All I want for Christmas is my Party back

I’ve now had a chance to catch up on sleep and am able to think rationally about the election and what has happened to us as a party.

Go back to election day itself and, having spent 8 hours knocking on doors in Cheltenham in the cold and rain, I got home, had a hot bath and sat down to watch the BBC exit poll before going to my local count in Cirencester.

I can honestly say I loathe exit polls – I’ve only ever been pleased with two in my whole life (1997 and 2005) but the rest have left me disappointed and often in shock. This year’s was no different – my heart was pounding as the clock struck 10 and the screen revealed the awful truth. Worse than I ever imagined with the dreadful reality of Brexit being delivered by a right wing Tory government. My phone lit up with various expletives from colleagues and friends. The dream of a Lib Dem surge and the polls being wrong was over in a flash. The loss of Jo Swinson was brutal and tragic.

So what now? Well, I want my party back. I want us to focus on our well researched and effective domestic agenda. Brexit is going to happen and therefore it’s a question of what it looks like. Yes, we will need to robustly argue for a soft version and the protection of a vibrant economy of course. Plus holding Johnson to account on what will inevitably be a stack of broken promises.

But, we have to get away from being seen as a one issue lobbying party. The doorstep conversations were all about Brexit and virtually nothing else. We need to give people other reasons to vote for us – mending the broken political and electoral system, firing up our environmental and climate emergency agenda and rallying around our excellent messages on mental health.

Not only that but pressing our pitch on education, housing and the wider health service. In other words, lets get back to the things people can associate positively with the Liberal Democrats. Give them several good reasons to vote for us as a sane voice in an increasingly unbelievable political world.

My best Christmas present this year will be to get us away from Brexit obsession and reconnect with the extra millions we need to get our Commons numbers back to where they have been.

Would you like Santa to bring you the same?

* Cllr Paul Hodgkinson has been a Liberal Democrat member for 25 years and is the Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Gloucestershire County Council.

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  • For the moment, let’s focus on our performance at local and regional level. That was how Charles Kennedy grew our parliamentary strength. Delivering locally leads on to winning seats at Westminster.
    Nick Clegg pushed through the fixed term parliament which means we have plenty of time to develop our next GE manifesto.

  • Brexit is still going to be controversial, perhaps more so. I’m looking forward to that extra £350m/week for the NHS, personally… Let’s hold Boris Johnson to his promises.

  • nigel hunter 16th Dec '19 - 12:39pm

    Lets get rid . of bar charts on our leaflets and REPLACE THE SPACE WITH POLICIES. people need to know what we stand for and offer. To get people interested in us

  • I liked the 1992 exit poll. Unfortunately it turned out to wrong. The phenomenal accuracy of the exit polls these days is a testament to the power of objective analysis. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats would be advised to apply the same objective analysis to the election campaign, rather than (as I suspect) coming up with a narrative and looking for evidence to support it.

  • I urge the party to step back for a moment until the events of the last week sink in. It is very important to be open minded, objective and logical as well as loyal to party principles. I admit to being a leave supporter but I also want to see a strong opposition party and I can’t see Labour providing that.
    I hope the party accepts that Brexit will now proceed and will not pursue a policy of obstruction. That would not be in the national interest. It would not be in the interests of the party either, since it would really upset the majority of the electorate which has just voted overwhelmingly to get on with it. I would love to see the party being constructive and helpful but I fear that is not going to happen.
    At some stage the party may wish to campaign to re-join the EU. Good luck with that. Selling the benefits of a federal European state, joining the Eurozone and giving up more control than the first time around would be challenging. Much would also depend on the relative fortunes of the UK and the EU as we go forward. It could be an expensive and retrograde step for the party as well as the country.

  • John Paterson 16th Dec '19 - 1:05pm

    Peter, when you say that you hope the party “will not pursue a policy of obstruction” exactly what do you mean? Obviously we do have to accept that the Tories have a large majority and can get their Brexit Bill enacted. But that still leaves a huge range of things which I will object to – and I suspect I will not be alone. First our economy would greatly benefit from a Brexit which included remaining in the Single Market and the Customs Union. Second, the ridiculously tight timetable of ending the transition period by 31 December 2020, means that, effectively, a “No Deal” Brexit remains on the table.

    I hope that the party will do all it can to “obstruct” these things from coming to pass. Just because we have lost one battle, does not mean we should roll over and accept anything that the hard right of the Tory party wants. If we do accept the worst aspects of Brexit without a whimper of protest, then I’m afraid the party will be losing me as a member.

  • Peter wrote – I hope the party accepts that Brexit will now proceed and will not pursue a policy of obstruction. That would not be in the national interest. It would not be in the interests of the party either, since it would really upset the majority of the electorate which has just voted overwhelmingly to get on with it.

    It is not the case that “the majority” voted to “get on with it” in fact a majority voted for parties promising a 2nd confirmatory referendum including ourselves.

    Lib Dem MPs should continue to vote for a confirmatory referendum until it is to late.

    We were told that leaving would cause economic harm. If it does then we need to be pointing this out as the harm materialises. It will ultimately then be a political decision based upon what people are saying whether we move earlier or later to campaign to rejoin.

    Terry is right – We need to monitor the Governments progress in meeting its lavish promises including 350m a week for the NHS

  • Christopher Curtis 16th Dec '19 - 1:09pm

    It’s no use pretending that Brexit didn’t/doesn’t matter. It’s not just the thing itself: it’s a huge trojan horse to launch a revolution and like many revolutions, it has not grown from discontent at the grass-roots level (though it has fed on that), but been bought and paid for by those in whose interests it works. The party wasn’t stolen from its role and purpose by Brexit: fighting Brexit and all it stands for and the people who are using it to abuse us is absolutely what the party should have been about and will continue to be about.
    When this government’s policies intensify the problems they have been causing for the last ten years, the last thing the electorate needs is us pretending that we are basically happy with things and have some interesting domestic policies to discuss with them.
    We fought Brexit because it is a fundamental attack on LibDem values and hopes and we have nothing to offer if we abandon those values and hopes.

  • Ethicsgradient 16th Dec '19 - 1:30pm

    I agree with the article.

    My advice as an outsider is for the Lib Dem to copy what new labour did 1994-1997 but in terms of today.
    1. Accept Brexit will happen. Don’t try to play games with it, scrutinize and hold Johnston to account over brexit. Help to shape a good trade deal which is free from the single market, customs union and ECJ. It should be about alignment & equivalence but the UK must be able to make its own trade deals with other countries.

    2. Focus on 5 good ideas for domestic policies on wealth creation (highstreet renewal, support for new business setups), health, education and security. Drop the anti-trident policy (it is broadly supported through the country). A good environmental policy to de-carbonise but it must be sensible. So focus on pushing electric cars (I’d love a tesla 3!) and the infrastructure to support (which is happening), renewable energy sources (linked to development of new industries) but also support for a energy grid backbone of a new set of nuclear power station (like france 80% nuclear power).

    Boil it all down to 5 clear pledges (no ed milliband nonsense airy-fairy words) onto a card or a digital meme and you’ll be in business.

    especially if Labour elect a corbyn clone (as seems likely), there will be space for a moderate centreist party.

  • I should have phrased my comment differently. Of course it is the duty of the opposition parties to scrutinise government business and that includes the way Brexit is conducted and the nature of agreements being struck.

    The point about a majority voting for another referendum is a false one. Apart from anything else, this party policy was to revoke A50. As you well know our democratic process empowers parties to implement their manifestos which can include a whole range of policies which may or may not be supported by a majority of the electorate. It is not valid to add up votes for different parties then interpret them as support for a policy of your choosing.

    However, such a democratic instrument does exist within our constitution. It is called a referendum and this party more than any other has trashed its value by deciding to ignore its results and then reject them. The leader then stated that if another referendum produced a similar result she would ignore that too.

    What I meant by obstruction is wonderfully illustrated by the destructive tactic of imposing an unwanted referendum on the electorate despite the clear message delivered by it only days ago. Thankfully, there is very little chance of another referendum.

  • Ethicsgradient 16th Dec '19 - 1:54pm

    Also include electoral reform in the manifesto but not on a pledge card/front-centre as people jut won’t respond to it even though the like it.

    My suggestion would be forget pushing proportional representation as like it or not the country likes FPTP because you can directly hold your local MP to account and get rid of them if they are rubbish. I would look to target House of Lords reform where most people think “why are they so called unelected lords having anything to do with deciding things”. And this is where PR could come in.

    My suggestion for a reformed 2nd chamber/house of Lords would be something like this: Its function is review and amend legislation, a 2nd set of eyes, keep this in mind. so we need experts from all areas of life in the UK. My proposal:
    1. reduction of members to 600
    2. 50% of members selected by proportional representation of the national share of the vote in the general election using a list system. This would allow good experienced old HoC Mp’s to use their experience.
    3. Critically all members can only serve 2 five year terms and then must retire leave.
    4. 20% of member appointed experts in every field of life. science, business, environment, social, community leaders, media, arts… every facet of life.
    5. 20% appointed representatives from every region of the UK to give regional voices to issues and reduce the London centric nature of parliament. Quite possibly selected via local regional assemblies.
    6. 10% representation of what was the lawlords, or the supreme court. Interesting I would have it that they could give advice but could not vote. They by giving input into legislation formation but remain politically neutral.

    That’s my own basic outline of a mixed elected& appointed reviewing chamber. Proportional representation of the national vote has a legitimate place in the system and 2 term limit prevents nepotism and jobs-for-the boys. Finally all lords, dames and the rest can keep their titles and trinkets but cannot take part in the legislative process.

  • Yes this!

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Dec '19 - 2:28pm

    I’m intrigued that people continue to worry about Lib Dems being seen as a ‘single-issue’ party and to suggest that that is what hurt you/them in the election, given that the Most Mendacious Prime Minister in history just won the election by starting every answer to every question on any subject with “Get Brexit Done”. I’m sure he was conscious of the echoes of Cato, and had to be restrained from rephrasing it as “Europa delenda est.”

    But having said that, for future elections Brexit is dead as an issue. Yes, there will be consequences and consequential matters to be unravelled for years to come – but we will, sadly, be out; and anyone who thinks there is political mileage in waiting for it to go wrong so you can shout “See, we told you so!” is very poorly acquainted with human nature or history.

  • Paul Holmes 16th Dec '19 - 2:31pm

    Agree entirely with Paul Hodgkinson.

    I voted Remain in 1975 and I campaigned for and voted Remain in 2016, had there been a 3rd Referendum I would have voted Remain again. But facts are facts:

    Brexit is a few weeks away now and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to stop it. Yes the trade negotiations et al will rumble on but no there is not going to be a collapse of civilisation as we know it; economic problems and the shift of some manufacturers to within the EU single market will happen gradually; there will be no ‘Road to Damascus’ conversion in which the electorate suddenly clamour to rejoin the EU on worse terms than those we left on.

    We have been a single issue pressure group for the last 3 years or more and we desperately need to get back to being a Political Party seeking to actually get people elected. Or we will copying Corbyn and Co when they say “We won the argument and just need to do more of the same until the voters agree.”

    (*Cllr Paul Holmes is a Focus deliverer in Chesterfield, leads 17 LD Cllrs and used to be an MP.)

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Dec '19 - 2:39pm

    I think we should stay out of arguing about what happens with Brexit.

    Just make clear, we don’t think it will give most people what they thought it would, and in fact what the right-wing Conservatives planned for it is the opposite of what most who voted for it thought it was about.

    They’ve won, if people don’t like what it leads to, well, tough, you shouldn’t have voted Conservative to get it.

  • Tony Greaves 16th Dec '19 - 3:53pm

    There is nothing wrong with bar charts so long as they are (1) truthful (2) accurately and honestly presented and (3) relevant to the local circumstances – and there is plenty of space on an A3 Focus leaflet for a little bar chart tucked away in the top left corner. But what we have to get back to is being an active, campaigning Liberal party. And at present the most important word is “campaigning” (the party has forgotten how to campaign and focussed on just fighting elections and they are different things). Apart from the even more important word – “Liberal”.

  • If the party decides to continue trying to stop Brexit at every opportunity then that is its right. I do not think that the policy would be popular with anyone other than diehard Remainers. I think it would also detract from the job of creating a direction and policies for the future.

    A parallel though dissimilar debate is taking place in the Labour Party between those who want to remain with hard left policies and those who want to move on with a broader appeal to the centre..

    As a practical point, the Conservatives will continue with Brexit regardless. The voters have given them a massive majority which means that there is little the opposition can do to stop them.

    I feel that the party should try to nail this policy one way or the other but that is just my opinion.

  • Sean Hyland 16th Dec '19 - 4:17pm

    The party can still continue to challenge Brexit. Hold the government to account in parliament, question and challenge every statement/debate etc. Point out the mistakes,false assumptions, errors of judgement etc. Just do it alongside a campaigning approach that also concentrates on other issues that matter to people – jobs, housing,schools,hospitals,transport, welfare support etc.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Dec '19 - 4:38pm

    Peter: No need to join the eurozone. Have a referendum, as in Sweden.

  • If people here want the LibDems to be UKIP Lite and snuggle up to Brexit regardless of the destruction it’ll cause, so be it. I’ve been burnt now and I don’t feel welcome in this party. I joined and was an activist for the LibDems these last few years because I considered it the only party which would stand up for internationalist democracy and protecting EU 27 citizens. I feel used and discarded, judging from these comments. Just remember though, Remainers were the life support of the party these last few years. Without us, this isn’t a viable party.

  • One of the first things our next leader will be asked is whether we are going to campaign to rejoin the EU and the Euro. I hope there is an answer that will be effective. My own view is the decision has now been taken. Once in the referendum and twice in the general. We now have to accept it. Maybe if it all does go pear shaped we can revisit it But please not now.
    Part of me wishes we had just let the tories get on with it with a no deal. I think we would have fared much better.

  • nvelope2003 16th Dec '19 - 5:41pm

    During the GE campaign there were local government by elections, including on 12.12.19.It is noticeable that support for the Liberal Democrats was lower than it had been before, especially on election day when the results were dismal except in Topsham, Devon where the Greens, who got 18% before, did not stand and our candidate went from 6% to 21%. This could be because those who do not have much knowledge of Lib Dem policies were voting in the GE and also voted in the local by elections. It rather indicates that our policy on Brexit was not at all popular. I feel that once Brexit has happened the party will start to recover in the areas where we have been traditionally strong, but not before.

  • As an existing member, Sweden had an opt out, just like the UK. Members since then were obliged to join the EZ as soon as convergence was achieved. Now that has become a delaying tactic which irritates the EU. I believe all future prospective members will be told to converge first as a requirement of membership to the EU/ Eurozone.

    This means that the UK would be obliged to join the Eurozone at entry and Scotland, if independent, would have to reduce her large budget deficit before being accepted.

  • @André
    “Remainers were the life support of the party these last few years. Without us, this isn’t a viable party.”
    How do you work that one out Andre, in the 2019 election it has only returned the party 11 Mps.
    In 2010 when Liberal Democrats had a much broader appeal to students the working and poor classes, had swathes of representation in the south west of the country, it returned 57 mps.

    I suggest your analyst is not correct. Sure being the party of remain helped gain the party a lot of new members, but less not forget that over a 1/3 of Liberal Democrat supporters also supported leave.

    Brexit is going to happen now and it will be the kind of Brexit to Johnsons wishes due to the size of the majority he now has. It is now up to the party and other opposition parties to hold Johnson to account on the promises that he made and push for Environmental and worker protections and cooperation in sciences etc.

    The party now needs to adapt and evolve to the changing political landscape that is our country, it is a whole new demographics that will hold the balance of power in votes at the upcoming elections and unless parties are able to adapt and reach out to them I am afraid that they will make no inroads or advances into their political ambitions.

  • A gradual move of manufacturing to Europe will happen? Sorry in my industry it started about 18 months ago. Anyway the key is where the new investments go. And manufacturing investment figures tell us it’s not here.

  • Andre – If your home government has guaranteed the continued rights of UK citizens already in your home country then the UK government has agreed to do it reciprocally for you too. This applies even under the no deal scenario which looks increasing less likely now. I don’t know the full list of countries that have passed such laws but I believe it to be most of them. If yours is an exception then perhaps you should be bringing pressure to bear on your home government.

    Assuming the deal is passed though, existing EU27 citizens (and UK citizens abroad) have their rights grandfathered in.

    I’m a British citizen abroad and I’m really much less worried than you are because I attended the briefing given by the embassy and got informed about what was actually happening.

    There is one issue which is still (AFAIK) to be agreed and that is a mutual agreement to continue pension indexing (similar to the agreements we have with the USA and other countries). I suspect the EU will very readily agree to this (and incorporate it into its own treaties for the future) because developed countries generally agree this anyway, and introducing the possibility that one could move around the EU for work and then later find your pensions retrospectively changed to non-indexed ones after a country leaves would compromise freedom of movement even within the EU27 now.

  • Boris Johnson could ditch promise to protect workers’ rights and environmental protections after Brexit, No 10 suggests
    Downing Street refuses to confirm that pledges made to MPs in October will be included in amended Brexit legislation.
    Boris Johnson has fuelled fears that workers’ rights and environmental safeguards will be ditched after Brexit after the government watered down a promise to enshrine them in law.

    Downing Street suggested that the prime minister is no longer committed to pledges, made to MPs before the general election, to guarantee that standards will not be weakened when Britain leaves the EU.

    It would appear your hopes are destined to fail Matt. Who was to know Brexit would lead to a bonfire of rights. Well a few of us but far too few it seems.

  • @frankie
    Thats rather jumping the gun isnt it?

    I would be extremely surprised to see Johnson tear up workers rights or environmental standards.
    What a No10 “spokesman” has said is that all agreements and “pledges” made to mp’s in the previous parliament are now out, which to be honest does not surprise me, we are in a “NEW” parliamentary sessions and the previous pledges where in relation to the previous parliament in order to get the withdrawal agreement through, which did not end up happening, hence the reason we had another election.

    Because this is now a new parliament and Jonson has been returned with a majority which makes him no longer at the mercy of opposition benches it is of No surprise they are taking everything that was offered previously off the table.

    That being said, I would be extremely surprised if Johnson tears up workers rights or environmental protections, he is not going to want to start driving away any new found supporters so early in his premiership, but I guess we shall have to wait and see

  • Do you think that EU 27 citizens are really going to be safe and secure under the Tories? Really?

    Brexit was only ever white racists voting for “throw the foreigners out”. That’s all it ever was, pseudo-intellectualist excuses for it be damned.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Dec '19 - 9:18pm

    What I want to know, Paul, is, WHICH version of our party do you want back for Christmas? Is it the radical campaigning left-of-centre party Jo Grimond led? Or the Tory-lite compromisers in the Coalition government? Where was the radical campaigning spirit when our party didn’t embrace last May the searing indictment of the Tory government in the UN Rapporteur Philip Alston/s report on poverty and deprivation in our country? And where was the adherence to principle when our party allowed our till-then consistent three-year policy of a democratic follow-up referendum or People’s Vote to be set aside for the undemocratic Revoke policy by our September Conference? Where are the radical campaigning Liberal Democrats among our present leaders, whether elected MPs or Federal Board elected members? Show yourselves, friends, and give us the lead we need from you!

  • Katherine Pinder – this party is a centrist party its right wing is right of centre, its left wing is left of centre, it straddles the centre, this is one of its assets. Clearly youre on our left wing, fair enough, but its not time to pick a fight with our right wing, let Labour do the infighting, not us. Also, please tell me which part of winning a majority in an election on a revoke ticket is “undemocratic”, because I thought that if you won an election it was “democratic”.

  • Paul, you say, “the loss of Jo Swindon was brutal and tragic”. Those adjectives are far too strong and Paul. It’s called democracy.

    Yes, I feel sorry for her, but I must ask the questions…… didn’t anybody advise, anticipate and take steps to counter it ? It was a revoke own goal when the goal keeper was absent on a magical mystery tour. It could have been avoided with different tactics, better planning, and a bit more attention to what was going on back home when it was obvious the SNP were gunning for it. There are huge questions to be asked about the policies, national tactics and competence of the party going back for nine years now and they shouldn’t be dodged.

    If the party feels sorry for itself nothing will change. If, as is reported, a peerage is in the offing it will be a further denial of the democratic process and even more damage will be done.

  • A really good piece Paul. Thanks very much for sharing on Lib Dem Voice. You are right. The Lib Dems are more than Brexit – even though it will continue to dominate every policy area for the next decade+. To those in the comments saying we should build our numbers back up by concentrating on local government wins, I agree. Paul, as party leader on Gloucestershire county council is in the best position to know about this.

  • David Morton – opposition to Brexit was what brought the party back to life after the coalition. I for one would never have dreamt of voting for let alone joining the LibDems without the anti-Brexit campaigning and USP (I used to be a Labour member).

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Dec '19 - 9:41am

    @ JH. Though you ignore the spelling of my name, I’ll reply. I think our party may be tending to the right of centre – as for example with the attacks on Corbyn more than Johnson – which, yes, is IMO not good for us. The acceptance of the Revoke policy by Conference was alarming, because to revoke without giving the people a chance to reconsider, whatever the justification given, contradicted our democratic and until then consistently held position.

    I understood that the party leadership might want to give our new leader support in her unwise policy rather than restrain her, but I found unacceptable the conduct of the Conference debate. There should have been a different section of the debate on the motion, just to consider the clause that brought in Revoke in the way it was accepted (It was already in the motion as a last-resort option) because that was the only contentious part of the motion. The separate vote on it should have been preceded by a separate debate, which would have given members a better chance of full consideration before voting for or against it. There were others of us who wanted to speak who did not get a chance.

    I have protested about that to Federal Conference Committee. and hope my point, about which I recently told Andrew George who spoke against the new policy in the debate, will be considered. I lent a hand to Andrew’s election campaign last week and was sorry he had too many odds against him to succeed.

  • Katharine Pindar – I did not “ignore” the spelling of your name, I made an incorrect assumption on the way it is spelt and I apologise for that. As I said, we are a party of the centre and therefore we straddle the entire centre from center right to center left, I see this as one of our USPs and a good thing.

    Sadly I do not think you understand democracy properly – if the party had won a majority on a mandate to revoke article 50, the public would have had “a chance to reconsider” in the election and their decision would have been a DEMOCRATIC one (leaving aside any debate about FPTP). There would have been nothing undemocratic or alarming about it. What is undemocratic about democracy ?

  • Brian Ellis 17th Dec '19 - 9:40pm

    I joined the old Liberal Party back in 1971. we had 6 MPs at the time I lived in Finchley the National Front were walking the streets. I went to 3 meeting Tory M. Thatcher my local MP. I walked out of that one. Labour I cannot recall who the speaker was the Liberal was one Nancy Seear. She spoke about her parents, the escape from Nazi Germany and why she was a Liberal. My campaigning for the party started on that day. Lucinda Berger has shown similar attributes and from afar I have observed some of her campaigning initiatives, (the lounge meetings). Thank you Lucinda for your style.
    We should as Tony Greaves states above get back to campaigning hard locally all year round. People respect that, we must show them we are human and are alongside them in their communities. I left London for a Liberal desert, a team was built and seats were won, it was, is, and will always be hard graft. We should as a party not overlook the expertise and experience that some of us old time and now not quite so physically able
    members have to pass on. I have not always agreed with the direction the leadership have sought to take the party, but it is vital that we stand up for basic liberal principals at all times no other party will, but the key is to campaign and we should learn not to pillory those in our party with whom we might not always agree. Some of the treatment shown towards Tim Farron during his leadership fell far short of those liberal values of compassion, tolerance, and fairness. The party must not fall back into those habits during any review of the recent election. Jo Swinson took on a challenge, her performance in the House was first class, she had only a few months in post before she had to embark on a national campaign. Our national percentage vote has increased. We must make sure we build on that so that, Hope can be given to all who yearn for a different way of doing politics.

  • Thanks for your hard work Paul. I agree with what you say. Doing what is right is crucial when our communities are under existential threat. And not just locally; the climate change issues are affecting the whole planet. So much as I would want fairness to be the underlying principle in our political system (we need a representative democracy, not one where the winner takes all), the system won’t be changed overnight. The right thing to do now is to focus on doing what is right to address the biggest issue, that is the climate catastrophy. Your leadership on the County Council Libdem group is where the response will speak loudest. Action to address the impacts on our communities, on our environment, is what is needed. So, yes, politics is important but let’s focus on what we all do every day to address the biggest issue any of us will ever have to face and let’s make a difference on the ground, every decision, every action.

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