Did anyone notice the Lib Dems?
Simon Danczuk, businessman, author and former MP, looks at the insights and intrigues from the Liberal Democrats’ Annual Conference.
If you think it’s bad for the Conservatives, spare a thought for the Liberal Democrats. They are polling around 11%, and it’s taken them three years to get there from 7% in 2020.
You might not have noticed, but the Lib Dems just held their annual conference in Bournemouth. The highlight was their leader’s speech on the final day. As the media pointed out, the sole substantial policy commitment throughout the three days was for Ed Davey to announce, that should he get into Government, he would introduce a legal guarantee that cancer patients would be seen in two months. It’s an okay policy but hardly a vote-winning idea that one might expect ahead of a General Election.
Layla Moran’s bold revelation and backpedal
There was talk of more housebuilding by increasing the powers of planning authorities, a 1p tax on clothes to reduce ‘fast fashion’, and the need to increase the ethnic diversity of our armed forces. Most interesting was that Layla Moran MP, their foreign affairs spokesperson, admitted on the first day that they wanted to rejoin the European Union. However, when it came to Davey’s speech, he simply mentioned the need to improve our trading status with EU countries.
The truth is the Lib Dems are scared of revealing their pro-EU policy because they know it’s toxic amongst most voters. Davey is following Keir Starmer’s approach and playing down his party’s desire to get back into the European club. It’s also now clear the Lib Dem’s political strategy is to say as little on policy ahead of the General Election as possible.
Having been very badly stung in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections by previously committing to abolishing student loans, then reversing that decision once in a coalition with the Conservatives, they intend to propose very little.
Ed Davey’s electoral chess
Davey’s hope is that, particularly in Conservative seats, they can pick up enough protest votes to be able to win a few more seats than they’ve got now – edging up from their current 15 to, say, 25. The next bit of Davey’s plan is built on the hope Labour don’t quite win enough seats to form a majority, so his Lib Dems can form a coalition Government with them.
The big policy question for the Lib Dems then, is what are they going to ask in return for forming that coalition? In 2010, Nick Clegg asked for, and got, a referendum from David Cameron on electoral reform. In 2024, betting is on Davey asking Starmer for a referendum on re-entering the EU, something they would both, deep down, support and campaign for.
Simon Danczuk is a businessman, author and former MP who represented the constituency of Rochdale between 2010 and 2017. He has co-written two books, Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith and Scandal at Dolphin Square.