A letter to a Lib Dem-voting friend

Submitted by AWL on 15 May, 2019 - 11:22 Author: Bruce Robinson
lib dems

You texted me saying “I am seriously considering voting Lib Dem in the European Elections. Can’t believe I’m writing this. Am I mad?”. My first response was “Yes”.

However I recognise that there are many people like you — lifelong Labour voters and people who supported Corbyn in the leadership elections — who are angry about Labour’s failure to support a remain position and a referendum on Brexit and find it unacceptable that Labour can enter European elections with no clear position on this key issue.

Many, like you, are wondering whether they can support Labour “this time”. Why not vote for the Lib Dems? They are still the Lib Dems. The party without whom austerity would not have been possible. They are trying to use Europe to recover from the consequences of that and rebuild a base for centrist politics. There has been no break from neo-liberalism or the politics of austerity and, of course, they are notoriously opportunist and make commitments they don’t keep. Also they are liberals, not socialists, and their MEPs would sit in the Liberal bloc in the European Parliament. This is now important because the Socialist group, of which Labour is part, is hoping to win control of the European Commission and is planning to implement a Europe-wide minimum wage.

The Lib Dems’ support for Remain is also uncritical of precisely those aspects of the EU that most need challenging.

The impact of these European elections will go beyond European issues and will be taken as an indicator of where politics in Britain are at. There is generally no good time for a random protest vote, but this time especially a low vote for Labour will have a negative impact for many reasons.

Firstly, Labour alone can prevent Farage’s party coming first in the poll. In the North West we need to prevent “Tommy Robinson” getting elected. It’s necessary to go beyond the “Don’t vote Nazi” line of the SWP to put a positive alternative. And there are positive reasons to vote Labour.

The Labour manifesto contains much you will support along the lines of the 2017 election manifesto (there is also a strange contradiction — there are phrases like “Labour will work across the EU to deliver an ambitious equality plan”, which only make sense if Britain remains in the EU!) A bad result would be negative in the Labour Party where it will strengthen the anti-Corbyn right. Similarly a good result for the Lib Dems would help reinvigorate the idea that politics in Britain has to be located in the centre.

Whatever you think of Corbyn on this issue, or in general, the shift in the Labour Party since 2015 has opened a lot of new possibilities for the left, not least of a government that will break with austerity. I can understand why you feel the way you do. The Labour leadership’s attitude to Brexit has been terrible from the start. I and many others in the Labour Party will be fighting to change that. But I don’t think a Lib Dem vote will do anything to help that or promote the goals we share.

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