Dorothy Thornhill review update

We published the 2019 Election Review as the pandemic swept the UK and, sadly, I write this update during an even harder third wave. We are reminded every day of the failures of this government and the pressing need for convincing alternatives.

I am encouraged by the steps that have already been taken within the party and the plans ahead for reform. In terrible circumstances, activists, volunteers and staff have stepped up to the challenge my review posed.

We identified three overarching themes in the review, all of which needed profound improvement: re-building campaigning excellence, clarity of leadership and decision making, and vision and purpose.

Our campaigning team is now as well-resourced as it ever has been at this stage in a Parliament and we should commend local leaders, staff and ALDC for the innovation shown to balance campaigning with protecting public health.

The party is working with more internal clarity, and I note in particular the closer cooperation between HQ and ALDC, as well as the work, some of which is coming to Spring Conference, to define leadership roles and responsibilities as highlights.

I am not naive, however, and there are vital areas where change has been slow. I also do not underestimate the challenges of maintaining party energy while so many of us struggle with family sickness, isolation, home-schooling and the like.

We have made less progress on defining and confidently asserting our party’s vision and purpose. Green shoots, for instance, the carers campaign and the start of a change in approach to voter research, are springing up, but the truth is many voters remain, at best, ambivalent to us.

As this Parliament wears on, we face the challenge of shifting our mindset from borderline single-issue campaigning back to the kitchen-table politics of people’s day-to-day lives required to win elections.

In the introduction of my review, I said, “If it is at least recognised that this one hits the key issues, starts the process of making much-needed changes in the party and points the way to success in the future then the time spent by the diligent and deeply committed panel will not have been in vain”.

To end on a positive note, then, I can say that I believe the review has been recognised, that the process of making changes has started, and that the path to success is starting to emerge.

To the members reading this, I hope that as you show patience while the work is done. We must all expect, demand and support the party to be a winning machine again.

In the meantime, all energy into May’s elections!

* Baroness Dorothy Thornhill was the first directly elected Mayor of Watford.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Feb '21 - 2:12pm

    The review was validation of a need for a party to change.

    It isn’t enough. The party has , by virtue of virtue signalling well meaning people, had little of substance to offer during this crisis. Too true of Labour also.

    a zero covid goal, real strategy, alternative ideas, or more constructive engagement, any of these would be far better than absent on too many aspects.

    Party spokespeople are good on certain topics. But the fact is, the party gets little interest because it has little to say that is interesting.

    The media are writing it off. Noble Lords need to take greater note. As do mps…

  • Helen Dudden 10th Feb '21 - 4:09pm

    I think most of us are deeply saddened, by the lack of positive actions and drive to improve this daily pressure of lock downs and other restrictions. The loss of so many lives is frightening, and it continues.
    I’ve been writing on category 3 housing. A real shortage of homes suitable for Power Wheelchairs, they are considered a fire risk. Lithium produces hydrogen when being charged. Very little in the private sector, adapted property is difficult to access unless you purchase.
    So much funding was wasted and we could add time. Life changing! My final word on the virus.

  • Nigel Jones 10th Feb '21 - 4:46pm

    “shifting our mindset from borderline single-issue campaigning back to the kitchen table politics of people’s day to day lives” is a major statement. The lack of local public services must surely be one of these themes and I do mean themes, because joined up thinking is a necessary part of focussing our attention on people. Our Federal Conference and Federal Policy Committees have still not realised the need for conference motions to be more focussed on people and less on technical policy issues. Hence the rejection of the Beveridge 2 motion. Education has suffered from this, by a rejection of the relevance of other local public services to this. As was found on a radio programme a few weeks ago, you cannot talk about improvements to schooling without including other public services in the same debate. You cannot talk about improvements in NHS without talking about social care for elderly and children, ill-health prevention, housing, working conditions and pollution. You cannot talk about improvement to people’s power over their lives i.e. democracy, without talking about devolution of resources to local government and local third-sector organisations.

  • Paul Barker 10th Feb '21 - 4:46pm

    We have been stuck around 7% since last Spring but this has nothing to do with anything Our Party has done or not done, its simply down to Covid.
    I have been a keen follower of British Politics for more than Half a Century & I have never seen such a weird period, the nearest was The falklands War but The Covid trance is weirder. Hardly anyone is much interested in anything but Covid & only Governments can actually do anything about it. The effect is a massive boost for whichever Party is in Government – Tories in England, The SNP in Scotland & Labour in Wales.
    Opposition Parties count for little & “Third” Parties get nothing.
    Trying to assess where Politics will go after Covid is pointless & a waste of mental energy, all we can do is Campaign as well as we can & wait.

  • Paul Barker talks sense here. Yes the context is weird as was the Falklands period. But it is not just about Covid. The other factor is the weird nature of the government. In terms of saying things the satirists will probably cut through more than opposition politicians. In some ways the administration consists of the same old Tories (the usual vested interests, cronyism etc) but in other ways there are additional insidious forces at work to do with accountability and dismissing internal dissent with political brute force. Having the competence to challenge ministers and the PM is seen as a treacherous attribute.Talent is seen as a source of trouble and lying is legitimate.
    Yes the Review has hard work to do and will press on probably slower than we would wish. Yes we must campaign in the short-term with all the energy we can muster. But the bitter pill may be having to wait for the Johnsonite Tories to destroy one another, which would probably leave lasting scars on the country anyway, as with the fall of Trump in the US.

  • Our poll ratings may or may not be for the most part down to Covid and the strange times we find ourselves in. However, it feels like the party hasn’t really even attempted to try and do anything about it. We lack any discernable strategy and don’t have much to say. What we do have to say is generally insipid. It’s especially worrying when we have major elections coming up in May. We need to rediscover some sort of bite in our approach and messaging – and if it offends a few people, well at least it means they actually noticed.

  • The report by Ms Thornhill addressed, as far as I could see, the admininistrative processes within the party. Many of these showed room for improvement and I am sure that improvements have been made.

    I would like to comment on other matters which seem to lie outside of that report.

    The leadership process seemed to be a mess in terms of time taken, range of candidates, motivation and commitment. The result was received in a downbeat manner with insipid enthusiasm.

    The recent flurry of dissatisfaction with the leadership performance on future Brexit policy seems to encapsulate this dysfunction involving policy, communication, general leadership and lack of confidence.

    I do not offer direction on these matters, simply observations.

  • If I remember correctly, after the election there was a survey which asked people their “initial thoughts” about the election but also said that there would be a more follow up survey later on down the line. However the second survey never materialised and the report was published anyway, is this correct?

  • Marco. Ithink you are right. I remember responding to initial thoughts thinking that a more in-depth questionnaire was to follow. I thought I had missed it but now I wonder. Alexander. I second your comments. SirEd has delivered no passion, no energy, no media presence and no leadership. I have seen Farage and Lucas more than Davey this year and he does not even seem to be trying.

  • David Garlick 11th Feb '21 - 9:47am

    Steady boys, steady…

  • Kathy Erasmus 11th Feb '21 - 10:05am

    I am phone canvassing and have absolutely no idea what the party stands for. As a hard working activist of almost 5 years it is just not good enough to say we are making progress. Ed Davey is the new leader and it is about time he put forward our vision for the future. All very well looking to the May election. But what is the message?

  • Katharine Pindar 11th Feb '21 - 11:27am

    The message, Kathy, depends on the ‘joined-up thinking’ which Nigel (Jones) rightly points out is missing. As Dorothy Thornhill mentions in this welcome review of action following her impressive Report, the ‘vision and purpose’ of our party haven’t yet been clearly defined. Some of us, Dorothy, have tried to define it in a vision of a new Social Contract between government and people, to be sought by our party as William Beveridge sought it in 1942: that is, by the mending of the great social ills of our time which are the equivalent of the five great evils that he saw.

    Sadly, it wasn’t difficult to see the equivalent social ills of today, evils before the pandemic which have worsened since: poverty, poor health and social care provision, unequal educational opportunities, homelessness and lack of affordable homes, unemployment and underemployment. The strategy to fulfil the vision is to have a Beveridge-2 plan which will tackle all these ills, which I and Michael BG have been proposing to the party for many months.

    The egg has been laid and the chick is eager to be hatched! It will involve restoring the local services which Nigel rightly points out are so lacking, by government financial backing to enable our superb local councils and councillors to act even more effectively. It should involve a high-powered party working group to bring together the policies we already have and develop and promote them to form the Beveridge plan. Our leader could take and run with that, encompassing his carers campaign and the climate-change initiative, and call it now the Lib Dems’ National Renewal Plan. Let’s ask him to do it!

  • Nigel Jones 11th Feb '21 - 1:00pm

    Katherine, I like your title of a Lib-Dem National Renewal Plan. Improving local public services will be a medium to longterm part of that. People easily notice failings in local government and can therefore think that rule and organisation from central government is the answer; they also think that more local government means more government, so our plan must say we take resources away from central government to give it to local government. It will take time to rebuild local government, because it is not only about money it is about the development of more trained staff, supported by by national experts.

  • David Evans 11th Feb '21 - 6:14pm

    Dorothy, The fundamental problem the party faces is, sadly, that so many in our party (especially at a senior level) are unwilling to face up to the problem, and so love to pontificate and prevaricate rather than do something about it.

    That problem is exemplified by your report, which is totally couched in senior-manager speak and far too polite to those in authority, and instead of focussing on the root cause of our party’s collapse, and calling out those responsible, but instead focussed on processes and reviews. Thus:

    Rec 1a) Create a vision
    Rec 1b) Sort out Diversity
    Rec 1c) Develop a Strategy
    Rec 2a) Clarify, codify, and communicate
    Rec 2b) Resource a clear Plan
    Rec 3a) Develop a Specific Strategy
    Rec 3b) Understand and Put in Place the Resources
    Rec 3c) Understand and Put in Place the Resources (Part 2)

    An inevitable result of a Review Panel made up almost entirely of Senior Managers and Directors unwilling and unused to saying that the problem lies in the attitudes and approach of the people at the top, who gave then the review to carry out.

    Just one example

    Weak Recommendation 2a) Clarify, codify, and communicate the Roles and remits of the leader, CEO and president.
    Sub Rec v) Ensure that none of the leader, CEO and president should be able to unilaterally overturn agreed strategy, manifesto, messaging or branding.

    Relevant Findings in report
    a) decision making in the hands of an unaccountable group around the leader.
    b) an ‘inner circle’ of advisors
    c) the leader’s team opted to support a motion that in the unlikely event of a majority Lib Dem government we would revoke Article 5

    Finding that should have been in the Report
    d) “Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon in surprise move to trigger snap election

    Immediate Result – Lib Dems almost destroyed in snap election.

    Long Term Effect of Recommendation
    18 January 2021 Ed Davey on Andrew Marr Show “We are not a Rejoin Party!” Followed by Whoosh noise in background as Brand built up by Lib Dems as pro EU party over decades disappears out of the window.

  • @ David Evans “Ed Davey on Andrew Marr Show “We are not a Rejoin Party!”

    It’s more than just an arbitrary policy shift on the party’s most well known distinctive policy though, David. There’s the lack of anything else creative or new – plus denial of the still lingering memories and effects of 2010-15.

    If I was a football manager looking for a twenty goal a season charismatic striker to save me from relegation, I wouldn’t go looking for a holding defensive midfielder lacking pace, creativity and power as the answer to that problem. I’m afraid the general public are observant enough to know the difference. Some players have it – some don’t.

    The other thing is a great many people north of the Border have had enough of London based patronising Tory Government – and they’re puzzled why Scottish Lib Dems don’t get this. Hence now Scotland’s fifth party – which flying visits to a Fife zoo won’t cure.

  • Peter Watson 12th Feb '21 - 8:31am

    @David Raw & Martin “I am finding it hard to understand the Scottish Lib Dems … I am not even sure what they stand for”
    Apologies for going further off-topic, but with regards to the Scottish Lib Dems, I often wonder what their policy is on tuition fees. With the English party having defended the current scheme for several years and opposed changes, are the Scottish Lib Dems calling for Scottish students to pay similar fees? If so, it sounds like a political death wish, and if not it makes it harder to pin down exactly what Lib Dems on both sides of the border stand for.

  • David Evershed 12th Feb '21 - 11:04am

    Our party has become a rebel without a cause.

    Or at least a rebel without a distinctive cause, distinctive from either Labour or Conservative.

    And I’m not too sure about the rebel bit.

    I suggest a return to liberalism, social liberalism and economic liberalism, both of which the party has drifted away from.

  • As a Dorothy Thornhill review update this article is inadequate. Is there a longer written report that sets out all of the original Dorothy Thornhill review recommendations and lists what has actual happened to further them?

    For the autumn conference last year Katharine Pindar and I submitted a motion to influence the development of a party vision and purpose. It was not accepted for debate and we were informed that we should feed in our thoughts into the consultation session at conference on the Thornhill review. The spring conference does not include a debate on a draft vision and purpose following the consultation session at last conference.

    Hopefully when such a draft paper is produced (and I hope it will be a draft paper and not a formal proposal) it will include the vision of a new Social Contract to deal with the social ills of poverty, poor health and health care, deficient education, skills and training, homelessness and lack of sufficient affordable homes, unemployment and underemployment.

    Our vision should include the idea of what a liberal society looks like and I hope we can agree a liberal society is one where everyone who wants job has one, where everyone who wants a home of their own has one, where no one is living in poverty with an income below the poverty line, where everyone has access to free good quality training to enable them to obtain a job which is suitable for them and no one is held back by health issues and where the economy is run is a sustainable way.

  • Great post from Michael BG. Where’s the beef, Dorothy ?

    @ Peter Watson and Martin : A simple look up, chaps : “Holyrood 2016, Scottish Liberal Democrat manifesto .. › election-2016-15

    But has a penny on income tax come or gone or reappeared ? Oh, Hokey, Cokey, Cokey… In-out, in-out, shake it all about. 2005 IN, 2008 OUT Glenrothes by-election, 2010 OUT, 2015 OUT, 2016, Holyrood IN – YET AGAIN.

    Martin asks, “Do you have any explanation, that might help? Is it possible that Scottish Lib Dems are much more conservative than members south of the border?

    Your daughter has more evidence, Martin, but it’s a good question. It didn’t used to be but many radicals resigned 2010-15. There’s a number who still want rid of nuclear weapons and another Indy Ref – and even Independence. My question to you : Do Lib Dems in London and the Home Counties have much of a clue about Scotland – and are they more conservative than members north of the border ? Cleggy certainly was.

    Most people here credit Nicola Sturgeon for competent handling of Covid, and the SNP do well at Westminster PMQ’s. The Scottish Government can be described as social democrat and slightly left of centre. They’ve tackled inequality and poverty better. Lib Dems are in a confused tangle wanting a second Brexit referendum but opposing a second Indy ref. Now Sir Edward says the Lib Dems aren’t a rejoin party, but the SNP cetainly are.

    Plus points ? Willie Rennie is a thoroughly likeable decent bloke, Holyrood has PR, is efficiently run and has no non-elected second chamber.

    CONCLUSION For years Scots ran the Empire and Downing Street. They are more than capable of running all their own affairs. Occasional Colonial visits to a Livingston Vaccine factory posing in a white coat won’t change this, nor will flying visits to a Fife zoo. Tickled porcupines don’t have votes.

    Seven of the last Liberal Leaders have been Scots, but where’s the next one coming from ?

  • Peter Watson 12th Feb '21 - 10:00pm

    @David Raw “A simple look up, chaps : “Holyrood 2016, Scottish Liberal Democrat manifesto”
    Thanks for that. So in Scotland, it’s “No tuition fees for students.”
    That leaves me confused about why tuition fees are such a good idea in England but not in Scotland. Must be a tricky balancing act between Scottish MPs vs. MSPs.

  • No need to repeat the excellent comments so far. I lay this entirely at the door of 3 people; the President, the Leader and the CEO. They don’t get it. Typified by an Officer in my erstwhile LP – People on the doorstep don’t want to hear about policy. REALLY! These dinosaurs are the PROBLEM! Leadership, vision and strategy. It’s not difficult.

  • @ Peter Watson “Must be a tricky balancing act between Scottish MPs vs. MSPs.”

    No, Sir, given that the vast majority of Scottish MSPs and MPs happen to be SNP – and also that your admission of confusion is unusually self effacing.

  • Indeed David (Raw), we have become a party whose senior figures have totally forgotten how to do the basics right when in a small party. Instead they seem to expect earnest press releases about the latest pronouncement of Ed on the superiority of the Lib Dems in some aspect of life or other, to be treated with due deference by the humble press of a grateful nation.

    Likewise, senior figures post on LDV to tell us how absolutely swimmingly things are going and then don’t respond when the poor old infantry point out the feet of clay.

    We are in a very bad place, but so many seem content to stay there.

  • Peter Watson 13th Feb '21 - 12:59am

    @David Raw “No, Sir, given that the vast majority of Scottish MSPs and MPs happen to be SNP”
    Much about the Lib Dem position(s) confuses me, but in this case I was only thinking about being confused by the balancing act of Lib Dem MSPs and Scottish MPs facing both ways on tuition fees, especially this far down the line. As far as I can tell the SNP have opposed tuition fees in both Parliaments so don’t have the Lib Dem predicament of telling Scottish students that tuition fees are a bad thing if they want to study in Scotland but a good thing if they want to study in England (while at the same time defending the Union!).
    I know Rockall about Scottish politics but I suspect that, especially when compared to 2010, it’s no coincidence that now “the vast majority of Scottish MSPs and MPs happen to be SNP”.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Feb '21 - 2:45am

    There is a fine article from Ed Davey , in the New European, fertile ground for us as a party if he carries on the way he writes or speaks, in the interview.

    Here is a reason to look ahead with, rather than, anti, our leader!

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Feb '21 - 8:00am

    @Lorenzo Cherin
    “There is a fine article from Ed Davey , in the New European”

    Link please

  • Peter Watson 13th Feb '21 - 8:37am
  • Paul Barker 13th Feb '21 - 6:41pm

    The reason we have been steady around 7% since last Spring is simply Covid. The “Covid Trance” boosts Parties in Power – The Tories in England, The SNP in Scotland & Labour in Wales. Opposition Parties get squashed & Other Parties get ignored. We should be celebrating the fact that we have a “Core Vote” of 7%, its been significantly smaller in the past.
    We have no idea where we will be when The Covid Trance lifts, the results in May will give us some pointers but we wont know for sure till May 2022.
    All we can do now is campaign & be kind to ourselves & each other.

  • @ Paul Barker “The reason we have been steady around 7% since last Spring is simply Covid.”

    Just that simple, eh ? And in the real world ?

  • “We should be celebrating the fact that we have a “Core Vote” of 7%, its been significantly smaller in the past.”

    Exactly – glad it isn’t just me who thinks this. I am genuinely interested to know what the people who complain about the polls would be saying or doing differently if they were leader.

    “I remember responding to initial thoughts thinking that a more in-depth questionnaire was to follow.”

    Again, glad I wasn’t imagining things here. I wonder if someone involved could comment on this?

  • Donald Cameron 14th Feb '21 - 4:57pm

    Good to read the Post and 31 Comments. It shows there is still quality in the Liberals if, alas, no longer numbers since Labour stole our voters in 1922.
    I also congratulate Paul Barker on his 50 years interest in Politics. However, I am longer as I have been studying Politics since I saw the brilliant Labour Campaign that won, unexpectedly, in a landslide in 1946, i.e. 74 years. [I am 90]
    Identity is a problem. Tories /Greedy Wealthy, Labour /poorer Workers, SNP/Independence fighters, Greens /Trees, Liberals /No useful Answer. When asked I suggest Fairness, Freedom and Competence but that is rather long for a Party Name.
    Alexander wants some Bite in our approach, I suggest FPTP abolishment.
    Paul F. Wants Local Actions not Policies. That can get more MP but does not bring a Competent Government.
    Like most Problems you have to search down, down, to its Root to get the solution.
    In Britain the answer is our voting system for Parliament. It now produces miserable Tory and Labour governments fighting each other for power and votes and ignoring the welfare of the People. We need a Government of all the talents like the National Govt. that won WW II in 1939 – 45. The way to get this is to have more MP from smaller parties, including us, to get a fair, inclusive, competent Govt.
    So the POLICY is to din it into the Voters what the problem is, namely that they must vote for candidates who will abolish FPTP and thus get a Fairer, People Friendly, Competent Govt. that could remove Poverty and make them content. The Liberals are Famous for Promoting P R.

  • Donald Cameron 14th Feb '21 - 5:08pm

    Sorry, Labour landslide win was Summer of 1945.

  • No Marco, we had a core vote in the high teens up to 2010, which we had steadily built up over 50 years. But then Nick decided to dump them and chase a new core vote. So he betrayed their trust.

    What he left was a party most of which had lost its mojo, particularly its will to do the hard work of year round campaigning, doorstep by doorstep, year after year after year. I don’t think we have even started to get it back yet.

  • Agree very much with Martin, people shouldn’t. Infuse a respectable vote share with a significant core vote who are likely to back the party in all circumstances. It is better to live in a house with solid foundations than a palace with no foundations.

    The Lib Dem’s used to chug along by not really letting on to voters what they stood for. Charles Kennedy said that his advisors told him not to acknowledge the Lib Dem’s pro-Europeani for fear of losing seats in the South West.

    This worked up to a point but could be sustained forever. What worked when you had a Blair led Labour Party introducing ID cards, tuition fees and invading Iraq would not work when they have a leader more popular with liberal minded voters. After the coalition, votes were lost in all directions including some to the Tories and UKIP (although most were to Labour and the SNP).

    This issue is not about left vs right or what people thought of Clegg and the coalition. In fact, many people who want a core vote strategy are left- leaning social liberals who don’t want to be pulled apart by the orbit of other parties.

    It is true that the FPTP system makes it harder to pursue a core vote strategy than with PR. However we should work towards a time when there might be PR. Whilst we have FPTP there can still be a targeting strategy to complement the core vote strategy that focuses on local and “everyday” issues.

    Furthermore, following the 2019 election there was a bit of a reshuffle of target seats. The top 20 or so targets look more like natural Lib Dem territory than some of the target seats pursued in the past.

  • Agree very much with Martin, people shouldn’t. Infuse a respectable vote share with a significant core vote who are likely to back the party in all circumstances. It is better to live in a house with solid foundations than a palace with no foundations.

    The Lib Dem’s used to chug along by not really letting on to voters what they stood for. Charles Kennedy said that his advisors told him not to acknowledge the Lib Dem’s pro-Europeani for fear of losing seats in the South West.

    This worked up to a point but could be sustained forever. What worked when you had a Blair led Labour Party introducing ID cards, tuition fees and invading Iraq would not work when they have a leader more popular with liberal minded voters. After the coalition, votes were lost in all directions including some to the Tories and UKIP (although most were to Labour and the SNP).

  • This issue is not about left vs right or what people thought of Clegg and the coalition. In fact, many people who want a core vote strategy are left- leaning social liberals who don’t want to be pulled apart by the orbit of other parties.

    It is true that the FPTP system makes it harder to pursue a core vote strategy than with PR. However we should work towards a time when there might be PR. Whilst we have FPTP there can still be a targeting strategy to complement the core vote strategy that focuses on local and “everyday” issues.

    Furthermore, following the 2019 election there was a bit of a reshuffle of target seats. The top 20 or so targets look more like natural Lib Dem territory than some of the target seats pursued in the past.

  • I’m afraid you are wrong Martin – it was a core vote. It had been with us ever since merger. I can’t see the reason why anyone would deny it.

    You describe the Party’s campaigning prior to 2010 being predicated on a strategy of borrowed votes. It was based on the best option to win in a first past the post system as being tactical voting. You don’t borrow votes, people choose to vote for one of the top two parties in their local area based on which one they like the most (or equally dislike the least).

    This means we gain votes in some areas, where Labour or Conservative voters vote for us because we can best the other party. It also means we lose votes elsewhere because our voters, even Core voters, will vote for their second choice if we are seen to be out of contention.

    What is wrong with that?

  • Marco, you say that “that following the 2019 election there was a bit of a reshuffle of target seats. The top 20 or so targets look more like natural Lib Dem territory than some of the target seats pursued in the past.”

    So we can give it the consideration it deserves, could you tell us what specific seats you mean by the expression “The top 20 or so targets” and how you judge whether a seat is “more like natural Lib Dem territory.”

  • Apologies double post please can you delete the first one

  • @David – presumably, he means the top 20 target seats on the website, based on the majority (We were only 149 votes behind in Dunbartonshire East so that’s number one on the list). Half of those seats are ones we’ve previously held though, so it’s not evident there’s been much of a reshuffle, unless he means that most of that top 20 are now in the South East/London.

    If you mean something different Marco, I’m curious to know too.

  • Looking at the list a bit more – unless you also mean that much of Scotland and the South West are no longer to be considered natural Lib Dem territory?

  • @ David Evans and Alexander

    To explain further, around 35% of the electorate consistently indicate that they hold liberal and internationalist values across a range of issues. So a natural Lib Dem seat is one where an above average portion of the electorate hold such values.

    These seats are signified I would suggest by having above average numbers of a) remain voters and b) people with high levels of education.
    The website electoral calculus estimates the characteristics of each seat and also indicates where they stand on a liberal vs conservative and global vs national scale.

    Of the target seats I think it is correct to say that the following meet all 4 criteria:


    Rank Constituency Majority Swing Needed
    1. Dunbartonshire East 149 0.14%
    2. Wimbledon 628 0.59%
    3. Sheffield Hallam 712 0.63%
    5. Cheltenham 981 0.83%
    6. Winchester 985 0.84%
    7. Cheadle 2,336 2.09%
    8. Cambridgeshire South 2,904 2.17%
    9. Esher and Walton 2,743 2.17%
    10. Lewes 2,457 2.24%
    11. Guildford 3,337 2.84%
    14. Cities of London and Westminster 3,953 4.63%

    SWING 5-10% NEEDED (9):

    16. Hitchin and Harpenden 6,895 5.86%
    17. Finchley and Golders Green 6,562 5.95%
    18. Wokingham 7,383 5.95%
    19. Surrey South West 8,817 7.31%
    22. Harrogate and Knaresborough 9,675 8.50%
    24. Cambridgeshire South East 11,490 8.92%
    25. Cambridge 9,639 8.97%
    26. Woking 9,767 9.05%
    28. Wantage 12,653 9.42%

    And obviously many of these were not previously realistic targets prior to the 2019 election when the Lib Dem total votes increased by 57%.

  • Peter Watson 15th Feb '21 - 10:53pm

    At first glance of that list, rather than complicate matters with an assortment of characteristics, it might be simpler just to target affluent areas to pretty much the same effect.
    These charts (for England) based on the results in 2019 ( and 2017 ( show a depressing continuation of the trend for Lib Dem seats (and apparent targets) to look less diverse. Is there a desire in the party to change that?

  • Peter Watson 15th Feb '21 - 11:50pm

    @Peter Watson “a depressing continuation of the trend for Lib Dem seats (and apparent targets) to look less diverse”
    This chart ranks constituencies in terms of deprivation and the contrast between Lib Dem representation in 2001 and 2017 is stark ( Those two seats in the middle (Carshalton and Wallington and Eastbourne, maybe?) now appear to have been lost as well.

    And looking at the 19 English targets listed earlier, based on “Indices of deprivation” data (, 10 of them are in the 30 least deprived constituencies in the country, i.e. the least deprived 5%.

  • @ Marco So what sort of swing would it take to get back to Clegg’s inheritance of 62 seats, 22% of the vote and 6 million votes ?

    You don’t need a core vote strategy – you need a Core Blimey swing !

  • @ David Raw

    I would suggest that 54 seats is possible in the election after next adding these 23 to the ones above:

    Swing needed 10-20% (i.e 5-10% over 2 elections)

    31. Mole Valley 12,041 10.54%
    32. Romsey and Southampton North 10,872 10.58%
    35. Ross, Skye and Lochaber 9,443 11.84%
    36. Henley 14,053 11.96%
    37. Chelsea and Fulham 11,241 12.00%
    38. Totnes 12,724 12.19%
    39. Witney 15,177 12.38
    43. Newbury 16,047 13.37%
    44. Tunbridge Wells 14,645 13.40%
    50. Sussex Mid 18,197 14.50%
    51. Chesham and Amersham 16,223 14.57%
    54. Epsom and Ewell 17,873 15.03%
    62. Buckingham 20,411 16.08%
    63. Wiltshire North 17,626 16.09%
    65. Cotswolds, The 20,214 16.52%
    67. Maidenhead 18,846 16.68%
    69. Horsham 21,127 16.70%
    71. Hampshire North East 20,211 17.05%
    72. Reigate 18,345 17.26%
    73. Hampshire East 19,696 17.31%
    84. Arundel and South Downs 22,521 18.34%
    85. Salisbury 19,736 18.37%
    87. Windsor 20,079 18.68%

  • It would be hard to get back to 2005 levels unless the SNP implode, a Labour government invade Iraq again and Iain Duncan-Smith becomes Tory leader for a second stint (all technically possible).

    John Phillip Bicknell is probably correct that some of the more marginal seats that don’t fit the criteria as core liberal seats may be more winnable whilst Labour will fancy their chances in some of the other seats (in fact I could see Wimbledon becoming a Lib – Lab marginal).

  • Our problem in Westminster Elections has always been that our Vote has been too evenly spread, if it is now becoming more concentrated in young, well educated, affluent areas that is a good thing, we can worry about Our MPs being unrepresentative after we get Fair Voting at Westminster.
    Trying to guess the Future while we are still under the Covid Trance is a waste of time. We will know more on May 7th but for a good idea of where Politics is going we might have to wait till May 2022.
    Its likely that we wont be back to our 2010 Peak till the end of The Decade, its a marathon, not a sprint.

  • Peter Watson 16th Feb '21 - 1:18pm

    @Paul Barker “Our problem in Westminster Elections has always been that our Vote has been too evenly spread, if it is now becoming more concentrated in young, well educated, affluent areas that is a good thing,”
    “Young, well educated” people in “affluent areas” were already voting for Lib Dems when the vote was “too evenly spread”, as were many other people. I don’t see how it can possibly be a “good thing” if support for the party is “now becoming more concentrated” in that group (especially when in smaller numbers) if that is because other groups no longer support the party. Liberalism, whatever definition we want to use for it, should not be just for the comfortably off. The party needs policies which are driven by and for a wide section of the electorate.
    But mine is a very Anglocentric viewpoint: perhaps support for the party is more diverse in Wales and Scotland.

  • David Evans 16th Feb '21 - 2:19pm

    Martin, you say you ‘simply do not know how to respond further to David Evans’ and then continue ‘core Liberal values is not (unfortunately) the same as a core Liberal Democrat vote.’

    However, if you look back, our discussion was entirely about the core Lib Dem vote, not core liberal values.

    It began with my comment “We had a core *vote* in the high teens up to 2010, which we had steadily built up over 50 years.” which you responded to with “No, David Evans, whatever *vote* we had up to 2010 could never be described as a core *vote*.”

    Clearly you did not mention values (liberal or otherwise) in our discussion at that time and in fact did not mention values until your very last post.

    I think this is the nub of your problem. I can understand your point that core Liberal values are not the same as a core Liberal Democrat vote, but although you say they are not the same, you then manage to conflate the two in your reasoning as to why you do not know how to respond further to me.

    I think if we stick to focussing on our party’s core vote, you will not have these problems.

    My particular interest (and I say this as a lifelong liberal) is in the success of the Liberal Democrat party – particularly in winning elections. Putting it simply this is because that is the only way we can get the significant influence we need to strengthen and reinforce Liberal Democrat values, both liberal and social democratic, across our country. To me, that is so much more than the values of just one part of our party (i.e. the Liberal part) which you and Marco seem to have settled on.

    The periods of success for our party (both Liberal and Liberal Democrat) have always been founded on a fusion of the two value strands, liberal and social democratic. Our failure have always come about when, for whatever reason, those two strands became separated.

    If we want to be successful, we have to return to what works, not what we like.

  • Thank you Martin, I understand what you mean by a core vote. What I fail to see is why you suddenly got it mixed in with pure liberal values. Lib Dem values are different, not profoundly so, but subtly. If for example you look at the Preamble to the constitution for the old Liberal Party, you find

    1. The Liberal Party exists to build a Liberal Society in which every citizen shall possess liberty, property, and security, and none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. Its chief care is for the rights and opportunities of the individual, and in all spheres it sets freedom first.

    Our Preamble, in contrast says

    The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

    The old Liberal Party constitution listed Property rather than Community (to me a rather upper middle class obsession, but in those days and even moreso the further back you look, the more it was true. Ours emphasises balance while the Liberal one makes liberty for the individual paramount. Most liberals (except pure libertarians) find it easy to sign up to values in the Lib Dem preamble.

    Building a core vote around Lib Dem values was painfully slow (about 30 years) but was working. If you seek to build a core vote around liberal values it will take another 30 years to embed it in the public conscious, but even worse I fear, nay I know, it will be much much smaller than we need. That was proven in the 1950s, when we fell to only 6 MPs.

    As I have said on many occasions, Historically, the social democrats were part of the old Liberal party prior to the launch of the Labour party. However, the repeated splits in the Liberal party after WW1 made the Labour party a more hospitable home for social democrats right up to the early 1960s.

    The split that formed the SDP in 1981 and our merger with that party in 1988 gave us the chance to bring those two strands of liberalism back together, which in turn made us a broad enough church to be viable in parliamentary elections. Any reversion to ‘pure liberal values’ will simply confirm we are a small party determined to become even smaller.

  • I am not sure why people are associating the core vote proposals with the classical liberal tradition.
    I guess it is partly because the list of target seats seems like a world of golf courses and Range Rovers. I would suggest however that surely the best way to achieve social justice is to defeat the Conservative party?

    I am a Social Democrat myself in some regards but as Martin says we already have a Labour Party in this country which veers between socialism and social democracy and is currently settled on the latter. Liberals therefore need a distinctive vision and a raison d’etre.

    We could therefore just have a US style 2 party system and rally round Labour but most of us here would find that unsatisfactory due to their instinctive authoritarianism and tribalism.

    To me the real struggle is not left vs right, public vs private or state vs market but instead it is a struggle for individuality, reason, progress, enlightenment, accountability and the dispersal of power. (Anyone wants a speechwriter I have competitive rates).

    Therefore whilst I am grateful to David Evans for sharing the constitutions of the old Liberal party and the Lib Dem’s I rather like the old liberal one. I believe that in the 1970’s the Liberals had a clear identity under Jeremy Thorpe and this was compromised by the alliance with the SDP who like many centrists were illiberal at heart. I would not say the SDP was to the left of the Liberals.

  • Peter Watson 17th Feb '21 - 12:09am

    @Marco “whilst I am grateful to David Evans for sharing the constitutions of the old Liberal party and the Lib Dem’s I rather like the old liberal one”
    Apparently it’s also the constitution of the current Liberal Party ( who have the slogan “Real Liberals (not the LibDems) Fighting for Liberalism”.

  • The key question Marco is not whether you prefer the old Liberal Party Preamble, but whether you prefer to fail. The lesson of history is unequivocal.

  • @ David Evans

    If you look at your history you cannot ignore February 1974 where the Liberals secured 6 million votes or the gain of millions of voters in the 1960’s under Jo Grimond long before the Social Democrats were on the scene.

    You have actually given me a new argument namely that the Lib Dem’s present lack of identity has it roots in the alliance and merger era.

    The watering down of the commitment to individual rights is very telling. Saying they have to be “balanced” as if they are somehow at odds with ideas such as equality and community, rather than the foundations that underpin society, shows the Social Democratic suspicion of freedom.

    It is concerningly close to Labours constitution that says “the rights we enjoy reflect the responsibilities we owe” which suggests that rights and liberties can de dispensed with rather than something that is inalienable.

    Also if property is an “upper middle class obsession” how was it the case that right to buy was so popular with the working classes?

  • After the Second World War the Liberal Party had a core vote, i.e. a baseline of people who would vote Liberal if the party put up a candidate above their general election performance. For example the Liberal Party achieved 5.9% share of the vote at the 1959 general election this was because they only stood in 216 seats. Their national opinion poll rating was between 15 and 19% between February and August 1959. By 1979 this core might had fallen to about 13%. It was felt that the Alliance had a larger core vote and it might have been very close to 22%. It declined after 1988 and might have been around 17% in 1997.

    However, we enacted many policies while in the coalition government which reduced our core vote. I believe that the Public Sector Pensions Act 2013 was a cause of a large part of this decline among some groups which had been part of our core vote – middle manager level civil servants and public servants and teachers.

  • David Evans 18th Feb '21 - 2:46pm

    Just a note to all, I have contacted Dorothy Thornhill, and suggested that she look at the concerns raised in the comments here and she has agreed to look at the comments and answer where she can.

  • David Evans 18th Feb '21 - 5:56pm

    Martin, the Liberal party constitution was 1980, according to the site where I found it.

  • @ Martin

    Yes it is a discussion that needs to be had as the
    concept of liberalism has become rather “debased” and seems to mean whatever people want it to mean.

    For example what is often described as liberalism in my view has more to do with the politics of the “new left”, particularly the emphasis on group rights (which in recent years has led to a focus on symbols, emotional harm, safe spaces, regulation of speech etc). Social liberals who I would agree with on some issues seem to have embraced these ideas.

    Meanwhile what used to be accepted as liberalism is now written off as libertarianism which misrepresents the latter philosophy. Libertarianism is an authoritarian ideology that envisages a minimalist role for the state, which includes defence, security, law and order and property rights. They accept that the state may use authoritarian means to carry out these functions and are opposed to human rights legislation (they are often indifferent to democracy itself believing that people can exercise choice via the free market).

  • I think we do need to much more “march towards the sound of gunfire” as Grimond put it.

    And a clearer position on rejoining the EU, climate change and indeed Beveridge 2 would help.

    There is always a danger of having clear policies. And I think it was Harold Wilson (but Google doesn’t immediately reveal) who said that “The Liberal Party has original and sound policies but unfortunately none of the original policies are sound and none of the sound policies are original.”

    But there are at least 25% “hard” remainers/rejoiners. Of course you run the risk of antagonising less “hard” rejoiners and leavers/stay-outers but we should be saying to the harder rejoiners – use the Lib Dems to send a message to Labour and the Tories on Europe. And clearly we can win our top marginals on this message.

    More pressingly the Greens are now equalling us in the opinion polls and we need to guard against that flank.

    I wrote on LDV long before the 2019 election that political parties underestimate how long it takes and how much they have to draw a line under things when they are seen to have messed up in Government (Labour with the winter discontent in 79, Tories with sleaze etc. in 97, us with the coalition in 2015) and we should rebrand ourselves as the “new Liberal Democrats” and draw a clear line under the coalition.

    It’s not happening enough at that moment – and sadly I fear that in Ed Davey we have only reached the position that the Tories did with Michael Howard – this is progress but unfortunately like Howard, Ed (and I like him a lot and as with Howard he is a clever and thoughtful politician) also probably has too much of the ancien regime about him.

  • Michael1 “Clearly we can win our top marginals on this [hard rejoin] message.”

    Can we, evidence please?

    How many seats did it gain for us in 2017 or 2019 when Brexit was a very major issue? How big an issue will Brexit (or, rather, reversing it) be in 2023/24? Are the extra votes that were attracted to us in Dec 2019 (although our number of seats fell) ‘Core Votes’ or transient Brexit protest votes? Will such hard core anti Brexit voters as still exist in 2023/24 be enough to outweigh all those who, as you say, would be deterred by such a hard core message? That of course has to be ‘enough’ as in a critical mass in a given Parliamentary constituency fought under FPTP.

  • OK – this is a hunch.

    But Labour has abandoned the Remain/Rejoin position – GB wide (if the greens remain irrelevant) we alone now have this position.

    Now there were several issues on the European issue in 2019

    1. We were not the only party advocating remain – Labour were too (most of their MPs) – in most seats remainers would vote Labour as the best way of getting a referendum – indeed I almost did – other than for my tribal loyalty to the Lib Dems.

    2. Conservative remainers were put off voting for us by the fear of heavy taxation from a Corbyn government – especially in South East seats – this fear is considerably reduced. with Starmer

    3. The “revoke” position without a referendum was a mistake.

    Now we need to be as inclusive as possible and one of the geniuses of the “Get Brexit done” slogan was that it appealed to hard-line Brexiteers but also to soft-ish remainers who thought “yes – we have had the Referendum, let’s get on with life.”

    Now it’s a debate as to whether Europe will be salient at the next election. Independence in Scotland has gained in support when I suspected that most unionists would have thought it would have declined and the SNP with it. However – apart from a smallish 10% – there is overwhelming support for the Welsh Assembly/Parliament despite a very close vote setting it up.

    There is a debate to be had which way it will go for the EU. But people saying they would have voted Remain in the referendum leads Leave by a sizeable amount as does those who think it was wrong to leave over those who think it was right. It is true that the number who would vote rejoin over stay out in a *future* referendum narrows but rejoin still leads stay out.

    Now there is a debate over strategy which mainly seems to be “don’t mention the war” from Ed Davey. This might be the best thing but I think that we can get our rating up into the mid-teens if we’re clearer and attracted some pro-Europeans and then you can add to that by saying we are being successful.

    I appreciate this is difficult in more eurosceptic areas such as Chesterfield but actually you get the europhiles out on the Europe issue and add to it with people who like us locally – which is actually what UKIP did.

    As it happens I am not an ardent europhile – if I could have split my vote in the referendum 45% would have gone to out and 55% to Remain – it’s just what I think is the best strategy for us.

  • Alex Macfie 19th Feb '21 - 8:46am

    John Philip Bicknell:

    “Marco – of your top 20 I would extract Dunbartonshire East, Sheffield Hallam, Cambridge, Cities of London & Westminster, and Finchley & Golders Green as realistic targets (on current voting trends the first will swing heavily to the SNP, the next two to Labour”

    But the next election is most likely 3¼ years away, and a lot can happen between now and then. What are the “current voting trends” (how can there be any, there haven’t been any elections at all in England and Wales since March last year?) showing that Sheffield Hallam and Cambridge would swing heavily to Labpur? Do they come from evidence on the ground or just an extrapolation from national opinion polls? Starmer appears to be taking Labour’s pro-EU metropolitan vote for granted in pursuit of Leave-leaning Red Wall voters, as shown by recent statements and voting for Johnson’s Brexit deal. This gives us an opening in many Labour-facing targets (admittedly not all, I am aware of the position in seats such as Chesterfield).

  • I’m sure a rough sleeper on The Strand rejoices In the freedom to buy a five course meal in the Savoy should he or she accumulate enough contributions from the passing public.

  • Peter Martin 19th Feb '21 - 10:43am

    “Also if property is an “upper middle class obsession” how was it the case that right to buy was so popular with the working classes?”

    The two aren’t at all mutually exclusive. Anyone who listened to the chatter of the rapidly upwardly mobile classes during the years of similarly rapid rises in their house prices knew they weren’t of some minor and passing interest.

    As for the working classes buying their formerly rented council housing; who wouldn’t be attracted with the prospect of a crazily good deal? Who wouldn’t want buy up their home for at a certain price knowing full well they could sell it for double the same amount a day later?

    It’s more to do with basic nous than social class.

  • @Michael1. So no evidence at all, just a hunch. A hunch that the strategy that failed from 2016-2019 will somehow work in 2023/24.

    Yet in 2016-19 Brexit was a big issue although, as the two actual GE’s as opposed to opinion polling showed, not an issue that would in fact cause a landslide to the Lib Dems. By 2023/24 reversing Brexit will not remotely be the issue that it was in Dec 2019, so why would an already failed strategy work in less favourable circumstances?

  • @Paul Holmes

    EVERY prescription for a strategy is a hunch we should be humble enough to admit that. It’s when you’re certain things go wrong!

    Very clearly this is not the failed strategy of 2019 – as I pointed out a lot of things went wrong with that.

    The message I want on Europe is not a “hard one” but party policy – a referendum on possibly rejoining Europe but one our leadership should be clearer on it – it seems they’re “scared of mentioning the war”.

    2016: Local Vote share – Con 31%, Lab 30%, LD 15%
    2017: Con 38%, Lab 27%, LD 18%
    2021 YG Polling – Con 41%, Lab 36%, LD 6%
    2021 Local Vote share prediction based on polling:
    Con 36%, Lab 31%, LD 14%
    Compared to
    2016: Con +5%, Lab +1%, LD -1%
    2017: Con -2%, Lab +4%, LD -4%

    i.e. we’re going to have a disastrous set of results in 21, & prob 22 and 23 (when we’re defending a good 2019).

    Greens are potentially snapping at our heels -& could have v.g. locals this year & coming ones.

    Where can we get extra votes? Obv. pointing out the local Lib Dems work hard for the area and the Labservative council is wasting money hand over fist that could go to local health services and schools.

    There are 3 alternatives:
    1. We keep quiet on Europe and try to win local issues. Fair enough – but you need some national base support for even the best local campaigners & frankly overall our local campaigning structure is decimated.

    2. We try & attract leavers nationally. Probably for us a forlorn hope – I appreciate the concern that local campaigners don’t want leavers antagonised against us but see 1. and 3.

    3. We say in the locals – “hey, these elections won’t change the government but you can send a message to Lab & Con – it’s all going a bit pear shaped, the NHS and the economy is suffering from Brexit we should have a referendum.”
    Now that has the potential to attract some remainers.
    47% would vote to remain if the referendum was today (38% leave)
    49% remain in a re-run referendum (37% leave)
    46% say it was wrong to leave (43% right)
    27% want a referendum to rejoin

    Against which we’re attracting 10% of Remain voters.

    Actually if our poll rating begins to move, some leavers will support us as being more successful & we’ll get momentum.

    None are super-attractive but 3 is IMHO best.

    I may be wrong – I hope I am as the leadership doesn’t look as if it’s going to pursue my strategy!

  • Paul Holmes 19th Feb '21 - 3:17pm

    @Martin. You need to leave your bubble. Yes Brexit is not good -which is why I campaigned and voted against it. But there is absolutely no evidence that ordinary voters (i.e.nearly all of them) are particularly het up about it now let alone will be in 3 or 4 years time.

    If all the ‘heat’ in Dec 2019 didn’t swing pro EU voters our way in the much predicted landslide, then the far off election in 2023/24 certainly will not see it happen.

    As for ‘hunches’, my experience of talking to ordinary voters on ordinary doorsteps, in both a Labour facing and a Conservative facing constituency, never once gave me any factual indication that the ‘hunch’ which informed our 2016-19 strategy was based in reality. My empircal observation was far more accurate than all the hunches.

  • @Paul Holmes

    …um I think that perhaps our problem was not 2016-2019 but 2010-2015.

    You hack off a key part of your voters – students and young people and their parents and relatives with tuition fees and then expect them to be back voting for you….

    ….. um probably not!

    Sadly we should not have elected either Jo or Ed in 2019 as they were too much associated with the coalition. But Jo should have drawn a very clear line under it – as step one in putting the bricks in place.

  • @ Paul Holmes “You need to leave your bubble'” is very sound advice.

    It could apply to the direction of travel of the Liberal Democrat Party since December, 2007. Those thirteen years has seen the creation of a party centred physically and mentally in the Metropolitan/South East of England bubble. An aspiration to form a UK Government is a mirage as is being a ‘candidate for Prime Minister’.

    It’s a salutary thought that driving the 384 miles between St Albans and Edinburgh West via the M6 and M74, passes through only one Liberal Democrat held constituency.
    I’m not sure what the Thornhill Review has to say about this, but it must affect the judgements and perceptions of those who control and run this party. A classic example.

    Mark Pack website, 29 October, 2019….. “December election looks to be on, and here’s why it’s good news for the Lib Dems. With Labour now also supporting a pre-Christmas general election, it’s looking about as certain as anything can be in current British politics. It’s a contest that the Liberal Democrats can enter with a high degree of optimism”.

    No doubt Corbyn in Islington saw the same mirage. It takes more than a fleeting visit to a Stockport chippy to sort it out.

  • Alex Macfie 19th Feb '21 - 6:33pm

    John Bicknell: Which are the “more detailed delta poll predictions” you refer to? The most recent national voting intention opinion poll from them was conducted on 21–23 Jan, is a standard poll, and has us on 7% (which is well up on the 4% it had for us in an earlier poll). Maybe you are thinking of the December 2020 Focaldata MRP poll, which predicted that we would be reduced to 2 seats, but there are serious problems with its prediction methodology, and it appears that it involved no local analysis at all.

    Certainly, living in the Richmond Park constituency, I know of no local factors that would lead to us losing both that seat and Twickenham to the Tories, with a 24-point drop in our vote share in the latter (more than in 2015, when we did lose it and our vote collapsed everywhere), compared with a drop of 3 points nationwide.

    So I don’t think I’m delusional at all about our potential for recovery, even in Labour-facing target seats. If the latest supposedly “detailed” opinion poll has my local area so wrong, then it could just as easily be wrong in other parts of the country where it projects our vote to collapse.

  • Being in favour of rejoining the EU isn’t ultimately about marginal seats it is about cementing the party’s identity, raising the national profile, generating enthusiasm gaining new members and keeping existing ones. However as most of the target seats were pro-remain I can’t see why rejoin would be harmful.

    The Liberal party have always been the most pro-European and campaigned for membership of the EEC under Jo Grimond and Jeremy Thorpe long before it happened. Being in favour of Britain being at the heart of European integration is in the party’s DNA.

    As Alex Macfie points out, Keir Starmers strategy is clearly to rebuild Labours core vote by appealing to red wall voters (Corbynism was never a core vote strategy). This has left vacant social liberal space including rejoining the EU and opposing other authoritarian policies that Labour sit on the fence on (such as the spying bill which the Lib Dem’s opposed but didn’t draw enough attention to.

    It would be bizarre if we didn’t seize this vacant territory and if we don’t someone else will. Is it a coincidence that the Green Party are ahead of us in the polls and also the only rejoin party left standing.

    Of course mistakes were made such as revoke and a whole range of policies are needed not just focusing on one thing. For example would be good the return of local income tax to replace council tax. And to try to stake out Conservative territory become established as the natural party of home ownership.

  • @Michael1. No, both were problems. 2010-2015 all but destroyed us. 2016-2019 took us down an obsessive single issue route. A high stakes gamble that didn’t pay off, either in stopping Brexit (which I campaigned against in the Referendum) or in rebuilding our electoral fortunes. Instead it set the seal even more firmly on the destruction of our national electoral position in one time areas of strength as varied as mainly rural Devon, and Cornwall on one hand or urban areas like Chesterfield on the other.

    @Marco. In 38 years of very active membership I have never (until 2016-2019) been in a Party which obsessed about EU membership as being the only ‘true’ badge of our identity. Nick Harvey, coming from a Liberal Party background, wrote an excellent piece on this a couple of years ago in Liberator. In North Devon, he said, being in the EU was a background issue never at the forefront of what concerned people in that traditional Liberal stronghold.

    Are we content to be an irrelevant, tiny, niche Party, confined to a handful of affluent, middle class constituencies mainly in London and the South East? If not we need to stop obsessing about a lost single issue battle (lost in 2016, lost in 2017 and lost in 2019) and get back to campaigning on the issues that concern most people. As the Thornhill Review clearly emphasised.

  • @Paul Holmes

    “2010-2015 all but destroyed us”


    12% then in 2019 was actually quite a good result. Labour ran online ads against us – coalition “austerity” & on their policy of free tuition fees that destroyed us with the key demographic of europhile voters – the younger.

    My memory of 2019 is that Europe was about the only political issue that the media wanted to talk about – whether we liked it or not.

    But… We should have re-branded at the 2019 conference as the “New Liberal Democrats” – saying we were drawing a line under the coalition & supporting free tuition fees & better public services.

    Instead we had the row over Revoke – when we could have built considerable momentum with MPs defecting to us

    What Johnson, Cummings & Crosby understood was that you win elections/referendums on the NHS (regional assembly, AV, Euro & 19 GE). The 1st thing Johnson said on becoming PM was to build new hospitals.

    But 9 in 10 doctors said the NHS was going to suffer with Brexit. Investing in the NHS should have been the first thing Jo said on becoming leader & that was more possible if we stayed in the EU with the Remain bonus.

    Johnson didn’t compromise at all with Brexit voters – he went all out for them. But once he had won them over – later “Get Brexit done” did win over some remainers.

    Now, you’re right we needed (& need) Brexit voters. But there were quite a large number of seats such as St Ives etc. we almost won & prob would’ve with a referendum as supposed to revoke policy – getting some Brexiteer vote for a local champion.

    But where you’re wrong is to say that we win Brexit voters by keeping stum on Europe. Paradoxically we’ll attract some of those back by being vocal on wanting to rejoin Europe via a referendum. This will attract Remain voters – as I say asking them to send a message to Labour and Conservative. AND THEN if we do better then some Brexiteers will support us. But we are NOT going to INITIALLY attract them.

    “Are we content to be a Party, confined to … constituencies mainly in London and the South East?”


    Actually there are large pockets of (younger) Remain voters in Northern cities. You *could* win a very large number of wards – that have turnouts of 20%-30% on a differential Remain turnout. But in case you haven’t noticed some 80% of our most winnable seats ARE in London and the SE – and if we were to win those frankly I and I suspect you would be overjoyed.

  • Peter Watson 20th Feb '21 - 9:26am

    @Michael 1 “My memory of 2019 is that Europe was about the only political issue that the media wanted to talk about – whether we liked it or not.”
    My memory of 2019 is that the Lib Dems did like it!
    It was so frustrating: it seemed that whatever topic a Lib Dem spokesperson was asked about, the reply invariably began with a speech about why Brexit would make it worse or why a “Remain bonus” would make it better, leaving little time to actually explain the Lib Dem position on the topic being discussed (it was like being in a time loop every few minutes on Any Questions and Question Time! 😉 ). Unless the topic were Jeremy Corbyn, of course, but even then the opportunity to call him a Brexiter was rarely missed!
    I assumed that this appearance of being a “one-trick pony” was a deliberate gamble though: the party’s strategy relied on a fairly broad coalition of voters united by opposition to Brexit (and maybe by university educations!), and too much publicity for policy details might deter voters from one side or the other of the political spectrum.

  • If we look at how the Dutch D66 party revived their fortunes it seems they appealed to younge metropolitan voters mainly in the Amsterdam/Randstad area and University towns.

    Similar for the German Greens and to some extent the FDP and the Danish Social Liberal Party and so on.

    In the last 10-15 years liberalism of various shades has fared badly against the politics of nationalism, identity, fear etc. The people rebuilding social liberalism have done so through appealing to a specific section of the vote namely younger and well educated voters in metropolitan areas.

    Of course we have FPTP not PR but that brings us back to the list of target seats above.

  • @ Michael1. Can you please refer me to where I have ever said what you claim “But where you’re wrong is to say we win Brexit votes by keeping stum about Europe.” Because I have never said any such thing. It’s not the first time I have asked people to respond to what I actually say rather than to invent false statements to then attack.

    What I have repeatedly said however is that we need to start the slow return to being a national political party instead of being an obsessive single issue pressure group. Much as the Thornhill Report (what this thread is supposed to be about!) said, albeit in slightly less provocative phrasing.

  • @Marco. You make my point for me. The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and every other European democracy have PR. We do not.

    As I have noted before, a purist Party can win a few seats under PR as with the FDP in Germany or the two Liberal Parties (one Social one Economic and you and I would be in different ones were we Dutch) in the Netherlands. We cannot do that in UK Westminster elections held under FPTP.

    What does astonish me is that anyone should celebrate the fact that we are becoming so restricted and unrepresentative, that our only serious hopes of election are concentrated almost entirely in pockets of middle class urban affluence, almost entirely in London and the South East. Not very diverse is it! What exactly would be the attraction for anyone north of the Watford Gap to vote for, let alone join, such a narrow and insular Party? Thankfully Lib Dems outside the ‘bubble’ can at least get on with local campaigning in the hope that the national shambles of the last 10 years will not last. Rather in the way that the Community Politics advocates led the Liberal Party down a new path in the early 1970’s.

  • @ Paul Holmes “We cannot do that in UK Westminster elections held under FPTP”…. but we can do it in the Holyrood/local government elections held under PR in Scotland, Paul.

    Some say it’s the archaic Westminster FPTP Tory ball and chain (which Scotland didn’t vote for) that’s holding Scotland back….. and maybe, just maybe, the Scottish Lib Dems might come to realise that one day.

  • @ Paul Holmes

    It is much clearer what you are against than what you are for. You also seem to make a lot of assumptions for example:

    “ you and I would be in different ones were we Dutch”

    Really? I’d probably vote for D66 if I was Dutch, who would you vote for?

    “What does astonish me is that anyone should celebrate the fact that we are becoming so restricted and unrepresentative,”

    No. The purpose of a core vote strategy is to identify the people most likely to become loyal voters (which helps to ensure the long term survival of the party/movement). It does not mean they are the only people we care about, far from it.

    “What exactly would be the attraction for anyone north of the Watford Gap to vote for, let alone join, such a narrow and insular Party?”

    The starting point was to say that there should be national appeal to people with liberal values. You said that’s not possible under FPTP. I said there are target seats where we could win. You now say that is too narrow and insular.

    If we go back to 2005 the majority of Lib Dem seats were south of the Watford Gap (as in the services in Northamptonshire). About 11 were in Scotland and only about 15 in the Midlands and North of England which were never exactly strongholds.

    In fact if we did your “driving down the M6 test” if you drove from Glasgow to the M25 how many Lib Dem seats would you have passed through? I make it about 2-3.

  • @Paul Homes

    Firstly a “purist” party can win under the FPTP

    The SNP have won as a “purist” independence party in Scotland
    The Tories won as a “purist” Brexit party in the UK.

    The crucial factor is whether that vote is split. For unionists in Scotland it is split three ways and for Remainers it was split 3 ways in the ’19 GE.

    I would suggest that Labour vacating the Remain ground – gives us an opportunity to appeal to those voters they are leaving behind.

    On London and the SE

    You may want to wave goodbye to the 80% of our most likely gains. I do NOT.

    But this does not preclude us for doing well elsewhere – especially at local level. Lib Dems are good at taking on Labour in their badly run areas such as Liverpool and Manchester and um Chesterfield. Indeed it’s likely that if we were to exploit it well these areas have large numbers of younger student or recent graduate voters that Labour seem to be waiving goodbye to over Europe.

    in 1997 some 80% of our gains were in London and the South – this did not preclude you winning Chesterfield in 2001 – which I suspect would have been very much more difficult if we hadn’t won those London and Southern seats.

    I apologise if I misrepresented you. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly what you are saying. But from the leadership at least it is a “don’t mention the war” strategy & that this is wrong electorally. The front bench motion at last year’s conference was merely to “keep all options open” on EU membership.

    Now we’re in a fair degree of agreement. EU is not the only issue – indeed it is important to frame it in terms of the NHS and jobs and the economy – something that the Leavers successfully did at the referendum and Remainers did not. We also need Leaver voters but does not come from not being strong on Rejoin. And there are of course a wide range of other issues – the NHS, education, climate change, post-Covid renewal.

    But Europe is still a significant issue and people are seeing jobs go to Europe – yes particularly in the finance sector in London and the SE but this will have knock-on effects to the rest of the country and all the problems there are now with redtape and exports. And they want a party to support to send a message on this – and if it’s not us – it will be the greens (and partially Labour).

    And I don’t want us to miss out on this – and I think we are at risk of doing so.

  • John Marriott 20th Feb '21 - 6:14pm

    Going so far for ten days, this is the thread that just keeps on giving! Any thread where the redoubtable Paul Holmes is challenged, by none other than chief statistician ‘Michael1’ must be pretty serious. I wonder why I missed it until now?. I just wonder why contributors like Joe Bourke appear to be missing, while I’m surprised that agent provocateurs such as Peter Martin have barely featured. It’s nice to see my friend, David Raw, giving the pot an occasional stir, while adding a bit of salt and pepper to the mix.

    Sorry if I sound rather cynical; but, folks, I know that you all get excited about such matters, and why not have a “vigorous debate” as ‘Michael1’ has clearly said he enjoys? However, life is going on out there and many people in it don’t appear to have much time for liberalism, or any ‘ism’ for that matter. We have created a materialistic arguably a frivolous society, particularly in the west, where not challenging certain shibboleths appears to be hardwired into many of our DNAs. That’s why ‘conservatism’ seems to win most times. I’m old enough to remember that Tory election poster from 1959, “Life is better under the Conservatives. Don’t let Labour ruin it!”, when we really did have ‘two-party’ politics.

    However, what might just shake up this cosy consensus today, both here and abroad, is the pandemic that is currently affecting the lives of most of us to a greater or lesser extent no matter where we happen to live. So rather than pray for normal service to be resumed as soon as possible, try questioning whether the ‘normal’ we thought we had before is the ‘normal’ that we can sustain in the future. Yes, it ends with an ‘ism’. It’s called realism.

    However, I’m sure that nothing I have written will deter you all from continuing to do what Liberals do best. So, carry on debating; but don’t leave it too long before you again make contact with reality.

  • @Michael1. No the SNP have not just been an Independence Party. They hoovered up the votes (left of centre/progressive?) that New Labour drove away from Scottish Labour and then likewise the votes that Clegg Coalition drove away from us. Two very good Derbyshire Lib Dems that I knew moved back to Scotland after their children finished their schooling here and they ceremonially cut up their LD Membership cards as they crossed the border. They joined the SNP, not because of Independence but because of ‘domestic’ policies. David Raw is another, formally long standing Lib Dem, who comments regularly on LDV about a whole range of SNP policies he supports.

    Neither did the Tories simply win in 2019 as a Brexit Party. Polling analysis showed plenty of Remainers in fact voting Cons rather than LD because they wanted to stop Corbyn becoming PM, because they trusted the Cons on the economy (yes I know but that’s reality for you) and for other reasons. In General Elections single issues are far from being the only thing that shapes how people vote -as we discovered (rediscovered) to our cost in Dec 2019.

    @John Marriot. Well I certainly have not left reality for the joys of online theorising. Today I have dispatched another 5,000 Focus to the local commercial firm who are, this month, continuing the delivery of our all year round literature. Then I took a couple of photos so someone could artwork more. Then I have been doing some preparation for our 17 strong Council Group meeting on Monday prior to Full Council on Wednesday.

  • Andrew Tampion 21st Feb '21 - 7:25am

    Anyone who thinks that trying to re-open the divisive EU/Brexit issue at the moment would be popular is delusion. Similarly assuming that Remain voters would be willing to vote for a single issue pro EU pressure group is optimistic.
    More importantly almost all the pro EU campaigners above seem to overlook, what is for me, the main lesson of the referendum is that many people, perhaps a majority, are not comfortable with the way in which the EU is developing. Had the Maastrich and Lisbon treaties been put to a referendum in the UK one of two things would have happened. They would have passed, in which case it would have been much more difficult for anti EU forces to become popular. Or they would not have passed and the EU would have developed in a way that better suit the UK voters.

  • Alex Macfie 21st Feb '21 - 8:16am

    It was Tim Farron who said that the Dutch are so liberal they have two liberal parties. The same can be said about the Danes. However, it is worth noting that VVD contains people who would make Danny Alexander and David Laws look like radical social liberals. The same can be said of the German FDP and Denmark’s Venstre (the model for the Liberal Party in the TV drama Borgen; Birgitte Nyborg’s Moderate party is a fictionalised version of their Social Liberal Party).

  • John Marriott chips in with a dose of “stop the world-ism” and the familiar refrain that liberalism “isn’t relevant” to most people’s lives.

    You might want to tell that to the exporter whose business is being crushed by Brexit regulations, to someone who is relying on the Human Rights Act to challenge a relative being taken into care, to a non-British citizen too ill to work but told they don’t have the right status to get Universal Credit, to someone who needs medical marijuana to relieve their chronic pain, to the gay couple allowed to marry, the women allowed to have abortions and the innocent people who got their convictions quashed when once they would have been executed.

    These are the people that liberals of all strands and in all parties have always stood up for and should continue to do so.

  • Marco 21st Feb ’21 – 10:14am:
    You might want to tell that to the exporter whose business is being crushed by Brexit regulations,…

    Not “Brexit regulations”, but EU regulations.

  • Peter Martin 21st Feb '21 - 5:43pm

    @ Jeff,

    “Not “Brexit regulations”, but EU regulations.”

    I can say from experience that this is right. In the business I run, we can send smallish orders of a few hundred pounds or so, and without any problem of lengthy paperwork, or added fees for customs agents into Australia, NZ, Canada and the USA. We don’t have any FTA agreement with them. That might change for orders which are over £500 or so but in that case the added fees are a relatively small part of the total bill.

    This is not the case in the EU! They seem to delight in doubling the cost of a £50 order. We don’t include accurate invoices any longer! We haven’t got a FTA or anything like it. We’d have been better coming out on WTO terms. That’s all we have with the Aussies and Americans. Dealing with them is no problem at all.

  • Donald Cameron 22nd Feb '21 - 4:06pm

    There has been comment about a higher educated Lib Dem Core Vote.
    Years ago I was at a meeting of 24 Regional Activists and asked the Chair to request that persons who were Graduates or had prof. qualification e.g. C A raise a hand. 19 hands were raised. This confirmed to me that a lot of Lib Dem are educated Middle Class. We lost our Working Class to Labour and since had Govt. by Labour and the Unions or Tories and a solid Upper Class money vote plus a Right Wing Press.

    Unlike some, I do not believe Lib Dem will ever form a govt. again with these handicaps unless, in some unbelievable way, there is some kind of Labour / Lib Dem merged new party. In addition most of the SNP voters [not the fanatics] would have to return to their real home in the Scottish Labour Party.

    On the other hand if a united left were to get FPTP abolished and use PR by STV there could be 150 or 200 Lib Dem in Parliament. They would be a strong voice in whatever type of Coalition of Minor Parties formed. That is why as in my previous comment I urged that we should be concentrating on getting politicians, the Press, Big Money and the Public convinced by continued pressure that the way out of our present govt. mess is to get enough MP who will abolish FPTP.

  • @PeterM “we can send smallish orders of a few hundred pounds or so, and without any problem of lengthy paperwork, or added fees for customs agents into Australia, NZ, Canada and the USA. We don’t have any FTA agreement with them.”
    I think you will find that currently we are trading with these countries under pre-existing EU agreements, until new bilateral agreements are negotiated.

    We’d have been better coming out on WTO terms.
    I thought the UK-EU agreement was an improvement on UK-EU WTO terms…
    Perhaps you could give an example of where, with trade with the EU, the WTO terms are better than those contained in the UK-EU agreement.

  • @Paul Holmes

    I think it is a little bit playing games to say that the SNP does not talk a lot about independence and that it won’t be a key plank of the manifesto for the Scottish elections.

    As I say we have a fair degree of agreement as throughout this thread I have said that we need Brexit votes

    I have also said that paradoxically the way to get them is not to be clear about Rejoin – as we will get more Brexit votes if we are seen to do well and I think we can increase our polling by 5%-7% (almost doubling!) by appealing to Rejoiners to use us to send a clear message to Conservatives and Labour.

    I have also said that we need to put things in place. Lynton Crosby’s favourite phrase is “you can’t fatten a pig on market day.”

    And a key part of that in 2019 would be to have drawn a line under the coalition. But actually it is forgotten that the first part of our strategy for the local and Euro elections worked brilliantly and indeed at one point we were leading in the opinion polls – although that was partly because everyone was on about 20%.

    But we were trying to appeal to younger voters who had a choice between us “tainted by the coalition and against free tuition fees and prob. 3rd in their constituency.” against a vote for Labour “probably first or second in their constituency, in favour of a referendum, untainted by the coalition and in favour of free tuition fees.” – it is not surprising given that choice we had difficulties.

    And on the Tories, yes they got about as many remainer voters as we did – and I have outlined that this came not from compromise on Brexit by Boris – far from it – but from being very, very clear and then there were enough Remainer voters who were sacred by high taxation from Corbyn and/or were not overly concerned by Leave.

    We also still have a lot to do to put the coalition behind us – parties are always far too slow to deal with difficult periods in Government. As I say we have *only* reached the Michael Howard stage, I fear

  • @ Paul Holmes SNP ? As a matter of fact, Paul, I’ve never voted for the SNP.

    But…. in fairness I have to say they’ve performed more competently as a social democratic government than anything I’ve seen in Westminster (though if I lived in Chesterfield you would have had my vote). I haven’t changed much since I was a sixties radical, (hair a lot whiter & a new liver), but have the Liberal Democrats changed ?

    Answers on a postcard (or Facebook) to Sir Nicholas, late of this Parish.

  • Paul Holmes 22nd Feb '21 - 9:13pm

    ‘Michael1. I didn’t say the SNP didn’t talk a lot about Independence. I disagreed with your argument that the SNP won because they were a purist Independence Party and that the Cons likewise ref Brexit. I pointed out that there was much more too it than that.

    Whereas our single issue fixation of 2016-2019 left no space for anything else.

  • @Paul Holmes

    Um… I am not sure that this helps your argument. LDV is full of stuff between 2016 and 2019 that the Lib Dems were saying officially that was not Brexit but of course we were saying a lot about Brexit – as were ALL the other parties and of course it was what the media were picking up on and about the only issue they became interested in.

    I would say that we were as “purist” or “non purist” (and that’s your word not mine) about Remain as the (Boris) Tories about Leave and the SNP about independence.

    I remind you that the “fixation” on Brexit was a remarkable success for a party whose very existence at a parliamentary level was in question in 2015.

    On 22nd February 2019 we were on 5% in the polls, by 29th May we led the polls on 24% after our “Bollocks to Brexit” campaign.

    Now the chatter on LDV at the time was how we would do badly in the locals and how we should form a formal pact with the Greens for the European elections. And I got quite a lot of derision for saying I thought we would do quite well in the forthcoming locals and euros.

    It meant that we won a lot of local seats in May 2019 – I suspect even in “eurosceptic” areas where there are pockets of quite big Europhile voters.

    Now the question now turns to the 2019 General Election and whether our strategy meant that we were doomed.

    I don’t think so. Firstly even with our massively flawed execution we got 50% more votes than in 2017.

    There was no doubt that as the Thornhill review points out that our HQ “drank the coolaid” and made some wrong decisions. Revoke was a big mistake. As I pointed out we were asking for votes among younger voters on Brexit at the same time as we were hacking them off on tuition fees. And we should have rebranded in Autumn 2019 as the new Lib Dems – “we are not those nasty Lib Dems from the coalition” with a shiny new leader.

    And I still think we need to put more distance between us and the coalition – we are only at the “Michael Howard” stage.

    Now I am not saying that there are quite a lot of things that we should be saying other than Rejoin via a Referendum. Clearly there are. But I think that Rejoin should be a clear part of that mix. I think there is a danger that for the first time we might be behind the Greens in this year’s local elections on vote share – especially in London and we will probably be behind them in the London Mayoral election.

  • John Marriott is as is often the case absolutely on the ball, far too many Liberals seem to prefer political debate to electoral success. Ultimately I suppose it depends upon what you read into “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair free and open society …” I often wonder why so many want spend so long discussing what new wizzard Lib Dem policies we would like to implement if in power, when they spend next to no time engaging with the realities of how can we even start to improve our situation so that we can get just a bit closer to being in power.

    The simple fact is we are further away from being in power now than at any time since 1979 when we only won 11 seats, but at least we had 13.8% of the vote and were a clear third in Scotland and Wales. The reasons we are stuck where we are are many, but fundamentally the same. Too many senior Lib Dems don’t want to face up to the truth – We are a small party.

    Until we face up to that fact and stop our preference for intellectual debate and administrative process, over effective campaigning action, we will continue to decline.

  • David Evans 26th Feb '21 - 1:38am

    As an aside, on 18th Feb, I reported that I had contacted Dorothy Thornhill and she had agreed to read the comments here and respond where she could. However, I note that she has posted no responses yet. I have sent her a reminder, and hopefully she will do as she indicated shortly.

  • Dorothy Thornhill 2nd Mar '21 - 11:26am

    I am delighted that my “ upddate “ has provoked such a healthy debate .I have now read the over one hundred posts . You’re a vociferous lot for sure ! Almost all are above my pay grade and about more strategic thinking but I will try to report to some of them.
    Firstly the so called second survey that some of you feel should have happened and didn’t . Well it did . Having had such a magnificent response to the very general first survey we felt we had a really good picture of what the party collective view was . The problem therefore was looking at the why and how of things . We felt that it would yield more fruitful replies if we targeted specific groups of people , so PPCs, Regional chairs etc etc . We also asked local party chairs to hold meetings and gain a collective view of “ their “ members . Specific round tables were held eg Scotland for their unique perspective. In addition to this there were emails sent out that were simply “ tell us what you think “ and you did . There was a complaint too that the report was too managerial and that the review team were largely manager types . I refute that I was privileged to have members who were indeed high ranking managers but also campaigners , activists. And just because you manage people doesn’t mean you don’t get campaigning! But in truth much of the evidence led us to a systems break down , to which the responses are by necessity managerial. Plus it was not our job to do the vision , leadership direction of the party stuff that is a job for our leader and president with all of us . I personally really like what the Social Liberal forum have produced it’s where I am for sure but that wasn’t for the review to endorse but the review did make it clear we have to decide whether we are a political party with an alternative vision for Britain or a series of different pressure groups. There were several posts on FPTP , of course , and specific policy issues but out of our remit . And several on lack of cut through with the media and thus our relevance . All legitimate concerns well expressed. On that particularly I am certain it is not for the want of trying , individuals are working tirelessly to get us in the media and it’s tough ! I am happy to reply to individuals if you email me [email protected] .

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