Let’s get our messaging right on Revoke…

Sadly work commitments meant that I could only spend the weekend in Bournemouth this year, but it was well worth the travel (even the post-Disco train journey home). I was impressed by our new MPs and struck by the time they were spending with members as they build connections within their new political home.

I did manage to stay for the Europe debate and although I am happy with the final result, I did think that the opponents to ‘Revoke’ did win the debate in the hall, if not the vote. Niall Hodson (rising star) and Simon Hughes (established hero) were especially memorable and raised clear and credible concerns regarding this sudden shift in policy position. Sadly I do not think their comments were properly addressed during the debate and this left real concerns with some groups within our party; especially I suspect those from the social democrat legacy who rightly raise concerns over how such a divisive position may damage to our communities. It also does not help equip our activists with the messages needed to combat the inevitable attacks we now face from Labour and the Tories.

At the same time, I have been canvassing over the past two weeks, including tonight, and I am personally very comfortable in being able to defend this General Election position with voters on the doorstep. My own conversations currently focus on the two main lines of attack we currently face.

From Labour, we are now seeing accusations that we are overruling the will of the people as unthinking extremists no more tolerant than Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson. Notably they are going to some lengths to misrepresent our position missing out some rather key information. It is therefore very important that we note:

  • As a party we are still prioritising delivering a People’s Vote ahead of a General Election.
  • However, due to Labour’s failure to support a People’s Vote over the past three years, it does now look most likely that we will have a General Election.
  • Therefore, in that scenario we are going put Remain on the ballot paper by recognising a MAJORITY Lib Dem government as a mandate for revoking Article 50 (and stopping this unbearable madness as quickly as possible).
  • Labour MPs in remain areas (including my own) are talking about revoking Article 50 but only to select groups in the now standard approach from their party in which they will say whatever they think the people you want to hear (our MP has also argued for a Norway model and supported Labour’s Brexit plan in the indicative votes earlier this year).
  • We are therefore being honest and clear; setting ourselves up in a strong position to support Remain in a referendum whilst giving the electorate a choice and a chance to Stop Brexit now.

From the Anarchist Party (formerly known as the Conservatives), there are similar attacks on “defying the will of the people”, but with more focus on this being somehow undemocratic. My response in these conversations are:

  • No Deal was never discussed as a possible outcome by the Leave campaign.
  • Instead a wide range of promises were made that have all been broken.
  • The campaign has also been found to have acted illegally casting serious questions over the legitimacy of the result.
  • Boris Johnson is therefore seeking a General Election to deliver himself a mandate for No Deal.
  • It is only fair that a majority government for the Lib Dems is therefore taken as an equal mandate for stopping Brexit, by revoking Article 50.

Finally, for those poor souls expressing understandable exasperation and a desire just to end this farce, there is one last important argument (although it can feel cruel, as you can see the hope wither in their eyes).

  • No Deal will not end Brexit; the first point of business would be a trade deal with the EU; every single credible country in the world (even the USA) has comprehensive trade arrangements with their neighbours. An exception would be North Korea(!).
  • Revoking Article 50 would Stop Brexit (if not the debate) and we could move forward in addressing the real issues facing the country (including the ever more urgent climate change emergency).

I appreciate these points do not actually address the points raised by Niall and Simon but they have landed well on doorsteps in my area in which moderate ‘Remain’ voters only need a gentle encouragement to support revoking Article 50 in event of majority government and even Brexiteers seem to prefer an open and honest position from our Party.

I would be very interested to hear what other people are hearing on the doorsteps and what messaging they’re using to push home our key messages on this most visible of issues.

* Jamie joined the Lib Dems in 2014 and was elected as City Councillor for West Chesterton in May 2018.

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  • John Marriott 18th Sep '19 - 9:48am

    Where I live, Jamie (that’s in Lincolnshire, by the way) the idea of Revoke is and will continue to go down like a lead balloon. However, it might gain some traction elsewhere. It’s a very high risk strategy, believe me.

    I have expressed on another thread my idea of treating Revoke like a ‘time out’ in basketball, where we stop the clock and have a chance to regroup, consider the options and then restart the clock if either a deal can be agreed upon and could become one of the three options on an AV / preferential referendum. If this new, more sophisticated referendum comes down substantially in favour of remain, then that would be the end of it.

    My real worry is that, in this febrile atmosphere, all political parties, although they are unlikely to admit it, are trying to gain political advantage out of this appalling mess. Reason and compromise appear sadly to have gone out of the window. Cameron, what HAVE you done?!

  • Personally I’d just say
    “We don’t tagalong with bad ideas or try to make them work”.

  • Than you for this interesting post. It is refreshing to see a throughtful analysis of our position. I am sure that the right approach is to say that we want to stay in the EU.
    However it is essential to say why. Are none of MEPs prepared to explain that the EU is a democratic union. Can they not explain that it is not true that it is run by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels?
    My feeling is that the real situation in the country is that most people are prepared to be convinced one way or another. Most of the comments I hear are about the behaviour in parliament.
    We really should start to treat our members with more respect than at present. Instead of sending out frequent emails modelled on selling the Readers Digest, there needs to be the information that people who are making the decisions, the members, need.
    The sort of analysis provided by Jamie would be a good starting point of a conversation with the membership to build up support for membership of the only democratic trading organisation.

  • Michael Cole 18th Sep '19 - 10:12am


    Our leaders must make it very clear that, as you say, “we are still prioritising delivering a People’s Vote ahead of a General Election.”

    In various interviews our spokespeople, including Jo and Ed, have not made this explicit. Consequently, we are being accused of being ‘undemocratic’.

    In all interviews on this matter we should stress that we are continuing to campaign, argue and march for a ‘People’s Vote’.

  • The constitutional position is very clear and we should be shouting it from the rooftops. A general election trumps a referendum in our constitution. A new parliament is not bound by a previous one. Parliament IS the will of the people.
    If it’s OK for the Conservatives to claim a mandate from an election victory then so can we.
    Let’s face it’s, no-one will be surprised if we carry out a manifesto commitment that we have campaigned on.
    Let’s go for it!

  • Dilettante Eye 18th Sep '19 - 11:03am

    “If it’s OK for the Conservatives to claim a mandate from an election victory then so can we.”
    So if Boris commits his next GE manifesto to

    ‘In the event of a vote for a majority Conservative government, we will take that as a democratic right to leave the EU immediately with or without a deal’

    You’re all O.K. with that?

    Great, then let’s go to a GE with that.

  • Good points here. Particularly when we are faced with accusations of being undemocratic, we should say that to cancel a referendum found to be flawed and corrupt in numerous ways, and therefore undemocratic, is to act in the service of democracy.

  • I would be tempted to join Mick on his rooftops with his statement of what ought to be obvious in the UK. One curious development is the way the the Brexiteers stopped promoting the alleged benefits of leaving the E.U. and simply kept repeating the 2016 result as their trump card or should that be Trump …?

  • John Marriott 18th Sep '19 - 11:44am

    @Mick Taylor

    “A general election trumps a referendum in our constitution”. Do you mean the British Constitution? In which case, where does it say that IN WRITING?

  • Dilettante Eye 18th Sep '19 - 12:04pm


    I suspect your ‘Poll Tax’ input, fits somewhere between ‘strawman’, and ‘whataboutary’.

    I simply put a mirror position to what Lib Dems have committed to at your conference this weekend. Such that in the event of the next GE:

    a) A Lib Dem majority government now deems it has a democratic authority to Revoke without further ado.
    So equally,
    b) A Tory majority government also deems it has a democratic authority to Leave with No deal with no further blockage.

    The logic between the two positions is very clear.

    If the ‘Goose’ can Revoke with a majority win, then the ‘Gander’ can Leave with a majority win. So now your conference has made your Lib Dem position clear it’s time to stop prevaricating and bring on that GE?

  • Mick Taylor 18th Sep '19 - 2:53pm

    In every election in my lifetime (19) I think, with 2 exceptions, one party has won a majority and has been accepted as the winner, so why should a Lib Dem majority government be any different?
    True, there is no single written constitution, but the collection of laws and precedents makes that clear.
    Now purists might argue that without PR no government can claim legitimacy, but we currently have FPTP and have to deal with the hand we get dealt.
    Our new policy has a major virtue. It is clear, unequivocal and no-one can say they don’t know what we stand for. Bring it on!

  • John Marriott 18th Sep '19 - 3:58pm

    @Mick Taylor
    I am assuming that your 2.53pm post was in answer to my question. If it was, then I’m sure that a clever chap like you will have spotted that my words “in writing” convey a variety of interpretations, prominent amongst them being our lack and, in my opinion therefore, need for a WRITTEN constitution. If nothing else, what the last few years have show is how decrepit our system of governance actually is.

    If you go for an irreversible revocation of Article 50, that would suit me, although I’m not a massive fan of all things EU. However it could easily be argued by opponents that it would hardly be Liberal’ and, if based on a minority vote in a GE, hardly ‘Democratic’. It’s a perfectly valid tactic if you hope to hoover up all those pro remain Tories and Labourites to build on your natural base which, if Liberal parties and groupings in PR countries are anything to go by, is between 5 and 10% on a good day. After all such cynical tactics have worked for the Tories and Labour over many years.

    Jo Swinson and her advisors may think that they have picked a surefire winner, just as ‘Strong and Stable’ Mrs May did when she engineered the 2017 General Election. She ended up being the recipient of a rude awakening. I see that Corbyn is still sticking to triangulation as far as Remain v Brexit is concerned. I’m sure many people are hoping that triangulation turns into strangulation for him and his merry Marxist mercenaries. However, that is not unlike what Harold Wilson attempted back in 1975 and it appeared to pay off for him. Mind you, in many ways, the stakes are much higher today.

    Oh, Cameron, what HAVE you done?!

  • David Allen 18th Sep '19 - 5:57pm

    Let’s get our messaging right – Part 1:

    “We are still prioritising delivering a People’s Vote ahead of a General Election.
    However… it does now look most likely that we will have a General Election.
    Therefore, in that scenario we are going put Remain on the ballot paper by recognising a MAJORITY Lib Dem government as a mandate for revoking Article 50”

    Twist, turn, convolute, explain at length, confuse, annoy, bore rigid. When you’re explaining, you’re losing.

    Let’s get our messaging right – Part 2:

    “We want to uphold the result of the referendum, and to support our many members who voted Remain. So we will painstakingly renegotiate our very own Labour Brexit deal, and then put it to a public vote, at which we won’t say whether or not we think the deal we agreed should be supported.”

    Twist, turn, convolute, explain at length, confuse, annoy, bore rigid. When you’re explaining, you’re losing.

    Let’s get our messaging right – Part 3:

    “The People voted to Leave. So we will Leave by the date that we promised – Do or Die.”

    A simple, clear, winning message. Winning in the polls. Winning five years of power. Which might be long enough to sort out the horrendous mess left by No Deal, and win again in 2024.

  • The party has made a huge mistake and may never recover from it. Responsible politicians of all other parties have refused to contemplate a second referendum. The policy adopted here is insulting, reckless and and irresponsible.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Sep '19 - 10:10pm

    As George Kendall says, very well argued, Jamie, and I too am grateful – not only for your argument, but also for your experience so far of putting it over on the doorstep. It is indeed important that we continue to argue for a People’s Vote. the most democratic way forward.

    I voted against the new policy, and would have pointed out if called to speak that Revoke was already mentioned in the motion, as a last resort if time runs out to prevent No Deal. In my view the debate was not well conducted, because there should have been a separate part of it focusing on the for-and-against arguments on the only contentious part of the motion. It was not even made clear from the Chair for some time which the contentious three lines were, they having been (innocently) renumbered in the Conference Daily for that day. The good contributions against, such as those from Simon Hughes and Andrew George, could not stand out against the overwhelming idea prevalent there that the motion as a whole was the right one for us.

    There did indeed seem an inevitability about the result. I suspect that this was especially because the new policy is the wish of our new Leader, who had already expressed it, and members felt that they should support her in it. From a viewpoint of effective politics, the policy has as commentators have said since great clarity, and a message to Remain voters more powerful than that of the Labour party.

  • I had my doubts about this policy when it was first announced, but I am coming round to it. However, we need to explain it right. We need to tell people that we are not for Revoke now. Revoke only becomes our policy when the voters endorse it in a GE. It therefore has a certain democratic elegance. It’s like we’re saying to the voters, “Look,. here’s what we want to do. But we recognise we can’t do it without your blessing. So, will you let us?” There is nothing arrogant or undemocratic about that. But we do need to present it right.

  • Jamie – there’s one more argument we can make against the Tories when they accuse us of being undemocratic. “Undemocratic? You’ve got a nerve. Your government has been a minority for the last 2 years, only surviving by bribing the DUP; and your Prime Minister was elected by 0.2% of the electorate, yet in the space of 2 months he has kicked all the moderates out of his party, shut down parliament and abused the constitution, all to enact a deeply unpopular policy that no-one ever voted for. And you call US undemocratic for suggesting we would implement a policy that’s been endorsed by the voters??”
    We should never let them get away with what they’ve done in these last few weeks. If the Tory party survives, there will come a time when they are desperate to make everyone forget Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings. We should never let them do that. And we certainly shouldn’t let them lecture us at the moment on democracy!

  • Tony H – This is helpful. As often happens we got to the right place but not by the best route. My own feeling is that Parliament should have revoked ages ago but we have wasted time and money thanks to its inability to vote for what it believes to be right.

  • YouGov poll just out. This is presumably what is called the conference bounce. But it also suggests that Revoke policy hasn’t exactly done us any harm.
    CON: 32% (-)
    LDEM: 23% (+4)
    LAB: 21% (-2)
    BREX: 14% (-)
    GRN: 4% (-3)

  • I voted against this policy. I also put in a card to speak against it. With regard to the debate I think 18 people spoke, Chris Davies spoke against the motion and 4 people against the ‘revoke policy with a majority Lib Dem government’. This means it was not a balanced debate. I thought that the split of speakers was dependant on the number of cards submitted but I have been informed this is wrong. If there are enough speakers then the debate should be even. If we remove the mover and summator from this split then there should have been 8 speakers against either the motion or against the words where a separate vote was allowed. It should not be surprising that the points raised against the new policy were not addressed as it was only when the debate started that people would know there was a separate vote. It was not announced in that day’s Conference Daily. I found out before the debate by asking a member of FCC. I expect most people would compose a speech to conference and not make it up as they spoke.

    I think it is undemocratic. I don’t feel I can canvass for a policy whereby we are saying we will reject the decision of 52% of those who voted if less than 50% of those voting vote for us and we have a majority in the House of Commons.

    I accept that any policy carried out by a government can be overturned by another government even if elected by less than 50% of those voting, but I think a referendum is different no matter how badly t was conducted. It is important that more than 50% of the voting population support the decision of the government with regard to Brexit. This is why it is vital that there is another referendum and this time on the deal. We need to know what the majority of people want.

  • Alex Macfie 19th Sep '19 - 8:20am

    David Allen: “Do or Die” could yet prove to be Johnson’s “Strong & Stable”. It has a touch of the dictatorial about it, and Johnson has already shown willingness to bend or break the law to achieve his aim. But not only that, the phrase itself “Do or Die” is associated with the Charge of the Light Brigade, an example of “heroic” failure and folly.
    John Marriott: You cannot compare Jo with Theresa May; about the only thing they have in common is their gender. May went into the 2017 election campaign with a commanding poll lead, which she squandered because of unpopular manifesto pledges and her lack of charisma (among other things). We start off as the underdog (for all our recent poll advances). Whether our new flagship policy proves popular is yet to be seen, but you can’t say Jo lacks charisma, and I suspect she would handle attacks much better than May, or certain former Lib De leaders.

  • Lots of potential for us in 4 by elections today, maybe even 5. London, Canterbury, Somerset, Wiltshire, well back though in Liverpool. See what happens, although of course many postal votes will have been made pre conference, that could skew things either way..

  • Adrian Collett 19th Sep '19 - 9:24am

    It seems to me that our position is very straightforward. We support a People’s Vote because we believe that the people should have a chance to decide whether they still want to go ahead with Brexit. If, however, the electorate has been denied such a People’s Vote by the time of the General Election, we will turn that election into a People’s Vote by offering them the option of revoking Article 50.

    We must not let our opponents and their apologists in the media twist our position in the way they are trying to do. If we don’t make this message simple, then no-one else will!

  • Mick Taylor,

    In every election in my lifetime (19) I think, with 2 exceptions, one party has won a majority.

    I think it is 3 exceptions – February 1970, 2010 and 2017.

    Adrian Collett,

    A general election is never about one issue, even if the majority of voters vote because of that one issue. To overturn a referendum without over 50% of those voting, voting for us I think is undemocratic. The ends never justify the means. The way we govern is very important, much more important than for other parties.

  • Ross McLean 19th Sep '19 - 1:22pm

    Michael BG – you mean February 1974, not 1970. 🙂
    However, if you don’t mind me saying, I think your narrative is a little bit misleading. You are talking about elections where one party wins an overall majority on the day. Fine. But if you define majority as being one which the government was able to sustain itself for a full term without going for a quick election, then there are a few more elections that failed to meet that standard. Namely October 1974, 1992, and 2015. If we look at the post-war period you could also add 1950 and1964.

  • Mick Taylor 19th Sep '19 - 1:38pm

    Michael BG. February ’74 saw Wilson as the largest party.
    He gained a good majority in the October of the same year.

  • Ian Hurdley 19th Sep '19 - 2:53pm

    Jo made our position clear; IF there is a general election before Brexit has happened and IF we were to win sufficient seats to form a government with Jo as PM, then we would immediately revoke Article 50. Otherwise our policy remains that there should be a ‘people’s vote’ with the options Leave/Remain.
    To attract anything approaching that level of success I suggest we need to have a reason for this change of attitude. Fortunately just such a reason is staring us in the face. As a direct consequence of the inability of the Tory Govt to agree among themselves what the way forward should be, the country has run out of time; no new, workable proposals have been put to the EU or to Parliament and on October 31st we will find ourselves in a catastrophic mess of our own creation.
    We have a simple remedy; revoke Article 50. Then those who remain convinced we should leave can have as much time as they require to start again from scratch whilst the rest of us can finally get down to fixing all those matters have been neglected. If they come up with a properly planned proposal for a deal, let’s debate it in Parliament and if it secures parliamentary approval, then – and only then – the Government serves a new notice under Article 50 and be in a position to sit down to serious negotiations immediately.
    However, it is imperative that we get this across to people if we are to have any hope of making the necessary progress to form a government.

  • Michael BG: There is nothing at all undemocratic about saying we’ll do X if we win outright, then doing X if we do. It doesn’t matter what that X is, provided it is constitutional and lawful.
    I completely disagree with you on the relative weight of referendums and elections. Constitutionally, an election overrides a referendum, and a later mandate overrides an earlier one. And how the vote was conducted *does* matter when deciding how much credence to give it. Because legally the Brexit referendum was “advisory”, it cannot be “overturned” over malpractice. So in considering the weight of the referendum result as a statement of public opinion, we must also consider how the conduct of the campaign affects its credibility, as a political matter (since the law could not intervene).
    And regarding the fact that we could win outright on a minority of the vote, well that’s FPTP. We are not responsible for the failures of the current system, which in any case we would reform as soon as we get into outright power. Using the system is not an endorsement of it, otherwise we would have to boycott FPTP elections.

  • As a remainer I have to say it’s a weird contradiction to complain about the lack of democracy in the first past the post electoral system… ….. and then to suggest a decision made by a Liberal Democrat majority government elected under that system (theoretically possible with less than 30% of the popular vote) is somehow morally and democratically superior to a majority achieved in a referendum.

    I’m afraid the party has got itself into yet another muddle. I have no doubt that Andrew Neil will be licking his chops in anticipation at the prospect of interviewing Ms Swinson on this topic.

  • Alex Macfie: “Constitutionally, an election overrides a referendum”

    Oh yeah? Where is that written down? (Clue, we don’t have a written constitution.)

    Perhaps you were thinking of the generally accepted status of referendums as advisory, such that Parliament can in principle ignore the result of a referendum. However, that has never actually been done. Sir Humphrey would have called it “brave”.

    Public opinion, which had moved towards Remain, is now moving back again. A head of steam is building up to support the fatally simple view that the UK took a decision in 2016, and that a Prime Minister who is prepared to defy Parliament in order to implement that decision is a national hero.

    To argue that we should hold another referendum, to make sure that the UK still wants Brexit now that its shape and consequences are clearer, might nevertheless still gain traction.

    To argue instead that we could just unilaterally scrap Brexit, on the basis of well below 50% of the votes at a General Election, would be to cast ourselves as national villains.

  • It’s really interesting to see that so many people on here believe that if we win a majority of seats but fail to win over 50% of the vote, we should deny ourselves the right to go into government and start implementing our manifesto.
    I wonder if these people are aware that there are quite a number of cases of local councils where we have won a majority of seats without a majority of the vote, and were quite happy to take control of the levers of power.
    Our record of opposing FPTP is second to none, but as long as it exists then we – like everyone else – have the perfect right to use the power it confers.

  • @Ross McLean – I am reminded of the coalition period where we saw the MP’s having to make real decisions on matters, yet party members much preferred to be woolly and live in some alternative universe where you could take decisions that didn’t involve making hard choices and hence voted to end the coalition; even though polling indicated that the electorate would have voted for more coalition if it had been on the ballot paper. Towards the end of the coalition, I got the distinct impression that the party members much preferred the relative safety of opposition where they could support contradictory policies and raise objections on whatever the government was proposing without having to get their hands dirty with actually taking decisions and seeing them implemented.

  • Alex Macfie 20th Sep '19 - 8:16am

    David Allen: When we say we “don’t have a written constitution”, what this means is that our constitution is not codified in a single document, but instead scattered across multiple statutes. It does NOT mean we just make things up as we go along, and so it does not provide a licence to make rules up about things like referendums for which ther is no provision in our constitution. The only way a referendum has any legal force is some action is specified to happen according to the referendum result (as in the AV referendum).

    A head of steam is building up to support the fatally simple view that the UK took a decision in 2016, and that a Prime Minister who is prepared to defy Parliament in order to implement that decision is a national hero.
    Parliament may have implemented previous referendums results, but then previous referendums were never so contentious, with so many question marks over both the conduct of the referendum and what the result should actually mean in practice. Nor have circumstances previously changed so radically since the referendum result was announced. So we can[‘t just invent a rule “Parliament must ratify advisory referendums” and apply it to all cases, come what may, and regardless of any other constitutional principles.

    “A head of steam is building up to support the fatally simple view that the UK took a decision in 2016, and that a Prime Minister who is prepared to defy Parliament in order to implement that decision is a national hero.”

    No he isn’t; at most he is a hero among hardcore Brexiteers. And how can an advisory referendum result be so sacred that it’s worh trashing all other facets of the constitution to get it implemented? That sort of thing only happens in dictatorships (and is why dictators love referendums so much). It may well be the political consensus that the referendum result has to be “honoured”, but that’s all it is, a political consensus. And it is this very consensus that has led to the idea that it is legitimate to trash the constitution, as a tinpot dictator would to, to implement the result. By accepting this consensus, as you think we should do, you are validating and supporting Johnson’s action. The consensus has proven dangerous, and that is why we are right to politically challenge it, and say that we, as the Lib Dems, would use CONSTITUTIONAL means to end Brexit should we achieve power.

  • Alex Macfie 20th Sep '19 - 8:21am

    @Roland: At the risk of going off-topic, I thikn your reading of the Coalition is wrong. Lib dems had had lots of experience of power, both outright and in coalition, at all levels of authority except Westminster. But the Lib Dem leadership did not consult those who had actual experience of coalition building, and from the Rose Garden press conference sowed the seeds of the 2015 electoral disaster. The problem wasn’t with the principle of going into Coalition, but how it was handled by the party leadership.
    And the Coalition wasn’t on the ballot paper because it could not have been.

  • Alex Macfie
    The problem wit your argument, is that it is much easier for the voters to remove MPs than it is for MPs to remove voters. The reality is that the Conservatives are far more likely to win a GE than the Lib Dems are, thus by your logic, with a sufficient majority, will be perfectly entitled to enact whatever Brexit they like. Plus A pro-Brexit Conservative party will be able to challenge Remain governments every single election because they only need to win once to re-trigger article 50 without a referendum, whereas Remain will need to win every time.. Not only that but you have shot your protestations in the foot because you would be arguing against the elected representative democracy of parliament you are currently championing. I would also point out that since you want to fundamentally alter the institutions of parliament through introducing PR you don’t actually respect those institutions or traditions. But this does not stop you arguing for their primacy! Mmmmmm?

  • Ian Hurdley 20th Sep '19 - 9:17am

    @ David Law Which voting system de you suggest we adopt in the forthcoming GE where all the other parties are going along with FPTP and the ballot papers are printed in that format? Also, should we promise that we will not attempt to implement any of our manifesto promises if we fail to secure more than 50% of the vote? In that case, how do you suggest that we fill a five year fixed term parliament?

  • Alex Macfie 20th Sep '19 - 9:40am

    @Glenn: Your patronising sign-off at 08:59 suggests you think you’ve caught me out, in which case you are utterly mistaken. Wanting to reform the constitution does not in any way disrespect it. To be clear: Lib Dems respect the British constitution, but there are aspects of it that need reform. If we got into power, we would use lawful, constitutional means to reform it. This is completely different from what Johnson is doing, which is to disrespect the consitution by using potentially unlawful means to get around the fact that he can’t do what he wants because he doesn’t have a Parliamentary majority.

    And I don’t know why you think I’d have a conflict over the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty with a government that got into power on a pledge to re-trigger Article 50 after it had been revoked by a previous govenrnment. I would oppose it politically, of course, but I would not question its legitimacy.
    But I really wouldn’t assume that that is going to happen. In the current situation of 4/5-party politics, uniform national swing as a concept is dead, and I don’t think any election is easy to predict. With tactical voting and locally based voting patterns, you cannot assume the Tories would win an overall majority even if (as now) they are leading by up to 10 points.

  • @Glenn – The reality is that the Conservatives … thus by your logic, with a sufficient majority, will be perfectly entitled to enact whatever Brexit they like.
    That really sums up the current position. No one, except for a very small number of Conservatives have actually voted on the specific Brexit Boris is pursuing…
    What is changing is that Parliament (hopefully) is beginning to understand that it is above the PM and their Executive and behave accordingly…

    I think you are kidding yourself if you believe that once the UK leaves, there won’t be a strong and vocal voice for rejoining the EU – warts and all. Not saying that will be a good thing, suspect given the EU27 will have moved on in ways more favourable to continential Europe it will be quite a jolt. The only way to protect UK interests in the short and long-term is for the UK to remain and to use it’s seat at the table to engage. I don’t expect it to be easy, however, as David Cameron has shown by getting out there and talking to people progress can be made – I appreciate that you may deride what he achieved but I suspect that is because you haven’t really looked at what he did achieve effectively from a poor start, in the very short time available to him.

  • @Alex Macfie – My point was there seems to be a disconnect between where the rank and file member feels comfortable about where the party is and those who actually stand up and do.

    I agree the coalition wasn’t ‘perfect’ for various reasons including those you cite and lessons need to be learnt from both its formation and its aftermath.

    How coalition or similar cross-party arrangements could have been put on the ballot paper or communicated to the electorate is a conundrum, however it will be one that won’t go away.

  • David Allen 20th Sep '19 - 1:15pm

    “Should we promise that we will not attempt to implement any of our manifesto promises if we fail to secure more than 50% of the vote?”

    That argument comes with the word “specious” running through it, just like the word “Brighton” runs through a stick of rock. Of course, an elected government is entitled to do what it likes (whether promised in a manifesto or not) – Within certain limits. It can’t just decide to go to war without the approval of Parliament. It can’t break the law (Boris please note). It can’t make a major constitutional change, such as abolishing the monarchy, without a clear mandate on that specific question from the voting public. And it certainly can’t make a major constitutional change, such as cancelling Brexit, when the only clear mandate that has yet been obtained from the voting public is a clear mandate to Leave.

    Yes, Brexit is a nightmare, it has proven an impracticable objective – in my view, and in the views of many others. But equally, there are still millions of people who passionately believe Brexit must go ahead. To suggest that Brexit could be cancelled on a 37% General Election vote, when it had been approved on a 52% referendum vote, would be a constitutional monstrosity.

    Glenn above, teasingly but fairly, points out that if we all adopt the Swinson Doctrine, we can look forward to a kind of In – Out Hokey Cokey, whereby each newly elected government can either trigger Article 50, or else apply to rejoin the EU, at its whim.

    Alex Macfie seems to be saying he would be quite happy with that prospect, because he personally thinks that the Tory Brexiteers can be kept (permanently?) out of future governments. Bitter experience tells me that betting against the Tories ever winning any elections is crazy.

    So the Swinson Doctrine means Revoke and a few years later Re-Trigger A50. Marvellous!

  • Alex Macfie 20th Sep '19 - 4:09pm

    David Allen: The key word is “can”. If a future Lib Dem governnemt revokes Article 50 and makes a success of No-Brexit, then it is certainly possible for Brexit to become a fringe ideology once again. I’m not saying it would be easy: as another thread suggests, it would involve trumpeting the benefits of the EU, and tackling the root causes of why many people voted for Brexit in the first place. If people start to see EU membership as beneficial, then are less likely to support pro-Brexit parties. There is nothing inevitable about a pro-Brexit party coming to power after Revoke happens, and if it did, then it wouldn’t matter whether the Revocation was the result of a referendum, they’d do it anyway. Once again, the Tories don’t need our permission to play dirty. It’s what they do anyway, especially under Johnson &co.

    Brexit becoming a fringe theory doesn’t mean the Conservative Party itself becoming a fringe party. Even if something like the 1993 Canadian election result happens to our Tories, it will reinvent itself (as the Canadian Tories did). There will, I’m sure, always be a conservative party, even if it is not the Conservative Party. But this will happen because conservatives will adapt to changing times and attitudes. It is often said that people become more conservative as they get older, but there’s no evidence that people become more intolerant, more insular, more nationalistic, as they get older. These are cohort-driven attitudes, not age-driven, and generally conservatism adapts to them. After 1997, the Tories eventually came to accept devolution, and didn’t try to reintroduce fox hunting or Clause 28, and that’s how they got back into power.

  • Alex Macfie
    You are ignoring the reality that Brexit isn’t a fringe idea at all. It actually commanded more of the vote than Remaining in the EU did. Like a lot of remainers you can’t grasp the reality that the referendum was about fundamentally different views of Britain, the nationalistic v the supranational. You think it was a howl of rage, when it was actually mostly a wave of flags. Because of this basic misunderstanding and underestimation of the opposing side, you are also forgetting that in a battle the enemy shoot back.

  • David Allen 20th Sep '19 - 8:09pm

    Alex Macfie – So what you’re saying is that Euroscepticism will be finally vanquished by the Liberal Democrats. Revoking Article 50, on the basis of less than 50% of the vote, will not merely cancel Brexit. It will also completely fail to provoke a storm of indignant protest from Brexiteers. Instead, it will bring forth an unprecedented upsurge of enthusiasm for all things European. It will relegate Brexit to the far fringes of British politics. Even the Tories will acknowledge our superior wisdom. The idea that they might get back into power on a slogan of Bring us Back our Brexit won’t even occur to them.

    In your dreams, I’m afraid.

  • David Allen: Strip aside the snide, snarky, sarcastic tone of your last comment and what we have is a completely defeatist attitude where we basically have to accept without question the narrative of our opponents, and cannot ever face them down. It’s precisely this sort of attitude among liberals that led to the Trump victory in the US, and the Brexit victory over here.
    There would be “indignant protest from Brexiteers” if Brexit were cancelled whether or not there was a referendum before it. The ringleaders of the protests would say the referendum was “illegitimate”, “a loser’s vote” and similar things. But judging by the efforts of pro-Brexit protestors in the past, I don’t think they’re much to worry about. There would be a few shouty, violent types organising the protests — street thugs basically — and they would have to be faced down, for the sake of democracy and the rule of law. If you’re not prepared to do that, then you’re part of the problem. Because they’re going to orchestrate trouble in the event of Brexit cancellation regardless of how it’s done. Because they’re street thugs, they don’t care about niceties such as democratic mandates, although they may well claim they do.
    And again, I’m not saying it would be easy to change public opinion about Brexit following a revocation of Article 50. The action itself would risk unpopularity and action by street thugs. But if that’s what we want to do, we have to do it, and we have to face down those who would incite civil unrest. Your suggestion is that we shouldn’t even try.

  • Ross McLean,

    Michael BG – you mean February 1974, not 1970”.

    Indeed I do mean February 1974.

    Mick Taylor,

    The Labour government formed in February 1974 was 17 seats short of a majority, having only 301 MPs. This is why Ted Health tried to form a government, with the Liberals and the support of some Ulster parties he would have had 321 MPs.

    318 MPs were needed for a majority of 1. In October 1974 Labour managed to increase their number to 319. That is not a good majority in any bodies’ book. It was a majority of three.

    Alex Macfie,

    I think your position is legalistic. I don’t think it is a convincing argument. I cannot present that argument to voters as I am not convinced by it. Hence my problem. I don’t think our new revoke policy is moral. I agree with David Raw, it is morally and democratically inferior to our old position.

    David Allen,

    To suggest that Brexit could be cancelled on a 37% General Election vote, when it had been approved on a 52% referendum vote, would be a constitutional monstrosity”.

    I agree.

  • Michael BG: Legalistic? When we are talking about constitutional issues, surely the rule of law is paramount. As for our policy being a “constitutional monstrosity”, well, short of sending in the tanks (something I have no doubt Johnson or Cummings have considered) you don’t get much more than of a monstrosity than what the Johnson regime is doing now. Constitutionally, our policy is absolutely sound should we get into a position to enact it. IANAL but I am 100% certain that any legal challenge to a bid to revoke Article 50 backed by a vote in Parliament would be laughed out of Court (I am equally sure somebody will try). I note that the Lib Dems have been called “dangerous extremists”, even likened to an Islamist terror group. Yours and David Allen’s approach seems to be to roll over and say “Gee, you’re right, democratically enacting a law to stop Brexit without a referendum makes us no different from neo-Nazi street thugs, radical Islamists.” You seem happy to give succour to those offensive comparisons, and not try to challenge them. It’s the Brickley Paiste approach to politics, and it fails every time.

    Your judgement that the policy is not “moral” seems to be based on a strictly deontological, even (ironically) legalistic sense of morality normally associated with Christian fundamentalists. I don’t think this reflects how ordinary voters think about what is a “moral” policy to enact; ultimately they are most concerned about the real-world consequences of policies, especially (but not only) where policies affect their own economic well-being and security. It is also questionable morality to hold the 2016 referendum result on a pedestal. And why has this it come to this? Because the rerefendum was advisory. I have said that the idea that we “have to” implement a referendum result, or “have to” have a referendum before enacting constitutional change, is a made-up rule. It has no standing in legislation or in legal precendent. Yet, the Electoral Commission has stated that the referendum been binding, it would have been voided due to malpractice. But as it’s not binding it can’t be voided. So if we can make up rules about abiding by referendums, then we can also make up a rule that any advisory vote that a relevant independent public body has called into question should be considered null and void. As far as morality is concerned, why is it not moral to disregard a vote whose conduct was itself morally questionable?

  • Alex Macfie,

    When I call your position legalistic, I agree it is legal and can’t be challenged successfully. There is a difference between things being legal and morally right. To argue something is a greater constitutional monstrosity does not counter the opinion that the first lesser one is in fact a constitutional monstrosity. I have not heard of Brickley Paiste and why his approach to politics is wrong.

    To do something with is morally wrong can be a political mistake, the classic example for us is our MPs making a personal promise to vote against increasing student tuition fees and then voting to increase them. It was legal but morally wrong and we paid the price.

    I don’t accept the idea than Christian morals are any different from Islamic, or Hindu ones. I think you are correct my view is deontological – that it is important to act morally and moral actions are not determined by outcomes but are ways of judging actions. I believe all politicians should act morally and when they fall short this brings politics into disrepute and is why politicians are held is such low regard.

    Please can you provide a link to where “the Electoral Commission has stated that the referendum been binding, it would have been voided due to malpractice”. I couldn’t find such an EC ruling. If a court of law has ruled not only that the law was broken but the referendum result should be voided I have not seen it. Please provide a link. If this happened some time ago then if we had at the time been campaigning to persuade people that the referendum needs to be held against because the first one was void I would accept a policy of asking for an extension so a new referendum could be held which is legal. It still would not be morally right to revoke article 50 because it should only be done once a majority of those voting vote for it to be done. According to the European Court article 50 should only be revoked once a decision has been made to stay in the EU. Morally this decision should be taken by the people in a referendum or by a majority of those voting, voting for a party which promises to do it. For a government to do it without that 50% support would be morally wrong.

  • It should be “the referendum needs to be held again because the first one was void” not “the referendum needs to be held against because the first one was void”. Sorry.

  • Michael BG
    Brickley Paiste is the senator played by Gore Vidal in Tim Robbins’ 1992 film Bob Roberts

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