Leading the 48%

There is a reason why the Liberal Democrats were born to lead the 48%; it’s because we have always been on the side of the minority. Admittedly, at nearly half of those who voted, 48% is a pretty astoundingly large minority. But perhaps that is exactly why this is such an exciting moment for us. By pledging to take Britain back to the heart of Europe, we have taken on the leadership of the largest, most energised and inspired minority of voters to emerge in modern times.

For years we have sought to find a core of voters who share our fundamental values of liberal tolerance and internationalism, and indeed for years we have suffered when international issues have been relegated to the second division of political discussion. Here, now, before us, is the national sentiment that most befits our attitudes; frustration and anger towards the nationalists and the isolationists, but also passion and drive to force Britain to be the kind of member of the international community that it ought to be. It is the kind of climate where just being our liberal selves makes us poised to lead the way, and crucially, be instantly understandable to a vast portion of the electorate.

People will say that to take the positions we do in this climate is to “take advantage” or to be “opportunistic”. This is not opportunism; this is stepping up to the plate. This is about taking on the mantle of internationalism and progress at a time when Labour have let down both their internationalist voters and the wider electorate by dragging their feet and treating the EU with inexcusable passiveness. The stark contrast between the way in which Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron have treated the issue is all the proof we need to know that Labour are not currently speaking for those who believe that our priority should always be to live in an outward-looking, forward-thinking country.

Sure, there will be members of the 48% who will not support the Liberal Democrats, and we must recognise that in these changing times the co-operation of progressives is needed more than ever. But at the same time, the diversity of the 48% movement guarantees that there are voters within it who are waking up to the discovery that, regardless of prior conceptions of our party, they are Liberal Democrats at heart (the bump in membership of over 10,000 people since the referendum testifies to this). The more that we lead on this issue, the more likely we are to see more and more of the electorate waking up to this realisation.

So, the task ahead is a familiar one for Liberal Democrats; to take a minority opinion and fight against the odds to make it a majority. It’s a fight that may take a long, long while. But we’ve done it before. We know what it means to defy expectations and overturn a troubling consensus, be it on the viability of multi-party politics, on attitudes towards gender and sexuality, even on the importance of environmentalism. Unshackled by identity politics or special interests, we have always led the way on progressive change, and the vision of returning Britain to the heart of Europe is no different. In the living rooms, streets and Ethernet cables of villages, towns and cities across Britain, a movement confident of its European identity is emerging, and it’s one the Liberal Democrats were born to lead.

* Guy Russo was the Parliamentary Candidate in Enfield North at the General Election and is an Ex-President of the Queen Mary University of London Liberal Democrats.

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  • Can we drop the 48% bit please ? Liberal Democrats ought to offer leadership for all.
    Not everyone who voted leave wanted to leave the EU anymore than everyone voting remain supports freedom of movement.

    Lets concentrate on addressing peoples concerns by offering Liberal solutions rather than framing the debate in a way that helps those who drove the leave campaign.

  • Andrew McCaig 4th Jul '16 - 10:06am

    Well said! Agree 100%!
    And this demographic is rising, not falling!
    Now we just need a new policy on tuition fees… urgently…

  • Andrew McCaig 4th Jul '16 - 10:07am

    Why not call it the 70% and say our aim is to increase it to that within the next 6 months?

  • For years we have sought to find a core of voters who share our fundamental values of liberal tolerance and internationalism.
    – Indeed, this must not be allowed to wither away with Brexit. I do not know whether it should be Guy Russo or someone with vision very much like Guy, but the Party needs to be putting the disenfranchised 75% of the youngest sector of the electorate at the forefront of the LIberal Democrat movement.

    As my daughter put it, despairingly, immediately after the result “it certainly feels like we [the youngest sector] are being punished for other people’s complete idiocy”. The young are very badly served today and much worse than 40 years ago when I was that age. What we did not have then was the spectacle of aging wannabe ‘yoof’ crowding us out by pretending to represent our voice. The future of the Liberal Democrat Party will be well served if it can tap into, positively promote and reflect the ideas and aspirations of the younger sectors of the electorate.

    p.s. advice to Guy: avoid ‘step up to the plate’ – it has been over-used.

  • Richard Underhill 4th Jul '16 - 10:40am

    Please also see Peston on Sunday on ITV of 3/7/2016. Robert Peston’s guest included a Labour adviser who said that if Labour’s current crisis is not resolved the Labour Party will split. A trade union leader has offered to negotiate. This situation is changing daily. Labour’s deputy leader will not stand against their current leader. Angela Eagle might, but prefers that he should stand down.

  • David Evershed 4th Jul '16 - 12:19pm

    The EU is not internationalist. It is a protectionist union. Liberals have long been against such protectionist attitudes.

    The LEAVE campaigners are more internationalist, looking outward to the 80% of the world not in the EU and seeking free trade across the world.

  • “The EU is not internationalist. It is a protectionist union. Liberals have long been against such protectionist attitudes. ”

    Naive liberals with no understanding of history or economic reality, perhaps. The EU is a damn sight more internationalist than the Little Englander outlook of the Leavers, for all their childish fantasies about magically trading our way to glory. History shows that British firms have not been especially good at penetrating markets outside Europe (which is why so many of our exports have been to .. yes.. Europe!) and there’s no reason to believe that our poorly-educated, alarmingly innumerate workforce is ready to face the challenges of a wider world. Brexit will lose us a significant amount of GDP and tax revenues, strip away our most valuable markets, leave us out in the cold for a decade while we try desperately to cobble together trade deals, and prepare the way for the next round of austerity, which will hurt the poor and disadvantaged far more than anything the EU of the Leavers’ fantasies could ever have done. That’s the reality of the situation and the Leavers need to stop peddling cheap economic romance fiction to the British people.

  • Zack Polanski 4th Jul '16 - 12:46pm

    Well said, Guy.

  • Panicos Georgiou 4th Jul '16 - 1:24pm

    If we have an intention of fighting the next general election with our headline policy being to re-join the EU or hold a new referendum we will be wiped out, yes we can drop further down than 8 MPs
    Where is the logic in re-joining the EU on terms worse than those we currently have.
    What % of the Remain voters will vote LibDem? What % of LibDems voted Leave?
    This is a suicide policy created by people not living in the real world.

  • Sadie Smith 5th Jul '16 - 10:30am

    This is a very good start.
    I would not use the 48 myself as anecdotal evidence suggests a lot of uneasy no voters and an even greater number who do not understand why Cameron insisted on holding it. They would have understood being asked about powers or treaty changes which were clear cut.
    Tricky to put a figure on it but it is growing.

  • Bill le Breton 5th Jul '16 - 11:14am

    It is great to see the urge to campaign so strong.

    But please don’t equate the EU with internationalism. It is super-nationalism: http://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article156776864/Schulz-nach-Brexit-Votum-fuer-eine-echte-EU-Regierung.html

    And super-nationalism, engineered in the main through a single currency, seeks to limit and distort cultural difference.

    To misquote Neil Kinnock, “You start with the dream of the European Ideal and you end with the imposition of unelected ‘technocratic governance’ (Mario Monti, Italy) and cadres of bureaucrats sent in to over turn the democratic wishes of an elected Government (Greece).”

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Jul '16 - 2:57pm

    David Evershed

    The LEAVE campaigners are more internationalist, looking outward to the 80% of the world not in the EU and seeking free trade across the world.

    Maybe those leading the Leave campaign, but not the vast majority of those who voted for it. I don’t think you will find many people who voted for Leave on the lines “So we can have more immigrants from outside the EU”. I think you will find very many who voted Leave supposing the opposite. They were conned into believing that EU membership somehow led to more non-EU immigrants.

    The line you are putting was put by the Leave campaign just to those small numbers who would appreciate it. Of course they had no problem putting out different lines to different people, depending on what they thought would work.

    In what way were we actually barred from trading with the rest of the world by EU membership? In what way are we capable of trading with the rest of the world and the EU is stopping us from doing it? Isn’t it the case that we are now so poor at trading that we have a massive deficit? Oh, partly made up by financial services and the like, but didn’t most people voting Leave think they were voting against City money men?

  • I agree with Guy. We are the 48%. Ignore the dinosaurs. They don’t get the paradigm shift in politics Brexit has opened up. Neither Labour, Tory nor any putative splinter of the Labour Party can campaign on EU membership. This is now our USP.

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