Thursday 27 August 2020

The Rise of Ed Davey

From my vantage of viewing the Liberal Democrat leadership contest askance, Layla Moran certainly had the momentum. She was a fresh face, of sorts, young, and fairly radical in the twee manner liberalism occasionally gets. The endorsements piled up on social media, and even The Sun decided to run a hit piece on her last night. There was wind in her sails, and, and ... she lost. Instead two-thirds of voting LibDem members went for Ed Davey, the very personification of dull, uninspiring politics. But is this what the traditional third party of Westminster politics needs?

Davey's victory speech was so painfully conventional, Ian Murray could have written it. Thanks folks for the vote of confidence, but you're all shit and we need to listen to the electorate more. Well, given Ed's Orange Book background and time served in the Coalition government of old, the LibDems have pronounced a certain direction of travel based on what all the data has told them. And, interestingly, it's one that could be helpful to Labour.

A Layla Moran-led outfit might have presented Labour a few problems. The dropping of some Corbynist policies as Keir Starmer shifted the party in pursuit of the mythical centrist voter would have given her licence to go after Labour's left flank. Whether this would have proven successful is something we will never find out, but it might have given the leadership pause when it came to ditching left wing positions. Remember, triangulation ain't what it used to be. Ed Davey's yellow neoliberalism suggests this threat has retreated somewhat. However, a Moran leadership would have presented her party with some problems of her own: how does a more radical liberal party go down in the areas it can win next time? In the 20 seats the LibDems came closest in 2019, 18 of them are Tory-held. In the 91 seats where they were the runner up, only 11 did not return a Conservative MP. One might suggest the LibDems;s future electoral prospects dodged a bullet by going with Davey.

Hold on a moment. Jo Swinson's ill-fated leadership was many things, but left-wing certainly wasn't one of them. As Davey is from the same wing of the party, won't he also have as grim a time of it by taking them to the right? Possibly, but more likely not. Under Tim Farron and, to an extent, Uncle Vince, the thinking was Labour's socialist turn under Corbyn had opened up political space on the centre left. Well-meaning bleeding heart types for whom the red party were too red could instead turn the new social justice friendly LibDems in their millions. It was a bad misreading of the politics and the party did worse in vote terms in 2017 than 2015. But the LibDem bigwigs didn't need a pipeline to a certain left-wing blog that was saying they were on a hiding to nothing at the time - they just had to pay attention to what their council by-election results which were telling them. Time after time, the Tories were proving more vulnerable to LibDem challenges and so it made sense to go after them instead of concentrating their fire on Labour.

From the perspective of now, Jo Swinson appears something of a transitional leader. On the centre right of the party, her instincts about where the political profits lay accorded with the data. On this point she was much more astute than Uncle Vince, but she was waylaid by the immediate gains that could be made from the crisis in the Labour Party. There was the opportunity of rapidly expanding the parliamentary party by first going hard on Corbynism, and then pitching the LibDems as the party of Remain. The latter helped clean up in the EU elections and destroy any possible space for our friends Change UK, and then induced them to split with a handful of its MPs hopping aboard a Liberal Democrats now appearing to go somewhere. Then Swinson made the catastrophic decision to adopt the Revocation of Article 50 as the selling point of the manifesto. Not for the first time, she mistook Westminster as the only place where politics happens. Her Commons strategy became the election strategy. This mistake was an authoritarian move. And, as recently confirmed, helped alienate a swathe of voters her party needed to win over. If that wasn't bad enough, she echoed Tory attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and alienated remain-minded progressive voters by putting stopping Corbyn before stopping Brexit. And we won't mention the narcissistic campaign cribbed from Hillary Clinton's leftovers.

Swinson was formally targeting the right, but aped them by punching left and luxuriating in the spotlight parliamentary arithmetic afforded. The vote went up but the seats didn't, and she took her leave from parliament at the hands of the SNP. Hubris and Nemesis, eh? At this early stage, Davey isn't offering Swinsonism without Swinson, but something more plodding. As his last article prior to the results shows, his target is the Tories. There's no residual EUphilia, or the temptation to have a go at Labour, and a cult of the personality is an obvious non-starter. Indeed, his dullness might lead some to think few things separate Sir Ed from Sir Keir, but they do share a community of interest. To tackle the Tories and disrupt their base, both have to concentrate on them and not each other. Think the arrangement like the de facto understanding between Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown prior to 1997. In that sense, despite Davey's awful politics, his election might just have made his party more competitive in a swathe of Conservative-held seats. And so, for this very narrow reason, the Tories can sleep a little less soundly tonight.


Anonymous said...

Ed Davey's only option is to make the Lib Dems a centre-right party.

No one upon no one will believe the man is centre-left. He is a free market economic right winger, irrespective of his social liberalism.

* He has been described as a bit too right wing even for some Tories -

* He was a major supporter of privatisation of Royal Mail boasting that he would privatise Royal Mail where Lords Heseltine and Mandelson had failed -

* Davey proposed a “free market” breakup of Britain’s “centralised state,” condemned “monolithic structures in the NHS” (are you sensing a theme here?), and called for outsourcing local services to more private ‘providers’ and using vouchers to break up public services. -

* He has attacked the RMT union over striking guards - calling the strike totally unjustified - (and yet a guard did all the safety duties after the Stonehaven crash) -

* His voting record is here: - the usual coalition "favourites" such as the bedroom tax, cutting welfare in all areas, increasing VAT, reducing corporation tax, voted for HS2, Health and Social Care Act, tuition fee rises, lobbying bill, against councils having more powers, selling off forests, against fracking regulations,against local control of bus services, pro privatisation and so on...

Ed Davey has nothing in common with social democracy, let alone democratic socialism. He is a old style Whig.

Anonymous said...

Further more Change UK failed because it was nothing but a literal anti-Corbyn party who offered no change. It wasn't liberal or centrist at all. If we make the assumption that the electorate found Corbyn's proposals extreme (you and I will not agree with this, but let's take a step back here), Change UK simply took the opposing line which was just as extreme. For example:

Angela Smith - supporting monopoloy privatised water is an extreme position - and simply direct opposition to Corbyn. The funny tinge nonsense and her husband's behaviour towards Dawn Butler was also no different to the anti-semitism claims. Thinly veiled racism.

Mike Gapes - support for Saudi Arabia. It is impossible to condemn Iran, Hamas and everything else, when you are shilling for Bin Salman. Saudi Arabia is as popular as bowel disease in the UK. And even in the US - Saudi Arabia is disliked more than China and Cuba.

Anna Soubry - her hardline defense of austerity wasn't at all centrist and simply parroting Tory lines.

Gavin Shuker - Threatened to resign from moderate Ed Miliband's shadow cabinet over gay marriage. Seems to be hard line religious type from his subsequent behaviour.

These aren't the actions of moderate centrists. They are as extreme as what they perceive to be protesting against.

Blissex said...

«a free market economic right winger, irrespective of his social liberalism.»

The definition of "centrism" is pretty much "thatcherism with gay marriage". Check out ERG member Michael Fabricant, the other "blonde menace":
«When I entered the House of Commons, I voted for equality so that men could have sex with men at the same age as men could legally have sex with women: 16. I lost that vote back in the early 90s, but the age was dropped to 18 from 21. Eventually, equality was reached. I have consistently voted liberally on gay issues including gay marriage, on the age of abortion and alongside the Labour MP, Paul Flynn who recently passed away, on drug use. I describe myself on social media as “socially liberal”.»

«Change UK [...] wasn't liberal or centrist at all. [...] These aren't the actions of moderate centrists. They are as extreme as what they perceive to be protesting against.»

Perhaps the author of this has not lived in this country in the past twenty years or so, because in the meantime "centrism" has been redefined as "thatcherism", after Peter Mandelson's “we are all thatcherites now”. So the LibDems, ChangeUK, New Labour are all described by the media as "centrists" and "moderates", and the current Conservative Party, that in old terminology would be considered far-right to extreme far-right (as implied by Norman Tebbit and Ian Duncan Smith), is described by the media as centre-right (Cameron, Osborne) to right-wing (the ERG).

Dear old Tony Benn wrote already in 1993, about his last meeting in the NEC:

«I think, candidly, what is happening is that the party is being dismantled. The trade union link is to be broken; the economic policy statement we are considering today makes no reference to the trade unions. Clause 4 is being attacked; PR is being advocated with a view to a pact with the Liberals of a kind that Peter Mandelson worked for in Newbury, where he in fact encouraged the Liberal vote. The policy work has been subcontracted. These so called modernisers are really Victorian Liberals, who believe in market forces, don't like the trade unions and are anti-socialist.”

I think more precisely they are Radical or National Liberals, but those are fuzzy terms.

BCFG said...

"The definition of "centrism" is pretty much "thatcherism with gay marriage". "