The Lib Dem Manifesto: a plan for opposition

by William Pett

On paper, one could not have asked for a better political environment for the fabled #LibDemFightback. An electorate that is in large swathes opposed to Brexit, a Labour Party that has abandoned the centre ground in favour of a socialist agenda, and a Conservative Government intent on slashing public spending.

However, it has been a difficult campaign so far for the unfailingly cheerful Tim Farron.

Things got off to a bad start with a tricky series of questions on his religious beliefs and views on homosexuality.

Then came the local elections, with many commentators expecting significant gains; the results proved to be mixed at best. Worryingly for those bunkered at Cowley Street HQ, there was little sign that voters were flocking back to the party in areas such as the south west, where in 2015 they lost every one of their 15 MPs to the Conservatives.

In terms of strategy, the Party has put all its eggs in the basket marked “We Hate Brexit”. This clarity is a sensible learning from previous failures to communicate policy successes in government such as the pupil premium and raising the income tax threshold.

In the run up to 8 June, no-one can be in any doubt about what the Party’s defining message is. But it is a risky one, predicated on the belief that the 48% of the public who voted remain will put Brexit above all else and express their indignation at the ballot box.

While the local elections results should be taken with a pinch of salt, they illustrate the gamble of alienating pro-leave areas (such as the south west of England) in favour of winning over the remainers in more urban parts of the country.

The launch of the manifesto today gives the Lib Dems a chance to flesh out their wider offer to the electorate. Key policies include introducing a 1p tax for health and social care, a new model of ‘Rent to Own’ housing, and removing the 1% cap on pay rises in the public sector.

That nice Mr Farron has ruled out a Lib Dem coalition with either the Tories or Labour, so the manifesto represents not a plan for government but a plan for opposition. Again, this is a gamble – it may help to win over both Tory and Labour leaning voters who are disillusioned about Brexit, but will waverers choose to support a party bent on opposition?

Given where the party was two years ago, the Lib Dems have every reason to roll the dice. Time will tell if it’s a jackpot winning strategy.