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Parliament did the easy bit on Wednesday, now comes the hard bit

December 15, 2017 6:45 PM
By Mark Pack
Originally published by South Lincolnshire Liberal Democrats

Exit from BrexitThe tiny majority in favour of ensuring Parliament gets a vote on any Brexit deal not seem an obvious thing to label 'easy'. But there's a pretty solid rule of politics: it's easier to secure agreement to have a vote than it is to win the subsequent vote.

Overdosing your attention, dreams, efforts and hopes on securing agreement for the vote can all so easily be followed by heavy defeat when the vote comes. Think of Liberal Democrats - and electoral reform campaigners more widely - in the run up to securing the alternative vote referendum. Getting one was the relatively easy bit. Winning it was, as the landslide defeat showed, much harder.

Or more recently, think about the controversy at the last Liberal Democrat conference over whether there should be a vote on the party's Brexit line at that conference or whether the substantive vote should be in the spring. Those keen to change the party line won the battle to bring that vote forward. But then lost heavily in the substantive vote because they had no answer to the combination of a popular ex-party leader saying 'stick with our current policy' and a charismatic Scot saying 'changing our policy will cause us huge problems in Scotland'. That the combo happened to be Tim Farron and Alex Cole-Hamiltion was slightly beside the point. What was the point is that a combo of some such form was almost inevitable - and those campaigning to bring forward the vote hadn't successfully prepared the ground to overcome that.

Returning then to the victory yesterday in Parliament, securing a vote year after next is nice. It'll also end up of very limited value if the result of that vote is a foregone conclusion thanks to a combination of Daily Mail, claimed respect for the referendum result and a Conservative Party that decides it doesn't want to plunge itself into chaos and quite possibly out of power.

For that vote to have a chance of being meaningful, public opinion and political power needs to shift in advance. Part of that is down to fate. Does it serve up a Richmond Park-like by-election for example? (A run of winning Parliamentary by-elections has been a staple of previous third party recoveries, it's worth remembering.)

But part of it is very much of our own making. How much grassroots campaigning power goes into boosting the pro-European cause and how much goes into boosting the Liberal Democrats specifically?

how to stop brexitOn the former, Nick Clegg's new book has much useful to say.

On the latter, council by-election success, especially against the Conservatives, is a crucial fuel of political momentum.

For all their limitations as general election predictors, council by-elections are a great fuel for parties looking to kick-start or accelerate their political momentum. It's also a fuel you can directly, and significantly help with. Here are three simple ways:

  1. Donate to ALDC's Fighting Fund which concentrates on council by-elections and getting weaker areas going with winning campaigns.
  2. Make sure your local party and others in your area fight every council by-election.
  3. Contact ALDC to join their volunteer telephone canvass team which helps the most winnable by-elections each week.

Do this and you'll be helping fuel the anti-Brexit cause. Do that and the vote in Parliament on any deal will see real political force behind the pro-European view.