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As Liberal Democrats, we must set out a bold and distinctive offer to voters

<span>Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Rishi Sunak’s government is tired and incompetent, but what comes next? As the election draws nearer, Keir Starmer’s caution only grows. There is a massive opportunity for a liberal alternative based on internationalism, environmental awareness and modernising Britain. But we believe the Liberal Democrats are swerving this opportunity, not seizing it.

It is crucial that we are brave and honest about the challenges a new government will face, with distinctive positions the Tories would never take and Labour dares not adopt.

Starmer is hiding from an obvious truth: that rejoining the world’s biggest borderless single market is Britain’s best hope of reviving crumbling public services and building the infrastructure our country needs.

Only a “single-market dividend” will allow the next government to achieve net zero with new rail links and clean power, bring the NHS and social care off their knees, and fund schools so that today’s children can flourish and become tomorrow’s leaders.

The Lib Dems must be fearless in highlighting this – and other differences. We have bolder policies than Labour on the environment, fair votes and human rights, but we are not communicating them. At a general election, echoing Labour’s general antipathy to the Tories through local campaigns is part of the battle but insufficient on its own.

Only a statement of confident liberalism – on Europe, the environment, political reform and public services – will show people that the Lib Dems are a national force worth supporting. We do well when we have a principled message that cuts through, such as our current one on Gaza.

Paddy Ashdown understood this in 1996, when he foresaw a Labour government but feared that not much would change. He set out a clear alternative to both big parties. With Labour in the ascendant again, today’s Liberal Democrats must heed his success.

Chris Bowers Former Lib Dem councillor and parliamentary candidate, Duncan Brack Member of federal policy committee and former policy director, Alex Davies Chief of staff to party leader Sir Vince Cable, William Hobhouse Descendant of LT Hobhouse (early British social liberal), Edward Lucas Prospective parliamentary candidate for Cities of London and Westminster, Sarah Ludford Lib Dem peer and former MEP, Ben Rich Member of federal policy committee and chief of staff to party leader Tim Farron and 23 others