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Early Parliamentary General Election Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:21 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 4:21 pm, 30th October 2019

It is indeed open to a Government to do that. In the unlikely event of there not being a majority Liberal Democrat Government, I heartily hope that that happens.

This will be the 10th general election in which I have been closely involved, since the formation of the SDP in 1981. In virtually every case, politicians argued at the start of the campaign that it was the most important election in decades. Of course, it was not and, in some cases, the election simply took the form of a rather fractious procession, but this election could be the most important in my political life.

At the end of each of the last nine elections and many more, the framework of party politics emerged fundamentally unscathed, but Brexit has been like a seismic shock to the system. This was most obviously seen in the European Parliament elections, where both Labour and Conservative did so badly. The conventional wisdom is that voters revert to type in a general election and, like a holiday fling, their infidelity in June will be forgotten under the harsh winds of December. But I am not so sure. The million people who marched 10 days ago in London, in opposition to Brexit, and the millions of others who could not make the journey, but shared their views, rightly see Brexit as the defining issue of the age and it will define their votes. Behind their determination to vote to stop Brexit lies a broader view of the kind of society they want: one that sees the positive value of working together to deal with the huge challenges facing humanity, be they climate change, migration and human trafficking or how to harness the potential of artificial intelligence; and one that embraces the future, rather than recoils from it. It is to those millions that the Liberal Democrats will direct our appeal over the coming six weeks, and it is a prospect that we relish.