Britain's Liberal Democrats are projected to win a mere four percentage points of the vote in this week’s general election and currently hold a meagre nine seats in Parliament, following their humiliating loss of 49 seats in 2015. Nevertheless, voting Lib-Dem on June 8 will serve for many as a last ditch attempt to hold on to some semblance of personal integrity as they step into the polling booth.
Their manifesto - an earnest and un-rocky continuation of left-leaning but non-threatening and largely uncontroversial issues from the cradle to old age - and their commitment to a referendum to decide on the final, elusive Brexit deal, have become an escape route for bone-weary and disappointed voters. Their leader, Tim Farron, is largely forgettable, an asset in light of his born-again Christian instincts on LGBT issues.
Overall, voting for the Liberal Democrats is a way for those Remainers who have accepted Brexit as the will of the democratic process to assuage their guilt and control their disappointment. Objecting to the manner in which the alt-right sounding tabloids emotively misled the public on EU immigration and on the costs of EU membership is akin to drilling a hole in the bowels of a boat that has already sailed.
Even if that vessel for Brexiteers is a James Bond Riva motoring through Venetian waterways, while Remainers see themselves rowing inside a galley to Timbuktu, there is only so much anger and exhaustion the latter can sustain. Better to channel it through the medium of a party that will not win the election, but that, as a coalition-sharing passenger, could hold the government back from the rudderless bobbing of Géricault’s raft in the mid-Atlantic.
Theresa May, once the wildcard in a contest that she took by stealth, is running out of luck and endurance against the multi-directional pounding that is the reality of being Brexit prime minister. She may be proud to be seen as a “bloody difficult woman”, but her real assertiveness is her reluctance to invite consensus outside her cosy coterie of trusted senior advisers. This tendency led, in turn, to her wobble on social care reforms and her u-turn on national insurance contributions for the self-employed, making her look vulnerable.
As a quiet Remainer in the EU referendum, her tactic of keeping well below the radar of a downright dirty campaign now looks like evasiveness. And this mix of stubbornness and floundering do not bode well against heavier-hitting players, namely EU governments and their representatives. It might be unfair that they gang up against her, but that is another Brexit reality of 27 member countries whose allegiance is to each other.
Her brittle Englishness does not widen neural pathways of affinity with the Europeans; empathetic camaraderie, often a key ingredient at high-level meetings behind closed doors, is sorely missing. And this translates into her tone and attitude towards her ministerial and bureaucratic subordinates, who are said to feel browbeaten and down-trodden. While her hard-to-read character once lent her an aura of authoritative mystery, it now looks to be harbouring mediocrity, a stone’s throw too far from the smart, imaginative and clever thinking that will be crucial to a Brexit deal.
As for her opponent, someone who has been called both a wally, not to mention a “mugwump”, by Britain's Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Corbyn has yet to come across as either in his public speeches and interviews. Apart from being caught out on the radio's airwaves in a sixty-eight year old’s senior moment when he was left mumbling at an unhelpful iPad, he has been thoroughly relaxed and surprisingly affable – at least in comparison to his prior internecine fighting with a disaffected and divided Labour party.
His principles and the honest relationship he has with them have tickled the voter's ethical bone. His ambition to become and not become prime minister in equal measure has imparted a casual, almost debonair demeanour, which has been an unexpected vote warmer compared to May’s nervous hoarseness and eagerness to please. His sincere vision of a world we long to live in lulls the voter into see-sawing between hope and cynicism, and so he ends up being accorded the respect of a national hunger striker or peace activist.
If May wins the election this week, her cabinet re-shuffle might well throw out originality and bring in further sub-optimal wo/manpower, as personal survival is prioritised over long term goals and the good of the country, aligning her closer in sentiment and predicament to the JAM ("Just About Managing") classes that she wants to help.
So, despite not the slightest chance of winning, a vote for the Liberal Democrats is to step up to responsible citizenship and one’s conscience. It is a non-risible way to let in a few more middle-ground parliamentarians, in the hope that they keep vital objectivity during the EU negotiations, and a peripheral vision that is sorely lacking in the leaders of both main parties when it comes to spotting all manner of difficulties in the years ahead.