Johnson is relying on the LibDems to deliver Brexit and austerity

LibDem leader Jo Swinson and Boris Johnson

By Oliver Wilson

It is crucial for the General Election to understand that the party on which Johnson is relying to deliver Brexit and austerity is not the Tories. It is the LibDems.

Johnson knows that the Tories will probably not get even the 42.3% they received in 2017. His whole strategy is therefore based on the LibDems knocking down the 40.0% Labour gained in 2017. In short Johnson is relying on Jo Swinson to deliver Brexit and austerity!

The Sunday Times on 3 November, indeed, spelt out in precise words what any serious analyst of the general election already knew, saying: ‘The prospect of the campaign becoming a two-horse race with Labour will unnerve Conservative strategists, whose hopes of a majority are based on the Lib Dems splitting the remain vote.’

LibDem leaders concealing the reality of their position from their supporters

Of course, the Lib Dem leaders are forced to do everything possible to conceal reality from their supporters – the great majority of whom are strongly opposed both to Brexit and austerity. But the aid the Lib Dem leadership is giving to Johnson and the Tories, and therefore to Brexit and austerity, is so transparent that it is rightly alienating even those who may normally be sympathetic to them.

As an example Polly Toynbee of the Guardian, whose positions are between right wing Labour and the Lib Dems, retweeted in fury when one of the first moves of the Lib Dems in the general election was to nominate and promote a candidate in Canterbury – a seat won by Labour in 2017 with a less than 200 majority: ‘Utterly, utterly stupid. Canterbury is Labour-held, and held by a Remainer MP. In 2017, the Lib Dems were 20,000 votes off winning. You could pick any Tory in the country to target. This move is evidently not motivated by a desire to stop Brexit. So what is your real agenda?’

This was then followed by the LibDems and Swinson nominating and promoting on Twitter their candidate for Kensington and Chelsea – a seat held by Labour with a tiny majority of 20 and in which in 2017 Labour received 16,300 votes compared to 4,700 for the Lib Dems.

Canterbury and Kensington and Chelsea show with crystal clarity that the LibDems aim to knock out Labour MPs who oppose Brexit and austerity, and let in Johnson’s Tories, in seats where the LibDems have not the slightest chance of winning.

Owen Jones showed clearly the LibDems orientation when he pointed out that following the announcement of the General Election Jo Swinson rapidly put out four tweets attacking Labour and none attacking the Tories.  

This pattern has continued. By the end of 3 November Swinson had put out precisely zero tweets specifically attacking the Tories compared to her stream of tweets attacking Labour. This is despite the fact that Labour is pledged to a referendum on Brexit with Remain as an option and the Tories are pledged to Brexit.

This pattern aiding Johnson to deliver Brexit and austerity follows on from the LibDems position in Parliament where the LibDem leadership refused to back Jeremy Corbyn as an ‘interim’ Prime Minister although polls showed that massive majority of LibDem voters would have supported this. Earlier the Lib Dems had refused to support Ken Clark’s amendment in Parliament for a customs union with the EU, which would have passed with LibDem support, because they wanted to try to attack Jeremy Corbyn by being ‘ultras’ on Remain.

In short, the LibDems have not merely failed to oppose austerity but, of course, in coalition with the Tories they actively inaugurated and implemented it. As a result of this the LibDems were crushed in the 2015 election, after their coalition with the Tories, with their vote falling to 7.9%. They then fell even further to 7.4% in 2017.

LibDem supporters begin to see the reality of LibDem leaders position

The LibDems dug themselves out of a totally peripheralised position by failing entirely to mention or oppose austerity but appealing to those who support  Remain, many of whom understand that the Tory Brexit means a massive attack on living standards and an ‘Americanisation’ of British society with a huge attack on the NHS, on rights at work and in innumerable other ways. On that basis the LibDem vote rose to 19.6% in the Euro elections in May 2019.

But as the facts above show transparently not merely was the LibDem leadership not opposed to austerity but their opposition to Brexit was fake – they were much more interested in defeating Labour than in defeating Brexit.

But this was not the position of a big majority of LibDem supporters – particularly the new ones. Their priority was to defeat Brexit – which the facts show is not the LibDem leader’s priority at all.

Fortunately, the first polls in the general election campaign show people understanding the fake character of the LibDem leadership. Taking only the shift between 29-30 October and 31 October-1 November You Gov found Labour support among Remain voters had risen by 9%, and LibDem support among Remain voters had fallen by 6%.

Winning back LibDem supporters is decisive for Labour in the election

In 2017 Labour’s support rose by 15% during the course of the election campaign – from 25% to 40%. But it is crucial to understand what happened in this. Labour did not win in net terms any votes from the Tories – whose support in the polls was 42% at the beginning of the election campaign and who received 42% in the actual vote. Labour’s increase in support was entirely from winning support from non-Tory parties by showing that the only really choice was between Labour and Tories.

At present by far the largest pool of voters between Labour and the Tories is the LibDems – who have gained by attempting to present themselves as the determined fighters against Brexit when the real priority of their leaders was to defeat Labour even if this delivered Brexit to Johnson and imposed austerity on Britain.

Indeed, as can be seen from the data and as the Sunday Times explicitly stated: ‘Conservative strategists… hopes of a majority are based on the Lib Dems splitting the remain vote.’

As stated at the beginning of the article, therefore, Johnson’s key tool for delivering Brexit and austerity is not the Tories, who are unlikely to achieve the 42.3% they received at the 2017 General Election. Johnson’s strategy relies entirely on the Lib Dems eating into Labour’s vote by spreading the myth their priority is to fight for Remain. Equally Labour’s chances depend on demonstrating to the electorate that the LibDems not merely don’t oppose austerity, but they are in reality Johnson’s ‘secret weapon’ for delivering Brexit and austerity. The reality is only a Labour government can stop Johnson and Trump’s disastrous Brexit and austerity and the LibDems entire orientation is to blocking this and therefore let Johnson deliver not only austerity but also Brexit.

Getting out this message is vital for Labour in the election.