A referendum on the Brexit deal is key, not growing other parties.
I was delighted to appear on Liberal Democrat Voice today, writing my thoughts on the Brexit deal. Below is the unedited version of my piece.
“You know, I never understood why you gun control people don’t all join the NRA. They’ve got two million members. You bring three million to the next meeting, call a vote. All those in favour of tossing guns… bam! Move on.”
It is one of the most memorable lines in every political anorak’s favourite TV show, The West Wing. Although steeped in high fantasy, the strategy from Congressman Skinner does present some food for thought – if you want to defeat your enemy, why not do it from within? It’ll be less bloody, it may even mean a quicker and more efficient way to smash your political nemesis into irrelevance.
These sentiments, in some part, were echoed by my friend and former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg in the Observer. In his comment piece he states that anti-Brexit Labour-inclined voters, and their Conservative counterparts, should join their respective parties to change the direction of each organisation and in turn the future of the country.
These voters, argues Nick, should then lobby their MPs, leaders and change the debate at conferences to make sure that Britain’s spiral into a Brexit self-harm is stopped.
Obviously, I agree with the sentiment. I am unashamedly pro-European, and believe that Britain is undoubtedly stronger when it is leading within Europe than it will be isolated and alone. That’ll be no surprise to anyone here.
However, what I cannot agree on is that we should be changing the result of the deeply flawed referendum by stealth.
The result in June 2016 shone a spotlight on many things, but most notably it highlighted how alienated many people were from the political process. Scores of voters marched to the ballot box to give the so-called political elites a kicking, to express their anger at a perceived neglect from the representatives and system that was supposed to listen to them.
This is why I am angry at the result and this is why I lay the blame on several doorsteps, not just those that peddled lies and myth in order to secure a Leave victory.
I am furious at the jingoistic and racist campaign from Farage, Banks and UKIP, I am furious at the cynical manoeuvring of Johnson, Gove and Leadsom that gave a degree of credibility to a discreditable campaign, and I am furious at the scores of Labour MPs that not only stayed silent during the referendum but also ignored their communities so much they felt they had nothing else left but to commit a form of economic and social hara-kari in order to be heard.
The political establishment has blood on its hands and it now needs to learn.
Nick’s arguments do not take this into account. By organising a “covert” assault, a gerrymandering of political membership, Team Remain will do little more than cement the feeling that the electorate are simply being ignored.
Instead, as Liberals, we need to keep fighting for a change of direction, we need to be the first into the argument when opportunities present itself. When economic forecasts show a decline in productivity, we need to be the first to put our case forward; when David Davies yet again blunders through a negotiation summit, we need to be the first to highlight our alternative strategy; and when the deal (if ever) is reached, we need to demand, and win, a second referendum on that deal.
This last point is vital. If we are to save any goodwill from people about our political system, then the country needs to have a final say on any Brexit deal.
The Liberal Democrats are the only major party to call for such a move. Quite rightly, our leaders, first Tim Farron and now Vince Cable, have stated that people voted to leave the EU, but not on any vision of what leaving would look like. It is therefore prudent, fair and necessary for people to have the final say on the deal and to choose whether to accept the terms, or stay as a member state.
To make this happen, the Liberal Democrats need to carry on. Our membership is soaring and our activist base is growing in experience. Let’s utilise this new energy and smash the political establishment and get that referendum on the terms.
The only way to do this? Recruiting more and more members – not sending them off to our Brexit-happy opponents.