Monday 5 December 2016

Stick that in your pitch-fork and smoke it!

Last week saw a remarkable British by-election where the Liberal Democrats over turned a 23,000 majority and their previous near death experience to win a spectacular victory in Richmond Park.

The dominant issue was Brexit and the continuing fall out from Britain’s EU Referendum and a summer of political trauma.  The Liberal Democrats remain Britain’s most consistently pro EU political party and have campaigned passionately in support of the EU both before and after the referendum.  They are currently campaigning for parliament to scrutinise the Brexit proposition as it emerges and for there to be a second referendum to ratify any deal on the grounds that the terms of what Brexit meant were never specified in the original referendum.

This has been challenged as controversial and potentially undemocratic by leading political inquisitors such as Andrew Neil and the pitchfork wielding Julia Hartley-Brewer.
Are the peasants revolting? Is it the alt-right establishment twitching in defence of a tyranny of the majority?  Is it simply that parliament was silent on how Brexit would proceed should we vote to leave, either in terms of process or vision?

I think the issue about a second vote is therefore about having a vote on any future Brexit deal. There are so many moving parts to consider.  This is not just be about single market or not - or even whether we have access to the single market in some form.  How much do we pay in; what control can we exert over immigration; what level of political control do we exercise over our national destiny; what other areas of inter-European co-operation are we to participate in going forward and on what terms?  It is about all these things and more and we are only at the beginning.

My current preference would be to find, after exploring the Brexit options, that being part of the EU on the sort of terms we already had was the best deal and that we therefore exercise the option of staying.  Failing that, I’d like us to establish as close a cooperative and connected relationship with rest of Europe as possible. Whatever we do I’d like to do it with our eyes open.

Whatever we decide, it has to be done democratically since we have had a referendum.  We voted to leave and we are proceeding with that. For there to be any deviation from that or significant qualification after seeing the options, there needs to be a democratic process.

The problem the Leavers have, in my opinion, is that this was always a referendum to deal with an issue that has split the Conservative Party for a generation. It's not really been done with any vision about where we are trying to get to, let alone any detailed proposition behind it. And then the leaders of Leave seemed to step back and run away when they won. Now that’s a bit of a school-boy error from them.

In fact, we are seeing this right now in the Supreme Court.  The legislation around creating the referendum was poor and was silent on too much.

The referendum means we have decided to leave and that has to be delivered now. And this has to be delivered through parliamentary processes with proper scrutiny. Politics does not stop with a referendum and certainly not one where the population is so evenly split.

What Richmond Park does is to remind us is there are significant numbers of Remain minded people and some of their concerns need taken account of as we move forward to our new foreign policy. It is important to avoid a tyranny of the majority.

It also gives voice to a significant liberal - progressive section of our electorate - a section feeling under-represented with the void in the centre and centre-left of British politics.  This is a section of our people that look to politics that is open, tolerant and united.  A section that looks to a very long tradition of British liberalism that we need now more than ever.

Stick that in your pitch-fork and smoke it.