Originally published on LibDemVoice on 3/09/15
Whoever wins the Labour leadership battle, it’s going to be a torrid time for Labour. There are already accusations and counter-accusations, threats of a legal challenge, and that’s before we know the result. Perhaps, this will help with the #LibDemFightback. It may well lead to a faster recovery in the polls, another surge of new members, and more by-election victories. But there is a terrible downside.
I remember the last time Labour self-destructed. When that happened, I was horrified. We had a Labour party that was unfit to be the Official Opposition, and a Conservative government that ruled in triumphalism for 18 years. Not everything the Tories did was bad, but some of it was appalling. The Poll Tax was only the most prominent of many policies which harmed the weakest in society, and sometimes the worst policies were small measures that the newspapers never noticed.
I joined the SDP. I don’t regret it for a moment. Someone needed to provide a credible alternative to the Tories, and it certainly wasn’t going to be Labour.
For a moment, it looked like we could achieve the impossible, beat the first-past-the-post system and kick the Tories out of government. But we failed, and those in poverty paid a terrible price.
My worst memories of that time are the 1992 election, when in many seats we seemed about to make a breakthrough. Then the Tory leaflets dropped on our supporters’ doorsteps saying, don’t vote Lib Dem, or you’ll put Neil Kinnock in number 10.
Those leaflets were devastating. Fear of Labour was so great that even some who had put up our posters admitted later to voting Tory.
Something similar happened in May this year. The fear of Prime Minister Ed Miliband, held hostage by the SNP, was enough to deliver a result no one expected: the majority Tory government that rules today.
If Labour self-destruct, as it looks like they’re doing, I won’t be celebrating.
There’s nothing we in the Lib Dems can do to stop it. We just have to carry on with the fightback, campaigning for sensible policies, recruiting more new members, winning more by-elections. And we will need to try to displace them.
But we should be under no illusion. It’s the Tories who should be laughing. We should be weeping.
George Kendall is convener of the Social Democrat Group, which is being formed to celebrate and develop our social democrat heritage, and to reach out to social democrats beyond the party.