Election Diary No 2: The third week

It would be accurate to say that this mid-point is destined to be the hardest part of the election campaign for the Liberal Democrats. After being blocked off the head-to-head leaders’ debates, they have seen the avaricious spending pledges of the two main parties taking much of the headlines. Labour are trying to capitalise on the issues of the NHS, and the Tories on how much money they plan to spend. It leaves Jo Swinson in a difficult position, before the crucial issues of Brexit, on which the party is strong, and the image of a brighter future, come to the fore in the days before December 12th. Or, at least that is what many will hope for. 

A recent poll suggested that voters like Swinson less as they see her in this campaign. This is extremely puzzling. On the one hand there are the extreme figures of Corbyn and Johnson, who have both spent their careers cosying up to shadowy, racist, and crooked figures, and are both highly establishment figures. On the other hand Swinson shows a new vision that is energetic and radical. Of course, any poll at election time should be taken with a large barrel of salt, but it is worrying news all the same. 

This leaves the party with a challenging question: how to cut through to voters angered at the disastrous policies of the right and left. When ‘Cleggmania’ erupted in 2010, it was the offer of an alternative to the two-party system that made the most traction, but the popular support did not transform into more seats in Parliament. Research has suggested that this time around Lib Dem support is more concentrated, and that offers hope that the archaic electoral system won’t hinder the real political gains possible.

The party are trying to appeal to two different sets of voters; previous Labour supporters angered by their inactivity on Brexit and failure to prevent anti-Semitism, and Conservative voters irate about the appeasement of Farage et al and the economic damage of Brexit. In trying to attract these voters it is imperative to rule out any coalition with the two other main parties, as anyone with the best interests of the country at heart would do. It would be impossible to support Johnson’s Brexit-mania, but doing any deal with Corbyn would be morally reprehensible. Allowing bigotry to flow through the heart of government is a mistake Jo Swinson can never afford to make on any level, and we must fight vehemently against Cobyn’s highly reactive politics. 

The mainstream media has always had a mystifying prejudice against smaller parties; whenever they succeed they predict failure, and whenever they show of decline they predict the same as well. The role of social media in this election will also be crucial, even without the help of Russian bots, trade union funds or fatuous ‘Fact Checking’ sites. 

It is also necessary to set out our radical vision for the country, without creating an Amazon of magi-money trees, with irresponsible tax cuts, and unsustainable public spending pledges. Liberalism means the protection of the population through modest state intervention, and the promises for more teaching staff are an excellent example, with funding from the ‘Remain bonus’, with the spending plan endorsed by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, unlike the two other parties’. 

This election is destined to be the most important in a generation, and it may well be the very last chance for the Remain movement to fulfill its ambition Three and a half years are enough for Brexit to trouble us; there are many other liberal ideals that we must move towards if the true transformation of Britain is to begin. Auden’s Epitaph on a Tyrant is a warning of what may be to come if liberalism as a movement does not succeed in the next days and weeks:

He knew human folly like the back of his hand,

And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;

When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,

And when he cried the little children died on the streets. 

Jeremy Corbyn has supported many a tyrant during his political career, and now there is the palpable opportunity to expel the threat of his government by democratic means. 

* Patrick Maxwell is a Liberal Democrat member and political blogger at www.gerrymander.blog and a commentator at bbench.co.uk.

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  • We have to focus less on the Labour Party and more on the Tories. Few of our target seats are Labour facing. In our Tory facing targets (and that is most of them) we will squeeze the Labour vote down as far as if can go, probably to 1983 levels and maybe even more. The Labour Party is not the problem. It is the Tories that we have to beat. We need to reduce that Tory lead to a level that enables us to win our targets, which could still elude us even with the Labour vote in those seats down to single percentage figures (as happened in 1983). What is the key to doing that? Brexit, yes. We have to keep banging on about Brexit. The other issue, which I think we have hammered too little thus far is character. Our recent history has shown that scandals can be toxic to political parties. Profumo seriously damaged the McMillan/Douglas-Home government, the Lambton/Jellicoe affair did for the reputation of the Heath government, and the various “sleaze” scandals of the 1990s did serious damage to the Major government (though Major himself was always personally above reproach). Yes, Trump and Berlusconi both won despite everyone knowing what bad characters they were, but I think the British people are much less tolerant of corruption. Johnson’s character must be made an issue. Not just his illegal prorogation of Parliament, his relationship with Jennifer Arcuri, his serial mendaciousness, the Russian money, etc, etc. There is a gold-mine of knocking material on Johnson and we must use it. He is not cuddly Boris, he is a dangerous man who will ruin the country given half a chance.

  • Paul Barker 22nd Nov '19 - 2:13pm

    Patrick Maxwell asks a puzzling question -“Why has Jo become Less popular during the Campaign so far ?”
    We need to be careful thinking about this, the Voters who Like or Approve of Political Leaders are those who might Vote for their Party; the Antis are Loyal Voters for other Parties, their dissaproval is a sort of back-handed compliment. As a Party, we need to get used to being disliked.
    Our biggest problem is that we are offering Hope & Voters are in despair. Many Voters who want to like us are afraid to hope, they are determined not to be “fooled again.”

  • chris moore 22nd Nov '19 - 2:30pm

    You say, “A recent poll suggested that voters like Swinson less as they see her in this campaign. This is extremely puzzling.” And, “Of course, any poll at election time should be taken with a large barrel of salt, but it is worrying news all the same. ”

    It isn’t puzzling and it isn’t worrying,

    The poll showed no such thing. As laid out in The Times, it showed that more voters now knew who Jo Swinson was compared to prior to the election. it also showed that her net ratings had declined.

    It did NOT show that people who saw more of her CHANGED their opinion.

    A moment’s reflection would suggest that people who knew who Jo was BEFORE the election were disproportionately Lib Dem. The finding is not surprising at all.

    Nor I’m afraid is it at all surprising that the Times ran such a false headline. It’s either deliberately false or they are not very “statistically aware”.

    In reality, given that Jo is leading the third party, currently polling on around 15-16%, she’s getting very decent personal ratings.

    Let’s wise up a little.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Nov '19 - 12:41pm


    What is the key to doing that? Brexit, yes. We have to keep banging on about Brexit.

    Yes, but we need to show an understanding for why so many voted Leave, and sympathy for their concerns, and explain to them why Brexit won’t resolve those concerns.

    Many people who voted Leave did so because they are unhappy about the way our economy has developed since 1979, with the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and more being enslaved by poverty. The Conservatives have managed to get many to believe that it’s EU membership that’s the cause of the problem, when it’s not – it’s the right-wing economic policies of the Conservative Party.

    So, now people are ending up wanting to vote Conservative in order to oppose what the Conservatives stand for. Yet what the Conservative Brexiteers want is to leave the EU in order to be able to push our economy even further down that way that most people who voted Leave did so because they don’t like what it as done to our country.

    Would it really be that difficult to point that out and get those who voted Leave to realise that it will make things worse rather than better to leave? I don’t think so, so why aren’t we doing it? We need to explain what the EU does and how it works, and point out that it is nonsense to suggest the trade deals which are the main thing it is about mean compete control of the EU of our country, which the right-wing Brexiteers are trying to push to get support from people who actually want the opposite of what they want.

    Instead, we are doing the opposite. By suggesting we are not interested in the support of these people, and being quite abusive about them, we are supporting the lies that the Conservative Brexiteers told to get their support.

  • If we go to the figures of the poll that Patrick Maxwell and Chris Moore refer to we find that in July 21% had a favourable opinion of Jo Swinson and 29% an unfavourable one and last week the figures had increased to 24% favourable and 48% unfavourable. This still has a greater percentage of the population having a favourable view of Jo than the about 16% who say they will vote for us in the general election. It would be interesting to know how this compares with previous leaders in their first general election as leader.

    I don’t understand why we have to rule out supporting a minority Labour government on an issue by issue basis to get Conservative Remainer voters to vote for us. With the Conservatives promising higher public spending, why isn’t saying we would moderate Labour’s spending plans enough?

    I think Patrick Maxwell is mistaken, liberalism does not have a view on the size of the government. It believes that government should be the size necessary to control the powerful in society and allow people to be free and not dominated by those with power.


    I agree we should focus less on the Labour Party and more on attacking the Tories. We need to point out why having another Conservative government would be bad for the UK and the majority of the people in the UK. This message should work on both soft Labour voters and soft Tory voters.

  • David Evershed 25th Nov '19 - 1:19am

    Michael BG says ………
    I think Patrick Maxwell is mistaken, liberalism does not have a view on the size of the government.

    The Wikipedia entry for Liberalism says in the first paragraph ………..

    Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed, and equality before the law. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but they generally support limited government, individual rights (including civil rights and human rights), capitalism (free markets), democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.

    So it is Michael who needs to do some revision on the principles of Liberalism.

  • Peter Martin 25th Nov '19 - 10:48am

    @ David Evershed,

    “……they generally support limited government”

    OK, but what does this mean? Is the limit 30%, 40%, 50% or 60%?

    The Tories would prefer something towards the lower end. The Labour left on the higher end. There’s not many who would be in favour of any figure outside this range. In this sense everyone wants “limited government”. The disagreement is over the degree of limitation.

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