Sketch: All across the UK, people are waking up to discover they have become Lib Dems
The area is obviously one of huge public concern, and it is of course natural that people, finding themselves becoming anxious, should seek reassurance. But the sad truth is that anyone could turn out to be a Lib Dem.
It may not make for pleasant reading, but it could happen to anyone, anywhere. It could happen to you. It could be someone you’ve known your whole life. Your husband or wife. Your siblings. Your own children could be Lib Dems. Even as you read this, look around you. The person sitting next to you could be a Lib Dem and not even realise it yet.
All across the UK, people are waking up to discover they have become Lib Dems. Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Phillip Lee, Sam Gyimah, even members of parliament have been affected. One day they’re a normal, level-headed person, the next they’re a Liberal Democrat. It’s sort of like the plot of Metamorphosis, just more far-fetched.
The only people happy with the situation are the Lib Dems themselves, with the party parading the new MPs in front of the TV cameras at conference. “I’m just catching up with Luciana [Berger],” Jo Swinson explained in one video, with the air of an ambitious guerrilla leader showing off a newly captured American tank. “How has your first Lib Dem conference been?”
Berger, who had obviously been warned to play along, did her best. “Well, I’ve had the best time in the last 36 hours,” she said, despite the fact that couldn’t possibly be true. “Everyone has been so friendly, the vibe here is so warm and welcoming.”
“So are you planning to go to the conference glee club tonight?” Swinson asked her. Berger nodded. She didn’t stop nodding at any point in the conversation. “I understand that there’s a special song,” she said, “that’s been put together for the defectors.”
Wait, what? They’re going to make the ‘defectors’ sing a special song? “I’m looking forward to that,” she said, before adding, somewhat reluctantly: “I’ve made a commitment to come.”
‘I’ve made a commitment to come.’ The words of anyone excited about a big night out.
But while it was a lovely video, it didn’t explain why more and more people feel they have to give up everything and become a Lib Dem. Could it be the fault of the schools? Computer games? What’s de-radicalising these people?
It could be their charismatic leader, whose media appearances have been marked by increasingly hardline, centrist rhetoric. In fact, Swinson went further than ever at conference, using the platform to announce that the party would revoke Article 50 – without bothering to have a second referendum – if it won a general election.
As she explained on GMB: “Just to be crystal clear... we will be saying, that if you elect a Liberal Democrat majority government, we will revoke Article 50. In that campaign, and in the ballot box, if people in this country choose to elect a majority Liberal Democrat government, then we will have done exactly what we said in that campaign, and revoke Article 50. That’s how democracy works.”
Well, at least it was crystal clear. A majority in parliament would provide a mandate – that’s how democracy works. So what would happen if there was a majority in the Scottish Parliament in favour of a second independence referendum? Presumably that would be OK, given the clear mandate?
Well, no, not in this case. That’s not how democracy works. As Willie Rennie explained, when asked whether it would be legitimate for the UK Government to reject another referendum, even if the SNP and Greens won a majority, he said: “Yes, and we would argue very strongly for that at Westminster. Big bang constitutional change is chaotic, damages the economy, and divides the country.”
Now that might seem confusing, given that it sounds neither very liberal nor very democratic, but that’s the wrong way to look at it. It’s actually very simple. In the case of the EU referendum, a 2016 vote can be ignored on the basis of an election. But in the indyref, the 2014 vote is definitive, and can never be revisited.
Some have suggested there are inconsistencies here, largely because of the massive, glaring, howling inconsistencies involved, but not Swinson. And so, while people across the UK were waking up and realising they were Lib Dems, Swinson has apparently woken up believing she should be PM.
“I want to speak directly to people in Scotland,” she said, from the stage in Bournemouth. “We, together, voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, and together we can stop Brexit. We are building a movement across the United Kingdom that is on the verge of stopping it and you have a part to play in growing and strengthening this winning campaign across the UK.
“Join us. Come with me and be part of the bigger movement for change. A big vote for the Liberal Democrats in Scotland at the next general election will give us the final push we need. The energy is with us, so come with us to stop Brexit.”
The energy is with us. Join us. Resistance is futile. Watching from the floor, Chuka Umunna smiled vacantly. It was too late for him.