Where now for the Liberal Democrats? – Will the impending EU referendum be their chance to rise again?

Nick Clegg canvassing in his sea of Sheffield Hallam (Via Lib Dems)

Nick Clegg canvassing in his sea of Sheffield Hallam (Via Lib Dems)

Most Liberal Democrats spent a dower election night watching as their party suffer further demise as they were punished for entering into a collation with the Conservatives back in 2010. Many within the Liberal Democrats expected a heavy defeat, with most polls suggesting their 57 seats would be cut in half. But when the exit poll was announced many were left shocked, not just in the Liberal Democrat camp, but across the political spectrum. Paddy Ashdown echoed the disbelief amongst Lib Dem supporters at what the exit poll suggested, even going as far as to proclaim ‘I’ll publically eat my hat’ if the poll were true on the BBC. However, it proved to be right and the Liberal Democrat roster was cut down to a mere eight constituencies, losing key battles in London, the South West and in Scotland. The defeat has inflicted wounds which will take many months to heal, but as Nick Clegg regrettably announced his resignation, there will be quiet optimism that the party can rise from the ashes once more. Yes, the party is leaderless for now, but in this time they can reflect on the experiences and scars inflicted upon them during their five years in government. Activists and members will talk amongst themselves, debate their defeat and then regroup. The Liberal Democrats will set off on a long journey of self-discovery, with either Tim Farron or Norman Lamb at the helm. The election has been a costly one, in fact the Liberal Democrats lost over 300 deposits on May 7th, but this will only make the party stronger and make its supporters more eager to be the mouthpiece for decency, liberalism and tolerance as the ‘politics of fear’ blows throughout the UK.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 10:  Tim Farron, President of the Liberal Democrats makes a speech at the Liberal Democrats Spring Conference on March 10, 2013 in Brighton, England. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg delivered his keynote speech bringing the three day conference to a close. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

Tim Farron

The Liberal Democrats will find their voice among the many fears of the British public. The impeding EU referendum, an election promised by David Cameron by 2017, will prove to be the end of Lib Dem soul-searching and the beginning of their fight back. The Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg have been the bastion of British political support for EU membership, channelling that message in their 2014 European Parliamentary election campaign. No other party, not even Labour who dithered on the subject, has stood firm in their unwavering support for the European Union and the many benefits that it brings to the UK. Jobs, investment, trade and security are under threat as the European question will no doubt rear its head in the coming months and years. Within this debate, the Liberal Democrats will shine and many across the UK, spanning the political spectrum, will join forces with the Liberal Democrat message to support the campaign to keep the UK in the European Union. The Liberal Democrats rightly hold European-wide respect amongst the political parties that are in the European Parliament. If there was ever a time to reboot your party, then the Liberal Democrats will reboot it with a passionate plea to the UK to vote for stability and the safety they believe the EU has to offer. The Lib Dem’s will be the guiding force towards standing in the Union and will win hearts and minds in the battle to show the UK the positives to be gained from the EU project.

It is unclear right now who will be tasked with the challenge of rebranding and restructuring the Liberal Democrat image and voice, and that is surely a very tough job. Whoever is voted into leadership by Liberal Democrat members, one thing is for sure, they will be giving time and support right down to the grassroots to shape the battle for the 2019 European Parliament election and the 2020 general election. The EU referendum will not define the Liberal Democrats, but it will allow them the opportunity to sharpen their message and let the public know that the yellow bird is on the rise.

Liberal Democrats - fairer -stronger

The election has been a pivotal catalyst in the debate against the First Past the Post system. The Liberal Democrats have been at the forefront toward changing the electoral system for some time, now they will be joined by UKIP and the Greens in their battle to see a fairer system of AV or proportional representation adopted in future elections. The Liberal Democrats were aggrieved in 2010 when they received almost seven million votes, two million less than Labour, but delivered far less Liberal Democrat MPs. This time around UKIP are struggling to deal with having almost three times the amount of votes that the SNP had, but only returned one seat compared with the SNP’s 56. The 2015 election has altered opinion in line for more democratic voting style, this surge towards a fairer system may well help the Liberal Democrats out in future elections, however only if it is agreed upon and that is far from certain.

The Liberal Democrats have fallen foul of being the junior coalition partner. A broken promise over tuition fees will haunt them. Nevertheless, they have had great success in securing less austere cuts, the adoption of the Pupil Premium, fairer tax breaks for low wages earners and in giving a heart to a Conservative-led government. Many will say that history will look back kindly at the Liberal Democrats as they put nation before party, but if they are to bounce back quickly then they will have to remind the public of the good things they achieved, whilst also spearheading a regeneration of their ideals. The Liberal Democrats have learnt that you cannot promise policies that you are unable to deliver, they will learn from having third-party syndrome. Bad experiences can either break you, or they make you more ambitious and more determined. I believe that the Liberal Democrats will turn defeat into action and this will drive them forward into a new era. They have done it in the past and they will do it again. Although the results may linger on the surface, underground the Liberal Democrats will heal and strengthen. In the face of adversity, and with British politics heading towards the more extremes of the spectrum, the Liberal Democrats will be hoping to become the voice of reason and a flame for unity, tolerance and decency.

By James Metcalfe, Editor of Daily Political View.

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