Now the Liberal Democrats have 72 seats how should they use their newfound influence?

Image: Sir Ed Davey enjoying a waterslide during the General Election campaign; still from Youtube video by The Independent

Waterslides and bungee jumping – maybe not so daft after all

Sir Ed Davey, alone among the party leaders, seems to have had a blast during the election campaign, doing everything from shooting down a waterslide to bungee jumping to draw attention to himself. It clearly paid off. The Liberal Democrats won 72 seats in Parliament, the most since they were formed in the 1980s.

Writer James Thellusson, a former chair of the local Liberal Democrats, shares some personal reflections on what the party should focus on now.

No More Panto

 By James Thellusson

It was nearly 10 o’clock. There were about a dozen of us standing in the kitchen watching Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Emily Maitlis readying to announce the Exit Poll.

For a second, time seemed to stumble. Was something wrong? Guru-Murthy seemed to be concerned, eyes down in his laptop.

Then the TV screen filled with the words: ‘Labour Landslide’.

Everythingwas right again. Or rather, not Right.

Everyone cheered.

Someone turned on a clip of the crowd at Glastonbury chanting ‘F*** the Tories’ to the throbbing drum beats of ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.’

A bottle of English bubbly couldn’t restrain its joy and burst open flooding two glasses on its way to the floor.

Legend says Hercules cleaned the Augean stables in one day. In one night, the British public made him look like a good-for-nothing slacker. Coffey, Fox, Gullis, Truss and the embodiment of Upper Crust entitlement Jacob Rees Mogg were ousted in what may go down in history as the fastest mass eviction since the Mongols ransacked Samarkand.

Oh, what bliss it was in that dawn to be alive.

But that was last week. My schadenfreude has gone off the boil a little since then. It’s time to face the future. In this case, what next for the Liberal Democrats?

Don’t let the past become another country

We must not forget the Tories illegally prorogued Parliament; fed their vampire cronies from the unlawful VIP lane for PPE procurement; ignored their ethics advisers if they didn’t agree with them and tried to change parliamentary rules when and if they didn’t suit them. Rishi Sunak has still not apologised to the House for claiming he never attended a party during lock down.

The Lib Dems should help Labour on Lord’s reform but also push to reform other aspects of our constitution, Government and Parliamentary system so that we don’t have a repeat of the staggering levels of cronyism, corruption and criminal behaviour we have had under this last Government.

To deal with the tawdry Tories we need more transparency, tighter rules, tougher sentences and a truly independent ethical regulators. Imagine what a Tory government under Braverman or Farage might try next time if we don’t learn the lesson that the British constitution is weak if left in the hands of charlatans like these?

The LibDems manifesto has decent ideas in this area including making the role of the Adviser on Ministers’ Interests truly independent by putting the role on a statutory basis and giving Parliament the power to appoint the person and making appointments for significant public roles dependent on a confirmatory vote by the relevant Parliamentary Select Committee.

The Lib Dems should propose moves towards proportional representation (despite having been dealt a great hand by FPTP this time) and votes for 16-year-olds. EU citizens with Settled Status or those who have a permanent right to stay should be allowed to stand or vote in elections. Broadening the franchise to all of those who live, work and pay taxes in the country is democratic and fair.

The Royston Vaizey Strategy

Royston Vaizey is a mythical town created by the dark comedy team The League of Gentlemen. In Royston Vaizey, local shops are for local people. Localism is core to the Liberal Democrat brand. The next five years should be a chance to build that brand by being ‘Local MPs for Local People’. Or, as I call it, the Royston Vaizey strategy.

With 70+ Parliamentarians, the Liberal Democrats will have more power, resources and visibility to achieve things for their constituents than ever before. More people on Select Committees, more queries at Question Time and more media attention.

They must use it well and be seen to use it.  If they do, it will help them deepen their roots, prove their ability to deliver and match Labour’s positioning as a party dedicated to public service not private greed.

Policy wise, I think this means a focus delivering on clean water, housing and adult social care. It also means working with local councillors and restraining unnecessary nimbyism around housing and the green belt.

The European elephant

I once spent a nose curling morning sweeping the dung out from the Elephant and Rhino house at London Zoo. I was writing an article on careers in zoo keeping.

Today, there’s an elephant in the room called Brexit. It’s costly and incontinent. But rather than criticise or change it Labour and the Tories would rather hold their noses and carry on shovelling shit.

Will the Lib Dems follow suit?

Sir Vince Cable says the LibDems have a roadmap of how we might return into the ‘single market and customs union’. Personally, I’d prefer a return to full membership with the power that brings.

Either way, I hope the LibDems have the courage to encourage this conversation and not allow Labour to bury this vital strategic debate by winning a few small concessions around the Brexit trade deal.

There are risks to the Lib Dems from being more vocal. It isn’t an immediate in-your-face issue like the electricity bill. It causes unease in parts of the recently regained west country heartlands.

But, if they don’t speak up on this issue they will be outflanked by the Greens with young and radical voters and will lose the chance to consolidate their connection to degree educated, social liberal middle class Remainers in the south and south-east who have switched to them this time round.

This group of voters have lost faith in the Tory party, but maybe only for the moment. But, if the Tories continue to wage culture wars and offer Truss style economics, this group will continue stick with Lib Dems, especially if it can show it is pro-growth and pro-business. The case for deeper economic integration with Europe is almost irrefutable and will secure interest and support with make sense these people. I hope the party finds a way to make it.

James Thellusson is a writer who lives in Chiswick and used to be the chair of Hounslow Liberal Democrats