Former top civil servant Gus O’Donnell explains why he’s voting Lib Dem in the European elections

It’s been really lovely to have all the celebrity endorsements we’ve had in recent days – Katy Brand, Emma Kennedy, Susan Penhaligon, Bamber Gascoigne, Greg Dyke and Simon Callow.

However, when people who know exactly how government works urge a Liberal Democrat vote, then it’s really getting serious.

For six years, Gus O’Donnell served as Cabinet Secretary, the highest ranked civil servant in the country, under three Prime Ministers, Blair, Brown and Cameron.

He now sits in the House of Lords.

In an unprecedented article for Times Red Box (£), he explains why he feels it is his “civil duty” to vote Liberal Democrat on Thursday:

I have made clear that since the executive and parliament have so far failed to find an acceptable form of Brexit, I reluctantly believe the only way to bring the country together is to give the people the chance to approve any final deal in a referendum. My view remains that leaving the EU is on balance bad for the country for economic reasons and because of its impact on our global influence.

So I would be supporting Remain in such a vote, which brings us to the European elections. I am extremely disappointed that while the Brexit party is an obvious choice for dedicated Leavers the Remain vote is potentially spread across many parties.

This is deeply disappointing and very annoying, particularly given that the Liberal Democrats seemed to be prepared to cooperate with other parties. Under the voting system used for European elections it means that the Brexit Party will do extremely well compared with the Remain parties unless supporters of the latter view vote tactically.

This means voting Liberal Democrat in England, so that’s what I will do. I would urge all those who support Remain to do the same.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Jayne Mansfield 22nd May '19 - 9:26am

    In the article, ‘ Breaking the deadlock: O Donnell supports a confirmatory Vote’, Lord O’Donnell, sets out one of the most thoughtful arguments as to why he has finally concluded that a confirmatory vote is now a necessary.

    ‘Breaking the deadlock: O’Donnell supports a confirmatory Vote’ . Global Government Forum. 9.4.2019

  • Bill le Breton 22nd May '19 - 10:07am

    8 out of the top 10 twitter accounts supporting the Brexit Party are bots, according to the Mirror.

    A lesson I learnt from Paddy Ashdown was that when troops were giving their all in the last days of a campaign, he was quietly thinking about and writing down a camp[aign for the next election. I sincerely hope someone is doing that now.

    The next campaign is either another referendum or it is a General Election. And we face a new opponent, in the Brexit Party, and a new way of campaigning. I have tried to point to the way Farage is going to fight that election and for us to be happy that certain prominent people are supporting us tactically in these EU elections is not going to hack it in the next battle – which is the battle for representative democracy itself.

    Farage is building a machine with which he can persuade people to vote for policies and one that mirrors dangerously closely to the way the Canadian Liberals won their election. His aim though is to use that ‘machine’ not just to win representation on Parliaments but to then transfer the decision making away from Parliaments, Assemblies and Councils to plebicites. (Which he believes he can influence to back policies.)

    The criticism of community politics was always that it was exploiting the power of local heroes over those communities instead of building the capacity of those communities to increase liberty.

    People like Farage and Trump and many more across the globe are now using social media to create an illusion of choice, of liberty, which they believe they can control.

    How do we beat them on the battle field of their choosing – another referendum?

  • Peter Martin 22nd May '19 - 10:08am

    Can we be clear what a confirmatory vote actually means?

    As I understand the proposals, we have, on the one side, some variant of a negotiated ‘deal’ which will be based on accepting Mrs May’s widely hated WA. On the other we have the option of Remain.

    Therefore it doesn’t really matter just what variant is offered. Hardly anyone will vote for it, there may well be a Leave boycott, and so giving Remain and easy ‘win’.

    Does anyone really think this will solve anything?

  • Bill le Breton. Yes “illusion of choice” is what the Faragist project is about. That illusion gained traction from 1979 onwards not necessarily thanks to Margaret Thatcher but particularly those who stood behind her and who were using her as part of drive to change the culture of the UK.
    David Cameron probably didn’t realise that his actions would eventually take the country to its deepest post-WW2 crisis via a deliberate confusion of consumer choice and democratic accountability – in the name of democracy!

  • Yeovil Yokel 22nd May '19 - 3:11pm

    I agree with you, Bill le Breton, that we need already to be thinking about the next campaign after the Euros, but that will be the Peterborough bye-election on 06 June. Nigel Farage knows that he cannot ‘deliver’ Brexit to his adoring supporters without some meaningful representation in the House of Commons, and I suspect he is already planning to make Peterborough his foot-in-the-door to achieve momentum going forward to the next General Election. He will throw the kitchen sink at this campaign, and if we are in with a chance of at least denying him the seat then maybe so should we.

  • chris moore 22nd May '19 - 3:42pm

    Peter Martin 22nd May ’19 – 10:08am
    Can we be clear what a confirmatory vote actually means?
    As I understand the proposals, we have, on the one side, some variant of a negotiated ‘deal’ which will be based on accepting Mrs May’s widely hated WA. On the other we have the option of Remain.

    Hello, Peter,

    the second referéndum would have to include a No-Deal in view of No-Deal’s popularity amongst leave voters. I believe this is what Vince Cable has himself said.

    It could be a two stage vote.

    !. Remain/Leave

    2. If vote is for Leave, May’s deal or No-Deal.

    Or, for example, a ranking of preferences – No Deal, May, Remain with the third preference redistributed.

    There are other possibilities too.

    Until recently, I perrsonally have been hoping for a compromise agreement – Leave but with a permanent Customs’ Unión. Given the current uncompromising climate, that’s no longer realistic, sadly.

  • Peter,
    Shouldn’t you be wondering round Teeside assuring the steelworker it will be alright, while assuring them it had nothing to do with Brexit. Go on it will be good training for the deverstation of Sunderland, which again will be nothing to do with Brexit. All those Northern towns you will get to visit, well it will give you a hobby.

  • @Bill le Breton

    A lesson I learnt from Paddy Ashdown was that when troops were giving their all in the last days of a campaign, he was quietly thinking about and writing down a campaign for the next election.

    3 policies:

    Free university tuition (paid for by borrowing – we already pay for it by borrowing just individually). Drawing a line under this will earn a hearing with younger voters, the “concerned” middle class and parents.

    Tough on climate change. Zero carbon emissions by 2040. The Greens are snapping at our heels.

    Tough on poverty, tough on the causes of poverty. Universal Credit 2.0. Restore Osborne’s 2015 cuts of £5 billion to benefits.

    “Marmitey”? Yes but as Tim Farron said at the Lib Dem Rally last night we are at our best when we are marmite, clear and bold.

    And one organisational thing:

    Every local party should be planning a leaflet next week and a blizzard of leaflets over the summer. Burn your deckchairs. Shred your passes to the council offices if a councillor. And take to the streets!

  • Peter Martin 22nd May '19 - 5:11pm

    @ frankie,

    Just on a point of information: The main British Steel works which is in the news at the moment is in Scunthorpe which isn’t on Teesside. It’s some 100 miles to the South in Lincolnshire.

    Perhaps you are thinking of the Redcar steel mill which closed down in 2015. Obviously in anticipation that the UK would vote for Brexit a year later!

  • Peter Martin 22nd May '19 - 5:24pm

    @ chris moore,

    Yes you’re right. It could be as you outline. But will it be? This is from yesterday’s Labourlist.

    “The deal may change, but I do believe what is agreed defines Brexit and should not be implemented unless the British people give their validation in a confirmatory public vote, with Remain as an option on the ballot paper. ”

    That reads, to me, that it won’t be.

    It’s important that everyone understands what a CV means, so we aren’t all talking at cross purposes.

  • @ Michael 1 You say, “Tough on poverty, tough on the causes of poverty. Universal Credit 2.0. Restore Osborne’s 2015 cuts of £5 billion to benefits.” Yes to the adjectives, no to the facts, Michael. Time to take the blinkers off, please.

    It wasn’t just the Osborne cuts. It’s what happened between 2010-15 when the IFS reported a net cut of £16.7 billion per annum in January, 2015. Quote :

    “Benefit policy changes implemented by the coalition government

     Underlying the net cut of £16.7 billion are gross takeaways of £24.7 billion, partially
    offset by gross giveaways of £8.1 billion – with the takeaways largely from benefits
    for working-age adults, and the giveaways largely to benefits for pensioners”
    Source IFS Report, January, 2015.

    The very least the Lib Dems ought to pledge is to implement the recent UN Alston Report. Otherwise it will be said the Liberal Democrats are playing at ‘in the Kingdom of the Blind the One Eyed man is King.’

  • Bless Peter
    As the Gazette’s Redcar reporter, I’d been here before – standing outside a steel plant, waiting for workers, reacting to bad news.

    This time, it was Skinningrove’s turn – and when it came to people describing the mood, one word kept cropping up: “sombre”.

    In the village on the Special Profiles site’s doorstep, Carlin How, there were no obvious signs of the hammer blow which had been dealt.

    So off you trot, Teeside needs you, but feel free to nip down to Scunthorpe if you have the time.

  • Christine Headley 22nd May '19 - 11:09pm

    I don’t see why we can’t have a ballot paper in which we rank the three choices. Londoners get their mayor that way, and it’s used elsewhere in the UK as well. If Remain and No-Deal come out the top two, it would be interesting to see how the people favouring TM’s deal split.

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