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A vision for the Liberal Democrats

By Alex Chatham
June 16th, 2017 at 1:28 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Civil Liberties, EU, EU Politics, Free trade, freedom, Labour, Tim Farron

The Liberal Democrats are looking for a new leader. Tim Farron has stood down after leading the party through a General Election campaign and increasing the amount of MPs the party had in parliament. The party’s pitch during the campaign was to offer voters an alternative to Brexit. The party’s heart isn’t in leaving the European Union but instead of promising to reverse the process, they suggested a second referendum with an option to remain.

The voters took no notice.

This has led commentators and politicians to claim that two-party politics are back and third parties have had it. Perhaps. But we have heard this sort of thing before. We have also read about the death of the Labour party and demise of the Conservative party. Support for parties ebb and flow. The Lib Dems could yet again capture the popular imagination or at least influence debate and public policy.

To do that, the party needs a vision. There are many ways to go but it will come as no surprise that a post from this site suggests embracing free markets and free trade. That means a change of direction on Brexit.

The Labour party’s position on Brexit appears to be ‘we will do it, reluctantly’. The Conservatives are still arguing among themselves with a few voices offering a clear path to the exit doors. Could the Lib Dems pivot away from a slavish love of the EU and truly embrace internationalism?

Free trade creates prosperity. That is real free trade not  regulated trade or negotiated trade. With Britain out of the EU, its government can opt for trade deals with other countries which impose regulations or tarrifs or it could go for real free trade. No tarrifs, just let companies trade with each other. What a difference that would make to the economies of Africa. Right now, those African countries are penalised by the EU because EU countries protect their farmers. Ironic isn’t it that for all the criticism of Trump and his ‘America First’ mantra, the EU has been putting EU countries first for a long time. The Lib Dems could set out a vision for a free trading nation, managing migration to allow people with the talent and skills from all over the world to come and work in Britain, not just the EU, reform of its own markets to stop ‘crony capitalism’ which ensured open, free markets. Coupled with the party’s commitment to civil liberties and personal freedom, this new addition would make a distinctive offering to voters.


While we’ve been away

By Alex Chatham
June 16th, 2017 at 1:08 pm | Comments Off on While we’ve been away | Posted in Uncategorized

Liberal Vision has been quiet for a while, in fact it has been almost a year since any of its contributors have written anything for the site. At least nothing momentus has happened over the last 12 months…

So, while we have been away what has been happening?

Alex Massie at CapX has been talking about liberalism and why the Lib Dems can’t capture the imagination of the public.

The Foundation for Economic Freedom has been making the case for liberalism.

Conservatives for Liberty have fallen out of love with their leader and learned the hard way that being in the Tory party is difficult for a liberal.

Oh yes and then there was a General Election…

UK Democrats?

By Guest
July 11th, 2016 at 10:56 am | Comments Off on UK Democrats? | Posted in EU Politics, UK Politics

The New Party for Brit… sorry Europe… was raised again over the weekend. This time in reference to Labour and Conservative moderates uniting to create something vaguely SDP-like, or perhaps a new Alliance with the rump Liberal Democrats.

I commented previously on the unwisdom of the golden hoard running a 48% strategy. Or at least banging on about Europe like some kind of EUKIP, when most of the time EU relations are not even in the top ten of issues that voters care about.

I’m not sure there’s much difference with the broader proposal. Bar it adds in a whole new level of problems given that the last thing most Conservatives and Labour supporters would accept would be playing second fiddle to either each other, let alone the leadership of Tim Farron. EUKIP isn’t the right strategy.

That is not to say realignment is wrong in itself. Evidently there is a space in politics for a UK Democrats Party. A split in Labour between socialists and social democrats now looks quite likely. With the majority of Parliamentary support sitting with the latter. Such a party could attract the kind of talent the Liberal Democrats need to survive, prompting a similar albeit more gradual split there.

Some Conservative modernisers might also be attracted to that pitch. But not in large numbers. Very disgruntled Remainers possibly. Losers from the next round of Cabinet promotions. Michael Gove… possibly not.

A deeper Conservative split is less likely. Largely as it’s happened already. UKIP already exists. There is little evidence of a split in the grassroots of anything like the depth of poison evident in Labour.

Whatever is being said on Twitter about the two current Tory leadership candidates. Differences between them in substance are slight. Style and experience, tone and focus, seem more the dividing lines than policy and promises. Both would attempt to build unity Cabinets. Both would try and make Brexit work. Both would do things that enrage self-appointed guardians of the status quo.

Either could be beaten by a well organised, well led progressive alternative. The only snag being that such a Party is unlikely to come oven-ready as the consequence of the collapse of Labour.

It just isn’t obvious who the Leader would be. Eagle is no Merkel, Owen Smith isn’t even Eagle. Umuna flounced his first outing. Jarvis failed to excite anyone with his testing of the waters last year. Starmer is hiding in London. Reeves looks more plausible as Chancellor than Leader. And so the list of ‘not quite rights’ on the right goes on.

The left of the Liberal Democrats would never let Tim Farron do a Paddy ‘project’ on them. Often they are more comfortable with Corbyn than his critics. The right of the party could wander off, but might feel no more comfortable with the pro-ID cards faction of Labour than they do with the pro-Palestine faction of Liberal Democracy.

The Greens would still be there, and still be hopeless.

Meanwhile UKIP is intent of scything a slice of working class votes from both Labour and the Conservatives, with a new populist front. The UK Democrats then could end up as a metropolitan party, alongside continuity LDs and Greens. That pool of votes isn’t large enough to win power.

So it’s a pickle. The project is possible. It’s just not obviously going to succeed any more than the SDP did. Difficult choices await, particularly if Corbyn gets on the ballot and wins.

The Anti-Democracy Movement

By Guest
July 5th, 2016 at 4:22 pm | Comments Off on The Anti-Democracy Movement | Posted in EU

There is a curious social media trend at the moment, with a number of articles being regularly posted to suggest that the EU referendum result should be annulled, reversed, subject to a second vote, or overturned by a general election.

All of those are possible, if not politically plausible. And only the last has any credibility as a way of changing the outcome – that is if Article 50 has not already been set in motion. So is also unlikely.

The daftest proposals pertain to post-referendum opinion polls. These detect a higher degree of ‘buyers remorse’ amongst Leave voters, than amongst those voting Remain. Some suggest a referendum held today would then reverse the result.

An opinion poll is not a vote. It reflects a slice of opinion at a moment in time. Not a decision taken after the full period of a campaign to consider the options, under the regulatory conditions of that campaign. We cannot say then what the outcome of a second referendum might be.

Although we can say it could not be held tomorrow. It would require a new referendum bill, that bill to become an Act, a date to be set, and a period of time for a campaign. It might involve even more renegotiations with the EU as part of the Government strategy. Good luck guessing what events would do to the balance of Remain and Leave support during that process… it is simply uncertain. Polls don’t change that.

Otherwise what are we saying? That there should be a referendum in Scotland or Wales each time the balance of opinion happens to tip against the current constitutional arrangements in a newspaper?

On that basis would would have left and rejoined the EU possibly a dozen times in the last decade. June 23rd was not an aberration in voting trends in EU membership. Just a surprise given the previous 6 months of largely Remain majorities, and the presumption that the establishment-backed, status quo campaign usually wins.

The 2nd referendum by popular acclaim then is then a very silly idea. More likely than not, given a strong majority against such a vote in the same polls being quoted, it would lead to a higher Leave mandate from irritated voters.

Another grand plan is to sue the Government into Remain by challenging the right of the Prime Minister to execute Article 50. The thinking goes that if a Parliamentary vote is called first, the 440 Remain majority in the Commons, or similar bias in the Lords will kill Brexit stone dead.

I suspect this is science fiction. I am not a constitutional lawyer, so cannot be sure. But since Parliamentary Bills tend to follow decisions of the Council of Ministers, not the other way around, I am unclear why Article 50 should be different.

But if our eminent friends are right, I’m not sure it matters. I rather think Parliament will respect the vote, not the lawyers. Cognisant perhaps that the public reaction to the use of clever legal tactics to subvert a democratic vote on the manifesto pledge of an elected Government, would not be good. It would provide cause to extremists. And boost the prospects of UKIP to start winning seats from the mainstream. Not so much silly as deeply dangerous.

Finally there is the prospects of a second General Election. This isn’t going to happen anytime soon. It serves the purposes of neither the Labour nor Conservative parties, both of whom would be required to support it to get around the Fixed Term Parliament Act. The new Prime Minister, whoever that is will not want to add to Brexit jitters by throwing political uncertainty back into the mix.

We are then looking at a 2020 election. With at least one progressive Party, the Liberal Democrats running on a ticket to reverse the result. The ’48-percent’ strategy. To which I say good luck. It is a perfectly honourable position to take. And one I took myself when running the Pro Euro Conservative Party in the 1999 European elections. But we got 1.6% of the national vote.

The issue with the ‘EUKIP’ strategy is that shy of this referendum period membership of the EU is rarely in the top ten issues people care about. By 2020, apart from the legal problem that article 50 will have been initiated and is not supposed to be either possible to halt or reverse, will people still care?

Far fewer people than the Leave majority were so exercised by this issue this weekend, that they attended reverse the result events. This is very far then from the kind of protest movement that changes policy, let alone wins elections. And this is likely the period of peak anger. The grinding slog of exit talks are more likely to bore people into indifference, than lead to a revolt.

What the weekend looked like then is the sort of protest we observed in 1999 from the eurosceptic Democracy Movement (hence the provocative title of this piece). A coalition of the truly committed, assembled in Trafalgar Square, talking to people who agreed with them. Mostly ignored.

It will certainly boost LD activist numbers, for now, but many will flounce off again when they realise most party political work involves community engagement on new playgrounds and dog poo, not grand rallies to restore the CAP.

That said the idea is neither silly nor dangerous, but I strongly suspect doomed to fail. In exactly the same way the PECP did. Rather than succeed in reverse like UKIP.

The Liberal Democrats are not I think quite as prepared as UKIP to become a single-issue party, prepared to slog at this for 20 years. They will be back to post offices, identity politics, and climate campaigns before the Brexit process is over.

Not least because UKIP itself, having won, is likely to try and retain their third party position by becoming a wider populist protest movement. While Labour is hell bent (at the moment) on being a sorta-liberal demos party, not a party of Government. What space in that for Paddy’s metropolitan commandos?

In a nutshell then. I’ve seen nothing in the last two weeks that convinces me that there’s a better option for Remainers than getting on with it. Getting the best deal possible for Britain as an open society outside the EU, with the cards we’ve been dealt. Not refighting the battle we just lost.

Time to move on. Respect the outcome. Win the peace.

Is the May campaign setting itself up to fail?

By Guest
July 2nd, 2016 at 10:04 pm | Comments Off on Is the May campaign setting itself up to fail? | Posted in Conservatives

At the moment the narrative of the Conservative Leadership election is relatively simple. The successful Leave campaign failed to adequately plan for actually winning. Lost confidence in the figurehead most responsible. And are now fighting like ferrets in a sack for the right to represent the true Brexit flame. Through this chaos emerges St. Theresa of May. The voice of calm. Of continuity, and the only sorta-Leavy Remainer capable of bringing unity to the Party, stability to skittish markets, and and discipline to future negotiations in the national interest.

Reinforcing this narrative is the overwhelming support of the majority of declared colleagues. And what little polling data exists, where her name recognition alone puts her comfortably ahead amongst Conservative voters and members. This in turn means she’s also way ahead on betting markets.

But these are early days. When the shock of the Borxit subsides, there will be one Leave contender in the final two. Or if May is feeling supremely confident, Stephen Crabb (the other Remainer), through a cleverly engineered final round with overwhelming numbers. Let us for now assume not.

The Leave champion at the moment is likely to be Leadsom not Gove. His unusual approach. Trust me I can’t be trusted. Choose me to lead, I’m not a Leader, appears to be going down like a lead balloon. While Leadsom has lead in her pencil (apologies that’s too much heavy metal).

So let us assume May versus Leadsom from mid-July to early-September. May’s name recognition is still going to matter. But is a declining asset. Her stability narrative is going to matter, but will be open to more scrutiny, as will her record. Something she has already tried to block examination of by a bizarre attempt to get a critical article suppressed by the Telegraph.

Her allies have also erred by attempting to suggest the members vote should be avoided. There should be a coronation suggests Anna Soubry. This might have flown, had last week’s markets not rebounded so strongly. But with a recovery and settling down to business as usual. What’s the case?

It’s a bold gamble. It will be reinforced if she gets over 150 MPs in round one. But it’s also a huge, huge error. Theresa May may not have noticed. Hiding in the Home Office as she was for most of the campaign. But the British establishment just got an almighty kicking from the electorate. Conservative voters being some of the bootiest kickers.

Her pitch then… trust us… we’re the team that know what we doing… what a vote… gosh why bother… and besides which… you little people sometimes get this wrong… I mean look at Corbyn… You lot… you’re just like Momentum on the right really… Why risk it when all your seniors and betters are saying I’m your gal?

Seems to fly in the face of both the recent result, and growing rebelliousness of the voting public over the course of a decade.

When the Conservative members do get a proper chance to look at the final two they may well think she’s right. Particularly if Brexigeddon ignites all over again and they start believing Project Fear. The Little Englanders are making England little they might think. Cling to nurse for fear of worse. They are after all conservatives.

Or they might start feeling that familiar roar of irritation. They may look at the May coalition, and see careerists and opportunists, not nobility and calm. They may look at her opponent and see a plausible alternative. A chance for a fresh start, and to remind their MPs that the leaflet pushers are not to be patronised. That marginal policy differences aside they’d rather their Leader stood up for them and the public, not the island of Westminster and it’s self-serving certitude of the right to rule. That is a plausible risk for May.

And if she ploughs on like the Remain campaign. Lecturing not listening. Demanding respect not earning it. The result could well be a surprise.