Opinion: Individuality on EU is the start of the Liberal Democrat recovery

Lib Dems would have winced when the news broke about Cameron’s EU veto, but it’s the biggest chance yet to express our party’s individuality.

Since the tuition fee rise and EMA’s abolition, I haven’t liked Nick Clegg. Although I agreed with the coalition being formed, I didn’t agree with the coalition negotiation team he chose. I haven’t agreed with a lot of what he’s done as leader. And I’ve sat grumbling about it for months. But over the past few days my respect for Nick has significantly improved.

Why? Well I’m starting to see something different from Nick and our party. I’m starting to see a glimpse of the Liberal Democrats I joined over three years ago. Nick appearing on The Andrew Marr Show was the moment it dawned on me. He said that the EU veto was ‘bitterly disappointing’ and that eurosceptics were ‘seriously misguided’, after which I frightened my girlfriend by exclaiming ‘go on Nick’ and punching the air. Putting aside the fact that politics is clearly making me a rather dull individual, it was what I and so many other Lib Dems had been hoping for.

Ever since the coalition’s formation, Liberal Democrat members up and down the land have been crying out for our individuality to be expressed loud and clear. We’ve met Nick and had long, tiring discussions on just this. We’ve quizzed Lib Dem MPs about it at every opportunity, even Christmas dinners (sorry Tim Farron!). We’ve done our best on the doorstep to explain why we couldn’t keep all our promises. Tried, and often failed with little support from the top of our party.

But Nick’s performance is the first big development in dealing with this issue. He was clear about what he felt about the EU and clear on what Liberal Democrats believed in.

Nick’s discussion with Andrew Marr wasn’t the only thing I was proud of though. Sharon Bowles MEP, Vince Cable, Paddy Ashdown, Tim Farron and so many other senior Lib Dems have been standing up for the EU recently and in turn, our individuality in government. It’s the start of what we’ve all been striving for – Liberal Democrats in government shouting loud for what we believe in, striving for a different approach to that of the eurosceptic, anti-immigration Tory right and standing up for the common sense route.  While I’ve no doubt we’ve been doing all of this thus far in government, it’s only now that people are starting to pay attention. And while we’ve got people listening, we must do more of it.

If we as a party are to recover some of our lost support, we need to go back to being considered the ‘party of sense’. We need to put across why we couldn’t fulfil all our manifesto pledges, shout big about our achievements in government and continue to press for years that the public shouldn’t trust Labour again with the economy. Sitting in government appearing to nod at everything Cameron says is not what is best for Liberal Democrats and we need to use the EU veto as the launch of our General Election campaign strategy.

Most of Lib Dems agree we need to express our individuality in the coalition and see a return to community politics… and fast. This is what will win us back support and put us in a better position for the future.

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36 Comments

  • You are easily pleased!

    ..Stating that the coalition would remain until 2015 was the end of any negotiating strategy. The ONLY negotiating tool Clegg really had was the threat of pulling out………….

    Can someone explain HOW the LibDems can influence Cameron, and Tory policy, in any way? What does he fear will happen? His Eurosceptics have shown that even their ‘veiled’ threat to his leadership worked.

    Cameron, et al, have ridden roughshod over LibDem manifesto promises since day one; the LibDem response? After more than a year, a few abstentions.

    When Paxman asked Danny Alexander to name a single point in the Autumn Statement where LibDem policy had made a difference the silence was deafening….

  • Robin Martlew 14th Dec '11 - 9:43am

    I have never been a glutton for power. I want us to have it, but only so that we can use it effectively. I did however support the idea of a coalition, ignorantly thinking that we might get more out of it and recognising that not to do so would not be understood by the public! I have never supported the Orange Book brigade however and for me ‘Common Sense’ is the lowest common denominator of ‘Sense’ and we need the ‘Highest Common Denominator’ I hang in because there is no philosphical alternative!
    It does seem to me that we underestimate the achiecements of years as the ‘third’ party when time and again we say the other parties shifting their ground to take in the inroads we were making at elections and in the public mind. I would have been prepared to wait, but out rhetoric wouldn’t let us and we became sucked in. Labour of course failed everyone then and now!
    What we have to do now is work out how and what messages we need to get onto the agenda. So far the Tories and the Orange Book Brigade are failing to look at radical approaches in our acceptance of Capitalist failings and are in fact compounding them. Recovering the structure we have will only fix us interminably into the system that failed us.
    An ‘Inclusive Society’ cannot be constructed on a system that relies on power from the top down and with unemployment as a means of controlling the pressures within it.
    There has to be, and there are, other ways!

  • I can’t see that this is any advantage to us, if anything it exposes a policy of ours that the vast majority of British people disagree with. The right wing press has for years pandered to the xenophobic bias of the British people. I would been happier if we had expended more effort in attacking the Tory policies attacking the benefits system etc.

  • Can someone explain HOW the LibDems can influence Cameron, and Tory policy, in any way?.

    Straightforward quid pro quo, Even if the term is fixed, how much of the Tory agenda Cameron can get through the Commons in that time is not.

  • ………………………….Straightforward quid pro quo, Even if the term is fixed, how much of the Tory agenda Cameron can get through the Commons in that time is not……………….

    Well he hasn’t listened so far. As I understand it, quid pro quo (what for what) usually means ‘like for like’; are you suggesting that LibDems can negotiate as ‘equals’? The usual argument on LDV is that LibDems cannot be blamed for anything contrary to manifesto promises because we are a very ‘junior partner’ in the coalition.

    Anyway, LibDem MPs have chosen to ‘flip-flop and whimper’ on, perhaps the one decision most likely to further alienate the general public. Compared to Nick Clegg, George Armstrong Custer was a tactical genius.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Dec '11 - 12:01pm

    roger

    I can’t see that this is any advantage to us, if anything it exposes a policy of ours that the vast majority of British people disagree with. The right wing press has for years pandered to the xenophobic bias of the British people.

    OK, but most people reading the right-wing press have almost no idea what the EU does, and so are very easily misled by claims about “EU legislation” etc which turn out to be laughably untrue. The game is rather given away by the fact that though they will SAY if asked that the EU has immense control over us, mostly they won’t bother voting in EU elections because actually they don’t matter much because actually the EU doesn’t have that much power.

    So, the right-wing press has managed to get ignorant xenophobes all worked up about a supposed EU takeover of our country while saying nothing about the way our country’s business, and infrastructure, and even land, particularly key sites in our capital city, is gradually getting bought up by foreign control, thanks to the direction this country was pushed in by the so-called Iron Lady and all her successors. I think we ought to call her the “Irony Lady” given the irony of the situation where she made her name as a great defender of this country’s independence, while opening the back door to our country losing its independence to foreign fat-cats and foreign state control. The right-wing press may whip up xenophobia over straight bananas or whatever, but they are strangely silent over such things as the fact my electricity is provided by a company with majority ownership in the hands of the French government. Now can you imagine the fuss they could make about such a thing if they decided to? Bu they won’t will they? Why not? Because they are not really the voice of “British patriotism”, they are the voice of the international fat cats whipping up supposed British patriotism only when it suits them. The anti-EU stuff is just a distraction to turn the attention of their readers away from what is really happening to this country.

    The power of the bankers over us has become so much that to challenge it requires international action. Britain has in effect become a scab, sucking up to the real bosses and refusing to take part in joint action against them. United we stand, divided we fall, so what is presented as “defence of British independence” is really defence of the bankers walking all over us. Now, if it was put in this way, how many of the xenophobes cheering on Cameron for his recent action would remain cheering? But you won’t find the right-wing press putting it that way, or anywhere near that way, will you?

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    I’m afraid roger is right on this. We’re on the wrong side of the argument and today’s opinion poll is there to show Europe’s a winner for Cameron just now. As for Nick Clegg’s appearance on Andrew Marr last Sunday, so constrained is this party by the potential for press distortion it must feel it only takes a harmless rider from Nick Clegg to sink all the sense he spoke in the preceding 15 minutes.
    Promoting our influence in Europe = sense isn’t the individual crock of gold for the party right now. The paradox when the author of the article couples this argument for restoring our fortunes with a revival in community politics should be obvious.

  • Callum Morton 14th Dec '11 - 1:23pm

    I don’t think we’re on the wrong side of the argument when it comes to Europe. What voters want and what is actually right in the long term don’t always match up. Besides, polls and voting intention switch about all the time, but right and wrong do not. My article wasn’t just about the EU, it was about the start of something different. Most Lib Dems I’ve spoken to have said the only way to get our message out is to shout about our differences to the Conservatives, and go knocking on doors non-stop to change people’s perceptions of us, particularly after the fees situation. I don’t see how this is a paradox, it’s what we need to do to survive as a party.

  • Tony Dawson 14th Dec '11 - 1:52pm

    Excellent posting.

  • Sean>We’re on the wrong side of the argument and today’s opinion poll is there to show Europe’s a winner for Cameron just now.

    So we should abandon principles to be popular?
    Daily Mail et al would have a field day with that. Whatever Nick does/says, he loses with a right-wing press that want to wreck the coalition and get an all-Tory government in its place.
    And look how the tuition fees thing was perceived by the public. Any change of stance on the EU would be a betrayal of those who voted Lib Dem supporting that stance.
    And who would it attract in exchange? Europhobes can vote Tory or UKIP. In marketing terms, it would hardly be a USP!

    As for being a winner today… it’s not that long ago that we were well in the minority in opposing Blair’s war in Iraq. We stood firm because we believed we were right. Public opinion shifted on that one after a few years.

  • I applaud Nick’s stance on Europe but I don’t expect it to win us any votes.

    The public are more concerned with British employment, education, healthcare and pensions than anything else. Only the first is popularly perceived as affected by the EU, and then only in the context of immigration.

  • Is anyone aware of there being any calculation of what it would cost the UK to not be in the EU?

    I don’t just mean the number of jobs, value of exports etc. but also things such as the cost of additional regulatory activity where we currently share costs by virtue of EU membership (e.g. centralised procedure for pharma).

    Surely we ought to be able to build our communications message on the EU more strongly. The public know we believe in the EU and generally that costs us votes. They need to hear what’s in it for them.

  • I’d be careful of imagining that the public will be taking any notice of arguments on behalf of the EU at the moment – good though the point of sharing the costs of regulatory activity is, the mere mention of the “r” word will be viewed as pejorative. A long way ahead is the scent of a proposal by Lord Hunt that the PCC might, just might, consider the right of reply to opinion pieces, if not editorials, in the name of a balanced agenda. So may a shaft of light appear to many mainly older EU hating readers who have literally been brainwashed by the shrill tabloids they still read. This is important, for as jedibeeftrix points out the present electoral system makes our case on Europe even harder to promote;and it’s compounded by the new registry of electors, with 1 in 5 being ineligible to vote (only around half of 19-24 year olds are registered against 94% of over 65s) and an impending boundary review which is unlikely to be helpful, to put it mildly.
    Being on the wrong side of an argument is no more than supporting one that is bound to lose; it’s not about not being right in a moral or philosophical sense, as so many on here seem to most creditably think.
    The Feltham by-election will provide a snapshot: I am ready to revise my opinion that we need a complete rethink about how we campaign on the EU if the LibDems do well.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Dec '11 - 1:58pm

    Sean Blake

    I’m afraid roger is right on this. We’re on the wrong side of the argument and today’s opinion poll is there to show Europe’s a winner for Cameron just now.

    Yes, but I don’t believe the British people understand the argument. I don’t think for a minute the British people are thinking “Ah our poor bankers, we must defend them against the nasty Europeans”. Rather they have been whipped up for years and year, often with stories whose truth is almost non-existent, to suppose everything about the EU is bad, and therefore to suppose any UK leader who is seen as “Standing up to to EU” is good, without any idea what the actual issue is that is being stood up against.

    Of course the reality of politics is that a lot of it works like that. But I don’t think this means we should entirely give up trying to get people to look beyond the world as it is presented in the right-wing press.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Dec '11 - 2:07pm

    Dane Clouston

    I particularly object to the way that EU- and Euro-sceptics are so often described by LibDem EU-philes as being right wing – not to mention ignorant and xenophobic.

    Well, there was a time when opposition to the EU was predominantly a left-wing thing, with left-wingers complaining the EU was a capitalist conspiracy which we should not sign up to as it ruled out their plans to lead our country to a socialist nirvana – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    The reality is that the political extreme right here, which I call the UK “Tea Party” (remembering in Britain, “Tea Party” is generally preceded by “Mad Hatter’s”) is using anti-EU feeling to bring it support it does not really deserve from those who don’t realise how they’re being used. Unfortunately, this does crowd out genuine informed debate on the EU – I accept your point, but for those who are anti-EU for genuine reasons it’s hard to hear those reasons when they are being drowned out by those whose real plan is to make us the 51st state of another union.

  • @jedibeeftrix

    I am unwilling to attribute newspapers that much power, for to do so would undermine my confidence that voters – adults of legally sound mind – as a group are sufficiently responsible to carry out their duties in a representative democracy.

    I would of course hate to undermine your confidence in those voters of legally sound mind.
    Maybe don’t overestimate voters’ abilities to do as you hope

  • ARTHUR COLLINGE 15th Dec '11 - 5:02pm

    Growing up during World War 2 I instinctively feel we have to be part of the European scene.On so many issues such as foreign policy,the environment and culture for example we punch above our weight in collaboration with our colleagues.Yet, when it comes to the separate question of the Eurozone we Liberal Democrats are entitled to take a more nuanced position.Just a cursory examination of the economic performanceof the Eurozone over the past ten years reveals such a disparity in individual Euro countries competitiveness that suggests a fundamental imbalance.Countries like Greece and Italy really need a deep devaluation to become competitive.They cannot do this, of course, within the Euro so are being forced into a compulsory cut in their cost structure ie reduced wages,public expenditure and tax increases.On top of this unelected aparatchiks are put in control of this leeching process.It is all being dressed up as a “fiscal compact” As Liberal Democrats with our proud democratic ethos and with our noble Keynesian economic heritage we cannot support this approach. The tragedy is we are powerless as a non member to influence events . Cameron is left to pick fights on dubious grounds- a distraction which only confirms our isolation in these worrying times. As Liberal Democrats we must urge Nick to make it abundantly clear to our friends in the Eurozone not all British citizens are little Englanders and we look forward to playing a more constructive role in the not too distant future. We have much to offer in the way of an alternative democratic and economic strategy for the Eurozone -less authoritarian and more economically expansionary.

  • @ Dane Clouston

    He means you’re a Dane, although possibly not a Great one…
    ……but this being Liberal Voice, I’m sure you are.

  • Oranjepan,

    I’ll let that one wash over me and hope there’s a retained deposit at Feltham.

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