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Friday, January 20, 2017

Farron accuses Corbyn but are all the Lib Dem MPs with him?

It is some time since a Liberal Democrat leader featured so prominently on the front page of the Guardian so it is worth reflecting on where the party currently stands.

The Liberal Democrats have just passed 80,000 members after surges in new recruits following the 2015 General Election, the European referendum and Theresa May's 'Brexit means Brexit' fiasco/saga. We are the only party fighting elections in all the nations of Great Britain with a clear pro-European message and we are very very slowly starting to see the benefits of that stance in the polls.

It is right therefore that Tim Farron should step up the pressure on the Labour Leader who, as he says in the Guardian article, has lamely given up while Britain “drives off a cliff” towards Brexit. He adds that in his view future generations will not forgive Labour for failing to stand up to Theresa May’s plans:

In an overt attempt to steal votes from Labour in pro-remain constituencies, Farron said he believed Corbyn had put his party on the wrong side of the biggest political issue in a generation and was struggling because his MPs were increasingly split on how to respond.

“I think what Labour has done is to believe this is too difficult for them politically, let’s just wait for it to go away, and the meeker we are, the quicker it will go away. I think that’s the calculation they’ve made, and this and future generations are not going to forgive them for that,” he said. “We are saying that Jeremy Corbyn and now Keir Starmer [the shadow Brexit secretary] as well – you have a Labour party from top to bottom that is failing.”

On Thursday, Corbyn sparked disquiet among his colleagues by signalling that he would expect Labour MPs to back legislation triggering article 50. Up to 30 Labour MPs, including several shadow cabinet members, are considering rebelling rather than back a bill that they believe will endorse the 12-point Brexit plan laid out by May in a speech on Tuesday.

Farron hopes that his party’s clear pro-EU position will propel it to an electoral revival, after it snatched a seat from the Conservatives in the Richmond Park byelection and relegated Labour into fourth position in Sleaford.

Setting out his version of the differences between the Lib Dems and Labour, Farron said it was necessary to oppose the Conservatives over Brexit: “It’s not divisive to hold the government to account, and not just to lamely give up as we go over a cliff, and that is what Labour are doing – they are being the most ineffective opposition in living memory.”

This is not opportunism as some have claimed, it is the reassertion of a core raison d'etre of the party. The Liberals and the Liberal Democrats have always been a passionately pro-European party. The SDP had as one of its core principles a commitment to Europe. The fact that Labour and the Tories have effectively ceded that position to us is helping us to get that message across.

But there are dangers in this approach, not least in the apparent lack of unity within the Parliamentary Party. Just because there are only 9 MPs, does not mean that we can act in an undisciplined way.

On such a key issue as this, splits in the way MPs vote will come back and bite us and undermine much of the good will that has been built up over the European issue. It is not good enough having Tim Farron lead from the front, all nine MPs need to be squarely behind him.

When it comes to the vote on Section 50, the nine MPs need to vote as a single block and have a reasoned justification for the way that they vote. Failure to do so will undermine all the good things that have been achieved in the last six months and set back the pro-European cause for some time.

I hope that they are listening.
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