A challenge to the leadership candidates

Few people outside Liberal Democratic circles take any interest in our party leadership selection, yet this selection has the potential to be historically significant.

The right choice of candidate could lift the party into relevance again, thus allowing Britain’s proud liberal movement to live on in hope. The wrong candidate could kill us off completely.

As we reach the final rounds, we’ve witnessed the standard heated debates online, the bonding of two teams, occasional frustration spilling into rudeness, cries for civility, apologies, and even a few giggles. What we haven’t seen is anything that sparks the political imagination.

Our position on Brexit remains our unique selling point for most of our supporters, a battle that we have lost for now. Neither of our candidates said anything during the hustings to ignite huge controversy or gain the interest of the mainstream media, and perhaps this is inevitable.

But playing it safe in this leadership election isn’t going to help us to select a leader that can take and shape a modern, relevant, Liberal Democrat Party. Brexit has revealed enormous divisions within our communities. As Liberal Democrats we have long argued that our political system is broken; that people aren’t properly represented, and Brexit certainly proved us right in that.

But where is the vision to bring back lost trust and confidence? Where is the inspiration that can put politics back in the heart of our local communities – where it belongs?

As the hustings draw to a close, I challenge each candidate to put forward one meaningful, radical Liberal Democrat policy proposal that captures the mainstream media’s attention.

* Julliet Makhapila is a former Lib Dem London Regional Executive and London Diversity Champion. She is a Community Transformer, Change Maker, Model, Actor, Poetician, Community Advocate, Community Educator and the African Wonder Woman.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Warren 11th Aug '20 - 3:50pm

    Well said. Rather than one radical policy I would like to see a whole set on issues like jobs, education, housing, health and social welfare.

    I would also like to see us break out of our middle class bubble and start to challenge the hegemony of Labour in working class communities. I have heard Layla Moran talk about this and I hope it is followed through if she wins the Leadership election.

    Come on fellow Liberals let’s be bold, let’s be brave. It’s the only way forward.

  • Anthony Acton 11th Aug '20 - 5:14pm

    Juliett – I think you are spot on. The party needs to be identified in the public mind with just ONE popular radical policy which people will recognise as relevant to them – eg jobs, housing, NHS, or education (but only one of them). Then, when we are noticed again, other policies can start to be promoted. That’s how Paddy revived the party after 1989 (with his 1p on income tax for education). Before long the party was coming top in some polls as “best party on education”

  • Peter Watson 11th Aug '20 - 5:46pm

    @Anthony Acton “The party needs to be identified in the public mind with just ONE popular radical policy which people will recognise as relevant to them”

    The focus on opposition to Brexit for the last 5 years, pretty much at the expense of everything else other than opposition to Corbyn, demonstrates that this, in and of itself, is nowhere near enough for the party.

    I believe that Lib Dems need a clear identity in the public mind which means that the party’s position on any issue, or its response to any new development, is predictable and consistent. (Arguably, there is a certain predictability that Lib Dems will largely be “anti” anything espoused by another party but it doesn’t always look consistent! 😉 ).

    That requires much more than a “single issue” silver bullet.

  • We need to take a leaf out of Lynton crosby and Boris’s book.

    Some clear messaging on very specific items. I can name Boris’s pledges at the last election but not ours. Something to do with a wallet?

    And Cummings has now won FIVE elections or referendums on the issue of the NHS..

    There just might be a little bit of a lesson here for us? Who knows? Ok all right I’ll stick to explaining to the electorate how to conduct an STV election. First calculate the quota….

    Actually being in the centre is perhaps not great for a clear identity but it is a good place to be. I want more investment in public services but I am not anti-business.

    As it is we and I particularly include me in this need to put it on a bit of paper and shove it through a letterbox. Campaign locality for whatever needs doing.

    There is a suggestion later on ldv to donate the government’s meal discount to charity which is a great idea but I’d also suggest using it to get a focus printed for your street.

  • I absolutely agree. The Leadership Hustings so far give me the feeling that we are fiddling at the edges while Rome burns

  • Julian Tisi 12th Aug '20 - 9:00am

    @Peter Watson “I believe that Lib Dems need a clear identity in the public mind which means that the party’s position on any issue, or its response to any new development, is predictable and consistent.”

    Absolutely spot on. As you say, we need more than a single-issue silver bullet (such as UBI!). Brexit was a clear USP for us in 2019 but we didn’t explain WHY we were anti-Brexit; apart from anything else, the reasons – which point to our core values – will outlive the issue. Had we done so, we could have pointed to our internationalism but also to our belief in open trade, in the freedom that has come from our membership; in the power over our destiny it has given us. We could have appealed to waverers by talking about sovereignty, prosperity and influence. Instead, we appealed to the already converted with our Revoke pledge, alienating waverers and moderates in the process.

    Interestingly, I think we got it right some years ago when Iraq became a USP for us. Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell were at pains to say that we weren’t against the possibility of all wars (as some were) but we were against illegal wars. This clarified some of our core values – internationalism, the rule of law – in many voters minds.

  • The big issue that you rightly ask for was spelled out for us a couple of days ago by the Guardian, which is showing signs of growing up. It suggested that UBI is, or ought to be, or could be, the NHS issue of our times. So far we have lagged lamely behind other parties, unable to see the wood for the trees. Luckily for us, those other parties do not understand what a treasure it is, that they are mishandling.

    Everyone has praised the Chancellor’s furlough scheme, now due to be phased out. But in it, we have seen a glimmer of UBI. That glimmer must be fanned and revived by a party which CAN understand — the LDs.

    Or some of them. We still have members who believe they must support everything labelled Liberal. They are wrong, suckers for a trick pulled by the Conservatives who labelled the disastrous Thatcherism with a plausible but fraudulent label: ‘neo-liberalism’. The result is now seen by all to be the miserable years almost now ended, of Austerity.

    There was also, almost accidentally, another influence working against UBI: the stink in the word Universal, imparted to it by the unrelenting harshness of the very basis of Universal Credit. That word has damaged the perception of anything called Universal — wrongly damaged it.

    A year ago, the Guardian announced in so many words that UBI does not work. Its warrant for that verdict was that one respected journalist, Anna Coote, had expressed her doubts that governments would wear it, and its supposed cost. Pilot scheme are interesting but inconclusive, since participants cannot but be aware that what they are undergoing is provisional and temporary. That inevitably skews the value of any findings. Placebos are only effective if the patient believes the pills to be genuine medicine.

    So the Guardian’s conversion must be welcomed and seized by the Lib Dems, as their single Big Idea. If anyone doubts that a policy embraced by what is now a left-wing newspaper can be one for true Liberals, let him or her read the short concluding chapter of the Report by UBI’s leading exponent, Prof Guy Standing for the Shadow Chancellor last summer. I believe the failure of Labour at that time to embrace the idea was that to Labour it looked too much like a liberal — or even Liberal — policy.

    UBI is a political issue, not one of Economics or of Finance. We must seize it and make it ours, if we are not to wither and die.

  • BUT, Alison Willott, do ‘the people’ know what they want? I believe it is up to us not to be for ever canvassing, but to offer a LEAD, with one or two large and all embracing ideas to offer. Many such ideas will be be novel and even strange, and the people have more immediate worries than dreaming impossible details.

    I ought, in my short piece above, to have drawn attention to another new acronym appearing on the Scene. If you see talk of a new idea in the boffin’s world, going under the banner of MMT, look twice, or thrice: it does not offer a Magic Money Tree. It offers a reappraisal, a paradigm shift, in things like the National Debt, under the flag of Modern Monetary Theory. (To people as old as me it has a familiar look.) It offers important insights into the wrong thinking behind the lamentable doctrine of Austerity. And I believe it marries well with UBI, though no-one seems to have said so yet. Do Google it: M M T .

    I have been given as an 82nd Birthday Present a new and authoritatively praised book, “The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and How to Build a Better Economy”, by Stephanie Kelton, an American Professor of Economics and Public Policy. It is commended by Richard Murphy, author of “The Joy of Tax”, and by Naomi Klein, among others. And I expect to enjoy reading it.

    However . . . the index of said book does not mention UBI! I expect the two theses or angles to overlap considerably, so I am hoping the apparent absence of UBI is not a signal of the narrowness that all too easily accompanies the diligent concentration of advanced specialism, such as sometimes appears in the columns of LDV! MMT will, I believe, supply persuasive arguments and perspectives that will confirm the credibility of UBI, as the route to a saner and a fairer society for our nation and others.

  • Peter Watson 12th Aug '20 - 12:08pm

    @Roger Lake
    It sounds like Messrs. Martin and Bourke will have a new playmate! 😉

  • @Roger Lake. The problem however with the recent Guardian article, as with our forthcoming Conference Motion, is that it is all aspirational wishful thinking with no clear factual analysis. For example the article praises the Finnish experiment without mentioning it’s small scale and the fact that the Finnish Government has now scrapped it and has no plans to adopt it as a policy -as has been the fate of other ‘experiments’.

    The Guardian article mentions a throw away “…every adult might be given £1,000..” Details please! I assume they mean per month i.e £12,000 a year as just £83 a month would not remotely deliver the outcomes that UBI advocates anticipate. So every adult (18 to death) gets £12,000 with no strings attached? Plus some schemes/advocates say “..oh and children would get £3,000 to £4,000 p.a. as well. What is the cost of that for the total UK population? Would the ‘typical’ 2 adult/2 child family being handed £30,000 or so a year with absolutely no strings attached, also qualify for Housing or Disability Benefit as appropriate or does that all get abolished and rolled up in the one flat rate sum? Would there be any variation between expensive areas (London, Bristol, Manchester) and elsewhere? Presumably the State Pension would be abolished?

    I can see the attraction of a headline statement without any reality check -it’s the sort of thing Mayor Johnson did with Boris Bridges, Buses and Island airports in the Thames Estuary. Lovely eye/vote catching headlines long forgotten in the Teflon Boris example by the time reality intrudes. To evaluate UBI properly it’s advocates need to be absolutely specific upfront about how much per person per year, which other Benefits will continue, which will be scrapped and what tax rises are needed to fund the rest. Neither will an approach of glossing over the downsides -scale of tax increases, clawback of money from many, loss of other Benefits, alternatives that such vast sums could be spent on instead – long survive scrutiny and attack by opponents and media.

    Please let’s see actual costings and details not just a vague ‘great idea’ that everyone can pin their personal wishlist on and then be very disappointed when an actual scheme is eventually produced.

  • We dont need a policy (we have too many already!); we need a theme (or themes), which drives our thinking across a range of policy areas.

    Personally I would like to see the party championing intergenerational fairness, proposing bold actions to tackle the unfairness and inequality that is so evident between the generations. This would drive a whole range of policies across areas such as taxation, housing, employment, education and so on. It was where we were headed until Clegg betrayed his student fees promise, allowing Corbyn’s radicalism to steal our mantle. With Labour becoming more cautious and sober under Starmer, it is time to steal it back.

    The challenge we have is that our few remaining MPs almost all represent constituencies stuffed with the winners from the current iniquitous economic settlement, and it will take a brave parliamentary party to advance the right priorities for the country against the interests of most of their own constituents.

  • Sue Sutherland 12th Aug '20 - 2:10pm

    I absolutely agree with Alison. We don’t want a leader imposing their ideas on us but one who encourages members to put forward ideas which can then be worked up into policies. The trouble is we don’t really have a mechanism to do this. There is a motion coming to conference on UBI but then we have people concerned that the whole policy hasn’t been worked out. Unfortunately this party hasn’t come to terms with the fact that no policy is perfect, so we spend aeons polishing policies that are never put into practice.
    It should be possible for members to say “That’s it! We’ve had enough of poverty and poor public services. We want our leader to make sure we have policies that cure those ills”.
    At the moment the party has little political will because it disapparates in a fog of despair inducing, fine tooth combing, time consuming discussion of infinitesimal policy points.
    PS the Harry Potter word seemed to sum up what happens to ideas in our party better than a mere disappearance.

  • Do we really want a leader who has nothing in their head until conference puts it there? Surely we need a leader who can both listen to the membership and present their own sparkling vision to the Party? Both candidates been listening to members for years, surely they must have gathered some useful ideas!
    I don’t think anyone is proposing changes to how policy is developed or ratified, but the Party does need a leader with vision.

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