Remembering the liberty message among the Brexit madness

The Liberal Democrat result in the European Elections has shown that the #BollocksToBrexit message has finally got through.  But my twitter feed in the last couple of days makes me think that our position on civil liberties is also very relevant to the chaos around Brexit and all that this stirs up for people.

Recently there was an article in the Telegraph  about secret talks between some Tory donors and Nigel Farage with a view to a pact to avoid Tory Brexiteer and Brexit Party candidates standing against each other. 

My twitter feed had a string of comments from people alarmed at this. The sharpest I saw was from @bulshdetector  on 16 June: 

 

This is a different time and the parallels between now and then shouldn’t be drawn too closely, but the anxiety is real and should be engaged with.

Christina Wieland’s majesterial book The fascist state of mind and the manufacturing of masculinity gives a perceptive account of how people’s real anxieties left them prey to strong-sounding leaders in Germany and Italy in the 1930s. Earlier this year, the Hansard Society’s 2019 Audit of Political Engagement showed 54% of Britons in favour of a “strong leader who would break the rules”. It’s tempting to read the show of machismo in the Tory leadership contest as a competition to take up that role — in eliminating Rory Stewart they removed the voice calling this out.

 I can understand people feeling worried. The Liberal Democrat position on liberty is as far removed from the “strong leader” as our position on Europe is from that of the strident Brexiteer. One answer is to link opposition to Brexit and the support of liberty as civil liberties are values championed by the EU.  The danger is that this gets lost behind the stridency of those demanding Brexit as “the will of the people” [sic], and the way many Brexit supporters paint the EU as authoritarian because they see in it, their own authoritarian tendencies.

It can sound as if authoritarianism is everywhere.  In the European elections I encountered real anxiety on the doorstep. The number of citizens of other EU nations who arrived at polling stations and found they couldn’t vote contributes to the unease.  It’s not being helped by the craziness of the Tory leadership contest: I recently saw a tweet from someone saying that he usually sees Tory leadership elections from the perspective of a curious observer, but this time it’s with the “panic of an abductee”. 

Reminding people that there is an alternative in a more Liberal way of being helps to ease some of the immediate anxiety. It’s about providing an alternative that’s not about people losing faith in politics or acquiescing because there doesn’t seem to be a choice.

“#EuropeanLiberalValues” doesn’t quite pack the punch of “#BollocksToBrexit”. But, faced with an apparent competition to get as far from those European Liberal values as possible, this feels like exactly the moment to remind people that:

“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.“

(Liberal Democrat constitution)

* Mark Argent is Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Huntingdon.

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12 Comments

  • nigel hunter 21st Jun '19 - 9:34am

    The Liberal constitution that you mention should be put on ALL focus issues to combat the mess that is all around.Yes, this is exactly what helped Hitlers rise to power.

  • nigel hunter 21st Jun '19 - 12:31pm

    . the Lib Dem constitution should be put on ALL focus leaflets (even if in small print). It can show people that there is an alternative to authoritarianism that is/can be secretly circulated by those who want to control civil liberties.

  • nigel hunter 21st Jun '19 - 12:41pm

    This hogwash about ‘the will of the people’. Less than half the population voted. Those who are trying to manipulate the country to get Johnson into PM could find,if the above article is correct, an ambitious fool being ousted by a more devious person who is less inclined to civil liberties. Which of them is more ‘pally’ with Trump? Both need to be defeated by the resurgance of a free forward thinking party.

  • “#EuropeanLiberalValues” doesn’t quite pack the punch of “#BollocksToBrexit”.

    And it never will. As Liberals we always try to reason with emotion and anger. Anybody looking to gain insight into Brexit really should listen to Jonathon Sumption’s Reith Lecture series this year. In fact, listen to it two or three times as they are very condensed (as you would expect of a former high court judge). Brexit is not about the EU. It is about societal fracturing, dislocation of the body politic from the electorate and corruption. The winners are the people who can sell a narrative for that dissatisfaction, amplify the emotion, mould it and direct it to their ends. Trump has done it. Farage is doing it in the UK. LibDems need to find a narrative for people’s anger. Nick Clegg saying that the EU would be pretty much the same in the future, during the Referendum debates, was a classic case in denial of the anger people were feeling. You cannot rationalise away emotions or pretend they are not valid. If LibDems are going to make a real impact we need to get much more emotionally intelligent. People are angry with the body politic. Quite rightly. It’s corrupt. It’s broken and it’s not good enough to promote STV or some other tinkering with the system that may make a difference in the long term. People’s anger is here and now. LibDems should call for deep reform of MP’s remuneration and expenses. Call out the obscene amounts of money some MP’s are making by virtue of their position and the conflict of interests arising. Put an end to nefarious think tanks and lobbying. Call out the lying and misdirection. Tell people, that whilst the EU is not perfect, the real reason for their problems are much closer to home. Give the LibDems a chance to sort it out. Brexit is not the answer and is only going to make things worse.

  • @Nigel Hunter “Which of them is more ‘pally’ with Trump?”

    Whilst it is fashionable to frame things around ‘Trump’, the US-UK relationship goes much deeper, particularly with Boris and the pro-US fraction in the Tory party. The concern with Boris has to be that he simply (to all intents and purposes) replaces the EU with the US. The Trump angle in this is that Boris will want to impress and be seen to be Trump-like and hence will be more likely to commit sign a Trump deal without either reading it or understanding that it doesn’t matter how good the deal seems, Trump will still be doing better than you…

  • Nom de Plume 21st Jun '19 - 9:11pm

    @P.J.

    Brexit is part of a war of values: A liberal, globalised, international view championed the LibDems and a closed, nationalist view championed by the Tories and the Brexit Party. Labour’s position is unclear, but I would tend to place them, at least with Corbyn as leader, in the nationalist camp. There is no point in trying to reach across the divide. Where I do agree is in the need to be more emotionally intelligent. People need to connect with the message, not just understand the arguments. #BollocksToBrexit was good.

  • It is possible to see the lurch towards Fascism in the 1930s as a failure of liberalism (and socialism and communism, for that matter). Perceiving parallels in our own dark days is perfectly legitimate. Starting from where we are now, we have the opportunity to avoid a 1930s failure over the next decade. But it will require strong nerves as we fight a war of values which is wider than Brexit. In the 1930s we left it to others to provide the anti-fascist vanguard but we have no excuse today. Nigel Hunter sets the right tone when he implies giving greater prominence to the magic words from the Preamble to the Constitution. Until we were forced to move premises, our local party had them boldly displayed in the front window!

  • Neil Sandison 22nd Jun '19 - 8:56am

    Good article Mark .We do need to let the bird of liberty fly more often and not allow those who would oppress us by authoritarian power be they of the right or left dominate the agenda .Since Magna Carta we have challenged what appear to be all powerful rulers demanding blind loyalty to their cause or socialist dictators imposing state control over every action of their citizens .Liberals must never be cowered into submission and must always have the freedom the ask the question of those in power Why ? and is your action justified .

  • The way I see the withdrawal from the EU is that there was a Tory party with deep divisions. There was no real campaign to stay in the EU. There was a very slick campaign to leave. The slogans – things like take back control, our laws made in Brussels did not appear by magic. I have seen and heard them many times. It is not clear to me where the resources for this came from.
    I still see no attempt to give the truth about the EU – to build up a positive support for our only international treaty which allows for democratic control.

  • @nigel hunter
    unfortunately it is too long (https://www.libdems.org.uk/constitution)
    The first paragraph could be though
    “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.”
    However, what we often fail to do in Focus is to link what we do to the Preamble. We will talk about doing something and not say why because we think it’s blindingly obvious. For instance, there’s a lot of talk about devolution in England. The Preamble says “We believe that people should be involved in running their communities. We are determined to strengthen the democratic process and ensure that there is a just and representative system of government with effective Parliamentary institutions, freedom of information, decisions taken at the lowest practicable level and a fair voting system for all elections.”
    That’s why we support it. It’s not about whims but deep seated principles that we believe in. We need to make it clear that our policies are tested against these principles and not just “will it win votes?”

  • pmknowles The first sentence still packs a punch by itself …

  • Peter Hirst 22nd Jun '19 - 6:08pm

    It will take a concerted effort to show the electorate that there is an alternative to the populism and authoritarianism that Brexit has contributed to creating as the new norm. Our stance on civil liberties will distinguish us from all the other Parties when the dust from Brexit has finally settled. The protests in Hong Kong are showing us what happens when established civil liberties are threatened.

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