Author Archives: Keith Bates

First impressions from my first party conference – by a Lib Dem who voted Leave

I joined the Liberal Democrats in April 2017. This was my first party conference. I also voted Leave in the EU the referendum. Should I be in this party? Absolutely.

Europe

I sensed that many members didn’t truly understand Leave voters. Nick Clegg seemed a bit more in tune: “why wouldn’t you vote Leave after all you were promised by the Brexiteers?”. Remain is one thing that undoubtedly keeps the party unified. But Remain in what? Jean-Claude Juncker’s vision of a more federalised EU with power centralised? Seems profoundly un-Lib Dem to me.

Nick Clegg convinced me on Remain when he talked about “concentric circles of membership” with the UK sitting on an outer layer, and that is the rub of it. It is not a credible position to just articulate “Remain.” The Lib Dems have to put forward a simple vision for what type of EU we advocate remaining in and how we will make it happen. Nick’s vision or something else that the UK population will buy into? That is how you can convince Leave voters.

The party of the centre

I understand liberalism – it’s why I joined the party, but I still wasn’t sure by the end of the conference, where the ‘centre’ actually is. One member gave Jo Swinson and Norman Lamb a good ear bashing during a session on how to revitalise the centre ground: “why have we gone through 6 conferences, 2 general elections, 1 referendum, and the party still doesn’t have a clear vision on this?”. To own the centre ground you have to be the party that defines it to the public, otherwise you are just emulating others and playing catch-up; to win the game it helps to set the rules.

We need to articulate what the Lib Dem USP is for the ordinary person, defined in a way that is easily consumable and clearly differentiated. At the moment I’m still not sure, and I can’t explain to my wife the unique difference between us and centrist leaning Conservatives / Labourites. Norman Lamb gave us a great starting point when he talked about the business of government being “how to create prosperity and how to share it”. This is the question to which we need some radical answers that differentiate us.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 25 Comments
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