As Labour and the Tories veered off to the far edges of the political spectrum, the Liberal Democrats were the middle ground for the electorate. Led by a young politician with no coalition backstory, simply a vision of an ‘open, tolerant and united’ Britain, those wary of Corbynism but frustrated with austerity backed Tim Farron’s movement. Whilst the growth in the party’s number of MPs was minimal, faith was slowly but surely returning to the Lib Dems. Yet now, the election of Vince Cable as Farron’s replacement could undo the so-called ‘Lib Dem fightback’.
It seems as though the Liberal Democrats could learn a few things from Corbyn when it comes to vanquishing your party’s haunted past. The allotment fanatic was able to drive out Blairism in a Labour that was stuck to the right of the political spectrum. Granted, a public apology was given by Nick Clegg for the mistakes of the coalition, but the fact that the video is remembered more for its catchy parody than the original, shows just how seriously everybody took the message.
So, aside from the fact Cable was elected with no opposition (we can save the debate about how democratic this is for another day), the electorate – and certainly young people – have not forgotten the tuition fee u-turn and countless other controversial decisions made between 2010 and 2015. In the recent election, the Liberal Democrats had the added bonus of ‘the progressive alliance’ on their side. Now, the subsequent assumption that the party will return to flirting with right-wing policies could not come at a worse time, when there is a need for centrist politics.
It would be wrong to assume that all young people were swept under the wave of socialism brought about by Jeremy Corbyn. However, Farron’s Liberal Democrats allowed some of them to back the party when tactical voting allowed that to happen. With promises of a second Brexit referendum on the final deal and the 1p income tax plan for the NHS, the appealing policies meant the party was a back-up plan for young people unable to back Labour. However indirect, the ‘progressive alliance’ or ‘anything but the Tories’ operation led to young adults putting their cross in the box for the Liberal Democrats. A realist would argue that it was a ‘last resort’ option, but an optimist would have you believe that a sense of trust or faith was starting to develop in the minds of young people, despite the calamitous decision to break their promise on student fees.
However much it shouldn’t be, emotion-led politics means personality has a big part to play in today’s votes. As the coalition minister responsible for the privatisation of Royal Mail, the haunted past of the Liberal Democrats has been shoved back into the spotlight following Cable’s election. If the Lib Dems are to continue the laborious process of winning back young people’s trust in the Lib Dems (led by Farron), then a leader who is willing to adapt and tackle the issue head on could be the answer.