A referendum on the Brexit deal is key, not growing other parties.

You know, I never understood why you gun control people don’t all join the NRA. They’ve got two million members. You bring three million to the next meeting, call a vote. All those in favour of tossing guns… bam! Move on.

It is one of the most memorable lines in every political anorak’s favourite TV show, The West Wing. Although steeped in high fantasy, the strategy from Congressman Skinner does present some food for thought – if you want to defeat your enemy, why not do it from within? It’ll be less bloody, it may even mean a quicker and more efficient way to smash your political nemesis into irrelevance.

These sentiments, in some part, were echoed by my friend and former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg in the Observer. In his comment piece he states that anti-Brexit Labour-inclined voters, and their Conservative counterparts, should join their respective parties to change the direction of each organisation and, in turn, the future of the country.

These voters, argues Nick, should then lobby their MPs, leaders and change the debate at conferences to make sure that Britain’s spiral into a Brexit self-harm is stopped.

Obviously, I agree with the sentiment. I am unashamedly pro-European, and believe that Britain is undoubtedly stronger when it is leading within Europe than it will be isolated and alone. That’ll be no surprise to anyone here.

However, what I cannot agree on is that we should be changing the result of the deeply flawed referendum by stealth.

The result in June 2016 shone a spotlight on many things, but most notably it highlighted how alienated many people were from the political process. Scores of voters marched to the ballot box to give the so-called political elites a kicking, to express their anger at a perceived neglect from the representatives and system that was supposed to listen to them.

This is why I am angry at the result and this is why I lay the blame on several doorsteps, not just those that peddled lies and myth in order to secure a Leave victory.

I am furious at the jingoistic and racist campaign from Farage, Banks and UKIP, I am furious at the cynical manoeuvring of Johnson, Gove and Leadsom that gave a degree of credibility to a discreditable campaign, and I am furious at the scores of Labour MPs that not only stayed silent during the referendum but also ignored their communities so much they felt they had nothing else left but to commit a form of economic and social hara-kari in order to be heard.

The political establishment has blood on its hands and it now needs to learn.

Nick’s arguments do not take this into account. By organising a “covert” assault, a gerrymandering of political membership, Team Remain will do little more than cement the feeling that the electorate are simply being ignored.

Instead, as Liberals, we need to keep fighting for a change of direction, we need to be the first into the argument when opportunities present itself. When economic forecasts show a decline in productivity, we need to be the first to put our case forward; when David Davies yet again blunders through a negotiation summit, we need to be the first to highlight our alternative strategy; and when the deal (if ever) is reached, we need to demand, and win, a second referendum on that deal.

* Tom Morrison is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Cheadle, community campaigner, and associate director of a specialist communications agency.

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  • Bill le Breton 9th Oct '17 - 11:11am

    Tom, as a friend of Nick Clegg’s, perhaps you can confirm that his position is NOT to turn the clock back to before June 2016. That his position is to seek a renegotiated place for the UK in an ‘outer sphere’ (to use his words) of a reformed EU that is a (again his words) ‘club of concentric circles based on an inner core … and outer circles with looser arrangements attached to them” . Listen to him on Today this morning, 1:19:10 into the programme: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0977tw1#play )

    The question for history is, if this reform of Europe occurs, will it have been reached more quickly had the UK remained a full member of the EU (ie voted remain) or will what is happening now increase the likelihood of this multi-speed Europe,?

    The question for the present is whether a full-on ‘anti-Brexit’ policy makes such a reform less likely as it leads either to a Hard Brexit or a path back into a status-quo EU whose advocates of full political as well as economic union are made more bold and more intransigent?

  • Chris Rennard 9th Oct '17 - 1:35pm

    The problem with the current attempt at negotiating a Brexit deal is that the Government will be unwilling to sign up to any deal which makes it obvious that our ‘deal’ outside membership will be less good than our deal has been within membership. Such a deal would expose the deceit of the Brexiteers. Only the biggest Brexit headbangers try to argue that we might be better off with no deal and having to accept WTO rules and the tariffs that go with it, with none of the benefits of agreeing regulations with our seat at the table as at present. On the other hand, the European Parliament, and the 27 other member states will obviously not countenance any deal which would give the UK more favourable arrangements outside the EU than it has enjoyed as part of it, for obvious reasons. Why should they? Our government is at present doing the equivalent of giving notice that we are leaving a gym, and then expecting to be allowed back in to use all the equipment for free or a much reduced fee. On this basis, the negotiations are intractable and there is little scope if any for potential agreement. The Government can seek the best deal that it can, but our case is that this deal should be put in a referendum when people who see what it is that they would be voting for, not a ‘Faragist fantasy’.

  • Tony Greaves 9th Oct '17 - 2:45pm

    Apart from the political nonsense of advocating a strategy of increasing the strength of other parties, the Clegg strategy is actually doomed to fail. Individuals joining a party in a random sort of fashion, in inevitably quite small numbers, with no clear organisation behind it, in order to immediately get to work to change its policies, is rather obviously going to fail. The need for change is urgent and even if such action worked it would take years. What is needed in the political sphere is a hard and serious campaign by this party. But first this party has to learn how to campaign again.

  • Nom de Plume 9th Oct '17 - 3:22pm

    I am not a fan of machiavellian politics. Join a party which closest represents your views. I could clearly never join the Tory Party.

  • Nonconformistradical 9th Oct '17 - 3:52pm

    “However, what I cannot agree on is that we should be changing the result of the deeply flawed referendum by stealth.”

    No – we should be calling it out for what it was – an affront to democracy.

  • adrian sanders 9th Oct '17 - 5:06pm

    The best example of a Party changing its policies is the Conservative Party over a referendum on our membership of the EU. It wasn’t entryism that did it but another political party (UKIP with 2 MPs) whose growing support spooked the Tories. We should concentrate on rebuilding a campaigning movement that the other parties cannot ignore. And that campaigning needs to reconnect with those groups of voters and communities who used to identify with us on issues way beyond Brexit.

  • Nick appears at first glance to be encouraging being devious but I hope his media-speak carried him away somewhat and he did not want to promote the parties we see as failing to understand the EU’s values. Being in the EU has assisted UK to become one of the best and growing post-war economies, enjoying international security and peace in Europe too. But the EU needs UK’s continued contributions to move it to an authoritative world-honoured block which other nations can join.
    Anyway …
    I really hope Nick meant to say something like, “If you want to remain in a reformed EU, try to persuade the party you belong to that remaining means working to make changes but the EU already has better intentions than leavers are saying”. “If you have no party home, do consider visiting the LibDems website to read our policies – and consider whether the Brexit vote will deliver a better future for new generations of our young people than the future our party advocates from within the EU”

  • David Evans 9th Oct '17 - 6:00pm

    I agree with Adrian.

  • Nick Hopkinson 9th Oct '17 - 11:15pm

    We should use language on referendums carefully. ‘Second’ referendum sounds as if we are rerunning the ‘first’. Technically another referendum would be the ‘third’ referendum (1975, 2016 and possibly 2018). Better to refer simply to a ‘referendum on the deal’, or if no deal is negotiated ‘a referendum on whether we should leave without a deal or remain’.

  • Gordon Lishman 10th Oct '17 - 10:15am

    Nom de Plume: I am a fan of Machiavellian politics and hVe been for many years. But then, I’ve read him, including his Discourses and other work! The recent book “Be Like The Fox” on Machiavelli confirms the analysis of a thinker who believed in strong, republican communities at peace with their neighbours, organising their polities co-operatively.

  • Given a second referendum, how would fair and equal funding for both the campaigns be ensured, given the strength and resources of the Brexit press?

  • John King 10th Oct ’17 – 1:27pm:
    Given a second referendum, how would fair and equal funding for both the campaigns be ensured, given the strength and resources of the Brexit press?

    Maybe you could draft the Spanish police in to remove some ballot boxes?

  • Nom de Plume 10th Oct '17 - 3:37pm

    @Gordon Lishman

    I haven’t read any Machiavelli for many years. I had ‘The Prince’ in mind. I know he wrote other works which supported republican values. I am not questioning his value as a political thinker, rather was using his name as an adjective, in the commonly understood way as to indicate devious behaviour. Perhaps, I was also trying to suggest people should read some political philosophy. Congratulations!

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