Time to nail a vision to the mast…

At a time when the Government, or at least some of it, is offering the British public a Brexit deal which appears unacceptable to Remain and Leave supporters alike, where five Cabinet Ministers have taken it upon themselves to go try to redraft it in their own image, regardless of the fact that they might need to agree it with the European Union, the fact that the Leader of the Opposition cannot even bring himself to say how he would vote should there be a second referendum might seem like a mere sideshow in a Whitehall farce.

One need not be critical of Mr Corbyn’s failure to read the proposed Withdrawal Agreement – anyone claiming to have read and understood all of its ramifications is either lying or has far too much time on their hands – but it is astonishing that someone leading a political party either cannot or will not take a view one way of the other on whether our nation’s future should be inside or outside of the European Union. Given that his Party’s support has been swelled by the ranks of those seeking to overturn the result of the June 2016 referendum, and that all recent polling shows that his Party’s membership is solidly pro-Remain, the choice should be an easy one. Unless, of course, he is out of step with his party, not something he is unused to.

But, whilst Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn stumble from one contradiction to another, at least the Liberal Democrats remain fairly coherent on Europe. Whilst calling for a People’s Vote might seem like a soft option, any suggestion that the vote to leave might be overturned in Westminster would merely create the conditions for the emergence of an extremist political force, the like of which UKIP is gradually turning into – xenophobic at best, racist at worst, offering cheap, angry solutions to complex problems.

The people got us into this situation two-and-a-half years ago, and the people are going to have to get us out of this.

But talking about what Europe does for us, or what its faults are is only part of what is needed to persuade the British people – someone needs to talk about the things that have made voters feel disenchanted, rather than pandering to their worst prejudices. It’s time to start talking about that vision thing.

For regardless of the outcome, politicians need to start addressing some of the issues which led to people voting to leave. Pressures on public services, the failure of the economy to create secure jobs, paying sufficient to allow people to live independently. Our economy is just as broken as our political system is, with short term tactics taking priority over long term strategy.

It’s time for Liberal Democrats to be talking about ideas again, offering something more than angry press releases and simple slogans, talking about how, not just simply what.

It’s time for Liberal Democrats to espouse some coherent political philosophy.

It’s time for Liberal Democrats to demand better.

Read more by .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Bill le Breton 19th Nov '18 - 8:44am

    Mark – full marks for actually writing something on this subject. Also I applaud your statement that ” any suggestion that the vote to leave might be overturned in Westminster would merely create the conditions for the emergence of an extremist political force”.

    Two thoughts. This is a real danger in the present febrile atmosphere (to which the Liberal Democrats are contributing). And secondly a second referendum could also lead towards that end. It undermines the reputation of our political system and the confidence many many of our fellow citizens will have in it.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 19th Nov '18 - 10:09am

    We need to have a discussion about whether we really consider it acceptable for all but one of our MPs to be planning to vote for a “no deal” Brexit.
    I know they would claim to be voting against the deal as a means of possibly getting a second referendum (I refuse to use the annoying term “People’s Vote” – as if the first vote was somehow not a people’s vote). But there is really very little realistic prospect of getting a second referendum. And of course, even if there was one, it would be very likely to result in another vote to leave.
    Are we really going to stand by and let our MPs take such an irresponsible gamble?
    By far the most likely result of voting down the deal would be that we would leave without a deal. Ever since the referendum result, Lib Dems have been saying that “no deal” would be the worst possible outcome. But now there seems a real risk of our MPs causing a “no deal” Brexit, instead of the “soft Brexit” that would be possible if the deal was passed.

  • David Becket 19th Nov '18 - 10:13am

    Well said.
    Our problem as a junior party is that to promote a vision you need to inspire.
    Our party, and its leaders, do not inspire. We appear boring, and more concerned with party reorganisation.
    Yes we must demand better, but the membership should demand better from its leaders

  • Christopher Haigh 19th Nov '18 - 10:34am

    The leadership needs to back Mrs Mays even if reluctantly. It can then campaign for some sort of ratification plebiscite.

  • David Becket 19th Nov '18 - 10:35am

    @ Catherine Jane Crosland
    Again well said.
    We are in a very difficult position, and just to vote against the deal which will lead to a No Deal will cause us, and Labour, to get the blame for the mess. The Tories will survive, May did have a proposition to avoid a no deal, and Lab, Lib Dems and some rebels threw it out.

    We could put an amendment up, supporting the deal providing it included taking the decision back to the people.

    If that fails we need to prepare bringing back to the Commons a proposal for a peoples vote to get us out of the mess.

    Our leaders need both vision and political nous to survive this, and they must all be on message.

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Nov '18 - 10:56am

    ” any suggestion that the vote to leave might be overturned in Westminster would merely create the conditions for the emergence of an extremist political force, the like of which UKIP is gradually turning into – xenophobic at best, racist at worst, offering cheap, angry solutions to complex problems.”

    Don’t we already have extremist political forces offering cheap angry solutions…? Isn’t that how the (dis)United Kingdom got into this mess in the first place?

    If we are not allowed to change our minds isn’t democracy as good as dead?

  • …………………….But, whilst Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn stumble from one contradiction to another, at least the Liberal Democrats remain fairly coherent on Europe……………………………

    Having read the comments above I can’t understand why anyone could still believe that this party is less confused than the Labour/Tory party members.
    May’s, “It is ‘My deal or no deal’ has been loudly condemned over many months and yet that now appears to be the choice accepted by some posters.

    As an example of ‘muddied thinking’ why ever would May offer “some sort of ratification plebiscite” after her ‘deal’ has been accepted by parliament?.

  • jayne mansfield 19th Nov '18 - 11:38am

    @ Nonconformistradical,
    There are those would argue argue that the people offering cheap, angry solutions are fewer in number than in countries in the EU.

    What I have experienced, is people who are concerned about resources, jobs etc, the soft, non racist, brexiteers who don’t trust the remainers to keep their promise that these problems will belatedly be addressed. In fact, the very audience that the remainers are trying to persuade to change their mind if there is another vote.

    If the counter argument to Mrs May has not been made, that is a failure of political approach. Immigration at the levels we have had is still not seen as a benefit and leaving the EU seems to be the only answer.

    It is ironic really, given that immigration from outside the EU , ( and also within the EU) , has become problematic for governments within the EU and there will probably be some changes made in the future that would have addressed the concerns of the those in the UK.

  • Peter Watson 19th Nov '18 - 12:44pm

    “It’s time for Liberal Democrats to be talking about ideas again … to espouse some coherent political philosophy.”
    I would argue that there was never a time to stop doing that, but Lib Dems have given the impression (however unfair it might seem) that they are more comfortable being an anti-Brexit single issue pressure group instead of a proper political party.
    Perhaps the war wounds from Coalition Government are a large part of that (with a few more bruises picked up in the 2017 General Election), with opposition to Brexit papering over cracks between social and economic liberals while the 48% of the electorate who voted against Brexit offer the hope of electoral recovery for the party.
    Even the response to the author’s challenge has focused more on anti-Brexit strategy than “addressing some of the issues which led to people voting to leave”.

  • David Westaby 19th Nov '18 - 12:44pm

    A constructive article. There is so much room for a real message to come out from the LDs. I remain committed to a referendum on the deal but do wish a broader liberal message was coming out.
    Jenny Barnes
    History will look back on the coalition as a very successful government at a time of a national crisis. History will look back on the subsequent governments as being responsible for a serious decline in this countries wealth and standing.

  • @jenny Barnes. Perhaps not continually talking about the coalition would actually help. I once canvassed a very old lady who told me she would never forgive the party for what Lloyd George did, but I don’t think she was typical. I didn’t bother to ask her what part of his agenda she was irked by.
    I do agree that all reference to potholes should be completely forbidden.

  • David Westaby 19th Nov ’18 – 12:44pm……………History will look back on the coalition as a very successful government at a time of a national crisis. History will look back on the subsequent governments as being responsible for a serious decline in this countries wealth and standing……….

    History will look back on the coalition as the end of any pretence of the UK being a ‘social society’; the era when ‘the poorest were punished for the mess created by the wealthiest’. The only ‘cut’ that didn’t fall on the weakest in society was the cut to the top rate of tax.
    Blaming all the ills on the post 2015 election government ignores the facts; I suggest you, and others, view the history of ‘cuts’ between 2010 and 2015.

  • David Westaby 19th Nov '18 - 4:59pm

    @David Raw
    That cosy unblinking world is 42 years working in the nhs We will have to wait and see what history makes of the last 8 years.

  • Alex Macfie 19th Nov '18 - 5:40pm

    Catherine Jane Crosland: Leaving without a deal is the least likely outcome, as there is no support for it in Parliament outside the Tory ultra-Brexiteers. And now that the consequences of it are becoming clearer to see, it is not going to get much support among the voting public either. And I don’t see why a People’s Vote (actually a 3rd referendum, not a 2nd) would necessarily result in another Leave victory. Of course I’m not saying Remain would necessarily either — Remain supporters would have to campaign hard, and differently from how we did in 2016. But there’s evidence that public opinion has changed, and there is a much better understanding of the consequences of leaving the EU than there was at the time of the 2016 referendum. (This shows the practical problem with your specious, contrived idea that we have to let the process of Leaving the EU run its course before any new vote on the matter.)

  • Alex Macfie 20th Nov '18 - 6:56am

    Say we support May’s deal on the basis that it’s better than no-deal. Even if this is true (which it obviously is), and even if we think stopping Brexit has little chance of being achieved (which is questionable), the politics would be awful. We would not get the credit for averting Hard Brexit, we would be immediately labeled “Tory stooges” for propping up May’s government, and we would be punished at the ballot box at the next election whenever it comes up.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 20th Nov '18 - 7:59am

    Very well said. Mark. Among our tens of thousands of members is a Liberal Democrat who can spell out values and vision with compelling oratory, command presence in a room and has a grasp of the detail that builds the big picture that will capture the public’s imagination. The Party’s challenge is to encourage and not smother this voice with rules, sub-clauses, reprimands from small-print committees.

  • I listened to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech yesterday at the CBI. While it was generally a bit rambling he did raise an important point.
    “But there is a bigger story to tell. In 2016 the country voted to leave the EU against the economic backdrop of post-crash Britain: a million families using food banks, over 4 million children living in poverty and real wages that are lower today than they were in 2010.
    In towns and cities hollowed out by industrial decline and neglect, with boarded up shops and closed youth centres, many people voted for Brexit as an act of protest against a political system that simply wasn’t delivering.”
    In the 2 years since the Referendum that hasn’t changed. The perception of the EU hasn’t changed.
    We have been banging on for years about the system not working. We need to come up with real, practical common sense ideas to resolve the issues of both the EU and our broken democracy.
    Voting against the deal without a practical alternative – and just saying Exit from Brexit is papering over the cracks – just sets us up to be blamed as it says above. I think even the EU knows that it needs to change not for the UK but for everyone. I wish that a group of leaders would stand up and say that they know that the EU isn’t perfect and that they are going to change it. That would give us something to pacify the middle ground that is so important in the debate.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Nov '18 - 1:14pm

    Excellent from Mark, and two terrific comments by Humphrey Hawksley, pm knowles.

    Yes those of us who actually want to contribute more are indeed stifled by red tape but also, this tendency to not listen, which these contributors, along with the fine contribution from Catherine Jane Crosland support.

    There is a radicalism that is not really going to get us far if it not able to engage with the fears and worries and disappointments of people. Cries of, “racism,” when immigration is brought onto the agenda, cries of “centrists,” when moderation is called for, cries of, “no,” when common sense s advocated.

    There are those of us who articulate ways other than the pushy and loud. We are persuasive and listening.

  • Peter Hirst 21st Nov '18 - 1:14pm

    Let’s assume for the moment that we win a people’s vote referendum to remain in the eu. The campaign to win this must be accompanied by a clearly articulated vision of how we would reform the eu. I feel the immigration debate is turning to an acceptance that managed migration whether from inside or outside the eu is the only realistic option. We should declare that returning some laws to national governments should be an option in a multi-speed eu. We should show we can still or should be able to allow international trade rules supersede those negotiated by the eu. We must have a comprehensive set of proposals that satisfy most of those who voted to leave.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarSilvio 27th Jan - 11:49pm
    The goodwill and very positive feelings for the Lib Dems in 2010 offered a real opportunity to be part of a major change in politics....
  • User AvatarHywel 27th Jan - 11:49pm
    I wonder what Nick's record of success in political campaigns looks like. It's a fair question to ask of someone setting out a political strategy.
  • User AvatarRuth Bright 27th Jan - 11:26pm
    Glenn - quite. Converting non-voters is a more likely strategy. Nick Tyrone has achieved his goal of getting some attention a bit like when Germaine...
  • User AvatarJohn Roffey 27th Jan - 11:12pm
    Katharine Pindar 27th Jan '20 - 7:53pm "John Roffey. Thanks, John, but I am curbing my international instincts here to concentrate on the needs of...
  • User Avatarmbgooding 27th Jan - 10:59pm
    Katharine, as you wrote, “Beveridge wanted to combat five great evils as he saw them, Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness”. We should want to...
  • User AvatarGlenn 27th Jan - 10:50pm
    Still waiting for Moby Tory, the mythical great white soft Conservative vote that fails to turn up at every election!