You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.
For many, this is not far from an accurate analysis of the current state of Britain’s ‘third’ party, the Liberal Democrats. Since the reigns of control were handed to party legend Vince Cable in a worryingly-autocratic unopposed leadership election over the summer, few have recognised anything vaguely transformative about the policy of the former coalition members.
Cable’s optimism in the early days of his leadership was unrivalled, with the Twickenham MP promising to mould the party into a catch-it-all centrist alternative, heaping praise upon the recent success of new French President, Emmanuel Macron. With further insistence that he could become Prime Minister himself, the 74-year old has grossly underestimated the influence of the French electoral system, which coupled with a Presidential political setup, naturally tends towards examination of the Individual rather than the party.
In attempting to establish a radical centrist alternative, Cable has appeared to have launched a renewed assault on Theresa May’s ‘Hard’ Brexit. He has transcended predecessor Farron in now advocating for what is essentially a second referendum – technically defined as a vote on the final exit terms, that could see Britain remain a member of the EU if terms are rejected. Farron’s policy on Europe during the election was centred around the promise of retaining single market membership, and even this stance was ridiculed for its apparent contribution to the failure of the party to make more extensive gains – Cable now appears to have interpreted Farron’s policy on Europe as not extensive enough – a critical error.
Although the somewhat mundane argument of respecting the democratic view of the registered electorate of the country is becoming repetitive, coupled with the fact that the referendum was only technically advisory – it would be fundamentally contradictory to our nation’s principles of liberal democracy to withdraw the right of self-determination gifted by former Prime Minister David Cameron. If Cable is committed to providing a serious third party alternative then he cannot risk isolating such substantial portions of the electorate through what is essentially a policy of dogmatism.
The Lib Dem’s position now seems further rooted in irrelevance considering Labour’s recent course correction on the issue of Brexit. Now intent on retaining the benefits of Customs Union and Single Market membership, Corbyn’s party still lack complete clarity yet are gradually taking the shape of a legitimate opposition force on the issue of Europe. The party have further been embarrassed by the declaration of former leader and Deputy PM Nick Clegg that voters should join Labour to stop Brexit. Yet Clegg cannot be criticised for his advice – Labour are according, to current polls at least, the most popular party nationally, and are offering a convincingly pro-European position, while accepting the departure from the EU as a formality.
It appears that this is a crucial distinction – Labour’s promise of certainty over an exit from the EU essentially constitutes the offering of an Olive branch to Brexit supporters, while simultaneously outlining proposals to soften the economic devastation of the departure. It appears that this newfound Labour stance constitutes an increasingly-relevant position for the Remain camp – accepting the inevitability of an exit from the organisation – yet working to prove their Europhilic attitudes through supporting a close relationship with the EU post-2019, in the name of Economic safety. Such an attitude could be key to Labour successes in upcoming local elections next May.
Finally, yet maybe most importantly is to question why the Liberal Democrats and those of this seemingly similar persuasion on the European question are so founded in attempting to reverse a decision taken almost 18 months ago. Surely the essential nature of our national political character is to tend towards self-improvement and progression, such is a criticism that could be similarly applied to May’s uncertain and insufficient Brexit talks. The principle remains though that the hard- fought attempt at reversal and return to the previous status quo is an unappealing indication of unwillingness to firstly, accept political change and secondly, to recognise that the fundamental principle of a representative democracy is to accept that self-determination of the general population trumps the ‘sensibility of political minds’, positions held contrary to this proposition can only be described as resentfully elitist.