I’m proud to be a be a Lib Dem newbie

During last month’s election campaign, I made the most important political decision of my life. I resigned from the Conservative Party, for whom I had stood as a parliamentary candidate in 2015, to join the Liberal Democrats.
As I explained in an article for The Guardian, I could no longer support a party trying to drive through an extreme Brexit with disastrous consequences for our country. Unlike Theresa May, I was not prepared to campaign for a cause in which I did not believe.

I was honoured to be asked to introduce Vince Cable at a packed election

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Vince Cable, the next PM?

 

As a fan of Mrs Thatcher it might seem odd that I have just joined the Liberal Democrats. However times change, hard right policies are more likely to drive the large number of people depending on in-work benefits or working in the government into the hands of Mr Corbyn.  Labour, who shout loudly about democratic mandates, are likely to have another go at bankrupting the country as well as bring democracy into disrepute by promising endless giveaways.

The worst possible case for the UK is to have a Labour government and be outside the EU. Labour want out of EU because they can then rape and pillage the slightly rich – anyone who cannot bite back. Given the pasting that the EU gets from our press it is actually surprising that, as far as citizens’ rights go, it actually does work – and seems to be improving in many areas. It would be ironical if Brexit forces them to reform further in the interests of its citizens rather than its bureaucrats.

I would probably have not joined up had not Vince Cable become leader; he at least talks some reasonable sense – most of the time. Now he has the amusing task of saving the country from itself. The current fickleness of the British voting public means just about anything is possible but it will mean swallowing some liberal pride to get there. Looking from the outside, there is one little trick that might placate half the Brexiteers and that is a very strict residence test before there is any access to benefits, social housing, in-work benefits and possibly the personal tax allowance. By strict I mean at least five years…

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Brexit: an idea whose time has passed?

One view of our divided country is that it was always a land of potential Leavers and Remainers, the rift being merely exposed by the referendum. On this theory, Remainers were born rather than made and Leavers, like leopards, will never change their spots.

Yet the truth is that Leavers comprise all sorts of people, as do Remainers. They are not a different species. I am coming round to the view that our current turmoil is not the fault of the people themselves, so much as the power of a virulent ideology that has swept the country like a tsunami, sweeping away common sense, but which is now slowly evaporating.

It has happened before: ideas have taken hold with a force disproportionate to their merit, and caused mayhem. There are reasons why these belief systems gain traction. Let us look at a couple of examples.

Lysenkoism

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LibLink: William Wallace gives the William Beveridge Memorial Lecture

William Wallace – one of our eminent peers – delivered the William Beveridge Memorial Lecture at the Social Liberal Forum Conference a week ago.

Professionally William was a professor in International Relations at the London School of Economics, and he has worked as a visiting professor in Universities around the world. So you would be right in expecting his lecture to be intellectually rigorous and thoroughly relevant to social liberals.

He took as his theme the question: Is a liberal and democratic society compatible with globalisation? You can read the full text of his lecture here, but here is a taster.

He sets the question firmly in an international context:

Dani Rodrik, one of my favourite economists – a Turk teaching at Harvard – wrote some five years ago that we may be discovering that democracy is not compatible with unconditional globalization; and that if we have to choose, we must prefer democracy and open society to globalization.  I take that as my text, and will explore its implications for Liberals, who believe in open societies and international cooperation but also in individual freedom within settled communities.   I have a second text, which is President Macron’s declaration that France must support a market economy, but not a market society’ – which is a good phrase for us to adopt in Britain, when Corbynistas are close to rejecting the market as such and the Conservative right sees the market as governing social provision.

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Defending the Human Rights of Parliamentarians at the Inter-Parliamentary Union

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is the global club of national parliaments, so one might ask why Liberal International (LI) has signed up to the organisation as an Observer Member. The clearest reason is to further the work of LI’s highly active Human Rights Committee, which already has recognition and speaking rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The IPU has its own human rights committee specifically defending the rights of parliamentarians across the world. Many of its cases involve liberal politicians in places where opposition politics is fraught with danger. A second reason is to develop stronger collective identity and action between liberal politicians from our member parties.

Dhaka was a controversial choice of venue, as Bangladesh has itself seen considerable political strife in recent years and the last election was boycotted by the opposition. Whilst I was there their student leader in Chittagong was picked up by police then found dead hours later. A high profile court case involving the suspension from office of the opposition mayor of Sylhet was dismissed by the High Court, only for new proceedings to be instigated before he had gained access to his office. I met the opposition leader off site to discuss democratic progress.

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Reintroducing Liberal Leave

 

Liberal Leave was formed as a part of Vote Leave during the EU referendum. It had the slogan “Liberal. Democratic. Internationalist.” and it mainly operated through social media. The most high-profile figure in the Group was an ex-MP called Paul Keetch who wrote an article in the Independent called “Think that if you are liberal you should vote to stay in the EU? Think again”. I was part of that group during the EU referendum and I now chair it.

I have tried to change the group so it is about a compromise between Remain and Leave, one that can be found in the ‘Icelandic option’ which differs from the ‘Norway option’ due to its use of safeguard measures. Compromise is what I feel Brexit should now be about, because otherwise hard-line groups on either side will shape it for us in the years to come.

We are against a second referendum. The argument used by Tim Farron during the recent election campaign was that we didn’t vote for a destination, just to leave the EU and that’s right. Therefore, we should have a referendum on just that, the destination. Do we want to remain members of the single market and do we want to remain members of the customs union? We should ask that rather than replaying the EU referendum.

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Liberals: a fresh message

 

Politics in the UK is changing faster now than ever before. This change gives us the opportunity to take our place at the heart of the UK by presenting a strong, passionate and persuasive liberal view of the world. It also means we may get lost among the crowd. We must make sure it is the former, and not the latter.

Clear, simple messages are crucial to how the country views us. Every opportunity to speak to people is a chance to present liberalism in its best light – distinct, valuable, and making our communities stronger.

The centre ground is stable, but it is also defined by what it isn’t. Strong messages must change that. The preamble to the Constitution of the party is a wonderful piece of writing; honest, inspirational, and clear, but it is not going to be read by 99 per cent of the population. What we need to do is distil its values: liberty, equality and community, and let that shine through our communications.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarLorenzo Cherin 26th Jul - 2:19am
    Mick , is correct, this surprise at daft ideas in a democratic party, is more daft than the , yes, very daft ideas ! David...
  • User AvatarMick Taylor 26th Jul - 1:55am
    Hang on a minute. One or two people in our party have odd views, far from the party mainstream and suddenly they're LibDem policy? Hywel,...
  • User AvatarEd Shepherd 26th Jul - 1:17am
    Thatcherite entryists? ID cards? National service? The Lib Dem Party is circling the drain. When he hears about it, Jeremy Corbyn will be laughing his...
  • User AvatarEd Shepherd 26th Jul - 1:11am
    Compulsion to do kind of work always fails. Years of leading volunteers has taught me that let alone the lessons of history. And given 'choice'...
  • User AvatarTorrin Wilkins 26th Jul - 12:55am
    Hywel: I think its jumping to conclusions that because I had him as a friend on Facebook I also looked at all of his posts....
  • User AvatarMichael BG 26th Jul - 12:30am
    @ Ed Shepherd The range of jobs in William Wallace’s “national service” most likely is not wide enough. I would hope people would be able...