This Brexit-driven general election has delivered the earthquake we were all expecting. The warning tremors have been present for some time. Major council seat losses for the Tories last May, surges in polling for smaller parties like the Lib Dems and the Brexit Party in the Europeans, this kind of volatility was unprecedented in modern times.
Yet while we knew where the fault lines were, no one could predict where the epicentre of the quake would hit. On the face of it, we now have our answer. The failure of the Lib Dems or Greens to make any progress, and the catastrophic performance of the Labour Party means the casualties primarily lie on the centre and left of politics.
But we don’t have time to wallow. There is too much at stake. Our country is crying out for change. Inequality is increasing, our poorest children go to school hungry, our NHS and schools are crying out for more funding and universal credit is leaving our most vulnerable with a safety net so incomplete that far too many families are turning to food banks. Meanwhile, racism and hate crimes are rising. This has to stop. Our country deserves so much better and despite Johnson professing to be a one-nation Tory, it will only be a matter of time before his mask slips as it has done already, with the dog-whistle politics we saw before and during the election. Those small-l liberal values are under threat and we must defend them. So what now?
Well, there are glimmers of hope. First, it is worth remembering that over 50 per cent of the population voted for centrist or left-leaning parties. The Lib Dems increased our vote share by 4.2 per cent and picked up over a million new voters, despite losing a seat under the punishing first-past-the-post electoral system. Meanwhile, this landslide has been achieved by a rise of just 1.2 per cent in the Tory vote. I do not accept that this country has rejected centre-left progressive politics. But we have to accept that the parties have failed in their strategies to deliver.
Which leads me to one inescapable conclusion – we need to stop this squabbling and come together in a cooperative force to defeat the now united right. We must reclaim that centre-left ground in politics which sits wide open for the taking, and no one party can do this alone. This will be easier said than done. I watched in despair as in the final days of the campaign seats that only the Lib Dems could take off the Tories, like Finchley and Golders Green and Cities of London and Westminster, were flooded with Labour activists, thereby depriving Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna, hitherto champions of Labour values, their seats.
These and many others are seats that only the Lib Dems could take off the Tories and yet the hatred of Labour for the Lib Dems meant vengeance was more important than the common goal. The clarion cry is that we are “Yellow Tories” and because of coalition we deserve it. Yet if that were true, how can it be that on child poverty, for example, when examined by think tanks like the Resolution Foundation, the Lib Dems’ policies would be even more effective than Labour’s? Meanwhile, there was great anger on the side of Lib Dems over Corbyn’s equivocal stance on Brexit. Many believe that had he come round to a referendum sooner, we could have been fighting that instead of general election, giving us the opportunity to stop Brexit altogether. In our righteousness lay our demise.
For the sake of our country, this has to stop. It’s time to put away the swords for a bit and cast our eyes to the horizon rather than our navels. Much of what will happen next will be determined by whoever the Lib Dems and Labour choose for their next leaders, and especially if Labour can be wrestled back from its more extreme wings. Though there are ideological differences between our parties, we do have common aims and common values, and we can work together to deliver them. Cooperation does not have to mean cancellation. We can remain distinct while we face our common foe. Liberal Democrats already have a clear record of this with the Green Party, and Oxford West and Abingdon, my constituency, is an example of us having more in common than that which divides us. The effort that won me the seat unexpectedly in 2017 resulted in a huge swing in some seats in 2019. We can and should do more of this.
Though we are all still tired and wearied from the fall-out, we must have hope. In the darkest hour, a single candle can guide us towards the light and away from the nationalism and populism that seeks to extinguish our spark. Imagine how much faster we might get there if we lit those candles collectively and worked together.
Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon