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Editorial Democracy demands a general election now

IN today’s maelstrom of mendacious messaging, the most dishonest emerged from the Liberal Democrats confirming their reputation for hypocrisy.

No-one anticipated that yesterday’s election would occur. Neither the Tories nor Labour ­ — who both gave explicit manifesto commitments that they would honour the referendum result ­ — thought that they would need to devise an elaborate wish list of things the EU might do.

The Lib Dems’ manifesto offer of a second referendum — on the basis that “the people not politicians should decide” ­failed to resonate with the electorate which had already decided.

It was Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour manifesto which mobilised voters in unprecedented numbers and made up an early polling deficit of 20 points.

It is worth reminding ourselves that, impressive though Labour’s surge was, the Tories also increased their vote, reflecting in part the sense among keen Brexit voters that they were the more resolute on this question.

The Lib Dems kept quiet on their earlier commitment to oppose any further migration of sovereign powers to the EU. This fully flexible phrasing reflects the fact that in some of their rural and fishing redoubts the Lib Dem vote leans more to Brexit than their present highly opportunist stance might suggest. Proof of this lies in the erratic voting of their rump of MPs.

Never mind, almost every voting bloc is divided on this issue and it is wrong to attribute bad faith to any individual unless their actions otherwise justify such a judgement.

Where the Lib Dem leadership reveals the full depth of its cynicism is in its breathtaking bid to position the party as the natural repository for “progressive” political opinion.

This is the party that gave David Cameron’s austerity administration a new lease of life; which reneged on its free university tuition pledge; which voted for sharp welfare spending cuts in exchange for a plastic bag surcharge and which slavishly followed every twist and turn of Tory foreign policy.

This is the party that George Osborne’s London Evening Standard backs. Unless you want a Tory government, a vote for the Liberal Democrats is the most perfect example of a “wasted vote.”

The Lib Dems calculate that they can reconstitute themselves as a serious party by peeling off a sections of Remainer opinion from both Labour and Tories.

This may have some effect and as Labour begins to experience a real problem in retaining the loyalty of some of its voters, it is important to recognise that — polarising though the whole Brexit business has become — the next election will be decided by voter reaction to a much broader palette of policies.

Jeremy Corbyn’s clear call for British Steel to be taken into public ownership illustrates more starkly than any other immediate contemporary issue the difference between a party led by a convinced democrat and socialist and those led by people who would sacrifice a vital remnant of our productive industry and the livelihoods of thousands of skilled workers.

If British Steel’s liquidity crisis had emerged just a few days earlier it may have facilitated a more informed discussion about the malign effects of the EU’s drive to reduce steelmaking capacity and the need for countries to be able to support vital industries when the anarchy of the markets threatens their viability.

The Withdrawal Bill is supposed to be published today, but now won’t be debated before early June. It is intolerable that by then we may be governed by a premier chosen by the parliamentary Tory party. No body of men and women is less representative of the British people as whole. Democracy demands a general election.

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