Lib Dems would have winced when the news broke about Cameron’s EU veto, but it’s the biggest chance yet to express our party’s individuality.
Since the tuition fee rise and EMA’s abolition, I haven’t liked Nick Clegg. Although I agreed with the coalition being formed, I didn’t agree with the coalition negotiation team he chose. I haven’t agreed with a lot of what he’s done as leader. And I’ve sat grumbling about it for months. But over the past few days my respect for Nick has significantly improved.
Why? Well I’m starting to see something different from Nick and our party. I’m starting to see a glimpse of the Liberal Democrats I joined over three years ago. Nick appearing on The Andrew Marr Show was the moment it dawned on me. He said that the EU veto was ‘bitterly disappointing’ and that eurosceptics were ‘seriously misguided’, after which I frightened my girlfriend by exclaiming ‘go on Nick’ and punching the air. Putting aside the fact that politics is clearly making me a rather dull individual, it was what I and so many other Lib Dems had been hoping for.
Ever since the coalition’s formation, Liberal Democrat members up and down the land have been crying out for our individuality to be expressed loud and clear. We’ve met Nick and had long, tiring discussions on just this. We’ve quizzed Lib Dem MPs about it at every opportunity, even Christmas dinners (sorry Tim Farron!). We’ve done our best on the doorstep to explain why we couldn’t keep all our promises. Tried, and often failed with little support from the top of our party.
But Nick’s performance is the first big development in dealing with this issue. He was clear about what he felt about the EU and clear on what Liberal Democrats believed in.
Nick’s discussion with Andrew Marr wasn’t the only thing I was proud of though. Sharon Bowles MEP, Vince Cable, Paddy Ashdown, Tim Farron and so many other senior Lib Dems have been standing up for the EU recently and in turn, our individuality in government. It’s the start of what we’ve all been striving for – Liberal Democrats in government shouting loud for what we believe in, striving for a different approach to that of the eurosceptic, anti-immigration Tory right and standing up for the common sense route. While I’ve no doubt we’ve been doing all of this thus far in government, it’s only now that people are starting to pay attention. And while we’ve got people listening, we must do more of it.
If we as a party are to recover some of our lost support, we need to go back to being considered the ‘party of sense’. We need to put across why we couldn’t fulfil all our manifesto pledges, shout big about our achievements in government and continue to press for years that the public shouldn’t trust Labour again with the economy. Sitting in government appearing to nod at everything Cameron says is not what is best for Liberal Democrats and we need to use the EU veto as the launch of our General Election campaign strategy.
Most of Lib Dems agree we need to express our individuality in the coalition and see a return to community politics… and fast. This is what will win us back support and put us in a better position for the future.