General elections are often dull. Little is at stake, and the campaign grinds on for weeks with not much being proposed or said. The result is regularly of no consequence as the opposition proposes only minor changes from the government of the time. Many people will struggle to recall campaigns at all; the 1987, 2001 and 2005 campaigns stand out as particularly forgettable in more recent times.
The coming election, however, counts like no ballot for a generation. The path Britain chooses in 2017 will define not only the type of country we wish to be but also the future of Britain itself. There is a real danger that the liberal open Britain founded on union with Scotland and forged on free enterprise and trade will be left for dead. The tolerant, realistic and optimistic Britain kneels on the executors' block. Theresa May stands with axe poised.
Mrs May, in her words, has called the poll to eliminate all resistance to Brexit in the House of Commons. She desires to remove the need for a Commons vote on whatever Brexit deal she agrees in the upcoming negotiations. Mrs May wants a blank cheque to push through a hard Brexit, leaving the single market and the customs union in the hope of controlling immigration numbers, a personal obsession dating back to her days as Home Secretary. Further, she wishes to grant free reign to the hardliners in her party who want to use the upcoming 'Great Repeal Act' as an excuse to take back workers' rights, paid maternity and paternity leave, and the ease of hire and firing.
During the campaign, Mrs May, who has time for neither scrutiny or opposition, will mention little of her plans. Rather she will focus on bland platitudes about 'getting on with the job,' 'strong leadership' and 'making a success of Brexit.'
We cannot let this happen. Mrs May must be challenged on her proposals for Brexit. She must be challenged on why she wants to exit the single market at the cost of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds. She must be challenged on why she intends to destroy the British banking, service, and car making sectors that are the engine of our strong economy. She must be challenged on the impact of removing a young and vibrant workforce from Britain. She must be challenged on why she wants to abandon Britain's influence and standing with our closest neighbours. She must be challenged on why she intends to pursue a strategy that risks the breakup of Britain and peace in Northern Ireland.
And finally, she must describe how restricting immigration will solve a health crisis sparked by an ageing population and a lack of social care. Or make Britain a fairer and more equal society. Or reduce tax avoidance and encourage greater corporate responsibility. Or build a single new house. Or provide more money to schools. Or mend the deep divisions that have grown in our country.
Mrs May will not provide definite answers to any of these questions; her desire to control immigration stands before everything, and as a result, her judgement is severely compromised. The veteran Tory MP Ken Clarke was right to observe that the Conservative Party now seemed to be in the grip of Enoch Powell. These are indeed the most dangerous of times.
Therefore, it is paramount that a Conservative majority government is denied, and Mrs May's ruinous ambitions are kept in check by a strong and vibrant parliament. Voting for the Liberal Democrats is the only way that can be achieved. The Lib Dems alone can take seats back from the Conservatives in their key heartlands, many of which voted to remain in the European Union. The Labour party is in disarray and may not survive the next five years. Labour are highly unlikely to poll higher than in 2015 and gain a single seat from the Conservatives.
Further, Labour are decidedly wobbly on Brexit, the party's position changes almost daily and many Labour MPs, fearful of their Brexit voting constituents, will cave into pressure from the Prime Minster. Jeremy Corbyn hardly mentioned Brexit in his campaign launch and his commitment to opposing Mrs May is of serious concern. In contrast, the Lib Dems are the only party with a clear anti-Brexit message whose MPs will not stand shoulder to shoulder with the Conservatives in voting for a harsh and disastrous Brexit. The one issue that defines liberals is the unshakable belief in an international outlook and the power of building partnerships rather than barriers with our neighbours. The more Lib Dem MPs that are returned to the House of Commons, the greater the pressure will be on Mrs May to stand back from economic destruction, and the greater voice there will be for the almost fifty percent of the population who voted against Brexit in 2016.
Mrs May must be held to account. A Conservative government free of opposition on Brexit will lead to job losses on a mass scale as the reality of life outside the Single Market causes international firms to relocate to mainland Europe. A slowdown in the economy will lead to higher taxes, reduced pensions, and less money to spend on vital public services like schools and the NHS. And a loss of rights for UK citizens in Europe will make us all less free in our opportunities to live and work away from our home country.
The Liberal party, in any form, has not formed a majority government since David Lloyd George led Britain to victory in the Great War. Today, Liberals matter more than at any time in the subsequent one hundred years. Really, the Lib Dems are the only party who can save Britain.