If the Liberal Democrats won’t defend liberal democracy, we might as well give up on it

Tonight Vince Cable (current party leader) and Tim Farron (previously party leader) of the ‘Liberal Democrats’ failed to turn up to the House of Commons and vote on key Brexit amendments. As a result, they contributed to the craziness of a government victory which overturned the government’s own position, making a No Deal Brexit substantially more likely.

I am seriously struggling to understand how this could have been allowed to happen. The only possible explanation is ‘pairing’, where whips from different parties allow people on opposite sides of a vote to ‘pair off’ (more here). However, that seems unlikely, as the Conservative government doesn’t have a majority, and Brexit votes are surely far too important to allow pairing, given the potential for rebellions and defeats.

To illustrate further, several Tory MPs rebelled tonight, including a government minister. (Guto Bebb voted against the government, in favour of the position the government held until it won the vote against itself. I hope you’re following this.)

Now, since 2016, the Liberal Democrats have tried to set themselves up as the party of the 48%: the party of Remainers. They’ve always been the UK’s most pro-EU party. This, I welcome. I would not be a party member if we were to be anything other than pro-EU and internationalist.

However, the Lib Dems have repeatedly failed to properly OPPOSE Brexit. For all they talk about it, they have failed over and over to take an absolute position in which Brexit will be stopped in its tracks. Instead, the party favours a so-called ‘People’s Vote’ – another referendum that includes the option to stay in the EU.

This of course ignores the fact that we now know that the 2016 referendum was won on a prospectus of bare-faced lies, illegal campaigning, and foreign funding and intervention. The Lib Dems have chosen to ignore all this, and instead advocate another vote, even though it’s clear to anyone following investigations and inquiries into the 2016 referendum closely that its result was unsafe, and that UK democracy is also unsafe as a result.

It’s very clear to me and, I think, to a substantial number of other party members that our current policy is inadequate and insufficient. However, even if we accept the current policy, it still requires all Lib Dem MPs, especially senior ones like Cable and Farron, to be present for critical Parliamentary votes as a bare minimum. When the government is attempting to sack Parliament off for an early recess, and when it’s clear that they’re attempting to bypass Parliament wherever possible, MPs simply have to turn up.

I’m furious at Vince and Tim (both people I once had huge stocks of respect for, which are rapidly dwindling) for failing to do their basic duty as Parliamentarians and as senior Lib Dems. It’s clear that Tim hasn’t got a good excuse (he was apparently off doing one of his talks about illiberalism, rather than representing liberals). I hope Vince has a better one. But this is hugely disappointing.

Once again, I demand that the Lib Dems take the opportunity to become the opposition the UK needs. The current position is weak. There is no risk in being braver. Losing more seats means nothing when you’re starting with 12. The UK is undergoing an epochal shift in which the very idea of liberal democracy is dying. If the LIBERAL DEMOCRATS can’t defend that idea properly, we might as well just surrender to it all, and get out while we can.


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