Apologies for the “fringe of Conference”

The Social Democrat Group event last Monday was described as the “fringe of the conference” and “by far best #ldconf Brexit discussion yet“. However, hundreds may have been disappointed, and for that we apologise.
Entitled “Can Britain’s relationship with Europe be saved?”, and jointly organised with Policy Network, it was a fantastic discussion, with far too much substance to cover properly in a single LibDemVoice article. To listen to or watch a recording of the event, go to http://www.ldsdgroup.co.uk/events/can-britains-relationship-with-europe-be-saved/.
The event opened with Roger Liddle, Labour peer and co-chair of Policy Network, which jointly organised the event. He thought the Tories would stick together and do some kind of Brexit deal. He said there would be a transition deal before a final deal, and he correctly predicted that May’s speech this week in Florence would say so. He warned this would make campaigning to remain in the EU more difficult. It would mean a transitional deal where little changed for two years, so that the British public would only discover how catastrophic Brexit was two years after we had already left. Roger suggested that we would therefore leave, and the battle would then be to rejoin. However, he said this is a battle we can win.
Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, emphasised that we are democrats, we are not afraid of the will of the people, and so we should propose a referendum on exit terms. To convince the public how dangerous Brexit is, we need to find language to bring a divided country together. We must keep raising this issue, including “the dreaded conversation over the Christmas turkey”. We also need to persuade the EU too to change its language. Some comments from Jean-Claude Juncker have been unhelpfully divisive.
The chair of the meeting, Sarah Ludford, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on Brexit in the Lords and is a former MEP, agreed, saying that some in the EU “just saw us as a pain in the backside” without appreciating the significant positive contribution the UK has brought to the EU.

James Chapman, former chief of staff to David Davis and Daily Mail political editor, said that he’s really angry, and that we need to stop the exit process rather than fight to get back in. He thinks that Brexit won’t happen, because to leave the single market the government must trigger article 127 of the EEA, but that there is no majority to get this through Parliament.

James talked about the Liberal Democrat brand being damaged by coalition, but he also said that Vince Cable was the perfect leader for now, because the economy was going to become increasingly important, and people trust Vince on the economy.
When asked about the the Daily Mail, James said it needed a new editor and, to widespread laughter, he suggested George Osborne.

Adam Payne, of Business Insider, said that there is sadness in the EU. For them, Britain is like a friend who goes off the rails but refuses help. The public needs to change its mind, but this can’t come through mud-slinging and insults. We need to change minds on Brexit with arguments, and make points clearly and relentlessly.

James Chapman said we need to use personal stories to put our case, something that is the golden rule of journalism. Adam Payne agreed, we must use intellectual arguments, but we need emotional messages that resonate with people as well.
Adam said that, with a few exceptions, petitions were “borderline pointless”. James suggested that social media was a much better use of time, especially twitter, and to make sure we always tag the people we are criticising.
There was even some good-natured family drama, when James was told off by his god mother (who happens to be Sarah Ludford) for “mansplaining“.
Overall, it was a fantastic meeting. I suspect, like me, most wished it could have continued beyond the allotted time.
Despite the success, we in the Social Democrat Group still owe conference an apology. There were enormous queues, and many, perhaps hundreds, were unable to get in. We have made recordings, so you can listen to the whole event or watch it here. But there is no substitute to actually being in the room.
The reason, of course, was finance. So if anyone wants to help us hire a bigger room next time, please use our donate button!
Nor was the event a one-off. The Social Democrat Group will be running other combined events with Policy Network. We are planning a series of seminars in Westminster, where we will discuss issues that are some of the underlying causes of the Brexit vote, such as globalisation and funding for public services. These will use the “Chatham House Rule“. They will be in private, so that contributors from Labour and the Liberal Democrats can speak more openly.
Because some of these events will be for supporters only, they may not be openly publicised on the internet, so if anyone would like to know when our future events are happening, please add your name to our supporters list. A supporter is simply someone who agrees with our objective to see better understanding between Liberal Democrats and social democrats outside the party. You do not need to be a member of the Liberal Democrats, nor think of yourself as a social democrat.

* George Kendall is chair of the Social Democrat Group, which is being formed to celebrate and develop our social democrat heritage, and to reach out to social democrats beyond the party. He writes in a personal capacity.

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10 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th Sep '17 - 12:15pm

    As usual utter sense from George.

    I do agree with and welcome Sarah Ludfords point and more should,although I was not happy to see she apparently used that awful word, mansplaining! The fact however that she alludes to the EU not appreciating the UK is insightful. There has been much we can say is constructive about our involvement, the French going back to De Gaulle always had a view of us that was one sided and a degree of resentment was often there. Trivial and pointless.

    George keep[ up the good work and let,s see the Social Democrat Group do well.

  • Katharine Pindar 25th Sep '17 - 8:56pm

    Thanks for the summary, George, and as Lorenzo says keep up the good work! I’ve joined your supporters, but please hold an event in the north as well as Westminster – Southport being an obvious venue. I particularly like Wera Hobhouse’s point, that we must keep raising this issue, and it has to be I believe with friends and neighbours and associates as well as family. Time is limited – as Nick Clegg was saying on the last Andrew Marr show, think of October 2018. That is when we should aim for a referendum, and we need to convince more of the public in the next few months that this is the right democratic solution.

  • Roger Liddle’s point that easing the pain of Brexit through a long transition makes protests less likely seems very valid. Protests are already very muted in relation to the scale of the tragedy. This is similar to the arguments I recently made on LDV

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/cheer-up-britannia-brexit-is-coming-55259.html

    NB The links to the video of the meeting do not seem to function, it just goes to twitter

  • Yes, definitely the best fringe I went to. Half the very limited number of seats were actually occupied by people participating in the previous training session!

    I agree with Roger Liddle and John King, this awful Tory government will fudge and unite around a transitional deal that will take us out but is very difficult to fight. The whole situation is made near impossible by Labour’s position, as is clear from their party conference. Never have I been so despondent!

    Excellent on the “Chatham House Rule“ meetings between “sane” Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

  • De Gaulle has been memtioned above. De Gaulle was, of course, a chauvinist (or shall we say tribalist) Frenchman, whose attitude was reprehensible. Nevertheless, he had a point. He prophesied that Britain would just cause a heap of trouble if they were allowed into the EU. After Maggie’s handbagging, our endless opt-outs, Cameron’s renegotiation, and then Brexit – well, he got that right, didn’t he?

  • Chris Burden 26th Sep '17 - 5:02pm

    The Brexit dispute is driven by Fear, on both sides. Obviously. Quite simply, to have any chance of reversing Brexit, you must reach and assuage Fear(s).
    But, there is fear which is Rational and fear which has become Irrational. Encountering people experiencing Rational fear, discussions just happen in the normal way: you may change someones’s mind, they may change yours, or you simply agree to disagree, and then you go and have a drink. So far, so Liberal.
    Irrationally frightened people do not listen or think or respond according to objective facts or to reason. You may attempt to ‘explain’ ’til you are blue in the face, but such a fearful person will not listen, will not hear, or will hear only a highly distorted version. But, it is my experience that there are broadly two kinds of Irrational fear, making people become Brexiters.
    There is Irrational fear which is really a kind of Rational fear and so open to reason, but brought on by forty years of DripLie-DripLie-DripLie. One must neither shout things which will not be heard, nor treat the fearful with disdain or contempt: they may be more intelligent than you! That is, normal people who have been so persistently misled by the Potty Press that they hold views which they are capable of coming to see don’t accord with their deeper – and genuine – beliefs and aspirations, when respectfully challenged. Good luck!
    And finally, there there is a more sinister kind of Irrational fear, almost Theological in nature. People in this category are often seem highly intelligent, highly educated and, in my personal experience, hold powerful and responsible positions. You might reasonably assume they would not be taken in by forty years of Drip-Lies. In fact, they are often instead the originators or promoters of these. The give away here is the language they use about the EU and the European Commission. There is much talk of overwhelming power, of ‘thousands of Brussels bureaucrats’, of taking back Sovereignty, of decisions secretly taken by the European Commission etc., for all of which there are satisfactory responses and which they know. I believe such people have, in they eyes of the rest of us, troubling feelings and beliefs about their personal emotional response to matters such as authority. Maybe we should be sympathetic but they should not be inflicting this troubling outlook on the rest of us IMHO.

  • Lorenzo Cherin and David Allen both mention de Gaulle, and retrospectively his caution seems far sighted. The positive aspect of the current situation is that the EU is united and poised to go from strength to strength with the help of Merkel and Macron. Unfortunately for us though, Britain is badly infected with Euroscepticism and should arguably be quarantined for the protection of more civilised nations.

    The main reason why our country has gone bad is that Chris Burden’s Potty Press has been poisoning the air for decades. There is something in his idea that most Leavers fall into the category of innocent victims but a few are Anthony Blunt types, intelligent and privileged individuals who feel impelled to bite the hand that feeds them.

    On a more positive note, thanks to George for making the pathway to the speakers’ videos clearer – very interesting to watch.

  • Katharine Pindar 26th Sep '17 - 7:23pm

    Chris Burden, the answer to fear is hope. We have to show that there is a better prospect of life for our people if we stay in the EU. Jeremy Corbyn has been offering hope, but as Nick Clegg told Andrew Marr on Sunday to say to Jeremy, austerity can’t be banished if Brexit happens. We should work on the fear of the Labour Party that the chance of power could be snatched away from them, and work with them to show up this false hope of a transition period which goes nowhere.

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