++Breaking news: General Election Review

In an email to all members, Mark Pack, the party President, writes:

… today our independent review of the general election has published its report.

We asked for this, to be frank, thorough and challenging – and it is. More than 20,000 of you contributed your views to Dorothy Thornhill and her team. Thank you to everyone involved.

This review challenges us to change as a party and to change the country for the better.

It makes a series of clear recommendations about how we can improve our campaigning, plan better, build on what worked well locally, and win more votes and seats. You can read it here libdems.org.uk/2019-election-review

Our Board will be meeting shortly to start working out the next steps and I will keep you updated on what we decide.

After the highs and lows of last year, it is imperative that we raise our game. The sad state of our Government today shows how desperately the country needs the Liberal Democrats as a strong and renewed force in Local, Westminster and Devolved Governments.

We’ve started already. We’ve pushed the Government into changing its policy on compensation for relatives of NHS staff, on furlough for workers and on support for the self-employed.

And we’ve started changing how we work as a party too: listening more to our councillors and activists on the ground, and being more open in how we work.

There is a lot to do. Over the coming weeks, we’ll draw up a detailed and thorough plan for how we improve. All of us who share an alternative vision for society have a responsibility to learn the lessons of this report.

Seeing our values in action makes me hungry to elect more Liberal Democrats champions.

As a new President of our party, working with a Board newly in post and with a leadership election ahead, I’m confident that we can be the strong force for good that our party has always set out to be.

The country needs us.
Best wishes,

Mark Pack
President of the Liberal Democrats

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77 Comments

  • The report confirms my suspicions that the party is too inward looking and does not understand the electorate. The report blames a collection of implementation and organisational failures but fails to address the main issues. It is a whitewash, even the disastrous Revoke policy was the apparently the fault of the Conservatives and Labour for twisting its interpretation.

    This report, for me, is a missed opportunity and a disappointment.

  • James Belchamber 15th May '20 - 5:30pm

    “The specific research evidence against the ‘Revoke Article 50’ policy is mixed (John Curtice, British Election Survey) but it did alienate voters who were not hostile to a ‘referendum on the deal’, who might conceivably have been won over.”

    Quite far down, but after a lot of bashing the campaign for it’s focus on Brexit this is a real clanger. There isn’t much in the way of sourcing in the review (which is disappointing but not surprising), but this source doesn’t say it’s “mixed” at all. It’s then dismissed with no further discussion, returning to a narrative that seems forced.

    I guess we need to bring back the [citation needed] placard..

  • Paul Barker 15th May '20 - 6:32pm

    I am amazed that the early commentors could read the report so quickly, Im finding it slow going & Im going to comment seperately on different bits.

    I think the “Story of 2019” gets some things wrong. It was always likely that we would make impressive Gains in The Local Elections simply because we did so badly 4 Years before ( The end of the Coalition) the last time most of those Seats were fought.
    It was always likely that our good performance in May would give us a temporary Boost in The Polls, thats happened before.
    The Weird thing in 2019 was the Governments gift of another set of Elections a few Weeks later, giving us a second Poll Boost.
    The Leadership should have been telling us to calm down & that our support would inevitably fall again, in fact they seemed to get swept up in The “High”. I was reminded of “Go back to your constituencies & prepare for Government”.

  • One thing that is glaringly obvious from the review is that the Federal Board is unfit for purpose. Most of the idiotic decisions that were taken regarding our 2019 campaign passed through this unwieldy body and no good it did us at all.

  • On a quick skim read the most important thing seems to be a detailed implementation plan with clear lines of accountability

  • Pity there seems to be no discussion of whether the pacts with Greens and PC worked. My view is that the Greens are a hard left illiberal Party and that there should be no pre-election pacts with them any time, ever.

  • @ Gary J “My view is that the Greens are a hard left illiberal Party and that there should be no pre-election pacts with them any time, ever”.

    Funny you say that, Gary. Given it’s almost sixty years since I joined the Liberal Party, I’d say the Greens (especially in Scotland) are very much like what the Liberal Party used to be back in 1962……. and before it discovered lordships, knighthoods, C.B.E.’s etc..

    Maybe that’s where the party has gone wrong and Eric Lubbock was really a very dangerous but successful revolutionary.

  • Paul Barker 15th May '20 - 8:36pm

    I would reccomend not trying to read the whole thing at once, its detailed & very long. There is a lot of repetition but that seem to be part of the structure, it does allow members to read & think about each Section seperately. There is a lot to think about.

    The overall tone is very depressing but the reccomendations seem to me to be our first really serious attempt to deal with all our Long-term problems.

  • There is a lot about this report that grinds my gears, but possibly the worst bit is that is lists this as a POSITIVE:

    “We have a newly elected president, a new CEO, and in due course we will elect a new leader”

    Others might say we have a new President and CEO completely irrelevant and unknown to the general public, and no new leader. To me, that’s a negative.

  • Was the leadership trying to build a system similar to the Conservative and Labour systems, this would be wrong as they have the ability to shut out the members knowing a ready source of money is available something we don’t have. Do we need a unwieldy structure of Peck and Davies when we don’t have the political numbers to warrant it. Also let’s go back to the routes of act local and then national. After all a good local structure with a willingness to listen and learn with a history of good local governorship will produce a crop of good mps.

  • John Marriott 16th May '20 - 9:04am

    Mark Pack writes that “the country needs us?” Now, is he really sure? I thought so, when, after several years looking for a political home, I joined the old Liberal party over forty years ago.

    Now, of course it’s the job of a Party President to rally the troops and, indeed, Mr Pack’s predecessor did a commendable job, unfortunately to no avail. I believe that Mark is of the school of activists, who believe that, whenever there’s an election, anywhere and at any level, there should be a candidate to give people a chance to vote Lib Dem. I’m not so sure whether, in many areas, ritual humiliation is a good thing.

    But back to his ending statement. How does the country need the Lib Dems? To provide the policies that other parties then claim as their own – like raising the threshold on the basic rate of income tax in 2010? Or being the burr in the saddle to keep chipping away at prejudice and injustice? To be, like the FDP was in West Germany, the so called “Zünglein an der Waage “, holding the balance of power as Liberal Parties often have in coalition friendly Europe? Even, as Jo Swinson and many other Lib Dem leaders before and probably after her have claimed, to be a government in waiting.

    I’ve stood and helped in many elections at all levels in my time and, although I say it myself, when I was successful, it wasn’t often the colour of my rosette that usually influenced people (although even that varied in colour depending on what the tradition in certain areas was – from dull to bright orange up to yellow and even gold). No, it was probably the hard work I and my little team put in all year round – “You don’t just hear from us at election time” used to be a regular mantra in our FOCUS leaflets. But even then, the reply was often; “Yes, I’ll vote for you in local elections; but the General Election is different”.

    You see, there’s the problem. People will risk a punt on the Lib Dems in local elections where, thanks to decades of emasculation by successive governments of all colours (including, sadly, the 2010-2015 coalition), they don’t really matter that much. But running the country, well that’s a totally different matter.

  • This is the best most realistic document I have seen from the party in 30, nay 40 years. It musty be acted upon and not watered down. The message listen and act for the average voter not ourselves is so obvious but has been missed so much by the heirachy of the party, who last year committed the worst dereliction of duty to the members and voters in living times. It must never be repeated. At the moment the party is hanging in there by its fingertips. To get even a hand on the tiller the next immediate step must be a leadership election, with a declaration by early July. We do not need these out of date hustings round the country attended by a few hundred, just do it by the internet, let anyone see it take place, lets show we are talking direct to the country not just ourselves.

  • Well done – Dorothy- the central thrust of this report is spot on. However, the identified tendency of our leaders to rely on an echo chamber of close advisors has been fatal in 2 of the last 3 General Elections. It seems a mindset that confuses critique with hostility and is more comfortable messaging than listening. But halleluia – this is not the usual whitewash and endeavours to confront reality. We might not all agree currently with what reality looks like but the party’s readiness to confront it is a necessary though not a sufficient condition for its revival.

  • Well.., despite Paul Barker’s warnings, I’ve taken the trouble to read the document and it does indeed go into a great deal of detail….. but it’s not that demanding a read, Paul.

    In fact I’d say it’s mostly an analysis of who moved the wrong deckchair to the wrong place on the Titanic on a journey to an unknown destination they were not altogether sure about after the Lord Mayor’s show was over…..the Lord Mayor having emigrated
    to California.

    “The teams or bodies under the leader, president and CEO all suffered from a lack of collaboration with each other”… and that’s why…..”Electoral failure was a sadly inevitable consequence”. That doesn’t sound like a group fit to run a parish council never mind run a government, and apparently it’s about….., “a lack of investment in technology”.

    What it doesn’t do is analyse why some people used to vote Liberal or Liberal Democrat and don’t do so anymore. Big lessons to be learned there especially after 2010-15. Nor does it spell out a new coherent policy narrative that appeals to a majority (not just minorities) of the electorate sufficiently different from the other political parties.

    At the risk of mixed metaphors, there’s no Titanic….. it’s more like a classic 1920’s Punch cartoon of a rowing boat with a small crew going round in circles out of the sight of land with no idea where they’ are or where going, and squabbling about who should use the single anti-Brexit oar. It remains to be seen whether the ‘Four going in search of Big Ideas’ will ever get past Stoodley Pike.

    It will be interesting to observe what the competent Keir Starmer comes up with, and for that matter, the SNP and the Greens.

  • Dilettante Eye 16th May '20 - 11:13am

    From the report (page 9)

    Behind the scenes

    As soon as she became leader Jo had serious concerns about how best to handle the effectiveness of the party’s headquarters at Great George Street.

    – it was clear to many that things were far from ideal

    Wanting to have confidence in the information she was being given, and with a level of scepticism about the quality of input from staff,

    – and created around her a group of people whom she trusted. This had the unintended consequence creating an ‘inner circle’ of advisors at arm’s length from the resources of the party machine, and put decision making in the hands of an unaccountable group around the leader.

    It also severed some people from the roles and responsibilities they were employed to do, and led to the over-promotion of others.

    When it later came to scaling up for the election, members of this inner team of advisors were given very broad remits. This proved unmanageable and removed the necessary debate and challenge, which are vital for driving improvement.

    The above is a delicate way of saying that the leader Went off on a path of their own with a chosen coterie of believers, whose collective hubris left them deaf and oblivious to the realities which those outside the ‘circle’ could see clearly

    So not only did it become The Jo Swinson Show, there were no ‘circuit breakers’ to stop it. As powerful as Boris might be, he has the 1922 Committee breathing down his neck from time to time. Conversely, the Lib Dem Federal Board and ‘Conference’, both seem to act more like Labour Party style, ‘Momentum’ cheerleaders intensifying the disconnect problem rather than moderating it.

    So maybe the Lib Dems need an equivalent of the 1922 Committee to act as a circuit breaker on any future Lib Dem leader from repeating the same mistake of going off on one.

    There appears to be nothing in the conclusions to create that circuit break, to keep any future LD leader grounded to both grass roots and reality?

  • I’m sad to say it, but once again we have a report, produced by those selected by the party establishment, largely made up of people close to the party establishment, that produces another whitewash to cover absolve our party’s leading figures who once again have seized defeat from the jaws of potential victory.

    So many things are stated as fact which are mere opinion, with no attribution whatsoever, and usually surrounded be a ‘let’s state something positive that we would all like want to believe’ statement to make it more acceptable.

    However, one thing it does consistently is blame problems on a fictional distant past and so distracting any possibility of fault by those who made a mess of it this time, who are still around. Thus our disastrous Core Vote Strategy (developed jointly by our Party president and a member of the review team) which was allegedly “aimed at increasing the number of voters who understand what the party stands for and is defined in terms of values, not demography”, but was somehow “reduced to being simply a Remainer,” is innocent in all this. However, this ignores the fact that in “The 20% Strategy – Building a core vote for the Liberal Democrats” produced by Mark and David clearly identified the question “Do you think the UK should stay within the European Union, or should it leave?” as one of only two questions with ‘a very strong predictive power for identifying whether or not people fall without our target group.” Sorry – Guilty as charged. As an aside, the other was “At what age did you leave full-time education?”

    All in all, a laudable attempt at loyalty to people the group feel some loyalty to, but a failure once again to face up, clearly and unequivocally, to the fact that that our party has failed once again because we haven’t got the courage to say that our leaders got it totally wrong.

    The distant past is not the problem – it is the dogma that ‘we haven’t had time to change even more’ is the right one.

    The reason we succeeded up to the 2005 election was that because we were doing things right at that time. The reason we failed after that was because our leaders and their supporters chose a new path which almost totally destroyed our party as a parliamentary force.

    We have got to stop pretending that continuing to follow that path will do anything but further undermine our chances of recovery. But this report is another step in the wrong direction.

  • Guido Fawkes mentioned the report (and published it) on his website yesterday. It has attracted over 250 comments. These will not make pleasant reading for people here but some make valid points. They range from sympathetic to highly critical but do give a fairly clear picture of how that population regards the party and its performance in the last year or so.

  • Barry Lofty 16th May '20 - 1:09pm

    If the country thinks the bunch in charge now is the answer to all our problems good luck. Yes Sir Kier Starmer is giving Boris Johnson a tougher time at the dispatch box, thank goodness, but will the Labour party be changing that much behind the scenes? I hope this review does something to right some of wrongs in the party because the country DOES need a strong Lib Dem presence!!

  • @ Ruth Bright Yes, I’ve been watching it too, Ruth, and seeing a lot of ghosts.

    I was working at Party HQ at the time and one of my jobs was to attend the other parties’ press conferences in Smith Square and to report back. I claimed to be a reporter from the Huddersfield Examiner to get in….. no security in those days. Well remember Harold Wilson puffing his pipe like a steam train and Douglas-Home getting in an economics tangle.

    On election night I remember cheering when my friend Garth Pratt’s result came in from Melton Mowbray and remarking that he’d saved his deposit quite handsomely (18%). I immediately got fiercely chewed up by Frank Byers (Lisa Nandy’s grandfather) for daring to mention lost deposits (a painful memory for him from 1950).

    I gather David Butler (Michael Steed’s old boss) is still alive at the grand old age of 95.

    Interesting days, buy no sign of a new Jo Grimond on the horizon these days.

  • Paul Holmes 16th May '20 - 2:51pm

    @David Evans. David, normally I agree with a lot of what you say but I think you are being unduly harsh here.

    Whilst I don’t agree with everything in it I think this Review is excellent and pulls few punches. It mercilessly exposes the shambles of 2019 in terms of the Leadership failings in all quarters, shambolic HQ organisation, poor messaging, central dictat on campaigning and the mostly ludicrous ‘Target Seat’ choices.

    It also though points out that not all of this can be dismissed as one off failure in 2019 due to the Hubris of the brand new Leader and the unaccountable team she surrounded herself with, just as Nick Clegg had done before her. It looks as far back as the 2010 decision to scrap Regional Campiagn Officers and move to a centralised team, that from then on increasingly disempowered, de-skilled, de-motivated and ignored everyone outside HQ. It also refers to the organisational chaos with 3 separate and often competing power bases in CEO, President and Leader plus an overlarge ‘rubberstamping’ Federal Board. This is something that we saw in the equally poor 2017 GE campaign and stems from the President’s 2015-16 Constitutional reform programme.

    In stark contrast to the 2015 and 2017 Reviews the Review Team have been able to assert themselves. The Review has been published in full and immediately, before the Federal Board have even met to discuss it. It also contains a detailed set of reform proposals and quite short timetable for the Federal Board, CEO, President and Leader to respond in.

    So not quite as bad as your first reading seems to have suggested?

  • Paul Barker 16th May '20 - 3:00pm

    Some were expecting a whitewash, it certainly is not that. The report takes a long hard look at everything we have been doing wrong & comes up with a plan to start doing them right. I found it depressing reading but it needed to be.

    If we are serious then the Reports reccomendations need to implemented as far as resources allow & we need to begin building that “Core Vote”, Voters who will stand by us not just give us a whirl now & then.

    We have a Year until the biggest Round of Local Elections Britain has ever seen, by then Politics will be waking up again, probably & we will be able to see where we really stand.

  • Andrew Tampion 16th May '20 - 3:01pm

    This seems to be a shoddy piece of work with 2 factual errors in the first 8 pages. On page 5 paragraph 1 it refers to the election held on “11 December 2019”, although the correct date is given elsewhere. On page 8 paragraph 8 it refers to 7 defectors joining the Liberal Democrats, I count 8 (Chuka Umunna, Sarah Wollaston, Phillip Lee, Luciana Berger, Angela Smith, Sam Gyimah, Heidi Allen and Antoinete Sandbach).
    The first is perhaps a proof reading issue but the second is not. Both are unacceptable for what purports to be a robust report.

  • Paul Holmes 16th May '20 - 3:06pm

    @David Evans. I do though share your concerns about the Core Vote strategy but again to be fair the Review notes:

    “Niche policies get niche votes”

    and

    That the single issue focus on Revoke/opposing Brexit (which as you say was one of President Pack’s two key identifiers of his Core Voters) left us appearing to have little to say, in a General Election, on anything else. It also notes that whilst 20-25% of voters were hard line Leave and similarly Remain, that left 50-60% who were not, yet we ignored (if not alienated) them completely. The Review also notes that once Labour had switched to a, sort of, Second Referendum approach that undermined our sole campaign issue of the last 3 years, leaving the wider pool of the electorate to vote Labour, Green, Nationalist and yes, Conservative.

  • Sue Sutherland 16th May '20 - 3:50pm

    I welcome this report because it’s objective and the recommendations should produce a much more effective way of fighting general election campaigns, which was the remit of the review. It also brings up issues of party structure and the relationship between various committees, which I think should be the subject of another review.
    I think what we see here is an attempt to bring a party which has relied on being a guerilla force, even when it was at its most successful, into mainstream politics. I think some of the muddles and lack of communication have been there since the inauguration of the party. It was a difficult task to write a constitution which attempted to bring together two parties with different ways of working based on different political theories and not include some mistakes in the way that new party should work.
    We need to implement the review’s recommendations but we also need to look at our constitution in more detail. The one omission that I can see is the relationship between all the elements of the party and the wider membership. It would be good to see constitutional changes which involve them in deciding the broad thrust of policy and gives them a better relationship with the parliamentary party, for example. I think this would help to avoid cliques developing in the way the review describes.
    Many of the recommendations involve the party Leader so an important question is whether we should elect a leader before implementing them, or should we carry on as we are to help the role of the Leader to be an objective one.
    It seems to me that it would be more productive for us to concentrate our resources on making ourselves into a disciplined fighting force than in trying to hold a normal sort of conference. We could have a special conference to consider how to improve our constitution, our policy making and member involvement rather than listening to set speeches and discussing detailed policies.

  • ‘This report backs up everything I’ve been saying for the last five years and I’d like to take the opportunity to post a rehashed version of my usual comments’

    Will it just save time if we all post that?

  • David Evans 16th May '20 - 6:31pm

    Alternatively Hywel, the report could just say “This report backs up everything the party establishment has been saying for the last nine years and we would like to take the opportunity to post a rehashed version of our usual excuses as to why none of it is our fault.”

  • @David Evans: I don’t agree. The report doesn’t feel like something that was written with the intent to clear an insular leadership team of blame. In fact, one of its main criticisms was that the leadership team was too insular, being cut off from both the rest of the party and from public opinion.

  • David Allen 16th May '20 - 7:46pm

    Keir Starmer is certainly making a decent fist of sticking it to Boris. What he is not doing is giving leadership. The nadir was Question Time when his spokesperson Bridget Phillipson was challenged to say who she agreed with, the Tories who want to life the lockdown or the Welsh Labour government who want to keep it in place. Phillipson evaded the question.

    It was left to the independent scientist to explain that lifting the lockdown would bring back the virus, inevitably lead to a second wave and second lockdown, harm the economy, and put at naught all the sacrifices we have already made.

    Where is this country, with the worst Covid results in the world, going to find decent political leadership? Where is the Lib Dem leadership?

  • David Allen 16th May '20 - 7:47pm

    Typo, please read “the Tories who want to lift the lockdown…”

  • Peter Martin 16th May '20 - 8:13pm

    @ David Allen,

    “lifting the lockdown would bring back the virus”

    We’re not actually lifting the lockdown , we’re just easing it. The virus hasn’t gone away even after the tighter lockdown. So if it hasn’t gone away it can’t come back.

    What I think you mean is that the infection rate will rise. Yes, it possibly will, and that’s why we need to be sure we have an efficient system of hunting down the virus in place before there is any further easing. Hunting down the virus also means hunting down those who are carrying it and compulsorily quarantining them. This could mean insisting on infected persons wearing ankle bracelets or even temporary incarceration!

    Not a easy sell to the more liberal minded of the general public but probably necessary. That’s the leadership we’ll need.

  • Maybe I read a different report then!

  • I would have preferred a more blunt report that didn’t pull its punches, but it is not a whitewash. The report states the responsibility for our poor showing was Jo’s, even if the report implies what she did was understandable. We had two bad policies – revoke and Jo4PM. We didn’t mainly keep to our 32 target seat strategy and forgot about the need for a local team to have worked a constituency some time before we can hope to win it. It also points out that the Parliamentary Party was wrong to support a general election when we were not ready for one. (And Labour were not ready either).

    If we wanted to talk about being the largest party we should have published the June 2019 MRP polling with us ahead in 73 seats and within 5% in a further 219 seats (making 292). We would then need to keep reviewing these seats as the MRP polling showed us getting further behind in the seats and being a head in fewer seats.

    It is shocking that we must have known we needed to win London seats but we didn’t have a strategy to connect with BAME electors!

    I don’t understand how anyone could recommend a constituency to be a target seat if it had not used Connect or had some up-to-date canvass data, which appears to be the case.

    I would like to know what decisions the Federal Board made regarding everything in the report.

    I would like to know what ‘field resources’ are and why we seemed to no longer have a paid campaigner working in all target seats, – imbedded in the local party? I would have liked to see a recommendation that we should put in place a paid campaigner working in all target seats by the end of 2021.

    I was disappointed that there was no mention of Connect and if might have contributed to the lack of understanding of the data we did collect.

  • @Russel: At the time, they believed (correctly) that Labour was weeks away from endorsing a second referendum. So they felt that there was a need to ‘out-Remain Labour’. There was also the thinking that it would appeal to people who didn’t care the slightest about Remain and Leave just wanted an easy way out of the deadlock, which became harder to sustain when a new deal was struck.

    Another issue was that most people at the conference understood that the whole idea of the policy was to only revoke if there was an overwhelming mandate for it, and otherwise stick with the second referendum proposal. What should have been foreseen is that there was no chance that you could convey a message as complicated as that and expect everyone to hear it. What should have been foreseen is that most voters would only hear the word ‘revoke’. And I think that’s the real reason why the policy was a blunder, though as noted in the report, it’s not clear whether it actually cost that many votes.

  • David Allen 17th May '20 - 5:46pm

    Over the last eleven years, this party has made a string of catastrophic errors. Just about* every time, I (amongst others) have rushed to point out the error on this blog and elsewhere, in plenty of time to change tack and avoid disaster. My consistent reward has been a tirade of vilification from “loyalist” Lib Dems, whose slavish adherence to the “party line” has led the party to ruin.

    So yes, the leader and kitchen cabinet who failed this time was Jo Swinson. And yes, the party’s rickety institutional structures have failed to tackle the blatant mistakes and put things right. But it’s not about the management structure, it’s about the mindset. Corbynism wouldn’t work any better if Momentum’s management structure was reformed. Neither would the Lib Dem party, and for remarkably similar reasons. Corbynists are slaves of a dogmatic ideology, and Lib Dems are slaves of a dogmatic misplaced loyalism.

    The Lib Dems debate policy freely. This gives members the comforting illusion of openness. Tactics and strategy, on the other hand, are dictated from on high, and anyone who argues with this, as I have done, is dismissed as disloyal. This is not necessarily all the leader’s fault. Vince Cable, who was not heavily dictatorial, was the best of a bad bunch of recent leaders. It is the loyalist membership, whose mindset is rigid adherence to whatever is today’s declared strategy, which has primarily brought the party down.

    The Lib Dems are like drunkards with a hangover. They sincerely regret their sore heads. They basically know what they should do to put things right. But next time, they’ll go out and hit that bottle again.

    ( * – I failed to foresee the Farron car-crash, and I failed to foresee that Swinson would be a poorer leader than Davey would have been.

    I did foresee the Clegg coup; the Coalition disaster; the consequences of dismissing all objections to high immigration as purely stemming from ignorant racism; the adverse consequences of declaring the EU to be perfect and in no need of reform; the problem with endlessly attacking Labour while going soft on the Tories; the catastrophic consequences of helping Johnson call his khaki election over Brexit; and the lunacy of the Revoke policy. But hey, I’m just a misguided maverick, who should always be ignored.)

  • Martin and David,

    It is interesting to read why members supported the revoke policy. I still don’t understand how any member could support a policy where a minority of the electorate voted for a political party and that political party thought it would be fine to overturn a referendum decision without another referendum. (If we had won a majority of seats and even in September there was no realistic plan for us to do this, we would not have achieved a majority of the electorate who voted. I think the last time the largest party won a majority of the vote was in 1931 and 1935 for a government seeking re-election.)

    If Jo had opposed it, I don’t think it would have been passed.

    Martin,

    As the likelihood of us getting a majority of MPs was tiny if not impossible, all members should have known that the revoke policy was untenable in a general election. As I think is made clear in the Thornhill report.

    David,

    I think it is clear in the report that the revoke policy didn’t appeal to 75% of the electorate. It is also clear from the general election result where we achieved 11.6% of the vote; rejected by 88.4%.

    David Allen,

    On policy, I am always surprised how rarely Federal conference votes down a motion which has leadership support.

  • @ Michael BG “On policy, I am always surprised how rarely Federal conference votes down a motion which has leadership support”.

    Correct. I can remember at least three occasions when the leadership got its way against what I believe was a majority view of the then rank and file and policies which I believe at the time, and I may be wrong, would have had majority electoral support.

    1 The Health and Social Care Act.
    2. Renewing Trident in recent years (in both cases Shirley Williams was rolled out)
    3. Back in Steel’s day a similar attempt not to retain nuclear weapons.

  • I commented here several times before the election that it made no sense to enter an election with a manifesto that would enrage more than half of the electorate.

    This party seemed to lose all sense of reality and morality. Demanding a second referendum because you didn’t like the result of the first one was bad enough. Then Jo Swinson said she would ignore the result of the second referendum if it produced the same result as before. Then came the Revoke policy, so disgraceful and undemocratic that it represents an unprecedented lack of integrity in the history of our politics.

    Revoke has caused damage that will take a generation to repair. Yet the most staggering thing is that many Lib Dems just do not get it. Do people in this party simply not have a clue about democracy, trust and integrity? These are the basis of our political system, or used to be.

  • @Michael BG: Professor John Curtice, an elections expert from outsode the party, did a post-mortem on the Liberal Democrats’ 2019 campaign. See for a summary of his findings here: https://www.libdemvoice.org/draft-john-curtice-63389.html

    There are indeed anecdotal reports that the revoke policy went down badly even with some Remain voters, and there aren’t any anecdotal reports that it attracted voters. That’s why I still suspect it was a blunder. But data should trump anecdote. And in the data, Curtice finds no clear evidence that the revoke policy was a major problem. There were more important mistakes, such as a failure to communicate any policies besides Brexit.

  • I think that the landslide victory to Boris and reduction of the Lib Dems to their core voters carries more weight than a survey by John Curtice.

    The media now treats the party as being irrelevant. If mentioned at all it is usually the butt of a joke. The electorate regards the party as bizarre and not a serious political force.

  • @Peter: John Curtice is far more helpful than your defeatist moaning.

  • Peter Martin 18th May '20 - 3:59am

    @ Martin,

    “At the time I challenged people to provide a plausible referendum plan, but no one could.”

    Not true.

    There were several suggestions on LDV that there could be more than a simple binary choice. 1) Remain 2) Leave under whatever terms agreed between the Govt and the EU 3) Leave with no deal.

    But politicians, in all parties, were scared to include option 3 in case that came out on top. So, ironically, because nearly all Remain MPs didn’t trust the electorate we are very likely facing the no-deal outcome they were so keen to avoid.

  • Alex Macfie 18th May '20 - 8:12am

    David Allen: we did not “go soft on the Tories”, we attacked both Tories and Labour. Attacking Labour was necessary to try to neutralise the Tories’ “Vote Lib Dem Get Corbyn” line of attack.
    Peter 17th May ’20 – 8:01pm:

    “Revoke has caused damage that will take a generation to repair.”

    I seriously doubt this. By the time of the next election, politics will have move far beyond 2019 and who was on which side of the barricades during the Brexit wars. The Johnson administration now owns Brexit. So the 2024 election will be fought on whether the reality of Brexit matches up to the promises, as well as on its handling of the COVID-19 crisis. If Brexit has proven a failure, then it is fanciful to suggest that anyone except the most die-hard of Brexiteers (not people ever likely to vote Lib Dem) are going make an issue about those who advocated pressing the “Abort” button.
    The rest of your diatribe seems to be about how “undemocratic” it allegedly is to campaign democratically in a democratic election campaign to seek a democratic mandate to supersede a previous mandate. But EVERY democratic mandate supersedes a previous one, that is how democracy works. One can argue that it backfired on us, or was not sold well, but it was absolutely democratically AND morally legitimate to argue for such a thing. Otherwise, you have to declare the very existence of constitutional opposition “undemocratic”.
    In any case the Lib Dems’ Revoke policy was not the cause of the Johnson landslide. It’s also a bit rich to accuse us of lacking moral integrity in an election won by perhaps the most profoundly amoral individual ever to occupy No 10. Johnson won on the back of straight Labour→Tory switching. The main effect of this was the breaching of the Red Wall, but it may also have helped the Tories to hold onto some of the seats we were targeting (because that sort of traditional Labour voter exists in leafy Surrey and SW London too). Labour was squeezed in seats like Esher & Walton, but the Labour vote didn’t necessarily all come to us.

  • Richard Underhill 18th May '20 - 9:26am

    I have read all of the above on LDV.
    We still need an enquiry on why we lost the 2016 referendum.
    “It was a difficult task to write a constitution which attempted to bring together two parties with different ways of working based on different political theories and not include some mistakes in the way that new party should work.”
    Yes, which is why several members of the Liberal negotiating team resigned at the time.
    Step forward Councillor Tony Greaves and name names.
    At the special assembly David Steel said ‘The new party will be a LIBERAL party, or I would be voting against merger.’ He voted in favour, but everyone knew he would not be leader of the merged party. That was Paddy Ashdown, who was expected to out-OWEN David Owen (the second leader of the SDP).
    Paddy got the name wrong in the Liberal Democrat News and needed to be expensively overturned. It was still possible for many to follow him, despite his admission about his secretary.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th May '20 - 11:01am

    Alex Macfie. I am afraid that you are mistaken in supposing that the Revoke policy will do us no lasting harm. I think it will, unfortunately, be recalled by many as another instance of Lib Dem unreliability, as in the Coalition when we went along too much with the majority imposition of austerity. The unreliability which will be seen is this: the Lib Dems ever since the Referendum result had maintained that since it would mean harm for the country and, therefore, when the facts were fully known and untruths disposed of people should be given the chance of a rethink through another referendum. Suddenly last autumn, however, we dropped the idea for a time in favour of saying that leaving is bad and therefore we will simply Revoke, if given the chance. We tried to force our new opinion on the electorate by saying, if you vote for us now you not only vote for Remain, but also for Revoke.

    That seemed to me illiberal. I also think the new policy was, not only inconsistent and illiberal, but also, yes, undemocratic. It was undemocratic because we were no longer saying as we had done, We respect the result of the Referendum but will give you a chance to show that you have changed your mind, now that the facts are fully known, through another vote, but instead were saying, give us a chance and we will overturn the result of the Referendum without consulting you again. That Referendum result, if it was not to be overridden by a parliamentary vote, could only democratically be overturned by another referendum’s result.

    Needless to say I was shocked and saddened by the Conference decision, which seemed to me let through in deference to our new leader, but which significant party figures spoke against, and others of us less significant could not speak on but did of course vote against. That Conference did not feel as if is truly represented the party membership, and can now be seen I think to have been thus in keeping with the deep faults revealed by this essential Thornhill review.

  • Having given the report a thorough Audit Review, I am sad to say that it has confirmed my initial assessment. Quite simply the report is not fit for purpose – assuming of course that the purpose of the report is to provide a detailed outline understandable by all members of what went wrong (and right) and what the party can do to recover. Instead it rather looks like a list of long held ‘solutions’ from by the ‘managerial excellence through technology’ faction of the party, much loved by the powers that be.

    Thus we are urged “Based on the lives of ordinary people in the country today, create an inspiring, over-arching and compelling vision which can guide the entire Liberal Democrats organisation for the duration of a parliament, ideally longer,” rather than work out why Liberal Democracy is no longer considered relevant by vast swathes of the population and what to do about it; we must “use each GE as an opportunity to leverage campaign activity” instead of use our campaigns between elections to support a General Election Campaign and we should “Review ongoing governance of all areas of the party …” i.e. another Bones Commission to undo what a previous leader did to entrench his power.

    It seems to be mainly based on anecdote and opinion (some very valid and worthy of detailed consideration), but others with little or no basis in fact whatsoever to support them but they are still reported as absolute truths. In addition, there is little analysis of hard data and there are huge gaps, particularly where we need to learn from mistakes repeatedly made in the past and not just repeat the nostrums we followed unsuccessfully last time.

    Its main claim seems to be that almost everything was not fit for purpose including many things that haven’t been resolved in a great many years. However, despite mentioning these long existing problems and the need to establish best practice, it doesn’t consider why the party was exceptionally successful up to 2005.

    Its recommendations are full of management jargon – e.g. “Leverage input from research and testing …” “Review ongoing governance …” but it gives no potential reasons as what it considers are the root causes of the problems or why they haven’t been resolved in the past. Likewise, there is no indication of the relative importance of each recommendation, and it ends with recommendations that all need to be completed within less than 18 months!

  • Richard Underhill 18th May '20 - 11:15am

    One thing that the merger negotiators did not decide was the name of the new party. Although Paddy Ashdown had stood for election to parliament as a Liberal, he stood for election as leader of the merged party on the basis that “You can call me a democrat.” Several prominent Liberals, including David Steel, supported Paddy Ashdown on that. So we looked divided during the Epping Forest bye-election, in which prominent members were seen on television ‘celebrating as if we had won’. In fact our volunteer workers had out-performed David Owen’s paid for deliverers. His party, known by the Radical Quarterly as SDP2, were later to attract fewer votes in a by-election than the Monster Raving Loony Party, (then led by Screaming Lord Sutch) which caused a major donor to withdraw financial support. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Official_Monster_Raving_Loony_Party.
    David Bellotti (Liberal Democrat) went on to win the Conservative-held “safe seat” of Eastbourne and trigger a leadership election in the Tory party (Thatcher–>Major).
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1990_Eastbourne_by-election.
    If Paddy Ashdown had succeeded in his choice of name we might have held on to our USP, democratic reform (although David Steel managed to achieve legislation for voluntary retirement from the Lords, which he has taken himself, without needing to be paid off).
    We will need to rebuild our USP before the electorate.
    Ex-leader Paddy Ashdown also damaged the USP by telling a fringe meeting (including Professor John Curtice) that he had been trained in “cruel and unusual punishments” and would use them “I don’t care who they are”. No subsequent leader had that option.

  • Peter Martin 18th May '20 - 11:42am

    @ Martin,

    “‘No deal’ is not a responsible option”

    You may well think that but it is still “a specified Brexit.” If you meant a specified, and in your opinion responsible, Brexit then you should have said so.

    I agree that a negotiated workable deal is the best possible outcome, but in any negotiation there always has to be the option of walking away. Everyone but the Lib Dems, a few Tories and most of the Labour Party PLP understands that.

    The Lib Dems, together with Labour and other Remainers could have ensured the softest of Brexits, but you gambled “All or Nothing” on Remain and ended up with nothing. That’s the chance you took and there’s nothing to be done now.

  • From the Introduction: Our governance structures are a mess and don’t do what they are supposed to! Our legitimate desire to be democratic at all levels sometimes has unintended consequences and masquerades as ‘democracy’, when in reality accountability is unclear and decision-making obscure.

    That is what this report is about. The chaotic and doomed campaign it documents was merely the latest demonstration of just how unutterably bad the party’s governance is and always has been. Good luck and good local work previously obscured that to a point but exposure to government in the Coalition brought down much of its rickety structure; the referendum and 2019 GE finished the job.

    So, identifying the Federal Board as one key locus of failure is a good start and realising that it is absurdly large at 40+ (43 AFAIK) is a good next step. But, if putting party governance onto a proper basis, were a book of, say, 100 pages, then this only gets us to the end of page 1.

    At root party’s problem is its notion that it should be as close as possible to a direct democracy. In practice, it is a half-baked one that substitutes the direct democracy ideal with big elected groups on its federal committees. That makes them too big; it also means that each one is ploughing a slightly (or very) different path so coordination is weak.

    Direct democracies (even half-baked ones) do not scale nor can they reach a shared vision. Even if you staffed the federal committees with the world’s greatest political and administrative geniuses, LD governance would not work while structured as it is now.

    We live in a representative democracy for the good reason that it does scale and can find a common vision. The big picture view is that you elect the leader who offers the most attractive vision then give them great power to implement it – but subject to two key constraints. Firstly, that they are defenestrated the moment they start ‘losing it’ (which they always do sooner or later) and secondly, that they work with a capable and supportive bureaucracy that challenges their dafter flights of fancy.

    Then, if a narcissist should ever be elected (which is inevitable sooner or later), they will be constrained to work as a team player and not go off on some tangent supported by a kitchen cabinet of dubious ability.

  • Peter Watson 18th May '20 - 1:38pm

    @Alex Macfie “we did not “go soft on the Tories”, we attacked both Tories and Labour”
    It never looked like that.
    The two strands of the Lib Dem campaign appeared to be anti-Corbyn and anti-Brexit (with the latter including some more anti-Corbyn). At the time, I assumed that this was because the party’s priority was attracting Tory Remainers (my Lib Dem candidate, Antoinette Sandbach, was the Tory MP before the election, and I wasn’t aware that she’d had a change of heart on any other policy issues).
    Ultimately, anti-Corbyn seemed more important than anti-Brexit, with the party looking more comfortable with Johnson’s Brexit than Corbyn’s referendum. Maybe, in a parallel universe, that referendum delivered Remain, and the Corbynism detested by Tories and Lib Dems was stifled by opponents in his own party.
    Perhaps, since Corbyn is no longer Labour leader, the strategy can be considered a success? And perhaps Tories with a social conscience could be the Lib Dems core vote?

  • Alex Macfie 18th May '20 - 2:15pm

    @Katharine Pindar: I think one thing that was clear from the Thornhill review is that there was no one policy or action responsible for the disappointing December 2019 result; rather it was the culmination of serious deep-seated structural problems with the party and how it operates. But if, as you suppose, our past errors are always going to define us in the eyes of voters, then there doesn’t seem to be much point in any reform of the party, we might as well just disband.
    Revoke may have been a change in policy from what we had been advocating earlier, but it was what we went into the election with, whereas the Coalition mistake was that what we implemented or enabled in government was often very different, and in some cases opposite, to what we had campaigned on. It’s apples & oranges. If we are “unreliable” because we pivoted from 2nd referendum to Revoke, then surely Labour and the Tories are even more unreliable on Brexit; Labour in particular was saying something different every day and for every audience.

  • Alex Macfie 18th May '20 - 2:15pm

    We do not need to be defined by our recent past. The Tories are going to continue to attack Labour over its recent Corbynite past. Whether such attacks will work depend mostly on how Labour responds. The Tories were still, in 1997, attacking Labour as if little had changed since Foot was leader. It didn’t work then. One reason was that Blair was obviously a different type of leader, leading a very different Labour Party. But another was that he deflected questions about the party’s past, saying that what we had to focus on was the mess the Tories had been making much more recently, and on what Labour was going to do to fix it. We were not good at doing that in the last election campaign, which is why scripted attacks on us over the Coalition from Corbynites continued to have traction.
    So fast-forward to 2024. We’ll have had 4 years of a hard-right Tory government, and most likely a hard Brexit and a recession. We’ll also have the fallout from the government’s handling of the Covid crisis. And we’ll need to hold the Tories responsible for their mess. They might well throw “Revoke” back at us, to distract from their own failures. Probably so will Momentum, mostly out of spite, because they will still hate us more than they hate the Tories. But they will be marginalised after 4 years of Starmer, with no party machine through which to communicate their invective. And such attacks will only work if we let them work. If there is one thing in our communications that would bring about a demonstrable improvement in our performance, it would be to deflect attacks on us over the past as Blair did over Labour’s past in 1997, and instead bring the conversation to the failures of the Tories, in government on their own for more than 4 years.

  • David Evans (18/05 @ 11:07 am)

    “[It] looks like a list of long held ‘solutions’ from the ‘managerial excellence through technology’ faction of the party, much loved by the powers that be.”

    I agree – there are some very good bits but still too much management babble – which, in my experience, is always cover for not knowing what to actually DO.

    A fantasy * of techno-fairies won’t help either. (*AFAIK ‘fantasy’ is the proper term for a group of fairies, techno or otherwise).

  • @ Alex Macfie “We do not need to be defined by our recent past.”

    Well, I suppose Asquith and Lloyd George could have said that back in 1924……. but we know what happened next.

    Then you say, “rather it was the culmination of serious deep-seated structural problems with the party and how it operates.”

    No it wasn’t, Alex. it was much more than just operating structure. It was the culmination after 2007 of the Party supporting policy stances and decisions both inside and outside government very different to the left of centre progressive ones it was known for for over forty years.

    This was compounded by individual levels of misjudgement and incompetence which unsurprisingly failed to appeal to an electorate looking for a future (and they hoped) competent government.

    It’s a tarnished brand, and one heck of a job for whoever takes over the leadership.

  • Alex Macfie 18th May '20 - 4:26pm

    @David Raw: The people responsible for changes in policy stances and decisions from 2007 (i.e. people like Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander, David Laws and Jeremy Browne) have long left active politics. I’m not even sure they are all still party members. I find it bizarre that people who are supposed to be our supporters (never mind our opponents) are still harping on about it as if Clegg were still our leader and not in sunny California.

    Let’s again fast-forward to 2024. In May 2021 the Lib Dems finally elected a new leader, and wanting a clear break from the past elected one of our newer MPs; let’s call her Wera-Layla Cooper. An election is about to be called; the country is in the middle of a recession; there are queues at border posts because of Brexit; both Scotland and Northern Ireland are on the edge of breaking away from the UK; a report has recently been published condemning the Johnson administration over the high cost and death rate from its handling of Covid-19. The Lib Dems are well into a project of implementing the recommendations of the 2019 General election review, more or less in tandem with Keir Starmer’s Labour, are issuing regular attacks on the Tories. Yet, every time the latest Lib Dem attack on the government apears on LDV, the usual suspects bleat about how Lib Dems in the Coalition government voted for this or that Tory austerity measure, and how this government is all our fault anyway because we “gave Johnson an election” and campaigned for Revoke. There are a lot of references to “Swinson” even though no-one of that name is a candidate in the election, or member of any legislature.
    Unfortunately I can imagine this sort of thing in 2024. It’s bad enough when our opponents do it,but when our ostensible supporters join in the chorus it’s deeply damaging to our brand and our campaign. We need to stop it.

  • Alex Macfie 18th May '20 - 5:10pm

    David Raw: I said nothing about how successful Lib Dems would be in my hypothetical 2024, so your reference to “Accrington Stanley win[ning] the European Cup”. Realistically I don’t expect more than about 20 gains max at the next election. My criticism is of the tendency of our own supporters to amplify the narrative about us put forward by our opponents, and this habit can only harm our chances of a successful revival.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th May '20 - 5:36pm

    Yes. there was no one policy or action responsible for the disappointing December 2019 result, as you say, Alex, and I am grateful for the Thornhill report exposing so much that was wrong. But my point that we showed unreliability and inconsistency in adopting the Revoke policy still stands (thank you, Russell), and I think it will not be forgotten. It is daunting for us activists, who had seen our party slowly climb back from the disasters of the Coalition years and adopt many useful and progressive policies since, to have had to see us throw away our recent reputation for steady consistency, so striking in the years of deep division in both the large parties, and adopt foolish stances. It’s hard enough anyway to convince the voters of what we stand for apart from Remain.

    Still, David, members really have adopted those left-of-centre progressive policies, so it was exhilarating to go to Conference and debate them for several years until Bournemouth, even if one was not always sure that all our leading figures were completely on board. The job for us now is to find ways to show voters what we really are, and we have to do that nationally as well as through the hard work of our many excellent councillors, who have my wholehearted admiration. Well, as Alex says, four years of this present government should show failures enough to be able to deflect blame onto them.

  • Peter Watson 18th May '20 - 8:40pm

    @Alex Macfie “My criticism is of the tendency of our own supporters to amplify the narrative about us put forward by our opponents, and this habit can only harm our chances of a successful revival.”
    While there is certainly an element of Private Frazer’s “We’re doomed”, I think that a lot of the time those supporters (or potential supporters) are trying to highlight obvious shortcomings in the party’s position and the lines of attack they invite from other parties in the hope that something can be done to address them. I would suggest that the party’s current parlous state owes less to those whingers than it does to the people to whom and about whom they are whinging.
    These weeks mark the tenth anniversary of Lib Dems going into Coalition Government and over the course of three general elections since then, it looks like the whingers have been on the right side of the argument and it is difficult to see what, if anything, the party has learnt in that decade. Phrases like “move on”, “nothing more to see here”, “sweep it under the carpet”, “head in the sand”, “blinkered”, etc. seem to sum up the failed strategy to regain voters’ trust and confidence.

  • As Katharine Pindar says, the Revoke policy was illiberal and undemocratic. Those are grievous flaws, but of course, political parties have sometimes been highly successful electorally with policies that are illiberal and/or undemocratic.

    The Revoke policy, however, also had worse flaws. It was blatantly arrogant. Like the “Swinson for Prime Minister” pitch, it was a policy that might almost have been deliberately designed to shout about its own arrogance, to rub the noses of the nation in Lib Dem conceit. It was a demonstration of breathtaking overconfidence. It showed the nation that the Liberal Democrats should not just be ignored or marginalised. They also deserved ridicule. They deserved to have the contempt, which they had displayed to the voters, thrown back in their own faces.

    “We do not need to be defined by our recent past.” says Alex Macfie, who goes on to explain how Blair repudiated Foot and thereby avoided being defined by Foot’s failures. But the Liberal Democrats have never successfully repudiated Coalition. As a result, they have stayed in single figure doldrums in the polls for years after the Coalition were defeated in 2015 (and, they are of course back there again now).

    Then suddenly, the relief of Mafeking! On the back of People’s Vote mass marches, Lib Dem polling figures surged back upwards. It should have been obvious that this was just a temporary uplift, a demand from Remainers to Remain, and not a specific endorsement of the Lib Dem Party. But it wasn’t obvious to the Lib Dems.

    The illusion of success went to the heads of the Lib Dems. They showed, by their arrogant response to that illusory success, that they were not fit to govern.

  • David Allen: It’s not so much that Blair “repudiated Foot”, but his deft handling of questions about Labour’s past by saying that it’s more important to talk about the mess that the Tories had created and how Labour would clear it up. “Deft” isn’t a word that could be used to describe our electoral strategy, but it also helped that Blair was not connected with the faction of his party that was in charge under Foot. We might have done better under a leader not connected with the Coalition, simply because such a person would have been better placed to say “Actually, this is not the most important thing to talk about, we should be talking about the failures of the Tories in government,” but no such person was on the ballot paper in our leadership election.
    I do not accept the charge that we were “arrogant”. To do so is to accept that it was on God’s order that the only people allowed to become PM after 12 December were Johnson or Corbyn (which it wasn’t). In that case, it was arrogant of us to even stand in that election. And if we hadn’t made a pitch for PM, we would equally have been derided as pointless. I also do not accept that standing in a democratic election seeking a democratic mandate to overturn an earlier mandate is ever in and of itself “illiberal” or “undemocratic”, and I think this idea is dangerous to democracy. But on that I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. We could have sold it; unfortunately we were not in much of a position to sell anything. Our biggest failure was in communication and media management. we were royally stitched up in media debates, and our inexperienced comms team allowed that to happen.

  • @ David Allen. Difficult to disagree with what you said. Coalition was difficult but defendable. The last 12 months pose existential questions for the party.

  • Alex Macfie 19th May '20 - 1:53pm

    Going forward, the focus must be on ensuring the Tories own the mess they are certain to make of things in the next 4 years. But I am concerned that there will be people, even ostensibly on our side, even after 4½ years of hard-right Tory majority rule, even with a new Lib dem leader with no connection to the Coalition, who will STILL be carping on about the Coalition and about our part in the events that led to the 2019 Tory victory. I’m sure Corbynistas will be doing that, as well as trying to undermine Starmer — and they really won’t mind if their efforts result in the Tories being re-elected. But such indulgent posturing won’t help if one’s aim is to defeat the Tories, because we need to make sure that they, and only they, are blamed for the mistakes made under their watch. We should learn from our past errors, for sure, but it’s no good if our past is going to be thrown back at us anyway.

  • David Allen 20th May '20 - 4:28pm

    More thoughts on Alex Macfie’s comment “We do not need to be defined by our recent past.”

    Political reincarnation is a black art, but one that can be analysed, learned and copied. The Tories are the masters of this art. Every new Tory leader is, hand on heart, going to be totally different from all those mean-spirited Tory leaders who went before. Every new Tory leader is going to be spiritual and sensitive with St Francis of Assisi (M Thatcher), get down with the kidz and wear baseball caps backwards (M Hague), hug a hoodie (D Cameron), or level-up in place of crushing underfoot (B Johnson). Every new Tory leader is fibbing. But they get away with it. A compliant tabloid press, and a cowed BBC, help enormously.

    For other parties, it’s harder. But it is clear what is needed. Kinnock tried to bargain a 50/50 deal with the voters, painfully rowing back from past unilateralism. That didn’t cut the mustard.

    Swinson et al tried to sell the voters on a nuanced view of Coalition, a mixture of good and bad things, which might or might not be tried out again, but if it was, then assuredly the Lib Dems would do it all a lot better second time around, and this time win all the arguments with the Tories. That didn’t cut the mustard either.

    Blair told the voters that he was a million miles away from Foot’s policies. That was credible. Starmer projects the attitude that Corbynism is dead. That too sounds credible.

    If you want to be reincarnated politically, you have to come back as a totally different animal. Otherwise the voters (along, I suppose, with the Buddhists!) will never believe you.

  • Richard Underhill 20th May '20 - 6:43pm

    Gordon 18th May ’20 – 12:47pm
    Defenestration was an occasional Czech practice of moderating an over-powerful ruler who remained in a large chair.
    The communists did it differently, using a balcony.

  • Peter Chambers 26th May '20 - 8:48am

    Bad news and good news then. The bad news is that our party is 100% dysfunctional and opinion is divided on direction.
    The good news is that the only way is up (or out, but let’s not go there). First we have to do something positive. There are priorities, but anything positive and enduring will do to start. Then another thing. This is not the first time we have been totally thrown back. It will probably not be the last.
    We should take heart from the quote attributed to Marshal Ferdinand Foch, “My centre is giving way, my right is pushed back, situation excellent, I am attacking.”

  • chris moore 26th May '20 - 3:32pm

    Sadly, I’ve decided I will leave the party when my subscription expires in March 2021. Been a member since 1985, except for two years during Coalition.

    The Revoke policy was a disaster. It alienated many Remain voters and put off all Leave voters, many of whom used to vote for us. (As indeed did the obsessive focus on Brexit.) The report does its best to avoid saying that bluntly.

    Making support for the EU a litmus test of support for us and for “Core Vote” seat targeting merely trashed our previously loyal support from poor or moderate income non-conformist voters who had made, for example, the West Country a Lib Dem bastion.

    It is perfectly possible to be liberal-minded and have suspicions about the EU; I don’t believe our current purist attitude is liberal at all. (PS I personally am in favour of EU membership).

    I repeatedly tried to draw attention both before and after the result to the to me
    manifest flaws of the “Remain Alliance” Brecon and Radnor by-election; I was variously ignored or censored on party forums by individuals who – as supposed liberals – should have known better. I’m afraid to say I don’t believe the higher party echelons welcome reasoned criticism of their stances.

    I don’t believe the report is clear-sighted or hard-hitting enough.

    Are we a liberal party? If we are, it has to be accepted that a significant minority of liberal voters are anti-European, and we have to be more tolerant and try to get back support from many previously loyal voters whom we have alienated.

    If the Lib Dems are NOT a liberal party, then we can get on with being a pro-EU
    purist sect with a handful of MPS. Sadly, that seems to be the easier and favoured choice. But it’s not something I want to be a part of.

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