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Snap British election gives Farron and Lib Dems a genuine chance to unite anti-Brexit voters

Tim Farron has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to forge a new broad-based liberal, moderate and pro-Europe party across the United Kingdom. (Daniel Hambury / Stella Pictures)

In calling a snap election for June 8, British prime minister Theresa May has done exactly what former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown didn’t do a decade ago — taking initiative to win a personal mandate and extend her party’s majority for up to five more years.

With Labour’s likely support tomorrow, May is set to win a two-thirds majority to hold an election, in spite of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act that would otherwise set the next general election for 2020 — long after the two-year negotiations triggered last month by Article 50 to leave the European Union are set to end. May and the Conservatives now hope that voters will give her an emphatic endorsement for her approach to Brexit — and a much wider majority than the 17-seat margin the Conservatives currently enjoy in the House of Commons. Though some commentators believe a wide Tory victory would make a ‘hard Brexit’ more likely, a lot of sharp commentators believe that it could give May the cushion she needs to implement a much less radical ‘soft Brexit.’

In any event, it’s not unreasonable for May to seek a snap election while EU officials pull together their negotiating positions for later this summer — since the last vote in 2015, the country’s experienced the Brexit earthquake and a change in leadership among all three national parties.

It will also come as the Tories are riding high in the polls by a margin of around 20% against Labour, now in its second year of Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-left leadership. If the election were held today, every indication points to a historic defeat for Labour. It’s not only the polls, which are dismal enough. Corbyn has made so many enemies among the parliamentary Labour Party that many MPs will not stand for reelection (including former home secretary Alan Johnson, one of the few genuinely popular figures around who represent ‘New Labour’).

Corbyn’s electoral record, too, is weak. When Jamie Reed, a Corbyn critic and an MP since 2005, resigned, Conservative Trudy Harrison captured his Copeland constituency by a 5% margin against the Labour candidate in a February 23 by-election. Not only was it the first gain for a governing party in a by-election since 1982, it was a seat in Labour’s once-reliable northern heartland, held without interruption since 1935.

Without a major change (and it’s hard to see anything that could swing voters on Corbyn at this point), Labour is doomed. The next 51 days will likely bring iteration after iteration of Corbyn’s political obituary, with a crescendo of the infighting within Labour that has characterized his leadership.

It will be ugly.

Labour, with 229 seats, is already near the disastrous levels of its post-war low of 1983 (just 27.6% and 209 seats), and there’s reason to believe Corbyn could still sink further. No one would laugh at the suggestion Labour might lose another 100 seats in June. For Corbyn’s opponents within Labour, the only silver lining to a snap election is that a decisive defeat could end Corbyn’s leadership now (not in 2020), giving Labour an opportunity to rebuild under a more talented and inclusive leader.

Moreover, in the wake of a call for a second referendum on independence for Scotland (which would presumably seek to rejoin the European Union), Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon could well improve the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) position — the party now holds 54 of 57 seats in Scotland with the unionist opposition divided among the three national parties.

So where does this leave anti-Brexit voters who are uncomfortable casting a vote for May’s Tories?

The Liberal Democrats. Continue reading Snap British election gives Farron and Lib Dems a genuine chance to unite anti-Brexit voters

Charles Kennedy has died at age 55

charles kennedy

It’s a stunning thing to wake up to the news that Charles Kennedy, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has died at the relatively young age of 55.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotland

The Inverness-born Kennedy represented Ross, Skye and Lochaber since 1997, and who represented a similar constituency in northern Scotland from 1983, until the general election just over three weeks ago. The Scottish National Party (SNP) swept away all but three of Scotland’s constituencies, including Kennedy’s, a shock result that had more to do with the dynamics of Scottish nationalism in the post-referendum era, not Kennedy, who remained widely popular. His death will deprive the Liberal Democrats of someone who could have helped the party rebuild its presence in Scotland.

As LibDem leader between 1999 and 2006, Kennedy served as a key transition between the beloved Paddy Ashdown and Nick Clegg, the latter who led the party on an economically liberal turn in the 2010 elections and ultimately brought the Liberal Democrats into government.

In May, however, the Liberal Democrats were wiped out — in England and Scotland alike — after widespread disappointment among their voters. The Liberal Democratic caucus reduced from 57 members of parliament to just eight.

Notwithstanding the Cleggmania of 2010, the high-water mark for the party was actually the 2005 election, when Kennedy’s Liberal Democrats won 62 seats.

As leader, Kennedy was one of the few opposition voices to prime minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the United States in its invasion of Iraq. Despite grumblings from some Labour MPs, including the late former foreign minister Robin Cook, Blair’s decision to join the Iraq invasion won at least begrudging support from his own party and quiet acquiescence from the Conservative Party.

It’s no exaggeration to say that, while the Tories fumbled in the electoral wilderness, shifting leaders from William Hague to Iain Duncan Smith to Michael Howard in the mid-2000s, Kennedy was often the de facto leader of the opposition, and he was certainly the undisputed leader of the anti-war movement in 2003 and beyond.

It’s true that Kennedy’s leadership ended when it became clear that he had a problem with alcohol. That he admitted it, sought treatment and remained a beloved elder statesman within the Liberal Democratic camp speaks to his strength — even Blair, in his memoirs, spoke of the pressure that drove him to problem drinking at Number 10.

Notwithstanding former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond’s comments, now being widely derided, suggesting Kennedy might have been a closet nationalist, the universal response across the country today is praise for a charismatic leader who took principled stands.

The party holds a leadership election on July 16, with the more leftist Tim Farron generally leading his opponent, the more centrist Norman Lamb. That the winner of the contest will try to restore the party’s fortunes without the talents of Charlie Kennedy, however, amounts to a tragic setback.