"The Liberal Democrats are beginning to build momentum" says former Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Sir Nick Harvey.
It’s a cold, grey morning in late December in 2016. The political system has had a huge shake up this year with the vote to leave the European Union. Former party leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, throughout his fruitful political career, has championed the cause of remaining and the benefits of membership of the single market. The consensus throughout the party has been that the open-door immigration policy, because of the single market, is undoubtedly a good thing. I’m inclined to agree.
The Liberal Democrats went into a coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, much to the dismay of many voters from all parties. "It simply had to be done, in the national interest’" Nick says, "but most of us [Liberal Democrat MPs] were pretty uncomfortable with it".
Many people, in the period of their peak, saw the Lib Dems as the anti-establishment force in parliament that would stand up against the government. "Possibly by the time we’d served in a coalition we began to look more like 'them up there' and Ukip slipped into the backstream of looking like the anti-establishment voice that would stand up to them."
The coalition saw the Lib Dems do disastrously in the 2015 general election. It came as no surprise that they would lose seats and lose the position of the ‘fight back’ vote because the European Elections in 2014. The Liberal Democrats came out with a swing of going down by 6.71%. Their 11 seats were reduced to just the one, and Britain’s discontent with them was clear.
Since the 23rd of June, both main parties have had internal battles. "[The Labour Party] are sleepwalking their way into a bit of a disaster", says Nick, who believes the Liberal Democrats can use the referendum to their advantage and be the party of the 48%. Nick’s seat of North Devon is a good case study on this issue. The incumbent Conservative, Peter Heaton-Jones, took the seat off Nick in 2015 with a majority of 22,000. In the same seat, on the 23rd June, 24,000 people voted to Remain. If the Lib Dems champion the case of Remain Nick feels "it’s entirely possible [he can win it back] but among the 24,000 who voted remain, there are committed Conservatives and committed Labour voters. Getting them to part company with their allegiances isn’t easy… But I have received 25,000 votes here before, so it is possible I can do it again."
Those Conservative voters who, like most Liberal Democrats and many of the social democrats within the Labour Party, who are committed Europeans may see the stance that Theresa May is taking as abhorrent. May wants Brexit to happen as soon as possible, and a deal that will massively harm the economy, jobs and British prosperity.
Conservative MPs like Anna Soubry have been vocal in their opposition to the government’s plans. But Soubry is in a minority in the Parliamentary Conservative Party. The issue of the EU is the singularly most important issue affecting the country. Her views, on this post referendum world, are more in tune of the orange book liberals than the government. Could we see a new party being created, much like the SDP in the 1980s?
Nick thinks that the Labour Party "are making a hard Brexit inevitable". Conversely, the Brexit vote has given the Lib Dems an opportunity, and it is an opportunity they are making the most of, as recent by-elections have shown. Nick thinks that "with a reliable 15 or 16% in the polls can ensure we win back a lot of seats".
At the end of the day, the Liberal Democrats should use the recent events, as they are, to stand out as a progressive centre-left party and champion the case to Remain. This will guarantee them lots of votes for a successful election campaign in 2020. The Liberal Democrat bounce-back has well and truly begun.