the tactical and strategic advantage they may bring and not on the ‘shit free’ nature of those involved. It should also be added that Labour is not exactly ‘shit free’ itself so this isn’t much of a criterion. Serious social analysis would have led Phil BC to point out that the Lib Dems are not one thing and that like Labour the party is pulled in different directions. It might also be said that the nature of a party can change over time with this or that faction within it becoming dominant (as indeed most of us want to happen to Labour).

    (2) It is really quite something to hold someone like Bevin up for his “genuine internationalism”. That’s the Bevin who said when Labour was elected in ’45 “British foreign policy will not be altered in any way under the Labour Government’. He and his Tory predecessor, Eden openly recognised their fundamental agreement. This was later echoed in Eden’s memoirs. The Foreign Office view was summed up by a senior official, Oliver Harvey, who wrote that Bevin was ‘bent on a foreign policy we can only approve, much what Anthony’s policy would have been…’. I don’t know the details but it is widely commented that Bevin was keen to help the French restore their empire in the Far East. Much could be said of the other people considered by Phil BC to be genuine internationalists. For example we could look at Britain’s covert support for the US war in Vietnam, or of Gaitskill’s first impulse in the Suez crisis (“Moreover, while I have not hesitated to express my disagreement with the Government in their policy in the past, I must make it abundantly plain that anything that they have done or not done in no way excuses Colonel Nasser’s action in seizing the Canal.”).

    It would have been so much more interesting and important to know why, despite Labour’s enormous effort to retain Stoke and despite the local party being, according to Phil BC, in fine shape the Labour share of the vote fell by 2.1% and UKIP, despite its candidates many attempts as self-destruction, increased its share of the vote by 2.2%. That would, admittedly, have required a bit more effort than slagging off the Lib Dems but it would have been rather more useful to people concerned to halt and reverse Labour’s continuing electoral slide downwards.

    1. John Penney says:

      Good post, David. We still await, after a zillion articles from Phil BC on Stoke , any critical analysis of Labour’s record in Stoke , and an explanation as to why Labour’s vote in the constituency has collapsed , despite Labour’s recent win.

  4. Mervyn Hyde says:

    Lib Dems proved in coalition just how untrustworthy they are, most Libdems are disgruntled Tories that can’t face voting Tory.

    A coalition with them is not a viable solution I well remember the Lib Lab pact and how quickly they decided to bring down Labour.

    Do I think they would do it again, of course they would. They are the party of opportunism.

    If anyone wants to know why they went into coalition with the Tories rather than Labour, need only read the Orange Book. Neo-Liberal to the last drop.

    There can be no rainbow coalition with them, they are like the wind and will blow in all directions.

  5. Bazza says:

    I remember the Lib Dems in my inner city areas, they would bombard communities with leaflets claiming credit for everything in my opinion to con people into thinking that they really cared but much of their propaganda was it could be argued is about de-politicising people.
    From years of experience you generally work out how councils etc. work but a significant number of people don’t perhaps understand fully and I would argue the Lib Dems play on this.
    There is a classic case in my constituency, the Lib Dem MP fights against housing developments and attacks the Labour council (who mainly oppose these) but it was the Tory/Lib Dems who came up with the Planning Bill which some argue is a ‘Developers Charter’ and local people, local communities, and local councils are usually ridden roughshod over by a distant Tory Secretary of State in London.
    The Lib Dems with the Tories supported tuition fees being trebled to £9k, changed local government funding from being based on population size and NEED to population only meaning more cuts for Northern, Eastern, Western, Scotish and Welsh councils but not really Southern Tory councils.
    The Lib Dimwits even gave £145m of tax cuts to Hedge Funds and Hedge Funds gave £50m to the Tories, and the Lib Dems fully supported austerity; perhaps the Lib Dems fingerprints are all over Tory policies!

  6. Richard MacKinnon says:

    The one and only reason why the Liberals chose a pact with the Torys and not Labour in 2010 was Gordon Brown. That was it. I remember Nick Clegg say exactly that. And who can blame him. Gordon Brown was unstable as a person. Every one new it and yet Labour anointed him as their leader and made him PM.
    The Labour Party has a very selective memory, all its woes are now placed at the door JC and his courtiers.
    When the history of The Downfall is written remember Iraq. Think about all the denial.
    As the US deserves Trump so to Labour deserves Corbyn.
    Mervyn there not going to be any pacts with other parties. Ever. Your arrogance is is beyond belief. The game is up. There is no way back. Labour’s death throes will be long and harrowing. It is what Labour, The Party has inflicted upon itself.

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