ANDREW ADONIS wonders if Tim Walker’s decision to stand down in Rosie Duffield’s seat has helped to light the fuse to destroy Brexit.
The sensation of the week is The New European’s very own Tim Walker – this newspaper’s Mandrake columnist – who, with typical elegance and fanfare, stood down as the Liberal Democrat candidate in Canterbury shortly before the close of constituency candidate nominations on Thursday.
As I write this could be the catalyst for a formal or informal Remain electoral pact. If so I suggest it becomes known as the Walker-Duffield pact – or the ‘Rosie and Tim’ deal, if you like – and Tim is made Duke of Canterbury when Brexit is defeated.
Labour’s Rosie Duffield, a pro-European and all-round nice person, won Canterbury against the odds by a majority of 187 votes out of 56,800 cast in 2017. This was the first time Labour had ever won Canterbury, thanks in no small part to its three expanding universities and 40,000 students. And maybe an archbishop and vicar choral or two.
Enter Tim Walker of this parish, who a short while ago was selected as Lib Dem candidate for this slice of ecclesiastical paradise. At the time Tim made the usual party noises about being the true Remain candidate, Corbyn as bad as Johnson, the earth is made of Lib Dem blue cheese, etc.
Then he went to Canterbury, he sized up the situation, and he met Duffield. No doubt he will vouchsafe to us in due course who said what to whom and where. Was it done in person, by WhatsApp or via billet-doux in the cloisters?
All we know is that when Tim stood down he tweeted to Duffield: “Thanks Rosie. I’d never have wanted it on my conscience I’d stopped you from continuing to represent Canterbury – and fighting so magnificently for he Remain cause. Good luck!” What a splendid, positively ducal message!
On Tuesday evening, after he announced his decision to stand aside, it looked as if there would be no Lib Dem candidate, and that candidates might follow suit in other constituencies. There would then have been pressure on Corbyn to allow Labour candidates to withdraw in places like St Ives and Richmond where the Lib Dems were equally close to defeating the Tories in 2017.
This is all the more urgent in response to Farage’s decision on Monday to stand down in Tory-held seats to enable Brexit to hold on against Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP/Plaid. The Conservative and the Brexit parties have now become one.
However, at this point tribalism reasserted itself. Declarations were made on behalf of Jo Swinson that there would still be a Lib Dem candidate imposed in Canterbury before nominations closed. A vociferous Remain reaction in support of Tim’s position is taking place as I write. History will either have turned or not turned by the time you read this.
I hope it turns. This is a moment of national peril and the Remain parties – which include Labour now that it supports a referendum with a Remain option – need to behave in a responsible and grown up way. A pact between them in key constituencies, which would I hope include Uxbridge to help unseat Johnson, would not only be important in those seats: It would send a national message which could electrify and transform the election.
There is a great precedent for the Duffield-Walker pact: the Gladstone-MacDonald pact of 1906, agreed between the son of the greatest Liberal prime minister and the secretary of the newly-formed Labour Representation Committee who went on to become Labour’s first prime minister.
Under the pact, for the 1906 election, in 31 of 50 seats contested by Labour there was no Liberal opponent. Labour went on to win 29 seats, 24 of them without Liberal opponents.
It was win-win. Labour got into parliament in appreciable numbers for the first time. The Liberals won a landslide, and went on to retain power courtesy of a continuing Lib-Lab pact in the following two elections. They also went on to begin the creation of the welfare state, led by radical Lloyd George, partly because of the Labour pact.
This is the time for bold leadership in the cause of Remain. Tim Walker may just possibly have lit a fuse to destroy Brexit. And it all started in The New European!