Tag Archives: eu referendum

What I learned on holiday

I’m just back from the first two week holiday I’ve had since 2008. I was fairly determined before I went that I was going to have a proper break. My aim was greatly helped with the discovery that I’d managed to book a holiday cottage that had no wifi. I almost succeeded in keeping away from work for the whole time and I feel much better for it. After fighting two national elections and two referendum campaigns in 2.5 years, I was pretty close to completely knackered. I knew I had to switch off properly for my own wellbeing.  I am very grateful to the team for covering while I’ve been away. They’ve done a great job even though some of them have been dealing with major life events.

I had planned to do what I always do on holiday – read lots of books. That didn’t work out either.  I only got through the new Harry Potter book and the latest edition of Liberator. Instead, I found myself gazing at the views (and who could blame me?), watching the Olympics and walking for miles on Rosemarkie beach with the dog. The weather was so wonderful the second week that it would have been criminal not to have been out and about enjoying it while we had the chance.

Cromarty sunset

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Muddled mandates and the EU Referendum

Brexit means Brexit were among the first words spoken by Theresa May when she was anointed by Conservatives as our new Prime Minister. She swiftly followed that up by appointing prominent Brexiteers to key Government roles to direct the UK withdrawal from the EU.

Brexiteers argue that the outcome of the EU referendum provides the UK with a clear and unequivocal mandate to take the country out of the EU. Well, not quite: the result delivered confused and conflicting mandates.

Firstly, two out of the four countries which comprise the UK voted to remain: overwhelmingly so in the case of Scotland. Brexiteers do not therefore have a UK-wide leave mandate. It is important to remember that Scotland and Northern Ireland are countries not English counties. Scottish and Irish voters delivered a clear and unequivocal Remain mandate which deserves as much respect as the UK-wide vote: quite how that can be achieved is, at present, unclear.

Secondly, during the campaign Brexiteers offered voters all sorts of different alternatives to UK membership of the EU – the Norwegian model, the Swiss model, UK in the Single Market, UK outside the Single Market etc. Consequently, there was no single definitive leave mandate. Many of the leave voters I spoke to during the campaign were convinced that UK access to the Single Market would be guaranteed post-exit: if that is not the case will they still be so keen to leave?

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In protecting the liberal age, the charge of elitism must be avoided

There is a sense that if an election happens at any time in the next year, it will be fought out as much on values as economic policy. The argument is no longer just about fairness and equality. It is also about a philosophy of life.

Fears that the liberal age is now under threat both from Right and Left has the potential to galvanise those who have previously taken our liberal traditions for granted. The #libdemfightback has the potential to happen.

Identifying the 48% Remain voters as fertile ground for the Liberal Democrats was a fast and valid response, not just a sound political gambit for a party polling so low but one that was true to the party’s internationalist values.

Remain voters are desperate to embrace a coherent narrative and the liberal attitudes held by many of them will only turn into Lib Dem votes if that narrative is provided.

But that should only be the beginning. The Lib Dems must also respond powerfully and clearly to the illiberal, isolationist and anti-elite sentiment that lay behind Brexit.

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Nick Clegg: We need more than warm words and bromide from May

In his first few hours as our EU Spokesperson, we’ve had more sense from Nick Clegg than we’ve had from the whole government in the four awful weeks since the referendum.

Tonight he was on Radio 4’s PM programme saying that it was really important that we started to see some detail from the Government on its plans for Britain’s exit from the EU. We need, he said, a very detailed plan to extricate ourselves from the complex web of economic and legal ties between us and the EU.

He said that if the Government wanted to retain the closest possible ties with the single market, their own backbenchers would kick off.

You can listen to his interview here from about 39:30.

In a piece for the i newspaper, Nick pointed out a few discrepancies between what the Tories say they want and the likelihood of it happening without compromise:

Theresa May can’t, for example, promise that we will be able to enjoy all the benefits to our economy that full access to the world’s largest borderless single market will bring, without accepting freedom of movement in return. So which is it? What matters more – our economy and jobs or clamping down on immigration?

David Davis, Theresa May’s new Brexit minister, appears to believe the single market is just a free trade arrangement. It isn’t. Free trade means removing tariffs so that companies can trade without paying different levels of tax on the goods they buy and sell. But the single market is much more ambitious. It is about harmonising all the standards and regulations that apply to goods and services across Europe, so that companies can trade with each other on a truly level playing field.

So it’s good that someone is on the case. He sets out his own plans:

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Vince, Brexit and inequality: a day at the Social Liberal Forum Conference

Vince  Cable SLF Conference 2016The alarm call at 4:30 was pretty brutal. I suppose it was my own fault. I could have been sensible and not have drunk large quantities of wine at a wonderful dinner with friends and got home before 12:30, but you only live once and all that.

So, I felt a little weary heading off to London for the Social Liberal Forum’s annual conference.

The event took place in the Resources for London building – definitely worth going to if you are planning a similar event. It’s a super space with halls and breakout rooms all on one floor. Our Mary Reid has a leading role in organising this event every year and she always does a brilliant job. Everything is run with efficiency and the programme is planned so that there is enough time for socialising and networking.

The theme of the day was Inequality Street, looking at the various types of inequality in our country, why it’s so bad and how we deal with it. It was based around the 2009 book The Spirit Level, which showed that the countries with the highest levels of inequality also had the highest levels of all manner of social problems.

The day started with a minute’s applause to remember two great social liberals we’ve lost this year – Eric Avebury and David Rendel.

The vote to leave the EU meant a significant re-jigging of the programme to give us an opportunity to discuss the implications of the vote and what we should do about it. Investigative journalist Shiv Malik, Jonny Oates, David Howarth, Lindsay Northover and Sal Brinton shared their thoughts with us. 

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Engaging with disgruntled Leave voters

Beside the ongoing drama around Westminster, there’s an urgent task to be done among those who voted to leave the EU and are beginning to regret it. This is crucial for the country, and wise for us as well.

I’m thinking of those taken in by false “promises” — there isn’t an extra £350 million a week for the NHS, or an end to free movement of people, Brexit doesn’t mean an end to fishing quotas, and “taking back control” now sounds like a joke. They were already alienated and this is not helping.

We’re hearing stories of Brexit hitting places that voted for it: Lush moving from Poole, Forterra mothballing plants in Accrington and Claughton. Vacancies and job prospects are down. We need a more constructive response than a brutal “You voted for it”.

If Labour were acting as a proper opposition rather than embroiled in in civil war, they would be highlighting further betrayals from the Tories: most startling is the abandoning of plans to move to a budget surplus. If it were to be so quickly abandoned now, why was it clung to for so long despite fuelling misery for millions? How many voted Leave because of that pain?

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A Dutch liberal MEP’s perspective on Brexit

Last week, Dutch MEP Sophie in”t Veld made a speech in the Parliament about Brexit. Conference goers will remember her from Bournemouth last year where she gave a keynote speech.

Here are a few key quotes:

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