We shouldn’t just be the party of Remain; we should also be the party of Reform


There is a strong chance that the Remain camp will win the EU Referendum. I say that because, through campaigning on the streets for Britain Stronger In Europe in the most Eurosceptic town in the South West, there has definitely been a shift in public attitude from a generally hostile view of the EU to the realisation of the potential damage to the UK a Leave vote would bring.

I am not saying that we are home and dry; a week is a long time in politics and there are several more weeks to go in the run-up to the vote, but this campaign is one Remain could easily lose rather than one the Brexit side could easily win.

With that said, the referendum is only the beginning in a new chapter on the debate over Britain’s relationship with the European Union, and we will make a fatal error in thinking that this vote will finally slay the dragon of anti-EU sentiment. In fact, the closeness of the vote we are more likely about the see the rebirth of a more wide-ranging UKIP party along the lines of the SNP after the Scottish referendum; rebranding itself as a Eurosceptic ‘Libertarian Party’ to draw together those involved in the Vote Leave, Leave.EU and Grassroots Out campaigns.

While the Conservative Party will restructure itself after June and Labour will feel the fight is won, we need to continue to act as the counterweight to UKIP’s successor and the only way we can do that is to offer a viable alternative to their message. We need to address the concerns many floating voters have when it comes to the EU, such as increasing the EU’s democratic accountability, reducing its bureaucracy and in creating a unified European response to the refugee crisis.

The Remain campaigns have often stated that we should Lead in Europe rather than Leave it. Through campaigning for Reform we can keep the initiative with the Remain camp, with the Liberal Democrats are the fore, and even begin to turn the tide of Euroscepticism in the UK. However, if we go back to ‘business as usual’ we risk losing that initiative and in doing so, the future EU referendum that would inevitably come.


* Ian Thomas is the pseudonym for a party member. His identity is known to the Lib Dem Voice editorial team.

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


  • I’m just not sure how voting remain will create any reform. What PeterMartin2001 says sums up why there is no reform. Mrs Merkel rather likes this situation though we’ve seen the Austrian voters might not.

    The only way to get reform is to tell every pollster that you are voting leave and if nothing pops up in the next month from the EU then voting leave is the only way to create reform.

  • There is frankly, no hope of reforming the EU. Those at the top of the EU got there without the need for democracy, and there is no way they are going to allow ‘reformers’ to allow democracy and accountability, into that process any time soon.
    Simmering in the background of the EU there are a number of ‘unravelling(s)’ going on,… social, political and financial. So much so, I’m increasingly convinced that whether voting Remain or Leave, the EU will not survive. I hope that will not bring about some kind of civil war in Europe, but if unrest in Europe does occur, the culpability will be squarely on the heads of the eurocrats, whose greed and power mongering made them deaf to concerns for change. Whatever form of Europe emerges after the end of the EU experiment, it cannot in any way be placed at the feet of those who simply wished for democratic accountability, but were constantly ignored.?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Apr '16 - 12:00am

    Quite a feeling of kinship and rapport, when I have just put comments on the thread about the refugee vote tonight , to find a moment later this sensible piece saying a lot of what I just posted !

    I go even further , Alex , in that I am not committed to remain in the EU but have yet to fully decide .Articles like this help.I would welcome some from our Liberal Leave campaign, to say their piece on here , but they are not doing so , though are active out and about and on Facebook!

    Reform of the EU in the way any of us who might agree on it , want , is not going to be easy in an organisation as cumbersome .

    Bureaucracy, reducing, when the elitist tendency thrives on it ? Less red tape ,when the machine politician creates it ? Greater co operation, when the main players dominate it?

    The great British songwriter Leslie Bricusse put it well in his lyrics for Pickwick ,

    ” If I ruled the world
    Every day would be the first day of Spring
    Everyman would have a new song t sing …”

    If indeed ……I admire the sentiment and share it , even …

  • Bill le Breton 26th Apr '16 - 8:31am

    Here is what ‘little’ Denmark achieved in 1992 by using their referendum on the Maastricht https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danish_opt-outs_from_the_European_Union

    The EU Establishment will not let the UK leave if it votes ‘out’ this June. The impact would be too great. It is therefore the only way that reform will take place within the time scale necessary to prevent total rather than partial breakup.

    The first round of the Austrian Presidential elections should be a warning to us all. As should the rise of the extreme right in places like Poland, Hungary and Slovenia.

    Peter Martin is of course correct – it’s the economy, stupid. And the European economy remains depressed because of the Euro. Every system of fixed (or pegged) exchange rates ends in catastrophe.

    And the Euro is a major element in the mechanism for political alignment across the Union. It is the way that the notion and practice of subsidiarity is turned into a fig leaf beneath which countries are forced into surrendering their individuality and adopting homogeneity.

    The EU is structurally illiberal and stultifying for the vast majority of its population. If we don’t change these aspects of the EU, Putin wins.

  • Agree with Peter Martin’s comment. Spot on. More politicians need to be saying what all the academics have been saying for a long time.

  • If the European establishment sneered at our modest requests for reform when we might have left – i.e. Cameron’s ‘deal – exactly why do you think they will reform if we meekly vote to stay in?

  • Yes to reform if that means transparency and accountability. But any reform is driven by Governments, who quite like things the way they are. As a party, what can we do? We could tell people what the EU actually does and could use Euro elections as a battle of ideas rather than pitch it as a referendum.

    For most of its existence, the EU has been driven by argument between the different GOVERNMENTS. People ‘standing up for Britain / France / Greece / Spain / Italy’ in the Council of Ministers. Less so now but you will never get decisions that are right for Europe as a whole if they are determined by people who have to satisfy the voters of their home party.

    Until Treaty of Lisbon, (a majority of) the Govt Ministers always won disputes. Since then the arguments are more balanced with people who are ‘standing up for ideas – socialism, liberalism, conservatism’ in the Parliament.

    If the Parliament was stronger than the Ministers, that might improve democratic accountability. The media and thus the voters would know they mattered more. The voters might see EP elections as a battle of ideas rather than a constant referendum.

  • Neil Sandison 26th Apr '16 - 10:44am

    Couldn’t agree more with Alex .This current referendum isn’t the one we should be having because it is based on some very narrow concessions to appease the tory party. What Cameron should have been pushing for was treaty change .The EU knows it has to change and renew its self and that opinion is shared beyond the shores of Great Britain .What we should be pushing is the reform agenda .Lets make those elected MEPs earn their wages. Make the council of ministers and the commission more accountable .maximise decision making where ever possible to state level whilst retaining an overview and scrutiny at european parliament level.

  • Liberal Leave people may not be doing blogs because they are keeping their heads down until after the local elections. The culture of the `party of in` makes even suggesting voting leave as an option as a sort of `persona non grata` status. It’s almost as if the European superstate is a sectarian faith of the Lib Dems – the easy key to some open modernistic fresh new happy clappy world.

    I don’t doubt its original good intentions and the intentions of the people that support it – the problem is that their thinking is so establishment and unthinking.

    It’s as if there’s a choice between `sophisticated, modern and free` with `a right wind load of dangerous nothing`.

    Whether Leave or Remain the EU will go through crisis to crisis until it is reformed. Does one really believe that we won’t be bailing it out in years to come?

  • I’m always wary of comments containing terms like extreme right, or extreme left, because they’re frequently an evasion tactic for people unwilling to face a particular reality.
    The deficit of democracy in the EU, and the negligence of the establishment to reform it, is the very reason for voters turning elsewhere (right or left). These terms, extreme right-left, are scattered around much like the term ‘junk food’ is used. Junk food is something that affluent folk frown on, but poor folk turn to, to fill an empty belly, at a cost within their budget.
    So to pursue that analogy :
    If you happen to be part of the class who feel themselves to be excluded,.. ignored,.. uninvited,.. and even written off, [politically], and the existing establishment politicians have no policies that ‘fill your belly’,.. then it makes absolute sense to search out and support parties who’s policies do.. ‘fill the belly’. So whilst [for you], the extreme right, or extreme left, much like junk food,.. might not fill *your* belly,…for those given no other political option, it’s their only escape from the tyranny of a deaf, smug political class, which constantly ignores them and leaves them still hungry for change.
    Instead of frowning on voters who look elsewhere, after having found the ‘liberal centre ground’ bereft of answers, might it be wise to ask yourselves why you still persist with policies that don’t,… ‘fill their bellies’..?

  • “The EU is as accountable and in some ways more accountable than the UK government.” – if the UK parliament can be outvoted by the EU parliament, how is that democratic in a sovereign sense, as regards UK democracy?

  • One thing that would help would be if our Euro election campaigns focused on what MEPs actually do. Our Euro campaign in 2014 said next to nothing about our MEPs or about our specifically liberal vision of the EU and what our MEPs had done or would do to realise it. There was a Lib Dem Euro manifesto, as well as the ALDE manifesto, for the European Parliamentary election, yet the party chose not to campaign on either of them. This was ridiculous when the WHOLE POINT of European Parliamentary elections is to elect people to shape EU law and policy. Instead of talking about what our MEPs were doing AS LIBERALS to make the EU more liberal, we had Clegg going on about how great the EU is but with no reference whatsoever to the contribution of our MEPs to it.

    We also missed a trick because we could and should have used the Euro election campaign to emphasise the independence of our European Parliamentary grouping from the Westminster Coalition, instead of having our Deputy Prime Minster fronting our campaign. Our MEPs were in a position to advocate and implement undiluted Lib Dem policy, yet we said NOTHING about this. Unfortunately our party was led by people for whom Westminster was everything. So the message about how we as LIBERALS want the EU to look and what our elected EU representives would do about it was never heard — nothing else mattered to Clegg & co other than being in government at Westminster. We must move on from this discredited approach.

  • Matt (Bristol) 26th Apr '16 - 12:29pm

    Look, I’ve been criticised for this before, but the LibDem commitment to further reform of the euro-election voting processes needs to be in every LibDem European Parliament manifesto, and fairly high-up the list.

    Yes, this is on the face of it illogical because the European Parliament does not have power over that issue, the UK Parliament does.

    But (strangely enough) people think about the voting process for the European Parliament, when they are voting for the European Parliament (gosh? who would have guessed).

    And I suspect a lot of the claims that MEPs are irrelevant and ‘I don’t know who my MEP is’ have a lot to do with the anonymity of the closed-list system put in place by Labour. We can counter these claims if we show we have an answer to that problem.

    It is silly to continue to claim we are a party of reform, but fail to campaign on or draw any attention to a major piece of related reform that we want to see.

    Certain parties campaigned for a referendum that the European Parliament had no say over at previous elections and did quite well – we don’t want that version of reform.

    But we do have our own version, and we need to speak about it.

  • Bill le Breton “The EU Establishment will not let the UK leave if it votes ‘out’ this June.”

    Now granted, the EU has a long-established record of reacting to “No” votes in referenda, albeit on treaty change rather than national exits, by offering concessions and asking for a re-vote. However, can you really imagine that working this time?

    Sure, the EU would try it on, and Cameron might be tempted to talk. The moment he did, the question of his survival after an “Out” vote would be very speedily resolved. His party would rapidly kick him into outer space and bring in Boris or Gove. Knowing this, Cameron would assuredly avoid talking about a revised “In” deal, though he might perhaps play for time while nominally talking about the disengagement process.

    But even if he did – This just isn’t like Denmark voting on Maastricht. Can you imagine the public mood if there is a majority for Brexit, and anyone then has the temerity to call for a re-vote? It would produce a landslide for Out under those circumstances, wouldn’t it?

    Don’t anyone kid themselves that “Leave” means “Please reform”. It means “Leave”.

  • Alex Macfie 26th Apr '16 - 1:43pm

    @Matt (Bristol): I think the main reason for the claims that MEPs are irrelevant and ‘I don’t know who my MEP is’ is most political parties ignoring their MEPs, even during Euro election campaigns. And this includes us. Being the “party of reform” should mean being the party of making the European Parliament seem relevant. As I said we did NOTHING to do that in 2014. And Clegg said he was happy with the EU as it was (or, anyway, that’s how it was perceived). Our election campaign validated the idea that MEPs don’t matter. It also validated UKIP, and contributed significantly to UKIP’s rise.

  • Matt (Bristol) 26th Apr '16 - 2:05pm

    Alex – yes.

  • Matt (Bristol) 26th Apr '16 - 2:08pm

    See also, not putting all our MEP candidates on most of our literature, thereby reinforcing the idea that you don’t need to know who they are — a mistake the Greens did not make, with their literature providing biographies in my region of all their candidates, creating the impression that they had a strong and varied team and wanted to be accountable to the voter.

  • How about we get the plank out of our own eye first? The UK is grossly undemocratic, incredibly bureaucratic and badly run and it’s shockingly corrupt. The priority has to be to reform the government in London and Britain’s awful local government, before we start talking about reform for the much more open, democratic and well-run EU institutions.

  • @Alex H. – if the EU can outvote the UK, how is the UK “a sovereign democratic nation”?

  • Bill le Breton 26th Apr '16 - 6:51pm

    Alex H- I am sure your support for “Europe” is sincere. But this is not about support for ‘Europe, ‘ it is about the continuation of the EU as presently constituted and directed.

    It is easy to run up the flag for Europe. On the other have, we have a least a three speed EU. Those with continuing control of their monetary policy can use flexible exchange rates to do the ‘right’ thing for their national economies. Those in the Eurozone have a monetary policy suited to or set for the northern European countries who will emerge from this period of tight monetary policy lean and fit and very efficient- further widening the gap between themselves and the eastern ‘bloc’ and of course with the likes of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain.

    So, we shall see the northern European bloc amassing surpluses and the others saddled with deficits – the answer to which will be further austerity, unemployment, inequality and inter community strife.

    The EU is a post war solution to post war problems … not the problems that Europe (note the distinction) faces.

  • jedibeeftrix 26th Apr '16 - 7:09pm

    bill, are you a late convert to the cause?
    i swear i don’t recall you making these arguments (which i agree with) in the many years i have made them here…

  • `While the Conservative Party will restructure itself after June and Labour will feel the fight is won, we need to continue to act as the counterweight to UKIP’s successor and the only way we can do that is to offer a viable alternative to their message.`

    Probably the only realistic thing that was said in this blog. The Lib Dems just don’t get it. It’s not about `addressing concerns` the Lib Dems are the Party of IN. Not the party of `IN with compromises and demands` but IN.

    Either Leave or Remain there is literally nothing they can say. If there’s a Remain vote then it’ll be the Government of the day that’ll have to wade through the minefield of scrutiny and promises reneged on in the EU. The Tories will split yet it will be nothing like any opportunity for the Lib Dems as they will have the ideas. I can see UKIP broadening its appeal and pulling in Labour/Eurosceptic/Libertarians/Liberal leavers to form a new party. The Lib Dems will be finished nationally.

    If Leave wins then Farage will be grinning like a Cheshire cat. Farage can’t stop laughing.

    As for me i’ve made my decision. I will not vote for a campaign that attempts to cower me into submission and insult my intelligence. Whether it’s Dave’s mates with their pre-prepared lines, Obama `back of the queue` or the £9m leaflet it’d be beneath my dignity to vote to Remain.

  • Nom de Plume 26th Apr '16 - 9:29pm

    Bill le Breton’s argument is against the Euro. He does not address the political and economic consequences of leaving. I would take Obama’s, Cameron’s and other european leaders’ warnings at face value. He appears to fear some political alignment and “surrendering their individuality and adopting homogeneity”. In my opinion the danger is quite the opposite: such a process is not possible. You can not create a nation in reverse, which is another way of looking at the Euro. It completely disregards european history and culture differences. I can see why politicians would want to create the Euro, but it is a dangerous project. Both politically and economically. I say this as someone who has travelled widely and can see the sense of the EU, but the project needs to be tailored to the needs of the citizens and not try and force it into a specific form. There is no such thing as an orthodox liberalism. Lastly, you can not reform from the outside.

    I also have met people who it is impossible to convince of the benefits of EU membership. I would characterize their attitude as ‘anger’ or ‘hatred’. Some tabloid newspapers come to mind.

  • I agree with the points made by Bill Le Breton about the Euro. The Euro has created a Fisher-style debt-deflation trap in the Mediterranean nations from which there is no escape. Their economies bump along sustained by the Draghi Put and little else.

    But I believe the economics to be secondary to the issue of the democratic deficit at the heart of the EU project. Shortly after the Dutch referendum but before the Austrian presidential election, Jean-Claude Juncker said that the EU “meddles too much” in matters that should be left to national parliaments. But I find it implausible that we will see a “Bonfire of the Vanities” in Brussels. Instead if we vote “remain” I expect Juncker to revert to his previous position that “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties”.

  • For me it’s a choice between frying pan and fire.

    As presently constituted the EU is thoroughly toxic – the shocking unemployment figures for much of southern Europe and events in Greece in particular are proof enough. That’s why I have been arguing for reform for around 25 years but the official party line has always been unquestioning support for whatever bad ideas came out of Brussels (the Euro and TTIP to name but two) with MEPs behaving as cheerleaders for the establishment, not as politicians with voters to represent.

    We DO really need to band together with our European neighbours in a world of big blocs. So, sensible reform proposals to make the EU properly democratic, devolved and to end the illiberal nonsense of ‘ever greater union’ would be a powerful banner to group liberals around along with many who now see themselves as conservative, labour etc. and who would come into that ‘big tent’. However, absent such reform proposals there is every reason to vote out especially since I very much fear we are approaching the mother of all financial crises and will need maximum policy freedom to navigate some very troubled times. Also, there’s the little matter of entirely unsustainable levels of immigration which, in my judgement, pose a serious and growing threat to the economy. That’s the frying pan.

    The EU was always a primarily political project so I fear that the powers that be would not take kindly to their power play being derailed but would strike back savagely, determined to make an example of any country that dares spoil the fun, pour encourager les autres. So, I don’t buy the Brexiters’ blithe assurances that new trade treaties would be negotiable on reasonable terms because the key assumption of ‘reasonableness’ is deeply suspect. That’s the fire.

    What is to be done? For the moment I lean slightly to ‘remain’ but I that must be on the basis that reform, major reform of the EU becomes a top priority. There are many who agree with that across Europe so it’s doable and in the meantime the UK and allies could cause major havoc (in a good way) from inside – like insisting that referendum results are respected.

  • The problem with that analysis is that the political elites (and I include Tim Farron, Nick Clegg, blairites and Cameron) are in hoc to the superstate. The only way to resolve the issue by voting IN is to assume that Cameron has the resolve to drive the hardest bargain instead of genuflecting to the intellectual straitjacket of EU thinking.

    Only by voting Leave will they be brought up short. If it’s a thin majority for Remain that’ll help if it’s an OUT majority then we might get some action.

    `determined to make an example of any country that dares spoil the fun, pour encourager les autres. So, I don’t buy the Brexiters’ blithe assurances that new trade treaties would be negotiable on reasonable terms because the key assumption of ‘reasonableness’ is deeply suspect. That’s the fire.` Unfortunately this will only encourage them to be more abusive.

    Politics in the UK feels very `fin de siecle`, divided and toxic. Either way something will have to give in the body politic whether it’s political realignment. If nothing’s done or the EU prove recalcitrant then I can see the divided Tory MP joining forces with UKIP to create a new movement to demand a more forthright attitude to the EU.

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.

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

  • David Le Grice
    Why the hell do we only get two questions? We got more than half the seats and votes that the Tories got, if they get a whopping six then we should get at least...
  • Peter Davies
    @Paul Yes. Most organised areas do tallying....
  • Peter Davies
    "even in London we have no councillors (and so no councillor tithes) in 19 of the 32 Boroughs" it's not really 'even'. London Boroughs have the highest proporti...
  • Paul Culloty
    Is there much tradition of "tallying" in UK constituencies - generally, when an Irish GE or local election occurs, the boxes in the constituency (each one accou...
  • Ruth Bright
    Are there rules on hugs at polling stations? On "my" polling station in East Hants hugged a nun who taught me 40 years ago, a friend whose daughter's graduat...