We don’t need a NEW pro EU party

 

Ever since the referendum vote to leave the EU last year there has been feverish speculation about the need to set up a new political party. Yet 9 months have gone by and nothing has so far emerged. I would suggest that they have missed the boat. Thousands have already joined the pro-EU parties, notably the Lib Dems and the new party missed the opportunity to recruit them.

Even if it had been set up 9 months ago, would it have worked? Some see a parallel with the SDP formed in 1981 by the “Gang of 4”; Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers. It is worth recalling that they were all substantial political figures in their day. Had any one of them won the Labour leadership back then they would have mounted a far more serious challenge to the Tory government led by Margaret Thatcher. Instead Labour elected Michael Foot who was doomed to fail and Roy Jenkins led the SDP which brought in 50,000 new members (the Liberals had 100,000+), but in alliance with the Liberal party despite polling 26% of the popular vote they were crushed by the voting system and eventually had to merge with the Liberal party (and hence the Lib Dems of today).

There is no equivalent of the Gang of 4 today. Part of the reason that Corbyn won the Labour leadership was that his “moderate” Labour opponents were so banal. It was hard to imagine that any of them were an improvement to Ed Miliband.

So there is no obvious leadership in waiting and added to that there are huge practical problems in setting up a new political party. We of course are already there, the IT is in place and you can just join straight away .

And if all that is not enough there is a more fundamental question; what would the new party stand for? Obviously it would be pro-EU but being pro-EU does not tell us enough. Jeremy Clarkson supported Remain as did (briefly) Jeremy Corbyn. In short what is “Europeanism”? Even UKIP, sometimes cited as an example of what can be done, succeeded as a pressure group but would have no idea how to run a government. Without a charismatic leader like Farage they are a shambles. The Liberal Democrats have our preamble which defines our ideology and who we are.

Our voting system makes it almost impossible to start a successful new party – and there have been plenty who have tried. To non-aligned EU activists I would say this. If you want your voice to be heard then like it or not you will have to choose to join one of the parties that already exists. The new party you might be still waiting for is either not going to happen or will stand no chance of being successful.

If you are looking for a new party, why not consider the party with a new leader and where over half the members have joined in the past 2 years and is winning by-elections across the country? There is a good chance the Liberal Democrats are the new party you are looking for.

* Geoff Payne is the events organiser for Hackney Liberal Democrats

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14 Comments

  • Problem for young people is the baggage from the tuition fee debacle is a major negative.

  • Laurence Cox 3rd Apr '17 - 12:07pm

    Lord Rees, Astronomer Royal and Labour Peer, has some very cogent comments on Brexit here:

    https://theconversation.com/aliens-very-strange-universes-and-brexit-martin-rees-qanda-75277

  • Sue Sutherland 3rd Apr '17 - 1:26pm

    I agree Geoff. However, there are quite a few intelligent members of the Lib Dems who voted Leave who are feeling increasingly isolated as our pro EU stance seems to be the sole issue defining us as a party. I think we should be sounding them out about their reasons for their objections to the EU and see if we can meet their objections in new policies about how the EU could function better.

  • Phil Beesley 3rd Apr '17 - 3:05pm

    Sue Sutherland: “I think we should be sounding them out about their reasons for their objections to the EU and see if we can meet their objections in new policies about how the EU could function better.”

    Does it really make sense to argue about how to improve the club we’re leaving, to anyone? As a Euro sceptic, and a Remain voter, I could bore you all night.

    So we are going. To make the Lib Dems better or bigger, campaigners have to appeal to internationalist voters — people who look at the world as an opportunity. They are part of the core vote constituency who are optimistic and open armed. So let’s get on working about how to make post-Brexit culture a liberal one.

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Apr '17 - 8:20pm

    A new liberal pro-EU party would be counter productive. It’s the Lib Dems. Another will just mean fewer MPs as the pro EU liberal vote is split.

    I saw someone on Twitter say we need a new party because the Lib Dems went into coalition with the Tories, so apparently they want a party like the Lib Dems but a bit more left wing, but not as left wing as Labour. No one who wants to win a general election can have the luxury of such fussiness.

  • Sue Sutherland 3rd Apr '17 - 8:45pm

    Phil I think the next GE could well be fought on Brexit in which case we would be the main anti Brexit party so we need policies to help those who voted Brexit because of their poverty and also to listen to those who criticise the EU from within our party. They may have something worthwhile to offer if we are given the opportunity to take the country back in to the EU.

  • What happens if they are pro-EU but not a liberal?

  • @ Sue Sutherland. Sue, I’m afraid the Lib Dems are not the main anti-Brexit party in Scotland – they are third behind the SNP and the Greens who both have more MSP’s.

    And I’m afraid the Scottish Party is chasing it’s tail with a dogmatic pro-Union stance as well as the pro EU stance which is perceived by many as a contradiction in terms.

    If the alternative menu is fish and chips – or fish and peas – then you can’t have fish, chips and peas because it’s not on the menu as long as there is a pro-Brexit Tory UK Government in Westminster.

  • Gordon Lishman 4th Apr '17 - 10:57am

    Well said, Geoff.

  • @Geoffrey Payne – “I do not think there are enough anti-liberal pro-Europeans to make an impact”

    Remain vote 48%.
    Highest level ever recorded for the LIb Dems in any poll 34%
    Highest Lib Dem or predecessor vote 26%.
    Current Lib Dem poll rating 14%
    There is a big gap there which is made up of something

  • @Geoffrey Payne – “I do not think there are enough anti-liberal pro-Europeans to make an impact”

    Well the pro-EU group spans roughly from John Major to Peter Mandelson so that is quite a bold statement. That takes in both One-Nation conservativism and Blairite Labour. Neither of which are Liberal. The Remain vote was 48%. The best vote the Lib Dems have ever had is about 26% – only just over half.

    Either your appealing for non-Liberal pro-EU people to join the Lib Dems or not. And if not my question stands.

  • Simon Banks 9th Apr '17 - 7:49pm

    John:

    That really isn’t the impression I get. In our part of Essex the University Liberal Democrat society has been re-founded with impressive support. In common with the rest of the country, we had a big surge of new members after the general election most of whom were young. Four of our six constituency officers now joined after the general election and the Chair and Secretary are in their early twenties. Student Liberal Democrats are giving crucial support in campaigns. Tuition fees was a big and basic mistake, but for most people in their teens and early twenties now, it’s old history. The people who quote it against us now would be opponents anyway.

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