Hopefully, the fantastic election results for Labour on Thursday will mark the point at which the coalition begins to unravel. Indeed, since the election Tory backbenchers such as Nadine Dorries have accused the PM of ‘privileged arrogance and bad manners’ and have allegedly begun discussing a motion of no confidence.
Dorries goes on to claim that “we do not have true conservative values in our party at the moment – we have a predominance of Liberal Democratic values”, a sentiment most grass-roots Liberal Democrats would wholeheartedly disagree with. Can a government which has implemented such draconian cuts really be considered one which has embraced ‘Liberal Democratic values’?
The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that their vote share declined to a measly 16% of the vote, a second year of pain for a party which has traditionally done better in local elections than in general elections. Lib Dem activists fear that the loss of so many councillors may result in the party facing an ‘electoral wipeout’ in 2015. The Liberal Democrats do deserve the rejection by voters due to Clegg’s decision to abandon core Lib Dem positions, such as on tuition fees, and the failure to moderate a government dominated by conservative principles. However, the product of weaker Lib Dems may just be an even stronger Tory party, especially in the south, or worse, a stronger UKIP.
The worry is that the Tories’ declining share of the vote, coupled with the success of smaller parties such as UKIP, which polled 14% of the vote in areas which they contested, could lead to the party making a further lurch to the right in order to win back the more conservative voters won over by UKIP. Calls have been made by MPs such David Davis to abandon progressive elements of the coalition’s policies such as Lords reform and gay marriage in order to give a “more Conservative flavour to the coalition”.
In particular the success of UKIP has the potential to ignite a fight from Tory backbenchers over Europe, and in this regard both the Tory right and UKIP represent a further danger to Britain. With the European elections approaching in 2014, the Tory party could see the increasing popularity of UKIP, who usually perform well in elections to the European Parliament, as a sign they need to adopt a more Eurosceptic approach. Following David Cameron’s recent unwillingness to work with fellow European leaders on solving the Eurozone debt crisis, a more Eurosceptic approach has the potential to further isolate Britain on the periphery of the European project.
Although, the EU has many, many problems, including a clear democratic deficit, it is an institution which ultimately does serve the British interest. In particular, when it comes to the environment, Europe has led the way internationally in agreeing to ambitious emissions targets and unilaterally implementing a tax on aviation.
What Labour needs to do is address the genuine concerns the public have when it comes to the EU. Last week, the former business secretary, Peter Mandelson, called for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, due to the fundamental changes in the nature of the EU in the decades since the last referendum on Britain’s relationship with Europe. Such a high-profile call for a referendum by a former Labour minister, should be heeded by the current Labour leadership. The Labour party has the potential to redraw the debate around Europe by taking the initiative and adopting a policy which would show that the party is listening to the millions of people who clearly have issues with Europe. The opportunity to make the case for Europe would expose divisions within the Conservative party over the issue, while also giving the British people a chance to have their say on a changing institution which does have huge implications for the democracy of this country.
A (mostly) referenced version of this post is available at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WcmZYW11nzzWq1OWKVc7s2laxdhHAVJHyp7UsqA4W9Y/edit
By Alex Swanson, BULS Website Editor