It’s been three months since the EU referendum and we have heard plenty of nationalistic sabre-rattling from the three Brexiteer ministers holed up at Chevening – Messers Fox, Davis and Johnson – but still no plan.
Meanwhile, Theresa May declares that the solution to Britain’s scandalous lack of social mobility is to bring back 1950s-style selection in schools that will relegate 80 per cent of children to education’s second division. The NHS and social care are facing their biggest crisis in a generation. The Tories are trashing our once thriving green industries and – most shamefully of all – turning their faces away from the thousands of unaccompanied child refugees facing neglect, hunger and worse on our doorstep.
None of this is what people voted for. The need for a strong, united opposition has never been greater. Politically, this uncaring, reckless and divisive Conservative Government should be cowering under attacks from the official Opposition. Yet, rather than being asked for the £350m a week extra they promised the NHS, the Brexit Tories are smugly whispering to each other that they could be in power for a generation.
Instead of holding the Government to account, Labour is imploding. Just when the country needed it to fight the Tories, it is fighting itself. The hard left is now so dominant in the Labour Party that Jeremy Corbyn could be leader for years – and yet he seems to believe that winning elections is some kind of bourgeois sell-out.
Now I had many objections to Tony Blair, not least over his illegal invasion of Iraq, but he did grasp the basic point that to help the disadvantaged, you need power. For all the compromises of New Labour, it put serious resources into health and education that the Tories had starved for a generation.
If one child was lifted out of poverty by Blair, that would be a progressive legacy. But what will Corbyn’s legacy be? At this rate, to render Labour so unelectable that successive Tories will be able to play pass the parcel with the keys to Number 10.
Perhaps the Corbynistas can afford such generosity to the Tories, but the people I grew up with in towns such as Preston can’t. Self-righteous, ideological purity doesn’t buy food, pay the rent or provide the training that might lead to a better life.
If Labour won’t provide a decent opposition, the Liberal Democrats will. We are not squeamish about holding power. We have delivered free early years learning, extra money for pupils from poorer backgrounds, universal free school meals for infants, a national apprenticeship scheme and tax cuts for low-paid workers.
Our priority is to give proper funding to schools and hospitals, while joining up the NHS and social care, and we have said we will raise taxes to pay for it if necessary. We are unashamedly pro-European, wanting young people to be free to study, travel and work abroad. While Jeremy Corbyn has hauled up the white flag not just on our membership of the EU but on the single market, we will fight for British jobs, for it will be modestly paid workers who pay the greatest price if Britain is cut adrift from the world’s largest market.
In the Witney by-election, moderate Labour members are coming over to us because they yearn for a progressive party with a plausible programme for government. As the bookies put ever longer odds on a Labour victory there, Lib Dem odds keep shortening.
In real votes cast we have gained 16 council seats since the referendum, more than all other parties combined. In that time almost 18,000 people have joined us.
We are now the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit Government. If you are a progressive and want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united, don’t sit on your hands – join the Liberal Democrats.
Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats
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