A view on the leadership election from a former Lib Dem member

I joined the party in 2014, and resigned my membership just over a month ago. I didn’t leave because of any ideological difference with the party’s direction per se but because I have lost faith that the party is capable of winning and putting our values in to practice.

In the second half of 2019, I thought our watershed moment had arrived when the party had managed to surge in the EU elections, and attract a raft of exceptionally talented and likeable MPs from the other two parties. Like we had seen in Canada in 2015, and France in 2017, I thought the UK was about to be engulfed by a wave of liberalism in the 2019 election.

I still maintain that this was achievable for the party, but like many have correctly recognised, there were fatally bad strategic decisions made in our national campaign that unthinkably left us with fewer MPs than we had in 2017.
I believe the key questions for the leadership candidates are rather complex and existential. It seems to me that the party has a greatly embedded culture of strategic incompetence that causes us to squander each and every national electoral opportunity we’re presented with.

In my view, the party needs to accept that whilst electoral reform is what we all crave, we have to play the game of politics under its current rules – and not the rules we would like to play under. With that in mind, we need to decide which party we want to replace in this binary political system.

It seems obvious to me that the Lib Dems would ultimately supersede the Labour Party as Britain’s primary progressive force. Yet, our voter demographics do not seem to indicate this as a remote possibility.

My view is that the 2015 collapse that has ultimately led us to this sorry state of affairs is because our party had spent many years building voting blocs via local reputation that had no coherency in a national setting – so when our vote started to crumble, there was no obvious subsection to target and preserve.

Much of this is due to the party’s inability over multiple leaders to carve out a ‘core vote’. It is widely acknowledged that Labour’s power bases are urban centres and the Tories have their base in rural shire counties – but who do the Lib Dems represent?

Fortunately, in some respects, the voters have chosen for us. Just looking at the towns that are currently represented by the party; Bath, Edinburgh, Kendal, Oxford, Richmond Park, St. Albans, St. Andrews, Surbiton, Twickenham, we can see that the party is especially attractive in middle-class towns and affluent suburbs.

Yet, we do not generally do particularly well in urban areas, with the young or with ethnic minorities, where progressive voters are usually in abundance. How do we change this?

My final issue is that the party has not been unapologetically liberal since the leadership of Charles Kennedy. His quote in particular has always resonated with me;

If it makes us unpopular in certain quarters, let us be unpopular for what we care about, what we believe in and what defines us and what we think is best for the country.

This is surely the culture the Lib Dems need to adopt moving forward. It makes me wince to see Lib Dem members talking of abandoning our pro-EU principles for the simple fact that some people won’t like it. The same way it made me squirm watching us finally adopt a cannabis legalisation platform only to frame it as a means of raising public finance and not of advancing civil liberties and eliminating racial injustice.

With these points in mind, we need to consider;

How do we replace the Labour Party?

How do we appeal to voters in the seats that house the most progressives?

As you will have noticed I have consistently referred to the party as ‘we’ throughout this thread despite no longer being a member. It is my intention to rejoin the party once my faith in its ability to be a genuinely good vehicle for liberal change is restored. But until then paying my membership fees feels like throwing good money after bad.

* Chris Whiting was a member of the Liberal Democrats until 2020.

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52 Comments

  • Steven Whaley 28th Jun '20 - 9:32am

    Wouldn’t you be better off staying in the party and fighting from within for the things you believe in. How will the party move closer to your views if people with your views jump ship? Sorry if I’m being harsh but your article baffles me.

  • Alex Macfie 28th Jun '20 - 9:37am

    If you rejoin by 09 July you will be able to help shape the party by choosing its leader.

  • Andrew Tampion 28th Jun '20 - 11:12am

    I agree with the above coments. Ifyou think that the Liberal Democrats best represent you politically but have gone wrong in some way (which given the failure of the election campaign is hard to argue against) then the right thing to do is to engage with the party to try to change it.

  • I have to disagree with the analysis in this article.
    We got a Polling boost from our sucsesses in the May Elections but that was always going to be temporary. If the Election had been held in early October we would have done a lot better but we dont get to decide when Elections happen.
    The Defections from Labour & the Tories could have transformed British Politics if the New Party had announced its intention to form an Alliance with Us but they attacked Us instead. By the time some of them joined Us it was too late, their Political Capital was used up.

    No-one is arguing that We didnt make big mistakes but the important factors were out of our hands.

  • My experience as a football fan is that if the fans abandon their team after a bad season then the team will suffer even more the next few seasons due to lost revenue & momentum. It is best to remain loyal & resilient in my opinion.

  • I generally agree with Chris, but hope he will stay and fight for the kind of liberalism he believes in. I am slightly confused about one thing however. Chris talks about the need to win over “progressives” but also talks of his excitement (which I shared) when we were joined by some big names from Labour and the Conservatives. Surely those new MPs were likely to draw us back into the center ground of politics, so I am not entirely sure which direction Chris thinks we should be moving in.

  • Yes. Rejoin the party.
    Yes .let’s get back to Kennedy’s strategy.
    We must get back to being radical progressive.
    The future is not going to be building more hospitals,roads but HOUSING FOR ALL ,
    Improving rail services.
    By producing food in innovated ways ie ‘upward growing farms'(developed like flats) in urban areas close to the consumer radical new ways could attract voters.
    We should campaign to remain close to the EU for countries trade with those closest,reduces costs of transportation etc.
    My vote will go to the one who will be radical in ways that I believe will lead us into a successful future.

  • Laurence Cox 28th Jun '20 - 3:33pm

    @Martin,

    I put the quote into Google (including the quotation marks) and it came straight up with the BBC being the first of three hits (the other two were the two on LDV):

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24133261

    I disagree with the author about seeking to replace the Labour Party; there is a part of our society that wants a left-of-centre statist party, they are just not Liberals and we should not trim our own policies to appeal to them. What Charles Kennedy said is what we should still follow – as the Bible says “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” -Mark 8:36”

  • @n hunter.
    I hate to be pedantic on this glorious Sunday afternoon (well it is where I am !) but I sighed at the use of “radical progressive” which I think means “in favour of fundamental change”. Well, by that definition just about everyone in politics, apart from a few crusty Tories, are radical progressives. Thatcher certainly was.
    I agree that housing should be a policy priority, but as everyone involved in local politics knows, NOBODY actually want houses built near them.
    Personally, I would want policies that promote and encourage freedom and autonomy, rather than collective solutions which may have little to do with liberalism.

  • It seems to me that the party has a greatly embedded culture of strategic incompetence that causes us to squander each and every national electoral opportunity…

    That hits the nail on the head. The rest of the article proposes trying, yet again, to do what the party has tried and failed to do for over 30 years. Why would that suddenly work? Why not fix the aptly named “strategic incompetence”?

    To be fair, the party emerged from the difficult SDP-Liberal merger lumbered with a constitution and ways of working that may have embedded compromises necessary at the time but don’t work and never will.

    Specifically, while it sometimes manages to develop a coherent campaign strategy, it has limited to zero ability to do that what’s usually called ‘policy’ – actually a bit of a misnomer.

    Strategy must start with an accurate diagnosis of the problem(s) and then follow that with a ‘high level’ plan that works out in broad terms what should be done, looking for positioning that will have strong appeal AND high impact AND be cheap to deliver AND calculated to have positive spill over into other policy areas AND coherent across the whole platform AND more. This is the stage where strategy is shaped as all those boxes can’t be ticked by either skipping the diagnosis stage or by diving straight into the weedy detail.

    Then, and only then, with a high-level plan in place, it is time to devise detailed policies that fill in the details in each area. These policies are, so to speak, the icing on the cake – it’s the showy bit but it can never redeem a culinary disaster.

    Every political party must have its own political economy if it is to be a proper party (it is where diagnosis is rooted). That was a strong suit for the old Liberals, but Lib Dems have dropped the ball and don’t ‘get’ its importance. That may be because party institutions don’t address it but DO freeze out challenges to the establishment. So, views on LDV range from extreme libertarianism to outright socialism, leaving it as a none-of-the-above alternative rather than a proper party. Doh!

    Without a political economy, there can be no sensible diagnosis and no high-level plan. In skipping straight to policy detail (and presenting it more or less cut and dried to Conference) the party has chosen to bake in ‘strategic incompetence’.

  • John Marriott 28th Jun '20 - 5:29pm

    I’m afraid that Chris Whiting’s decision to leave the Lib Dems rather sums up why it is so difficult for a third party to break through here. I joined the old Liberal Party in 1979 because I naively believed that I was going to change the world, or at least the ‘world’ within these shores.

    I realised pretty early (After the ‘83 and ‘87 GE’s in fact) that the world not even within these shores wasn’t going to change because people like me thought it would. The reason was down mainly to FPTP and the fact that this was a conservative country with a small ‘c’. However, I did realise that the immediate world around me was capable of changing if we tried hard enough. Small, rather than big gains were possible at local level through an otherwise unfair voting system if you put the effort in, which Liberals and later Lib Dems did back in the 80’s and 90’s, even sometimes achieving knock on success at parliamentary level as well.

    I just don’t think people of our persuasion really appreciate just how hard it is to break up a system designed basically to offer a binary choice. Regardless of what happens to Johnson and his crew over the next four years, it looks as though Keir Starmer is doing what Kinnock managed to do in the 1980s and early 1990s, namely to drag the Labour Party back from its ultra leftwing dalliance. I don’t know what he stands for; but does that really matter? He’s not a Tory; but, hey, his name begins with a ‘Sir’ and he’s clearly named after the first acknowledged leader of the parliamentary Labour Party, so that should appeal to a wide spectrum of voters. You could actually imagine him about to enter No 10, which is more than could be said about JC. As for the rest, despite what they tell us, that doesn’t really matter. Whether we like it or not, General Elections these days are basically Presidential.

    So, why bother to try to break mould, when some of us have been trying for well over forty years? The ‘mould’ we have got to break to stand any change of getting progressive ideas into the mainstream of politics, and that means at national level, is to campaign to CHANGE THE VOTING SYSTEM – and please don’t get bogged down arguing which form of proportional representation is best. Any system, even non proportional AV, is better than what we have got now.

  • Paul Barker 28th Jun '20 - 6:08pm

    Breaking through under FPTP is enormously difficult & we should not assume that Labour cant win a “Majority” in 2024 or that they will automatically turn to us if they dont. Even if Labour offers us real Electoral Reform that doesnt mean that their Backbenchers or The Lords wont block it.
    If all that sounds a bit gloomy I actually feel we are closer to getting on the Right Track now than we have been since 1981. I should also point out that our average Polling has gone up 1% over the last Month or so, from 7% to 8%. Lets see how we do when Local Byelections finally restart.

  • John Marriott – I agree the UK would be much better off if we had PR but NOT that we should spend any time campaigning to change the voting system, at least not now.

    That’s because while ‘changing the voting system’ solves a very obvious problem for the Lib Dems and other minor parties, it does NOT solve any problem for voters – at least, not as they see it and will continue to see it for now. Do Lib Dems work for voters or their own political careers?

    There is, however, an unprecedented opportunity coming down the track. Boris Johnson and his second-rate crew of Brexit ideologues have already made an unbelievable mess of handling the coronavirus. I sometimes check comments on the Daily Mail to get a sense of what that segment is thinking, and they are VERY unhappy.

    Now fast-forward a few months and imagine what they will be thinking once the reality of Brexit is exposed. Unhappiness squared at the least, and possibly a much higher power.

    No wonder BoJo is touting his plans for a building spree and never mind the cost. But that’s likely already worrying traditionally cost-conscious Tory voters. And what about our exports? How are those supposed to work when we have walked away from (a) the nearly half that go to the EU, (b) the additional percentage that goes elsewhere but depends on firms only here because we are in the EU, (c) the rest that fails because new customs etc. is as badly planned as coronavirus testing?

    Don’t believe me? Look at what the Leave Alliance was saying about ‘No Deal’ way back in March 2017.
    http://leavehq.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=128

    It will be piece of cake for any vaguely competent political party to win over disillusioned, angry, ex-Conservative voters with a reasonable and soundly-based economic plan based on remaking the economy to be more efficient (long overdue), more dynamic, and fairer.

    Then, having won a very substantial block of seats, that will be the time to demand PR – making what will then be an obvious point – that the mad, mad Tories must never be allowed into power again.

  • Luke Burrows 28th Jun '20 - 8:04pm

    I agree with your point about standing for Liberal principles, and even defending past decisions made by the party. It’s cringe worthy to watch Lib Dem MP’s flip flop when asked to defend Lib Dem policies during the coalition.

    I hope that Ed becomes the next leader of the Lib Dem’s and makes a point of pointing out all the great achievements that were made in these years. I fear that if Layla becomes leader, the direction would be to forsake these years and remodel the party, which looks appealing at first, but I think would cause internal tensions and wider confusion with voters.

  • Luke Burrows 28th Jun '20 - 8:10pm

    Plus, could you point out some examples of the “strategic incompetence” that you reference? I would be interested to hear some.

    I think the report recently released on why the LD’s did so badly in the last election is brutally honest and needed. I truly hope that the points of this are taken to heart by the new leadership.

  • John Marriott 28th Jun '20 - 8:21pm

    @Gordon
    I disagree with nothing you have written. However, what you are advocating was the leitmotiv of the Liberal, SDP, Alliance and Lib Dem campaigns from the 1970‘s onwards. What changed everything was when the survivor of these groups could no longer claim to be different from the parties that had governed the UK since 1945. I mean, of course, when the Coalition was formed in 2010. It’s hard to claim you are different when you have actually tasted power at last and have had to make unpopular decisions.

    When I started out as an activist some forty years ago, those of us, who were convinced that we had right on our side, really thought that, if we shook the tree hard and long enough, the fruit would simply fall into our laps. We shook and shook. The tree wobbled (under Major before 1997 and Brown before 2010) but not enough fruit fell to make a real difference. Why should it be any different now? No, without a change in the voting system, it really is a case of needing only two to tango. Three is just one too many, as, in one way, 2010 to 2015 proved in a slightly different way.

  • Peter Chambers 28th Jun '20 - 8:29pm

    > It seems to me that the party has a greatly embedded culture of strategic incompetence

    Is this something like, “Oh, you know, we’re really rather good at policy here. It’s the delivery that’s the problem.”

    Who remembers ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ now? Or is it forbidden to mention that era ?

  • “I hope that Ed becomes the next leader of the Lib Dem’s and makes a point of pointing out all the great achievements that were made in these years.”

    So basically you want another former Coalition minister as leader in order to prove a point? Sorry but no, whatever good or otherwise has come out of the Coalition, it’s an unwelcome distraction from promoting our party’s future agenda. Having a leader unconnected with it would mean there’s no need for the leader to defend the party’s record in Coalition, and the party can instead get on with promoting its policies for the future rather than constantly hark back to the past.

  • Luke Burrows says to the OP:
    “Could you point out some examples of the “strategic incompetence” that you reference? I would be interested to hear some.”
    and then says:
    “I think the report recently released on why the LD’s did so badly in the last election is brutally honest and needed. I truly hope that the points of this are taken to heart by the new leadership.”
    Luke, the examples you seek are laid out in the very report you commend!

  • Ok. Just back from Mississippi after 4 months enforced but very enjoyable ‘lock down’. Witnessed the very uplifting campaign to remove the Confederate ‘stars n bars’ from the MS State flag. People are much more honest about racism in MS – here it’s more insidious – and worse. But one thing stands out. If you want to see real racism in action go to the wealthy ‘liberal’ northern US cities. This is where the real social apartheid occurs.
    Have also given up on Lib Dems (but in my case member-supporter since 1970. Still believe in the principles but these days it’s just….amateur and ineffectual.

    Face it we have governmental corruption (so many examples), destruction of the ‘unwritten’ constitution, racist leadership (look into Cummings family history and link with torture of Kenyan black people), cover ups (latest replacement is an innocuous replacement for the Security Adviser; Russian paper? What security threat?) crucial appointments to the incompetent (see latest Grayling news) and criminally negligent handling of Covid (more corruption, and note SERCO still getting the big contracts). 30 news Peerages, many purchased by Party donation?
    Tiny improvement in UK Press but nowhere near as good as US.
    We’re in a mess
    But note Mississippi – once you realise and admit the problems you start to get the answers. Liberal Democrats these days are ‘nice’ people, do we ever get out of our comfort zone? Mississippians were out there in multiracial crowds risking lunatics with AR-15s and prevailing. But they also did it via influence and some superb meaningful, leadership worthy rhetoric which unified rather than divided. Have we anyone like that?

    Either you start to stand up and be counted or you’ll fail.
    Lib Dems like so many liberal movements faced with far right government just don’t take on the seriousness of the situation. Just too comfortable.

  • Doug Chisholm 29th Jun '20 - 9:02am

    We will never replace the Kabour party or any other party. That should not be our aim. In this Ge of intolerance we should be a voice of reason, moderation and reform.

    But we need to win the arguments before we can win an election. We came close on the Brexit issue but failed but I am glad we stood our ground while the Labour party facilitated Brexit.

  • Russell Simpson 29th Jun '20 - 9:36am

    @Paul Barker
    “the important factors were out of our hands”. I beg to disagree. Changing party policy at the last minute to revoke, helping to make the general election probable, the election campaign itself were all factors in our hands.

  • I’m not sure replacing Labour should be our objective; this would perpetuate the tribal two party system. We should be aiming to gain power within a multi-Party coalition underpinned by electoral and constitutional reform. This is our best chance of regaining our place on the world stage and tackling climate change and other issues.

  • For the next Decade or two Labour are likely to be the Leading Party with The Tories trailing badly. Starmer is already more popular than Blair was at the same point in his Leadership.
    If we are aiming to drive one of the “Big Two” Parties into third place then it has to be The Tories we should be aiming at. That fits withe facts on the ground, in the vast majority of Contests where we are in 2nd Place its The Tories we have to beat.

  • John Marriott 29th Jun '20 - 12:53pm

    @Peter Hirst
    I agree with your analysis. But how do you achieve this without a change in the voting system? Too many people are still wedded to a binary choice.
    @Paul Barker
    Besides being a singular noun, I just fail to see what (the) Labour (Party) really standS for any more. Is it just that there has to be an alternative to the Tories? What it tends to boil down to is which party has the best candidate for Prime Minister. Policies? Who really cares about them any more? Surely it’s the cult of personality that’s the problem.

  • Roger Billins 29th Jun '20 - 12:58pm

    I very much agree with the thrust of the article although I shall not be leaving the party that I joined in 1975. We have wasted opportunities before but the handling of affairs subsequent to the Euro elections was a disgrace.

    We built up the modern party upon the basis of a coalition of the ignored and middle class liberals. By the former, I mean non unionised workers in areas such as the South West. By championing these people, we were able to win huge swathes of seats in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. We now have no seats west of Bath. The challenge is to build policies and campaigns which win them back

  • @Paul Barker
    If you are correct (and its a big if) and we need to replace the Tories as the second party, rather than Labour, that means that we need to move to the right, in order to attract former Tory voters.
    Forgive me, but nothing I have read recently on LDV, including contributions from your good self, suggests an appetite for such a move in our party.

  • Alex Macfie 29th Jun '20 - 2:11pm

    Russell Simpson: The election was going to happen anyway, as it was supported by the SNP.
    We could certainly have done better in the campaign. Jo didn’t handle hostile questions very well, and our campaigns team allowed her to be stitched up in the media. We also went up blind alleys about fringe issues, notably trans rights.

  • Robert (Bristol) 29th Jun '20 - 2:53pm

    I joined in 1972 and I won’t be leaving either. I have won elections and lost them but never doubted that I am in the right party for me. As we survey the political wreckage around us created by, amongst others, the ‘knackered show pony’ that is Boris Johnson, we do, if we pick the right leader, have a chance to come roaring back.

  • John Marriott – You ask, “Why should it be any different now?”

    Because, simply, we are in unprecedented times; never before have the Conservatives so taken leave of their senses.

    In a few short months they have already managed to dig a big hole for themselves with their botched handling of the coronavirus. The economic disaster after the end of the Brexit transition will push them into it.

    Already a former Conservative leadership contender (Heseltine) has advocated for voting LD and several MPs have defected. Wow! Come the early months of next year that could easily become a flood of new voters if we position ourselves rightly. Many will not want to vote Labour under any circumstances but enough might go LD to make a big difference.

    But we will have to get our strategy right to win their votes. By ‘strategy’ I mean the carefully judged directing of scarce resources to achieve the maximum impact which, in this context, has two principle ‘dimensions’ – campaigning and policy.

    As Thornhill reported, and as many experienced on the ground, the LDs got the campaign dimension about as wrong as its possible to imagine.

    I’m convinced that LDs are getting the policy dimension of strategy equally wrong. Regrettably, it tends to reduce very fast to a debate about whether we should tack to left or right. I say forget that and ask only what is right for the country – that would have echoes of Labour, of Tory and of neither and would have its own powerful electoral logic especially after 1st January 2021 when the Tories will be shown up as even more incompetent than Labour when it comes to running the economy.

    So, the policy dimension of strategy must have at its heart new thinking about the economy – but in the widest sense (NOT the macroeconomics some love to debate). For example, a big issue within that is how education and training can be improved AND made more cost-effective (there won’t be money to throw at issues). That’s something people will relate to directly; a good policy would be a super-easy sell. Other aspects of ‘economic’ policy could have equal kerb appeal.

    The practical difficulty is that, as I’ve argued before, the way the party does policy is deeply dysfunctional so it never hits the spot. Hopefully, the new leader will ‘get’ that and make changes.

  • Russell Simpson 29th Jun '20 - 5:05pm

    @Alex Macfie
    “The election was going to happen anyway, as it was supported by the SNP”.
    Probably. But,
    1. I think a General Election was a bad idea. Opposition parties had Johnson where they wanted him.
    2. Because the GE had libdem fingerprints over it opposition parties had something else to beat us up with.

  • It is the over-emphasis on the core votes strategy that has got us where we are. Our party has spent too much of recent elections talking about things of interest to Liberal Democrat members and not talking about things that interest ordinary voters. We had some good policies in December but forgot to tell the public about them. it is a big mistake to say that our local voting blocs have no national coherence – the problem is the party has forgotten the principles that made them coherent. Those of us in local government know we are here to empower the disempowered, to enable ordinary people to have a voice and to deliver public services that respond to individuals not vested interests.

  • None of the above will matter until we are seen more in national electronic media.Johnson Starmer and Sturgeon have apparently been on 6pm and 10pm news over 100 times wheras Davey only 3 times

  • John Marriott 30th Jun '20 - 9:43am

    Trevor Wilson argues in his book on the fall of the Liberal Party between 1914 and 1934 that the GE of 1929 was the last occasion when the old party fought a well funded and organised and, above all, united campaign on a well researched and radical programme based largely on tackling the chronic unemployment of the interwar years. Despite an increase in support compared with the GE of 1924, the overall result in terms of seats was disappointing to say the least. One of the reasons Wilson cited was the Liberal Party’s allowing Labour to form its first (minority) government back in 1924. By 1929 the question posed to the Liberals was already “Which of the other parties would you support?” on the assumption that no party would win outright and that they would likely end up being the kingmakers. Does that sound familiar?

    As I have said many times, voters here are just not accustomed to having peacetime coalitions, at least as far as the UK government is concerned. How often did we hear after the ‘Love in’ in the Downing Street Rose Garden; “We never voted for this”? Apparently voters can put up with coalitions in local government, because, cynically speaking, they don’t really count, do they? They might even put up with them in times of crisis (1931 to 1935, 1940 to 1945 and 2010 to 2015); but, when it comes to running the country, you need strong single party government and, probably even more importantly, a strong person at the head of it.

  • richard underhill 30th Jun '20 - 10:37am

    The Representation of the People Act 1928 abolished the anomaly that restricted women under the age of 30 from voting and was known as the Flapper election because all three parties competed for their votes.

  • richard underhill 30th Jun '20 - 10:44am

    John Marriott
    “when it comes to running the country, you need strong single party government and, probably even more importantly, a strong person at the head of it.”
    What about the post war Conservative government which followed the 1950 general election?

  • richard underhill 30th Jun '20 - 10:50am

    tim rogers 29th Jun ’20 – 6:25pm
    This is a good reason for holding our leadership election earlier than this.
    Food for thought for the next enquiry?

  • John Marriott 30th Jun '20 - 12:28pm

    @Richard Underhill
    That’s not ME talking, Richard. Don’t you understand irony? I’m afraid that, for many people, it’s a sine qua non. What about Lord Liverpool or Clem Attlee? Hardly human dynamos; but they knew how to make the most of the talents at their disposal. I can always remember the newsreel interview that went something like this : Interviewer: “Have you any comment to make about the situation, Mr Attlee?” Prime Minister: “No”. Indeed, a modest man, as Churchill famously opined; but NOT anyone, who needed to be modest about anything.

    As far as the final Churchill government is concerned, you ought to read the diaries that cover the period up to Suez of diplomat, Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh, PPS to Anthony Eden back then, to see what a shambles it really was. Churchill, like Mrs Thatcher, just never knew when to throw in the towel, unlike politicians like Attlee and Harold Wilson, to give two examples.

  • @ John Marriott When you get through Trevor Wilson, take a look at David Dutton. A good survey of all the conflicting opinions on the state of play :

    David Dutton, A History of the Liberal Party since 1900, Second Edition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013 ISBN 978-0-230-36189-8 paperback.

    No charge for the tutorial !!

  • Peter Watson 30th Jun '20 - 4:46pm

    “Fortunately, in some respects, the voters have chosen for us. … the party is especially attractive in middle-class towns and affluent suburbs”
    This seems like a good opportunity to point to a recent publication from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/low-income-voters-2019-general-election-and-future-british-politics) discusses “Low-income voters, the 2019 General Election and the future of British politics”.

    Figure 1 in this report shows “Median constituency wage and party support, 2010–2019 (England and Wales)”, and the polarisation between support for Lib Dems in low and high income areas is very striking, both in terms of its magnitude and its growth. Support (vote share) for Lib Dems in high income areas seems to have recovered and exceeded its 2010 level while in low income areas support has dropped in each of the last three elections.

    But I would not agree that this is because “the voters have chosen for us”: much of the party’s rhetoric during and since the EU referendum in 2016 sounded like it was designed to alienate voters who did not go to university (perhaps based upon a strategy to target a “core vote” of university-educated Remainers). And I would certainly not agree that this is “fortunate”.

  • Peter Watson 30th Jun '20 - 5:15pm

    @John Marriott “Is it just that there has to be an alternative to the Tories?”
    It always seemed to me that Labour and Conservatives were happy to present themselves, almost symbiotically, as opposition to each other and the Lib Dems were (almost parasitically!) an alternative to either/both.
    Since 2010 though, it has felt like the Lib Dems have deliberately positioned themselves as an alternative to the Tories but an opposition to Labour. This apparent lack of equidistance certainly hasn’t benefited the Lib Dems, but the Conservatives and the SNP seem to have done pretty well.

  • John Marriott 30th Jun '20 - 10:30pm

    Back in the 1920s Lloyd George tried to wish a plague on both houses. His desire to prove that there WAS an alternative to conservatism and socialism fell on the altar of FPTP. It says much about the so called ‘working class’ that it appears to be prepared simply to swop the red for the blue. If I were a Labour supporter I would be worried. In fact, I really wonder what Labour is for any more, except perhaps as a slightly less blue alternative to the Tories.

  • Peter Martin 1st Jul '20 - 9:28am

    @ John Marriott,

    “I really wonder what Labour is for any more, except perhaps as a slightly less blue alternative to the Tories.”

    I share your concern. The expulsion, based on a trumped up charge with no right of a defence, of Rebecca Long-Bailey was a clear signal that Labour is not for Socialism any longer. At least not according to our Great Leader. So there’s now not that much difference between the Lib Dems and Labour. Which is why there never any criticism of him on LDV.

    Both represent the Pro EU wing of Establishment, ie Ruling Class, thinking. That’s what we “is for” at the moment!

  • Peter Martin 1st Jul '20 - 9:54am

    @ John Marriott,

    We can thank our lucky stars that Lloyd George did fail in his ambitions on the 1920s. We would certainly have lost in 1940 if he’d been an influential part of any Govt. This is DLG getting it all wrong in 1936:

    “….. but they (Nazi Germany) have no longer the desire themselves to invade any other land. The leaders of modern Germany know too well that Europe is too formidable a proposition to be overrun and trampled down by any single nation, however powerful may be its armaments. They have learned that lesson in the war. Hitler fought in the ranks throughout the war, and knows from personal experience what war means. He also knows too well that the odds are even heavier today against an aggressor than they were at that time………..The establishment of a German hegemony in Europe which was the aim and dream of the old pre-war militarism, is not even on the horizon of Nazism.”

    He was quite well aware of Nazi antisemitism:

    “….thus the anti-Jewish sentiment is being once more stirred up just as it was fading into turpitude. The German temperament takes no more delight in persecution than does the Briton, and the native good humor of the German people soon relapses into tolerance after a display of ill-temper. Every well-wisher of Germany— and I count myself among them— earnestly pray that Goebbels’s ranting speeches will not provoke another anti-Jewish manifestation. ”

    Of course it wasn’t just Goebbels! Big mistake to think that!

    https://www.nationalists.org/library/hitler/daily-express/lloyd-george-hitler.html

  • John Marriott 1st Jul '20 - 10:24am

    @David Raw
    The Dutton book is on its way, courtesy of Mr Amazon. You know, David, if I had read these books thirty years ago, I might not have thrown in my lot with the Liberals and just taken the easy way out. Who knows? I might have made it to those green benches instead of just getting stuck in the Council Chamber. And then, would I have been any more satisfied? Nah! You are what you are, after all. I just like being different, so that’s why I became a ‘Liberal’, although despite all the attempts at defining what that means, I’m still not really sure. Perhaps the Bobby Kennedy definition is the best one. I’m sure you know the one I mean.

  • @Peter Watson.
    Regarding our positioning vis a vis the two main parties, Tony Blair claimed to have discovered a Third Way, but I could never see it. In essence and certainly in the eyes of the public, there is a choice between small government, low tax, individualism, choice (the supposed Tory way) and big government, high tax, collective solutions etc, etc. These are really binary choices and we have to decide where we stand. These are invariably horribly difficult choices to make, for example, how should a liberal feel about education vouchers ?
    And I think this choice gets close to the heart of our longstanding problem. We can dodge the issue and present a manifesto that is a hybrid of the other two parties, or we can put our money down and move towards the Tories or Labour. And whichever we do half our members will probably go into a strop and resign. Twas ever thus.

  • Christopher Curtis 1st Jul '20 - 11:30am

    I enjoyed the article and comments, and they made me thnk. Thanks all.

    I share the dilemma that several have mentioned. I am in the right party in terms of values and the broad sweep of our aspirations, but I struggle to see how that will ever translate into real change in our country, except, just possibly, locally. The problem is, that I have seen, more clearly than ever, over the last five years or so that we live in a corrupted and rotten system that is being ruthlessly exploited for personal and factional gain. I don’t want to be flippant, but getting potholes fixed while everyone loses rights and opportunities and almost everyone’s life becomes more rubbish by the month seems like the wrong priorities.
    I am hanging in there with my membership, and with many other things, but I am struggling to see either leadership candidate as the beginning of a bright new future, I don’t hear anything like enough discussion of the urgent, practical changes we need to make in our party and how we work and I am still not sure (after several years of membership) what being a member means or should mean.

  • @ John Marriott Yeah, me too, John. Family and career came first. A bit more single track and stuck it for five more years might have had a couple of years on the green benches…. and the fun of depriving Hague of his immediate ambitions.

    Just like you, regrets ? Nah, though it would have been a nice short memory. Enjoyed being a Councillor, the joy of my family, surviving a narrow squeak with a transplant, seeing my team beat Man. Utd., and a very late flirtation with Academia at St Andrews. Life is fun, even in lock down.

    Here’s an article you might find interesting to cut and paste and look up by the great Steve Richards.

    Steve Richards: In the long shadow of the SDP | The …www.independent.co.uk › … › Steve Richards
    24 Feb 2011 – The other day I had an email from the candidate who fought the Richmond by-election in 1989 for the “continuing SDP”.

  • Innocent Bystander 1st Jul '20 - 12:59pm

    My own contribution, is that I joined the party for two years when I foresaw spending the rest of my time on earth under a Tory govt. I now realise this is a fact of life. I thought, naively, that the centre ground was wide open and that surely the LibDems would exploit this historical opportunity.
    But no. It dawned on me that the party is not ‘centrist’ by my definition. That is promoting single policies that unite, after careful thought. It is centrist in that it operates, simultaneously, at both ends of the spectrum under the notion that they cancel out like positive and negative charge.
    Social and Economic wings both claim to be liberal, the party voted for a referendum and then evolved the “Bollocks to those who voted Brexit”, a second referendum is the only democratic option but we won’t hold one, the House of Lords needs reform but we stuff it with LibDems with no embarrassment, an article here which simultaneously condoned and condemned the toppling of a statue ( a stance which was described as ” nuanced”) etc. etc
    There is endless debate here about creating an election winning offering but I see no way that could emerge. It could only be a mish mash of unrelated bits, devoid of central theme or banner, that appeases all in the party with their contradictory definitions of ‘liberalism’. We voters don’t want ‘values’ or ‘preamble’ we want a plan.

  • John Marriott 1st Jul '20 - 2:31pm

    @David Raw
    The 1989 By-election in Richmond, Yorks, to find a successor to the EEC bound Leon Brittain, is, in my opinion, one of the great “What ifs?” of politics. What if David Owen’s candidate, Mike Potter had not stood? Would the SLD’s candidate, Barbara Pearce, have beaten the young William Hague, as only a few thousand votes split the first three candidates? Better still, given his lical connection, “What if Ms Pearce had stood aside for Mr Potter?”.

    Another great “What if” might have been “What if Jeremy Thorpe had accepted Ted Heath’s offer in February 1974?”. Or “What if those late postal votes had been counted in the Clegg/Huhne leadership election?” In the case of the last two, knowing what we know now, it’s probably just as well that things turned out the way they did!

    Stay safe!

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