The LibDems will be quite pleased with their performance last Thursday. As the spotlight was on the other parties, their vote quietly put on five percentage points, the deposit was saved, and they recaptured some of the support lost since 2015. The Wheatsheaf Hotel was their base in Stoke, which was perhaps a little too from the beaten track for many London journos to find. And, by the sounds of it, "celebrity" LibDems as well. Fresh from her triumph in Richmond, Sarah Olney was on hand and, well, that was about it. Oh yes, Tim Farron slid his way briefly into the constituency for a photo opp before a rapid, frictionless exit. They were never contenders, and having selected Dr Zulfiqar Ali - one of the few politicians to have lost more elections than Nigel Farage - they knew it too.
Their campaign was the typical, disingenuous campaign you could expect. I don't know if they bothered canvassing much but the leaflets, the leaflets. Next to me on the sofa are nine different pieces that made it through my letter box. Because we had a Labour poster in the window, perhaps their activists thought they were trolling me. Well, I'm biting. Letter one was from Adam Carter, a winner of a council seat from Labour in Rotherham. The message? Labour's taken you for granted so vote for us. Leaflet two, a Focus-style affair slamming Labour chaos and saying Britain needs a real opposition to stand up to the Conservatives. Yes, just like the LibDems did. Leaflet three, a faux letter from the candidate saying Stoke had been let down too long. A true museum piece this one - a doctor's note with legible handwriting. Fourth, an A3 sized colour leaflet pledging that the LibDems will fight for jobs, protect the NHS and end neglect. The thrust, again, is another attack on Labour with the Tories and UKIP bolted on as an afterthought. Fifth, another colour leaflet of a similar size attacking Labour for backing a UKIP-style hard Brexit. Six, a piece attacking Labour and UKIP for not standing up for the NHS and attacking Labour for its "botched PFI deals". If only the LibDems had been in a position to do something about them during the last six years. A nice little detail here is one side is red and purple, the other is yellow and the cross in the ballot cross next to Zulfiqar Ali is blue. Subtle. Seven, the real Focus deal itself promising that Dr Ali would deliver "real change" (interestingly, this was only posted out to Shelton, Hanley, University and Etruria - of which more shortly). Eight, their tabloid, Stoke-on-Trent News with a front page opposing the super local Zulfiqar Ali to the "UKIP candidate from Liverpool". They couldn't even bring themselves to name him. And lastly came the Take a Break-stylee Potteries Life. If you were in any doubt about Zulfiqar Ali's Stokie creds, the cover promised "true life tales from Stoke" and "Why I love living in Stoke: Dr Ali's Story". The political content was as thin as their principles but, again, it is Labour who were the main target.
This begs the question. How Labour can possibly enter into a so-called "progressive alliance" with such a scabby outfit? With UKIP hyped up to be a huge threat and all the calamitous consequences that a win would have entailed, could they please explain to folks interested in such an arrangement a) why in the face of blackest reaction the party's messaging was predominantly anti-Labour and b) why their campaigning efforts were concentrated around the student districts. We know why: talk of a progressive alliance is but a convenient fig leaf for them and their cheerleaders in the liberal press. It's something for people in Labour to fret about publicly, folks who should really know better like Lisa Nandy and Clive Lewis, but similar expectations aren't placed on the yellow party to show any serious intent in this direction. I'll also note in the Stoke case that their underhandedness went even further. It is my understanding that sundry LibDems went around the mosques saying Gareth Snell isn't interested in looking after Muslims or Asians, they need one of their own to do it. As they raised merry hell when a bunch of messages were texted to local Muslims threatening them with damnation if they didn't vote Labour, they clearly don't like it when someone tries playing their shitty little games against them.
And that is the Liberal Democrats. Rather than stand up to reaction, they tried undermining the one force opposing it. Rather than hit UKIP and attack the government, they concentrate their fire on Labour. While Nuttall and his helpers in the press play the politics of community division, they dilly-dally with it themselves. This was not an election campaign for them, it was an attempt to mug the Labour Party and damn the consequences. There is nothing liberal or democratic about this. It's rank opportunism.