British left must look to Liberal Democrats

I f the situation for leftists in the United States appears dire in the age of Trump, it pales in comparison to that of the fledgling Labour Party in the United Kingdom. Polls show Britain’s predominant left-of-center political organization trailing the Conservative Party by 21 points, and set to face one of the most significant defeats in their history (Daily Mirror, “Two polls show Labour trailing by 21 points – the worst result since Gordon Brown was PM,” 4.17.2017). This is a direct result of the unpopularity of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Even if Jeremy Corbyn had an actual chance at becoming Prime Minister, Britons have good reason to fear such as a result. Corbyn has repeatedly come under fire for doing little to fight growing antisemitism within the Labour Party and has himself been accused of antisemitism due to statements he made in 2009 that referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” (The Guardian, “Jeremy Corbyn says he regrets calling Hamas and Hezbollah ‘friends’”, 7.4.2016). In addition, his shaky leadership has led to a series of resignations from his shadow cabinet. This included Heidi Alexander, Shadow Secretary of State for Health; Ian Murray, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland; Lucy Powell, Charles Falconer, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice; and Chris Bryant, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons. (The Guardian, “Shadow cabinet resignations: who has gone and who is staying”, 6.27.2016). This ultimately led to a leadership election in 2016 which, somehow, led to Corbyn returning as Opposition Leader.

Of arguably graver concern is Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Brexit. Historically, Corbyn has been a Eurosceptic who opposed Britain’s membership in the Common Market, opposed the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, and opposed the Lisbon Treaty in in 2008. He has previously backed a referendum on Brexit. During his campaign for leader of the Labour Party he hinted at possibly supporting Brexit (The Huffington Post, “Jeremy Corbyn Refuses to Rule Out Campaigning for Britain to Quiet the European Union”, 7.25.2016).

Although Jeremy Corbyn’s position on the European Union shifted in the run-up to the referendum, his campaign to remain was accused as being lukewarm at best. Phil Wilson, who chaired Labour In For Britain, blamed Corbyn’s lack of leadership for the referendum result. He lashed out at Corbyn for going on vacation in the middle of the campaign and failure to visit labour heartlands (The Guardian, “Labour In For Britain chair criticises Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign involvement”, 6.26.2016).

Following the referendum Corbyn has embraced the result and urged Article 50 to be invoked immediately. He urged Labour Party members to stand by the results of the referendum regardless of its impact and regardless of evidence that many of those who voted yes to Brexit did not actually want to leave the European Union. Under his leadership, the Labour Party has consistently failed to actively combat a hard Brexit.

That is not to say that those on the left should find solace in Theresa May and the Conservative Party. Even though May, who previously served as Home Secretary, opposed Brexit during the campaign, since taking office she has reversed positions, seemingly backing a hard exit. She has assured Britons that “Brexit means Brexit” (Euronews, “What is Theresa May’s view on Brexit?”, 12.7.2016). She placed Boris Johnson, a prominent pro-Brexit campaigner to the position of Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. She has made little-to-no effort to assuage the fears of the over 16 million people who voted against Brexit, backing a withdrawal the would hurt the people she represents.

And the United Kingdom is left without a real alternative to Theresa May’s hard Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn has demonstrated an inability to lead and is not strong enough in his opposition to leaving the European Union to justify taking the risk. Trusting that the conservatives would likely result in a hard Brexit that ignores the input of 16 million people do irreversible harm to British society, not to mention lead to austerity measures. Yet, for those in Britain who oppose a hard Brexit there is an alternative to Corbyn and May: the Liberal Democrats. Despite the name, the Liberal Democrats is a centrist political party that at various points in its history has leaned either left or right.

In the 2015 General Election, the Liberal Democrats, who at the time served in government alongside the Tories, lost a staggering 49 seats in the House of Commons. Its once popular leader, Nick Clegg, resigned. By all outward appearances it appeared that the Liberal Democrats had become essentially defunct.However, since then the Liberal Democrats have reinvented themselves as a dominant voice against Brexit. They have been the only major British political party that has fought against the government’s plans on leaving the European Union. And, they are slowly regaining their popularity. Just one hour after the 2017 election was announced, the Liberal Democrats gained 1,000 new members (Independent, “Lib Dems gain 1,000 members in just one hour after snap election is announced”, 4.18.2017).

While that pales in comparison to their rivals, it at least allows for the possibility that the Liberal Democrats could be a force to be reckoned with in this upcoming election.The Liberal Democrats could theoretically gain enough seats in Parliament to prevent the Conservatives from getting a majority, forcing them to compromise on their hard Brexit platform. That is not to suggest that the Liberal Democrats have any chance whatsoever of winning outright. They don’t. Even the most generous polls only put the Liberal Democrats at around 11%. To gain a majority the Liberal Democrats would have to win a net 317 seats in the House of Commons, a feat that is all but impossible.

But, the Liberal Democrats could theoretically gain enough seats in parliament to prevent the Conservatives from getting a majority, forcing them to compromise on their hard Brexit platform. This is very possible.

The Liberal Democrats have already successfully used their anti-Brexit stances to win the 2016 Richmond Park by-election and gain 34 council seats from the Conservatives. And according to election strategist Lynton Crosby, a special election could easily result in the Conservatives losing most if not all of the 27 seats they won from the Liberal Democrats in 2015 (New Statesman, “Exclusive: Conservative poll showed party would lose seats to Liberal Democrats”, 4.5.2017).

This would likely result in a hung parliament. This is the best result that the British people could hope for. It would give the Liberal Democrats considerable bargaining power and their support would determine whether Labour or the Tories would take power, likely resulting in a fairer deal for the British people.

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