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What should liberals do in Buckingham?

By Mark Littlewood
September 4th, 2009 at 3:34 pm | 18 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

nigel-farageNigel Farage’s decision to contest the seat of Buckingham at the next election poses a tactical problem for Liberal Democrats. Firstly, should the party continue to observe the established orthodoxy of standing aside for the Speaker? Secondly, if we do, how would we want liberal-minded voters in Buckingham to cast their ballot?

There’s no doubt that Farage has pulled off something of a coup. The bookies already have him at 4/1 to win the seat and he has a number of measurable advantages. Firstly, the seat is very true blue and if Farage can present himself as a de facto Tory, he may become the default choice for the many of the constituency’s Conservative voters. Secondly, although UKIP will be contesting hundreds of seats at the next election, it has very few that can be considered genuine targets – except this one.  Consequently, he might reasonably expect UKIP activists, canvassers and leafletters to descend on the seat in substantial numbers. Thirdly, it’s an area of the country in which UKIP perform pretty strongly – in the local elections in Buckinghamshire this year, they polled 13.5% of the overall vote. Finally, if Farage is effectively in a  two horse race against Bercow, he can style himself as the anti-Westminster, “send a message” candidate, which could well appeal to a jaded, cynical and disillusioned electorate.

This last point should give us pause for thought. From what I can discern of UKIP’s platform, they are not – to put it mildly – enthusiasts for domestic constitutional reform. In broad terms, their position is to withdraw from the EU in order to give MORE power to Westminster politicians like John Bercow. Those of us who think that cleaning up our politics means more than changing the personalities that sit on the green benches might have an opportunity in Buckingham to put a strong case for radical surgery of the whole Westminster system – in stark contrast to the conservatism advocated by Bercow and Farage.

Although this is true blue territory, the LibDems and Labour both polled about 20% of the vote last time. In a three cornered fight, a credible, mainstream, liberal candidate might even win.

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