It’s of no doubt that parliament getting a vote on Article 50 is a good thing, however, despite publicly welcoming this news, it now leaves Liberal Democrat MPs with a tricky decision to make.
Ever since June 23rd, the Lib Dems have been walking the tightrope between standing up for the 48% and appearing “undemocratic”, now there is (most likely) to be a vote on the beginning of the Brexit process, they must finally choose which side of the line they wish to fall on.
After much thought, I have come to the conclusion that the Lib Dems have only one choice, they must vote against the triggering of Article 50. Although their inclination as democrats may be to reluctantly vote for it, it seems more and more likely that this may be their only chance to put their anti-Brexit feelings on the record.
In many ways, I may have been felt more uneasy about this decision if it were likely to have an affect on the outcome, however, with a majority of both Conservative and Labour MPs surely likely to vote in favour, any Article 50 legislation is almost certain to pass. Regardless, those that still firmly believe the UK’s future is best served by remaining in the EU will be watching closely, and with the likes of Anna Soubry, Kenneth Clarke and Owen Smith all likely to vote against, many will wonder why the Lib Dems too could not be so bold if they choose to vote in favour. If the Lib Dems want to be the voice of the 48%, they must not only talk the talk but also walk the walk.
The only reason I can conclude it would ever be worth voting for Article 50 would be if the government were to concede to having a referendum on the terms of Brexit. However, as currently only the policy of the Lib Dems and the Greens, totalling a whole 9 parliamentary seats, the government is unlikely to be listening. Incidentally, I can’t help but feel this would have been a better policy on the Article 50 vote for Labour to adopt, as opposed to their demand for “access” to the single market* (*correct at the time of writing, it’s very hard to keep up with Labour’s policy on this / anything). With “access” being fairly meaningless (as anyone will tell you, North Korea has “access”), it’s a shame that Labour have decided that this is the best “opposition” they can come up with, although of course meaningless virtue-signalling is something of a speciality for the current Labour leadership.
Finally, although less significant nationally but none the less important for the party, it seems likely that voting in favour of Article 50 would see the thousands of new members who’ve joined the party post-referendum massively disheartened. With a crucial by-election in Richmond Park coming up, it’s vital that all party members are at best content, so as to keep the momentum gathered from Witney and council by-elections going, rather than falling into Labour-style infighting. As a party already with an unfortunate reputation for going back on past promises amongst large swathes of the electorate, now is definitely the time for the Lib Dems to stick to their guns.
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In a political period where so little is certain, the one thing we can seemingly be sure of is that new Prime Minister Theresa May is desperately keen to distance herself ideologically from her predecessor David Cameron. Whilst many would argue that there is nothing that can be considered “compassionate” about a government that leaves thousands relying on food banks, if you thought the Cameron administration was bad then, in the immortal words of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
It is of no doubt that throughout his premiership David Cameron could often be accused of pandering to the right of his party, highlighted in particular by the disasterous EU Referendum, but, whilst Cameron pandered, May appears to have let them take (back) control. In the past weeks we have seen EU citizens living within the UK be treated as bargaining chips, talk of drastic cuts to the overseas aid budget, and most recently the introduction of an education policy described by Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron as causing the majority of young people to be “relegated to the second division at the age of 11“. For someone who rose to fame amongst Conservatives for urging the party to lose its “Nasty Party” image, Theresa May seems to be doing a pretty good job of making sure it sticks (although the current Labour shambles is running them close).
Despite the many glaring faults of the Cameron era, I look back at what good was achieved and wonder whether any of it would have been possible in this May-lead, post-Brexit world. Gay marriage is of course the first thing that springs to mind, followed by prison reform, year on year increases in overseas aid etc.. Even a strong economy, at the heart of Cameron’s brand of Compassionate Conservatism, seems no longer the focus of the Tories under May, as it appears increasingly likely that vital access to the EU’s single market will be dumped in favour of an even tighter grip on immigration. Following May’s first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of 10 Downing Street, there was talk in some circles of her returning the Conservatives to a less divisive, pre-Thatcher style of government, what I imagine they did not expect was for May instead to take her inspiration from the time of Enoch Powell. For all Cameron’s faults, it could at least be argued that his government’s mindset was firmly in the 21st century; an education policy of academisation may have been divisive, but at least it wasn’t straight out of the 1950s.
I ceased my support of the Conservatives earlier in the year when they refused to do more for refugees, but at least a few months ago it was on the agenda. Now it seems that our new Prime Minister has no interest in the respect / votes of the “liberal mainstream”, and would instead focus her attention on the Britain first brigade. Therefore it is with a not so heavy heart that I say R.I.P. Compassionate Conservatism (2005-2016), taken from us at least four years too soon.