Let’s start with the facts….
- Overall turnout was down to 38%, from 45% last time.
- Two Liberal Democrat Assembly members elected, compared to three in 2008 and five in 2004.
- Mayoral vote was 92,000 (4.2% – and deposit lost), compared to 236,752 (9.8%) in 2008.
- Our Assembly list vote was 150,447 (6.8% – just over the threshold), against 275,272 (11.4%) in 2008.
- The Greens “pushed the Lib Dems into fourth place”: actually their Assembly vote flat-lined at 8.5%, although their Mayoral vote was up a bit, from 3.2% to 4.5%.
First off, a big thank you to Brian Paddick, his brilliant deputy Caroline Pidgeon, and the core team of staff and truly committed volunteers for a well-organised, well-financed and professionally run central campaign – always on message, very active and assertive despite media disinterest. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Brian (certainly I and my family do – the last six months could have been very different for us!)
The overriding feature, yet again, is the remorseless squeeze that a personality-driven mayoral contest puts on the whole ticket. Brian did phenomenally well in confidently, convincingly, calmly and consistently setting out his powerful case to be Mayor and elected Police Commissioner.
However in a personality-led contest, it’s hugely difficult to get across individual policy pledges and win votes in the traditional way. A PR list election is all about the ‘brand’, and we must be frank: our Lib Dem brand, always weaker than the other main parties, is damaged by confusion over what we now stand for, and undermined by policy U-turns nationally. Fixing that is lesson number one.
A second feature is that, again, we were not able to turn out even our reduced core vote. A Populus poll in the Times a few days before Thursday gave Brian (pretty accurately) 5%, while recording Westminster voting intention at 11%. Securing that on the list vote would have increased our Assembly numbers.
That points to our local parties – outside a few well-run hot spots – not knowing enough about who our supporters really are and organised well enough to get them out. Fixing that before May 2014 is lesson two.
My ‘half lesson’ is the low turnout, despite the media barrage. Disenchantment with the old way of doing politics continues to grow, and we must adapt. Social media and new ways and places to engage are part of the answer here.
So what is my prescription, in a nutshell?
On the first lesson, nationally, we have to rebuild the ‘brand’. This is massively urgent and important at the half-way mark of this Parliament. The recent focus on getting the low paid out of tax and opposing NHS privatisation is good but nowhere near enough. We need a change of policy, with a new distinct alternative economic strategy.
We must offer light at the end of the austerity tunnel and lift the dead hand of the Treasury. Elements include a massive programme of house building (from pension funds and institutional investment), increased small business lending and more skills training for young people. (Followers of the London scene will know I’ve been banging on about this before; in fact you can find the details in our London manifesto.)
We must stand for jobs and business growth, not just fiscal responsibility. It’s the economy, stupid, and without a powerful economic platform our ‘brand’ is going nowhere.
Second, locally, we have to rebuild our ward, constituency and borough parties. Let’s remember people join political parties not to fight elections but to change the world. And you change the world not just by getting elected and joining the Council allotments sub-committee; you help the PTA at the local school monitor air pollution from nearby roads; the community group setting up a freecycle scheme; the church, mosque, temple or synagogue helping the homeless; the residents’ group running their estate; and the small business bureau encouraging entrepreneurs.
Our local parties must not just be a whiz at efficient leaflet delivery. They must also be champions of their areas, as our community politics commitment tells us.
With low turnouts, loss of trust but a thirst for authenticity, and no lack of things to do to fix our great city, there really is no alternative. We’ve seen what is happening to council colleagues outside London. Our own test is only months away – just 24 to be precise.
* Mike Tuffrey is a former member of the London Assembly and founded Corporate Citizenship, a management consultancy for responsible and sustainable business.