How Do We Win a Peoples’ Vote?

Manchester for Europe calling for a People’s Vote in Longsight

Just before Christmas, I was in Longsight with Manchester for Europe, talking to people about how Brexit was going.

The Leave campaign broke electoral law during the Referendum. There is no democratic mandate for Brexit, and particularly not for the hard Brexit that Theresa May’s deal entails – let alone the disaster that a No-Deal Brexit crash-out would entail. This is not the will of the people. It is the will of Theresa May trying to save her own skin from the far-right of the Tory party.

I believe that Parliament should act in the best interests of the country, rescind the invocation of Article 50, and work on healing the divide in the country without self-imposed misery on top. But it seems that the most plausible way out of this mess is a Peoples’ Vote, a choice between either the Prime Minister’s Deal or Remaining in the European Union – a clearer choice with more facts on the table, now we know the “Brexit Dividend” of £350 million per week for the NHS was nonsense, now we know that Nigel Farage “never promised Brexit would be a huge success”.

However, I don’t believe that a Peoples’ Vote will necessarily go the way I want it to. Very little has been done to close the loopholes exploited by Leave campaigners during the last referendum, and the Internet is still full of fake news. The Labour Party, and in particular Jeremy Corbyn, have been particularly disappointing – they know full well that any form of Brexit would be devastating, but are still trying to sit on the fence. Some Labour supporters seem to want the chaos of Brexit to deliver a Labour Government, without realising it will be unable to deliver its programme from the post-Brexit economic and political wasteland.

Dave Page standing in front of an In Together street stall / gazebo.
On a street stall on 23rd June 2016. I hadn’t had a lot of sleep at this point…

Most importantly, the Brexit vote came from somewhere – it came from peoples’ dissatisfaction with the way things are. As a Liberal Democrat, I share a lot of that dissatisfaction. People do worry about the NHS, about affordable housing, about jobs and communities. People worry about not having a say in their lives.

The Leave campaign was wrong to blame the EU, and immigration more widely, for these problems. They are fixable – and the Liberal Democrats have the solutions. We have plans to increase funding for the NHS, and build more social housing. And these plans start with keeping us in the EU where we retain our economic and political power on the world stage as part of a huge trading bloc, giving the country more resources.

Under Labour and Conservative Governments alike we’ve seen too much of the wealth and power go to people at the top. In Coalition we managed to start closing tax loopholes by raising capital gains tax, cut income tax for low earners, and put more funding into schools. We passed a Localism Act which gave councils more powers to build housing. And without the Conservatives or Labour holding us back, we’d be able to go much further.

But most important is peoples’ sense of powerlessness. In Manchester’s one-party state, it is particularly acute. The Liberal Democrats, above all things, believe in power coming from the people – whether it’s more money in low earners’ pockets, or electoral reform so you can vote for who you want to win and have that mean something.

If we achieve a Peoples’ Vote on the path back from the cliff-edge of Brexit, we need to go further than just pointing out the lies and illegal cheating of the Leave campaign. We need to convince people that we can fix the problems they see around them – and I believe the Liberal Democrats have the best ideas to do this.

Corbyn’s Re-Election – is there a new home for liberals in Labour?

Lib Dem Membership FormToday, Jeremy Corbyn has been re-elected as Leader of the Labour Party, with an increased share of the Labour membership vote. This has been a long and divisive campaign for the Labour Party – I have friends in Labour in both leadership camps and they’ve all found the process uncomfortable, bitter, accusatory and at times downright nasty. I’ve voted in several Lib Dem leadership contests in recent years (rarely for the winning candidate) but our contests have generally been friendly, particularly among the membership.

I’ve heard it said that those disaffected with Corbyn’s leadership and policy position are likely to “flock” to the Liberal Democrats. I know that today’s result will see many of my friends leave Labour and join the Liberal Democrats.  I’m not entirely convinced that it’ll be a huge trend – Nick Clegg was absolutely correct to say that the Liberal Democrats are not simply a home for disaffected Labour voters unhappy with their current leadership. We are our own party with our own history, far longer than Labour’s, and our own political drives. There are plenty in Labour, as in the Tories, who would not feel at home in the Liberal Democrats.

We are as distrusting as Labour of concentrations of power in unaccountable corporations, but also equally distrusting of concentrations of power in unaccountable Government departments. We opposed Labour’s ID cards (which the Tories originally supported) and the Tory’s Snooper’s Charter (which Labour claimed didn’t go far enough) alike. We have consistently supported fairer votes, not because it’d be of electoral benefit to us, but because it’s the right thing to give people a more meaningful say.

However, there are many liberals who may now decide that the Liberal Democrats are a better vehicle than Labour for the future they want to see. Maybe they believe the Labour infighting will continue, and the party will further lose political relevance; maybe they’ve seen Corbyn’s ambivalence to Europe and increasing numbers of Labour MPs chasing after the UKIP vote which has eaten into their Northern heartlands, including Greater Manchester. Maybe the suspension of the Manchester Gorton Constituency Labour Party has them seeking a party more open to input and debate.

If you are a liberal, no matter what party you’ve belonged to or voted for in the past; if you support an open, tolerant and United Kingdom, and giving people a real say on our future with the EU; if you oppose the racism and bigotry given free rein by the lies of the Brexit camp; if you want to see more investment in our NHS and bridges across the gulfs between prevention and cure; then you are welcome in the Liberal Democrats.

Please, join us today.

Breaking With The Past

Tim Farron MPIf you haven’t seen Tim Farron’s first Lib Dem leadership speech, you should. It’s good in general, but I want to concentrate on something said in the first ten minutes. He came to praise his predecessor Nick Clegg, not to bury him. He explicitly said that he was proud of Nick’s achievements in Government, proud that the Liberal Democrats had gone into Coalition to do our best by the country, and that the tough five years for us as a party was nothing compared to the tougher five years for the country under a majority Tory Government since May 2015.

Since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, he has said nothing of substance about his predecessors. The general impression is that Labour is a brand-new party, completely separate from the days of Miliband, let alone the days of Brown and definitely the days of Blair. Any criticism of Labour’s record, both in Government and in Opposition, is met with “Yeah but that was before Corbyn”. I don’t believe that that dismissal is valid, even if we ignore Corbyn and McDonnell’s terrible, meaningless U-turn on the Fiscal Charter (exposed neatly by John Humphrys’ interview with Diane Abbott around 2:42), and the inevitable further cock-ups and rebellions to follow.

Most of the Labour MPs under Corbyn’s leadership were MPs under Miliband, and many under Blair and Brown (including Corbyn himself). They have their own power and ability to influence the party’s direction. There is a long-term threat to rebels in terms of deselection and replacement in 2020, but a party is always more than just its leader. Especially if, as Corbyn says, he wants a less Presidential style of leadership and more internal democracy in Labour.

I believe that Corbyn’s election as leader was the best option for Labour; I also think it’ll be the best outcome for the Liberal Democrats as well. But we should be proud that our leader is standing on his party’s historical record, and not allow Labour to wriggle out of responsibility for the past.