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UK politics

What’s the point of the Liberal Democrats?

Ed Davey: openly anti-Tory. Finnbarr Webster/Getty

Nothing demonstrates the “pointlessness” of the Liberal Democrats more than their recent success, says Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. After an outstanding performance in last week’s local elections, there’s every chance the next general election will see their parliamentary party swell. But it’s all for nothing, because leader Ed Davey has surrendered the one thing that gives Lib Dems leverage: the sense that they might go either way in a hung parliament. Since Davey is openly anti-Tory, if nobody wins a majority he will simply have to “let Sir Keir Starmer become prime minister”, without being able to extract any concessions in return.

Of course, that assumes he has any concessions he actually wants. Today, the Lib Dems could quite happily merge with Labour “without anyone in either party having to abandon their position on anything”. So why not just do it? One big centre-left party has a far better chance of ousting Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives than two smaller ones. Sure, some former Tory voters might be unwilling to support Labour but willing to back the Lib Dems. But that “doesn’t remotely compensate” for the harm done by having the centre-left vote split between two parties. By continuing to exist, the best the Lib Dems can achieve is to “make the first centre-left government in 15 years seem weak and unstable”. Is this really what they’ve pounded all those pavements to achieve?