Monday, October 31, 2016

UK: A very tough strategic choice for the Liberal Democrats

The UK Liberals Democrats faced a humiliating election defeat in 2015. Nick Clegg had to resign. The electorate did not forget that a 2010 pre-election pledge for free tuition was turned into an agreement for tuition raise when in co-government in 2010-2015. Plus the co-habitation with the Tories obviously did not please their 2010 voters as 2015 proved.

In the wake from the Brexit referendum, and with a new leader, the LibDems re-gained momentum. They are the most pro EU (pro Remain) national party in the UK.

Yet, as I analysed in the previous post, their position for a second ref after the Article 50 negotiations are completed and a deal has been reached is simply not a realistic one, at least not from an EU27 point of view, even if some argue that Article 50 is not explicit about non reversal.

One can fully understand that a political party like the LibDems does not want to turn into a pro EU "UKIP", ie a party defined by a single issue. Yet, the issue is of crucial importance to the UK's future. For years, Brexit had a strong and dedicated advocate and it paid off for the UKIP. So much that it made the Tories do what they are doing now.

The 48% that voted Remain did not have a dedicated advocate. Some voted Conservative, some Labour, some for other parties. Most LibDem voters, although the party lost lots of its strength in 2015, voted for Remain. Post ref, the party has seen a dramatic surge in membership, but other parties have seen a surge too. And there was no gain in the opinion polls.

In spite of his second victory, Labour's Corbyn has not been able to lead the party in success in the polls.

As weeks and days pass after the referendum the whole country is astonished to see Theresa May turn into a hard Brexit proponent of the most populist kind. Plus many Leavers have come to realise that Leave was not such a grand idea after all.

In the coming weeks the public opinion is going to realise even more of the dangers of Brexit, hard or soft. For the LibDems to rally behind a second referendum after the negotiations, it is an unrealistic position. One should add that the ref was not binding, officially.

Thus for a political party to advocate a second referendum soon or merely a vote by the Parliament is not undemocratic. May is doing a good populist move by claiming that Corbyn is frustrating the will of the people but of course she is not taking into account that the vote was 52-48 not 72-28 and that in a democracy a minority view has a permanent right to be represented, ie for a party to continue to call for Remain is not undemocratic, it's the opposite.

The LibDems have a strategic choice to make. Become a UKEuropeParty or play it safe.

The stakes for the UK as well as Marketing may point towards the former. After all it wants people to forgive it for the tuition pledge and rally behind it. In a political system such as the UK's at present, having 20% of the vote as the LibDems did in the past does not give you 20% of the seats. The Brexit issue is a grand opportunity for the party to get a major boost. Of course there are risks. But as Gordon Brown pointed out years ago, Britons have to learn how to take risks.

You cannot please all the people all the time and the LibDems managed to upset many of their voters in 2010-2015. Taking a much firmer stand on "Europe" (Brexit) is a golden opportunity to not only do what's best for the UK and its people but also draw pro Europe voters from the Tories and Labour massively. Of course they get heat from their political opponents as well as the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Express if they do so. But proposing a new ref after Brexit negotiations may sound appealing and may be convenient but it is not neither realistic nor in the UK's best interest. Frankly it's a cop out, a "political" move.

Once Article 50 is triggered in March, Brexit is the deal. What one can fight for after that will be a soft Brexit deal, there should be no illusions cultivated about that.

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Nick

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