A good day to be a Liberal Democrat

Gosh, and to think tonight I was planning to favour you all with a fascinating post on recycling.

On topic of the moment, Ed Davey’s ejection from the Commons and the ensuing Lib Dem walk-out, I find I am a cross between Linda Jack and Stephen Tall (now there’s a thought): part of me whoops for joy in a totally unrestrained fashion, part of me clear-headedly approves both tactics and principle. It gives me hope, because if we in the People’s Republic can whoop for joy, other people – neutral people – can have their interest piqued as a result of this afternoon’s events. It also gives me hope to see Tories spitting out accusations of childishness, first retort of the terminally out-manoeuvred, as fast as their little keyboards can carry them.

I would just like to echo Stephen on one particular point though – of course it was bloody planned! It would have been the height of irresponsibility to take a decision like that on the floor of the House on the spur of the moment.


Man with a plan

 And what on earth is the problem with planning a protest, in effect boycotting a political process because you don’t believe it is being effective and allowing you to answer to your constituency – both your actual electors and the wider electorate ?

There was nothing procedurally wrong with the amendment being turned down, but it was a slap in the face to the parliamentary party’s core view, as expressed through the tabling of the amendment. And sorry, but it just isn’t enough to mumble about splits in the party as Michael White does in the Guardian. That was the amendment that was. It was obviously important, obviously an issue of national interest, obviously of more significance than the procedural sum of its parts. It was not put on the agenda. This is a matter for concern. The parliamentary party’s response could have ranged all the way from acceptance that getting it on the agenda was always a long shot anyway and issuing a disgruntled press release afterwards up to what actually happened – and they went with the latter. O shock and-as-it-were-to-say horror.

It’s not just the publicity value either, nice though that is. This incident has the potential to be a watershed. It draws a line, blows away of some the madness the Cleggster wrote about yesterday. It may now be a matter of backing the Tory amendment en masse after all, but my feeling is it won’t quite amount to that, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a disaster. The online party presence has been all over this question with fine-toothed combs, secateurs and feather dusters (or at least other folk have and I’ve been reading and going, “Yeh….”) and briefly a second-best referendum on the treaty alone is not without serious objections. A Yes vote, which the party could not, in all conscience, campaign against, is interpretable by the government as a blank cheque in Europe, and the whole notion of voting on a treaty which does not by itself amount to a constitution as if it is one is intellectually bankrupt.

There are two other alternatives to hand. One is to unashamedly go for exasperated free-for-all voting now that the party’s first preference has been so publicly pushed off the table, and continue campaigning for a full referendum in other ways – hell, we’ve got the anecdote to kick off with, should the Cleggster feel like doing any more writing for the Yorkshire Evening Post. The other is to use the threat of mass backing for the Tory amendment to get that first preference back on the table.

Either way, there is an unfamiliar sensation of having shots to call, and how it pans out remains to be seen, but tonight in the People’s Republic we concur with a significant section of the liberal nerdorati that today is a good day to be a Liberal Democrat.


  1. Alix, I always enjoy your reading your blog, but I disagree with almost everything in your post. I recently posted a similar comment on James Graham’s blog, but I am ashamed of our so-called parliamentary representatives today. It is bad enough that the Clegg clique persists in pushing this policy which is neither logical nor defensible, worse still to threaten demotion for any spokesperson who sees through it, but to storm out of the chamber in some undergraduate-style protest politics beggars belief.

    Albeit that I had massive reservations about Clegg’s competence, as with any new leader he had the opportunity to create an impression in the public mind (not least because so few members of the public had already heard of him). It would have been the perfect opportunity to forget this relic of the Campbell era and adopt something better. Alas, the EU membership referendum is being pursued with the zeal of an Orange Book convert. Laws tried to push the EU membership referendum on a recent edition of Question Time. Not only was there no-one in the audience willing to applaud, he was roundly booed. I would have booed.

    The public are not convinced that the Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty are different to any material degree, and as one of the rare people who has studied EU law and who has read both texts, they are correct to be sceptical about that. We made a promise to hold a referendum on the Constitution. The Lisbon Treaty is the Constitution in all material respects. Parties should stick to their promises. End of story.

    However, sticking with this unpopular policy, a reversal from our manifesto, risks saddling Clegg with a reputation as a backslider. That would be bad enough, but today’s events cement an impression of us in the public mind as being in the same vein as the Trotskyites, the BNP and the Loonies. This will have longstanding repercussions: the threat to disobey the law on ID cards now looks, in this context, like juvenile posturing, rather than a principled stand against legislation which should never have been passed. There is almost nothing that Clegg, Davey, Laws et al can do to salvage their credibility with me.

  2. My reaction? A mildly disinterested shrug. This isn’t a watershed moment; it’s yet more political grandstanding in the westminster bubble which means precisely fuck all to the man on the clapham omnibus, except maybe “I voted for that guy! What right has he to walk out?”

    This isn’t a great moment, it’s another ho-hum moment in a long long list of them. It might be good theatre, but it’s not good politics.

    IMHO, of course.

  3. “It is bad enough that the Clegg clique persists in pushing this policy which is neither logical nor defensible, etc…”

    Let’s start by separating these two things out. There is a genuine difference of opinion on whether or not the call for a full referendum is a fulfilment of the manifesto pledge or not. You think it isn’t, I think not only that it essentially is, but that it makes more instinctive sense, and we aren’t going to agree on that. I suspect you are slightly disingenuous on the subject of the treaty. If you mean its cumulative effect once bound with the preceding treaties would amount to a constitution then yes – isn’t a vote on it therefore like a vote on the icing after the cake is made?

    But I suggest that all this is somewhat colouring your view of this afternoon. We know this is going to get played both ways in the media, depending on where their sympathies lie – it’s not by any means the total PR disaster you claim. I repeat I don’t see what’s so wrong about pulling off a coup de theatre. It’s not as if we make a habit of it. And I don’t think its being theatrical precludes it from being principled either. In the light of the amendment that was tabled, and taking into account the wider implications of the decision not to debate it, the response of the MPs was perfectly legitimate. They could, as I say, have sat tight, but they took the more visible line. I am clear on the fact that we’ll only see how useful it really was over the next couple of days – so let’s give them a chance and see what happens.

    On the subject of Clegg’s performance, you can’t have it both ways – Clegg is not making an impression on the public, yet we are now apparently perceived on the same level as the BNP? I’m also not sure why any damage should be done to the ID cards position by this – isn’t it just more in a similar vein?

    But Jennie, if I had to write out long disclaimers every time I used the word “interesting” with reference to any political event my blog would be even more unwieldy than it already is. This is a potential watershed in the party’s development on the European position, and it’s interesting because it means better coverage for what I think is the right basic idea. Given that the forum for all this *is* the despised Westminster bubble, I would have thought walking out of it would at least be inoffensive. It rather depends on how cynical people are about MPs to start with, so it’s not news to me that some people will be totally unimpressed. Actually I think the greatest value might be as a small part in a much longer radicalisation and honesty in politics narrative which *will* have an impact at some future point, but that’s another post.

    I also reject the odd notion floating around that MPs should sit down at their desks like good little people and not make a fuss. That seems to me to totally limit their freedom of action to act in their constituents’ interests – what if they believe these are best served by walking out?

  4. I think you underestimate the cynicism of the man in the street. This will just be seen as pointless grandstanding by pretty much EVERYONE apart from a select few Lib Dems.

  5. Actually, it got my interest. The way The Sketch wrote it up in the Independent portrays it as *exactly* the kind of thing I want politicians to be doing – refusing to be dismissed by a government which stopped listening to anyone else long ago (unless it’s to steal more policy from the Tories) and demanding a debate on an amendment clearly in the public interest.

    Unfortunately I then realised they were making a fuss about Clegg’s asinine “In or Out” referendum and not the one the public cares about, which is the Lisbon Treaty. At which point the walkout became a massively negative move for the whole party, a cynical, pointless posture by people who would rather pursue a non-starter than hold the Government and themselves accountable for previous promises on a vital issue.

    Politicians’ duty is not to play nice by the etiquette of the Commons, but to represent their voters’ interests. Breaking the first one for any genuine reason is a good thing. Doing it while still not having the guts to push for the real need makes the action doubly worse. I don’t think people’s impression of the walkout will be negative for its own sake, but the public want a referendum on the Treaty and this move at best wastes time and diverts from the real issue.

  6. “Unfortunately I then realised they were making a fuss about Clegg’s asinine “In or Out” referendum and not the one the public cares about, which is the Lisbon Treaty.”

    Eh?!? I’m sorry Steve B, but I really don’t think “the public” particularly care about the Lisbon Treaty per se. Nor do I think it’s the “real issue”. Most people don’t have any idea what’s in it, nor how it differs from the proposed Constitution.

    Most people who care about this subject at all want a referendum on membership of EU and would treat any referendum as such. So, let’s be honest about it, let’s actually have a referendum on EU membership, rather than a pseudo-vote on an tidying-up and technical Treaty, that is of less importance than the ones signed up to by Tory former-governments with no public input.

    Whilst I fear such a referendum might be lost by a public that’s not as liberal as I’d like it to be, at least it would be honest – rather than the cynicalism of the Tories trying to play to euroscepticism (what exactly does the party that voted through Maasterict object to in Lisbon?).

    And as for the tactics, I think anyone who’s actively annoyed by the walk-out is deliberately trying to find something to be annoyed at. If you’re not happy about what they did, why do you have a feeling one way or the other at all? For some, Lib Dem MPs can’t win one way or t’other.

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