The travails of the centrist remoaners at Renew continued at the recent local elections, with a defecting councillor James Cousins, formerly of the Tories, losing his seat in Shaftesbury, Wandsworth. The party retains two other defectors at seats in Barnard Castle and Portsmouth that were not contested earlier this month.
Cousins tried to put a gloss on it, saying in a press release: ‘Though squeezed by the two main parties in this major battleground [Wandsworth], we showed we can take votes away from them and be competitive against the Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP. For example, Chris Coghlan won 10% of the vote in Balham.’
In fact in the Shaftesbury ward the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems all gained votes, with one Labour candidate only 36 votes off nicking a seat from the Tories. The only caveat was that turnout, both in relative and absolute terms, was higher. See the 2014 results here, and the 2018 results here. A similar story also emerged in the Balham ward between 2014 and 2018.
Snark aside, clocking up a few hundred votes in a few local councillors only a few months after setting up is not bad. But it is still rather bemusing that Renew continues to merit media attention, most recently a long read in the New Statesman.
Anoosh Chakelian, a staff hack at the leftish magazine, asks most of the right questions of the new party. Most compelling is why it needs to exist when its policy positions – anti-Brexit, centre right economics, centre left society – are shared by the Liberal Democrats.
‘The Lib Dems have got their own baggage which limits the way they can make an impact,’ says Renew volunteer Alan Victor. ‘If you’re new and fresh, you can start again from first principles.’
Perhaps so, but the Lib Dems did rather well at the locals, gaining 75 seats. The party also has a history of local campaigning, with at least some of the institutional memory, connections and infrastructure that goes with that.
As time goes on fewer are likely to care about the coalition years, that broken pledge on student tuition fees and former leader Tim Farron’s, er, conflicted stance on homosexuality. And if the Liberals claws back their outsider status, just what will the point of Renew be?