Over the last couple of days I’ve been dipping my toe into that infamous Twitter meme, “1 Like = 1 Unpopular Opinion.” You can see all my inane (the S is silent) ramblings here, but I’d draw particular attention to no. 17:
A lot of people will look at that and laugh. The Lib Dems are, after all, at a low ebb, even by our own ebb-inclined standards. We somehow contrived to lose vote share at this year’s general election, even if we did gain a few seats. And despite having changed to a serious, heavyweight (if slightly long-in-the-tooth) leader, we’re still struggling to get a hearing in the media.
However, it’s not all our fault. Part of the problem is that people who could make a difference and get us moving forward keep pretending we don’t exist. It seems like every other day someone comes up with a bright idea to start a new liberal party that is pro-Remain. Sometimes it feels like it happens every single day.
A few days ago, for example, the Financial Times reported that a random bloke from Battersea (?) is starting a party called Renew. This prompted a Newsweek journalist to tweet:
There’s also James Chapman’s Democrats, which appear to have done precisely nothing, if they even exist at all.
And then today, lo and behold, another game-changing movement has arisen. This time it’s the Economist‘s Berlin Bureau Chief, Jeremy Cliffe (hitherto a sensible and extremely well-informed journalist, especially on EU issues) who is donning Macron’s clothes:
Just a couple of hours after his initial tweet proposing the ‘Radicals’ my friend Jon Worth had snapped up a Twitter handle, which got immediate attention:
Jon, who also lives in Berlin, then hastily wrote up the rapidly growing movement on his blog at what must have been some ungodly hour (I’m in San Francisco and so have no grasp of European timezones), mentioning my somewhat brusque response:
Look, I get it. I get that being part of something new and dynamic and Macron-like is much more exciting than joining a political party that peaked in 2005, screwed up massively in 2010/11, and has since had a descent roughly akin to a drugged-up squirrel that’s obsessed with that one R Kelly song.
But the UK doesn’t have a mechanism for a Macron. Whatever people say about our system being more ‘presidential’ than democracies with actual presidents, you have to be a political party of substance and scale to succeed in a general election. Starting a new party is going to achieve nothing while wasting your energy and distracting from the real goal.
Like it or not, if you want a pro-EU, pro-business, pro-tech UK political party, there is already one that has over 100,000 members, 12 MPs, thousands of councillors, and an internal democracy that compares favourably to every single one of its competitors. You can have an immediate impact. We are a party in which it’s literally possible to go from new member to MP in a year and a half, but you can also get policies passed with a bit of effort, and when we get into government, they really do get implemented.
The party you’re looking for – the party you’re reinventing – is the Liberal Democrats. We were in government just two years ago. If you are serious about stopping Brexit or at least providing some decent opposition to it, you should join us. Now. Today.
10 thoughts on “Time to Remove the Lib Dem Invisibility Cloak”
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That’s all very interesting, but I think what we really need is a new progressive radical democratic centrist democratic radical progressive party to put forward centrist democratic radical progressive policies based on progressive radical democratic centrism. (And with me and my mates in charge, obvs.) Who’s with me?
I think centrism is nonsense so you’re welcome to it. #Splitter
When Clegg says to people join Labour or Tories to stop Brexit,,whilst I can see the logic behind it, it does us no favours. The result others form in their own little bands cos they do not wish to join the big 2. Informing the other groups of our existence and what we stand for might help get us noticed. We must push to get more media coverage (especially the BBC who seem to be pro Tory to me) .
I completely agree re Clegg’s nonsensical comments. He’s promoting entryism (a bad thing in itself) for a strategic goal that would only eventuate if he single-handedly got 75,000 people to join the Tories (and many, many more to join Labour), and then those people somehow managed to tear up the internal rules of each party so that they actually had an influence on policy.
Not sure what to do about media coverage. Vince has had a good net effect, but I wish the party had confirmed a more unequivocal policy on EU (i.e. reversing Brexit without a second referendum, as debated and rejected at the latest conference).
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I read your article with interest. I am a Liberal Democrat member, but I have felt a lot of disappointment with the party since joining immediately after the EU referendum. There was an huge increase in membership at that time, but the federal system means that local parties differ widely in terms of how they meet and organize. In my area, I find the local party very cliquey and reliant on Facebook chatter. There are no regular meetings, which is I think ridiculous when you compare it with Labour branches. When I have raised these issues, they have been met with a lot of defensiveness. After 18 months, I am almost at the point of giving up. There’s still a huge swell pro-European feeling out there, which the Liberal Democrats have signally failed to harness, which is a shocking failing.
The other problem is that, after ten years of economic stagnation, amidst declining prospects for the young, and as impatience grows with our neo-liberal settlement, Corbyn’s Labour are flourishing because they appear to offer a critique of all that. It turns out that the prospect of fundamental societal change matters more to many voters than whether we stay in the EU or not. The danger for the Liberal Democrats, as with all of these other potential parties, is that they are actually supporting the status quo: stay in the EU and run our economy essentially in the same technocratic way we always have. The Radicals, it turns out, are actually the New Conservatives.
Hi Nick. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the honesty, and so should the party. I’m sure the experience you’ve had has been mirrored by many others; some of that can be put down to local variation (and some local parties really are dreadful/sclerotic).
What are the neighbouring local parties like, and have you been in touch with your regional party? One of the best things to do is also join some of the “ginger groups” such as the Radical Association: https://radicalassociation.org/about/
You could also try writing a piece for Lib Dem Voice on your frustrations. That could be a way of drawing the party’s attention to the problem. It’s quite a showy move and could mean burning some bridges, but I’d rather that than you leaving the party entirely, and I hope others would feel similarly!
Re Corbyn’s Labour: the critique is simplistic, in my view. He offers a kind of easy socialist populism that fails entirely to deal with reality. The Liberal Democrats, by contrast, are committed to finding real solutions to complex problems. That’s less exciting and less attractive, but it is ultimately the better and more evidence-based approach.
Yes, I agree with your analysis of Corbyn. I don’t think Labour’s programme is achievable and will disappoint many. However, there’s a mood for change afoot, which means policies like renationalization, unthinkable not so long ago, are getting traction. We have to ask why that’s now appealing, even if we don’t agree with it? Equally, while I am an enthusiastic European and I am convinced Brexit is a massive mistake, the Remain movement is authentically conservative (small c). I suppose what I’m asking myself is whether, while Liberal Democrats may have a sensible and practical policy offer, does it also fail the capture the Zeitgeist?
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