Demo for democracy

Nick Clegg addresses crowd marching for electoral reform.

A demonstration today brought together a range of democratic reform groups, blogs, campaigns and organisations at the instigation of Guy Aitchison, George Gabriel and others. It gathered in Trafalgar Square and then marched to Smith Square, where the Lib Dems were meeting to decide on their strategy.

Word went out that a delegation could go and meet Nick Clegg to hand in a petition. Over 1,000 voices cried "No" -- he had to come out. "You serve us," suddenly arose as a chant. Clegg came. I think this was a historic first: a major party leader being summoned by a crowd and speaking to it.

It was both friendly and determined. Many on the left think there is no political basis for the Lib Dems to close a deal with the Tories. But there is: a Freedom Act to roll back the threat to liberty from the database state and a referendum on PR, which the Tories can campaign against. Of course, Labour can offer more, but not with Gordon Brown at the helm.

The role of the demonstration was both radical and practical. Clegg can't now agree to the mere "inquiry" on electoral reform as offered by Cameron as his payment for a deal. To do so would ruin him. We don't need another inquiry -- we need a referendum.

If you have not signed the petition, you can still do so.

Anthony Barnett is the founder of openDemocracy and co-edits its British blog, OurKingdom.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.