Last night, the journalist Tim Walker announced that he would no longer contesting the seat of Canterbury for the Liberal Democrats. He said he had been kept awake at night by the thought that he might have split the Remain vote in the Kent constituency, leaving pro-EU Labour incumbent Rosie Duffield “vanquished…as the Tory Brexiteer raised her hands in triumph.”
No doubt many Remainers will be heartened by this. Duffield had a meagre 187 vote majority at the last election and is an advocate for a Peoples’ Vote. Walker’s original decision to stand had already attracted criticism from the more ardent Remain types on Twitter.
I however, do not welcome his subsequent exit from the contest. At all. Because however honourable an individual Labour candidate might be (and Duffield certainly seems to be) and however on the ‘right’ side of the Brexit debate they are, and from my perspective Duffield is, every vote for one of them is a vote to put Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street. Never mind that Labour would use its majority, should it get one, to negotiate a Brexit deal, and potentially campaign for it – to campaign for Brexit. This is an institutionally antisemitic organisation. It has, for years now, failed to tackle this issue. It is absolutely not suitable to be a party of government. The Liberal Democrats must play no part in helping put it there.
In fairness, Lib Dem Leader Jo Swinson has been pretty steadfast in her criticism of Labour generally and this was a personal decision from the candidate himself. Swinson has repeatedly said he is not fit to be Prime Minister. Not that Swinson’s condemnation of the Labour leader is particularly new. She was saying this even before she took over the Lib Dems. I interviewed her for The House magazine during her leadership campaign, and she condemned Corbyn as a Brexiteer “harking back to the 1970s.” She said he “plans for the economy as if nationalisation is the answer to everything, which it is not.” It was clear from then that Swinson had no intention of working with Corbyn in government, should that possibility arise.
However, the heat of a General Election campaign does funny things to people and Swinson and others at the top of the Lib Dems need to stay strong. So far, there is every indication that they will. Earlier this month Swinson “categorically” ruled out helping give the Labour leader the keys to Number 10 and accused him of “a total dereliction of duty” over his failure to tackle antisemitism in his party.
Thankfully, it also appears that the party will find another candidate to run in Canterbury, which is absolutely the right thing to do. If nothing else, it keeps the Lib Dem’s messaging strong. They are the party of Remain. In a small number of seats, they are standing aside for Green and Plaid Cymru candidates – both these parties are unequivocally Remain parties too. Labour is not. To stand aside for any Labour candidate would diminish the Lib Dems’ key selling point.
As it happens, all these electoral pacts make me somewhat uncomfortable. I understand the logic behind them, but I think they smell of a stitch up to voters. That is though a somewhat separate issue. Because however important Brexit is to Lib Dem members and others who may vote for them on the 12th December, the reasons for liberals to challenge the Labour party up and down the country go far beyond that. Having Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister would be every bit as damaging to the values of liberalism as having a Boris Johnson Brexit. I’d argue it would be just as damaging to the national interest too.
Allowing antisemitism is not an acceptable compromise for stopping Brexit. The Liberal Democrats must play no part in facilitating either.