The Liberal Democrats have announced that they are set to launch a new supporters scheme this week in a bid to lure left-leaning Remainers feeling disenfranchised by the two main parties.
Dubbed “Momentum for moderates” by leader Vince Cable the initiative will allow nonmembers to vote in a leadership contest which could be contested by non-MPs according to Buzzfeed News.
That could allow high-profile figures such as Gina Miller to take over the party and could also appeal to several other Remainers fighting for a people’s vote or softer terms on Britain’s eventual exit from the European Union.
A “special conference” of Lib Dem members will see the changes rolled out, with Lib Dem insiders hoping to learn lessons from Momentum, the pro-Corbyn grassroots organisation, which is seen as a major success in harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of young voters.
But will it work?
One thing the Lib Dems have on their side is youth. Some 73 per cent of people under 24 voted to remain in the European Union in the referendum according to best-guess estimates, and a significant proportion of people who were too young to vote at the time but are now of voting age could find appeal in the new campaign.
And there is undoubtedly huge grass roots support for a people’s vote on the referendum. A petition demanding a final say on the deal has been signed 298,000 times with several high-profile celebrities backing the campaign. Earlier this year several pro-EU groups joined forces to mount an attack on the government’s Brexit plans, staging huge rallies attending by tens of thousands of campaigners engaged behind one political belief.
Yet big questions still linger over whether the Liberal Democrats are the best party to be leading the campaign. As one source told BuzzFeed News, the big problem they face is knowing “what they are”. There currently exists confusion over whether the Lib Dems are a “German-style FDP party like [Nick] Clegg wanted, a sensible moderate party of government, or a [Charles] Kennedy-style SDP-style protest party”. And “you can tinker round the edges and have more members but if you can’t solve that problem, you can’t decide what voters you’re pitching for.”
There also remains question marks over whether Vince Cable’s party can deliver the sort of tough opposition to Brexit that a grass roots momentum-style movement would demand. Both Cable and Tim Farron recently found themselves in hot water after missing a crucial vote on the Chequers proposals, and the history of the party hardly gives you confidence that they can bite as much as they can bark.
What’s more, if there is indeed a disenfranchisement within the Labour membership ranks over Brexit it certainly hasn’t been felt yet. With more than half a million people on their books there’s little sign that supporters are about to desert the party, and as the Conservatives found with their own Momentum imitation, there is little appetite for activism within their ranks either.
So while a “Momentum For Moderates” might stack up on paper, in reality it is unlikely to deliver the boost the Lib Dems so crave.