With the December 12 election confirmed, politicians and activists will be working hard to get out the vote. For Labour and the Liberal Democrats, this will bring the two rivals into a much greater conflict – a risk to voters and democracy at a volatile time.

First published in November 2019.

It doesn’t take long to find the pre-orchestrated lines of criticism dished out by Corbyn and Swinson’s party machines. People are beginning to pick up on this, showing that the war of words between both actors is stronger than it’s ever been. The case is not a zero-sum game, not is it biased in one party’s favour: they’re both as bad as each other. And at a time of massive political uncertainty, such dogmatic dalliances are not only wasted breath, but a potential cause of voter apathy.

Flickr - Along time ago

You’ve all seen the tweets by Jo Swinson. “Corbyn’s a Brexiter, he’s always been a Brexiter blah blah…” It’s enough to make your teeth tingle with frustration. Such attack lines are posted on Twitter and gain an impressive ratio from Labour and Lib Dem supporters alike, but also the despairing bystanders urging a truce. It creates a real sense of nervousness to see both party machines at each other’s throats with insults. Where’s the credible party to vote for when the main opposition parties are too busy fighting each other?

Ian Dunt, as ever, speaks for a lot of us.

Much of the parties’ rhetoric is centred on past decisions or policies. I don’t know what Labour is getting in their stocking this Christmas, but if it’s bad they’ll still somehow theme it into a line against the Lib Dems’ austerity support. So too will Jo Swinson’s chorus of FBPE-bee-gee-bees line up to take chunks out of Corbyn’s history of Lexiter politics and institutional anti-Semitism. It’s a relentless game of one-upmanship, one that tires you with every crack of the whip.

This isn’t to say that their insults haven’t had justification. Indeed, both arenas are filled with the debris of battles long since fought. For voters stuck in the middle, it’s this that turns the sparring match into a moral dilemma. Both parties aren’t angels. Neither has a monopoly on their policy interests, nor do they represent the full expanse of their voter base.

So why, in this maniacal manifestation of a tug-of-war, do both parties feel it necessary to put voters in this position? It’s not going to persuade the meek to join the ranks when you’re presented with vitriolic arguments for not putting pencil to ballot paper. There’s nothing persuasive about being guilt-tripped into voting for someone – telling someone they’re morally wrong for not voting Labour/Lib Dems is insulting and damaging to the franchise’s aims.

This applies to journalists for doing their jobs as well.

The Twitter hashtag game has its own market for this manipulation. Labour should be paying attention to the growing #NeverCorbyn tag to see just why some voters are fervently against the man. Jo Swinson too has her own personal hate-fuelled hashtag: #JoSwinsonIsATory. Twitter might be its own fetid echo chamber, but these lines matter. They show there’s a deeper ideological problem preventing a wider engagement with voters. Both parties have stained honours.

This election will be won by the wide space between Labour and the Lib Dems. I don’t underestimate the campaigning strength of both parties. In fact, the next six weeks could blow all expectations clean out of the water, giving a ridiculous result. Mr Blobby will be Prime Minister, for all I know. But there needs to be a clear moratorium to realise just who the real target is for this cold election: Boris Johnson’s populist Conservatives.

When people are discussing tactical voting on a much stronger level, there’s a sense of impetus behind a national unity to get the Tories out through ballots. Admittedly the Best for Britain recommendations have come under a lot of rightful criticism, but Remain votes could shape this election by admitting it needs unity through voting for the most likely winner, rather than the one they want.

Which is why this campaign of jibes and abuses being hurled across the room are totally self-defeating. This is not a normal election. The stakes are much higher, and not just for Brexit. I don’t need to tell anyone that a Conservative majority would spell a deep social disaster for this country. We’ve had small nuggets of policy pus spewed out in the past few weeks – but how can we trust a party with such moral problems?

If the Labour/Lib Dems war of words continues, the potential for voters to shred their ballot papers is palpable. Both parties should agree on terms to work confidently but with dignity to get the Tories out of government. It doesn’t have to be a treaty or truce. An informal call for softened rhetoric and constructive discourse would make a world of difference to this election, and indeed the respectful nature of democracy as a whole.

Jeremy and Jo: stop lashing out at each other and build a more neutral dialogue. We’re suffering real despair and agony here – be smart, be reasonable.🔷

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[This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com on 1 November 2019. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Flickr/Dom Pates. - Peoples Vote March through London. | 23 March 2019. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)