LibLink – Vince Cable: ‘Why don’t you speak up about Brexit ?’

Over on Medium, Vince Cable has written on the political ups and downs of talking about Brexit:

Aside from narrow, short-term, electoral calculus there is a deeper challenge to parties to define, in broad terms, their picture of the country’s identity and role in the world. The Labour Party was rescued from irrelevance when its leaders, especially under Blair and Brown, located Britain amongst the European Social Democracies. The Lib Dems were long at ease with being European. No alternative has emerged since Brexit. In many ways the country appears lost, The BMG survey found that a large majority felt that Brexit had diminished Britain’s standing in the world. There is little mileage in a Global Britain when the world is fragmenting into blocs and the party which champions the concept has its core support amongst inward-looking English nationalists. The big issue which the government has handled with real credit — the Ukraine War — revolves around Ukraine’s wish to be part of Europe (and a member of the EU) rather than Russia.

The main UK opposition parties have to think about the institutional details of our relationship with the EU. But they have opportunity — and a need — to brand themselves as unambiguously European, and shouting about it.

You can read the full article here.

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46 Comments

  • Vince has a good argument. The LDs have fallen back in the polls over the last few months even though the Tories have hit unprecedented lows. I have been in the party since the early 80s, and I don’t recall a previous time when a Tory fall in support wasn’t accompanied by a LD increase. Sure – we are now the fourth party in Parliament, but if we don’t have something distinctive to say, then we will be ignored, and rightly so. Or are we just the anti Tory tactical vote in a few seats, and that’s it?

    If, as seems likely, there is a hung parliament after the next General Election, we need to be clear what it is that we will be pressing the minority government to do. It has to be about fundamental change to start to fix our politics and our economy.

  • Graham Jeffs 6th Dec '22 - 11:10am

    See the comments re the Nick Hopkinson article.

    We are betraying Remain voters and we are being gutless. The EU isn’t the only issue by any means, but it is an important one, especially as more and more people are hearing how detrimental Brexit is in practice.

  • Mick Taylor 6th Dec '22 - 11:38am

    If we are not going to speak up about Brexit who will?
    It is long past time that our leader ended his self imposed silence on this issue. Starmer has made it clear he just wants a better Brexit. For goodness sake speak up Ed before it’s too late

  • simon lewis 6th Dec '22 - 2:56pm

    Their needs to be at least one major party supporting closer union with the EU. The Conservatives hard Brexit and Kier Starmer’s cakeist proposals will continue to destroy this country. I will be voting for any party promoting closer EU ties, if one dare show itself.

  • James Moore 6th Dec '22 - 3:18pm

    I suppose “because we want to win west country marginals that voted for Brexit” is the simple answer. And I have a lot of sympathy for that view. We need to recover lost ground.

    However there is a bigger picture. Is it better to have 15 MPs and stand for something or 20 MPs and stand for nothing…?

  • Chris Moore 6th Dec '22 - 4:06pm

    Hello, James and Adrian Sanderson, if you are reading this.

    It’s not only in the West Country we need Euro-sceptic voters. In all Remain seats, there are large minorities of Leave voters.

    This is our electoral problem with a FPTP system. In 2019, we missed out on a fair number of Remain majority constituencies, because we alienated ALL Leave voters, including the many in those Remain leaning seats. It was impossible to get majorites in those seats, in spite of winning heroic percentages of Remain voters there.

    It’s worth noting that prior to the Referendum we had much support from Eurosceptic voters all over the country, not only in the West.

    Do we want to be a purist party setting out knowingly to alienate potential support and hence win a pitiful number of seats?

    Much of that support are less educated, less well-off voters who defected in several ways: Tory, Brexit Party and Labour. We are successfully appealing to them with our campaigns on a number of critical issues like ambulance shortages, sewage in rivers etc.

    As for Europe, if our campaign is focussed on Brexit, that will get us nowhere. It’s an electorsl turn off, even to the now majority who see that Brexit was a mistake.

    However, we do need to talk more about Brexit and what can be done to mitigate its effects. Argue for the Customs’ Union on economic grounds, but don’t expect that’s going to do much for us electorally.

  • John Laband 6th Dec '22 - 4:50pm

    If you are a voter who voted remain in the referendum and believe in a united EU etc. Who do you vote for?

  • Paul Fox 6th Dec ’22 – 10:58am….If, as seems likely, there is a hung parliament after the next General Election, we need to be clear what it is that we will be pressing the minority government to do…

    I must be looking at different voting polls..

  • In hindsight Vince was a better leader than I realised at the time. Despite slightly cringey statements like “B******s to Brexit” and “exotic spresm” he got to a good position in the polls and 2nd in the EU elections.

    On the South West of England I’m sure I saw a poll recently suggesting that was the region with the highest levels of “Bregret”?

  • .. a broader problem however is that demographic changes meant the South West would have become harder to hold onto anyway as people have moved there and imported the Lab v Con politics they are used to.

    For a third party the tectonic plates keep shifting and you have to adapt to stay relevant and not fall off the radar. That is what Vince Cable understands.

  • Of course most people are not going to decide their vote according to which party has a slogan about rejoining the EU. What would make a difference is a party which showed real leadership. On Europe this means being clear about the benefits of being part of a strong Europe. The damage that leaving the EU has done us. The damage that leaving the EU has done to our fishing industry , the damage that leaving the EU has done to small businesses which want to trade with other European countries.
    Most of all we must recognise that the only way our party could prosper is campaigning on the issues which our supporters and particularly our members think are important. In fact it is really a test of whether we believe in democracy or not. Are we a democratic Party?
    The real choice is between campaigning on what we believe and only getting a quarter of the vote, or throwing away our ideals and getting a wonderful ten per cent of the vote!

  • Peter Martin 7th Dec '22 - 8:41am

    @ Expats

    “I must be looking at different voting polls.”

    The polls, for the last year or so, have told a slightly different story than election results. The May council results weren’t, with the exception of Wales, anywhere near as good for Labour as might have been expected. The recent Chester by-election was hailed as a huge Labour victory but the swing of 13.7% was still less than would have been expected from their 20+ point lead reported by the opinion polls.

    Given that there are still two years to go until the next election the picture is far from clear. We can’t say that any particular outcome is ‘likely’.

  • Chris Moore 7th Dec '22 - 9:12am

    What other evidence there is suggests the national polls are under-stating our position.

    This under-statement clearly happened from 95-97 too, where the then massive unpopularity of the Tory government was reflected inhuge leads for the Labour party in the polls and very poor scores for the LDs.

    I believe it’s the same dynamic now.

    At the Chester by-election last week, the LD vote was up over 2019 by about 1.5%. This was clearly a two nag race between Labour and Tory and we barely campaigned. You’d have expected our percentage to go down given the national polls and constituency curcumstances.

    Likewise local by-election results suggest we are doing better than the poll figures.

  • Chris Moore 7th Dec '22 - 9:21am

    @Tom Harney: Campaigning for re-joining the EU would enthuse some members but be a dreadful failure electorally.

    The point I’ve made too often on this board is that until a few years ago we had many Eurosceptic members. Much of our bedrock support was Eurosceptic. We shouldn’t forget that.

    And in a FPTP system, if we do so we will remain tiny and without influence.

    You can’t win even many Remain majority seats if you alienate Leave voters.

    It’s disagreeable, but it’s the way it is.

  • Do we never learn.
    Just let Brexit unfold gradually, do not push it, we ignored the warning voices in 2019 who just advocated a Referendum and nothing else, they were right.
    After all the puiblic do know our position on Europe and if it became a major issue, which it currently is not, then perhaps we should spreak.
    In a few recent local by elections the previous Brexit vote, (they did not stand this time round), appeared to switch to ourselves! What does that say?
    For the present I suggest “Silence is Golden”

  • Barry Lofty 7th Dec '22 - 11:20am

    Chris Moore, I do not have the necessary knowledge to know whether you are correct in your assessment of how the electorate would react if the Lib Dems campaigned to rejoin the EU ,but here is one supporter who would be extremely! disappointed if they did not acknowledge the views of the many voters who recognise the benefits lost through the narrow minded Brexit campaign? I for one would think very carefully about where to place my vote.

  • In terms of how to promote rejoin without alienating too my leave supporters my approach would be:
    1. Make sure rejoin is only one piece in the mix and have policies on other key issues that are popular with leave voters.
    2. Promote the policy through channels like social media to reach the target audience, don’t send out centralised leaflets.
    3. Use non-bossy language, instead of stop, revoke etc emphasise it is the people having their say on whether Brexit is working.

  • Richardr Sangster 7th Dec '22 - 2:59pm

    Good to see a prominent LibDem talk about Europe

  • Chris Moore 7th Dec '22 - 4:42pm

    Martin, thank you for your kind remarks.

    We had many Eurosceptic members and much support from Eurosceptic voters as late as the 2010 GE. After that we were haemorrhaging support across the board for other reasons, of course.

    The Referendum campaign however finished off much of that support, given it polarised opinion, and made Brexit the main issue. We nailed our colours clearly to the mast. In 2019 went out of our way to trash any support from Leave voters. The 2018 study is after the Referendum campaign. I’m very sorry to hear we were 96% Remain in 2018. It illustrates graphically what’s gone wrong with the party. And why we had such a poor result in 2019.

    As to your favoured term: “Europhobic”. Well, throwing that sort of pejorative language around isn’t going to win us any friends amongst our former core support, is it? I use Eurosceptic advisedly. I believe in being polite and kind.

    Finally, you have misunderstood my remarks on our current polling scores. They are not connected with my remarks about Europe.
    They are merely psephological. What’s more you misrepresent them: I didn’t say we were doing “a lot better”. We are doing better though.

    Should we be drawing attention to the negative impacts of Brexit? Yes, but don’t make it a centrepiece of our campaigning.

    In touch with reality? Martin, get out a little bit and talk to non-LD members about how keen they would be to have yet another Referendum on Europe.

  • Denis Loretto 7th Dec '22 - 5:14pm

    As usual this debate leads to straw men being attacked. Very few would argue that we should be campaigning now for applying to rejoin the EU. The point is whether we should make it clear that we are a pro European party and are not ashamed to have voted remain. The Starmer line is getting close to saying maybe the leavers were right albeit some tweaks may be needed. That leaves a gap that the Lib Dems can fill. There is no doubt now that while few leave voters will publicly say “I was wrong”, more and more know in their hearts that they were misled into voting the wrong way. The Lib Dems must not be behind the curve of this gradual change. Already some media commentators are viewing the Lib Dem position as little different to the Labour one. To my mind it is time for a shift towards a more clearly Europhile position
    albeit not at this stage advocating rejoining institutions.

  • Peter Watson 7th Dec '22 - 7:00pm

    @Denis Loretto “The point is whether we should make it clear that we are a pro European party…”
    All parties – and both sides of the Brexit debate – can claim to be “pro-European”!
    From the Lib Dems, it sounds like a very disingenuous turn of phrase, and it’s a shame that when Ed Davey said Lib Dems were “not a rejoin party”, he said the party was “very pro-European” rather than “very pro-EU”.

  • Martin Gray 7th Dec '22 - 7:11pm

    Those advocating rejoin must surely understand that would mean eurozone status – something the British public would never accept.
    We had the best deal when we was in the EU , & had an opportunity for a soft Brexit – but that was never enough for some. We handed Johnson Brexit on a plate … There’s no going back for a generation.

  • Graham Jeffs 7th Dec '22 - 7:26pm

    Let’s not get distracted by spurious re-join arguments. That is no more a likelihood than PR is for Westminster elections. Let’s try and focus on realistic options.

    In that context the party has a duty to its Remain heritage to put forward measured plans for closer working relationships with the EU. Not only is that the common-sense thing to do for the country, but it also differentiates us from the others.

    There is no value in taking up extreme positions on the EU. People will respect us if we are coherent and balanced. Shrill voices of exaggeration achieve little that is positive. Neither does hoeing over the past. We need to provide informed, rounded, leadership on this issue.

  • Mick Taylor 7th Dec '22 - 7:37pm

    Now, let me see if I’ve got this right?
    We are a pro EU party, who seek in the medium term to rejoin the EU. We agree that being in the single market and the customs union would be very beneficial for UK business and help them rebuild our EU market. I know that’s our policy because I was at the conference that adopted it.
    But, we’re not going to say so – and indeed our leader never mentions it – for fear of offending people (leavers) who in any event won’t vote for us and already think we are a rejoin party. Never a care for those who voted to remain and still want to be in the EU, who might actually vote for us.
    What a crazy way to run a political party and shame on our leader who won’t speak up for what he believes in, despite the fact that it’s party policy.
    In my view and I campaigned and voted in BOTH EU referendums, we diminish our party and greatly reduce its chance of success by this muddled and misguided policy.

  • George Thomas 7th Dec '22 - 8:44pm

    It really is just a matter of timing and to what extent “a closer relationship with the EU” becomes. Keir Starmer believes now is not the right time and therefore won’t openly discuss it in any detail, so there is space for LD’s to argue the opposite.

    I wish we could acknowledge that i) Brexit might have been the right step to take, unlikely but a possibility, but was executed so poorly we won’t find out and ii) original referendum had option of staying in reformed EU as the “remain” option. We’ve not been part of the reforming for several years now so EU is possibly less good than when we left it.

    I think it’s almost definitely right to get ahead of curve though on this. It’s more or less an open goal for LD’s.

  • With the New Year approaching this blogger gives us her predictions for 2023 UK holds UnBrexit referendum
    “Sunak finally caves and calls an election, resigning to allow a new Tory profile to take charge of the battered party. Labour leader Keir Starmer, noting the popular support for a second Brexit referendum and the Lib Dems surging in the polls as they clamour for a new referendum, runs on a platform of non-alignment on the Brexit question but supports a second referendum to rejoin the EU along the lines of the David Cameron deal struck before the original 2016 referendum. A Labour government takes power in Q3, promising an UnBrexit referendum for November 1, 2023. The ReJoin vote wins”.

  • David Evans 8th Dec '22 - 8:09am

    Joe, I don’t know why you chose to mention it at all, but I think you have inadvertently missed out the most important part of the blog you refer to. Specifically the category it comes under – “Outrageous Predictions.” It comes alongside others including “EU Army Forces EU down path to full Union”, “Macron resigns”, and “The OECD bans Tax Havens.” At least it wasn’t published on April 1st.

  • Joe Bourke 7th Dec ’22 – 11:40pm………….UnBrexit referendum for November 1, 2023. The ReJoin vote wins”…..

    That, along with much of the ‘re-join’ rhetoric, reminds me of the very old English folk song, ‘Where are you Going My Pretty Maid’, which ends “Nobody asked you, sir, she said”. There seems an arrogant assumption that we’d immediately be welcomed back like a prodigal son.

    In 1967, de Gaulle vetoed the UK joining the then EEC. He justified his veto with the declaration that “to allow England [meaning the UK] in would mean assenting to a lot of pretence, which would be there to hide the destruction of a structure that was built at the cost of so much pain and in the midst of so much hope”.

    Over the years he was proved right; we were a ‘troublesome’ member to say the very least. Even Cameron’s attempt to gain concessions (re-negotiate membership) was based on the premise that “They needed us more than we needed them”; it was arrogantly called the “EU reform deal”.

    Negotiations for us re-joining the EU will be a long and difficult road..

  • Barry Lofty 8th Dec '22 - 10:51am

    Expats: You are probably correct in saying that returning to the EU fold will not be easy and yes we were a somewhat troublesome member which only goes to show that we Brits always seem to think we are the special race and must be treated differently to everyone else, we demanded and received a number of concessions compared to other members but that was still not enough! On the other hand I believe the EU is stronger with the UK on board but I fear we will not get the same concessions offered again when we reapply if, hopefully, such an event happens? Our economy may need a better arrangement ,at least, than we have at the moment.

  • Alison Willott 8th Dec '22 - 11:35am

    We should say firmly that we want to rejoin the single market and customs union, to make a better future for our fishermen, farmers and businesses and reduce food bills. Put it in the manifesto but this shouldn’t be our campaigning main thrust. The main headline should be NHS and other public services. Brexit is not important on doorsteps. We would pay nurses more. We would encourage back the thousands of experienced staff who have left. My personal plea is that we campaign heavily on heavily subsidised childcare. Currently £2000 a month for my 4-year-old grandchild! Who can afford that? Certainly not nurses. In addition to pushing public services, we must push green policies including carbon-neutral new builds. Councils to build more affordable housing. Use modular units. Homelessness rates are rising. For all this, we need to put up taxes and we should say so out loud. Increase higher rates of tax, and tax the wealthy: tax capital gains more, tax online businesses more (and decrease business rates for high street businesses), get rid of non-dom status, etc .

  • David Evans,

    you are right. I had not read that far to find the even more outrageous predictions. This one may not be so far fetched though OPEC+ and Chindia walk out of the IMF, agree to trade with new reserve asset
    “Recognising the ongoing weaponisation of the USD by the US government, non-US allied countries move to leave the USD and the IMF to create an international clearing union (ICU) and a new reserve asset, the Bancor (currency code KEY), using Keynes’ original idea from the pre-Bretton Woods days to thumb its nose at the practices of the US in leveraging its power over the international monetary system.”

  • Chris Moore 8th Dec '22 - 2:43pm

    Martin,

    Your parsing of “sceptic” is incomplete, Sceptics come in many shapes and forms. Scepticism is certainly not the preserve of scientists.

    Euroscepticism is an established term and widely used. I didn’t invent it. It’s much more constructive than “Europhobia”. So I will stick with that, thanks. We need to regard our former Eurosceptic support as potential LD voters, not as the enemy. First step: don’t insult or mock them.

    There is nothing even controversial about what I’m saying about party membership and support from Eurosceotics. Perhaps, you’ve not been a party member very long.

    Finally, it should be obvious to all that if we alienate Leave voters as in 2019, we won’t be winning many seats in either Remain or Leave areas.

  • Chris Moore 8th Dec '22 - 3:19pm

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/integrating-the-partys-eurosceptics-53923.html

    Here is an interesting article from 2017 published on LD Voice about a constructive attitude to LD Eurosceptic members.

    When I joined the Liberals in 1985, there were many such members, who made a liberal case for suspicion of the EU. Not all of them would have voted to Leave btw.

    The party has become much more homogenous in the last decade.

  • Question is How long can we go on financing the current balance of payments deficit? Based on the current very negative position due to the collapse of exports to the EU? Complete reliance on the “kindness of foreigners” to take up UK government debt is very risky as the crisis that ended the Truss Premiership showed. We need to up our game talking to fellow Liberals in the EU on what may be possible. Maintaining the current status quo will be disastrous.

  • The time is not yet right to advocate a re-join much as I would like it. Brexit support has to totally collapse, like support for the Iraq War.

    FPTP gives the Tories and Brexit an advantage by having supporters more evenly spread in more seats, while Remain support is piled much higher in metropolitan areas. Another reason to get rid of the unrepresentative voting system.

    The economic situation of the UK is sinking in with only 8% of the public thinking Brexit has had a positive effect, but more time and pain will be needed.

  • Peter Martin 10th Dec '22 - 5:25pm

    @ Alex B,

    “Question is How long can we go on financing the current balance of payments deficit?”

    This question has been asked for a lot longer than the last couple of years of our non-EU membership. On a global scale the dominant view is that it is better to run a trade surplus than a trade deficit. Obviously it isn’t arithmetically possible for everyone to do this. The trade tensions of the previous eras, when everyone tried to achieve the impossible, led trade wars which led to real wars. WW1 itself in Europe and the desire of Japan to expand its trading ability, free from high tariff barriers, in the Pacific region prior to WW2.

    What currently happens in practice, is that those developed economies which let their currencies freely float tend to be in trade or current account deficit which accommodates the desire of those who don’t to run a trading surplus.

    So to answer your question: we can run a trade deficit as long as countries like Germany wish to run a trade surplus. No-one is forcing them to send us more real goods and services than they receive from us in return.

  • Germany is a major investor in the UK Trade and Investment
    Total UK exports to Germany amounted to £50.0 billion in the four quarters to the end of Q2 2022. Total UK imports from Germany amounted to £72.4 billion in the same period.
    In 2020, the outward stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) from the UK in Germany was £40.8 billion. The inward stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the UK from Germany was £106.6 billion.
    Germany historically reinvests its UK trade surplus and part of its global trade surplus in the UK and its capital markets earning a return on those investment. Liverpool, Glasgow and Great Yarmouth ports are all owned by Deutsche Bank.

  • Chris Moore 11th Dec '22 - 8:10am

    Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage suggests there are marked benefits from trade when running either a surplus ir a deficit.

  • Hi Peter The trade deficit has grown hugely since Brexit. We were able to live with it in the padt due to substantial foreign investment. Now no longer. Freely floating currencies are an irrelevance. The deficit has to be financed by debt and that is more risky the more it is.

  • I find it amazing how many people seem to think that continually waiting for things to get much worse before coming out as anti Brexit is somehow a strategy for success for the Lib Dems. They are just as misguided as those who believe that we can’t say we are pro rejoin because it will upset our Brexit supporters (both of them!).

    Firstly everyone who pays any sort of attention knows we are pro EU and have been for as long as they can remember. Hence we are Anti-Brexit, and pro Rejoin even though our leaders don’t want to really say that in public for fear that some voters might not like it.

    Secondly we all know our party’s presence in the mainstream media is usually close to non-existent and so unless we say so loudly (and take the flack from our enemies as a price for getting noticed) and repeatedly over a long period, people will not notice when (or If – more likely knowing how slow our party bureaucracy grinds) we do come out and say it, and those who do notice will very rightly say “Too little, too late”.

    Thirdly we know that 48% of the voters supported our position in 2016 and many of those who didn’t now realise that they were deceived into supporting this fiction by a bunch of rich Tory wideboys.

  • Currently we are almost unnoticed in British politics, our earlier by-election bounce has evaporated as a series of unwinnable by-elections come along and most of our new pro remain members have once again left due to this drift, and the financial boost we had has now been spent.

    We need our leading figures – Ed, Layla, Daisy and so many others, plus Mark Pack, Federal exec and the rest to actually face up to reality and do something before once again we are seen to be a little party with very little of note to say.

  • David Evans is correct. It’s time for the Leadership to show some leadership.

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