Europe: one step down, two more steps to go for the Lib Dems in sorting out the party’s position

Today’s debate on the party’s European policy at Liberal Democrat conference should be only the first of three steps in sorting out the party’s position. The very clear vote in favour of retaining the existing ‘referendum on terms of Brexit’ policy (rather than switching to seeing a general election result victory as being sufficient for dropping Brexit) means the party’s policy is settled.

But there’s more work to do. Two more steps are required.

One is to decide well in advance whether or not it is a complete deal breaker in any future hung Parliament and then act on that basis. Either option on this point could run the party into great difficulties if it isn’t chosen well in advance and heavily communicated to electors before they vote.

If it really is a deal breaker, people need to know that in advance – and not be shocked then if talks with Labour break down in a hung Parliament opening up, say, the possibility of a minority Conservative government continuing. But likewise if the decision that is made is for it not to be a deal breaker, that also needs to be clear – because it’ll be another slug of Lib Dem voters outraged to have voted for the party and then suddenly discovering it doing a deal which doesn’t secure a referendum.

Then the final step is to work out how to communicate the policy in a way that actually works – unlike the experience 2017 general election. For example, the idea of describing the party’s policy as being in favour of a third referendum was warmly received at party conference in the strategy debate. But does something that requires you to know about what happened in politics forty years ago really work? Perhaps it does, or perhaps it just baffles. Or even makes it sound worse (like we’re so keen on referendums that two isn’t enough). How Liberal Democrat members interpret he phrase isn’t what matters most; it’s what voters think that matters most when deciding how to communicate with them.

Or in other words: there’s an awful lot more for the party still to do.

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4 responses to “Europe: one step down, two more steps to go for the Lib Dems in sorting out the party’s position”

  1. I supported the change in policy because of #3 – another referendum just isn’t clear. Voters I spoke to actually felt labour were more remain that the Lib Dems. A clear message that “a lib dem majority is a democratic mandate to overturn brexit” resonates. A “lets have a 5th vote in 4 years” message doesn’t.

    Given that baring a disastrous split in the Tory party there won’t be another election until after we’ve left, it’s all rather immaterial though. A shame we couldn’t pin our colours to the mast with a “not in my name” statement.

  2. The best position I’ve heard was Vince referring to David Davis wanting to spend taxpayers money without people having a say (on an exit/continuing access settlement).

    A simple slogan would be, ‘It’s your money. It should be your say’ – or snappier ‘Your money, Your say’. That shifts the focus onto a vote on the exit settlement.

  3. OK. Let’s suppose we get our referendum on the deal. That’s only the beginning. We must make sure we win it. And work on that should be going on as of now. Don’t let’s assume – yet again – that the electorate will vote rationally. With so many people who voted remain now saying let’s just get on with it then, let us not be complacent about victory next time. And we will need to appeal to emotion, not just reason. Is anyone forward planning on this campaign?

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