Are the Lib Dems going in the wrong direction?


I can tell you the exact moment I became a member of the Liberal Democrats. It was the 11th May 2015.

I had identified with the ideals of the Liberal Democrats for a long time, but waking up on election morning with an extremely sad and defeated looking Danny Alexander on my TV truly summed up how I felt about the election result.

A conservative majority government, now in power and able to introduce right wing policies, without a coalition partner to restrain them; the Lib Dem wipe-out was even more terrifying than the “yellow surge” in my adopted homeland of Scotland.

I did not want to accept that the party with whom I identified myself was about to disappear. I thought that the country would still need a liberal voice. The voting system simply did not reflect the view of the people.

And then, my social media channels were literally flooded by the “LibDemFightback”.

I was on my way home from university when I read a tweet by Danny Alexander. It read:

I thought to myself: I agree wholeheartedly!

This decision changed my life. I became part of a big liberal family who did not give up and who kept fighting for a liberal Britain. I was really impressed by the strength Lib Dems showed; never give up fighting is definitely their mantra.

I quickly got involved in the party, got to know many nice people. On my first party conference in autumn 2015 in my first impression of the Lib Dems was validated: They are a lovely bunch of open and friendly people.

During the conference, I got to know people whom I had met online. Next to this I also got to know many new people and was introduced to Lib Dem councillors. It was definitely a great experience for me.

Politically and personally I felt I was in the right place, among the right people. But over the following year, especially after the EU referendum, I’ve begun to feel that there is a change happening within the party, a change that I do not agree with.

The idea of having a second referendum, a different one (on the final deal of Brexit) is something I disagree with. I do not see the point of this policy.

If the electorate decides that it does not want the negotiated deal, what then? Another two years or more to draft a new deal? It only would delay the process of exiting the EU and at the same time cost a lot of money.

We should not make this our policy, we should fight for a say during the negotiation talks, we should fight to get the best deal possible. We should fight for the best possible “soft Brexit”.

Also, any possible Lib Dem commitment to remain in or re-join the European Union for the 2020 general election is nonsense. As distressing as it is, the British people voted to leave the European Union. Even if you argue that this result mainly happened because of misinformation or lies, this does not overrule the democratic mandate that the referendum provided. There is no reasonable mandate to hold another referendum or to deny the will of the people from the first.

On another matter, something that worries me slightly more than the Lib Dem post-Brexit strategy is the party’s idea of joining forces with the Labour party.

More often I hear party figures talking about the good in Labour politicians. Especially during this year’s autumn conference in Brighton you got a great impression of that. Tim was talking about the good things Tony Blair did during his time in office.

But we shouldn’t forget about the past. It was the Labour party who brought this country into crisis. We should keep that in mind and should not join forces with Labour simply out of desperation, just to raise our party’s reputation and make it popular again.

We are better than that, we are Liberals. We should stick to our values and keep on establishing a centrist voice for Britain, and pro-European voice. That is what is needed for this country.

I identify myself as a classic Liberal. Seeing the Liberal Democrats occupying the centre ground of politics during the Coalition years basically made me join the party. The party should keep its commitment to centre politics. I do not want to see us become another “left of centre” party.

The Liberal Democrats not only consist of centre-left members/politicians, there are also those on the right. I know the proportion of those might be smaller than the rest of the party, but they are Liberal Democrats too.

I think it is a noble ideal to establish ourselves as the only pro-European Union party. Open Britain is already in that area. Perhaps, instead of trying to attract former Labour politicians into our “yellow submarine” we should be trying to forge an identity of our own and set sail in our own right.

* Anna Junk is a university student living in Germany and a member of Brussels & Europe Liberal Democrats.

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  • Bill le Breton 3rd Oct '16 - 4:19pm

    Wow, what a great and wise piece.

  • Chris Bertram 3rd Oct '16 - 4:33pm

    Anna, I don’t think you need worry too much about joining forces with Labour, save for fleeting moments on very specific policy issues. Corbyn’s Labour wouldn’t be interested anyway, even if we were, and I don’t detect any groundswell of brotherly love for Labour among the Lib Dems I know. Five years of having abuse flung at us from the left flank have had their effect, and if Labour figure suddenly start to act all friendly, we have good reason to be very, very wary of their motives.

    Short version: not going to happen.

  • “But we shouldn’t forget about the past. It was the Labour party who brought this country into crisis”.

    Back in 2008 I seem to remember it was a certain Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under a right wing Republican President in the US of A who brought the world into crisis.

    Now whether Freddie and Fannie were secret Labour Cabinet Ministers I very much doubt.

  • Very good article in my view.

    Difficult questions for us as a party:
    What would the ‘no’ option be on any second referendum? Which side would we argue for?
    Would we really support going back into the EU once we’d left? We’d be joining Euro, Schengen, no rebate etc – politically impossible, particularly if exit negotiations aren’t a disaster.
    Have we really thought about the wider impact of cosying up to Labour on those who are repelled by Corbyn and co?

    I’ve carried out a survey of our local party over the summer, support for staying in EU rather than prioritising a good deal outside is less than 50%.

    Lots to reflect on here.

  • Would this be the same Danny Alexander who spent more time in the media defending Osborne’s policies than did Osborne?
    And as for, “It was the Labour party who brought this country into crisis”…I thought it was accepted by everyone that the Global Crisis was just that; and little to do with Labour?

  • Barry Snelson 3rd Oct '16 - 4:44pm

    Excellent, truly excellent. An inspiring change from old codgers in denial which is the usual fare around here.
    I, too, despair of Brexit and its terrible consequences but the referendum wasn’t a pre season friendly, it was the final and we lost.
    The party should exploit, to the uttermost, the confusion and mistakes the Tories are bound to make, to restore our party’s fortunes at their expense.
    You are completely correct, there is no vacant political turf to the left of Corbyn and McDonnell, both secure for several years.
    Moderate Labour and Tory voters are there for the taking.

  • It is not a question of joining with Labour, that is a total no no. We are best on our own and doing okay at the moment, on our own. Anything else would spell the end of the party. What Farron was attempting was an appeal to some Labour supporters simply to vote Liberal Democrat.

  • Katja Sarmiento-Mirwaldt 3rd Oct '16 - 4:57pm

    Personally, I am with Tim Farron and would like to see a second referendum – not a repeat of the first, but a referendum on the terms of exit. In a general election, party manifestos to some extent bind parties, and voters can hold government parties to account if they fail to deliver on their promises. In contrast, in a referendum campaign anyone can promise anything, and indeed all sorts of contradictory and impossible things were promised by the Leave campaign and others. This leaves the government free now not only to pick and choose but also to interpret Leave voters’ reasons for voting the way they did, without ever having to accept responsibility for the undeliverable promises made by others.
    I am not kidding myself: a second referendum would very likely lead to another narrow but clear mandate to leave. But as a Remainer, I would find it easier to live with the verdict if my fellow citizens confirmed ‘Yes, this deal is what we wanted all along’. Democratic accountability, too, would be better served if we could all hold the government responsible if Brexit turns out to be the disaster many of us fear (whilst still hoping desperately that it will turn out not to be so bad in the end).

  • The Professor 3rd Oct '16 - 4:58pm

    Full disclosure: ex-Lib Dem member, Lib Dem voter in 2010 who voted Leave in 2016.

    If the Liberal Democrats wish to contest a future General Election with one of their aims as rejoining the European Union then I for one will not be voting for any party with such a policy.

    Nonetheless if the Lib Dems are sincere and 100% behind UK as a full EU member i.e. adopting the Euro and Schengen zone then do go right ahead. After all 48% of the UK voted to remain and you may achieve a substantial GE vote.

  • Richard Worrall 3rd Oct '16 - 5:00pm

    I can’t say I agree with very much of this.

    Point by point:

    A second referendum might well be expensive, though I doubt the cost would be significant if the warnings of leaving the EU are even half true. I would rather the expense of buying a known quantity than settling for a lucky dip Brexit that will, in any case, be financially ruinous.

    On remaining or rejoining, we are the only party so vocally fighting that corner. 48% agree with us (even though they might not yet be with us). Even if it we’re only 8%, I would still support this policy as the principled thing to do. We know it’s right, we can argue our case, and if people vote for us we can make a difference. Lib Dems don’t chase popular ideas; we try to make ideas popular.

    And that’s where Labour come in as the complete antithesis. Under Milliband they wore a perpetual sycophantic stare, begging the electorate to tell them what they should be saying. Is this the correct answer, they’d seem to say with quizzical eyes. Is this what you want to hear? Under Corbyn, they don’t really say anything. That said, while I have no inclination to vote for them I do think we should work with them. With anybody, in fact. Democracy is not an all or nothing game – it is about compromise with those you disagree with for the greater good, where that is possible. Where there are opportunities to work together, that is always preferable, democratically speaking, to narrow party interests.

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Oct '16 - 5:09pm

    Inspirational article. I don’t identify as a classical liberal, just a standard centrist, but I agree on the direction problem.

    The issue is people have different goals for political parties. I see politics primarily about winning sustainable votes, whereas others see winning as a bonus and focus on their favourite policies. I admit, I don’t really enjoy campaigning, but I do like developing sustainable and popular policies.

  • paul barker 3rd Oct '16 - 5:18pm

    I come not to praise Labour but to bury them but I dont see any contradiction between that & seeing myself as being on The Centre-Left. Labour always represented “Reformism without Reforms”, a bizarre alliance of conservatives, Social Democrats & Marxists only held together by Class Hatred.
    I am not enthused by the idea of a third Referendum either, but for different reasons. They are the traditional tool of demagogues not democrats. However, I am puzzled by the idea that a vote has some sort of permanent validity. Votes are just snapshots of opinion, their validity is anulled by the next vote. Voters should know that if they Elect a Libdem Government, it will stay in or rejoin The EU, whats the problem with that ? I dont see anyone saying that we cant Nationalise The Rail Network because it was once privatised, Governments do things & other Governments undo them – thats democracy.

  • Matt (Bristol) 3rd Oct '16 - 5:21pm

    I just wrote a very long response to this great, but challenging article and lost it. I shall try to re-order my thoughts later in the day. Thanks for this! (But I don’t entirely agree with you…)

  • Andrew McCaig 3rd Oct '16 - 5:35pm

    I think Tim made it very clear that the options in another referendum would be

    1) Accept what has been negotiated.. or
    2) Remain in the EU

    Now I do not agree at all that this is a final decision by the British people. It was a decision by older people with a nationalist (small n) viewpoint to restrict the life choices of younger people with a more internationalist viewpoint, against their will. In a few year’s time Leavers will be in the minority just through demographics. If polls show that the view of people has changed significantly about leaving the EU during the process of leaving, it would be highly undemocratic not to have another referendum. It was a snapshot of opinion on a particular day… Of course, if opinion stays as it is now, then there is little justification for another vote..

  • jonathan Hunt 3rd Oct '16 - 6:19pm

    We must not attract, merge or in any way engage with the Labour Party. Our task is to destroy and replace them as the party on the Left or Centre Left of British politics.

    There will be no better time to achieve this long-dreamed of goal than at the next election. While many of the aims Corbyn expresses are the same as ours in terms of social justice, we have to persuade voters that while much of his public diagnosis is correct his prescription is pure poison.

    Socialism has failed the world over, and inevitably leads to centralising power and Imposing increasing degrees of compulsion on the population. We believe in true Community Politics, involving communities in in the issues that most affect then, and encouraging the people to take power.

    That starts with allowing the 100 per cent to decide the terms and conditions of leaving the EU on all the know facts, while relying on the 48 per cent to vote us in.

  • I have always fought the Tories and that is why I was upset when the coalition was formed.My concern was that over 50 years of campaigning I only met a few who cared about the voters and the rest appeared only interested in their own status and showed deviousness in their actions.So no surprises when the Coalition destroyed so many Lib Dems fighting to improve their areas only to witness the growth of the right wing who cared for nothing but themselves. But the second lesson which took more time to understand was that Labour at the core was no different, I now in my dotage would not welcome any relationship with either but would welcome those who had the courage to say enough is enough from either right or left

  • David Evershed 3rd Oct '16 - 7:02pm

    Anna is right.

    The Liberal Democrats are becoming less democratic (wanting to ignore the referendum result) …..

    …..and less liberal (wanting a ‘progressive’ alliance with authoritarian and interventionist Labour).

    Let’s get back to being liberal. Democratic should be without saying.

  • Theresa May states that Scotland, Wales and NI will have little say on Brexit negotiations as her small majority, unrepresentative party were voted to be in charge of Brexit, a Brexit based on misinformation, rejection of austerity and negative campaigning all centered around her party. How is it liberal to accept this version of democracy and just try to fight for soft Brexit?

    I am not sure how one can create support for a second referendum (no one wants to go through that again) but there should be some openness where people are allowed to state whether they agree with the deal before it’s finalised.

  • Exactly right

  • Leekliberal 3rd Oct '16 - 7:37pm

    @ David Evershed ‘The Liberal Democrats are becoming less democratic (wanting to ignore the referendum result) …..’
    No, we are not ignoring the result even though if 2% had voted the other way after that orgy of lies, we would have been spared this misery. The people bought a ‘pig in a poke’ and the unfolding evidence of economic damage to our economy will make them think again. A future vote when the terms of what looks like a hard ‘Brexit’ would be clear; a serious lowering of our standard of living versus the chance to reduce EU immigration At least a vote allowing the option to stay in and reform a SHAKEN eu remainext time

  • Leekliberal 3rd Oct '16 - 7:41pm

    @ David Evershed ‘The Liberal Democrats are becoming less democratic (wanting to ignore the referendum result) …..’
    No, we are not ignoring the result even though if 2% had voted the other way after that orgy of lies, we would have been spared this misery. The people bought a ‘pig in a poke’ and the unfolding evidence of economic damage to our economy will make them think again. A future vote when the terms of what looks like a hard ‘Brexit’ would be clear; a serious lowering of our standard of living versus the chance to reduce EU immigration. At least a vote allowing the option to stay in and reform a shaken EU would allow an informed choice to be made which we all would have to accept.

  • Good article and good comment from Katja.

    I have been EUsceptic for decades but voted Remain (reluctantly) largely because of the appalling Leave campaign.

    Happy to support (NOT a second referendum) a referendum on the terms of exit:-

    EXIT – under whatever conditions emerge once Art 50 is undertaken
    REMAIN – under whatever terms might be negotiated.

    I suspect Exit would still win, BUT if a Remain option without free movement was on offer … ?

    Who knows? And why shouldn’t the public decide?

  • Jayne Mansfield 3rd Oct '16 - 8:08pm

    @ bob sayer,
    As someone who is also in her dotage, the reason I have changed my allegiance from the Liberal Democrats to Labour is amongst other things, my belief that the so called centre ground has moved too far to the right. The arguments put forward by a more left wing Labour party, will I hope, lead to a recalibration.

    As for Labour members joining the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron spoke about discussions with a number after the first election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader, but there seems little signs of any cross-over from these mystery people. Any encouragement seems to come from the Liberal Democrats.

  • David Allen 3rd Oct '16 - 8:14pm

    Andrew McCaig, “I think Tim made it very clear that the options in another referendum would be:
    1) Accept what has been negotiated.. or
    2) Remain in the EU”

    Well, yes he did. However Caroline Lucas made it very clear that her options would be 1) Accept what has been negotiated.. or
    2) Reject it and renegotiate Brexit

    Who is right?

    Answer – We can’t know what makes sense until we get there! And we should not fall out with each other (or indeed with Ms Lucas) by splitting these hairs prematurely.

    When we get there, perhaps there will be popular clamour that too much has been conceded to the EU in our negotiations. In that case, we should turn around and support Ms Lucas’s ideas. (Then, perhaps, Theresa will be sent back ignominiously to the negoriating table, will still not get the EU to make the concessions the Brexiteers pretended they would get, and maybe will exhaustedly abandon Brexit altogether!)

    Alternatively, when we get there, there may be popular clamour that this Brexit thing is a mess and should be abandoned. In that case, we stick to Tim’s version of the second referendum.

    The simple point is – We demand a vote to approve or reject the final negotiated deal. We can finalise the details of that later.

    For heaven’s sake, let’s not keep falling out over tiny differences, just because it is possible to manufacture them. We are not the Popular Front of Judea (or the People’s Judean Liberation Front..)!

  • Matt (Bristol) 3rd Oct '16 - 8:18pm


    As I said above I don’t agree with you but I applaud you for putting your figure on those weak points with the minimum of waffle and cliché.

    1) Yes, there is a tension from wanting to continue to advocate for the ‘losing’ side in a referendum. But, I would argue, there really needs to be a voice that speaks for the those who wish strongly to retain the closest possible relationship with the EU, and remain inside if possible. One narrow vote didn’t make those people disappear. I would also say that the presence of such a strong voice makes a ‘soft brexit’ more likely rather than a ‘hard’ one, even if it does not achieve its own stated aim.

    2) You express a strong suspicion that the legacy of the Coalition era is being erased by a move to cosy-up to Labour. As someone who voted first during the Labour landslide of 1997, I suspect I felt about John Major’s Conservatives the way you felt about Gordon Brown’s Labour – despising a broken-down, exhausted party arrogantly clinging on to power. It is hard, therefore, for me to forgive the Tories for the worst policies of the 80s / early 90s, in the same way it is hard for other liberal-minded people to forgive Labour for the errors of the New Labour era. Until the system finally changes, we seem stuck together, and must find a way forward together. It seems that means sometimes accepting a policy approach that swings left and right like a pendulum. Some of us towards the left-ier edge of the party had to uneasily swallow hopes we had for the party’s future policy direction when the pendulum swung right and the choice was made to go into Coalition. It’s a queasy ride, being a LibDem.

    3) I don’t know where the party’s centre of gravity is now (and who does? I sure you’re not in as much as a minority as you think) but we do desperately, desperately need the support of Labour voters and members who were taught to hate Clegg, but learnt to despise Corbyn. We genuinely do have some things in common.

    4) Don’t assume that your two ‘prongs’ of argument are aligned. It is quite possible to be on the left of the party and think that our Europe policy is flawed, and on the right of the party and feel it’s the bee’s knees.

  • The Professor 3rd Oct '16 - 8:31pm

    @Martin said “still be better to rejoin. Rejoining would allow us to be full participants and have a strong say in the extent and nature of the singe market as well as allow us to dispense with a barrow load of bureaucracy that comes with trading from the outside.”

    The Remain campaign said the UK had influence i.e. a strong say the single market – the truth is that the Leave campaiugn was correct – the UK had no influence it was being outvoted. Then we had the sight of Germany effectively dictating austerity to others.

    Yet another reason why Leave won.

  • Jayne, I agree completely. Corbyn performs a very useful function in dragging the narrative back to the centre ground and also, in stimulating debate about, for instance, nationalisation of the railways. It’s about time we re-visited certain issues and questioned the established narrative of the last 20 years.

    I deplore the fact that this task has fallen to Corbyn of all people, but that does not negate the very useful function he is serving in recalibrating the political ground.

  • Agree a second referendum is nonsense,there will be a GE within a year of the final Brexit deal.

  • I’m another one who doesn’t think that Labour caused the worldwide economic crash. I’m not going to claim they handled everything right, but nor will I ignore facts and go along with the lies of the Tory supporting press just to conveniently bash a rival, as the Tories inevitably do, and SNP rather grubbily do in Scotland.

    I’m not sure there is any serious move to ‘join forces’ with the Labour party, particularly with their current leadership, but if we want to oppose a reckless and heartless sitting government, then it requires finding a bit of common ground with the rest of the opposition. Thinking further ahead, I presume part of our electoral strategy is to win votes from people who have previously voted Labour, and people will be more open to considering us if we’ve not just called them idiots (in a roundabout way), or immoral, for their previous choices.

    Far better to focus on what we do well, or what we can learn from the past and do better next time. That can apply to our own mistakes as well as our political rivals.

  • Conor Clarke 3rd Oct '16 - 9:54pm

    Agreed we need to maintain a healthy distance from Labour.

    As for a potential second referendum, it’s a nonsense bordering on incoherence to say adopting such a policy is undemocratic.

    Why not just let YouGov write our manifesto if popular opinion obliges us to adopt whatever policy is most popular.

  • Jonathan Brown 3rd Oct '16 - 10:41pm

    Interesting and thought-provoking article Anna, though I’d say some of your concerns are more founded than others.

    I don’t think there’s much appetite for any kind of pact with Labour, in either party. The only possible exception might be if ‘More United’ becomes a really powerful mass movement, and if it does, then it wouldn’t be a pact between parties but as part of a much wider social movement that we’d be a part of.

    Although I’m comfortable with the centre-left label for the party, I want centrists and centre-right liberals in our party because I want to be a in a large, broad church. Everyone will disagree with the party at times, but there’s no reason why as a ‘centrist’ or ‘classic liberal’ or however you wish to define yourself you shouldn’t feel right at home.

    The referendum… I think there are practical and principled reasons for advocating a referendum on the terms of the deal. To deal with the ‘democracy’ challenge first of all: a referendum confirming the decision made first time, or one enabling the country to change its mind – either way would be democratic. A rerun of the one we’ve just had would not be. But one on the deal? I think that’s fair.

    Not only is broadening the party’s base by bringing in ‘remainers’ a sensible strategic choice for the party to take, it’s also clever tactics. It gives us a cohearant plan, for a start. If we end up forcing the government to go for a soft brexit rather than a hard one, that would be an achievement. If we argue for soft brexit, we’ll be starting with a weak hand. And if we could force a referendum on the terms of the deal, then we will give the country the opportunity to make an informed decision, even if it’s one we don’t like.

  • Daniel Walker 3rd Oct '16 - 10:45pm

    @The Professor
    “The Remain campaign said the UK had influence i.e. a strong say the single market – the truth is that the Leave campaiugn was correct – the UK had no influence it was being outvoted. Then we had the sight of Germany effectively dictating austerity to others.”

    Even recently (2009-2015) the UK votes with the majority 86.7% of the time in the Council of the EU (not counting the stuff that passes without a vote because it’s reached consensus). Granted, that’s less than other members but it’s still pretty often. Obviously our MEPs don’t usually agree with each other, I should think, so the EU Parliament is different.

  • Stevan Rose 3rd Oct '16 - 11:07pm

    Good analysis Anna. Apart from who caused the mess. Labour was only partially responsible due to their failure to control the City and punish bankers (jail time) for what must be criminal negligence.

    We should have been fighting for soft Brexit not a fantasy 2nd Referendum. Looks like we’ll be out before the next election and Faron looks completely irrelevant.

    Good to see a lot of strong support for a direction change. Maybe there is hope yet for the party.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Oct '16 - 12:18am


    You must not give up on the party, it needs people like you , a lot , believe me , as someone the same age as Nick Clegg , I see regularly it is the younger , newer members, who do not loathe our former leader and have views to the right of the Red Guard , so called, young Liberals a generation above me , who have never accepted us being a broad church and mock the centrists of your age or any , and themselves are more illiberal for it !Thankfully such are few and far between and usually have names like Lord, or Grieavance !

    Anna, you need to keep at it , your piece reflected concerns we would not have if the view of many of us on here before , during and after the EU result were followed. A conference decision has got us here. If people like you, or the likes of Stevan or Eddie , or Barry above , moderates in the radical centre, give up on joining or voting for us , our party is not going to fight back to anywhere but oblivion!

    Your views on Labour must not close down the possibility of constructive debate and agreement with good folk there , and even in the Tories. The Stephen Kinnocks are our friend as are the Anna Soubrys, on many issues, we must get on with people on issues, it is what we are about too. But there shall be no Progressive Alliance until Labour is a progressive , not neo Marxist , neo conservative , regressive party !

    On a second referendum , or a first on the deal, consider the reality. Firstly , it is democratic, secondly , as a staunch pro European who is a realist , the public would approve the deal more likely than not . Secondly , in the next four years we shall not win the election , so it is a good push in the direction of a more pro European government of mixed hue !

    Bottom line , keep going , but do not go ! And the same for other good moderate colleagues !

  • The Other Professor 4th Oct '16 - 1:51am

    In response to “The Professor”: my academic department (at a Russell Group university) had a faculty end-of-term party scheduled for the day day after the referendum. The mood was funereal given the result. All professors, without exception, were in various degrees of frustration and grief. “My daughters have just lost their right to go and work anywhere in Europe and will be stuck in this [expletive] island!” ranted one. The Department Head was particularly aghast, knowing full well that retaining and recruiting faculty will now be much more difficult given the pound’s loss of value, that attracting tuition-paying international students will also become harder, and that EU funding will be lost. The opinions of “The Professor” in this thread do not match my direct experience of the opinions of the professors I know (including myself).

  • Great article, I agree with almost everything.

    Personally, I think it’s worth staking out a clear pro-EU position, and ‘referendum on the deal’ is a good way to paint that in primary colours. I do think the public mood on Brexit will sour as the economic toll becomes clearer. But it’d be a nonsense to fight the next election on a ‘return to the EU’ platform. Depending on the circumstances, ‘rejoin the single market’ might be plausible.

    On not defying democratic votes and not being lovey-dovey with Labour, I couldn’t agree more!

  • Julian Heather 4th Oct '16 - 4:24am

    Well done, Anna, for an excellent article, even though I disagree with you over holding a referendum on the terms of Brexit, and over campaigning to stay in the EU, for the reasons that several people have put forward.

    And congratulations on provoking such a range of sensible and well-argued responses in terms of comments – definitely a cut above the usual standard of debate !

    At least we all seem to be agreed on the limit of our relationship with Labour !

    And as others have rightly said, as a Party we are indeed a broad church. Many of us are still proud that we took the difficult decision to go into Coalition, especially with such a difficult economic backdrop, proud of what we achieved, and have great respect for Nick Clegg. It’s not a coincidence that we got 16,000 new members following the disappointing outcome of the General election on May 7th 2015 – people like yourself who appreciated what we had done in government, who liked and respected Nick Clegg and the other Coalition ministers, people who regretted what happened to the Lib Dems in the General Election and who wanted to ensure the future of the Party. You are not alone !

  • Peter Watson 4th Oct '16 - 8:07am

    @RBH “I think it’s worth staking out a clear pro-EU position”
    But what exactly is that position?
    Is it the deal that Cameron negotiated?
    Is it membership of the euro, joining the Schengen area, forgoing the rebate, ever closer political union?
    The Lib Dems risk looking like being pro-EU without clarifying what that means. Even now the party line looks like a continuation of the dismally negative Remain campaign that failed and ceded the referendum to Brexit. Then and now, Remainers emphasise the cataclysm of Brexit without telling voters why being in the EU is brilliant. Also, Lib Dems risk looking like a single-issue pressure group, promoting “Remain” above everything else without articulating a vision of the sort of UK they want, whether or not that is in the EU.

  • William Townsend 4th Oct '16 - 8:29am

    We should be pro European always but there should be no more referendums. Do we really think another referendum won’t have the same flaws as the first? The electorate proved the first time that they were willing to ignore the actual question and instead take the opportunity to give the system a kicking. And whether we like it or not immigration was the number one driver for a great many people and that is unlikely to change, indeed it could be an even greater driver. There is a danger that many people will perceive a sense of childish foot stamping because we didn’t get what we wanted. I was devastated when we lost the referendum, I was hoping we could invalidate the result, re-take the vote, anything to stop us leaving the EU but I have moved past this. Most of my friends, many who voted to leave have moved past the debate and don’t want or need to discuss it, it is done for them and they just want the government to get on with it and I don’t hear many regretting their choice. We have to start telling people what we can do for them in their everyday lives and whilst Europe is important it cannot be the overriding focus, the voters want reasons to vote LibDem and as a pro European party many will support us but if we are always banging on about staying in or rejoining the EU then many will not.

  • @Peter Watson
    It’s really hard to specify an endpoint when you’re at the whim of events and Theresa May. The Lib Dems could argue for Soft Brexit, for example, but look wishy washy and irrelevant if Hard Brexit is done and dusted by the next election. I like ‘referendum on the deal’ partly because it keeps some flexibility.
    I totally agree that there needs to be a positive offer and returning to an unchanged EU is implausible. I’d like to see Nick Clegg or Tim Farron talking with people like Sarkozy: can we put a changed EU on the table, perhaps one with an emergency brake on freedom of movement, and less power for the Brussels executive? Just making the effort would be worthwhile.
    The way things are heading, we may reach 2020 with Hard Brexit in place. In that case, the pitch might be ‘repair our relationship with Europe and return to the Single Market’. But the people with the credibility to propose that will, IMHO, be those who were clearly and steadily pro-EU throughout.

  • David Garlick 4th Oct '16 - 10:18am

    Lib Dems are going in the right direction on Europe in stating the widely held view of 48% of us that we want to stay in the EU. Nigel F made it clear before the result that a 52 : 48 result would not end the debate and he was right.
    The question of what we do with that ‘right direction’ is more difficult to get right but it is important that we show the Tory Party as the architects of our leaving. They gave us the referendum that they did not expect to lose but did expect would sort out for a while at least the conflict in their own Party. They failed to lead it successfully and lost it. They then elect (allow to get through) a new leader who, in my view, was never the true Remainer she claimed to be as resolute Brexiteer to lead us out. They had no plan B to deal with this situation and are clearly all at sea with no answers.
    Should we ask for a second referendum? If not how do we argue the case for staying in?

  • Barry Snelson 4th Oct '16 - 11:17am

    Anna’s message was clear and strong.
    1. Stop raving about a second referendum, it’s arrant nonsense no matter how emotionally hurt you feel and there is absolutely no electoral appetite for one. Would there be a third to overturn the second? And a fourth to overturn the third?
    To those who feel dissatisfied with the result I’m afraid the response is ” You have already been asked your opinion.”
    2. Don’t cosy up to Labour. What excellent advice. Anyone who participates in the bizarre logic that underpins that party is not to be trusted.
    3. Craft a unique identity on the centre ground, and firmly the centre, don’t attempt to out-Corbyn, Corbyn.

    All, in my view, electorally sensible but I would add that this is a Golden opportunity to damage the Tories and restore our fortunes.
    Mayhem and her three serial failures can only return with disappointment and undelivered boasts. Attack them personally and continually and quietly drop the “second referendum” stuff. It’s a national turn off.

  • Andrew McCaig 4th Oct '16 - 11:34am

    Well, we elected a Leader. He is Leading…

    So whether it is “arrant nonsense” or not, a second referendum is our policy for the foreseeable future, and it would be sensible for the Party to unite behind that rather than constantly sniping. It is supported by at least 30% of voters and most Party members in polls and the reaction of conference is to be believed.

    I happen to disagree strongly with many aspects of Tims’ schools policy, but I have given up posting comments about it..

  • Andrew McCaig 4th Oct '16 - 11:35am

    sorry that should have been “IF polls” not “in polls”

  • David Allen 4th Oct '16 - 12:01pm

    “Lib Dems risk looking like a single-issue pressure group, promoting “Remain” above everything else”

    That’s a bit like saying that Winston Churchill looked like a single-issue pressure group because he would keep banging on about the need to defeat Hitler.

    Brexit will be a national disaster. We know it. Theresa knows it but thinks she is best off riding the tiger. Even the Brexiteers know it, which is why they so hysterically denounce a second referendum as the work of the devil. They don’t want to let the British people take a second chance to change their minds when they can see that it has become a national disaster.

    Brexit will be like the Blitz. Nobody told Churchill he was obsessed with his single issue while the bombs rained down nightly. Nobody will tell Tim he is obsessed with Brexit while the economic bombs rain down, either!

  • Bill le Breton 4th Oct '16 - 12:14pm

    Anna writes, “We should stick to our values and keep on establishing a centrist voice for Britain, and pro-European voice.”

    And Matt (Bristol), “I don’t know where the party’s centre of gravity is now (and who does? …)

    They raise a couple of related problems: 1) who are we and what are the core values of that ‘we’? and 2) are those values truly centrist?

    The Social Market Foundation has done some research on defining the Centre

    45% of voters put themselves in the centre. A similar % of Lib Dems polled also do so. 38% suggest they are centre-left. About 15%, centre-right.

    The new PM, her Chancellor and her Cabinet are seen to be ‘less’ right wing that their predecessors.

    Ah! but then they have a look at where people stand on particular issues:

  • Matt (Bristol) 4th Oct '16 - 12:28pm

    Barry, I think you are putting words into Anna’s mouth and what’s more striking a rather rude, combative tone that she deliberately avoids. That’s why her piece is so good, because it’s striking and challenging but not provocative.

    I would echo Andrew McCaig. Tim has (for now) chosen a risky strategy, but there is gain to be made from it. It has pushed the party forward in the popular eye, given it a short-term purpose in the aftermath of the referendum and during a period of leadership shift in both the two main parliamentary parties.

    As events (that we are not in control of) move, I suspect ‘soft brexit’ may become all we can hope for. But asking for a referendum on the terms of exit – whilst yes, contentious, and tricky to sell to some people, in the tabloid-dominated world we are in – is rational, not unreasonable and is certainly not ‘arrant nonsense’ or ‘raving’.

    Let’s see where all the pieces fall.

    I think Anna’s critique on economics and the disparate factions in the party is the stronger one and the bigger problem for the party longterm, to be honest.

  • Sue Sutherland 4th Oct '16 - 2:01pm

    Absolutely agree with you about Labour Anna. However, it’s possible to both ask for a referendum on the Brexit terms and try to get the best possible deal. I think the negotiations will be held in as much secrecy as possible but Nick Clegg has the best possible qualifications for examining those negotiations.
    I am also interested in the right left centre discussions in response to your article. I don’t think Lib Dems fit into these straight jackets because our philosophy is based on the rights of the individual, not on the rights of opposing groups like Labour and the Tories. At the moment I think our society is far more polarised than is healthy because of Thatcherite economics as practised by all governments since she took power, so I don’t think believing we should carry on with those policies puts us in the centre but rather in the extreme right. Too many people have their freedoms curtailed by them. However I recognise that we need wealth creators, so would wish to nurture enterprise whilst using private wealth to ameliorate the conditions of a large number of people who have no share in prosperity and who are forced to use food banks and have several jobs to make ends get closer to meeting.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Oct '16 - 2:12pm

    you and Many of us agree here, but Matt has a point , if I could elaborate.
    The great British songwriter,Leslie Bricusse wrote lyrics for a song ,

    ” If I ruled the world , everyday would be the first day of Spring
    Everyman would have a new song to sing !”

    I don’t rule the world ,neither do you, nor run this party, if we did our EU stance would be different , but we are where we are. How can we make our leadership and party more realistic and credlible. We must take care, we preach we are the sensible alternative but could be saddled with endless referenda and unilaterlal nucear disarmament thanks to a ludicrous view to be rejigging our defence policy for pointless debate in the Spring!

    It is a fact , in my view , this party suffered in coalition for being pushed to the centre right and right , not because it was in the radical centre . Centrism, if wishy washy nothingness, is not Liberalism . Radicalism is , moderation is , radical centrism is.

    Three cheers for all who understand that , including Anna above !

  • russell Simpson 4th Oct '16 - 2:33pm

    There were (at least) 2 things wrong with the referendum. 1. The fact it happened at all. Very bad way to do govt. Abrogation of responsibility etc. 2. The process. Leave had the advantage because they got to add up all the votes for “soft brexit”, “hard brexit”, “in between brexit”, etc. Voters could take Farage’s answers, or Johnson’s. Clearly some of the 37% of registered voters who voted to leave (52% of 72% turnout) will not agree on the final agreement. I don’t expect it to happen but if a second referendum (which would be actual brexit vs remain in EU) produced a 52% vote to remain, that would not be disrespecting the 1st referendum. We’ve seen over the last 24 hours how harmful a hard brexit is likely to be for the UK economy. We need to see input from business and try to preserve our membership of the single market

  • Anna is right

    1) Accept the referendum result and campaign for a Soft Brexit – most MPs including Tories voted Remain

    Re-joining EU would mean Single Currency and Schengen and disrespecting UK public. To be honest, a second referendum with the EU as one option is not going to happen and only shows Tim Farron is neither liberal (against gay marriage nor a democrat by disrespecting referendum result)

    2) After 5 years Coalition with the Tories – most Labour voters and MPs hate the Lib Dems. You are not a left of centre party now

  • Simon Banks 4th Oct '16 - 4:29pm

    The Liberal Party in its years of power and greatness (1859-1914) was not centrist. It was the country’s major force on the left and the main opponents of the Tories. That is classical British Liberalism.

    That there are many illiberal things in Labour is only too evident, but right now, we have a weak Labour Party and an illiberal Tory government. Labour’s deep divisions do make relevant that there are people in that party we can agree with on many things. There are a few Tories too. Accepting that does not make us “centrist”: that we’re somehow halfway between Tories and Labour is an old trap we’ve sometimes let ourselves be led into and the minimal appeal of presenting ourselves like that was demonstrated by the 2015 election campaign. On the issues we care about we can be quite extreme!

  • Barry Snelson 4th Oct '16 - 4:51pm

    Thank you for your calming influence. I regularly find sound common sense in your posts and I have to concede your call to toe the party line.
    However, I might observe that such line moves quite often. “Second Referendum Now!” has metamorphosed into “Second Referendum on the Terms!”
    But I still accept your point in that it is something to say, it’s just that it is inconceivable that the ruling party would allow it. It would be a vote on their negotiating competence. A “No” would be a vote of no confidence in themselves. How could they ever offer such a thing?
    I shake my head in despair a little as I see a lifetime opportunity for the LibDems potentially frittered away tilting at European windmills when a better stance would be “We remain staunchly pro Europe and we are the only party likely to get a positive hearing in European capitals. We stand ready to repair the damage inflicted on our economy by Theresa May and her aggressive and incompetent negotiating team”.
    The Labour party will say some appealing words,to the voters, but they will never be able to quell their extremists and will utter one crackpot notion after another and be easy meat.
    The Tories have offered to drink deeply from a poisoned chalice. We should exploit every drop.

  • Thank goodness for an accurate view of the history of the Liberal Party from Simon Banks……………………… and as for every day being the first day of Spring if we keep spending billions on Trident ……………. that is not a view shared by the former Head of the Armed Forces Field Marshall Lord Bramall.

    The Guardian 16 January 2009 : “Trident nuclear missiles are £20bn waste of money, say generals. Britain’s nuclear submarines are “completely useless” against modern warfare, and the £20bn spent on renewing them is a waste of money, retired senior military officers said yesterday.

    The former head of the armed forces Field Marshal Lord Bramall, backed by two senior generals, argued that the huge sums being spent on replacing the delapidated submarines that carry the Trident ballistic missiles could be better used to buy conventional weapons which are badly needed by the armed forces. “Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently face or are likely to face, particularly international terrorism,” the group said in a letter to the Times. “Our independent deterrent has become ­virtually irrelevant, except in the context of domestic politics.”

    The late Liberal Peer and former Air Marshall, Lord Tim Garden, also expressed great doubts about the cost and sense of renewing Trident. The post Brexit economy further undermines the case.

    And….. if anyone ever did use Trident….there wouldn’t be any more ‘First days of Spring, tralaa’. It would be MAD (mutually assured Destruction).

    I guess Lord Bramall is a somewhat better authority on sound common sense.

  • paul barker 4th Oct '16 - 7:38pm

    Simon Banks is quite right that before Labour took our place, Liberalism was The Left. However it was a very different Left. The usefulness of The Centre-Left name is that a Century of Labour domination has redefined the meaning of Left so that it includes a lot of very Illiberal stuff such as Class Hate, Authoritarianism & a powerful Centralised State. Labours instincts are to ban everything they dislike & if they approve, make it compulsory. We need to reclaim Our Left tradition as we reclaim our rightful place as The Alternative to The Tories.

  • Joseph Bourke 4th Oct '16 - 8:55pm

    Labour actually grew out of the Liberal Party. Kenneth O. Morgan, writing of Labour’s founder Keir Hardie said “I found him a man who was not only an idealistic crusader, but a pragmatist, anxious to work with radical Liberals whose ideology he largely shared, subtle in building up the Labour alliance with the trade unions and the other socialist bodies, and supremely flexible in his political philosophy, a very generalised socialism based on a secularised Christianity rather than Marxism. ‘Socialists,’ he proclaimed, ‘made war on a system not a class’..

    Hardie was an advocate of Land Value Tax and ascribed the development of his ideas on socialism to Henry George’s theories. He ultimately became disillusioned with Gladstone’s cautious and gradual approach to economic reform and decided to go it alone from around 1900. In the election of 1906 that saw a landslide victory for the Liberal party, 29 labour MPs were also elected and by the 1920s, labour were able to capitalise on splits within the Liberal party to take its place as the main opposition to the tories.

    We should also not forget that Liberal Democrats are a relatively new merged party comprising the SDP breakaway from the 1980s labour party and the rump of the old liberal party.

  • @ Joseph Bourke………………… To develop your theme, Joseph, it could be added that a great many of the radical former Liberal MP’s joined the Labour Party in the 1920’s… some out of conscience after opposing the First World War, and some no doubt for career reasons.

    One of the most eminent was R.B. Haldane, Asquith’s close friend, who became Lord Chancellor in the first Labour Government.

  • David,

    you might recall as well as Haldane, William Wedgwood Benn the father of Tony Benn was a Liberal MP from 1906 who crossed the floor to the Labour Party in 1928. Michael Foot also came from an eminent Liberal family.

    Between Keir Hardie and these two, you could argue that Radical Liberals were both the catalyst and progenitor of Labour’s hard left.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Oct '16 - 10:26pm


    So delighted with your comments, and thank you for them, reciprocated, in my regularly not only agreeing with you , but liking you and your values.

    I so do not , however want you to toe the party line as you put it , but , recognise we can but moderate our beloved leader , not change his mind , although he is getting the balance better as you say. And ,that as much as I admire and respect and support Tim Farron, you can lead a horse to water etc.

    Barry, I have to laugh or otherwise I would get irate , for you put it so well , we must not mess up the chance to be the party many look to, and I do feel that. Better to remember what the late great Stan Laurel said ,

    ” You can lead a horse to water , but a pencil must be led !”

  • Andrew McCaig 4th Oct '16 - 11:51pm

    Lorenzo and Barry

    I think you definitely need to take the next step!

  • Alex Macfie 5th Oct '16 - 6:40am

    Anna Junk (OP):
    A fundamental principle of democracy is that any mandate is subject to continuous challenge. This means that no vote can bind the terms of any future vote. If we fight and win a future general election on a platform of remaining in or rejoining the EU, our mandate would override the mandate (such as it is) given by the referendum. That is how democracy works.

    “Also, any possible Lib Dem commitment to remain in or re-join the European Union for the 2020 general election is nonsense. As distressing as it is, the British people voted to leave the European Union. Even if you argue that this result mainly happened because of misinformation or lies, this does not overrule the democratic mandate that the referendum provided. “

    By this argument no party other than the Conservatives has any business campaigning on anything: the Conservatives won the last election, and it would be disrespectful of the election result to campaign for anything other than a Conservative government.

  • Anna

    Excellent article. Not completely with you on ruling out any referendum on the deal, but I can see getting too tied in to that position could become redundant. On balance though advocating for the public to be given a day over what they were not provided with detail on makes sense.

  • Barry Snelson 5th Oct '16 - 7:44am

    Of course it’s democratically legitimate to campaign for a third Europe referendum. It only took 41 years of campaigning after 1975 to get the second, so best of luck for 2057.
    I’d love to know how it turned out. Please knock on my coffin lid. Once for “Rejoined” and twice for”Stayed Out”.
    The necessary and sufficient condition is to form a majority government with a promise of such a referendum in its pre election manifesto and persuading the electorate to support it.
    My personal view is that we can claw back from 8 to a respectable number of seats by relentlessly attacking the Tory process of actually leaving which is bound to have many disappointments for them. By all means keep the third referendum as a “totem” but campaigning energy should be concentrated on destroying the Tories reputation for competence.
    The danger Anna is highlighting is that we could be dismissed as an indignant elite angry with 17 million people for the temerity of having a different opinion.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Oct '16 - 8:34am

    Barry Snelson: An elite that represents 16M people. Come off it, the Brexit leaders are the elite, who are using the referendum result to try to shut down any further debate and think that because their side won, no-one has the right to have any different opinion. Boris, Foxy Foxy and Farage have no moral authority to claim to be anti-elitist. They are totally from the elite class. Their claims to speak for the common people remind me of the too-cool-for-school idiots who used to sit at the back of the sixth form common room indignant at being banned from there because it violated their inalienable right to damage the furniture and throw food around.

    My advice to Anna would be to read up the history of referendums in her adopted country, and why its post-war constitution forbids them.

  • Joseph Bourke 5th Oct '16 - 4:56pm

    While it is natural to focus on the impact of Brexit for the UK, it is also important to recognise that the EU itself will quite likely be significantly changed as a consequence of the UK’s departure from the Union.

    There is already a de facto two tier union between those members in the Euro and Schengen and those not. If, as appears to be likely, the leading members of the EU – Germany and France seize this opportunity to push on with ever tighter political and economic integration of the union, the EU as we have known it will no longer exist in 2020.

    We may well see a restructuring and rationalisation of partnership relationships such as the EEA and EFTA that exist today i.e. an inner core of full EU members and an outer core of looser partnership trading relationships.

    The EU has changed radically since its inception as the coal and steel community and is perhaps set for further radical change in the near future. Any referendum proposal will need to be able to articulate what exactly it is we are proposing to sign the UK up to.

  • ^ Joseph Bourke

    Yes, Europe itself is changing. Over time, there may be countries (starting with the UK) in leaving the EU but being part of the EEA/EFTA.

    Those countries that want “ever close union” – in particular the original 6 members will want to stay in the EU which would be heading towards a more Federal structure.

    Sweden, Denmark and other sceptical counties may want to follow the EU and leave. It’s not in the interest of the EU or most countries if the more recent members from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe stay in the EU

  • david williams 9th Oct '16 - 12:21pm

    A couple of observation but first a disclaimer I voted for LD in North Somerset it was a tactical vote since I thought the most important thing was to keep the tories out because their policies would hurt the poorest if implemented. I am a none of the above voter at best

    1. Some liberals have suggested that the Labour party did not cuase the GFE of 2008. I believe that part of the problem that the LD have is that that is what they did do as did the Liberal democratic front bench.

    2. The fact that we were supposed to be all together in it was not reflected in results of policy. Pointing to raising threshold for income tax but ignoring increases in national Insurance and other losses was poor double speak from LD. the poorest 10% suffered 4% loss under the coalition tax and spend, the next decile suffered 2.5% loss and then the only other decile to suffer any loss was the richest decile.
    Basically the coalition policy was that we were not all in it together. Then there is HSC bill Bedroom tax. The reason you lost in the South West was that it made no sense to vote LD when we got those policies and a front bench that revelled in them until it was too late. Voter like me were even told that we were not needed anymore.

    In order to win people back you would have to say that the coalition was not successful sin it it was then we would not be blaming immigrants and the EU for everything.

    Sadly you now talk of independence but I think your too late.

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