18 Sept. — The Guardian published an article by British Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron in which he announced claims on the centre ground. The same day other media outlets reported on discussions concerning the possible defection of some Labour MPs to Conservative Party. The battle for the ideological legacy of the Labour Party – and for its cadres – has begun.
As Europe Insight reported earlier, there are many who perceived the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader in an extremely negative light. Top conservatives, including Prime Minister David Cameron and members of government, have called him a threat to national security.
The Liberal Democrats – until recently the third party in the UK – have likewise to conceal their disappointment. In particular, former minister Vince Cable opined that the “Tories will destroy Corbyn”. Former party leader Paddy Ashdown tweeted that “Old Labour is the future.”
But neither of these political parties have failed to take notice of the new opportunities presented them. Both of them are now expecting not only to expand their cadre and electoral base thanks to Labour left-centrists and moderates but are also counting on squarely occupying the ideological and political centre.
In his article dedicated to the opening of the party conference on 19 September, Tim Farron does not hide the fact that Corbyn’s success is a pivotal moment, and his text is in fact a call to moderate Conservatives the same as to the Labour Party’s centre left. He writes that the liberal idea is gaining new momentum and it appeals to “moderate and progressive” society interested in personal freedoms as well as the state bearing social responsibility.
His interview with the Evening Standard also confirms the Liberal Democrats’ determination to occupy centre ground and reel in ordinary Labourites and MPs. Farron himself stated that he has already received several personal messages from interested persons. The leader of the Liberal Democrats also hinted that there may be some well-known politicians among the “defectors”.
At the same time, SunNation reported on informal negotiations which senior Conservatives have begun with their colleagues in the opposition regarding a possible crossover. “I haven’t left my party. Labour has left me,” the paper recounts one Labourite’s response. Taking into consideration that, as Europe Insight wrote, the Tories announced their claims on the new centre ground even earlier, it is obvious that their ambitions have now grown and they will use shared views on several aspects of the social and economic agenda as an argument.
However, several facts speak against the likelihood of a mass exodus from the Labour Party. First of all, as SunNation noted, there has only been one instance of a Labourite leaving for the Tories in nearly forty years. Secondly, the first public opinion poll conducted since Corbyn’s victory (by YouGov) showed that the percentage of optimists is still relatively high. A third of those interviewed evaluated him positively to some degree: 31% were glad of his election and 30% think he will be a good leader.