The article below was published on Liberal Democrat Voice earlier today. Lib Dem Voice is the main forum where everyone from day-old members to party leaders expresses their hopes and angst for the future of an open, tolerant society.
Love or hate the referendum decision, we now need to get on with the delivering what the electorate voted for. Few people, if any, think that in leaving the EU, we should withdraw from the world. I believe the Lib Dems now have a key role to play. We are internationalists and Europeans. It goes with the territory of liberal thinking. We need be the steadying, wise voice for Britain in a post-EU age.
Brexit – it could be the Lib Dems finest hour if we act now
So much has been said. So much more will be said about last week’s referendum result. But what concerns me greatly is hearing Lib Dems speak in anger. If we allow anger to dominate our agenda and the way we react, we will let the people of Britain down.
We Lib Dems are the true Europeans. We think as internationalists. We now have an opportunity to become the steadying, wise voice on Britain in a post-EU age.
The grim reality is that voters did not back our arguments. But this is not a time for licking our wounds. It is an opportunity for us to grab the agenda.
Tim Farron has struck a bold tone with his commitment to battle the next election on a remain in EU ticket. That election could be as early as November, depending on what happens within Labour during the next 48 hours. (Elections are now triggered by a two-thirds parliamentary majority, or a simple majority in a vote of no confidence and a failure to form a new government within 14 days.)
But that election might not happen and we need to prepare to champion our principles of freedom and fairness within an Article 50 context.
In many ways, the Lib Dems have been freed up by the Brexit vote. During the referendum campaign, and the general elections before that, people have seen our support for the European Union as backing the way the union, council and European parliament do their business.
We are free of that constraint now. We can champion the ideals we believe in without being burdened by the reputation of the institutions that deliver them.
Like Paul Walter, I do not like the angry tone of some of the communications coming out of the Lib Dems after the shock of the vote. This is not a time for anger, it a time for wisdom. We are now seeing some of that from Tim Farron.
The Tories are facing one of their periodic collapses. David Cameron has delayed the Brexit Article 50 process by three months, simply to allow his party to get a new leader in place. The Conservatives are as usual fighting for themselves first and for Britain second.
Who knows what will happen with Labour. It was disorganised and weak during the referendum campaign. Jeremy Corbyn’s position as leader is now threatened. In the Guardian, Polly Toynbee described him as “dismal, lifeless, spineless”. He wasn’t that good. The news this weekend is that his leadership is at the point of collapse.
But we can’t bank on an early election.
The Lib Dems should make three moves to ensure that we champion the pro-European agenda should Article 50 be triggered before an election.
We should firstly set out the principles of how we become an international nation that is no longer part of a large trading and political bloc. These principles must include a commitment to open trade, open movement for workers, absolute support for refugees and a determination to protect working and social rights. We need to speak urgently and loudly on these principles. The voices of xenophobia and political and social isolation cannot be allowed to get a stronger foothold.
We should next propose a national commission to oversee Brexit negotiations. This would the equivalent of the Office of Budget Responsibility, providing a reality check on the day-to-day maelstrom of politics of Brexit. A Fact Check Central. We should shadow this with a Lib Dem body to ensure it is not overtaken by the forces that have distorted the truth during the referendum campaign.
Thirdly, but not least, we must recognise that we Lib Dems have a different role in a post EU age. We are a nation that is sceptical about being international. We have voters who are mostly inward looking. But the young mostly voted remain. That’s where we should be heading. Our future agenda should be aimed at encouraging young people to engage with the international debate.
The younger generation have been badly let down by the Brexit vote. All of us have been told fibs, lies and damned lies during the referendum campaign. And we have lost track of the open social, economic and international agenda that the Lib Dems – and so many others – believe in.
Now is the time for the Lib Dems to lead. This probably won’t get us elected. But it will build respect for a party that believes in ideals. We should be above the everyday firefighting of politics that consumes the other parties.
Yes, we lost this vote. But we are best party to ensure that Britain finds the best way forward. We should not wait for the other parties to sort out their own internal failures. We need to get on with being the sensible voice in national and international politics.
We must put anger aside and get on with the job that has been handed to us. The only other alternative is to hand the baton to the Tories, Labour, or worse, the forces of the far right like UKIP.
Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice