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Friday, December 01, 2023

Time for the Liberal Democrats to wake up and smell the coffee

Perhaps the heady successes of the 1990s and the 2000s spoilt us and led us into a false sense of our own destiny. Perhaps we take ourselves too seriously. But I am a Liberal Democrat because of my belief in liberty and social justice, and I expect those who lead the party to be expounding the distinctive and radical messages associated with that philosophy at every opportunity.

Instead we have settled for a sort of bland mediocrity, a quest for the vanilla centre ground that is neither distinctive nor radical. That is why I would happily have signed the letter from thirty senior Liberal Democrats in the Guardian this week calling on Ed Davey to seize the day.

The letter hits the nail on the head when it says that there is a massive opportunity for a liberal alternative based on internationalism, environmental awareness and modernising Britain, but the authors believe the Liberal Democrats are swerving this opportunity. They add that it is crucial that we are brave and honest about the challenges a new government will face, with distinctive positions the Tories would never take and Labour dare not adopt:

Only a “single-market dividend” will allow the next government to achieve net zero with new rail links and clean power, bring the NHS and social care off their knees, and fund schools so that today’s children can flourish and become tomorrow’s leaders.

The Lib Dems must be fearless in highlighting this – and other differences. We have bolder policies than Labour on the environment, fair votes and human rights, but we are not communicating them. At a general election, echoing Labour’s general antipathy to the Tories through local campaigns is part of the battle but insufficient on its own.

Only a statement of confident liberalism – on Europe, the environment, political reform and public services – will show people that the Lib Dems are a national force worth supporting. We do well when we have a principled message that cuts through, such as our current one on Gaza.

Yes, the leadership are talking about the key issues that are important to voters, the NHS and the economy, but so are everybody else. Emphasising our distinctiveness does not mean that we have to stop talking about those issues, but we can do so in the context of the advantages to our prosperity and our public services of rejoining the single market, and the way Brexit has left us economically bereft.

And we should be extolling the benefits of migration, about how our humanity means that we should be helping asylum seekers not ostracising them, and how our commitment to the environment and clean energy can help us regain control of our own destiny and be less dependent on others and on scarce resources in the future.

Ed Davey once told us to wake up and smell the coffee. It's time for him and his team to do the same.
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