Late last month we headed to Bournemouth to attend the first autumn gathering of the party since 2019. We hosted a packed out, standing room only fringe meeting called: Is Europeanism in Lib Dem DNA?
Our panel included former Business Secretary Sir Vince Cable, House of Lords LD Europe Spokesperson Baroness Sarah Ludford, Cambridgeshire County Councillor Edna Murphy, and Eastbourne PPC Josh Babarinde. It was chaired by our CEO Naomi Smith assisted by our External Affairs Manager Jake Verity.
The inspiration for the event was drawn from the last speech that the late leader of the LIberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, made to the conference in 2013, ahead of the disastrous 2014 European Elections. You can watch the speech here but his missive was essentially that while Europeanism is very much in Lib Dem’s DNA, for far too long it has stood for ‘Do Not Acknowledge’. He blamed himself for giving in to campaign orthodoxy that pro-Europeanism was something to be believed in but not talked about with voters. His rallying cry was for Lib Dems to stand up and be unpopular for something they care about, than to be unpopular for things they disagreed with on austerity.
The session opened with a showing of the video, followed by responses from our excellent panellists, all of whom called upon the current leadership to be bolder in their defence of shared values with Europe. Our audience applauded the video, some shed a tear, and many questioned why a speech like that wasn’t being made on the main stage at this conference, ahead of a General Election next year. There was palpable frustration from delegates about the current leadership reversion to barely discussing Europeanism, and failing to make the public case for a closer relationship because it’s no longer an issue that comes up on the doorsteps.
While many were equally frustrated by Labour’s position on Brexit, they were more willing to understand the different position Labour is in, and felt that the Liberal Democrats should seek to differentiate themselves on the issue by being more overtly pro-EU.