Word from the local Lib Dem office

Picture of a Liberal Democrat poster featuring two characters from the Wizard of Oz, with the slogan "The Liberal Democrats will add a heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Tory one. Stronger economy, fairer society, opportunity for everyone"

Earlier today I left a message on the local Lib Dem constituency office’s answerphone, as our MP, who is defending his seat, is the Lib Dem Energy secretary Edward Davey. I asked him what his positions were on the matter of the Human Rights Act and us staying in the EU, as without these two things there was little to make it worth voting for him just to keep the Tories out. I didn’t get the caller’s name (it wasn’t Davey), but he did tell me that he couldn’t say if the HRA was a red line for the party but it was for Ed Davey, and that the party would agree to a referendum on the EU but would campaign for the UK to stay in. He said Davey would be writing to me himself later; I told him I’d like him to get clarification on party policy first.

On the HRA, the man told me that he knew Ed Davey to be passionate about the Act and that he had defended it on a number of occasions. However, I asked what would happen in the event that a Tory-led coalition put a bill through Parliament to abolish or replace it — if you are in the government, you are expected to vote with it or resign. He told me that he thought Ed Davey would resign in those circumstances, but hadn’t asked him that specific question. Quite frankly, given the numerous cave-ins by the Lib Dems in the past Parliament, his assurances would need to be rock solid.

On the matter of the EU, I made the point to him that in the event of a referendum, there would be some very powerful voices in the popular press arguing in favour of withdrawing and that supporters of the EU had not robustly defended it over the years. Most of what the public is aware of is news stories about nuisance legislation (e.g. “straight cucumbers”) and eastern European immigration (which, in fact, we were not required to accept and many other countries did not). I also mentioned that Labour had won three general elections on a platform that included staying in the EU, and that no party had won outright on a platform of withdrawal. As a country, we have a history of signing up to the parts of the European project that benefit business but not those that benefit individuals, such as the Social Chapter in the early 1990s, and the Schengen accord at any time. I also mentioned that parts of the press were heavily biased against, and that the public could be swayed by some brief scandal, perhaps exaggerated or even fabricated. He acknowledged that this was a danger of putting it to a vote, that it would not go our way, but it seems the party still agrees to a referendum.

I haven’t yet got that email from Ed Davey himself. Perhaps he’s taking the time to talk to his colleagues. But I find it pretty depressing that I’m contemplating voting for someone because they offer to only take the edge off a hard-right Tory government, that is if they even win enough seats, by defending two bits of legislation and not a whole lot of other very important things — Legal Aid, the Independent Living Fund, Disability Living Allowance and so on. There is no use them saying “Labour cannot win here”, as another flyer they delivered to my address today says, or that they’ll give “a heart to a Tory government and a brain to a Labour one”, if they do not distinguish themselves from the Tories. If they can’t work that out, one can assume they don’t have a brain to spare.

Update 6th May: I got an email from Ed Davey yesterday. He said that the party’s position on the HRA was non-negotiable, but that they could not rule out an EU referendum. This is still pretty worrying as there is a danger of it going against, and the popularity of the pro-withdrawal position is overstated. He finished with the usual claim that “Labour cannot win here”, to which I respond: if the Lib Dems lose seats because the progressive vote is split and the Tory vote isn’t, they need to blame themselves rather than their voters, because many of their voters no longer trust them.

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