Time for a coalition…of common sense

The General Election has left most Liberal Democrats feeling flat and hugely disappointed. We had hoped to create a springboard in the earlier Local Government elections, but fell short. (In many cases, like mine, frustratingly close, but still short.)

So now, with our commitment to enter no deals with either Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn, the party will continue to struggle to find any independent influence.

A weak and wobbly minority government, with its damaged, exposed Prime Minister and with an official opposition living in financial La-La Land, mean that the Liberal Democrats should be at least seen as a viable alternative opposition.

Instead, we have (in sad circumstances) lost our leader, and don’t have a universally appealing candidate with which to replace him. The Tories are likely to change their leader before their conference in October, but only have appalling candidates with which to replace her. Bizarre, isn’t it, that Corbyn is the most stable party leader!

And if there is another General Election, what likelihood is a vastly different outcome? Labour would say they would get elected. But that ignores that many former Labour supporters held their noses at the Polls to stop May, not to support Corbyn. Who wants another Election, only to return another hung parliament? (Not Brenda from Bristol, that’s for sure.)

There is one key issue for this Parliament – Brexit. We now have Phillip Hammond, with increased influence, proposing a much “softer” approach. Indeed, between him and Keir Starmer, there is now little to differentiate.

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No Normtroopers this time – Norman Lamb won’t stand for leader

Well there’s a surprise. I had honestly thought that Norman Lamb would stand again to be leader.

This afternoon, though, he has ruled himself out in an article for the Guardian:

I have just fought a gruelling campaign to win my North Norfolk seat. Attempting to win a seat for the Liberal Democrats in an area that voted quite heavily to leave the EU was bound to be a challenge. Not only was the party’s position on Brexit toxic to many erstwhile Liberal Democrat voters in North Norfolk, but I found myself sympathising with those who felt that the party was not listening to them and was treating them with some disdain.

I abstained on article 50 because I felt it was wrong in principle to vote against, given that we had all voted to hold the referendum in the first place. For many in the party that abstention was an act of betrayal. I have been accused of supporting a hard Brexit – the last thing I want – while a Lib Dem source told the London Evening Standard this week that the abstention “looks like he can’t make a tough call”. It is actually quite tough to go against your party, and I did it on a matter of principle.

He’s realised that his position on the EU puts him at odds with a large number of members, especially since so many joined after the EU referendum. 

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We need a new type of hustings for the Leadership Election

In the last leadership election I went to several of the hustings. They were interesting enough events but didn’t really probe much into the candidates.   The format was usually a speech by the candidates followed by questions and then a final summation. The candidates trotted out the same stories and jokes and answered the same questions they had been asked before.

What was missing was any sense of the sort of testing questions which someone would get when they were Party Leader and in particularly the follow up questions. Both Tim and Norman were well prepared for the questions they were likely to be asked – but without further questioning we couldn’t really  probe.

I would suggest that this time at least some of the hustings should feature, as well as a speech from each candidate, an interview by an experienced journalist, who will press them on their areas of weakness.  Why did Vince triple tuition fees?  If Ed and Norman run, how does Ed justify Hinckley Point?   How does Norman think we should proceed on Brexit in light of his abstention on Article 50? 

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Shouldn’t positive campaigning start at home?

On election night, I was knocking up voters in a very posh bit of the Edinburgh West constituency.  It was going well with most folk indicating that they had already voted for Christine Jardine.  I got to one house where a very angry man told me he wasn’t voting for us and wasn’t sure who he would vote for as, in his view, everyone had run a negative campaign focusing on what was wrong with the other candidates.
I’d not concede that Christine’s campaign was wholly negative – although the voters did need to know where we stood on the SNP’s second independence referendum and the Tories’ hard Brexit – but it’s certainly true that voters often feel that the parties appear more focused on tearing each other down rather than casting a vision of what we should do as a nation.
The political climate has become particularly toxic in Scotland since the independence referendum (for example, a SNP supporter followed Tory canvassers in one seat screaming abuse through a megaphone).
What can we do to change this?
Two weeks or so ago we were all overjoyed to see twelve lovely Lib Dem MPs elected to Westminster.  Each one of those victories was something to celebrate.  We are overjoyed that the voters in those constituencies hold those MPs in as high esteem as we do.
Some of those twelve will be candidates in the forthcoming leadership context and we will have to choose between them.  That will require us all to scrutinise what they have to offer.
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A candidate’s tale: Part 1

I was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Macclesfield in Cheshire at the June General Election.

Six weeks earlier, after Theresa May’s as-it-turned-out vainglorious decision to go to the country, Macclesfield Liberal Democrats had found themselves in need of a candidate. And I answered the call.

The last time Macclesfield elected a Liberal was William Brocklehurst (junior) in 1910, and for the last 100 years they have returned only Conservatives (or Unionists) to Westminster. Alas, I was not able to celebrate William’s centenary by retaking the seat.

But I did hold on to the lion share of our vote from two years ago, and held on to our deposit, in the face of a fierce squeeze from Labour backed up by the tactical voting sites and some pretty underhand use of questionable numbers.

And, in spite of being in safe Tory territory, I never felt it was a no-hope seat.

In fact, I remain convinced that a seat like Macclesfield is winnable by a Liberal candidate. Maybe more in five to ten years than five to ten weeks. Where the Tory MP gets 53% of the vote this time, same as last time, Labour’s surge mopping up UKIP votes isn’t ever going to be enough. To reach into that 53%, you need to put together a coalition that picks up not just the moderate Labour voters, but the centrist, Remain-inclined Conservatives too along with the core Liberal vote. And only a Lib Dem is going to do that.

I was incredibly lucky to have a local party who were full of enthusiasm, fired up to resist Brexit, absolutely certain that our message was the right one for Macclesfield – which it is. On top of that, we had a team full of the talents we needed: organising people; organising logistics; designing literature; running social media. No one expected us to be much more than a paper candidacy, but we were determined to be as much more than that as we could manage.

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The country needs a new liberalism – the Liberal Democrats must provide it

Liberalism’s ideas, implemented either by Liberal Democrats or by others, have been wholly vindicated. This has been so on free trade and market economics; on the nature of social injustice and the need for a compassionate, intelligent state; on civil liberties and on foreign intervention. Whilst not always heard – and, let’s face it, often unpopular – our party has stood for the best of its traditions in the best interests of our country. With a leadership election almost underway, what is the political landscape in which we find ourselves, and what will our next leader (and the party) have to do to make an impact at the next election and beyond?

It is often stated that the politics of the 21st century will be centred around the merits of an open society versus those of one that is closed. This carries weight; indeed, any lessons to be learned from Emmanuel Macron’s recent victories in France should not ignore that it was on this basis that much of the presidential campaign was fought. The Brexit debate entailed similar arguments, with no prominent defence of liberal immigration, whilst the recent general election offered a choice only between Labour’s state socialism and protectionist, patrician Conservatism. It should, however, be noted that these visions for Britain, combined, won 82.4% of the vote.

A new liberalism, fit to meet the challenges of the 21st century, is required; one which recognises that Corbyn’s Labour Party and Conservative Brexiteers may have accurately diagnosed the UK’s disquiet, but knows their solutions have been found wanting time and time again. One which precisely because of its belief in the European ideal – rather than in spite of it – fights for as close a relationship as possible with the European Union instead of seeking to reverse, at this point, the decision made by last year’s referendum. Most importantly, this new liberalism cannot seek to face the problems of the 21st century with solutions from the 20th – fruitless ideological battles between left and right.

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Queen’s Speech Round-up: What the Liberal Democrats said about it

The Lib Dem Press Office has issued a veritable storm of press releases in response to the Queen’s Speech today. Here’s a round-up of what our key figures said about their areas of expertise.

Tim Farron looked at the whole speech and was unimpressed:

This slimmed down Queen’s Speech shows a government on the edge.

Having dropped everything from the Dementia Tax to fox hunting I assume the only reason they have proposed a Space Bill is so they can shoot their manifesto into space and pretend it never existed.

People up and down the country are seeing our schools and hospitals in crisis.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarEddie Sammon 23rd Jun - 4:22am
    It's important that you note we currently have little influence and in the next parliament I would abandon the "no deals" pledge. On the informal...
  • User AvatarTom 23rd Jun - 4:06am
    So it'll be Sir Vince versus Sir Ed. Brilliant! What a great image for a party that is supposed to be against privilege and patronage....
  • User AvatarMichael BG 23rd Jun - 2:20am
    Firstly we need to recognise that it is unlikely we will be in the EU and have mass immigration from the EU into the UK....
  • User AvatarMatthew Huntbach 23rd Jun - 2:00am
    Lorenzo Cherin Your comments suggest you have no idea whatsoever of what the real SDP and real Liberal Party were like when the two merged....
  • User AvatarMichael 23rd Jun - 1:59am
    @ Paul Holmes Lord Ashcroft polling has Brexit has the top issue . clearly this is both pro and anti brexit. 28% against 19% for...
  • User AvatarEddie Sammon 23rd Jun - 1:44am
    By the way, I want to praise Norman's call for a new kind of politics that rejects abuse, aggression and name-calling. This is a vote...
Sat 1st Jul 2017