With only 12 MPs, Lib Dems do well to get a seasoned leader

Morning View
Morning View

The Liberal Democrats have a new leader, the veteran politician Sir Vince Cable.

The party did not have much choice, given that it only has 12 MPs.

It has, since its inception, suffered badly from the first-past-the-post electoral system, as did its predecessors the Liberal Party and the SDP.

The Lib Dems currently only have two more MPs than the DUP, yet they got almost 10 times the number of votes (2.4 million votes as opposed 290,000). So while the share of the vote that the Liberal Democrats got at the last election, 7.4%, is disastrous by the standards of the main centrist party in recent decades, it is a notable mandate for moderate politics.

A striking thing happened in the recent general election – the re-emergence of two dominant parties, Conservative and Labour. Yet there is a powerful argument for several UK-wide major parties: a firmly left wing party (Labour), a centre left party (the Lib Dems), a centre right party (the Tories) and perhaps a firmly right party (Ukip or a successor).

There ought still to be room for at least one other party on a different spectrum to left-right, such as the Greens.

But the current electoral system is much less conducive to multiple parties than the proportional representation system that prevails in much of mainland Europe (and leads to almost permanent coalitions).

Staunch supporters of Brexit will be dismayed to hear Sir Vince call for an “exit from Brexit”. But it is sensible that at least one major party reflects such a pro EU position. After all, almost half the country – 48% – voted to Remain in the EU, yet both the biggest parties committed to an emphatic Brexit.

Sadly, many liberals – with a small and large ‘l’ – did not seem that liberal when it came to having a leader who privately held to traditional Christian views, Tim Farron.

But if Liberal Democrats choose to be intolerant of what they consider to be intolerance, that is a matter for them. Now they have an experienced and respected hand at the helm, Sir Vince, who has a tough job ahead.