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Too long for Twitter: Why I will be voting for rejoin.

Too long for Twitter: Why I will be voting for rejoin.

This was originally a Twitter thread, but quickly got too long. But here's my inane, rambly and ultimately unimportant take on why I think the current anti-rejoin discourse is wrong. 

I was originally going to stay quiet on the rejoin question. Put bluntly, I don't really care about Europe policy. Yes, I have spent the best part of three years trying to find a replica of Margret Thatcher's European Communities flags sweater (to no avail), but when I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2017 it was not motivated by Europe. I believed passionately in a second referendum and was a passive handmaiden to revoke but I've never had #FBPE in my bio, never owned an EU flag beret and don't know the words to Ode to Joy. My motivation in politics and driver towards liberalism has never been about Europe. For the first few days of this discourse I was happy to sit and watch; safe in the knowledge that it was all just noise that I, at best, had a passing interest in. 

But increasingly, I've been convinced that this is bad. As more and more people across my timeline have declared war on rejoin - many of whom are good mutuals and friend - they've had the opposite effect of what they intended. Rather than convince me of their cause, they've turned me from someone who doesn't really care (with a soft preference for an aspirational rejoin policy) into someone sitting down with a cup of tea to turn a bloated Twitter thread into a blog post which will be read by a half dozen people and convince even less. 

As is the nature of these things, I will be talking about a take whilst not being part of that take. I hope I am representing the 'mean' position, and am not strawmanning the argument - it would be disingenuous to frame this argument against the self-declared 'soft eurosceptics' and liberal leavers, even if they deserve it for their unbearable smugness over the last nine months. And to my friends and mutuals, I'm promise I'm not indirecting any of you. 

Firstly, I think I can say with some certainty that the Liberal Democrat Europe Group rejoin motion which has been doing the rounds is not going to be debated at conference. Without wanting to offend any of the authors, it is poorly written and frankly cringey at times. But there is a reserved Europe slot, and I would be willing to bet that any motion will have a pro-rejoin amendment attached. With relative confidence, I predict that Conference will have an opportunity for people to make their voices heard. 

Personally, I think this is a mistake. We could and should have sat on this longer, safe in the knowledge that no-one would know or care that we hadn't updated our Europe policy. No other party has or will. Then, in a couple of years, we could have just put aspirational rejoin in a policy paper to little fanfare. 

Instead, we are ensuring that our conference will get some (mild) media coverage of exactly one thing: will the Liberal Democrats vote for rejoin? Yes, we know that the issues and debate is more nuanced than that but do you trust that the coverage will be? Alas, the mistake has been made. So here we are.  (Yes; after five-hundred words, I am finally getting to the argument). 

Fundamentally, I think we a sleepwalking into a mistake. With the exception of the aforementioned smug Liberal Leavers, the bulk of the party agrees the Britain should one day rejoin the European Union. Instead, this is a debate about tactics. Or, in my opinion, overcorrecting and second-guessing. 

To me, it feels a lot like the revoke debate again. Like I said, I was a silent handmaiden to revoke. Much like the start of this debate, I had a soft preference but didn't really care. In that debate, we were again caught in two camps - what our guts said (People's Vote) and what the tactics demanded (Labour are going to come out for a second referendum; we will be squeezed!). With the added pressure of not wanting to undermine a new leadership who had publicly backed one side, we second-guessed ourselves and voted for revoke. 

I don't want us to make the same mistake of second guessing our instincts again, especially as I am convinced it will have the opposite effect. I fear that the overcorrection will convince nobody that we are suddenly on their side - or even begin to mend those bridges. No matter what conference decides, these people will have to be convinced that we hold their values and speak to the insecurities in their lives. Rejoin neither helps nor hinders that.

What rejecting it would do is send a different message: the Liberal Democrats have changed their values again. Don't like our principles? We can change them. Is it fair? No.  But I can already see the mocking, bad faith tweets. A failure of our last campaign is that we had an amazing manifesto but were painted as a single issue party - no matter how hard we tried to pivot. The repercussions of that matter for this debate. To too many people, we have one identity. Voting against rejoin would be seen to be rubbing that identity away. 

I am sure that many people voting against rejoin are now muttering, 'that's the point dumbass' at their screen. But it won't work as you intend: rather than being seen as repenting, it will be seen as spineless duplicity. No matter the truth of the denotation, the connotation is that we were the centre-left, anti-establishment party that went into bed with the Conservatives and then the 'Bollocks to Brexit' Party who repudiated that afterwards. Ignore the nuance, to the casual observer we need to stop being seen as the party who flitters between two seemingly irreconcilable positions. Being seen as guileful and fundamentally untrustworthy is much more damaging than having an uncomfortable policy on page forty-two of the manifesto. 

No mainstream voice is calling for us to immediately campaign to rejoin the European Union. We shouldn't. But we have a lot of policies, even those core to what we believe as liberals, which we don't actively campaign on. And yes, there will be some voices who say that passing a rejoin policy shows that we haven't learned the lessons of the past. But in 2024, when conversation and discourse has shifted away from Brexit: that will be largely forgotten. But the affect of distrustfulness - an affect which already exists, and frankly doesn't need reinforcing? That won't be. 

Let's rebuild trust and not second-guess ourselves. Don't risk inflicting reputational damage that we cannot afford to take. Please, don't vote against rejoin. And then we can spend the next four years talking about the policy which is actually the most important at conference: UBI. 

 


 

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