Tuesday, 14 March 2017

We should not be defined by Brexit

Mark Williams, in his interview by Vaughan Roderick last Sunday and in the conference speech to which it referred, emphasised the UK and Wales' links with Europe. He denied that he was speaking to the 48% Remainers, but the fact that the subject of the referendum came up at all distracted the wider audience from the fact that we are about to fight local elections on matters much closer to home, such as the way Labour citadels have spent taxpayers' (or borrowed) money, their record on education, the environment, social services, libraries and all the many other things that touch citizens' lives.

Many of our voters - indeed, quite a few members - will have voted Leave in the referendum (for rather more high-minded reasons than "let's get rid of the foreigners") and we must not risk turning them away by implying that we are only a pro-EU party. Liberal Democrats are the only meaningful opposition to entrenched conservatism in most of England and Wales. The domestic agenda is important and more immediate, as Daisy Benson pointed out in a recent article.

I can understand Tim Farron and the party strategists jumping on the anti-Brexit bandwagon, because it has attracted new Liberal Democrat members. Some are disgruntled ex-members of other Westminster parties, despairing of their leaders' standpoint (or lack of one) on Europe, while it seems most are younger people new to politics, many deliberately excluded from voting on their future last June, angry at the decision which was made to follow the popular vote and the shambles which has followed. (Incidentally, Mark Williams has picked up that dreadful mantra that "we respect the people's verdict". It was constitutionally an opinion, and on a shaky majority at that. What I say, and what our lords and masters should be saying, is that "we hear what the people say", no more and no less.) However, one recalls the wave of support that Charles Kennedy's Liberal Democrats rode as a result of our stance against the invasion of Iraq. We became associated with Iraq, and our support sank as that adventure faded from the headlines. Let us not lose the new intake.

One other thing: it would help our image if the parliamentary party had at least one member present during Commons debates on important matters. It is not pleasant to be constantly reminded by Peter Bone of the absence of LibDems, especially when the SNP benches are always well-populated. We seem to have been drilled into a mind-set that parliament is an adjunct to campaigning, rather than the reason for it, that our people will only turn up if they plan to make a speech. Contrast that with Tam Dalyell's description of the late Clement Freud, once Liberal member for Ely: "he was an excellent attendee, and would listen, more than most, to what ministers and other MPs actually said. He would attend debates even though he had no intention of taking part."

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