writes DM director Stuart Coster
Writing in The Guardian, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron shamefully stokes fears that families will be "torn apart" by Brexit, despite there being absolutely no suggestion from anyone in government that this will happen.
As well as being simply a nasty ploy, deploying graphic language to whip up fears of turmoil in people's futures that have no basis in reality encourages divisions that, in another breath, Farron and his party claim to reject.
Back in January, Theresa May attempted to achieve a reciprocal guarantee for both EU and UK expats, but her move was reportedly blocked by "one or two" EU leaders. The government's intentions to resident EU nationals have been made crystal clear, yet Mr Farron persists in fuelling needless public concerns to serve his own outdated, EU-obsessive ideology.
Such Farron fear-mongering goes way beyond existing transgressions against democracy, like his refusal to accept the majority referendum verdict and immediate demands for a repeat vote. He's now engaging in the politics of fear for base party advantage - the sort of desperate stuff Lib Dems frequently accuse everyone else of peddling.
The baleful tactics follow Farron's backing for a Brexit Bill amendment to guarantee EU citizens' rights that would have had the effect of turning more than a million expat Brits into EU bargain chips in the looming Brexit talks. A move that represented an extraordinary dereliction of duty to British citizens by the leader of a UK political party, thankfully shot down by a moderate majority of other MPs.
But the hypocrisy doesn't end with whipping up fears that EU residents here are somehow going to be ejected, while claiming to 'reject division' and want a 'united' Britain. Or indeed Farron's party doing everything they can for years to block an EU referendum happening at all, then immediately demanding another referendum when they don't like the result. Much more of the Lib Dem response to the referendum verdict is also packed with contradictions.
A frequent, yet self-evidently bizarre, claim is that 17.4 million Leave backers didn't know what they were voting for, while another runs that people didn't vote to leave the EU single market. Somehow, Mr Farron and his party know what Leavers voted for or against, even though we all ourselves apparently didn't know at the time? How spectacularly perceptive!
Then they wail that Brexit is an economic disaster, yet dismiss every frequent post-referendum piece of good news - like Vodafone's recent £2bn investment announcement creating over 2,000 jobs, the continued interest of major overseas investors, or the latest further fall in unemployment (the list goes on) - as simply due to Brexit not having happened yet.
As if such major decisions to invest or create jobs were being taken by those with no foresight to assume that Brexit is going to happen in the not-too-distant future.
The Lib Dems' democracy-refusenik attitude to the EU referendum may have been pushed into overdrive by the result of last December's by-election in Richmond Park. But, in reality, that event was very far from the uprising against Brexit that the party hyped.
Their candidate Sarah Olney only just beat an independent rival who did not benefit from the absolutely huge resources of a party machine and despite deluging the constituency with mountains of leaflets hammering a pledge to block Brexit, the Lib Dem vote amounted to less than half of Richmond's Remain supporters at the referendum.
So for all Farron's unprincipled, anti-democracy rhetoric, the by-election result actually suggested his party isn't representing the 48% as only up to 20% of them who may still share his refusal to respect the referendum result.
No-one is suggesting Remain voters need to change their views about the EU, despite silly or disingenuous protests that this is what insisting the referendum result be respected amounts to. A more credible and democratic response to the EU referendum outcome by those who continue to support EU membership would be to argue that Britain should one day rejoin, not set out to block the majority Leave verdict being delivered.
Little to lose?
A quest to refuse the majority referendum decision may go down well in those constituencies with big Remain votes during low by-election turnouts. Even up to 20% of voters will look a tempting target to a party with only 9 MPs. It no doubt seems to Tim Farron that, despite his debauched politics, he has little to lose. But he's wrong.
The Lib Dem leader ought to be a lot more concerned that his tactics are attracting the attention of several successful campaign groups with large Brexit activist networks, looking for new political challenges and with the financial clout to mount significant grassroots campaigns. The sheer scale of Farron's nasty, divisive fear-mongering, hypocrisy and blatant contradictions could well provoke some to start pointing out relentlessly the many manifest failings in his response to the EU referendum to all voters in his party's existing seats, all of which except just his own are extremely vulnerable, as well as in his 2020 election targets.
So while Farron may think he's making hay with the 48%, or more likely the 20%, general elections are a different story. Even since December, more people have moved on as events unfold, accepting the referendum result and, even if unenthused, looking now to make the best of it. That's why the ultimate price for continuing abject disrespect for democracy and a debasing politics of fear could easily turn out to be the few remaining vestiges of the Lib Dems' credibility and popular support.