Updated: Why is the People’s Vote campaign sidelining Lib Dems?

It’s fair to say that some party members have been expressing concern on social media about a perceived detachment between the Liberal Democrats and the People’s Vote campaign.

Why is it that Caroline Lucas is representing the campaign on the Channel 4 debate tonight? Why was Vince missing from the petition event in Downing Street? It’s not a great way to treat the party who kicked off the campaign for a final say on the deal in the Summer of 2016.

Late last week, Liberal Democrat MPs were criticised by the campaign for putting down an amendment to Labour’s amendment calling for a People’s Vote.

The People’s Vote campaign is not backing the move because they want to wait until the deal is rejected because they think that they will have a better chance of securing a referendum then.

They may be right. But in a febrile and unpredictable environment, why wouldn’t you make sure that you have the option of putting it on the agenda?

Paul Waugh is wrong in this report when he says that:

Crucially, it adopts the prime minister’s proposal and just makes it conditional on a second referendum. Unlike other amendments, it does not reject May’s deal.

It doesn’t. It is an amendment to Labour’s amendment so if both were passed, the motion passed by the House would read:

This House declines to approve the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship because itfails to provide for a permanent UK-EU customs union and strong single market deal and would therefore lead to increased barriers to trade in goods and services, would not protect workers’ rights and environmental standards, allows for the diminution of the United Kingdom’s internal and external security and is likely to lead to the implementation of a backstop provision in Northern Ireland that is neither politically nor economically sustainable; declines to approve the United Kingdom’s leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement; and therefore resolves to pursue every option, including a public vote as endorsed by the Labour Party Conference 2018, that prevents the United Kingdom’s either leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement or leaving on the basis of the negotiated withdrawal agreement laid before the House.

We don’t know yet if our amendment will be debated or even put to the vote but we have at least got a People’s Vote on the order paper so that the House has a chance to get it into the mix.  I think we need to trust our people to know what they are doing. They are the ones having the conversations in Parliament and they will know what is possible. 

It may well be that waiting is the best option. Last week in the Times, Matthew Parris said that Tory Remainers would be much more likely to back a People’s Vote once the deal has been rejected. He may be right.  But our amendment doesn’t secure a People’s Vote. It is very cleverly worded. It just calls for it as an option to be explored. If passed, it would be a stepping stone to a future motion. If rejected, it doesn’t stop a further specific motion for one.

There are all sorts of twists and dramas that could happen before Tuesday night and I think that the People’s Vote campaign maybe needs to talk to us a bit more to understand what we are doing and why.

While we obviously support the People’s Vote campaign, we need to be aware that its Director of Communications is Ed Miliband’s former spin doctor, Tom Baldwin. He is not a fan of the Lib Dems and will not instinctively offer us a platform or give us the time of day.

People’s Vote needs to be careful that it is as inclusive as possible to all its supporters. We are so close now to achieving our common goal and we need to keep together. The lessons of the Scottish independence referendum are there in all their horror to be heeded. The awful Better Together campaign kept us pretty much out of the loop and made some disastrous decisions. It may have won the vote, but lost the campaign.

700,000 people marching on the streets of London 7 weeks ago weren’t wrong. We are winning the argument. We have the momentum. Let’s make the most of it together and secure that referendum.

UPDATE: If I’d read further down the Order Paper, I’d have seen another amendment to the PM’s motion from us calling for a People’s Vote.

It would add at the end:

“and instructs the Government to take all necessary steps to prepare for a
People’s Vote in which the public may give their informed consent on leaving the EU
or retaining the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.”

I don’t see how the Government could ever have seen this as helpful to their cause, though, as all polls suggest that given a choice between the deal and Remain, the people would choose to remain by some margin.

Tom Brake has written here about our thinking on this. The amendment is there purely as a safety net. He says:

There is total agreement between the Lib Dems and the People’s Vote on the need to maximise the chances of winning any vote on a People’s Vote amendment. But we can’t choose on Tuesday whether or not that is the moment to maximise support if the whole issue is left off the order paper. As things stand, we can choose whether to move it, based on changing circumstances.

Our amendment is a safety net. With the Government likely to be scouring Erskine May for the obscurest of Parliamentary loopholes or arcane procedural wheezes, no one can predict by Tuesday what will or won’t still be in play; the PM, her deal, No Deal, a vote of No Confidence, a General Election or a People’s Vote.

In a hugely volatile situation, we cannot reserve our arguments in the hope that the Labour frontbench suddenly comes to its senses. While Corbyn cynically hopes the costs of Brexit will push voters into his arms – more grist for his vision of socialism in one country – Liberal Democrats are clear that Brexit is wrong, the deal is dreadful, and both must be stopped. If we had not provided an opportunity to debate a People’s Vote amendment during Tuesday’s historic and final day’s debate, many millions of supporters – looking to us for a lead – would surely have felt betrayed.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I think it would have been sensible tactically to call Labour’s bluff and push for a confidence vote. Labour policy is for a general election, so the best way to show them it’s impossible is to force the issue.

    But totally agree it is our right and our responsibility to push for a referendum, given it is our policy.

  • David Becket 9th Dec '18 - 12:21pm

    There appears to be a breakdown between our party and the Peoples Vote Campaign.
    This is dangerous, and will damage the campaign in the long run.

    My experience, over many years experience in industry and Local Government, is that breakdowns such as this can be contributed to both parties. Yes the Peoples Vote Campaign should be talking to us, but also we should be talking to them.
    Strong leadership is needed.

  • People must be filled with despair when they see people and party’s who agree acting and speaking in such a tribal way.
    Having said that Bill ( A Liberal Democrat for who you can only have respect) is correct the LDs have been a badly managed shambles for 10 yrs now and are stuffed with some very unpleasant people. They remind me of the Labour Party we were fighting in the 80s.

  • I’m OK with Lucas representing the People’s Vote point of view in a debate, because I do believe her to be an excellent speaker on the subject, and even if it’s not fair, she’s got less party political baggage. I can see the Labour supporters in the campaign wanting her instead of one of us, and IMO Lucas is preferable to most Labour candidates. And yes, and as much as I think Vince could run rings around most of his political rivals intellectually, Caroline is better suited to this kind of format.

    However, I have grown weary of the way the People’s Vote does seem to be neglecting the LibDem input. I suspect many reasons for it, with some being that many of those in key positions have traditionally seen us as rivals, and can’t get used to the idea of giving us credit where it’s due. Another factor could simply be that our early commitment to the cause means they can take us and our natural voters for granted. They never needed to cajole us into joining the cause, and instead saw it as a more profitable use of time and energy to convince Labour, SNP and Tory politicians and voters that the People’s Vote was a campaign for them, which requires a lot of political manoeuvring.

    I sort of see the point that if you are trying to convince those who were pro-Brexit, or previously and publicly against a vote on the deal to change their minds then having us say “we always knew it wasn’t going to work” could be a problem. Far easier to persuade people to change their minds when they see someone else who has recently changed their minds.

    I suppose this was always going to happen if the campaign for a vote on the deal was to get the backing of members of other political parties to become successful, and our priority should be to ensure its success, but we need to ensure that we maintain high profile representation whenever the opportunity presents itself.

  • Paul Pettinger 9th Dec '18 - 1:26pm

    The Director of the People’s Vote campaign is former Nick Clegg SPAD James McGrory (https://twitter.com/jamesmcgrory). May be we should direct our concerns to him

  • It is time the party focussed on the real issue.
    How do we persuade people that the European Union is to their benefit?
    We have a democratic structure. But we accept nonsensical talk about our laws being written by the bureaucrats in Brussels.
    We have a protection for our employees on things like workplace safety, and proper treatment to them. But we accept nonsensical talk about talk about regulations from Brussels hampering our country.
    In fact of course once you accept the outrageous idea that people who worked hard throughout the recent economic problems caused by the failure of regulation of the banking system should in some way pay for it, then you accept the nonsense being put out by those who want to leave the European Union.
    I am a member of the Liberal Democrats but I can find no no understanding in the stuff put out by the party of the seriousness of the position the country is in – and what should be done about it. I just get letters asking for money for unspecified purposes.

  • Sue Sutherland 9th Dec '18 - 2:21pm

    Thank you for this Caron. We are all getting a bit twitchy now that our goal seems to be coming closer to being achieved (at least I know I am). We’re afraid something might happen to snatch it away from us. However, I think our MPs are right to do this because we have to keep reiterating what we stand for otherwise we may be obliterated in the stampede towards a referendum on the terms of the deal, if that comes and I think it will.
    I also sadly agree with Jenny that Caroline Lucas will do a better job than Vince at this stage. She seems to be able to combine facts with rousing statements and that isn’t Vince’s style at all.
    The real fight will be to actually win a new referendum on the terms when it happens.

  • OnceALibDem 9th Dec '18 - 2:40pm

    Maybe the fact that the Lib Dems wanted to put some distance between themselves and People’s Vote a few months back – the campaign pack issued by the party specifically said not to use the phrase ‘People’s Vote’

    I have no idea why that was thought to be a good idea but it can’t have helped.

  • paul barker 9th Dec '18 - 3:42pm

    They all hate us & we do care.
    Lets remember that we represent an existential threat to The Tories, The SNP & especially Labour, they know how unenthusiastic their Voters are & how easily they could peel off if we looked like a practical alternative.
    We need to get a lot more Tribal & stop being so nice.

  • David Allen 9th Dec '18 - 3:56pm

    “We need to get a lot more Tribal”. Oh really? Not nasty enough yet?

    When the 2016 referendum was first called, I recall attending a Lib Dem regional meeting, at which the Central Campaign Team would present us with the wisdom from London. That wisdom turned out to be that this referendum was a gift from heaven, because it was the perfect opportunity for the Liberal Democrat Party to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of the public at large.

    A few of us sticks-dwellers piped up that perhaps it might be prudent to treat the referendum with a bit more care and respect, and to make sure first and foremost that we were going to win the flipping thing. The Campaign Team smiled indulgently. Comments were not required from sticks-dwellers. The Centre knew best. Tribalism was all. Fretting about the national interest could go hang. Now let’s not fret about whether we can avoid Brexit, as long as the Party comes out of it well.

  • nigel hunter 9th Dec '18 - 4:21pm

    On the news bulletins I have seen (admittedly not all) I have noted the LACK of Lib Demmer’s and our logo. I have noted RED placards. It can indicate that it is a Labour project. Yes we can be sidelined as we are a threat to other parties although we are a long way from power. If the PV is FOR ALL the people ALL parties should be shown an identity.

  • nvelope2003 9th Dec '18 - 5:52pm

    There was a Liberal Democrat campaigner called Chis who was very good at organising campaigns and winning them. Whatever happened to him ?

    No one knows what will happen if we leave the EU and those who say everything will be fine do not know either. Only crazy fools take no precautions before embarking on a risky venture. I notice Jacob Rees-Mogg is looking very worried and becoming increasingly rude and unpleasant. Nigel Farage is planning a new party to contest the European Elections which are supposed to happen after we have left so he does not seem very confident of Brexit !

  • David Chalmers 9th Dec '18 - 6:11pm

    Just over a week ago a People’s Vote debate at Exeter University went ahead without a Lib Dem speaker, despite repeated requests from all levels of our party nationally and locally. The excuses given for excluding us were quite frankly an insult to our intelligence – especially when they rejected Wera Hobhouse.

    This followed a similar debate at Exeter University in early October, again organized by People’s Vote and Devon4Europe, which was addressed by Anna Soubry, Chukka Umunna and the Deputy Leader of the Greens but no Lib Dem. On that occasion we were prepared to take it on the chin but were determined not to allow it to happen again.

    I was very disappointed at how they were prepared to dismiss our concerns and sideline us – despite members of our party delivering their leaflets and running their street stalls across the county each weekend. This has the potential of damaging our relationship with the “cross party” groups but on the positive side it is galvanizing our local activists into action to make sure that our party’s message nolonger gets drowned out.

  • OnceALibDem 9th Dec '18 - 6:59pm

    “There was a Liberal Democrat campaigner called Chis who was very good at organising campaigns and winning them. Whatever happened to him ?”

    He was very good at organising elections and winning them. It’s not the same thing.

  • David Becket 9th Dec '18 - 7:27pm

    At the risk of stirring the pot.
    I joined the party in 1991, and in 1993 was selected to stand for a strong Tory County Council seat in Newbury.
    The MP died, and the energy, impetus and research put into Newbury was like nothing I had seen before and, apart from Winchester and Cheadle, have I seen again. The party turned my 600 Tory majority into a 600 Lib Dem one in my county seat.

    A Referendum, which we hope we will get, needs to be won and needs inspirational campaigning to win. We appear to have lost the Newbury touch.
    It is the same thing.

  • I suspect that the one reason why the People’s Vote organisation is not emphasising the Lib Dems lies in its name – something ‘of the people’. In an atmosphere of dissatisfaction with traditional politics, the one political party that is behaving like a traditional political party, with a spokesperson who is a former cabinet minister, may not be the image that it wants to present.

  • marcstevens 9th Dec '18 - 9:34pm

    Well if that’s the case with a former cabinet minister eg Vince not portraying the right image, though I don’t believe that, there are plenty of other able Lib Dem MPs who can argue the cause such as Layla Moran, Christine Jardine or even Ed Davey. It doesn’t always need to be the leader representing the Party at People’s vote events, responsibility can be shared.

  • I agree that Caroline Lucas is a better public advocate than Vince. I don’t agree that she is better than Layla or Christine or Tom. Of course PV need to use the best people, but Lucas has now done two Ch4 TV debates. She should not be chosen for a third.
    Incidentally she did OK tonight but not brilliantly. And I would have liked to hear her actually say that she represents a broad campaign including LibDems, SNP, Plaid and lots of Labour and Tory people. It’s a strong point, as well as a fair one in terms of this thread, and she actually was given the perfect opportunity to say it when asked the first question by James Brokenshire. But she didn’t.

  • Tony Greaves 9th Dec '18 - 10:43pm

    My good friend Bill le Breton is wrong again in this thread! Twice in a row!! Perhaps I should have a good talk with him…

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Dec '18 - 12:01am

    I don’t think that People’s Vote is sidelining the Liberal Democrats. The issue is that the amendment does not have cross party support or the backing of the People’s Vote campaign because it deviates from the focus and strategy of the cross party campaign.

    Politics Home also reports that:-

    ‘ A spokesman for Best for Britain meanwhile said , “we have spoken to the Liberal Democrats this morning about their amendment. We are grateful to them as early pioneers of a people’s vote and their record of working cross party to advance this aim. We hope they will continue to do this in these final vital weeks, and withdraw their amendment.”

  • Perhaps Caroline Lucas was chosen because she has done previous TV debates, and is therefore seen as a spokesperson for Peoples Vote. Anna Soubrey had a stronger case to be chosen than a Lib Dem. For me, the outcome is the most important, not the affiliation of the person chosen to advocate it.

  • Oncealibdem asks why it was thought by the Party that it was a good idea not to use the phrase “People’s Vote”. In my view “People’s Vote” is yet further evidence that Remainers have still not understood the message of the Referendum. We had a People’s Vote and Leave won. To use the phrase now sounds like the whingeing of bad losers: I haven’t been able to think of a better phrase, but Final Say or Confirmation put the case without the implication that we have been deprived of something.

  • David Hopps 10th Dec '18 - 8:36am

    There are concerns about our relationship with the People’s Vote campaign. But I’m pleased that many on this thread recognise that Caroline Lucas makes a good advocate. She is a charismatic politician who vitally can connect naturally with a wide demographic. And that is just as true about environmental issues as it is Brexit. The message to us is that across the country we need to be proactive in finding, inspiring, training and nurturing candidates of this calibre. We need to find hundreds of candidates, nationally and locally, who achieve these standards.

  • Bill le Breton 10th Dec '18 - 12:48pm

    Now hearing Labour to table a ‘vote of censure’ NOT a vote of confidence under the FTPAct … ie would not lead to a change in Administration or to a General Election if another administration could not command the confidence of the House with 14 days.

    Does this mean that our leadership who are timorously following Labour’s choreography on all this will follow suit and support that rather than tabling their own vote of confidence under the FTPAct?

    We are playing Parliamentary games which are understood by no one outside the Westminster Village.

    Before us is the open goal of castigating Labour for going soft – literally and metaphorically.

  • Peter Hirst 10th Dec '18 - 3:48pm

    The temptation must be to use a people’s vote for political reasons again instead of a genuine desire for it. It shows again that we need a proper constitution to prevent this meddling. Politicians must realise that a referendum is to empower not manipulate the electorate.

  • Laurence Cox 10th Dec '18 - 7:31pm

    “Now hearing Labour to table a ‘vote of censure’ NOT a vote of confidence under the FTPAct …”

    That wouldn’t surprise me. Dennis Skinner this afternoon accused May of being ‘frit’; he could have said the same about Corbyn with equal force. I hope the SNP go ahead with their vote of confidence as the third largest Party, which we can support. That will put Labour on the spot as I think procedurally a ‘vote of confidence’ supersedes a ‘vote of censure’.

  • David Hopps – Indeed we all know the reason the people’s vote campaign is sidelining the Lib Dems and we are not being listened to, but not because of a lack of powerful advocates. It is because we allowed ourselves to first become despised in coalition and then destroyed to such an extent that we are totally irrelevant as far as most people are concerned.

    We do indeed need to find a way to get our message across, but do we really need charismatic politicians who vitally can connect naturally with such vague abstract concepts as a wide demographic? Surely past experience shows (Macron, Clegg, Cameron, Blair and even Farage) is that people like that do so by saying lots about what is wrong, but little about how they are going to put it right, so hoovering up votes from almost everyone, but then failing to have any sort of consensus behind them in support of their chosen actions, when they try to actually do something.

  • Neil Sandison 14th Dec '18 - 2:20pm

    We need to use are assets well Vince is the experienced sage on policy and european cooperation .Layla Moran is in the firebrand liberal campaigning tradition Lets make sure we get Layla in front of the camera .Vince is better in Westminster offering rational reasoned argument .

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