Historic fifth place for Labour

Can anyone recall when the party of government last came fifth in a by election? This is surely the biggest story of the Henley by election. Just over a year since Labour faced up to the fact that Blair had become ‘a bit of a liability’, Labour MPs would have hoped Brown to be a safe pair of hands. It is stunning just how much support has drained away from the Labour Party in just twelve months. In fact, it’s less than twelve months since GB was ramping up expectations of a snap autumn election to get his own mandate!

I cannot recall in my political lifetime a party losing so much support so quickly.

What else can we deduce from the final count? The Tories are clearly learning lessons from us on how to fight by elections. For all they criticise us, they now fight by elections exactly in the same way as we have learned to. This is the primary reason that we only ‘held our own’ in Henley. Lib Dem tactitions need to be working out now what our strategy must be next time. Clearly, the Tory Party has begun to behave like a serious political force again. We must be concerned about the threat that they pose to our held seats in LD/Con fights in the next general election. But the Tories have weaknesses that we need to exploit. They are still a divided party (hence the David Davis show) and there is still a gap between the smooth Cameronite image and the average local Tory activist. As has been pointed out, your average Tory PPC is still likely to be a eurosceptic Thatcherite rather than a Cameron style ‘liberal’ conservative. I know the difference between us and the Tories – but I’m not convinced the man in the street necessarily does. We need to communicate what Liberal Democracy is to a wider audience.

Meanwhile, the New Labour project is surely in terminal decline. We must be ready to strike hard in LD/Lab marginals. Surely every Labour MP with a majority of less than 5 digits must be feeling very nervous this weekend.

We have much to be optimistic about – but much hard work to do!

Time for Rupert Mudoch to put up or butt out

For most of my life there’s been a fourth force in British politics. If you knew nothing about Britain, but studied a cross section of popular newspapers, you would get the impression that we were rather a different nation. Our newspapers are, on the whole, more right wing, authoritarian and insular than the average Brit.

No newspaper illustrates this better than The Sun. And never was it worse than under the editorship of one Kelvin MacKenzie. He wouldn’t deny it either. In one famous quote in the early eighties he said:

You just don’t understand the readers, do you, eh? He’s the bloke you see in the pub, a right old fascist, wants to send the wogs back, buy his poxy council house, he’s afraid of the unions, afraid of the Russians, hates the queers and the weirdos and drug dealers. He doesn’t want to hear about that stuff (serious news).

He presided over controversial front pages like the ‘Gotcha!’ celebrating the sinking of the Belgrano and the front page which insulted the Liverpool fans in the wake of Hillsborough.

He also claimed that the Sun’s attacks on Neil Kinnock in 1992 handed the victory to the Tories. But to this day the Murdoch press exerts an unhealthy influence on British politicians. Mudochs opposition to the Euro would make any politician think twice about advocating membership (five economic tests not withstanding) and one wonders whether governments are required to get the Sun’s approval for any major new policy.

Now MacKenzie is threatening to run against David Davis claiming that he would back 420 days detention without trial, let alone 42. But at least for once the Murdoch Machine would have to face the electors, instead of telling us what we think.

Rare moment of admiration for a Tory

Watching the statement by David Davis a few minutes ago, I couldn’t help feeling just a tinge of admiration. Don’t worry – I’m not about to go blue on you all! But Mr Davis did speak passionately about the way in which this government has ridden roughshod over our traditional freedoms. The gamble he has taken is huge. By election voters can be a fickle lot.

If the reports are correct, and we don’t field a candidate against him, that will have removed his biggest obstacle to re-election. One thing is for sure, we will at least see this vital issue debated publicly over the next few weeks – and I welcome that.

Someone needed to take a stand on authoritarian government versus civil liberties. I will applaud him for doing that.