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Tim Farron to launch Lib Dem plan for Britain in Europe

Last week, I took part in a Conference call with Tim Farron and was very reassured at the strength of his resolve to ensure that the UK has the strongest possible role in Europe. Our commitment to campaign to stay in the EU, or rejoin if we leave remains at the heart of what we will offer the British people at the next General Election.

In that call, we found out that Tim would be doing something that the Government with all its massive resources hasn’t managed to get it together to do – launching an actual plan for Britain’s future in Europe which he will do tomorrow morning.

He sets out a seven point plan which covers everything from free movement and access to the single market, to environmental and law and order concerns. He insists that the British people should have the chance to vote on any Brexit deal before it becomes final. It has to be said that there’s not a huge distance between the criteria for negotiation and actually keeping Britain in the EU but all of these things are absolutely essential for the next generation’s future prosperity.

This plan should reassure those members who were concerned that we were stepping back from our earlier statements. IN fact, what Tim will say later today reinforces what he’s been saying since the referendum:

We demand that the British people should have their say on the final deal in a referendum. And in the meantime we will hold the Conservative Brexit Government to account and fight for the best possible deal for Britain.

Voting for departure is not the same as voting for a destination. Brexit means Brexit but we still don’t know if that means £350m a week extra for the NHS, immigration controls or membership of the Single Market. This is not an attempt to re-run the first referendum. It is to enable the public to vote on the final deal, reflecting that there is disagreement even in the cabinet over every major aspect of Brexit.

The British people should be allowed to choose what comes next, to ensure it is right for them, their families, their jobs and our country. Our relationship with Europe affects our economy, our security, climate change, our influence in the world and so much more.

“Our policy on Europe is simple: we want to stay in the European Union. We wanted that the day before the referendum, we wanted it the day after and we want it today.

The Liberal Democrats are now the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit government, and are fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.

In Summary: The Lib Dem Plan for Britain in Europe

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Catherine Bearder MEP writes: Churchill and Mandela would have been with us on the March for Europe

As thousands of Brits marched across the uk to show their support for our continued EU membership relationship I was with Liberal Democrat president Sal Brinton, past MEP Sarah Ludford and many other activists, PPCs, councillors, new and old members and others who wanted to be with the Liberal Democrats in our fight to get the best for our country post the referendum result.

The organisers were initially determined not to allow any elected political speakers on to the platform.  It seems the phrase ‘cross party’ had again been confused with ‘no party’, despite the speakers from the world of entertainment and media clearly having political affiliations.  However, sense and justice prevailed and I was allowed to speak to the assembled crowds.  It seemed only fair as the Liberal Democrats formed a major part of the March, and for that I must say thank you to Kelly-Marie Blundell and her team for organising us all and making sure our voice is heard across the country.

This then is the gist of what I said….

For every one who is marching to day, not just here in London, but right across the country, there are hundreds who are not on a march, but are with us in spirit.  They know as you do that this campaign was fought on lies and untruths and the question was simplistic.  The result cannot therefore be allowed to stand.  Reasons for voters supporting leave were varied, and we now know that what they were asked to vote on – Brexit – is a total unknown.  No one knows what it is.  Even the Brexiteers still don’t know what they want.

So many people and European flags flying is good to see, but there are two other people in this square with us who would be joining us if they could, one is Winston Churchill, the other is Nelson Mandela.  They both recognised that working together across borders is the best way to deliver peace and prosperity for all. They would be horrified to think there is a possibility of the UK leaving the best and biggest club on the planet.   We have to do all we can to stop that, and if we can’t we must make sure that we get the best deal possible – and then put that deal to the voters in the UK.

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Clegg in the Guardian: “Why on earth would you not want to try and do s**t?”

We’re going to be hearing quite a lot from Nick Clegg over the next couple of weeks in the run up to his book being published on 15 September.

Today he has a long interview with the Guardian in which he talks at length about some of the key moments of the Coalition. Just to get this over with. I come from the Highlands of Scotland. If any journalist had written about some of the villages I love in the same patronising way that Clegg’s interviewer, Simon Hattenstone, did about Miriam’s home town in Spain, I’d be furious.

Whilst I have often disagreed with decisions that Nick took during the Coalition years, I stand by my long held view that he was often unfairly criticised, too. We can see with ever-increasing clarity that he brought a lot of common sense and stability to government. The minute he and the Liberal Democrats vacated Whitehall, everything started to fall apart. We are suffering the consequences of an arrogant Tory party governing exclusively in its own interests.

Naivety

Any feeling that we might have had that we could have been a lot better prepared for the realities of government is confirmed by the interview. However, the caveat is, of course, that we onlookers have the benefit of hindsight now and detachment at the time. Nick does admit to what appears to be astonishing naivety. It perhaps underlines the fact that he should maybe have had more people around him who had spent years fighting the Tories and knew first hand what they were capable of.

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What the SNP’s listening exercise on independence actually means

It is no surprise that the SNP continues to focus on independence. They are a nationalist party. It’s what they do. This morning, Nicola Sturgeon shifted her focus away from finding options for Scotland post Brexit, from fixing the education system that’s falling apart, from sorting out the huge bottlenecks in the health system, from ensuring decent mental health care and all the other things that she’s paid to do to concentrate on the next push for independence.

Scotland’s people are invited to take part in a survey giving their views on independence. All 120,000 SNP members are charged with speaking to 5 people a month for the next 3 months. This is not a government initiative. It’s an SNP one. People should be very clear what they are doing when they respond to the survey.

Although it’s introduced as a National Survey, without any SNP branding on it, it is simply a massive data collection exercise for the SNP.  People could answer this thing without realising that.

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Liberal Democrats must enthusiastically occupy the clear pro EU space – nobody else will

The Liberal Democrats have historically been enthusiastically pro EU. The strength of that enthusiasm, it’s fair to say, has not always been uniform. While a small number of Liberal Democrats campaigned to leave the EU, the vast majority of us wanted to remain. That was very clear to the tens of thousands who have joined us in the aftermath of the vote to leave.

As a party during the referendum, we did more than any other to campaign for a Remain vote. That’s quite a staggering achievement given our size and resources compared to the Labour party.

However, there are signs now that the consensus is starting to develop some fault lines. Our position in the aftermath of the referendum has been very clear. We campaign to stay or go back in to the EU at the next election. We want the voters to have their say on the Brexit deal. It’s only polite, really, given that they weren’t given any indication about what it would look like before they voted.

I don’t want to over-egg this particular pudding, but it looks like our general unity as a party on this is now under threat. Many Liberal Democrats  have been very concerned to see that Norman Lamb and Nick Clegg have endorsed Open Britain, the organisation formerly known as Britain Stronger in Europe.  Open Britain accepts the referendum result as final even though they also accept that nobody knows what they actually voted for. They will not be calling for a second referendum which seems to be a bizarre and contradictory stance to me.

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Please understand what The Alternative is about

The AlternativeJudging by the reaction to Andrew George’s post last week  there seems to be a lot of unnecessary fretting among Liberal Democrats caused by ‘The Alternative’, the book I have co-edited with the Labour and Green MPs Lisa Nandy and Caroline Lucas. Allow me to explain why I think some people are getting the wrong end of the stick.

I fully understand the views of those who say Labour is not a progressive party, and that we sometimes have more in common with the liberal wing of the Conservatives than we do with Labour or the nationalist parties. Those views can be defended, but they don’t alter the practical reality of what we face.

Everyone is talking about how we were hammered at the 2015 election, which we were in relative terms, but the 8% of the vote we polled would have given us around 55 seats if we’d had a proportional election system, which was roughly what we had in the last parliament.

As a liberal, I’d happily accept whatever our core vote is – probably something between 8% and 20% – under PR. We’d probably never be a party leading a government, but we’d have real influence, and could pursue liberal-democratic policies in association with whichever other parties were receptive to our ideas.

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Andrew George writes…Can progressives unite to defeat the Tories?

The AlternativeFailure to fully fathom the ‘shy Tory’ at the 2015 general election didn’t just leave egg on the faces of opinion pollsters. It produced shock waves across the political spectrum; from a delirious Conservative party to Paddy Ashdown’s exasperated milliner.

Of course psephologists weren’t really suggesting that a significant proportion of Tory voters are bashful by nature but were perhaps politely implying there may be a sense of ‘shame’.

Politics in its most basic form is polarised between, on the one hand, those who feel ‘shy’ about their self-absorption and (when the mask slips) their distaste for those they consider are ‘low achievers’, and on the other, ‘progressives’ who seek to appeal to our better instincts (for others, a wider community, the common good, future generations, the climate etc). Less bashful ‘progressives’ may believe they are in a majority when in fact the country may be evenly divided.

Indeed, there’s an assumption amongst many ‘progressives’ that the 2015 general election represented a high water mark for the Tories; that the pendulum will inevitably swing back at the next election, and that scores of Tory marginals will be comfortably won back. A reality check is needed.

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