Tag Archives: Nick Clegg

The truth about Lib Dems and an EU referendum

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.

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Why are Lib Dems in government?

This may seem like a question that’s been posed, and answered many times before, but unfortunately it still hasn’t got through to the vast majority of the British public. Too many people hold the view espoused by Kerry McCarthy, the Labour MP for Bristol East, who tweeted this morning;

“Petulant response from Lib Dems to my criticism of Toynbee article just proves how much they’re in denial about their role as enablers.”

In other words, the whole Lib Dem party are weak, getting nothing done and propping up the Torie. This is, of course, largely nonsense, even if we have at times been too quiet in promoting what we believe in. At the moment Labour’s constant attacks, such as this one, are having a massive effect on voter’s attitudes, so the whole party needs to be spreading the word about why we are government in and what we are achieving.

That has to start with explaining the position of the three parties immediately after the election. A coalition with Labour would never have worked, quite simply because neither they nor the Lib Dems had enough seats, and a rainbow coalition would have always been a disaster. Lib Dems were left with two choices then; to carry on pottering away in opposition, allowing a a minority Tory government to push through their right-wing agenda, or to grab the chance, enter government and prove to the British public that they can make a difference in public office. It is also worth remembering that Britain was experiencing a period of instability, both political and financial. A tottering minority government could have only made this worse, while the coalition provided a strong majority in the Commons and reassured markets and analysts.

While there was no real question as to whether the Lib Dems should enter into coalition with the Conservatives, it has become rather popular among Labour supporters to criticise government policy, saying it is Tory dominated, and that the Lib Dems have had no impact. Once again, such statements are wildly incorrect. I’m not going to go through everything we’ve achieved in government, but William Summer’s excellent site http://www.whatthehellhavethelibdemsdone.com/ does if you’re interested. You only have to look at the Pupil Premium, the raising of the income tax threshold and the moves to an elected House of Lords to see what impact we are making.

Of course, it’s not all been as good as this. Lib Dems have had to support policies that we don’t agree with (most obviously tuition fee rises) and compromised on some we do. But even here we are making government policy more liberal. We ensured that the earnings threshold for student loans was raised along with tuition fees. When we became concerned about the Health and Social Care Bill, it was modified so it was at least more acceptable. The list of occasions were we have taken a Conservative policy we don’t agree with, compromised, worked together and made it better goes on and on. One only has to look at the ranks of Tories chewing at the bit to scrap the 50p tax rate, or Cameron’s desired response to the riots to see why the Lib Dems are doing such a good job reining in the right-wing tendencies of Conservative cabinet ministers and backbenchers.

And it’s not just Lib Dems saying so. For once I was forced to agree with Nadine Dorries when she said at Prime Minister’s Questions last week,

“Mr Speaker, the Liberal Democrats make up 8.7% of this parliament, and yet they seem to be influencing our free school policy, health, many issues, immigration and abortion. Does the Prime Minister think it’s about time he told the Deputy Prime Minister who is the boss”

Which is exactly why the Liberal Democrats must be in government and must continue to influence government policy. It won’t all be rosy, but we have an unprecedented chance to change the future of this country and change people’s lives for the better. That is why we should not be ashamed about being in power, but go and explain to the electorate the why we are and what we are doing. We should admit that we haven’t done everything right, but we should also say what our reasons are, and how we are going to make up for them. If we don’t do that we will be heading for certain defeat in 2015. We should be proud of what we’ve done, and not be disconcerted by what we have not.