In a sense it was the Liberal Democrats who did worst in this odd election. For the point of this party is to attract progressives who find Labour too dogmatic. And in the past two years Labour has been taken over by old-fashioned socialist dogma. It was the perfect opportunity to create a huge base of homeless New Labour voters. And then came Brexit, doubling this golden opportunity, for the Liberal Democrats were the main party of Brexit-scepticism.
Why was the chance missed? Maybe English voters can only really believe in the two main parties, when it comes to governing. In fact, most of us find one of these parties only intermittently credible.
So what’s the point of the Liberal Democrats? They must seek purpose and coherence in an idea, a cause. ‘Liberalism’ is too vague: there are aspects of liberalism that the Tories are stronger on, and aspects that Labour is as strong on, or stronger.
I have a modest proposal. The point of the Liberal Democrats should be to encourage debate about the big ideas that the other parties prefer to shun. And I mainly mean religion: I would like to see the party adopt an explicitly liberal Christian position. But if it went the other way and became secularist, that would be something – it would help our politics to confront awkwardly large-scale ideas. But, as I’ve argued before, there are grounds for thinking that a stable progressive force needs a religious basis – so this could be the means by which they finally break out of third-party irrelevance.