Mehdi Hasan: "What is the point of the Liberal Democrats?"

They have sacrificed their distinctive beliefs and principles and received little in return.

"What is the point of the Lib Dems?" ask politicians, journalists, Lib Dem activists, Labour activists, students, taxi drivers and anyone else who has ever expressed a view on - or even a passing interest in! - British politics.

Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander have been touring the broadcasting studios trying to defend the Lib Dems' position (well, what position? They u-turned - again! - between Friday and Sunday) on Cameron's Euro deal (or lack thereof).

But consider this: in my mind, the Lib Dems had five issues which made them so distinctive and appealing to progressives: support for immigration; support for the European Union; support for electoral reform; opposition to tuition fees; opposition to the Iraq war.

Let's look briefly at the record of the past 18 months:

(1) Immigration: before the general election, the Lib Dems backed an amnesty for illegal immigrants. An amnesty, for crying out loud! And what have they done in government? Backed a cap on net migration.

(2) Europe: the Lib Dems were the most Europhile of the three major parties and, upon forming their coalition with the Tories, claimed they could constrain the Tories' Eurosceptic tendencies. In office, however, Nick Clegg finds himself Deputy Prime Minister of the most isolated and marginalised British government of the post-war period, with the UK now looking like its heading for the EU exit door. Bravo!

(3) Electoral reform: for the Lib Dems, PR used to be the be-all and end-all of British politics. But what happened? They agreed to a Tory proposal for a referendum on the non-proportional alternative vote (AV) and then lost the subsequent AV referendum, thereby closing the door on electoral reform for a generation.

(4) Tuition fees: the Lib Dems, lest we forget, pledged not just to oppose any increase in university tuition fees but to scrap them altogether. In government, however, not only did they fail to scrap the fees but ended up tripling them. Good job!

So that just leaves, (5) Iraq, which the Lib Dems opposed but, given their track record, will probably perform an inglorious and screeching U-turn on sometime between now and 2015. Keep an eye out for the press release from Danny Alexander welcoming the fall of Saddam Hussein and reports of a "furious" Vince Cable said to be on the verge of quitting...

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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You're wrong about Leave voters - four surprising facts about the 52 per cent

Leave voters are not as anti-immigrant as you think. 

He is an old man from a coastal town. He’s uneducated by modern standards, and worked for an industry that is now defunct. He spends his retirement shooting suspicious looks at anyone who looks “forrun” and wincing at the sound of Polish voices. He voted to quit the EU. He’s Mr Leave.

In the aftermath of Brexit, this caricature has haunted the imagination of many a Remain voter. But a new report from the think tank British Future shows it is a false one. Just as a quarter of Remain voters also backed the Tories in 2015 (sorry, progressive alliancers), Leave voters have different views on immigration, sovereignty and the economy. 

Here are some of the most surprising insights from the polling, which was carried out with pollsters ICM:

1. Leave voters cared most about sovereignty

While a quarter of Leave voters cited immigration as their number one reason, more than half said they were motivated by “taking power back from Brussels”. 

In contrast to the caricature of the ancient xenophobe, the older a Leave voter, the more likely sovereignty was their motivation. 

2. Leave voters also hated Nigel Farage’s poster

For those who hated the Leave campaign’s focus on immigration, the lowest point was UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s unveiling of a poster showing refugees crossing Europe and the caption: “Breaking Point.”

It was also the low point for many Leave voters. Roughly a third said the poster overstepped the mark, and this rose to half of voters who only made up their mind to quit during the campaign. A majority of Leave voters and UKIP supporters felt the debate on immigration got dangerously overheated.

Overall, three-quarters of the British public agree with the statement:

“What we need now is a sensible policy to manage immigration so we control who comes here but still keep the immigration that’s good for our economy and society, and maintains our tradition of offering sanctuary to refugees.”

3. Leave voters want EU migrants to stay

The new prime minister, Theresa May, is refusing to guarantee the right of EU citizens living in the UK to stay – which makes her more extreme than most UKIP voters.

Three-quarters of Leave voters and 78 per cent of UKIP voters think EU migrants should be able to stay. 

In fact, a fifth of those who feel confident about the benefits of immigration to the UK, voted Leave.

4. Leave voters have to wait longer for the bus

While voters in the farmlands of Eastern England were most likely to vote to Leave, in some areas with similar demographics the vote was much stronger than in others.

South Holland, where 73.6 per cent voted to leave, is a rural, agricultural area with poor transport links. The jobs are low-paid, and often only zero-hours contracts. Many were filled by EU migrants. 

By contrast, nearby South Kesteven has three market towns, and the jobs market is less reliant on the food production industry. The transport links are better. Just 59.9 per cent voted Leave. 

A similar pattern can be seen in Stoke-on-Trent (69.4 per cent Leave) and Knowsley (51.6 per cent Leave). Both places have experienced industrial decline, but Knowsley is much better connected to Liverpool city centre.

So what should we make of all this? The British Future report concludes:

Even on a disagreement this big, we – Leave and Remain, old and young, graduate and non-­‐graduate, metropolitan and provincial -­‐ still have more in common than that which divides us, to quote a maiden speech that tragically gained a new poignancy with the murder of its author, Jo Cox MP.

"Build bridges, not walls" has long been a slogan of internationalists. But preserving and strengthening the 48 per cent and 52 per cent tribes will not build a bridge, it will build a wall. It is time to tear it down.