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Buckingham Liberal Democrats

LABOUR AND THE TORIES ARE DYING - THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS ARE THE FUTURE

Stephen Dorrell Triangle Logo

The slow-motion disintegration of the Conservative and Labour Parties is the key political fact of 2019. Brexit is the immediate detonator, but the underlying causes run much deeper and create the opportunity to reshape politics.

Both the larger parties have prospered because they were coalitions which found space for liberals who argued for economic and social progress based on respect for individuals and communities, and for Britain's role in the community of nations.

However, this approach has broken down. Although many Social Democrats and Liberal Conservatives still instinctively prefer to argue their case within the larger parties there are several reasons why this approach does not work.

Firstly, and most importantly, there is no time. The traditional parties are both committed to carrying through different versions of Brexit, but neither can show why any version of Brexit offers a better deal for Britain than the one we have now.

Secondly, the traditional parties now actively scorn their traditional liberal supporters, and their members prefer familiar ideological recitations to any serious engagement with evidence. Long standing champions of liberal views are simply dismissed.

Finally, Liberal Conservatives and Social Democrats need to ask themselves whether their traditional alliances within the Conservative and Labour parties continue to be the most effective means of delivering their political objectives.

There is an alternative. The alternative is to recognise that they have more in common with each other, and with the Liberal Democrats, than they have with the current leaderships of either of the two larger parties.

The evidence is unavoidable. Both major parties have lost the urge to build broad based coalitions and have preferred to retreat into mean-spirited factionalism. In doing so, they have lost right to speak for anyone but themselves. Millions of people hear their so-called leaders speak and say under their breath "not in my name".

However, we belittle the distinct political traditions of Liberal Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberal Conservatives if we pretend that voices in the so-called "Centre" are all the same. The argument for realignment is different. Democratic politics requires its practitioners to build coalitions of people whose views are not identical, but who share political objectives and a commitment to see them translated into reality.

Brexit is the immediate illustration of the issue. Liberal Democrats, Liberal Conservatives and Social Democrats share a strong belief that the UK's interests are best served by remaining a member of the EU and building in Europe the world's most effective champion of the liberal values. These values, enshrined in the EU Treaties, are not, as Mr Putin says, "obsolete"; they are the essential ingredients of the success of western civilization and Liberals should organise to defend them wherever and whenever they are threatened.

Looking beyond the Brexit crisis, it is also blindingly obvious that our democracy is in dire need of reform. Parliament has lost the ability to speak for voters because it doesn't represent the balance of their views. Britain needs a more proportional voting system to ensure that the views expressed in Parliament reflect the country.

All this requires Liberal Conservatives and Social Democrats to break cover from their respective parties and join the Liberal Democrats in a Big Liberal Tent. It isn't just a question of "joining the Liberal Democrats"; by joining their objective is to expand the Liberal Democrats to include fellow Liberals from different backgrounds, all of whom are committed to deliver the reform of our politics which is so urgently needed.

The modern party system was shaped by political upheavals. The arguments around the future of Ireland led the Chamberlain Liberals to split with Gladstone and join the Tory Party; the traumas of the 1920's and 1930's attracted Liberals into the Labour Party. Our society is in the middle of a similar political crisis; the modern heirs of these liberal traditions now find themselves shackled to dinosaurs which are no longer viable.

It is time for them to break their shackles and join with the Liberal Democrats to build an effective voice for a modern Liberal Britain.
That is what I have done.

Stephen Dorrell

Originally published in the Sunday Times 06-10-19