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Meanwhile, the Lib Dems sing songs by the sea

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey sports a new look at this week's party conference. Credit: Getty

September 26, 2023 - 10:00am

What’s the best way to do well at the next election? With Labour ahead in the polls and the Lib Dems achieving highs not seen since Cleggmania, perhaps the most simple strategy might be to shut up and say nothing. 

This is most definitely the best advice for the Lib Dems. Success in by-elections and council elections rests largely on being the protest vote of the sensible middle class. But as this week’s conference in Bournemouth shows, the party has been struggling to reconcile its Nimbyist campaigning at a local level with a national message. The conference has already been divided by Ed Davey’s suggestion that they roll back on housing targets to favour a “community-led approach” instead. Such was the level of animosity caused by this debate that ex-leader Tim Farron described the youth wing of the party’s commitment to a 380,000 housing target as “pure Thatcherism”.

Moreover, with a party led by a man the British public associate with the phrase “don’t know”, the Lib Dem conference this week has found itself on the south coast experimenting with the cheap thrills of a British seaside getaway. So far policy speeches have included mentions of the Barbie movie, Carol Vorderman parachuting in via video link to call for electoral reform, fringe meetings led by Layla Moran plotting to rejoin the EU, and novelty hammers smashing down blue walls — an allusion to the “wave of optimism” that has come with its four successful by-election wins.

Last night brought a chance to get off this strange funfair. Cramming into a sweaty karaoke hall, the party’s motley crew of pro-housing millennials, Nimby councillors, net-zero pensioners and Tory turncoats were scheduled to perform “Gold Stars”, a rewriting of David Baddiel’s 1996 World Cup anthem. This is the party’s take on the “referendum of hate”, replacing the popular refrain of “it’s coming home,” with “we’ll go back in”.

Gold stars on the flag
Four freedoms still gleaming
Glory years of peace
Keep us all campaigning
I know that was then, but we’ll be there again

With costumed dances bringing similar scenes of Rejoiners’ Brussels fetishisation in London this weekend, it’s clear that this nostalgia for pre-2016 has become something of a scene. Throw in podcast-driven reappraisals of Britain’s failed politicians alongside a burgeoning apocalypse at the hands of Tory mismanagement, and there is something of a fervent cult emerging. 

The Lib Dem conference shows all the signs of succumbing to this carnivalesque surge of fanatical cringe. The idea of dislodging the Conservatives and rejoining the EU may provide a collective hearth for its hodge-podge of members, but the party still has little to show for how they might solve some of the country’s deep-seated problems.

The conference has so far revealed an underwhelming array of policies, with its flagship announcement of social care reform alongside more NHS targets, and an “ultra-local” election strategy built on its by-election success. Its pledge for proportional representation may seem radical to a public fed up of Westminster, but being most known for sewage and looking after your granny, as one party insider has confessed, may prove tricky at the ballot box. 

And so, with their centrist seaside sojourn over, it’s hard to see the joy of last night’s karaoke infecting the wider British electorate.


Fred Skulthorp is a writer living in England. His Substack is Bad Apocalypse 

Skulthorp

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Mike Downing
Mike Downing
9 months ago

After Layla Moran of the Nana Mouskouri glasses claimed that when confronted by a naked bloke, she would see past their hairy tackle and into their ‘gendered soul’ (she’s pansexual dont-you-know), I find it extraordinary that any sane person would take these self-evident fruitcakes seriously.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

But they are remeniacs party and I know quite a few in London, so there is support for unliberal undemocrats.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
9 months ago

I was never a lib dem supporter, but what stopped me from ever becoming one was when they upped tuition fees for university students after promising flat out that they wouldn’t do that if they got voted in with the Conservatives. To be honest I think they are all part of the same uniparty in the same way Punch and Judy are different hands of the same puppet master.

AC Harper
AC Harper
9 months ago

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

Richard M
Richard M
9 months ago

“the party still has little to show for how they might solve some of the country’s deep-seated problems.”

And if they have any sense they will continue in that vein right up to the election.

There are few extra votes for the Lib Dems in trying to convince the country they can resolve its problems, because nobody thinks they will be in a position to do so.

Instead they will benefit, as before, from the electorate having already made up it’s mind to kick out the incumbent Conservative government. So their job is to position themselves as the viable alternative for swing voters in those seats which are winnable for them. Thus the focus on ultra-local issues.

Pil Grim
Pil Grim
9 months ago

I saw Ed Davey interviewed the other day. Nice bloke, probably make a nice neighbour, and perhaps even a good minister for social care or something like that. That aside, he appears completely clueless as to the challenges of the world we now live in. Visionless in a deeply profound way. In fact not entirely visionless since he appears to only see ahead the liberal mirage of the past. A yesterday’s man from a time that did so many things wrong in the name of the good.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
9 months ago

Remainer quislings who might well find themselves governing with Labour. For that is the dirty little secret of British politics today, the Rejoiner Bloc that will negotiate the EU trade treaty for associate single market membership then look towards European monetary union again.

Tina Lennon
Tina Lennon
9 months ago

This man thinks he can be a woman. Say no more!

Sue Sims
Sue Sims
9 months ago

“… experimenting with the cheap thrills of a British seaside getaway.”

Not quite sure what the writer means by this. As a Bournemouth resident, I can confirm that it isn’t particularly cheap, alas. The beach is nice, though.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago

As we see from number of posts, there is not much interest in the looney Remeniacs freak show.