Highly unlikely, yes (and truly horrible), but not impossible: recent polling trends do indicate a theoretically possible route
Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 09 December 2019
At first glance the idea seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?
After all, LibDem leader Jo Swinson has built her party’s entire campaign around one thing: stopping Brexit, in a contempt for democracy so blatant that its shamelessness is matched only by its self-righteousness, and myopically oblivious to herself being the main reason for the LibDems’ popularity actually declining since the start of the campaign. The more voters have seen of her, the less they like both her and her party.
But the LibDems are no stranger to opportunistic, hypocritical U-turns. Even solely on the anti-Brexit side of the political divide, they’ve been inconsistent in their anti-democratic perfidy.
Only a month ago, on 5 November, Swinson categorically ruled out propping up a Corbyn-led government in the event of a hung Parliament, condemning his failure to tackle Labour’s innate antisemitism as a ‘total dereliction of duty’, labelling him ‘a threat to national security’, and declaring him ‘not fit for the job of prime minister’.
On 4 December, though, Swinson hinted at backing Labour in a hung Parliament in order to force a second Brexit vote, provided Corbyn was removed as leader. Not that much of a U-turn , you might first think, but think again. For Swinson to demand this as a condition of the LibDems’ support is as disingenuous as it is unrealistic.
Does she really believe that the Labour Party, having defied all expectations and polling estimates by getting enough seats to make forming a minority government feasible, would then oblige her by dumping the leader under whom it had achieved that?
Does she think a continuing hard-Left Labour Party still tightly controlled by Momentum would morph overnight into a non-antisemitic left-‘liberal’ social-democratic party, and suddenly become not ideologically-sympathetic to Britain’s enemies, merely by decapitating one head of its many-headed Hydra?
Does the ‘feminist’ Swinson regard the obvious immediate alternative, the same John McDonnell who evidently still favours lynching female Tory politicians, as ‘fit for the job of prime minister’?
Being prepared, after her unequivocal rejection of the idea only a month before, to accept all that baggage in order to get a second Brexit vote, counts, I would suggest, as a significant U-turn.
So, against the backdrop of credibility-stretching policy-reversals not exactly being a terribly unusual feature of the LibDems’ politics, it was intriguing to read in The Guardian of 6 December an opinion piece suggesting they could be about to do another tyre-squealing U-turn, and actually support a minority Tory government with some kind of DUP-style confidence-and-supply arrangement, in return for that second EU vote they are so desperate to bring about.
Discount the partisan content you would expect anyway from a lefty Guardianista hackette, but one can’t help wondering if there might be a kernel of truth here. The reasoning is slightly convoluted, but please bear with me. The key could lie, firstly, in one of the latest Ipsos-MORI polling reports and secondly, in the most recent reported voter perceptions of party leaders and changes in party support over the course of the last 6 months and the campaign itself.
Swinson has not had a good election …
“Which of the following leaders would make best Prime Minister?”
Boris Johnson 43% (-)
Jeremy Corbyn 25% (+3)
Don’t know 21% (+1)
Jo Swinson 11% (-5)
Survation 26-30 Nov
(Changes w 20-23 Nov)#GE2019
— Matthew Goodwin (@GoodwinMJ) December 3, 2019
Polling averages from the last 6 months:
Lib Dems 17%
From the campaign period:
Lib Dems 14%
From this past week:
Lib Dems 12%#GE2019
— Matthew Goodwin (@GoodwinMJ) December 9, 2019
The more that the Tories seem to be on course for a majority, the more the apparent likelihood of PM Corbyn recedes; therefore, the more freedom that gives Remainer-Tories or reluctant-Tories in the South who approve of neither EU exit nor Boris Johnson as party leader to vent their anger and alienation at the prospect of both by deciding not to vote Tory and transferring their vote elsewhere.
However, the hash that Swinson has made of the LibDem leadership and their election campaign, leading to a Remainer-Labour polling bounce, means that Remainers and anti-Tories of all stripes who saw the LibDems as the best means of halting or cancelling Brexit may now write them off as the preferred anti-Brexit option, hold their noses and register their anti-Brexit vote in the Labour box instead.
Now Corbyn is of course highly unpopular: but many of his policies, like nationalisation, taxing ‘the rich’, or even expropriating the wealthy’s assets, aren’t unpopular, however misguided in concept and disastrous in practice they are.
Additionally, McDonnell is astute enough, and ruthless enough, to ditch Corbyn as leader if the latter’s personal unpopularity was the only thing standing in the way of trying Socialism. McDonnell was, after all, part of the hard-Left Ken Livingstone cabal which in 1981 overthrew the moderate Leader of the former Greater London Council in a putsch, immediately after the latter had been elected, and installed Livingstone in his place.
So is this the paradox with which we could perversely end up?
That the greater the Tories’ reported polling lead, the greater the collateral risk that anti-Tory votes could migrate away from LibDems to Labour, thereby reducing the Tories to the status of largest party but lacking a majority, and simultaneously getting Labour close enough on seats to form a minority administration if it had LibDem and/or SNP support?
That, in which case, there could be a Dutch auction between the Tories and Labour for that LibDem rump support, despite the latter’s below-expectations election performance or even diminished numbers?
Swinson has dismissed the idea of ever again going into a coalition with the Conservatives, but specifically not a more informal confidence-and-supply arrangement. How safe would it be to assume that the Tories would never in any circumstances even contemplate it?
Even with the retirement from Parliament, or in effect expulsion from the Party, of many of the principal Tory-Remainers of the 2017-2019 Parliament, it seems likely that after Thursday 12 December’s election the ranks of Tory MPs will still contain a significant number of Brexit-sceptics, however much careerist inclinations and the prospect of retaining MPs’ perks of office may be currently muting them.
Many ‘liberal’-‘progressive’ ‘One-Nation’ Europhile Tory MPs were considerably less than pleased when the 2010-2015 Coalition ended, having found they had much more in common with their LibDem colleagues than they had with, not only the more neo-Thatcherite wing of their own parliamentary party, but also the vast majority of its rank and file membership. Quite a few of them are still around.
One can easily imagine a still significantly-Remainer Tory party then driving the cobbling together of an informal alliance with the LibDems and agreeing some BRINO-plus fudge to be put to a second referendum, but presented with fake regret as the only way to stave off a Labour/SNP government.
The chance, via conceding another referendum, to stop the Brexit which up to half of them probably don’t really want, and to load all the blame for it on to the LibDems? I suspect many would insist on seizing it, with the Party leadership torn between the likely consequences of betraying their voters and their own desire for office. With Tories, it’s always party before country.
Yes, of course this nightmarish prospect is only a remote possibility, even outlandish. Hopefully. But we live in strange times. Who in 2014 would have predicted that in 2015 the Labour Party would elect Corbyn as leader and that in 2017 he would come within a few thousand votes in a handful of constituencies of actually becoming Prime Minister?
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