Since joining the Liberal Democrats back in July – and welcomed by some wonderful people locally – I’ve watched as the Party has swept through council by-elections and dethroned Labour throughout. The Corbynistas blame their MPs. If only, they say, if only traitorous MPs would get behind Corbyn, Milne, and Abbott, if only they’d embrace the brand new Labour that resembles little more than a town centre SWP table shouting at everyone, we voters would be voting Labour en masse. They simply cannot fathom the possibility that we simply do not like Corbyn, Milne, and Abbott. A crucial error in the mentality of the cult-of-leader. Indeed, in cities that boasted big Corbyn rallies in recent months, the Lib Dems have overwhelmingly powered through in council by-elections.
Tim Farron took to the stage at the Liberal Democrat conference to deliver a wonderful speech correctly identifying the grotesque nature of Conservative anti-refugee policy. Indeed, the key to a civilised society is how it treats and protects the most vulnerable, and how it applies liberal values – the right to life, liberty, and happiness, so often stripped from them by the nation’s they are born into – universally. The difference between liberals, and Labour/Conservatives, is that we do not draw a border around values. If, from our house, we see abuse taking place across the road, our immediate reaction should not be “not my problem” nor “someone else can sort that out“, it should be to do our part, with the rest of the street, to help. The victim’s liberty is no less important than our own, and any right that defends a liberty I claim for myself, I must defend for others, otherwise it is as meaningless for me as it is for them. We must of course be cautious as it appears clear that Islamists use the crisis to run to the West. I do not suggest opening Dover without a robust vetting process. Security must work alongside liberty, not overrule it. When a crisis of such magnitude as Syria erupts, we must play our part as a proud out-ward looking member of the global community.
Criticism of Farron’s speech came from both Tories and Corbynites.
Corbynites didn’t like that Farron praised Blair’s desire to win elections. Immediately they tore into Farron for praising a ‘war criminal‘. A distinctly disingenuous moral position for supporters of a leadership that praised Hugo Chavez’s brutal regime in Venezuela, are keen fans of theocratic Hamas, takes to Iranian State TV to denounce the West without any criticism of Iranian government policy, and refers to Mao as “…did more good than harm”. Such is the state of the Labour Party in 2016. But the point Farron raises is that to change society in-line with your principles, you must convince the wider electorate that you have answers. You have to appeal to a broader coalition of voters. Blair knew how to do that. As did Cameron. Corbyn does not.
On Brexit, Farron has been misrepresented time and time again by commentators across the spectrum. In an article for Conservative Home Mo Metcalf-Fisher says:
“Despite insisting that he wasn’t trying to keep Britain in the EU against the will of the people, Farron has argued for a new referendum which would give voters an option of accepting any new post-Brexit deal or instead voting to stay in the EU under the current terms. In other words, a second referendum on EU membership because people didn’t get it right the first time.”
One of the comments further down the page from another poster, says:
“I find it staggering that the Lib Dems and other remainers want to to deny us our sovereignty and stay in the EU.”
– You only need glance over this once, to see the glaring manipulation. Let’s be clear; Both Tim Farron’s position, and Liberal Democrat policy, is not to hold a second in-out referendum, nor is it to just overturn the vote. Let’s compare the actual policy, to another historical ‘exit’:
Common wisdom has it that the US Independence Day was July 4th, 1776. In fact, the vote to separate from the Great Britain was passed on July 2nd, with only New York’s delegation deciding to abstain. The states had voted for what we shall call here ‘Amerixit’. Then, on July 12th a Committee appointed by Congress drew up a new ‘Articles of Confederation’ – a post-Amerixit deal – if you will. But that wasn’t it. They didn’t just create a deal, and it was implemented with no more democratic accountability. The post-Amerixit deal was then sent to states to ratify. The states then debated it, and voted on it. The deal could not be implemented until the states had gone through the process of ratification. Maryland – the final state to ratify – held out for almost four years until it got a good deal for itself. The post-Amerixit vote on a deal was not a vote – as Metcalf-Fisher – and others might today imply – on re-joining Great Britain. There was a vote for ‘Amerixit’ and a vote on a deal. When the Articles were failing miserably, states again voted on a new deal – the US Constitution. This is more democracy, not less.
When it comes to Brexit, the same is true. The UK voted out. We now have to negotiate a deal. Liberal Democrat policy is democracy, it is to offer a vote on a deal. As someone who voted Remain, and lost, I have had my EU Citizenship stripped from me without my full consent, so you’re damn right that I now want a vote on the rest of the deal. A ‘No‘ vote on a deal, is not the same as a ‘stay in the EU‘ vote. It is a ‘Get a better deal‘ vote. For a Brexit brigade that made democracy the central theme (just in front of all that extra funding for the NHS that has so majestically ran away), they seem to have quickly backed away from it. Metcalf-Fisher’s words are clear, he isn’t a fan of “giving voters an option of accepting any new post-Brexit deal“. He believes I shouldn’t be allowed to vote on a deal, he wants that brand new political settlement simply imposed upon me. Not just me, but if single market access is restricted, necessarily causing job losses in the UK, Metcalf-Fisher believes those people should just be thrown out of work, without a vote on the settlement that caused it.
But it isn’t just me. A lot of Brexiters voted for Brexit under the impression that they were voting to end freedom of movement from the EU. That wasn’t on the ballot paper. It’ll be difficult to achieve, if access to the single market is still a goal of negotiations. Freedom of movement will be part of deal negotiations and isn’t guaranteed. At that point, how will Brexiters react? Surely they’d want a vote on a deal that doesn’t give them what they thought they were getting.
“Many of the predicted woes from the remain campaign have failed to materialise and these sites provide great material to take back to local residents with any concerns. In areas like London, where remain polled highly, keep the discussion focused on local issues and remind voters of the dangers of high-tax supporting Lib Dems.”
– Two things. Firstly, there hasn’t been a Brexit. Literally nothing has changed. Trade deals remain exactly as they were the day before the vote. The structure is no different. Predictions based on the ex-Prime Minister and his Chancellor’s silly insistence that Article 50 would be triggered immediately, haven’t happened, because, well you see where I’m going with that. Secondly, by “high-tax supporting Lib Dems“, I presume he means a rise in tax mentioned by Farron to fund a National Health and Social Care Service. A health service utterly decimated – as usual – by a Conservative Government that simply doesn’t like the idea of a National Health Service. Experts – those people Michael Gove and Brexiters are sick of – are clear, social care in the UK needs urgent reform. The dogmatic Tory approach to tax – lower is absolutely always better – has not been of great success. Feel free to find out how those running domestic abuse charities felt, as they had to close the doors due to a cut in funding. Why not, instead of telling local residents that the Lib Dem’s propose tax increase to fund essential services, instead tell them that your plans include an NHS that is currently planning ward closures, squeezing the life out of junior doctors, and in my own city, tried to close a vital children’s heart surgery.
In what must be the most ironic statement in recent years on Conservative Home, Metcalf-Fisher goes on to say:
“Our country needs unity and we must proudly stand up to the Liberal Democrats and other naysayers in their attempt to divide the country purely for their own electoral gain.”
– A Tory Party that spent years dividing the country between “hard-working families” and “scroungers” (anyone on the dole – which included me at one point), that tore into the disabled community, with a PM describing other humans as a “swarm“, as their new PM sets out her plans to introduce more divisive faith schools, and Grammar schools…. to refer to anyone else as “attempting to divide the country for their own electoral gain” is painfully hypocritical.
It is of course clear and true, that the Liberal Democrats have a long road ahead to rebuild a Party decimated in 2015. I do however think the base is set. I think more are discovering their liberal leanings, and I think Tim Farron is doing an excellent job of beginning that rebuilding effort. We must start appealing more to the liberal-left that – like me – feel that liberal values are often abandoned by the regressive Corbyn-left the moment the opportunity presents itself to side with vicious regimes, if those regimes happen to share a rabid dislike for the US & Israel; and abandoned by a Tory-right whose little-England quasi-nationalist values will always come before values based on human liberty, that has spent years tearing itself to shreds over Europe, left Europe, and realised it had no idea what to do next. The gap for a progressive and liberal party to shine through is growing everyday. I look forward to being a part of that.