London LibDems’ Autumn Conference
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 5th November, 2016
The shadow of Brexit hung over the London Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference in Hammersmith today, though the mood was far from downcast. Buoyed by a string of local by-election wins across the UK, as well as a very strong performance in the Witney parliamentary by-election last month, London LibDems are gung-ho for the contest now on in Richmond Park and North Kingston, for which polling day is 1 December. Although the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith brought about this contest as a protest against Heathrow Airport expansion, it is Brexit that most constituents want to talk about. About 70% of local residents voted Remain in the EU Referendum in June, but Zac — who is standing in the by-election as an “Independent”, though the Conservatives are not putting up a candidate against him — is an arch-Brexiteer. If Sarah Olney wins, she will add a much needed female face to the Party’s depleted MP line-up.
As Catherine Bearder MEP, who was one of the speakers at the conference today, stressed, Prime Minister Theresa May’s policy on Brexit is little more than “I want this, or I leave!”, which has gone down like a lead balloon with our continental partners. Already the negative impact of a potential Brexit is being felt, with the fall in the pound and warnings of rising inflation and future labour shortages in key sectors such as the NHS. Both Catherine and party leader Tim Farron, who was the keynote speaker at the conference, referred to the landmark decision by the High Court this week, which ruled that Parliament must have its say before Article 50 is triggered — also condemning the vitriolic abuse leveled at the three judges by some Brexiteers and the rabid right-wing media. Tim has carved out a distinctive position for the LibDems, calling not only for parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s Brexit plan (when it has one), but also for the proposed deal to be put before the British electorate in a referendum. That is certainly a line supported by most party members in London, including a majority of “newbies”, who have swelled our numbers by nearly a half. During his speech, Tim also made reference to the disgraceful post-EU Referendum attack on the Polish Centra in which today’s conference was held, as well as other xenophobic incidents. The political atmosphere in the UK has soured badly since 23 June, but the LibDems must stand up for decency and the rule of law, as well as holding true to our European credentials. Fortified by that message (and a splendid buffet lunch) most conference attendees then headed off to Richmond Park to campaign, or else did clerical work for the by-election on the spot.