A triumph on tenuous ground

The Liberal Democrats pulled off a historic feat in the 2024 general election, clinching a record number of seats and catapulting themselves back into the limelight. Becoming the third party once more and achieving the highest liberal seat tally in a century is nothing to be scoffed at.

Yet, beneath the surface of this triumph lies an uncomfortable truth: the newly minted caucus is both artificially bloated and alarmingly fragile. Whilst the party will no doubt aim to make hay while the sun shines, the shimmering successes of last week could quickly turn sour if the party misreads what’s to come.

The Temptation of the Right

A casual scour of the party’s 72 constituencies tells us many things about the type of people voting Liberal Democrat, and where the Lib Dems are winning. According to Electoral Calculus, Lib Dem MPs represent areas that are ten degrees to the economic right of the average voter, and barely more globalist or more liberal.

Many of the new Lib Dem seats are in leafy, affluent areas, where evidently, right-of-centre sentiments often hold greater sway. Given that the party stood on its most left-leaning manifesto since 2005, this discord is as confusing as it is concerning.

While it may be easier for the party to consolidate its presence by trying to meet local constituencies where they are, it must resist the superficial urge to drift rightwards.

Polls consistently show that the public perceives the Lib Dems as a centre-left force, and far more aligned with the progressive end of the spectrum. Much of the party’s success in this election is owed to its ability to siphon off Labour votes to oust the Tories locally.

If the party were to attempt to move from its natural centre-left positioning for political convenience, it would be foolish and fruitless. Having finally escaped the doom spiral of the post-coalition years, the party must never be seen to betray its identity again, the electorate won’t allow a second strike.

The Progressive Imperative

To sustain and build upon their gains, the Lib Dems must seize the space vacated by a reboot of a Third Way Labour Party, speak from their liberal progressive roots and tackle the great emancipatory issues of our time.

That means advocating for a Universal Basic Income, calling for a four-day week, advocating for the liberal rationale behind a wealth tax on billionaires. If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like the Green Party manifesto then you would be right. Hidden between their crankery and outlandishness are some bold answers to the big issues of our time.

These policies mean the Green Party are a huge threat to the Lib Dems on the left, and one that must be more aggressively dealt with going forward. The Lib Dems need to make a land grab for their vote by returning to radical liberalism and blowing the Greens, and their de-growth hysteria, out of the picture.

At present, the Greens, are quickly monopolising the ‘progressive protest’ vote the Lib Dems enjoyed pre-2010. The party must act swiftly to regain this, as it becomes all the more valuable under a Labour government.

Beyond NIMBYism and the Yellow Wall

All of this is not to say that the newly established yellow wall in the rural and suburban South isn’t welcome, any Lib Dem MP is better than no Lib Dem MP (Lembit Opik aside).

But to make this relevance lasting, the Lib Dems need to look beyond it. The party is proudly boasting about its new cohort of ‘local champions’ but the party can no longer sacrifice the local for the national, if it seeks to be a serious party of government.

The scourge of NIMBYism, that is not so well disguised by this incessant obsession with localism, may win marginal battles but will lose the war for broader national appeal. The party needs to acknowledge that 11% of seats on 12% of the vote is not sustainable under a FPTP system. If the party is to transcend its recovery from local to national, it will have to do so by ceasing to be ‘everything to everyone’ and by being the centre-left liberal force it is already perceived as.

The Path Forward

The Liberal Democrats’ record-breaking performance in this election was undoubtedly a remarkable achievement. I’m not used to ‘winning’ elections, and perhaps I’m being too negative by writing this barely a week in to the new parliament, but the party has famously squandered golden opportunities before, and it cannot afford to do it again.

To transform this unexpected triumph into lasting influence, the Lib Dems must resist the seductive pull of the right. As the Tories move towards the dog whistles of Reform, Labour pose as technocratic centrists and the Greens continually prove themselves to be unserious, the progressive centre-left of British politics will be vacant.

By towing the line, the public have already set for them, the Lib Dems can solidify their gains, expand their appeal nationally, and truly reshape the British political landscape.

* Chris Whiting is a registered supporter of the Liberal Democrats and former Communications Officer of the Young Liberals

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  • Jason Connor 9th Jul '24 - 6:05pm

    Yes agreed. I would throw some nationalisation of the utilities and railways into the progressive imperative mix. I wonder how many of the new MPs are orange bookers or of the social liberal wing? I would very much hope the latter as stated “the party stood on its most left-leaning manifesto since 2005”

  • This is an excellent article. At one level, it is terrific that so many of the new MPs have deep roots in their constituencies. They will be great constituency MPs and may build up personal votes. But since so many represent constituencies that share many social features, there is a danger of the party representing the concerns of only one type of area/social class.
    The danger of the Greens monopolizing political representation of idealistic youth can be seen in the election results in places like Oxford East, Cambridge and Hampstead & Highgate, where we have had some strength at times in the past.
    Also, there doesn’t seem to be one MP among the 72 elected who is of South Asian or Caribbean origin (I hope I am wrong in stating this). That again poses a risk that the party’s national image will discourage expanding our voting base.
    So as the article says, it is important to keep a center-left tilt, and also to expand organizing efforts to non-target seats. Probably the place to start is finding areas where there are people with liberal values interested in expanding LibDem presence in local government.

  • David Le Grice 9th Jul '24 - 7:35pm

    Good article but we also need to do allot of work on the ground in order to win seats with progressive electorates.
    We are currently second place in only five, down from nine last time (thanks to the greens).

    If we continue just leaving local parties to get on with it and only pumping significant funds and directing outside help into seats where we are already second and the local party is very strong then we won’t make very much progress in these sorts of seats.
    The 2026 local elections in particular will be crucial (especially in London where it’s the only local elections this parliament) and we should be directing as members to go help local parties in such areas to help build them a solid base and crowd out the Greens where they have overtaken us.

  • David Sparrow 9th Jul '24 - 7:54pm

    John R – newly elected MP for Harpenden & Berkhamsted Victoria Collins is the first LD MP of East or South East Asian descent.

  • This sounds to me like a recipe for disaster. Reintroduce UBI? Tax and spend? And, reading some of the comments above, nationalization? In other words, we should attempt to hold our somewhat right-wing constituencies by becoming another version of Corbyn? Seriously???

    Might I suggest that one of the reasons we were able to capture so-many Tory seats was precisely that we DIDN’T have anything in the manifesto to scare off those voters. If we want to do well in the future, we need to keep those seats. That coincidentally goes quite nicely with an aim of trying to displace the Tories as the main opposition.

    Besides, I realise it’s frustrating to see the Greens having effectively replaced the LibDems as the opposition in many inner-city/University areas, but trying to steer leftwards to compete with the Greens will end up with 3 parties trying to compete for the left wing vote, giving the Tories a much freer hand in rebuilding and attempting to take their blue wall back from us.

  • On the one hand as an anti Tory party it is great to take so many of their one nation voters away from them, on the other hand it was disappointing to go backwards against Labour in places like Sheffield Hallam etc and to be overtaken by the Greens in urban areas. Is it unrealistic to think we can hold onto ex Conservatives and win over Labour and Green voters?

  • Martin Gray 9th Jul '24 - 8:44pm

    @Simon…..So what are we offering – mediocrity in abundance? . We lost a huge amount of deposits last week & have all but abandoned large swathes of the midlands, north west/east etc . Say little do little , nod in agreement offer some comforting words – will only get us so far .

  • Alex Macfie 9th Jul '24 - 8:48pm

    We could not be “another version of Corbyn” because our philosophy is so different from the Corbynism. As I keep saying, where we differ from the Corbynite left is we don’t have its ideological baggage — the knee-jerk anti-westernism, fondness for top-down centralism, Party-first thinking. This is why we were able to win seats from Labour in the noughties while holding our own against the Tories — even when fighting on a platform that’s to the left of Labour, voters still do not associate us with the ideological left. We are a different species from that, however much common ground we may be able to make on specific issues.

  • David Le Grice 9th Jul '24 - 9:58pm

    A correction to my previous post, we were actually second to labour 14 seats progressive leaning seats last time, 9 is the number of those where we have lost our second place.

  • David Le Grice 9th Jul '24 - 10:15pm

    @Simon R
    The Green party just won two very right wing seats with over 40% of the vote.
    And a wealth tax would affect hardly any voters in our most affluent seats; indeed our policy in 2001 to raise the top rate of income tax would have affected rather more people yet we made a healthy gain from the Tories in that election, and only took a net loss of two to them in 2005.

    That said we don’t need to go quite as much to the left as the Greens, just enough so it’s very clear to such voters that we’re on their side.

  • Brandon Masih 9th Jul '24 - 10:17pm

    > advocating for the liberal rationale behind a wealth tax on billionaires. If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like the Green Party manifesto then you would be right.

    We can’t be expecting a wealth tax to solve many, if any problems! The green policy right up to the election was to try raise £70 billion from a wealth tax where there was a 10% tax rate on wealth above £18 million, which was both trying to bring in most their revenue, and would simultaneously erode its wealth tax base. We should avoid sounding like the Green Party where they at times sound like going for vibes instead of evidence – a shame really when they can both simultaneously propose tax simplification measures then bastardise them ! Likewise we shouldn’t find ourselves trying exactly to position as only the protest sort of vote (even if we want to aspire to winning such a number of votes again) as that unstable coalition based on protest alone would do us no good as we aspire as effective opposition (and dare I say second party?)

  • Michael Wang 10th Jul '24 - 3:14am

    Where I stood, in Hove, the Greens are now 2nd place behind Peter Kyle. From canvassing, it’s clear the anti-Labour progressive votes have gone to the Greens.

    I feel an important question we need to answer is long-term, do we want to present ourselves as a credible party for government, or is it good enough to be the “nation’s largest & most democratic think tank”, producing policies that the government of the day takes up, and never be in power ourselves other than as the sacrificial junior partner? I don’t have a strong opinion to the answer of this question, but whatever answer we come up with, it must determine our strategy (for example, if the ambition is to be a governement party in waiting, then our electoral support needs to be more broad church than our position today).

  • David Ellis 10th Jul '24 - 4:26am

    The OP is very thoughtful and puts its finger on the heart of a difficult dilemma. However I agree with Simon above that tacking left of Labour is not the obviously best way of holding the seats we have taken, nor is taking seats off Labour from the left likely to succeed. We do need to be truthful to our beliefs, we do need to back away from Nimbyism, but we also need to hold those seats. Its a tricky triangle to square. As one who sits to right hand edge of the party (on economic issues) its easy for me to square those points by tacking a little bit to the right – but recognise that others may find that harder if they think the soul of the party is further left than that.

    The strategic opportunity is to replace the Conservatives to the right hand side of Labour. I think that must be the prize.

  • Tristan Ward 10th Jul '24 - 8:04am

    There is limited opportunity for progress on a left if centre platform: Labour has that vote sown up.

    Meanwhile in the centre is a gaping hole as the incompetent, discredited and divided Tories run to make friends with Reform. That is where we should pitch our tent, and I think the MPs know this.

  • Peter Davies 10th Jul '24 - 8:40am

    Our core support is people prepared to put their principles ahead of selfish financial interests (within limits). They volunteer, they give to charities and they believe that a civilised society looks after those in need. It’s not a big core and won’t win any constituencies on its own. To that we need to add those who would benefit from our policies more than those of the other main party in each constituency. A redistributive policy with a pivot point at average income would put a large majority of people in poor areas in that category but even in our existing constituencies it would probably be about half. Added to our core vote, there are no unwinnable constituencies.

  • Stepping back a bit, behind this discussion of what is popular is that we all want to push our own beliefs. I’d hazard a guess for example the reason Chris Whiting wants to claim stuff like UBI would be popular is that he supports UBI. And likewise, as someone with more orange-booker beliefs who thinks UBI would be a disaster. I’m probably subconsciously very inclined to see the electoral reasons not to do that :-). But if we want to get more MPs, then we all need to be realistic about the electoral situation, and avoid the temptation to equate what we personally want with, what will be popular.

    Having said that, it is clear that our MPs are mostly in somewhat conservative areas. Not only that but most of our likely target seats are in similar areas. Bluntly, if we aspire ultimately to become one of the main parties – ideally reducing the Conservatives to 3rd party status, then the people whose votes we most need are the the people in seats like South West Devon or Hamble Valley who voted Tory last week. Attracting people who voted Green last week is not going to get us more MPs.

    Yes I know that’s convenient for me to say given that I’m arguably on the right of the party anyway, but those are nevertheless the electoral facts we need to face.

  • @David I’m pretty sure the Greens won Waveney Valley and North Herefordshire based on general feeling plus local circumstances rather than because of policies. The Greens are in the fortunate position of being so small that their policies don’t get scrutinised nearly as much as Labour and the Tories. We were in that position too until last Thursday – which I’d argue is why we were able in the past to get away with utopian policies like UBI. Probably less so now.

  • UBI is less redistributive than simply increasing benefits to the worst off. It’s a regressive policy: I don’t regard it as “left-wing”.

    Our current GBI policy is more targetted than UBI.

  • Nigel Quinton 10th Jul '24 - 10:42am

    I am really sorry but I don’t agree with much of what has been said above.

    Firstly I wouldn’t pay too much attention to Electoral Calculus – when Victoria Collins was being selected for Harpenden and Berkhamsted they had us on a predicted 6% of the vote!

    Secondly to say we need to move left to beat the greens is nonsense, what we need to do is to talk about climate and nature as we have policies that are just as ‘green’ as theirs.

    Being the third party gives us a much larger platform and Labour’s weaknesses are areas we can exploit and get our policies heard at last. Their top down approach will be a disaster in the NHS and they still (amazingly) don’t seem to get the issue of social care – our pragmatic approach to both which is neither left nor right wing should gain support, as it did within the NHS blogosphere during the election campaign (see Roy Lilley’s nhsManagers.net). Same with housing – their top down approach to numbers and targets was a disaster in the 2000s and a gift to developers. We can offer better solutions that are not clearly left or right.

    We really need to use the new voice we have nationally to push those policy areas where we are distinctive, pragmatic and liberal, so that the areas we have had to neglect in the search for targeted success start to hear about us again and we can build a wider base.

  • …more targetted and also feasible.

  • Nigel Quinton 10th Jul '24 - 10:45am

    On UBI – this is not some leftist dream, there is plenty of good evidence that it works, although I am not up on the latest data. Same on wealth taxes, there are many economists who recognise that this is a much better way to raise revenue fairly than our reliance on taxing income. Just because what the Greens were proposing was impractical shouldn’t kill the concept.

    We should not be throwing things out because somebody says they are too leftist (or rightist) we should be the evidence-led party that we have always been and argue our case accordingly.

  • Nigel Quinton 10th Jul '24 - 10:47am

    What Chris Moore said ! Sorry, been a while since I thought about this.

  • David Garlick 10th Jul '24 - 10:51am

    Steady guys and galls…
    All to play for and time to plan a route forward. ‘Rush in’ at our peril. ‘where angels fear to tread’.

  • Rif Winfield 10th Jul '24 - 10:57am

    The comments in response to this article indicate that the newly-electedMPS, and the party in general, has an unresolved existential conundrum concerning its fundamental raison d’etre. Looking back over the lifetimes of many long-term supporters/members of the party and its predecessors, many were drawn into Liberal politics by Jo Grimond’s unequivocal positioning – that Liberals are a party of the non-Marxist left. We need to go back to our philosophical roots, rather than risk adopting short-term expedients. The merger with the Social Democrats, who formed a group far more to the centre of politics (in effect, stemming from the economical right albeit socially progressive wing of the then fracturing Labour Party) created an unresolved dilemma for the new Liberal Democrats. It is now, at the start of this new five-year parliament, an essential requirement to resolve the dilemma by returning to the values (not just the policies) of the Liberal past. For a start, stop trying to define the party’s – and the media’s – obsession with the terms “left”, “right” and “centre”, which everyone interprets according to their own bias.

  • To accuse the Conservatives of having consistent policies and philosophy is stretching our languishes somewhat. The same applies to the Labour Party which achieved almost the same vote share as did the “old” Labour Party.
    My view is that very large numbers of people do not think in terms of left and right. Many think in terms of how they can get by another week.
    The question we have to answer is what is the purpose of a Liberal Democrat party. The problem arising after we have agreed that is how we find the resources to persuade our fellow citizens to support this.
    For example how do we find people who can find the time to work a large urban ward and find other people to help.

  • Paul Barker 10th Jul '24 - 1:03pm

    On Topic
    This article raises some real questions but there’s a lot of oversimplification.
    The Electoral map has got a lot more complicated with lower Majorities & many more Seats that are 3-way Marginals. Its not at all clear how Votes are going to move, even in the near future.
    I would expect our Vote share to rise as Voters react to our unexpected success.

  • The comment by Paul Baker is true. But a key issue is how many non target seats did we win. I get the impression that we won seats which Labour saw little prospect of ever winning. What happens in future when Labour are unpopular – or perhaps I should say even less popular as they got a similar percentage as the previous election.
    So how are we to gain seats from Labour in the future?

  • Chris Whiting 10th Jul '24 - 2:46pm

    Hello, everyone!

    Really enjoyed reading all the comments, and forgive me but I’d like to respond to a few!

    John R, I totally agree about the party’s record on diversity, while I appreciate this isn’t always by design, we must do more to reach out to diverse communities and not just be a party of well-off white people. We can do that by making a play for these urban areas I spoke about which already align with many of our values and beliefs.

  • Chris Whiting 10th Jul '24 - 2:47pm

    I agree with you, David Le Grice, anecdotally speaking I know of many many Lab/Green/Lib waverers, we need to pitch to them and make them feel that we are their natural home and not the others.

    Thanks for the feedback, Simon R, and I take on board what you said. I do think the Corbynist comparison is hyperbolic, I’m certainly not advocating any kind of conspiratorial or isolationist foreign policy or gimmicky middle-class hand outs but I appreciate this platform could be perceived as much, and in politics, perception is all that matters. That’s why I argued that we are already (rightly in my view) seen as a centre-left party, that’s where British liberalism lies in the modern day and should remain, we absolutely need to find a way to communicate a vision like the one I’m advocating without scaring the villagers. That said, Tory-facing seats voted for us IN SPITE of our centre-left manifesto and centre-left reputation, we must lean in to that to bring others on board. The Tories will veer further right, meaning centre-right liberal voters will feel just as comfortable with us as they do now.

  • Chris Whiting 10th Jul '24 - 2:48pm

    I believe I’m advocating for liberal solutions for the times we face. Liberalism is about the emancipation of people to maximise freedom. By eliminating poverty, reducing working hours designed for the industrial revolution, and rejoining the EU (I forgot to mention that) we can create a coherent, evidence-based, message that seeks to liberate people in the modern age.

    David Ellis, while I can certainly see the utility behind your argument, I’m afraid I disagree. Regrettably, there will always be a home for conservatism in major party politics in this country – but we should never seek to be it, even inadvertently.

    And, Tristan, I’d argue that Labour are sitting very much in the centre ground, as we saw under the last Labour administration, disgruntled progressives will look for a new home in the years to come. The Lib Dems should be ready to offer them it, as we did under Charles Kennedy.

  • There’s absolutely no requirement that a party offer only ideas that, by some political scientist’s criteria, fit on a precisely delimited segment of the political spectrum.

    The Liberal Democrats should be free to offer ideas from left, center, or right as long as those ideas appear to be both beneficial and workable, and they can be made at least moderately popular.

  • Peter Davies 10th Jul '24 - 4:34pm

    @Chris Moore “UBI is less redistributive than simply increasing benefits to the worst off. It’s a regressive policy: I don’t regard it as “left-wing”.
    Both are very progressive and very much more so than Labour policy (let alone the New Labour record). Which is more progressive depends on how you measure it.

    The poorest in society do better under UBI because they are the people that “Targeted” benefits miss. Those among the poor who claim and meet the criteria for universal credit and are single adult or dual income households do better under our GBI proposals especially those on middle incomes who are brought into means-testing as the rates rise.

    Those who benefit most from UBI compared to GBI are single income couples (who are typically much poorer than either single earners or dual-income couples), students (including mature students) and a host of small groupings that slip through the net.

  • Ross O’Kelly 10th Jul '24 - 5:13pm

    I’m a little confused. We know we won seats in leafy parts of the south where centre right, probably ex Tory voters were happy to vote for us. But we feel conflicted by this. We love having more MPs but we feel dirty that we have non progressive supporters. Most people posting here want to take on Labour from the left, but that’s not how we got into the pleasant position (72 members) we find ourselves in. I think we need some collective therapy.

  • Joseph Bourke 10th Jul '24 - 6:01pm

    The election is over. We have a substantial block of Mps and Peers in Parliament that can scutinise and amend legislation and policy. The Labour government tax policy and fiscal rules for this Parliament have been very clearly signalled in their manifesto and election campaign.
    Now is the time for competent government starting with a strategic defence and security review to be undertaken this summer. The LibDem election manifesto on defence pledges to “reverse the Conservative Government’s cut to the Army, with a longer-term ambition of increasing regular troop numbers back to over 100,000”. Longer-term may not be sufficient in the current International climate with respect to either increased troop numbers or increased defense spending as a % of GDP. Yesterday’s attacks on a children’s hospital in Kyiv and a school in Khan Younis just underpin the urgency of European defense and foreign policy particularly with respect to the middle east where LibDems have pledged to officially recognise the independent state of Palestine with immediate effect, if in government.

  • Chris Whiting 10th Jul '24 - 6:02pm

    Hi Ross, with the greatest of respect, we find ourselves in the position we do now because we’ve been Tory-facing for 14 years, and they’ve just had a major collapse. I don’t feel ‘dirty’ for having their support nor do I feel ‘dirty’ for winning in centre-right areas.

    I’m simply acknowledging that I don’t believe its sustainable for us, and in the long term, we need to expand our influence in seats more closely aligned to our beliefs.

  • Ross O’Kelly 10th Jul '24 - 6:54pm

    Hi Chris. You’re right that the seats where we are strong tend to be in the south (not exclusively, obviously), the Tories have imploded and we have benefited. But this has been the case for many years. In traditional Labour areas, the north, inner cities, we have small, ineffective (no offence meant) local parties and loose deposits. We all know this. Obviously it would be great if those in Labour seats would “see the light” but abandoning the prosperous south to chase votes on the progressive left is a perverse idea . In some respects it’s the opposite of targeting.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Jul '24 - 7:25pm

    @Chris Whiting: “I’m certainly not advocating any kind of conspiratorial or isolationist foreign policy” I certainly hope not! And I wouldn’t expect to encounter it among Lib Dems, whereas it is one of the tenets of Corbynism. People who react to suggestions of courting the “progressive” left by invoking Corbyn most likely don’t really understand what Corbynism actually is. Nor, I suspect, do most of the “progressive” voters who flocked to him. I don’t even think Corbyn is particularly progressive. In many ways his strand of leftism is actually rather reactionary, in the sense of always fighting yesterday’s battles and hankering for a socialist utopia that never existed and couldn’t ever exist. @Rif describes us as “a party of the non-Marxist left”, and this is exactly what makes us different from the Corbynites of the Marxist left, and is why we don’t need to worry about scaring off Blue Wall voters.

  • There is no constituency in which appealing to a single, ideologically aligned set of voters is going to guarantee the Liberal Democrat candidate a victory.

    Just as in government, victory at the local level is based on coalition building: finding a diverse array of groups who can agree that your candidate is the least worst candidate, despite differences on one issue or another.

    It’s necessary to balance. You can’t target one group’s issues to the extent that you always make them happy but ignore everyone else. But you can’t try to make everyone happy and stand for nothing. Ultimately what people really want is the assurance that you will listen to them and take their concerns seriously, not that you will be on their side every single time; just most of the time, and when it counts.

  • David Le Grice 10th Jul '24 - 10:07pm

    I’ve just realised something that seems to have gotten lost in this thread is that in elections, the message actually matters allot more than the policy.
    So whilst I do think it would be helpful if we were a bit further left it may well be that we would have done allot better in left leaning areas if we’d better tailored our messaging to them, on top of doing allot more campaigning within them.

  • @Alex…To call Corbyn a Marxist – he’s been democratically elected umpteenth times now shows a complete lack of understanding what Marxism is ….There was nothing Marxist in the Labour manifestos of 17/19 GE’s …Only 3 genuine Marxist labour MPs of recent years – Terry Fields , Pat Wall , Dave Nellist …All of which I’d prefer then some robotic Blair bot spouting the usual meaningless platitudes in unison…Let’s see if labour instigates real change for those that are struggling , I’ve strong doubts as the safe & steady mantra is akin to trickle down economics, waiting for growth is going to be painfully slow …If nothing fundamental changes then let’s hope Starmer is thrown out of office like Sunak was …

  • Although I agree with you Alex the fact is that many people who supported Corbyn would not accept what you say at all, they regarded him as mainstream and would not accept he was hard left. They would say things like “in Scandinavia he would be seen as a moderate social democrat” etc

  • Peter Davies 11th Jul '24 - 8:11am

    There is a tendancy to classify all policies and all electors as left or right. We do that largely by the positions of the two other main parties. That has not represented the divisions in the electorate for a long time. The Conservatives built a coalition between the rich and the socially conservative poor which has provided most of the governments since the war and spectacularly successful under Johnson. At this election, they could no longer offer any pretence of economic competence so they chose to fight for intolerance, pollution and hand-outs for the rich. This allowed the formation of an alternative coalition of liberals (regardless of wealth) and those prepared to put their financial interest above their conservatism.

    We seem to have picked up broadly the same demographics in our constituencies as Labour did in theirs though they obviously exist in very different proportions in different seats. Who got which seats was largely about credibility and hard work. I’m not expecting the Tories to make themselves credible to that coalition any time soon so lots more hard work can keep our seats. Labour will have to deliver on the economy to keep many of theirs.

  • Chris Whiting 11th Jul '24 - 10:01am

    Hi Peter, I’m not saying you’re wrong but I’m curious as to why you say we attracted the same demographics as Labour. The data seems to suggest that our voters are older, whiter, wealthier and more rural than Labour’s, and by a considerable margin too.

  • Neil James Sandison 11th Jul '24 - 11:26am

    What is left what is right ? many pensioners felt the impact of tax thresholds being frozen . VAT is far too high.
    Should we re-introduce a National Health Service rather than a devolved post code health service based on nationalism . social housing does not have to be delivered by councils but could be bettered delivered by local housing trusts governed by their residents as co-operative housing . The bedroom tax and the cap on child benefit is increasing child and family poverty .

  • Jason Connor 11th Jul '24 - 12:22pm

    Vince Cable advocated bringing the railways back into public ownership. Would that scare off blue wall voters? No I don’t think so. In many labour facing seats, this party makes very little effort now with leaflets or canvass visits enabling the Green party to step into that space. It means there is no longer a social liberal alternative for voters due to the party’s low profile and lack of campaigning.

  • James Fowler 11th Jul '24 - 6:20pm

    I realize I’ve said this before, but it bears saying again: One of the many curiosities of the past decade is the way that the Conservatives have given up being the Party of quiet contentment, and gifted it to us – hence 80% of those 72 MPs.

    But are we happy about it? Well, it’s clearly causing some discomfort that the places we represent are insufficiently edgy. My thoughts are simple: Leave edginess to the Greens, the wilder bits of the Labour left and motley group of Independents. They’re far more credible as such, and, if it comes to a fight over radicalism, they will happily go to places any Liberal should fear to tread to prove their credentials.

    In the last election, Ed Davey was magnificently ‘apolitical’ – in cause of gently expressed but serious issues. Here’s the thing: People we needed to win over and now retain really liked it. As the list of wins rolled in last Thursday, the locations told their own story: ‘Say, is there beauty yet to find? And certainty? And quiet kind?’ We’ve got liberal England back. Our job is to show that rationality, decency, generosity of spirit and tolerance remain better, liberal, custodians of the peace than the alternatives.

  • @ James Fowler “We’ve got liberal England back”.

    The southern comfortable bit, James. And when the tide inevitably turns back to the Tories, as it will ?

  • David Allen 11th Jul '24 - 7:27pm

    The OP is right to identify an apparent paradox – that the Lib Dems adopt a centre-left position and yet appeal to well-off middle-class constituencies, while Labour now hold a more centrist position and yet do better in poorer constituencies. Whether that means that the Lib Dems could conquer the “red wall” by moving further to the left, however, seems very doubtful.

    Frankly, the elephant in the room is class. The progressive wing of the middle class are happy to vote for nice civilised politicians like Ed Davey, and they sincerely believe in fairer policies such as progressive taxation. However, they tend to get scared by the less couth Labour politicians like John Prescott and Angela Rayner, who symbolise the aggressive working classes invading their leafy suburbs. That emotional response may trump the rational understanding that Starmer is a moderate who won’t actually go on a drunken rampage through Ruislip.

    For the red wall, the opposite class prejudices apply (though less strongly than they used to.) Self-confident Lib Dem graduates spouting hi-falutin ideas like UBI will not fit in well in Bradford or Bolton. “Dad was a toolmaker” wins votes, “I was a legal whizz” does not.

    So what’s the way forward? To bring the centre-left middle-class and centre-left working class together, why not merge the Labour and Lib Dem Parties?

  • I could be wrong but I seem to recall Sky’s Ed Conway pointing out the Lib’s tax and spend pledges had halved since 2019, which doesn’t suggest to me “the most left since 2005.” I think it is more down to the perception of Starmer being a second coming of Blair when truthfully we don’t know how this government is going to behave. There are far more people with instincts on the left in the present government than there was with Labour 97, including Starmer himself. So, it remains to be seen

  • “the newly minted caucus is both artificially bloated” – can this statement be explained. Our parliamentary presence reflects very closely our vote share, and is not bloated in any respect.

  • I’m surprised that the 4 million Reform voters get no mention in the comments above. Most of the people who voted for the party are probably not racists or conspiracy loons. Rather they are people who feel marginalised by the advance of global capitalism, and whose concerns for their jobs, families, and environment have been ignored by the mainstream parties. They are the people who made Brexit happen because we had abandoned them in our enthusiasm for the European project (which I supported), and we alienated them further by attempting to overturn the result of the referendum. We need to be reaching out to Reform voters, listening to their concerns, coming up with sensible solutions to the problems that their communities face. We must not allow the racists and conspiracists to seduce substantial proportions of the electorate .

  • James Fowler 13th Jul '24 - 12:35pm

    Hi Tony, I completely agree with your analysis of Reform voters but culturally and pragmatically we are the worst placed of all the Parties to try and reach out to them. Our best approach now that we are incumbents is to respectfully and rationally disagree with more or less everything that Reform says, while allowing their raucous, chaotic aggression to tell its own story about why liberals are better custodians of the peace.

    But rolling back Reform does not lie in making rational arguments, it lies in changing aggregate lived experiences over many years. This is another reason why we’re poorly placed to absorb Reform voters because for all our 72 MPs there is next to nothing we can actually do at a national level. If Labour build enough social housing, sort out doctor’s appointments and ensure steady growth in real wages the sting will be drawn from Reform, but this is a program for government, not a third Party.

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