Since it was announced that there will be a debate in the House of Commons on whether to have an in/out referendum on the EU on 27th October many commentators have been suggesting that such a poll was a Lib Dem manifesto commitment. As our MPs are likely to vote against a referendum, they say, this will mean once again we’ve lied to the electorate, broken our pledges and so on. There is only one slight problem with this; it’s completely untrue.
The Lib Dem manifesto states clearly that;
“The European Union has evolved signifi cantly since the last public vote
on membership over thirty years ago. Liberal Democrats therefore remain
committed to an in/out referendum the next time a British government signs
up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU.”
In other words, the commitment is only to hold a referendum if, and when, a new treaty is signed by Britain in relation to the European Union that makes a significant change to the powers and responsibilities that it has. And far from breaking this pledge, we’ve enshrined it in law. The European Union Bill, currently progressing through parliament, will ensure that any shift of power from the British government to the EU will first have to be be mandated by a popular referendum.
But not only does this episode show how badly the Lib Dem’s position on Europe have been portrayed by the media, but it also points a wider problem that we face as a party. People, even those actively involved in politics or the media do not understand our manifesto or what we stand for, not just on the EU, but on a whole spread of issues. Understandably, this makes accusations of breaking manifesto pledges and forgetting the electorate all the easier for our political opponents to make, and for the public to believe. To change it we need to build up once again the sense of what Lib Dems stand for and believe in. We’ve made a good start by putting more distance between us and the Tories ideologically, but we must continue, or we’ll simply run into these kind of obstacles again and again.