Liberal Democrats must seize the moment

Both the main parties are currently paralysed as political forces by their leadership battles. The Government is leaderless, the country at a standstill politically. This is our moment to assert our right to be heard as former and future political leaders, and force our presence on the airwaves and on social media. Moreover if the right-wing press will not accept our voice, this is surely the moment to invest in national advertising.

The week of the Chilcot report is the time to remind the country that it was the Liberal Democrats who opposed the attack on Iraq, along with a great mass of the public whose voices were also ignored. We should now claim again to represent the majority of the public, not by ignoring the result of the Referendum, but by acknowledging the many doubts that were felt by people voting either way, and pledging to try to meet the needs that were  ignored by their self-obsessed leaders.

While the politicians of the two main parties fight for supremacy, we, the united Liberal Democrats, must fight for the people. With a growing recession, we must fight to protect the poorest, demanding government measures to alleviate probable rising food costs, and extra rises if necessary in the Living Wage. We should demand investment for growth, so that jobs can be created that are not just short-term or on zero-hours contracts, and social security reform to stop penalising those least able to protect themselves. We must insist on more funds for the NHS, more integration of health and social care – and also a welcome and thanks to the immigrant doctors and nurses and care workers. We should demand more social housing and some re-introduction of rent controls. We must develop economic policies which highlight the scandal of excessive pay rises for top executives, challenge the power of sophisticated predators linking hedge funds with top Tories, and promote greater equality through taxation.

And what of Brexit, and the EU? We are now pledged by our Leader to fight the next election promising to restore Britain’s prosperity and role in the world within the EU, not outside it. But we should say, let us remember that the Iraq war was started with no thought for what came after, and the Brexit leaders equally never worked out a plan for what to do if they won. There must be time now taken for detailed work on such plans by a new Government – preferably after a General Election, as Nick Clegg has written.

We Liberal Democrats, believing in the EU, should also recognise that it is deeply divided between the federalists and the eastern bloc of countries which want reforms and a less centralised system. We should pledge to support reforms which enhance subsidiarity and democracy, and ask ALDE led by Catherine Bearder to work with like-minded EU politicians on plans for reform.

Finally, since one of the cries from our country was for more democratic control, let us pledge once again to seek PR, probably through STV, to give our newly-politicised fellow countrymen and women a chance to cast more meaningful votes in elections. They might even be able to vote for different branches of the current Labour and Conservative parties, or else for a party which they can trust to serve them.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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  • Conor McGovern 6th Jul '16 - 4:53pm

    Good suggestions here. Whether Tim shouts about loving the EU or not, the next step must be to harness public anger for the introduction of political reform, as the author says. One thing Jeremy Corbyn said about Labour should be picked up on by Liberals here – building a set of economic, political and social policies as early as possible so we can get the vision and the message out there for as long as possible.

  • David Evershed 6th Jul '16 - 5:37pm

    Katharine is right that now is the moment to promote the Liberal Democrats and liberal principles.

    We need to spell out what the Lib Dems stand for. I suggest the national advertising should read as follows:

    The Liberal Democrats believe in freedom,

    – Freedom of the individual from unnecessary government interference

    – Freedom of having a good education without payment

    – Freedom of getting health treatment when needed without payment

    – Freedom of businesses from unnecessary government interference

    – Freedom to trade both ways across national boundaries with minimum duties

    – Freedom from foreign aggressors by maintain the right armed defences

    and respecting democracy by ensuring the will of the people is implemented

  • David Allen 6th Jul '16 - 6:32pm

    I fear that this piece rather implies “Stop banging on so much about Brexit, and go back to banging on about traditional Lib Dem issues like PR and more money for the NHS.”

    I couldn’t disagree more. The Brexit dangers are “crystallising”, in Carney’s chilling words. As buyer’s remorse gains momentum, the fragile belief that Britain must ride on remoreselessly toward the cliff edge could very suddently be overthrown. Our massive increase in membership has happened because we had something new and important to say. We will turn them all off again if we just lapse back into all the old platitudes instead.

  • Barry Snelson 6th Jul '16 - 6:43pm

    Katharine is absolutely correct that there is a moment begging to be seized but we need an honest debate amongst ourselves to construct an attention catching offering that is both strong on social conscience together with a plausible economic plan that could fund it all.
    This second component is usually ignored but a party that touts itself as “Santa Claus” will leave the hard bitten voters wondering who will pay for it.
    We need some proper leadership and a wide ranging strategy created in a business like way.

  • The last thing we need now is a ‘spend, spend’ government leaving our children and grandchildren an even bigger national debt to pay off.
    Stopping the Trident replacement, any Trident replacement, would help.
    “Investment for growth”? Don’t make me laugh. There is billions of private investment just sitting there waiting, all it takes is some politician with a bit of bottle to give the go ahead to a Heathrow third runway.

  • Barry Snelson 6th Jul '16 - 8:05pm

    Sensible words Alan.

  • ‘– Freedom of having a good education without payment’

    That was promised at the 2010 GE.

  • Stevan Rose 6th Jul '16 - 9:49pm

    “remind the country that it was the Liberal Democrats who opposed the attack on Iraq, along with a great mass of the public whose voices were also ignored.”

    In 2005, 2 years after the Iraqi invasion, Labour still won 355 seats and a majority of 66. We increased our vote by just 3.7%. Iraq was 13 years ago, 17 years when the next General Election comes around, it’s history. Are we also going to promote our part in winning The Great War? Now there was an unjust war and which party was it that governed throughout?

    “let us pledge once again to seek PR, probably through STV”

    The public don’t really appreciate the subtleties of PR. They think they voted on that one in 2011 and 68% said no. Including virtually all Lib Dem seats. I haven’t noticed any outpouring of grief and regret so I can’t see that would do anything.

    I would suggest we need new and well thought out and costed policies. Cancel HS2 and concrete barrier upgrades and spend the money on improving local commuter transport. Encourage higher density housing to provide more homes and supply will control prices. Ban unoccupied investment property. Free university tuition for courses with national skills shortages. Free prescriptions in England. Make sure taxes are paid where profit is generated. Extend the business rates waiver to most small businesses. And my mantra now…

    “By Liberalism … I mean a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, a commitment to the rule of law, a high ideal of the worth and dignity of man, a repugnance of authoritarianism, and a love of freedom.”

  • Graham Evans 7th Jul '16 - 7:55am

    Since when has LDV begun accepting articles from Momentum?

  • Katharine Pindar 7th Jul '16 - 9:37am

    Tim is being heard on Chilcot, and that is great. But even if we should have days of quiet mourning for the Iraq tragedy, soon we need to assert ourselves in these days of political paralysis and tell people what we are for, what we have to offer, and how important that is. On national advertising, there could be posters that begin with ‘In 1993, Liberal Democrats were the only party to oppose the Iraq invasion. In 2016 the Liberal Democrats are the only united major party still serving the British people…’ And there could be humorous graphics: Postman knocking at No.10’s door, nobody answers – moves to another door, out pops our Tim! Come on, Lib Dem artists and advertising people, come on Lib Dem donors! We should make ourselves heard this summer, and, please, let people know that we are good for Britain.

  • What the EU referendum really showed was the great divide in UK society. The Leave campaign deliberately set out to exploit the rage among marginalized UK citizens and identified, as scapegoats, immigrants and Brussels…
    But the real cause of their woes is elsewhere: the failure of successive British governments to bridge the social divide (north-south and poor-wealthy) with policies that defined common national aims and addressed the problems faced by ordinary people.
    Sadly, the EU referendum was really a proxy for protesting Britain’s ills; not those of the EU. Few voters understood how the EU works, anyway.

    The spin-off from the referendum is how the divisions within both the Tory and Labour parties have left the UK without ANY real leadership….Were we at pre-2010 levels we might have stepped into the political vacuum; Sadly, we are now just a ‘fringe party’ with all that means…

  • Sue Sutherland 7th Jul '16 - 3:49pm

    Katharine I agree with your article. Of course Lib Dems should be seeking ways of improving life for the poorest in our society even though I noticed David Evershed left freedom from poverty out of his list of freedoms. I believe that the Leave vote was boosted by large numbers of people whom our society has ignored for the last 30 years. The recent recession has exacerbated their situation but it originated in the destruction of our industries which resulted in structural unemployment for many.
    If we are going to fight for EU membership we must be in a position to improve life for the have nots in our country because they are the ones who gave democracy a final chance with the referendum and I do not want our party to be the one which destroys that hope.
    The Labour Party is involved in a tremendous battle between the members and the Blairite MPs. In an open letter to Angela Eagle demanding she stops threatening to stand against Jeremy Corbyn the writer describes how Labour have lost their traditional supporters who have moved to UKIP following years of being ignored. They believe Jeremy Corbyn can win those voters back but I don’t want to see another extremist in a position of power, this time on the left.
    Our party is the only one with a chance of helping those with no power without imposing outdated systems on our country. We must seek justice and prosperity for all in our country without destroying all those who create wealth. We can think creatively and heal the divisions in our society rather than finally polarising the rich and the poor which both Tories and Labour will do.

  • Katharine – The distinction you make between the “united Lib Dems” and the main parties “paralysed” by leadership battles” is a popular one on LDV. But is it really as simple as that?

    The battles in the main parties are democracy in action – messy, imperfect and confusing – but airing different views. The Tories will soon sort themselves out as they always do, falling into line behind the new leader whoever that is. Labour has deeper problems and may not sort itself out until after the next election if then.

    So, yes, that gives Lib Dems a historic opportunity.

    But, are the LDs really so “united”. I think not because we have a formal structure that struggles to handle divergent views and so mostly doesn’t. Everything policy-related is refracted through a series of committees that must, by their nature, work for consensus. That’s often the lowest common denominator, the safest and most PC (in LD terms) view. And whatever it is becomes officially CORRECT because it’s been through the mill and is thereafter unchallengeable.

    Culturally also the party has an unacknowledged fear of dissent because of its folk memory of the Alliance years (which were truly awful) and that fear is baked into its formal structures.

    In the last two leadership elections the two candidates each said precisely the same ‘correct’ things as anything else would have been ultra vires. United, yes – but only in political correctness. Rising stars don’t have to develop leadership skills or political antennae – only to be able to put their head down and charge.

    So, one way or another, the LDs don’t handle rival views adequately. You would never know from most recent posts that 30% voted Leave. I have detected no serious attempt to create a synthesis or anything much except a “back to the future” strategy.

    So what are Leavers to do? I suspect many will quietly fade away leaving a party that is united – but rather small.

    Perhaps this explains why polls consistently show small ‘l’ liberalism to be more popular than ever while the political version is stuck firmly in a rut always attempting the same things and expecting a different result (Einstein’s definition of insanity).

    Finally, for the avoidance of doubt, please note that my criticism is not of the people involved but of a formal structures that make the whole much less than the sum of the parts.

  • @ Katharine Pindar I agree with your sentiments, Katharine. Well said…… except please don’t make me feel any older than I am….. twas 2003 not 1993.

  • Stevan Rose 7th Jul '16 - 11:11pm

    “pledging to ignore the referendum and send Britain back into Europe is wrong on so many levels.”

    Manoeuvring to cancel the result without a counter-mandate is wrong. Pledging to cancel Article 50 and receiving a mandate to do so at an election is entirely right and proper; to do otherwise would be to betray a major plank of this party that bonds most members. That mandate is only possible if we also address those issues that caused centrist voters to vote Leave. We can’t and shouldn’t address the issues of far right and left voters who voted Leave.

  • Having voted for both conservative and liberal democrats I am now looking to the liberal democrats again for my ‘middle of the road’ vote. The only reason I haven’t always voted liberal is the fact you are too quiet. Whether this is because of the TV companies not giving you similar airtime to the left and right or whether you just can’t get enough PR in general, I just don’t know but I will be voting for you now and feel that Tim is finally someone who can step up and talk above the rivals at last.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th Jul '16 - 12:15am

    Thanks, everyone. Yes David, never great on dates! Sue, let’s keep pressing the need for us to serve the ‘left-behinds’ with good policies. Gordon, I don’t think the party can be thought of as demanding one correct line while Vince Cable keeps stirring the pot, bless him! Stevan, let’s seek that counter-mandate, hopefully in an early General Election. And I repeat, we shall never have a better chance than to show the nation what we are about and how we can be good for them than now. Aux armes,
    citoyen(ne)s! (Glad the French have made it to the Euro Final too!)

  • My biggest concern is how little air time the Liberal Democrats are getting in the news as the Labour and Conservative leadership elections are dominating the political news. The Liberal Democrat party needs to get itself into the news in a posiive way as much as possible as now is the chance to take the centre ground of British poltics with Labour and the Tories veering off to left and right.
    The party needs a better media strategy and people who can help get the Lib Dem message into the mainstream media more often. Its not enough just to say we need to “seize the moment” if no one hears the message, so seizing the moment for me is about BOTH having a message and getting it heard. There will be no effective fightback until both happen.

  • Katharine – I think you mistake my meaning. It’s not that the party “demands” one correct line; indeed it is philosophically predisposed to welcome diversity. Rather its formal structures make it unable to handle that diversity and integrate different views and expertise adequately so that it consistently finishes up playing what should be a strong hand (e.g. wide support for liberal values) very poorly (e.g. any recent national election – EU, Westminster, or referendum).

    Its stance on key debates is decided in backrooms (that once would have been “smoke-filled”) with limited participation, largely by a small inner circle who have no generally effective way of accessing the expertise of the wider party and supporters. We know that committees can’t make strategy (especially not when working in ‘silos’) yet we persist with a system that relies on them doing just that and then wonder why the results are so poor.

    I am hugely sympathetic to the aspirations of your article but until the road block of the party’s own dysfunctional approach is sorted nothing is going to change materially. And the brutal truth is that until it is voters cannot trust the Lib Dems to serve them. We would, for example, have taken them into the Euro in the face of clear warnings against it (before it’s launch a very senior Lib Dem told me things about it that he must have known at the time to be totally untrue). And the consequences of joining would have been cataclysmic.

  • Phil Beesley 8th Jul '16 - 6:16pm

    @Jon Moore 8th Jul ’16 – 2:35pm
    “My biggest concern is how little air time the Liberal Democrats are getting in the news as the Labour and Conservative leadership elections are dominating the political news.”

    Family members have been telling me this over the last few days. It seemed bizarre to them that the pro-EU party has so little to say. But Lib Dems are in an unfortunate position where there isn’t an interesting party argument.

    Previously, Lib Dems have had enough MPs to guarantee a news spot, even if the representative had little to say. BBC journalists are unhappy about numerical equivalence for political opinion (two minutes barking mad lies, versus two minutes of half hearted or technically serious argument). Lib Dem politicians represent a very minor party which was recently a party of government, and Lib Dems have a lot to say.

    In the midst of this, Lib Dem arguments have been lost and will be lost in the short term future.

    Lib Dem arguments about Remain have to reflect that Remain enthusiasts have different political backgrounds.

    Lib Dems rarely have anything to say about internal politics of the Labour and Conservative parties; that is the main news so we are out of it.

    Lib Dems can’t say much about Brexit because the Leave campaigners don’t have a plan.

    Take a long summer holiday or spend more time with family. Do whatever you’d like to do in July and August.

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