Another thank you email from Paddy

I got another nice email from Paddy Ashdown yesterday, which I thought I’d share with you despite its horrendous apostrophe fail. I was vaguely annoyed with this assertion, though:

 I believe that you, the campaigners, candidates and staff of our party could not have done more, or done it better than you did.

Our staff and on the ground campaigners are fabulous. They all worked with absolute commitment. But no campaign ever gets it all right. We do need to look at the effectiveness of what we did. You have to do this even if you win! Are your campaign methods getting a little tired? Blue letters, for example, may have had their day. I remember the wow factor that they had when we first used them but that was getting on for two decades ago. What’s the next Wow Factor?

I have a lot of time for Paddy and  I actually sent him a note thanking him earlier this week because I think he deserved it. When Nick appointed him as Chair of the General Election Committee in 2012, I was thrilled. He set about making sure that each of our held seats was as prepared as it possibly could be to fight the General Election. He set them targets and some of them complained noisily. However, he made sure that they had the capacity and the infrastructure to hold our vote up.

This is really important in the context of some of the results in Scotland. In vast swathes of the central belt, Labour had taken most of its seats completely for granted. This became embarrassingly clear during the Referendum. Because their vote had been weighed in those areas for years, they never bothered with anything like campaigning or actually talking to people. I was horrified that they simply weren’t able to even put on a rudimentary polling day operation in many of these areas. Fast forward to last Thursday and these seats went from solid Labour to whopping great majorities to the SNP with eye-watering swings. Making up that deficit is going to be quite a challenge. It’s kind of like putting on weight and losing it again. It’s easy to put on a stone, but you can’t lose it all at once.

Paddy made sure that all our key seats were doing the right things. Some didn’t need his interference because they were doing grand already. But some needed the imprint of his toe on their behinds. I was involved in the Dragons’ Den process for key seats and it was truly a delight to see the progress that many of them made.

In Scotland, we have had to endure the heartbreak of losing 10 out of our 11 seats. It was indescribably horrible. But even though we lost, we have a foundation to build on because we did what Paddy said.  Jo Swinson in East Dunbartonshire got more votes than she had in 2005 when she won the seat for the first time and 1500 more votes than she got five years ago. Both Mike Crockart’s in Edinburgh West and Christine Jardine’s in Gordon went up by similar totals, but it just wasn’t enough. We weren’t washed away, though, with massive deficits, like Labour were. Next time isn’t five years away, it’s 358 days away. Maintaining and improving on that vote next year should yield more MSPs.

That’s why I’m grateful to Paddy, and to Olly Grender. Here’s his email:

Dear Caron,

I wanted to write to you to say a last thank you for all you did so splendidly for our General Election campaign.

Despite our disappointing results, I believe that you, the campaigners, candidates and staff of our party could not have done more, or done it better than you did. You did the Liberal Democrats proud – and you made me proud – every moment of the campaign.

The result of course has caused all of us great pain. But there is neither shame nor dishonour to lose in a great cause. And ours was and remains one of the great political causes of our time: to enable and empower people and to preserve the values which are the bedrock not just of liberalism but also of a decent civilised country – tolerance, respect for others, fairness, compromise and the habit of putting aside our differences when the needs of our country require us to work together in a time of crisis. As Nick said, these are now even more needed as a result of what happened last Thursday – and, unless we take up the fight for them again, they will be even more in jeopardy.

Already, many in the Press have realised this, and belatedly have written in praise of the distinctive influence and achievements of Liberal Democrats in Government.

And already, we have had an exciting and wonderful influx of members – some ten thousand strong since polling day. I have been so inspired by them!

The Press and our opponents will soon learn not to ignore us if we start to win again. So, I hope you will first reach out to our new members in your area and bring them into our family. And then, under our new Leader whoever that is (and as I write we have two excellent candidates in the field), we can move on to get candidates in place quickly – first in those Parliamentary and Council seats where we are the challengers – and begin the campaign to win them back without delay.

Labour will now begin a long campaign of internal soul searching, accompanied by the usual blood-letting. And this Government will become unpopular faster than any in recent times. Theresa May has just announced that she is bringing in the Snooper’s Charter in its full undiluted form. There is our first campaign, right there!

So, although the Wheelhouse is now disbanded, its General Election work done, the campaign is NOT over. Actually, under whoever we elect as our new Leader, it’s just beginning (after a little rest of course).

Best wishes,



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • The party is over. Long live the Party! Party Leader Elections.Have written by normal post to HOC requesting ALL 8
    get nominated and endorsed and we have a ballot paper with 8 names for us to list in order.All our 8 MPs deserve us
    the chance to choose which of them is OUR one their constituencies stayed with them as a party we should do the same.

  • With the very greatest respect is it not time that Lord Ashdown gracefully left the scene. We need youth now, with a different vision, image and a good sense of humour. One thing we can immediately do is ensure that we present that youthful image,( we have the people), on discussion programes like Question Time.

  • As one of the ten thousand new members I am obviously full of the puppy-dog enthusiasm to get involved and to make a difference, but it is much more than that too. Last Thursday’s results (both nationally and locally) were so damaging not just to a party I deeply respect but the very ideas and principles of liberalism in British politics. As Paddy mentioned in his letter, how that we have an undiluted Tory government we will see just how serious that damage is. How ever long the process or how difficult the struggle I want to be a part of raising up the Liberal Democrats and bringing liberalism back to the heart of British politics.

  • Quite right, Caron. The campaign obviously didn’t work, and although the activists couldn’t be asked to do more, the way we do what we do, and even what we do, needs to be considered.

    And you’re right, the next election for the party in Scotland is less than a year away. Defeated Westminster candidates might consider stepping into that fray – figures like Charles Kennedy would bring a strong personal vote and the clear message that we take Holyrood absolutely seriously to the campaign. I also expect EVEL to make Westminster a distinctly second best option for delivering political change from Scotland. Best for the party to deploy its resources where they can make a difference.

  • Bryan Morton 15th May '15 - 11:20am

    “Theresa May has just announced that she is bringing in the Snooper’s Charter in its full undiluted form. There is our first campaign, right there!”
    Pleases me hugely to see this recognised.

  • Welcome Alex H

  • tony dawson 15th May '15 - 2:59pm

    ” He set about making sure that each of our held seats was as prepared as it possibly could be to fight the General Election. He set them targets and some of them complained noisily. However, he made sure that they had the capacity and the infrastructure to hold our vote up.

    Paddy made sure that all our key seats were doing the right things. ”

    I am not sure that Paddy really knew what the right things were, these days. And getting mechanistic matters into place when your political position is considered ‘pants by 90 per cent of people’ is not really going to help most candidates. It didn’t for most of our ‘target seats’ including ones working flat out despite Lord Ashcroft saying they were as safe as houses for us.

    I would very much like to see Steve Webb’s assessment of why he lost. I doubt very much that it was down to Paddy’s mechanistic wheelhouse measurements.

  • We’ll not very often get invites to Question Time any more.

  • Cllr Nick Cotter 15th May '15 - 8:45pm

    Welcome to Alex H !!
    The ONLY WAY IS UP !!
    Yes CaronThe Lib Dems will only make the Media etc “sit up and notice” when they start to WIN again, has been a long while since that happened !! ??
    Steve Webb a Particularly sad loss (amongst others)

  • Margaret Gray 16th May '15 - 8:59am

    Well now let’s all blame Paddy! Thanks Caron for starting a really constructive thread.
    The answer to our defeat I believe is not in the campaign, it’s in the 5 years that preceded it and most especially in the catastrophic lack of trust generated by the volte face on tuition fees – on which we had been authorised to ABSTAIN, and in the eyes of a substantial percentage of our support, the decision to put the Tories into power after we had claimed to be opposing everything they stand for.

  • Martin Pierce 16th May '15 - 9:30am

    It’s definitely not all Paddy’s fault, but that is a quite stupendously complacent letter in the face of a catastrophe. So everyone now thinks the Coalition was marvellous, Labour will do blood letting whereas our leadership election will be great, and the Tories will quickly become unpopular. And in the campaign things couldn’t have been done better. Of course – 8 MPs – couldn’t have been done better. Every time I met Nick in the last few months he emphasised that we were going to do much better than everyone was predicting. Laughable isn’t it. And Paddy still hasn’t eaten the promised hat from election night. They were in a fantasy world throughout and went through the motions expecting a better result to just turn up. Thank Paddy? You have got to be kidding. The complacency you see here ran like a thread through the whole thing, even though every local election, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, GLA and Euro election result since 2010 told us we were in exactly the desperate trouble the results confirmed.

  • Margaret Gray

    Agree absolutely, the defeat of the LibDems had little or nothing to do with the campaign. They had been losing election after election, deposit after deposit since 2010. They had been at around 8% in the polls for a long time and big surprise, at the GE they got about 8% of the vote. They were judged on their record in government and voters weren’t impressed. If they think it was all about the campaign they are still in trouble.

  • I think that both us and Labour (I live in Pudsey) showed that an avalanche of leaflets and a blizzard of posters does not necessarily win seats (although I still like the posters, personally, and Labour in Pudsey did not do that). The Tories in Pudsey focused on higher quality materials which concentrated on their core issue which was Alex Salmond. Big billboards set that up and then they really went after their core vote, with only a few large posters on the ring road in the last week. Pensioners (eg my ex wife) got several target letters with the 23 seat message. Still, after the Ashcroft polls I was shocked when the Tories won so easily…

    I think Labour just failed to mobilise their core vote in Pudsey – there was no visible sign (posters) they had worked the council estates and they only narrowly won in Pudsey ward in the locals where they normally get over 50%. Although they squeezed us right down (shockingly in a seat where we got 36% in 1983) they failed to squeeze UKIP below 9%, and I think alot of those will have been former Labour voters. And our vote which by 2010 was largely middle class (after several elections without any Labour squeeze), broke more for the Tories

    Well, I don’t know what we really did in our target seats, but I have a feeling that leaflets won over canvassing, and maybe we should look at that. Perhaps there were some seats where the Ashcroft polls made us a bit complacent, and perhaps we should have had a smaller list of true targets. What we need now is success, starting with the elections next May – we start from a low base and making net gains both in Scotland and the local councils is entirely possible. There are many seats in the metropolitans where we lost in 2012 and still have at least one councillor. So I would urge local areas to look at the possible gains now (even if they are not in target constituencies) and start the Focus leaflets going as soon as possible. And include core messages about Liberalism to activate our core supporters..

  • Robert Pinsker 16th May '15 - 10:20am

    The point that needs to be made that I don’t think has been seen anywhere else was that we were over ambitious. We obviously listened to the polls and predictions that we would keep half our seats and didn’t listen to that nagging voice in the back of the head, which said that we were incredibly unpopular with average voters and young people especially; that the popular opinion that the lib dems could not be trusted following the tuition fees debacle was incredibly powerful and s eclipsing all our intellectual attempts to show that we had achieved much in office; and hence, that there was no such thing as a natural lib dem voter or a safe lib dem seat.

    The result of this was that instead of focussing resources on our few seats with popular MPs where we had a chance of winning (such as Thornbury and Yate) we ignored those in favour of marginal seats like Bristol West. I live right next door to Steve Webb’s former seat and would have been happy to help him out but was constantly,pressured by the party to help in Stephen Williams’ seat.

    Therefore I suggest that the blame should go not to Paddy but to the targeting team who obviously got it completely wrong. If our resources had been better focussed perhaps we would have twice the number of seats now.

  • Margaret,

    I am afraid abstaining on tuition fees was still breaking the pledge… We did not say “we will not support any increase in fees” Voters are quite capable of noticing that…

    And only the backbenchers were allowed to abstain, as I recall. The Tories totally stitched our MP’s up on the tuition fees pledge. Both then (when I resigned over it after correspondence with Simon Hughes and others) and now (when I have rejoined after keeping a personal pledge of my own) I personally saw it as a disaster. I still cannot believe how Nick and co. could have been so naive and foolish. Tuition fees were NOT a key policy on deficit reduction – they are still increasing borrowing compared to the previous policy, and will do for many years to come. They were a Greek Gift (or rather something else, perhaps the almost equally foolish AV referendum, was the gift, while killing ourselves as a national party and giving the Tories enough of our seats to make a majority was the reward for them…)

  • Margaret Gray 16th May '15 - 11:13am

    I’m not saying that abstaining on tuition fees would have solved the trust problem – regarding that, I’d have liked our MPs simply to keep their word to students, as some, notably Tim Farron, did. There should have been a red line if anywhere, it quite simply brought our party into disrepute, where it has remained in many eyes, hence the massacre.
    I don’t think the Angel Gabriel himself in charge of the campaign could have changed the result. Having used squeeze messages in many seats saying “A vote for Labour will let the Tories in” and then putting them in ourselves, well, how would you, soft Labour voter, have felt?
    Getting back to trust seems key to me, and that is not just clever campaigning, that is local council candidates listening to people’s concerns, working for them, doing what they say they will do and getting elected.. The Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament campaigns will partly rest on that, and let’s hope there’s time to win something there, but it is a longer term problem. If by the next General Election we are more trusted locally then our campaign tactics may make more difference. Some held seats seem to have dropped through-the-year local Focus delivery – it is vital that that starts again now.

  • I love Paddy and I love Nick, but ……. Telling constituencies who have successfully and without much outside help got MPs elected 2, 3 and sometimes 4 times that in London’s view they were doing it all wrong and had to meet targets via that bloody Connect thing or get a kick in the seat of their pants is NOT the way to inspire volunteer party members and helpers who I suspect were turned off in droves. When we did it our way we won, when we did it your way we lost and that’s that. I’ve helped build the Party up from nothing over 30 years for you lot in London to throw it away in 5. No more thanks.

  • Katerina Porter 16th May '15 - 12:48pm

    It certainly seems true that campaigns in the seats we were trying to protect were very well run. But it was our policies in coalition which left our voters disillusioned. We did stop some horrors, but others went through, and student fees were emblematic and not the only cause. The attack on our public institutions and shrinking the state is ideological and came in at the start. The NHS is the obvious but far from being the only example. According to a video prepared by Professor Allyson Pollock the first item in the Health and Social Care Act was removing the first item in the 1946 Act – the duty of the Secretary of State to provide access to health care for all in the United Kingdom. This is no longer the case. We now have a corporate system- with Virgin bidding for a contract of £1 billion for mental health -and the administrative costs for the NHS before the internal market of the 1990ies was 3 to 4% and now is 30 to 40. Contracts and competition cost dear. Other things morally wrong were running with the dishonesty of the claim blaming Labour for the financial crisis when that started in America and was basically the banks. Gordon Brown saved our own banks, which cost 62 billion. They certainly spent money on infrastructure and PFI is a continuing disaster but the run down public sector they inherited from the previous Tory government needed investment. I well remember the hours spent in hospital corridors with my mother on trolleys . Also the use of the word “welfare” where the highest cost is state pensions for which people paid into National insurance for all their working lives and where another very big item is housing benefit, the result of selling off council housing to the profit of private landlords – at the expense of us taxpayers and with as far as I know no cap on rent.
    Our huge end of war debt to the US was only paid off in 2002 and people were not particularly worried
    2 articles in the International NYTimes say that the US administration are no longer relying on us. As well as our EU problems with a possible exit and a consequent possible break up with Scotland we have hollowed out our diplomacy-the Foreign Office , a small department at the best of times, has already been cut 30% – and our militar,y too, and Cameron did not go to Minsk with Mme Merkel and Hollande to meet Putin for the cease fire even though we are one of the three guarantor powers to Ukraine when it gave up its nuclear arms store. One could go on!

  • Katerina Porter 17th May '15 - 11:55am

    I took everything I put in on the NHS from Allyson Pollock. The worry, amongst others, is the refrain that the NHS needs more money, which it does, but surely not the huge cost of markets etc in administrations. Sure it started with Labour, and the belief in markets which was, and still is , general and the belief that private is cheaper and more efficient, but in the NHS case anyway this seems not to be true. Our local MP Greg Hands (Conservative) has assured me that the service will be free to patients, but as far as I can see the extra money promised will be paying for the resulting administration and private profit

  • David Evans 17th May '15 - 9:48pm

    I wonder if this can be the same Paddy Ashdown who told me (after the Rochester by-election debacle) that “the strategy we are following is the best strategy we could follow to deliver the optimum result in our present circumstances at the next election.”

    Also when we celebrate 12,000 new members, remember we have lost 20,000 since Nick became leader. We are not even close to break even on the Nick Clegg disaster.

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