What is happening to the Liberal Democrats?
Jo Swinson’s tactic of taking in every waif and stray from the Conservative Party and Change UK may seem to be a sound way to increase her party’s presence in Parliament.
But it is changing the nature of that party at the same time.
When Phillip Lee crossed the floor of the House of Commons, the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on LGBT+ issues quit, on the grounds that he was a homophobe.
Now Sam Gyimah has – rather dramatically – quit the Conservatives to be revealed as the latest Lib Dem recruit at their party conference. And this makes matters worse.
You see, Mr Gyimah famously filibustered a law to pardon all gay and bisexual men in England and Wales historically convicted of sexual offences that are no longer criminal, in 2016.
He claimed that the bill did not give strong enough protections against men being accidentally pardoned for sex with a minor or non-consensual sex.
But this was nonsense. As SNP MP John Nicolson explained at the time, “If the crime for which you were convicted is still a crime, by definition you are not pardoned.”
So – well, I don’t often agree with Wes Streeting, but he seems to have got it right with this tweet:
Today @SamGyimah came to work to block a Bill to deliver justice for ppl imprisoned and chemically castrated for being gay. What a guy.
— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) October 21, 2016
And as Owen Jones has now added:
The Lib Dems are becoming the David Cameron Tory party: pro-market dogma, pro-cuts, but claiming to be socially liberal.
Except even that claim is dubious: one recent defector didn't back equal marriage, this one sabotaged an effort to pardon gay men convicted by anti-gay laws. https://t.co/j1Z9NE8KHx
— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) September 14, 2019
Tom Clark of Another Angry Voice is more blunt:
Another raging homophobe joins the Lib-Dems. This time the guy who blocked the Turing Bill. And with a massive fanfare and loads of fawning from the blue tick 'centrism' brigade.
— Another Angry Voice (@Angry_Voice) September 14, 2019
In a way, it’s a shame. Mr Gyimah’s parting shots at the leader of his former party were strong:
“I listen to ministers undermining the courts,” he said. “Ministers questioning experts because their views are inconvenient for what the government is saying about no deal. You have a government that says law enforcement is the centrepiece of its platform, and yet says in another breath that it will pick and choose what laws it chooses to respect.
“This is in many ways undermining key pillars of our constitution and the functioning of our democracy. The issue for me is not just Brexit. It is beyond Brexit – how you conduct politics and the veering towards populism and English nationalism.”
Not only have the Liberal Democrats tarnished themselves by tacitly condoning homophobia, but it also seems their ‘Party of Remain’ credentials are in tatters too.
Writing in the Observer, party leader Jo Swinson stated: “The Liberal Democrats are the strongest Remain party in the UK, and we continue to grow, adding members, councillors and MPs. When a general election comes, we will be ready for it and ready to take our clear, pro-European message to the country.”
But it seems her plan to cancel Brexit isn’t Liberal – and is especially un-Democrat-ic; given the chance, she would not check that it was what the general public wants but would simply stop the process by which the UK is leaving the European Union.
In its way, that’s just as bad as the Conservatives’ determination to force their version of Brexit on us, whether we want it or not.
It means Labour is now the only major political party – certainly in England – that would give voters a say on Brexit.
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