Today, the most anticipated vote of Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference will happen. Conference will decide what the future Liberal Democrat policy on the European Union will be. This is my last ditch attempt to explain why I think voting against rejoin will be a mistake.
For those who are exciting enough not to follow Liberal Democrat conference: in essence, members are being asked between a vague rejoin policy ("Conference supports a longer term policy of rejoining the EU") and a policy which commits to nothing ("Conference resolves to keep all options open ... including membership."). There is a third option: a stronger rejoin amendment which calls for the party to actively campaign to rejoin, but nobody seems to be taking that particularly seriously.
As it happens, I was actually happy with the motion unamended. The problem is: to get there, we have to vote against a rejoin amendment. Along with poor briefing to the press ahead of conference, that means that the perception (though not the textual wording) of the unamended motion is that it would be a rebuke to rejoin. This is a mistake.
Most people are going to this with open eyes, they want the headline "Lib Dems vote against rejoin". Where we differ is our belief on the impact that this will have. Proponents will argue that this shows to the electorate that we have learnt our mistakes of 2019 and are now back on their side.
I disagree. It won't look like we've listened and learned; it will look like we've abandoned another principle because of the political winds. That isn't a fair representation of what has actually happened, but it is what it will look like.
We are sadly already seen by too many people as duplicitous and janus-faced. We are too happy to be one thing in the discourse and then do the opposite. As Layla Moran (in my opinion, correctly) argued in the leadership election: people's problem with the coalition wasn't necessarily the actual policies but the fact that we were acting in a way which completely different to what people would 'aesthetically' expect.
Voting against rejoin would be another nail in that coffin. For much of the public, the last thing they've heard from us is yellow shirts that said 'Bollocks to Brexit'. How are they supposed to trust a party - who they are already somewhat cynical of - who are then seen to go 'yeah we listened and now we actually don't like the EU that much after-all'. It's farcical.
The way to win back trust isn't to be inoffensive to everyone. It isn't to be seen to change with the political winds. Otherwise, even when people like what we say they won't believe that we will actually do it. We already saw this in the 2019 General Election.
Frankly, I think most of the country wants to shut-up about the EU. And I do too. But let's shut-up about it in a way which does the least damage to our reputation: vote for Amendment Two, and then talk about literally anything else for at least a decade.
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