Britain needs a Liberal party, let’s make sure there’s still one left

At the time of writing this, we have 17 days left of the leadership election and here is my confession: I cannot wait for it to be done.

Whilst we have two fantastic candidates standing for us, you would think from the comments being slung around by some members on social media that there is some vast ideological difference between the two.

I had the pleasure of chairing Liberal Reform’s Leadership Q&A this weekend and really enjoyed the debate. We discussed everything from nationalisation to the housing crisis, from party structure to the Orange Book.

And you know what? There was very little disagreement: both argued for market solutions to issues around utilities, both agreed that more housing was needed and more pressure should be put on councils to develop Local Plans and both said they would have each other in their “top team” if their campaign was successful. I was left with the calm reassurance that regardless of who wins, our party will have a strong, liberal leader who will make our voice heard in Westminster.
Elections often bring out the worst in people, tempers get frayed and people often cannot see beyond their own positions. However, it is vital that we take a wider view of what really matters.

So, this is my plea to everyone.

Wake up and focus your anger on the real enemy: this Conservative Government.

Whilst we bicker about who used what imprint or made what phone call, the Coronavirus pandemic has taken over 46,500 lives in the UK and is still rising. This is the worst number of deaths in Europe and fourth in the entire world.

Whilst we fight amongst ourselves on whether the coalition was good or bad, the Conservative Government (sans Lib Dems) has re-started its vile assault on refugees, with the Home Secretary saying she will utilise the Navy to block those fleeing persecution and war to better their lives on British soil.

And whilst we jump on Facebook to attack each other on who said what and to whom, our country is rapidly slipping towards a no-deal Brexit which will not only damage our economy but escalate unemployment and put us at the mercy of a growing trade war between China and the US.

They are doing everything they can to smash down decades of social and economic progress in an attempt to shape our country to fit their blinkered and reactive world view.

They are about to kill the Human Rights Act, they are going to burn huge environmental protection laws and push through planning reforms that will strip democratic powers of councils across the country. It’s up to us as an opposition party to stop this happening.

So, we now must follow Ed and Layla’s lead: by concentrating on the vast areas we all agree on, rather than peripheral, internal issues where we don’t and about which the majority of the country doesn’t even care.

We have to ensure that there is a party left after this contest, and attacking ourselves as we have been doing, will only make this harder. Harder for us to unite around the soon-to-be-elected leader, whoever it turns out to be, and harder for us to welcome new members and supporters into the fold.
Britain has always needed a Liberal party and this is even more important today. Regardless of who wins on 27 August, let’s ensure we are ready to step up and fight, because our country needs us.

* Tom Morrison is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Cheadle, community campaigner, and associate director of a specialist communications agency.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • James Belchamber 10th Aug '20 - 4:48pm

    This is the article I’ve been trying to write.

    This isn’t a battle for the ideological heart of the party, and it’s not like either of them are inheriting anything amazingly valuable. No matter who wins, we all have a whole bunch of work to do if we want the Lib Dems to be the Liberal standard-bearer for Britain.

    Get it over with, and let’s get to the much more important work of fixing/rebuilding this party and kicking out that toxic government.

  • Roger Roberts 10th Aug '20 - 5:21pm

    Agree with you all the way Tom. We desperately need a strengthened Liberal party – Honesty and healing are vital for UK government – it in’t easy but essential. I had to hold my nose going through the division lobbies when we were in Coalition – I’d voted for it because it ended the detention of children for Immigration purposes. Whoever is elected I’ll work with them – the cause pleads for an effective movement of liberals.

  • Stephen Howse 10th Aug '20 - 5:32pm

    I’ve backed Ed the whole way and I strongly agree with James Belchamber. Let’s not get bogged down in a tedious internal war in which the only winner will be the Tory government.

  • John Littler 10th Aug '20 - 6:10pm

    A Polly Toynbee piece in the Guardian:
    Like it or not, who leads the Lib Dems matters: Labour can’t win without them

  • John Littler 10th Aug '20 - 6:17pm

    1) A recap of some of the lies and bullocks from the Leave side including present and recent Cabinet Ministers: “There will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside.” David Davis MP ( previous Minister for Leaving the EU – Minister without Portfolio or Notebook )
    “The free trade agreement we will have to do should be one of the easiest in human history….Trade will continue as it is” Liam Fox MP ( then Minister for Trade with accompanying Business Opportunity Timothy )
    “The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want.” Michael Gove MP ( Cabinet Minister for whom Interviews need to be held square on unless the public should notice his nose in extension )
    “There will continue to be free trade and access to the single market” Boris Johnson – Member for Kipper Mailing without EU Ice Freedoms
    “I’m in favour of the single market. I want us to be able to trade freely with our European friends and partners.” Boris Johnson Member for I’m making the career case for either side
    “We would be inside the single market council, and able to shape legislation” Boris Johnson – Member for promoting Turkey in the EU and warnings that 80 million of them would be coming to Britain & EU Protected Foods Pasty Waving )
    “Only a madman would actually leave the single market.” Owen Patterson MP & Actual Madman
    “Not a single job would be lost because of Brexit.” Lord Digby Jones ( rogue ex Chair of the CBI who lost his)
    “Getting out of the EU can be quick and easy – the UK holds most of the cards” John Redwood MP ( Chief Tax Avoidance Investor & loser of card games )

  • John Littler 10th Aug '20 - 6:18pm

    2) ”We will maintain a free flowing border at Dover. We will not impose checks in the port. The only reason we would have queues at the border is if we put in place restrictions that created those queues. We are not going to do that.” Chris Grayling MP ( former Cabinet Minister & Chief Missing Ferry Enabler )
    “Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market.” Daniel Hannan ( then MEP – Leader of UK Conservative Group & Newsnight’s Chief retractor on the Leave Immigration case within 48 hours of the stupid vote)
    “Britain will have access to the single market after we vote Leave.” Vote Leave Campaign ( wiped the lying case within 1 hour of the vote result)
    “The idea that our trade will suffer… is silly.” Vote Leave Campaign ( Much Silliness now unavoidably applying Leave case)
    “Let’s give our NHS the £350m the EU takes every week.” Vote Leave Campaign ( where do I even start???? )
    “We would immediately be able to start negotiating new trade deals with emerging economies and the world’s biggest economies which could enter into force immediately after the UK leaves the EU.” Vote Leave Campaign ( Liam Fox’s failed 3 Diplomatic teams flying 1st Class around the Globe for 4 years to achieve nothing better than a worse deal than now with Switzerland or Aid for Trade with the Horn of Africa)
    “There will be broad sunlit uplands” ( Freedom for UK upper middle class monies to avoid EU Laws and LEAVE UK Tax jurisdiction, labelled as “Investments” to ex.colonial Pacific Islands – Jacob Rees-Mogg MP (the monocled lounging lizard Leader of the House of Commons)
    “We have a great new deal that is ready to go… we can get that deal through a new Parliament in days. It is oven ready. Let’s get Brexit done, and take this country forward.”Boris Johnson PM – Bluffer in Chief and the Dominic Cummings roving infection enabler
    “If Brexit is a disaster, I will go and live abroad. I’ll go and live somewhere else.” Nigel Farage ( the “If Only’ quote which he should have entered as a “when”)

  • Laurence Cox 10th Aug '20 - 7:22pm

    @John Littler

    Polly Toynbee also says in the article:

    It doesn’t matter who wins the Lib Dem leadership, but their fate relies on Starmer’s success – and vice versa.

    I think that she also makes the good point: do we want a Paddy Ashdown (Davey) or a Charles Kennedy (Moran) leadership style? On policies, you could have them mouthing each others’ words without them sounding inappropriate.

    I’m still undecided about who I will vote for.

  • You sum it up, 17 days to go. We could and should have had all this done and dusted by now. The message we send out is one of lethargy. In future once the election is called it should be an immediate seven days for nominations and three weeks later the result. If we are aspiring to be a party on the move then we need to demonstrate that in organising a leadership election, after all there may be another within two years!.

  • Michael Sammon 10th Aug '20 - 11:03pm

    Excellent article Tom. The leadership contest has probably gone on too long, looking forward to us coming together and backing our new leader. Keir Starmer won’t save liberals, we’ve got to get back to holding the government to account and taking the fight to Labour where necessary as well.

  • David Evershed 11th Aug '20 - 12:59pm

    Whilst we Lib Dems consider the Conservative government an enemy, because they hold different views to us, we depart from liberal principles.

    Liberals should respect the sincerely held views of others.

  • Kevin White 11th Aug '20 - 3:34pm

    Britain certainly needs a Liberal party but not one projecting the right-wing ideas so beloved of Liberal Reform. Did you learn nothing from the Clegg years ?

  • Sue Sutherland 11th Aug '20 - 7:52pm

    I’d like to be able to agree with this, but there are very upset people on Facebook, one of whom feels that their professional integrity has been impugned. I do hope that this won’t be ignored or swept under the carpet. I would expect the person who wins this election to extend the hand of friendship and encourage people who voted for or indeed campaigned for the losing candidate to participate in taking the party forward. This is what leadership of the Lib Dems is about.

  • Brian Ellis 11th Aug '20 - 9:50pm

    An excellent article. I have voted. But I have to say that some of the comments made by supporters of both candidates caused me some concern in the tone and vitriol being used to attack one another. This is not good political debate, particularly when it is toward members of the same party.

  • Steven Whaley 12th Aug '20 - 11:21am

    I totally agree with David Evershed’s comment. We really do need to make sure we understand and respect the difference between enemies and opponents unless we want to end up with a USA style fractured society. From the mood music of political opponents labelling themselves as enemies it’s only a short step to the general public labelling each other as enemies.

  • Michael Wilson 12th Aug '20 - 12:24pm

    Thanks for taking the time to write this article. I hope it is shared and taken on board by people across this party.

  • Peter Hirst 13th Aug '20 - 5:17pm

    Is the contest for the election of our leader an internal or external event? It should have been run more as an opportunity to show off our talent, our ideas and our ways of doing things. It has gone on for far too long and there must be a better way.

  • neil sandison 14th Aug '20 - 10:35am

    What is the matter with you all .I would expect robust and honest debate within this party where members make policy .What we are looking for in a leader is clarity of message ,a understanding of the issues that concern members particularly those in the line of fire in local government and the hope that they will be a confident communicator of the parties message to the electorate .We were hopelessly confused at the last general election ,We appeared to have ditched our democratic principals for the revoke message and social justice seemed less important than a EU power block . We should consider this contest as an opportunity to start with a fresh slate in a renewed and robust liberal democrat party fizzing with fresh ideas and up for the challenge .

  • richard underhill. 20th Aug '20 - 6:14pm

    neil sandison 14th Aug ’20 – 10:35am
    There is a demand for new ideas, but our next leader should not claim to expect to become PM. We can all see how difficult the job is, even New Labour resorted to QUANGOS

  • richard underhill. 20th Aug '20 - 6:19pm

    Peter Hirst 13th Aug ’20 – 5:17pm
    This sounds like Cromwell addressing the Long Parliament, as repeated in 1940.

  • richard underhill. 30th Aug '20 - 10:35pm

    Most of these comments predate the election result, wake up and smell the coffee. Neither candidate agreed to adopt the main conclusion of the Alderdice report.
    Both candidates have ideas for strategy, making the role of the newly appointed strategist irrelevant.
    Do we really need to keep the people who caused such lengthy delays in the leadership election. Perhaps they will realise the damage they have done and do the honourable thing themselves.

  • richard underhill. 30th Aug '20 - 10:43pm

    We do need a liberal party. We still have the Preamble to the constitution, which was painfully negotiated between liberals and social democrats at the start of the process. Conference should endorse iit. If conference does not we will be in danger of losing all our principles and would deserve the foreseeable outcome.

  • richard underhill. 31st Aug '20 - 10:50am

    i remember going to France where the Mayor of Paris tried to steal our member party. Senator Malogodi (Italian, past President of the Liberal International) told him off for his bad manners
    The position of Mayor of Paris had reputedly been created to destroy the political career of Jacques Chirac who did go on to become President of France under the constitution of the Fifth Republic although he was nothing like De Gaulle,
    In London Tony Blair was right to create an institution for Greater London (which had a larger population than Paris (or Scotland) but wrong to manipulate the electoral process so as to prevent Ken Livinstone (ex GLC) from standing. Frank Dobson was a Londoner and gave up a cabinet post at Health for the job
    Ken Livingstone won the election as an Independent in purple. He later tried to define anti-semitism on TV and was eventually removed from Labour Party membership. Tony Blair joked that he had “always” supported Ken as he endorsed Ken’s re-election Mayor of London for Labour.
    David Cameron (leader of the opposition ) joked that it was not his idea that Boris d stand for Johnson should stand for Mayor.
    At our office in Croydon colleagues thought that they were working (and living) in Surrey (postcode snobbery).
    Tony Blair had provided a system of second preference votes, showing that he must have thought that Labour voters cannot count higher than two. Shirley Williams has written about this. She won a parliamentary bye-election in Crosby as SDP candidate in Alliance days, but when it came to boundary changes Labour and Conservatives appear to conspired against her. Honest but naive officials may have thought that if Labour and Conservatives agreed the boundary change it must be all right.
    David Marquand had wanted her to be leader in preference to Roy Jenkins who was elected as the SDP’s first leader and said so as Doctor David Owen splintered the SDP, creating what we called SDP2. The Tories gave him a peerage. Legislation sponsored by David Steel in the Lords created the legal possibility of voluntary resignation which Doctor DE’ath has not, yet chosen to take. Margaret Thatcher said that he was “a waste” but she had different reasons. She sent the two Davids to Moscow to explain democratic politics and find out from the Doctor about the health of an expected Soviet leadership successor who died as US President Reagan (Republican former Democrat) pithily observed.

  • richard underhill. 31st Aug '20 - 11:00am

    Jacques Chirac did agree to reduce the French Presidential term from De Gaulle’s seven years to five., in order to attract the votes of socialist electors who disliked the racist Le Pen who had come second in the first round of voting.
    In the single transferable Vote system there is no need for a second round. We should campaign for that as we did in Scotland at the end of the Lib-Lab coalition.

  • richard underhill. 31st Aug '20 - 4:30pm

    I suspect that Layla has been pressurised by her supporters and friends in the Green Party to support party list proportional representation, which is not our party policy and therefore a reason for not voting for her. While the Greens have important policy to display other parties are starting to dress in Green, which their people call Greenwash.
    I was a friend of Enid Lakeman, who lived in the same constituency, and was a purist for STV. Somebody gave her an OBE (which my father would have described as Other Blighters’ Efforts) but in her case they were her efforts, letters in local newspapers all over the country and winning a referendum in the Irish Republic. Call me a purist if you wish, but when the European Parliament exercised its right to propose a common electoral system for itself a Belgian MEP proposed a system of regional lists which might have suited Belgium’s openly divided politics, but was not adopted and would not have helped the UK much. Attending the ELDR we were allowed a large block vote exercised by one of our ‘expert’ leaders because someone had negotiated a vote size based on the votes we got in general elections caused by tactical voting, which, as a purist, I consider dishonest and Paddy Ashdown’s deal with Tony Blair was a sell-out.

  • richard underhill.,. 14th Sep '20 - 8:09pm

    Northern Ireland has its own context, which is gradually becoming clearer as the Tories try to cover up Boris Johnson’s creation of a division in the sea.
    Maybe he believes in the Giants’ Causeway?

  • richard underhill.,. 14th Sep '20 - 8:11pm

    14th Sep ’20 – 8:09pm
    Put a dead cat on the table and they will say “There is a dead cat on the table.”

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