A personal reflection on the General Election, its aftermath and liberalism

I allowed my membership of the Liberal Democrats to lapse a while back but I took that decision without rancour.

My involvement had not been passive I stood for local council and campaigned vigorously in other elections.

I liked the party, still do but I just couldn’t live with the position it had taken on Brexit.

Another principled stand by yours truly, one of many over the years.

So as the General Election came upon us my personal focus was on the need to stop the Conservatives winning.

At the start of the campaign their arrogance and swagger was worse than ever and they are pretty bad at the best of times.

My election activity largely focused around the need to get a hung parliament which would then hopefully lead to some form of PR for future elections.

Like many other carers campaigners I wanted to see the future of adult social care high on the agenda, of course Theresa May did that for us with her dementia tax proposal.

A crucial moment in the campaign which I believe contributed in no small way to her losing her parliamentary majority.
On election night itself I stayed up hoping for Tory losses.

The social media campaign to get young voters registered, Corbyn mania and what I felt was a strong campaign by Tim Farron gave me hope.

In the early part of the night I was worried, Lib Dems seats were being lost from what was already a low base.
Three or four seats nationally looked a real prospect, depressing.

Of course things changed as the night wore on and the overall position improved.

I was particularly pleased to see Vince Cable back in Twickenham, Tom Brake hold Carshalton and see Tim back after an earlier scare.

The Tories had been deprived of their majority and were plunged into crisis.

It wasn’t quite what I had hoped for but it was a relief that the predicted Tory landslide had not happened.

Then fast forward a few weeks to a chance meeting in town with a local Lib Dem activist and friend.

We chat for a long time, have some lunch, during our conversation he tells me that I am a liberal and the task for the Lib Dems is to embrace people like me.

I think he is right about my being a liberal and also that the Liberal Democrats need to reach out to wider sections of society.

Yes more MPs were elected this time but the overall national vote share fell and a lot of deposits lost.

In an election that was polarised between a left wing Labour party and the Conservatives tacking to the right there appeared little room or appetite for a liberal message of moderation.

The only Lib Dem policy that got real coverage was the proposal for a referendum on the outcome of any Brexit negotiations.

Others on the economy, health and education weren’t really heard.

One of the problems I feel is that the Lib Dems are seen rightly or wrongly as predominately a party of those who have had a university education and work in professional jobs.

A middle class party.

In my time as a Lib Dem activist I tried to address the need to make liberalism more relevant to working people through my Blue Collar Liberal initiative.

I had some positive feedback initially but crucially the leaders office were at first ambivalent and then defensive.
Feeling like I was beating my head against the brick wall I gave up.

However I do still feel there is a potential for liberal ideas to become popular amongst large sections of our population here in the UK.

However that can only happen if prominent Lib Dems decide to make that a priority and take the actions necessary to achieve it.

The alternative is a comfort zone that will likely result in more single figure national vote shares and a dozen or so MPs.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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12 Comments

  • ………………In an election that was polarised between a left wing Labour party and the Conservatives tacking to the right there appeared little room or appetite for a liberal message of moderation………..

    My goodness! What a change….Since 2015, LDV has been inundated with articles and posts about how the country was crying out for the Liberal middle ground…We would hoover up disgruntled Labour supporters like leaves in autumn; Corbyn was doomed and we would form the next opposition after May’s June coronation…

    Now, the same ‘oracles’ are explaining why we didn’t and, of course, it’s not our fault…Corbyn promised ‘free unicorns’ and May was a ‘paper tiger’ and we were…just not there

  • Richard Underhill 28th Jun '17 - 12:07pm

    David Warren: No mention of income tax? 48% now say they support paying a bit more for public services. Would you be among them? Would you vote accordingly?

  • David Warren 28th Jun '17 - 12:36pm

    I think any debate around taxes to pay for public services needs to be combined with another one about reforming those services.

    As a carer I have had a lot of dealings with various state agencies over the past years most of whom have provided a very poor service.

  • David Warren 28th Jun ’17 – 12:36pm………..I think any debate around taxes to pay for public services needs to be combined with another one about reforming those services…….

    Sadly, the word ‘reform’ always seems to mean ‘reduce’…

    ……………..As a carer I have had a lot of dealings with various state agencies over the past years most of whom have provided a very poor service……….

    My experience of ‘private’ agencies is the same…

  • Private is always better. The state almost always fails in everything it does when it comes to infrastructure and public service delivery, whether it is inefficiency in Network Rail, the emergency services or prisons.

    Privatisation and outsourcing have been a boon for everyone in the country and has lead to improvements in every single area they have been used. Where the private sector has failed has been due to poor government contracts drawn up, or governments interfering with private business, or alternatively expecting them to do something without appropriate support, for example G4S getting the blame for the Olympics when they were expected to work miracles with improperly written contracts, Southern, where the government should have prosecuted individual RMT and ASLEF members who opposed driver only trains, rather than let Southern take the blame or with Hinchingbrooke where government intervention was to blame.

  • “Private is always better”. My partner is currently wrestling with the multiple problems of getting care for her parents. From her experience I can assure Stimpson that it isn’t. Not that the state is much good either. This country has a massive problem with incompetence: despite our investment in higher education and training over the past twenty years we seem incapable of producing sufficient numbers of people with the basic skills to do their jobs properly.

  • @Stimpson “private is always better”
    I chaired the Hants County Council buildings Committee for 4 years. The
    in-house Architects Department have a policy of sprinklers in all buildings over 2 storeys. They include a fire expert in every design team. They also build schools for Surrey and other Councils.
    Kensington& Chelsea?!!

  • Philip Knowles 29th Jun '17 - 9:19am

    When I stood for North Yorkshire County Council in 2013 a chap came up to me at the Polling Station and said, ‘ I used to vote for you because you were the party for the thinking working man but you lost your way.’
    I think we still are that party but the message gets lost in the rush to knock May or Corbyn. Our key message in the General Election should have been about investing in the UK with 1p income rise promising better education, better hospitals and better social care.
    Instead of talking about positives we insisted on May and Corbin bashing (and getting hung up about tuition fees and Tim’s view on homosexuality) while the Tories were going on about how they had raised the income tax threshold and equalised marriage – stuff we forced them to do.
    To be distinctive we have to talk about a better way. We need to talk common sense with passion and then the ‘thinking working man (and woman)’ will come back to us from the fringes of both Labour and Tories.

  • David’s article is an insightful one which really should make us all think about what has gone so very badly wrong since 2010.

    A total meltdown of our links that were so hard won with left of centre voters to the extent that Simon was massacred in Bemondsey, and Julian in Cambridge in straight fights with Labour, and the loss of our entire base of support in almost all of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset with us finishing a very poor third in Truro, David Penhalygon’s old seat.

    We now have no MPs in Wales for the first time since the Liberal Party was formed in the middle of the 19th Century, and only one MP in England north of Norfolk. In essence we are now a party in England of the comfortably well off who have a social conscience and in Scotland we are the minor party of three that are not the SNP.

    However, as expats so rightly put it, on LDV we have been inundated with article after article on how we just need to do this or that or the other and we can march back into the middle ground that it so resolutely supported our previous leader (Tim is still our current leader) as he marched us out of it.

    Indeed the never ending chorus of “Things can only get better” was the staple diet on LDV throughout the disaster that was coalition. Article after article telling us how good things were and how the country was so much better because of our hard work in government. And those who put forward an alternative reality, that the party was being destroyed from the inside were derided and ignored as being negative, not interested in ‘grown up politics’ and so on.

    Now we have a leader, of a working class background, being hounded out of office by shadowy forces in the party establishment who were tireless in their support of Nick throughout his reign of destruction.

    Where now? Well my guess is anywhere except to admit that the party has been set on a journey of self destruction since 2010 and for those who led it there and their cheerleaders in positions of influence to admit they got it totally wrong. So no change there then.

  • I think the premise behind what David Evans wrote is that for over ten years the establishment in the party have taken the party away from our radical roots and social liberalism. However perhaps history shows us we just have to keep talking the talk until time passes and we can again become the radical social liberal party that the UK needs. After the Second World War the leadership of the Liberal Party still reflected Asquithan thinking from the 1920’s and struggled to find its way. The “leader” Clement Davies had been a National Liberal 1931-42 supporting the National Government of the 1930’s. It wasn’t until a member of the Asquithan liberal establishment with charisma (Jo Grimond) became leader that the party could move nationally from the mess of the 1930’s. It wasn’t until about 2003 that the opposition to us being a radical social liberal party gained support culminating in the election of Nick Clegg as leader in December 2007. It is possible that the establishment of the party was already moving away from our radical social liberal after the election of Blair and there being no need for a coalition government. And we gained votes by being seen as an opposition to the Labour Party.

    If we take a more long-term view then the Liberal Democrats took over 10 years to move from its social liberal inheritance to the party of Clegg in a coalition with the Conservatives pursuing austerity and the orthodoxy of a balanced government budget (a policy discredited in the 1930’s). It took over twenty years to make the Liberal Party a radical social liberal party in the middle of the twentieth century. Therefore it is going to take us longer than three or four years to restore the Liberal Democrats to being a radical social liberal party.

  • David Warren 29th Jun '17 - 7:22pm

    UK Liberalism at its best is a progressive, radical force.

    The coalition with the Tories flew in the face of that and caused a lot of damage.

    In 2017 Corbyn like Sanders in the US provided a vision for millions of people fed up with the political establishment.

    Policies that were an alternative to years of right wing government.

    For the Liberal Democrats to be successful they need to do the same.

    A vision of a society where citizens can have the basics of life things like good quality education, jobs, housing, health care and public services that support them.

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