2018 – a year of missed opportunity for the country and the Liberal Democrats

This year was the year when hugely dramatic things should have happened. Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition should have gone. A referendum on the reality of Brexit, with an option to remain, should have been scheduled for early in the New Year and we should be celebrating a new feeling of hope and optimism as our politics changes for the better and starts delivering for the people who are really struggling and who have been let down by successive governments for decades.

Instead this was the year that media and the internet got very excited about Impending Drama, but that drama rarely delivered. Theresa May was supposed to be deposed in every season but she survived the post Chequers and post deal resignations. The greatest irony of the year has to be Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigning in protest at a deal he helped to negotiate.

The Liberal Democrats have had some electoral success with decent local election results and a net gain of 18 seats, more than any other party in by-elections. We’ve seen modest increases in our national polling and our leader is often the least unpopular. We would have hoped that as everyone came round to our way of thinking on Brexit, we might have reaped more of a dividend, but there hasn’t really been a national election to test that yet.

We should be doing better, though. We have diverted too much time and energy into developing a supporters’ scheme that we haven’t been able to capitalise on the thing that will get us the supporters and members in the first place – a strong message. We’ve done some good stuff on that with the new Demand Better strapline but we need to take it further. Our campaigns staff have excelled themselves with the Exit from Brexit campaign, too, but our overall story needs a lot more heart and soul in it. Paddy is so much in my thoughts at the moment, and I’m reminded of his very direct “Join us if you want to put an end to poverty and inequality” pitch. That is what we need.

That said, we have had some really good performers on the media. Vince has been very capably supported by Jo Swinson, Layla Moran and Christine Jardine particularly who are all extremely good at getting our point across. We need to see more of them in the New Year.

This year, the party may well see a leadership election. I’m not trying to get rid of Vince. He has said as much himself, that once Brexit is out of the way and Conference has had a chance to decide on his changes to the leadership rules, that he will step aside.  Jo Swinson as Deputy Leader has to be the frontrunner if she wants to do it with her national profile. Ed Davey is also likely to stand and with his experience as Climate Change Secretary, he is a strong candidate too.

The Party has to elect a new President next year. Sal Brinton will have done two terms so she can’t stand again. She is going to be a very hard act to follow. She has been very hands-on. Our most effective presidents have been those who really do what they are supposed to do and represent the party to the leadership. She and Ros Scott were both brilliant at that. Actually, Ros only did one term. If she ever decided she wanted to do the second one, I’m sure that a lot of people, including me would be clamouring to help her. I still have the old campaign badge….

The Party had an ok 2018, but we will have to substantially up our game in 2019. The country is starting to agree with us in a big way. We have to capitalise  on that goodwill and march forward. Heaven knows, the country needs us to. We have an exaggerated “crisis” that has brought the Home Secretary back form his Christmas holiday which may well be the precursor to a nasty referendum campaign fought on immigration. We  have to ensure that if we are successful in getting a referendum on the deal  that the Remain in the EU option is bright and optimistic. This time it doesn’t need to hold anything back as it won’t have No 10’s suffocating dominance.

Next year, we have to talk more about the real crises this country is facing – housing, poverty, inequality. How you can say a few people crossing the Channel is a crisis when 1.3 million people accessing food banks so they don’t go hungry doesn’t bring Amber Rudd back from her holiday is beyond me. It’s pure dog-whistle stuff. When the same people reject a further referendum because it’ll be divisive when they take every opportunity to demonise immigrants and otherwise sow division.

We really have a job to do to get this country moving in a more liberal and confident direction. The price of failure could be very serious indeed.

2018 was a year of missed opportunity. Let’s do all we can in 2019 to deliver a fairer, happier country.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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8 Comments

  • David Becket 31st Dec '18 - 7:31pm

    “”We should be doing better, though. We have diverted too much time and energy into developing a supporters’ scheme that we haven’t been able to capitalise on the thing that will get us the supporters and members in the first place – a strong message””

    Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes.

  • David Warren 31st Dec '18 - 8:26pm

    My hopes for 2019;

    1. The party adopts policy in favour of Universal Basic Income and a National Care Service.

    2. We do really well in the May Local Council elections gaining lots of seats.

    3. We get a brilliant new party President.

    4. I get myself to Autumn conference and meet up with some of my great liberal friends.

    All of the above are very possible IMO.

    Happy New Year

  • Well said, the three Davids.

    The strong message must appeal primarily to the Brexiteers, for that is where dissatisfaction seethes at present, and surely every party’s first duty this year is to heal the wounds of our division? The Universal Basic Income is, I believe, a good start.

    And the messages from the scientific community get ever stronger, clearer, and more urgent. I hope our party is all the time considering how we might better collaborate with the Green Party, whether in electoral tactics or in public debate on our common objectives. We must dispel the popular perception that all life has to offer is a choice between Corbyn and Who Knows Which Con?

  • Steve Trevethan 1st Jan '19 - 12:34pm

    Perhaps we could promote some realistic and generally beneficial economic theories and practices?
    Could we work towards reducing/stopping bank lending causing asset bubbles whilst making it profitable to lend to companies and entrepreneurs?
    Could we make clear and reduce the supreme weakness in our current system which its encouragement of the public to seek higher leverage? (“They who get the biggest mortgage win the property!”)
    Might “Property-Income-Related-Leverage” do this?
    PS These suggestions come from “Can we avoid another financial crisis?” (Steve Keen) which is an informative and entertaining read!

  • Peter Hirst 1st Jan '19 - 1:46pm

    Perhaps we could as a small Party in parliament use our spokespeople more effectively. What about them becoming less defined by their expertise and able to promote a wider variety of messages on different topics? The same message from different people can be effective.

  • @ David Warren and Roger Lake

    I think a Citizens’ Basic Income is a liberal thing. It gives people freedom and if high enough to live on gives them freedom from having to work without job satisfaction. However, it would cost lots of money to have a Citizen’s Income of £8000 a year – about £329.6 billion gross.

    If a Citizens’ Basic Income was set at a lower level and benefits are reduced on a pound for pound basis and those paying income tax do not get any benefit then the only people who are likely to benefit are those who are economically inactive and don’t claim benefits. According to the labour survey there are about 4.37 million of these people who are not pensioners, students or long ill or disabled. I don’t think these are the people we should be targeting with extra money.

    I would like to think that 2019 will be the year that we commit to ending relative poverty in the UK within a five year parliament. Part of doing this must be by increasing the basic benefit level to the relative poverty level. This will cost between £28 billion and £53 billion extra a year. If economic growth was only 1.4% a year the government would receive more than £58 billion extra in revenue for the fifth year, which would pay for this increase in benefits.

  • For LDV 1.1.19, done 9.1.19

    Michael BG (1st Jan)

    Thanks for your comments on the UBI. I failed to make an important point, foolishly thinking I could take it as understood: the fault is mine. The point was this: as I envisage it, the UBI would not be an additional Benefit, but would largely replace the major Benefits. It might at first sight look pretty expensive all the same — but some of that expense would be recouped by suitable increases in the taxation of the better off. Relatively speaking, when compared with the current poor the well off would still be well off; but the gap would have narrowed.

    Introducing UBI will be politically controversial; but so is society as skewed today. So it will take some years, because anything so radical will have many knock-on consequences: they will have to be anticipated and catered for. We must start designing it now.

    (One thing that may be desirable is to find a new name for UBI, because the current stink about Universal Credit probably makes ‘universal’ a dodgy word for some years to come, however accurate. And in my book, it is accurate — I would suggest it must be paid to everyone over 16. It would not make pensioners better off always, any more than it would millionaires, who must also get it: the universality is the point, like the universality of the vote, or the duty to be a juror, or the right to a fair trial.)

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