It’s been a little over three days since the result of the UK’s referendum on its membership of the European Union was announced to the world and the fallout has been somewhat of a political shit-storm. The Prime Minister has resigned triggering a leadership contest and potential civil war within the Conservative Party; the markets and currency have fallen to thirty-year lows; the leave campaigners are running around clueless as to the next step and now the Labour Party appears to be in danger of completely falling apart as 19 shadow cabinet members (an counting) have resigned their positions and are calling for Jeremy Corbyn’s immediate resignation as leader of the party. It’s all a bit sad really. At a time when the country needs strong and decisive government more than ever, both Her Majesty’s Government and the Opposition are embroiled in bitter internal arguments, showing no leadership and leaving the British people to wonder just what the hell is going to happen next.
As far as I can see there have only been two party leaders in the wake of the Brexit victory, that have risen above petty party infighting and have provided a clear vision of where they stand on the issue and their vision for future steps. Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party and Tim Farron of the Liberal Democrats, although offering visions that differ from each other, have been the two decisive voices in the immediate aftermath of the Leave Campaign’s victory in Thursday’s referendum. And that’s important. Recent polls have shown that in light of the prospect of a British exit from the European Union, the Scottish public are now in favour of a second independence referendum which further bolsters the support for the First Minister, which as heavily fortified in May’s local elections and last year’s General Election. But what of the Liberal Democrats? Why do I think they have the opportunity to regain the strength and be serious contenders at the next (and probably impending) General Election?
Tim Farron took a bold step on Friday and announced that the Lib Dems would stand at the next election, based on the pledge to either keep the UK from leaving or the seek to re-enter the European Union, depending on the state of the Brexit negotiations at the time of the election. Many people have called this move undemocratic and a cheap grab at power, but perhaps it’s actually one of the most daring, brave and admirable things a Liberal Democrat leader has done in many years. The Liberal Democrats have always been a party that is heavily pro-Europe, they have always believed that the UK should be part of the EU and so to stand in an election on the basis that Lib Dems want the UK to be part of the EU is nothing strange or alien. It does not ignore the result of the referendum; if a party is elected on the basis of an election pledge then that is democracy.
There are over 16 million people left deeply unhappy by Thursday’s result and an increasing number of leave voters who have now entered a period of what has become to be know as “Bregret”. That’s a huge number of people who do not want the UK to leave the EU. Those people will be looking to a political party that represents their pro-EU beliefs and a party that will fight for Britain’s place in Europe and in the world. That party is not the Conservative who have always been deeply divided over Europe and who have now entered a bitter civil war for the top job; that party is not the Labour Party, whose leader has been subject to one of the greatest mass exoduses since the Jews fled Egypt and who are clearly so out of touch with their voters. That party is the Liberal Democrats.
The Liberal Democrats have seen yet another surge in membership since Thursday’s referendum with 4000 new members signing up to join the #LibDemFightBack, often using the Twitter tag #wearethe48. It wouldn’t surprise me if many disaffected Labour members, potentially MPs, or even those from within the Conservative Party see the Lib Dems as the rightful place to represent their moderate, progressive, pro-European views. If the Lib Dems play it right, Tim Farron’s promise of being back in power within five years could in fact, retrospectively, be considered to be a prophecy.
But we all know British politics has a funny way of giving you exactly the opposite of what you might expect, even when all the indications to the supposed outcome are there right in front of you, so I won’t hold my breath of place my money on Prime Minister Farron…just yet. But it is a very gripping and thrilling act on the stage of politics in the United Kingdom.