When I set off in 2016, to take part in another of the debates in draughty town halls that are the staple diet of a political campaigner, little did I realise that this particular hustings would precipitate the events that would cause to me resign the Liberal Democrat whip in Westminster,
That town hall debate was part of the referendum campaign, and of course I was arguing that the UK is better off in the EU. Challenged by a member of the audience to accept the result if we lost, I still remember his words two and half years later: “How can I be sure Stephen that your lot will accept the result if you lose the referendum, and that you won’t just try to overturn it until you get the result you want. After all, that’s what they did in Ireland and Denmark after they lost their referendums first time around, wasn’t it?”
I remember the passion and emotion on the man’s face as he spoke. He wanted reassurance from the political class about the value of his vote and the power of the man in the street to pierce the Westminster bubble. His facial expression mirrored that of most of the 200 plus members of the audience.
I was arguing for Remain, and still believe the four liberal freedoms, political, economic, social and personal, are more likely to be achieved if Britain remained in the EU. But I understood his rage and frustration. I decided, on the spot, to try and put his mind at rest, so I publicly gave my word that I’d respect the result of the referendum, support the deal the government brings back and also not back calls for a second referendum.
I also remember his response to my promise; “all right. I trust you Stephen. I may disagree with you on a lot of things but I know if you give a promise to Eastbourne, you will keep it.”
And I do, which is why we’ve reached the point of my recently resigning the Lib Dem Whip in Parliament. I’d been perfectly open about my pledge in Eastbourne, including during the snap election, and as can be seen in the BBC SE clip below the party hierarchy were also well aware.
Now we are reaching crunch time with the meaningful vote – and I am sticking to my word! Sadly this has appalled thousands of Lib Dem members and supporters from around the country who were absolutely besides themselves with rage that Vince Cable and others weren’t ‘forcing’ me to recant. Which of course they cannot if I stick to my guns.
Equally, it became clear to me over the last few weeks that the parliamentary party weren’t going to remove the whip for the laudable, liberal reason of agreeing to disagree. This meant though that the party, my party, was being attacked and I didn’t like this, or think it was fair. So having discussed it with a few people including obviously the chief whip, Alistair Carmichael, I felt the only honourable thing for me to do was to resign the whip.
This I did ten days ago. I remain a Lib Dem MP in Eastbourne of course but, temporarily I hope, am an independent liberal in Westminster.
See the link below for a broadly accurate summary, from my local tv network, BBC SE.
This whole experience is actually the first time I’ve ever been seriously trolled from around the UK, and on that note I would like to thank the members of Liberal Reform. Though they may have disagreed with my stance, they’ve often been lone voices on social media sites and beyond, reminding other liberals that a core value we are all supposed to share, is respect for the right of others to have a different view. Thank you for that.
I do of course appreciate the strength and integrity of people’s feelings on this dreadful issue, and my thoughts toward David Cameron are pretty unprintable but – and this is an important but – I also get why so many people voted to leave. They feel, rightly or wrongly, that their country changed immeasurably over the last forty years or so, and no-one asked them if that was ok. It just happened to them, and not because they asked for it.
In other words I think one of the most significant failings of the liberal metropolitan elite, if I can use that cliche, is we didn’t prepare the people for the realities of a modern, globalised world, so when they had a chance to respond – they kicked us hard in the balls. And we’re still hunched over in pain frankly and will, I suspect, be in this uncomfortable position for a few years to come.
This whole Brexit fandango is about so much more than the EU, but if we only see it through that prism, we’ll learn nothing. Nothing at all.
From my own perspective, I will keep cracking on serving my town and challenging this hopeless government in Westminster. I gave Eastbourne a promise and though it’s a toughie and it would be easier for me to break it, I won’t for two very simple liberal reasons. My word is my bond, and I grasp why so many ordinary, normal people distrust political promises and politicians – because they’re often not worth a candle……
All the best,
Stephen Lloyd MP
Eastbourne & Willingdon
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