Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 18/12/21

Orange Is A False Dawn

"Now then class, settle down. Freedland! Stop bouncing around like that, boy! You'll do yourself a mischief. Yes, I know you're having a Happy Day, but if you don't calm down, I'll have to send you to Miss Viner for a little talk, once she's finished giving Mr. Chiles the P.E. teacher a rub down.

"And Miss Toynbee? Could I distract you from that sampler you've been sewing since morning break? Yes, I'm sure it'll look nice when it's finished. What does it say? "Boris is a B..." what? Oh, "a Goner"! I thought that was a 'B' there. Yes, when you've finished it, it can be hung on the classroom wall next to the one which says, "Everything Is Corbyn's Fault". Put it away now and pay attention, please."

To read the gleeful screeds of the faux-liberal hacks at the Gooniad without knowing the electoral context, you could be forgiven for thinking that the cavalry had charged, all bugles blazing, down from Mynydd Y Bryn to relieve the besieged progressive garrison at the Old Fort and save dear old Salopia Borealis from the rampaging Cossack hordes.

It is ever my sad duty to disabuse them of their enthusiasm.

Yes, the Liberal Democrats took a previously rock-solid Tory seat and further discombobulated the Killer Clown in Downing Street and his seething acolytes thereby. But what has changed? A reduction in his majority to...erm...seventy eight (effectively eighty five, due to the permanent abstention of Sinn Féin)?

Yes, they achieved a swing of over thirty-four per cent from the incumbent party, certainly their biggest since Christchurch in 1993. But I ask again: what difference does it make, numerically speaking?

It was in the middle of a parliamentary term. Some in the Liberati may be pooh-poohing the concept at the moment, but there is definitely such a thing as the 'Mid-term Blues', when the voters of a particular area - given the opportunity - will displace the ruling party in a shot across the bows of the government of the day, warning them to pay attention to what their core support expects of them.

It was a by-election. Of course the LibDems do well in by-elections in Tory seats, particularly when those seats are in areas which would never be seen to vote Labour unless that party had become so etiolated and de-spunkified as to offer no threat at all to the dominant givens of our days. And even under the ideology of Forensic Blairism-Starmerism, they still can't do it. Admittedly, the LDs came from third place here, which has never happened in a Tory-held seat but did happen twice in Labour seats in 2003-04 (Brent East and Leicester South, for the record).

As regular readers will know, I count myself as an amateur student of electoral politics. So amateur, in fact, that every prediction I have made about general elections since 2010 has been so woefully wide of the mark as to qualify me to draw up economic forecasts.

(The ever-admirable Professor Mark Blyth has made the point that no economic forecast ever turns out to be accurate, because the forecast - once made more widely known - changes people's behaviour, obeying the fundamental physical principle that the thing observed changes with the observation of it, hence rendering a key assumption of the original forecast utterly useless)

So it was that I spent a few hours on Friday looking back at the Liberal Democrats' by-election triumphs since 1990 (when the rump SDP was wiped out), and found that nearly all of those victories turned out to be Pyrrhic.

Not counting the current parliament, the LibDems took ten seats from the Conservatives. Of those, six - Eastbourne, Ribble Valley, Kincardine & Deeside, Christchurch, Richmond Park and Brecon & Radnorshire - reverted to type at the subsequent general election (although Eastbourne was regained in 2010, lost in 2015 and regained briefly between 2017 and 2019; and Richmond Park was grabbed back from the Tories in 2019).

Of the remaining four, the LibDems held on to Newbury until 2005 and to Eastleigh until 2015, and two constituencies - Littleborough & Saddleworth and Romsey - have since been abolished.

Not an exhilarating record of success, all things told.

Besides which, I ask again: what has changed? Oh sure, Alexander Boris De Pfeffel may be on his way out before too long (one way in which the Right will always triumph in the medium- to long-term is their utter ruthlessness in ridding themselves of useless leaders, as if putting down an old horse or servant). But looking at the potential replacements, we have Murdoch's glove-puppet (Gove), a footling airhead (Truss) and a smirking sociopath (Patel). Not exactly confidence-inspiring, is it? The people of England at least (and they are the only ones who matter, determining as they do the governing party at every election) have - as one wag put it - a choice between the Conservative Party and two parties whose current leaders were knighted by Tory governments. If the laws against incest applied to politics, there'd be an awful lot of them either locked up or on some sort of register.

And on top of everything else, there is nothing - for all of Sir Edward's boasting and vaunting now - which will prevent his party from becoming yet again the willing accomplices of another régime of 'austerity', privatisation and removal of fundamental liberties so long as there's a red box and a limousine in it for them.

"Freedland! Stop slouching in your seat, boy! And stop looking so miserable! I thought that this was what you wanted? Miss Toynbee, what are you crying for?"