Come on then, a show of hands. Whoever thought that I’d be defending Nick Clegg? Me of all the people. The person who has defending him a pretty much every turn in the road. Oh wait, all of you? Fair enough.
So yes, Nick Clegg has ruffled a few feathers in the past day or so after he came out and said that the country is in a state of emergency regarding Brexit. I think we can all agree on that so fantastic. What he proposed though has caused a lot of Lib Dems to want the former leader to be thrown out of the party. For you see, he advocated those whose primary objective was solely to stop Brexit and you hadn’t been politically active before then maybe the time was now to get involved and join either Labour or the Tories.
The extracts are below:
“Join the Labour Party and make your voice heard. It may seem odd for a former leader of the Liberal Democrats – and someone who has fought against the illiberal habits of Labour all my political life – to advocate joining the Labour Party.”
“And, as a lifelong card-carrying member of another party, I won’t be doing so myself.
“But if you are someone who has never joined a party, or perhaps has been inclined to join Labour but has never got round to it, or if you are simply someone who recognises that the importance of Brexit is far greater than individual.
“At a time of national emergency, and for as long as Parliament is dominated by Labour and Conservative MPs, it is undoubtedly true that what happens within the two larger establishment parties is of the greatest importance.
“So if you can’t stomach joining the Labour Party, if you are ideologically inclined in a Conservative direction in any event and if you also believe that Brexit is the issue of our times, then joining the Conservatives is another route to make your views felt.”
How very dare he I hear you cry. How could any former leader of the party ever advocate joining another party. Not even Paddy Ashdown did that with More United, he just wanted an Anti-Tory alliance but Nick Clegg, well I never.
Yet unsurprisingly I can very much see his point. The Lib Dems have 12 MPs and will not be able to significantly move the needle on the Brexit issue in this parliament. So if the EU question is your overriding reason for wanting to get involved in politics at this point then the Lib Dems isn’t a natural home. If you want to stop Brexit from happening then you need a time machine or have one of the two big parties move their position on Brexit.
The Tories have a pretty clear position and are unlikely to move unless Theresa May goes and somehow Ken Clarke runs for and gets elected leader. I wouldn’t be putting much money down on that. So that leaves Labour where the party as a whole are generally Pro-Europe but the leadership aren’t and they are scared to stick their flag in the sand to show what side of the line they are on. Pitiful but depressingly, they are the only party who could really force the Tories hands if they swung wildly to the Remain side of the debate.
For us, we had our Brexit surge after the EU Referendum and then when the 2017 General Election was announced, three was a further influx of new members. The Lib Dems were (and are) the party of Remain but instead of really staking out our position, we dithered and put together a terrible GE campaign position. That left those people who were ready to back us enthusiastically wondering whether they should bite the bullet and vote Labour in the vague hope that they would win enough to hold the Tories to account or even win and then Jeremy Corbyn might change his position.
Once Jeremy Corbyn got his momentum (no pun intended) and Theresa May’s campaign fell around her like letters on a speech backdrop, the dye was cast. The floating voter looking to stop a hard Brexit didn’t flock to the yellows but instead went red. Many Lib Dem members (many of the new ones if you read online forums etc.) were pleading for tactical voting and for alliances. A not insignificant proportion of those did not vote Lib Dem as they just wanted to vote for the best person that could stop Brexit. In many clear LD/Con battles, they went Labour anyway and they bypassed the Lib Dems in many traditional LD/Tory battlegrounds to the point of winning the seat. Depressing.
Still though that has left us with little influence in this parliament. With the country not set to go to the polls again until after Brexit has started and we are either in a transitional period or out altogether, if you want to influence it then it is highly unlikely you’ll be able to do it via us.
Now in a couple of years once the shit has started to hit the metaphorical fan and we are the unabashed Pro-EU party then we might be the place to be if you love the EU. For now though, with no election due until after this all happens, the Lib Dem influence is not that great. So if (and only if) your political motivations are solely to stop Brexit then I can certainly see where Nick is coming from. Would I have preferred he not say it? Sure. Do I think it was unwise? Yes. Does it make sense though? It actually does.
The time is now for us as a party to focus on domestic policies and to find a way to get these out front and centre. Brexit is the beast whose shadow looms over politics and will do for years to come. The public though are resigned to it happening in some form because heck, that is what the country voted for. We might not like it but it was democracy in action.
Jeremy Corbyn surged not because of Brexit but because people liked that they heard about domestic policies. That is why we have a hung parliament and only 12 MPs instead of a large Tory majority and 30 odd Lib Dems. Sometimes I just feel we are all caught up in this Brexit world when in fact plenty of other things are happening every single day and if you aren’t do much about Brexit, why not start to try start influencing things you can?
Still, I fully expect Brexit, Brexit, Brexit to dominate the Lib Dem spectrum for years to come…
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