Earlier this month Jo Swinson launched the Liberal Democrat campaign with an ambitious message that she is a credible candidate to be Prime Minister, and would do a better job than either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn in the role.
On the back of successes in the local and European Elections earlier this year with a clear anti-Brexit message, and polling as high as 23%, this vision was somewhat plausible although still very much unlikely.
Only a few weeks later, the Lib Dems have started to feel the squeeze of voters returning to their tribal homes under the First Past The Post electoral system, which has consistently stifled the momentum of Lib Dem leaders.
Despite this squeeze making the prospect of a Liberal Democrat majority Government even more unlikely, the party has in its manifesto set out one of the most progressive and comprehensive visions for the UK seen in an election campaign.
With a £50 billion “Remain bonus” and the revenue recouped from minor tax rises, the Lib Dems would spend big in government. Eye-catching policies include:
- The introduction of a “wellbeing budget” which would prioritise spending on mental health, care for children in schools, homelessness and exploitation rather than GDP growth.
- Legalisation of recreational cannabis.
- 24 hour mental health services and free prescriptions for anti-depressants.
- Rail fare freezes for five years whilst services are fixed.
80% renewable energy generation by 2030 (it’s currently at 40% so that’s a big jump).
- A frequent flyer tax coupled with a reduction in air passenger duty for those who fly infrequently.
- A £30,000 starting salary for teachers, SATs and the EBacc scrapped, and free childcare.
Spurred on by some of their newest MP recruits such as Luciana Berger and Sarah Wollaston, and following international best practice, with an especially strong view to New Zealand, the Lib Dems are promising a forward-thinking blueprint for the future.
But can and will the Lib Dems ever shake off the concept of a vote for them being a “wasted vote” under First Past the Post? And can the party ever be taken seriously enough to have their major policy launches feature ahead of the latest updates about Prince Andrew.
The Liberal Democrat vision for the future is undoubtedly progressive, open, tolerant and forward thinking. Their commitment to setting out 100 pages worth of comprehensive policy positions in the face of short-term media focus and an agenda often driven by social media likes.
The real question that should be asked is how these policy pledges will be received in critical constituencies in London, commuter towns and the South West, where the Lib Dems can expect to pick up seats.
To portray the Lib Dems as a party of government (which, let’s not forget, they were until 2015), to stop Brexit and build a future brighter then they need this manifesto to outshine the winter chill and to win vital seats in Richmond, St Ives and St Albans. It’s only by winning here that the Lib Dems will ever establish a path to build the brighter future they seek.