Layla Moran is the frontrunner to become the next leader of the Liberal Democrats. By attempting to shake off the shackles of the coalition, which cost the Liberal Democrats so dearly in subsequent elections, she has closed in on the enormous lead Ed Davey had at the start of the year. With Moran pitching so far to the left, she could pose a threat to Labour that they have not had to contend with from a third party since Charles Kennedy was leader of the Liberal Democrats.
The first problem for Labour is economic. By denouncing the coalition, and the Conservative policy that came with it, Moran is aligning the Liberal Democrats very firmly with the type of economic policy we would usually expect from Labour. Indeed, in the Build Back Better policy book that she edited, she proposes policies seen as too radical even for Labour, such as universal basic income. Many who believe that Labour are now more cautious economically under Keir Starmer than Corbyn could find a new home with the Liberal Democrats if these policies are stuck to.
The second problem for Labour is on social issues. This is perhaps more serious for Labour. In keeping with Liberal tradition, the Liberal Democrats under Moran would be progressive on a number of issues that Labour seems to be keeping silent on. Moran is outspoken on her support for transgender rights, while Starmer stayed silent as one of his own MPs described the plight of transgender people trying to access appropriate healthcare as a “Communist pile-on”. Labour are also doing less well than Layla Moran is on race relations; Starmer had to apologise for dismissing the Black Lives Matter movement as a “moment”. The problems on the social policy front for Labour have worsened in recent days, with their approach to the refugees crossing the channel that have been making news recently. The Shadow Immigration Minister, Holly Lynch, blamed government incompetence for a failure to prevent the boats from crossing the channel in a now deleted tweet. Layla Moran, on the other hand, said that she wants refugees to be welcome in Britain, a position that is much more likely to find support among Labour supporters than Lynch’s suggestion that they should not be coming here.
The final issue Moran could pose for Labour is among those who were committed to the cause of Remain until the very end. It was clear that this cause was lost in the aftermath of the 2019 election, but that doesn’t mean those who passionately believed it are ready to forget about it. These voters want a party who will grieve with them, rather than falsely blame them for their defeat. Labour is not offering that, the Liberal Democrats are.
Overall, Layla Moran is proposing a lot of ideas that will really strike a chord with those who are the biggest supporters of Labour. Labour’s attempts to regain voters that they view as socially conservative in the former red wall will mean nothing to them if they lose both their moral character and their most ardent supporters. Ultimately, if Labour want to be able to effectively take on Layla Moran, they have to understand that a political party is a means to an end only, and that nobody owes them support just because they are the main left-wing party, when there is another party moving to the left that is doing much better on certain issues.
Alternatively, Labour could not seek to take on Moran’s Liberal Democrats at all, but work with them. We saw the beginnings of this in 2019, with discussions of tactical voting. But Labour’s refusal to stand aside in key Liberal Democrat seats made discussions grind to a halt. If Labour do want to work with the Liberal Democrats, they have to be willing to give a little bit, rather than expect the Liberal Democrats to do all the compromising.
Jack Harrison is a political blogger and student at the University of Cambridge. He was the author of the blog Minority 2017 from 2017 to 2019. He can be found on Twitter @JackH1010.