IT IS NOT WEAKNESS TO APPEAR TO BE KIND – THEY MAY BE RINGING THEIR BELLS NOW, BEFORE LONG THEY MAY BE WRINGING THEIR HANDS

by Clayton Goodwin

It comes to something when the two principal parties in the forthcoming General Election blame each other for not being conservative enough. The appeal to cruelty which became manifest in British politics from the Brexit referendum eight years ago appears to have become ingrained in Westminster thinking. This time the politicians may have got it wrong. I am by no means convinced that the public are now so self-centred and xenophobic as they were just those few short years ago. Yet the parties seek to outdo each other in pushing further and further to the right. Now that Nigel Farage, to whom the media seem to stick as a magnet, has entered the fray the situation cannot be expected to change. That leaves a very difficult question for voters of more liberal opinion, who do not see others who are different to themselves as being a threat or an enemy, as to where they should cast their vote.

It is difficult to find any saving graces in the outgoing Conservative administration in either policies, practices or personalities. Can this really be the same party as that of Michael Heseltine, Iain McLeod, Kenneth Clarke, R.A. Butler and even Ted Heath of recent, and even longer, yesteryear? Nor would Winston Churchill have felt comfortable within their ranks – for in addition to his well-known imperialist outlook he had also some liberal social opinions. After all, he was once Home Secretary in a Liberal Government. Boris Johnson culled the remaining “decent” Conservatives including the great man’s grandson.

Labour, today, offers no comforting alternative. Keir Starmer repeats ad nauseam how he has changed the party. So, he has – and more is the pity. That is nothing of which to be proud: it was good enough as it was. This is not the party for which generations of my family, as well as so many others, worked and supported through thick and thin. It is not even the party that it was even a couple of years ago. Anybody who expects anything better from the present Labour party when it is in government should remember well the old adage – blessed are they who expected nothing, for they shall not be disappointed. Those who celebrate the expected Labour victory with gleeful anticipation may soon have reason to recall the warning of Sir Robert Walpole “they may be ringing their bells now, before long they will be wringing their hands”.

The manner in which the Starmer administration-in-waiting has purged, or attempted to purge, the candidates standing for election is concerning. The fact that the axe of disapproval has fallen mainly on those of ethnic and cultural minority communities may or may not be co-incidental. The “broad church” which welcomes right-wing apostates does not seem to be too tolerant to other sections which have been at the core of the party for years. It is not enough to blame the Parliamentary leadership, but the bulk of the parliamentary/administrative membership which, with the sniff of perceived power in their nostrils, are apparently prepared to follow the party-line whatever. The ancient Greeks marked well that “hubris” comes before a fall – and so should we.

The fragmentation at the edges should not seriously impede what is forecast as being success of historic importance. The dissatisfaction has occurred in those constituencies in which support for Labour is shown to be at its strong. What does it matter if a few dissidents fall by the wayside when there are such strong majorities? I am concerned less about this present election than those in the future. After their fair-weather friends in the media and the electorate have gone back to their traditional allegiances to whom will Labour turn when its own foundation has been eroded? Would you prefer to trust those who have stayed with Labour through all vicissitudes or those who lend their support until they find that the kicking which, they assumed, the hard-men of politics had intended for the weaker brethren/sisteren of society now included themselves among the latter?

I have voted Liberal (and then Liberal Democrat) almost regularly since hearing their then leader Jo Grimond address a meeting at Westminster Methodist Central Hall in the early-1960s, and thank my friend Robert Duthie for persuading me to accompany him there. In the 1979 general election I was Liberal candidate in Gravesend. My understanding and acceptance of the dirty business of politics at all levels comes from personal experience. Nevertheless, whatever their faults, the Liberals have been the only traditional party who have not been ashamed to say that they care for the people – and all the people – that make up our country. It is not weakness to appear to be “kind” and “soft” to others, and rather less than boring than to endure the schoolyard-bullies who are so prominent elsewhere.

Yes, I have written that I have voted “almost regularly” for the Liberals / Liberal Democrats. For in spite of their principles, to which I have always adhered, the party has shown a tendency to go off in tactical tangents. It was impossible to vote for them when they were led by one of the glib rich boys, which came to the top of every party, who led them into a Coalition that was ill-thought out (to put it kindly) and when that dream died went off to earn his fortune elsewhere, or for a leader who seemed unable to make up her mind as to whether she was Joan of Arc pretending to be Judy Garland or Judy Garland with aspirations to being Joan of Arc. Among them there have been – in Ed Davey and Tim Farron – leaders of true kindness and character.

The Liberal Democrats have never been so necessary to our body politic as they are today, particularly as they have now grown through the initial inclination to play their just indignation that in voting for Brexit the electorate dealt to the United Kingdom the most serious act of self-harm ever voluntarily delivered by any nation on its own people. It is a pity that the Liberal Democrats have to come back from such a credibility gap over the last fourteen or so years. Ed Davey, and Daisy Cooper, may not appear to be among the most “macho” of the party leaders, but that is all to the good.

What can we hope to learn when the votes are declared in the morning of Friday 5th July? That the Conservatives have been voted out of office – that is the least of our expectations And, reality requires that Labour should be the instrument of that rejection. Yet I hope for more.  I fear that Labour in opposition has provided an ominous warning of what will happen when they are in power, and I trust that that power should not be excessive. Labour in absolute power should be feared as much as an unexpected turn to the Conservatives. To my mind, the most favourable outcome, if not the ideal solution, would be for Labour to achieve as big a victory as is necessary for them to form a viable and working administration – but no more that than.

In the early hours, and throughout the next day, I shall be watching with rising hope or despair on the results for the Liberal Democrats, and for the Greens – their perception still as a one-issue party, whether it is justified or note, prevents me from giving more serious consideration to their support, the various independent candidates to whom Labour’s selection practices have given offence, and, although they are outside the area in which thy would be available for me to vote for them, the Scottish Nationalists, Plaid Cymru and some Irish parties. The government, and its ministers, will need to be held to account.

I would be wonderfully encouraged if the Conservatives, until they learn to return to their traditional one-nation values, and Reform are edged so far to the right that they edged right off the map? And maybe would need a small boat to get back in.

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