The former leader of the Liberal Democrats on the PM's reckless gamble—and what it means for his partyby Alex Dean / June 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
“The prime minister asked for a mandate for a hard Brexit. And the people of Britain blew her the largest raspberry possible.”
In an exclusive interview with Prospect, Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, offered his take on Thursday’s staggering general election—and the woman who called it. “What kind of authority has she to negotiate in Europe now? They’ll treat her as a joke, and rightly so.”
Ashdown, MP for Yeovil from 1983 to 2001, and Lib Dem leader for 11 years, is a die-hard pro-European, and his party has aimed to hoover up the disillusioned 48 per cent since the Brexit vote last year. This result has come as good news: thanks to the new make-up of MPs, “There’s only one kind of Brexit that’s likely to get through the house of Commons—and that’s a soft one.” The “Norway option,” including single market membership, is back on the table.
Theresa May, having called the election to secure a larger majority ahead of Brexit negotiations, has lost 13 seats, while the Labour Party has defied all expectations to gain 30. Ashdown’s own party gained 4 MPs, rising to 12 in total. The Tories now plan to form an alliance with Northern Ireland’s right-wing Democratic Unionist Party.
Was he surprised when he saw the exit poll? “Well,” he says, a chuckle in his voice, “I wasn’t ‘eat my hat’ surprised.” In 2015, Ashdown famously said that he would eat his hat if that year’s exit poll—which forecast catastrophic losses for the Liberal Democrats—was proved right. In the event, it actually over-estminated his party’s performance.
“Vast swathes of ordinary Britons, the moderate progressives, have nobody to represent them”
The results this time around, however, were “encouraging.” The party has “increased its numbers by 50 per cent. OK, from a low base, but that’s steady progress.” Among the intake are former Lib Dem MPs Jo Swinson, Vince Cable and Ed Davey. But there were some high profile losses, too. I asked Ashdown how he felt when he saw that Nick Clegg had lost his seat: “Oh immensely sad. I mean, he’s a very powerful voice.”
“This country’s now suffered twice from two conservative PMs who forced us to have votes that were really not wanted, in the interest of the Conservative Party. Meanwhile, one politician…