We must unite the country, champion Liberal values and reach out beyond Remain heartlands
Sir Ed Davey MP sets out his vision for the Liberal Democrat leadership draws to a close. He writes: "With me as leader the Lib Dem resurgence becomes an unstoppable surge".
If you doubt the need for a strong Liberal Democrat force led by a credible leader, please study for a minute the photo of Boris Johnson holding aloft a slippery kipper. It tells you everything about the inanity, insanity – and terrifying danger we face.
So Johnson condemned supposedly absurd EU fish packaging regulations following complaints from an Isle of Man fisherman; and was wrong in every particular. The Isle of Man is not even a member of the EU. Such regulations are the responsibility of member states. It was actually the British government that introduced stringent requirements. And even if Johnson’s speech had not been so catastrophically fact-free, any fisherman wishing to export to the EU post-Brexit would still be subject to EU regulation, the only change being that Britain would cede all control over the drawing up of such regulations.
But I soon stopped laughing over the stunt. I reflected that Johnson’s little lie just feeds into Johnson’s bigger lie, which is that the EU is screwing us. And he gets away with it. As a journalist he led the way in selling lies about the EU, be it dastardly plans to ban prawn cocktail flavoured crisps, bendy bananas or even particular sized condoms. You couldn’t make it up – except, it turned out, he did. And the result is Brexit.
If we are to get through this crisis and defeat this economically and socially calamitous Brexit – and, just as importantly, the causes of Brexit - the revitalised Lib Dems will be leading the way. As we have from the get go in calling for a peoples vote on the final outcome. But the message must be articulated by someone with the credibility of cabinet experience that looks and sounds like a potential prime minister.
The leader must come with a serious plan to stop Brexit. I’ve proposed a government of National Unity and willingness to work with others to deliver a People’s Vote. With even Philip Hammond now suggesting he could help bring down his own government, what once might have sounded fantastical is now likely. Dominic Grieve has more in common with Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper – and indeed me – than with the Continuity Brexiteers of the ERG.
But the Lib Dems need to reach out beyond Remain heartlands, both to flourish electorally and more importantly because it is right. That’s why I’ve proposed a “Remain dividend” is spent on regeneration, training and environmental investment, particularly in “Leave” areas too often left behind.
And if we can defeat Brexit, imagine what we could do. That is why we need a leader with a vision for our party beyond Brexit. As I explained to representatives of Extinction Rebellion who I met today – passionate activists who should be natural Liberal Democrats – that is why I have spent so much of the campaign talking about the green economy, plans to beat the climate crisis and to decarbonise capitalism. And I can back this up with, I hope, a successful record as Secretary of State for Climate Change on renewables and forcing through tough EU emissions targets.
Beyond that, we must unite the country and champion Liberal values – human rights, to me, are the essence of Britishness. Whether helping abolish section 28 or securing the release of a constituent from Guantanamo Bay, this is where as leader I will always be on the front line.
Liberal Democrats are nothing if not campaigners. I won a non-target seat in 1997 by 56 votes, turning that into a 15,676 majority in four years. With me as leader the Lib Dem resurgence becomes an unstoppable surge.
We live in an age when slippery kippers are presented as argument. We should also use simple messages, but ones with credibility, like “stop Brexit”. I can deliver that message. And I have the substance behind that message.
Sir Ed Davey is the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson & MP for Kingston and Surbiton