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Engaging with disgruntled Leave voters

July 18, 2016 9:31 AM
By Mark Argent in Liberal Democrat Voice

Beside the ongoing drama around Westminster, there's an urgent task to be done among those who voted to leave the EU and are beginning to regret it. This is crucial for the country, and wise for us as well.

I'm thinking of those taken in by false "promises" - there isn't an extra £350 million a week for the NHS, or an end to free movement of people, Brexit doesn't mean an end to fishing quotas, and "taking back control" now sounds like a joke. They were already alienated and this is not helping.

We're hearing stories of Brexit hitting places that voted for it: Lush moving from Poole, Forterra mothballing plants in Accrington and Claughton. Vacancies and job prospects are down. We need a more constructive response than a brutal "You voted for it".

If Labour were acting as a proper opposition rather than embroiled in in civil war, they would be highlighting further betrayals from the Tories: most startling is the abandoning of plans to move to a budget surplus. If it were to be so quickly abandoned now, why was it clung to for so long despite fuelling misery for millions? How many voted Leave because of that pain?

The best hope for avoiding Brexit is pressure from people who voted Leave and now fear the consequences, giving the government the chance to seem to have changed its mind after listening. But many of these are already people who feel excluded and assume politicians will ignore them. With Labour otherwise engaged, it falls to us to mobilise them before Article 50 is invoked.

The divisions exposed by the referendum shouldn't surprise anyone who's been door-knocking. Traditional socialism has failed, and we need something else.

The preamble to the LibDem constitution says we exist "exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity." That has powerful resonances with where we now are, and is a brilliant place from which to begin to engage with those conned into voting Leave. Even more sharply, freedom from enslavement by poverty is a good place to start the conversation with people who are financially excluded, and a change from what people are used to.

There are European resonances: the EU is there to improve life for all Europeans, and reversing Brexit is in the best interests of many of those who voted Leave out of desperation.

At an idealistic level engaging those who now feel betrayed has powerful echoes of Nick Clegg's resignation speech, talking of "British liberalism, that fine, noble tradition that believes we are stronger together and weaker apart is needed more than ever before."

If we are about to head into a snap election, then connecting with these people will be really important, both to minimise resentment in LibDem-held constituencies that voted Leave, and to build support among those we need to win over in seats we hope to gain.

The crucial thing is to enable the voices of those feeling increasingly angry or dis-spirited to be heard - both the 48%, and those conned into voting Leave.

Can we go out and talk with people, and organise marches and petitions, to mobilise pressure to abandon the folly of Brexit, and build a better UK at the heart of a reforming European Union?

* Mark Argent was the parliamentary Candidate in North West Leicestershire in 2015, and is a past Chair of Cambridge Liberal Democrats

Comment - Cllr John Marriott - Lincoln, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Mark Argent, in his latest piece for Lib Dem Voice, is adopting the stance that, I fear, will drive us into a corner from which we will struggle to emerge. The vote on 23 June was for leave. Which part of 'No' doesn't he understand?

Mark's Lib Dem and EU credentials are impeccable. However, he appears to be supporting the view that many of those who voted no have been misled and need re education. Equally, there are those who wish to punish them by doing all they can to sabotage Brexit negotiations when they finally begin and are prepared to accept our economic decline as a price worth paying to teach them a lesson.
The reason I was reluctant to engage fully with the Referendum was partly because I was suspicious of the tactics of the Remain campaign, including those of my own party. You see, I really struggled to defend many aspects of the EU, even though I felt that, despite its many faults, it really was at present the only show in town.
Mark is displaying the kind of hubris demonstrated by Nick 'more or less the same' Clegg in that infamous Farage debate. You can question the sanity of those poor souls who believed the snake oil salesmen if you want. Had those tasked with refining the product we were seeking to defend been prepared to address its own failings the chances of a vote for Brexit might have been reduced.
Yes, you can blame Cameron for sticking to his manifesto promise if you wish. He has paid the price and created an ocean of uncertainty. Reading David Laws' book on the 2010-2015 coalition makes it clear that the Prime Minister appeared to be expecting more of the same for the new parliament, when he could legitimately point to his Lib Dem partners as the reason why he would not be able to get a Referendum Bill through.
Those of you who want to rewrite history obviously don't understand the nature of democracy. If you try to pull the rug from under the decision taken on 23 June you will simply be portrayed as bad losers. Let's just see what the three Brexiteers can come up with. Please don't try to gain political advantage from a situation that could explode in your face. As Churchill once said, a majority of one is enough. A majority of well over 1 million is surely more than enough. You can't keep having referenda until you get the result you want, although other EU members appear to have indulged in this exercise.
So, let's see what happens this Autumn. Now that the Tories have regrouped the kitchen sink drama switches to the Labour Party, or will it be Parties soon? Whatever happens with Brexit, there is much that could be done over which we actually do have control. When will we hear more about Lib Dem policies such as fairer votes and taxation and a Federal United Kingdom. I would add to that structural reform of local government, the scrapping of HS2, but not HS3 and improved railway infrastructure elsewhere. And how about a form of re nationalisation as well? So, don't 'moan'. It's a very unattractive human trait! Get real!
Cllr John Marriott