Labour’s Don Brind says the LD leader has a soft spot for the PM.
The Lib Dem leader told Politics Home “In a really peculiar way I felt slightly proud of her when she became prime minister.” A very odd thing to say, isn’t it?
Since you’re asking, Tim – Yes it is a bit odd. Not only is she a Tory. She is the Remainer who failed to campaign in the EU referendum and now, with all the zeal of a convert, is determined to drag the country into a hard Brexit regardless of the economic carnage that could ensue.
Farron explained that his link with May dates back to 1992 when they were candidates in the safe Labour seat of North West Durham. “I remember thinking she was a very straight person. I enjoyed being on the campaign trail with her.”
Today, the Lib Dem leader does, of course, criticise the Prime Minister for choosing “the most extreme interpretation of the referendum result … which is not only going to be massively damaging to the livelihoods of every family and business in the country but will rob the public purse of – on the government’s own figures £220bn. But Farron lets May off the hook by claiming there is no difference between her approach and Labour’s. “You have the Labour party basically hugging Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party – and we’ve heard it from Keir Starmer and Hilary Benn too – they’ve just given up.”
Farron has a tough task in reviving the Lib Dems after the 2015 massacre. He clearly hopes to boost their current poll shares by siphoning off Labour votes from amongst the 48% who voted Leave.
But let’s be clear that putting Corbyn and May in the same boat is divisive claptrap which has nothing to with fighting Brexit and everything to do with Lib Dem tribalism.
After chiding Labour for not standing aside in Richmond by election the Lib Dems – and the Greens — will be fighting Copeland where they both lost deposits in 2015 with around 3% of the vote. Although I expect Labour to win it’s possible that Lib Dems and Green can take votes from Labour. If that leads to a Labour defeat the result would strengthen the Tories and/or Ukip and with it the forces of Brexit.
The fact is that it will be Labour parliamentarians who do the heavy lifting in countering the worst extremes of Brexit. They are at the core of the cross party group reported by the Observer to be drawing up plans to “halt hard Brexit “
I sat in on a meeting last week of Labour parliamentarians brought together by the Labour Movement for Europe , Everyone there was as at least as passionate Europeans as Farron but with a much more intelligent view of the challenges facing the anti-Brexit cause.
One wise old bird said “Labour MPs face a choice between being a hawk, a dove or an ostrich – and all have their good points.” There is no sure-fire way of fighting Brexit and keeping quiet while watching how things develop is at least as valid an approach as launching a frontal assualt.Three key priorities emerged from the discussion.
First is the need for unity in confronting Theresa May’s version of Brexit. Let’s hope Tim Farron hears the message.
The second is the need to organise effectively in Parliament where the main battle will not be over triggering Article 50 but over the Great Reform Bill. There are lots of smart people in the Commons and the Lords who will make parliamentary sovereignty.
The third priority is, as one former minister put it, a need “to change the tone of the conversation in the country.” That is partly a matter of better communications but it is also a question of being listened to by Labour voters who supported Leave. That is why Jeremy Corbyn’s shift on the issue of immigration is regarded by many as a vital first step.
As is well known a majority of Labour MPs supported Remain but represent areas that back Leave. It is that very fact that which makes how Labour wrestles with the issue crucial. There may be frustration at the performance of Jeremy Corbyn but many will agree with the MP who said; “Any Labour leader would struggle with the issue.”