Fear and loathing at the coalface: how to combat it

Taking charge of the Stay in the EU campaign, David Cameron was accused of using the politics of fear: claiming Britain will have greater security staying in, while leaving would expose us to unknown hazards. It’s ironic, though, that his actions caused an astonishing split even in his own Cabinet. Are the British people expected to feel safe and secure while seeing our Government and the ruling Party split from top to bottom? How much effective business can such a Government enact in the next fraught few months?

Meantime our own Party has had its share of turmoil and trauma in the past five years. Internally, the comprehensive 2015 Election Review from the Campaigns and Communications Committee shows that a fatal dislocation arose between our Party in Government and the Party in the country. Externally, strong negative emotions against us were simultaneously roused in the British public. Anger among many that we joined with the Tories in the Coalition at all became disgust and even hatred when our Government Ministers broke the Manifesto pledge on abolishing tuition fees, and went on to back austerity measures to reduce the Deficit. As the Review reminds us, our Poll ratings dropped like a stone, our activists departed and our councillors fell from power. While the Lib Dem Ministers achieved much good and prevented some harm, there was little recognition of this in the country.

During the build-up to the Election, the Review points out the inadequate ‘messaging’ from our Centre: ‘Stronger economy, fairer society’ was a slogan not distinctive for us. Then came ‘Look right, look left, then cross’. This though more specific was surely worse, for it suggested the truth that we were willing to enter another coalition with either Tories or Labour. That could be seen as opportunistic and unprincipled, the Lib Dems out for a bit more power and ministerial salaries. Cue renewed hatred from sections of the public, especially if we looked likely to ‘let in’ a candidate from the Party they most detested.

But our collapse had many causes, as the Review makes clear. For example, the Tories’ recognition that one of our strongest emotions is fear led to their instilling in the English public a fear of an alliance between Miliband’s Labour and the Scottish Nationalists. Why should that be dreaded? Was it much the same fear that drives some people’s dislike of the EU, that we English may not have sufficient control of our own laws?

Liberal Democrats should be just as aware as the Tories of the part that fear plays in the national psyche, for there is plenty to be afraid of. Consider only the fear not talked about, of terrorists appearing in our cities, and the dread of Putin’s expansionism. And there is fear of immigrants taking our jobs when good and lasting jobs are so hard to come by, or of them further depleting our too-small housing supply and our overstretched NHS.

When the current indifference to us lifts, will we still be hated and distrusted? And can we help to alleviate the nation’s fears? There are ways ahead on both fronts, notably by following Review recommendations. Furthermore we need a positive message now about the Lib Dem work in the Coalition. The leadership should draw up a national statement, honestly setting out what the real achievements of our Ministers were in their minority role. From that we can derive campaigning material, adding to it news of our developing policies. And as the Review suggests, we can adopt better campaigning methods involving the whole Party.

Yet it is the image that we convey that will count for most as we seek to win back the public’s liking and trust. As the Tories did last year, we can now project an image of safety and security. Did we not keep the ship of state steady for five years, thanks to the committed efforts of our Ministers in Coalition? And aren’t we ourselves an image of stability, united as we mostly are, secure in our faith in the EU and in the potential of our people?

We have an unprecedented chance this year to project ourselves as national saviours. The image of the Tory Government struck through the heart is not one to be dwelt on by people nursing fears, and neither can they take comfort from the spectacle of the divided Labour Party with its apparently unelectable Leader. We are the only sensible but progressive major Party around, and as the Review suggests can look forward now with optimism, hope and belief in our rebuilding.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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  • The problem is that people like me who gave/lent you my vote in 2010 and many times before will never go back. How can a party that assisted in the dreaded Bedroom Tax and broke a clear hyped pledge on Tuition fees ever call themselves National Saviours and be trusted. Oh and saying things like ‘Grown up politics’ makes it much worse. The situation is very unsettling for you as a party and Ex voters such as myself. What a mess.

  • “The leadership should draw up a national statement, honestly setting out what the real achievements of our Ministers were in their minority role.”

    I voted Lib Dem in 2010 and I did not in 2015. I joined the party after the election and I’ve been struck ever since by the amount of people in the party who insist on banging on about the coalition. Wasn’t the result in 2015 a clear enough indication that the public did not like the fact that we went into coalition? Of course our ministers did some good during those years but I can’t think of a worse idea than campaigning on that fact. Those who have never voted Lib Dem will not be convinced to vote for us by this, and those who voted for us in 2010 and not in 2015 will only be reminded of words like “lies” and “betrayal”, as I am every time I hear someone defending the rise in tuition fees.

    Of course, if asked, our stance on the coalition should be that it was the right thing to do and that our ministers did good, but campaigning on it will be about as helpful as Nick Clegg saying his biggest regret from coalition was sitting next to Cameron at PMQs!

  • Alan Depauw 23rd Feb '16 - 4:46pm

    Certainly LibDems should acknowledge the mistakes made, but they also should stand by their achievements; for surely the nation would have been worse off had it not been for the Coalition. As the Tory years roll on, people will look for a party that leans to the left socially whilst having a proven record of budgetary discipline. Let the latter not be forgotten; it’s fundamental to what will once again make the party electable.

  • I agree with Ian. I joined the party in 2012 and while I don’t think the Coalition was quite as apocalyptically awful as some regulars on LDV would have us believe, I don’t think we would be well served by attempting to hark back to it except in very limited circumstances (e.g. where a successful Lib Dem policy was implemented, such as the tax threshold rise or free school meals, only to be threatened by the Tories down the line). As Ian says, it is imperative that we look forwards as a party and offer unique solutions to the problems here and on the horizon.

    As Katharine says, implementing the review’s recommendations is a good place to start, but what we need now more than ever is to be returning to the values we stand for at our core and letting them inform policies and standpoints that are unabashedly Liberal and Democratic, rather than triangulated to within an inch of their lives. Given the strength of (mainly negative) feeling it produced, I think we should be wary of deliberately invoking the memory of the Coalition except where our policies and standpoints have broadly been proven right (tax threshold raise, gay marriage) or are now threatened (such as with the green investment bank and renewable energy subsidies).

  • Until the LibDems understand how much they let their supporters down whilst in government they will continue to head downhill. Tim Farron needs to come out with a proper apology, admit they wrongly supported many dreadful Tory policies and put the blame 100% on Clegg and his supporters – which is where it belongs. Until he does this the ” fear and loathing at the coalface” will remain. To say you had no choice because you were the minority party in government just doesn’t wash, voters rightly expect you to vote for what you believe in.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Feb '16 - 8:04pm

    @John Grout “where a successful Lib Dem policy was implemented, such as … free school meals, only to be threatened by the Tories down the line”
    Free school meals was not a Lib Dem policy. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it was a surprise to the party when Nick Clegg announced it. Labour commissioned trials of universal free school meals when in office and Lib Dems opposed them. The quid pro quo was allowing the Conservatives a married couples’ tax allowance that Lib Dems also opposed. The evidence showed there were better ways to invest the money in education, and as temporary transitional funding dries up some small rural schools say they will have to use money from their teaching budget to pay for it.

  • “While the Lib Dem Ministers achieved much good and prevented some harm, there was little recognition of this in the country.”

    I am honestly struggling to think of any good things done by Lib Dems in government which were not immediately negated by other measures taken by Lib Dems in government. For instance, the rise in the income tax threshold was negated by the Coalition’s VAT bombshell and the many other measures which hammered the poor and the disabled, the pupil premium was negated by a fall in school budgets overall. As for ” prevented some harm” this would be the Lib Dems preventing a costly and unnecessary top-down reorganisation of the NHS, bedroom tax, secret courts, ending of legal aid….oh wait….

  • There are no votes in being putative ‘national saviours’ nor in splitting the difference between the two larger parties, as the last election amply demonstrated. As a minority party with a handful of MPs and a diminishing local base, we desperately need some distinctive positions around which we can start to rebuild support. Tuition fees was one such pre-2015, and it saddens me that the narrative now seems to be that we were wrong to make the pledge, rather than wrong not to stick to it. After all, Cameron’s pledge to his larger pensioner constituency is no less questionable and rather more expensive. And yet the Tories have stuck with it, despite the fact that it channels money towards people who don’t need it, and the consequential strain on every other budget.

    Now that every political party other than UKIP, right-wing Tories and the Maverick far-left are pro-Europe, we are not distinctive on Europe. We could (pending Labour’s extended review) have adopted a strong position anti-Trident, but for reasons that continue to baffle, our conference instead adopted for a messy fudge. Our internal policy-making process appears broken, churning out long and worthy documents of which any civil servant would be proud but which contain little to attract voters away from Labour or Tory.

    Just as the impending referendum is part of our country’s long struggle in coming to terms with our diminished status on the world stage, after the ruinous costs of the last world war and the loss of our empire, so our party has yet to adjust to our new position. If we are not to be the pro-student party or the anti-trident party, someone needs to work out what our two or three USPs will be, and quickly….

  • Peter Watson 23rd Feb '16 - 10:54pm

    @Ian “someone needs to work out what our two or three USPs will be, and quickly”
    I completely agree.
    Lib Dems seem to lack a USP (Unique Selling Point/Proposition) and the party seems reluctant to declare any clear policies other than support for a few worthy causes.
    Some will say the USP is “liberalism” but then debate about what that means.
    Some will say its “centrism”, but then fall out over precisely which collection of leftish and rightish policies averages out as the best centre.
    Some will point to the preamble, but that is a destination with which no mainstream party would disagree rather than a roadmap, and political parties and Lib Dems alike disagree on how best to get there.
    I struggle to see a reason why a voter in a national election should choose the Lib Dems over another party. With the other parties it is more obvious what we’d get, the good bits and the bad, but it’s hard to know what a Lib Dem government would mean.

  • Yes I agree with Peter Watson, and it reminds me of something I saw on Twitter the other day, by a Lib Dem:

    Tories – stand up for big business
    Labour – stand up for workers
    SNP – stand up for Scotland
    UKIP – stand for hating foreigners
    Greens – stand up for the environment
    Lib Dems – stand up for ….?

    Any suggestions? No more than five words for the whole strapline!

  • I still don’t think the lib dems get it.

    Yes I know the party believes that the things they did in government (trebling tuition fees and implementing the cuts) were both right and necessary for the good of the country.

    It might have been the best thing for the country and many in the general population might accept that too.

    But you can’t expect lib dem voters themselves to agree with that or vote lib dem again after it.

    The lib dems were never sold to the voters as that kind of party. The lib dems were always sold as a higher education should be free, tax the rich and stop the tories at all costs kind of party. The lib dem voter base simply didn’t get what they thought they were voting for. That has to equal no more voter base, surely? my question is how could the party have expected anything else?

  • “While the Lib Dem Ministers achieved much good and prevented some harm, there was little recognition of this in the country.”
    How many times must we read this on LDV threads?….

    The good was all LibDem but it was just the ignorant electorate who couldn’t see it…

    As for the bad that we supported…Well, “It wasn’t me, sir; a big boy made me do it….

  • “Just as the impending referendum is part of our country’s long struggle in coming to terms with our diminished status on the world stage ”

    This statement oozes lack of self belief, lack of self worth, lack of get up and go. truly a glass is half empty mindset.

    If LibDems as a party consider their future as a party involves promoting a continuation of the belief in the managed decline of our country as an independent economic entity, then you have no future at all.

    What have you been doing in recent years, do you not listen to what the mood of the country is. The rebirth of patriotism either UK wide , or as individual nations within the UK has risen hand in hand, with the decline of the politics of failure promoting the idea that we are a second class nation unable to carry out even the most basic governance without the input of a supranational authority.

    The British electorate don’t loathe the LIbDems as an entity, they loathe the fact that you are part of the political establishment that listens with deaf ears.

  • @ Phylis
    LibDems stand up for….?

    @ Paul Walter
    LibDems stand up for everyone…


    LibDems stand up for everyone but the British..

  • Paul Walter 24th Feb ’16 – 8:48am………Phyllis…..Everyone…….(Which is how I summarise: “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.”)…

    More “Mom and Apple Pie”…Is there any party that would not use all that as a motto?

  • Malcolm Todd 24th Feb '16 - 10:07am

    I think it has to “Lib Dems stand up for freedom” – and then by all means argue about what that means, why not? After all, all the other parties argue plenty about what their starting principle actually translates to (and of course, the Tories don’t, in their own or their supporters’ view, “stand up for big business”, that’s just how we see them).
    Of course, it’s rather a blow to that view of ourselves that we didn’t fight harder over secret courts and immigration in the coalition and were too scared to mention drugs — but fighting ID cards and the scrapping of the Human Rights Act feed in well, not to mention equal marriage.
    And no, this doesn’t mean I’m an “Orange Booker”.

  • Malcolm Todd

    Yes that’s a fair point but I think most people can relate to ” Tories stand up for Big Business” ” Tories stand up for Pensioners” or ” Tories stand up for shareholders”. David Cameron might put it as ” Tories stand up for hard-working people” and everyone would then know he meant by that, a focus away from benefits to work, a higher threshold for income tax, etc. The point is they have an identity which most people can buy into straightaway. It could pretty well be ” Tories stand for high income, low benefit” and no Tory would disagree with that and their opponents would also agree but with a different meaning ie that Tories help those on high incomes but set a low priority on those on benefits.

    Paul Walters

    Lib Dems saying we stand for ” everyone” is problematic because almost ” everyone” will be able to point out that you didn’t stand up for them. As an example, students will say you don’t and haven’t stood up for them, NHS workers will say you didn’t stand up for them, people losing legal aid will say you didn’t stand up for them, etc. Yes you can argue those points but that rather negates the whole point of having an immediately identifiable USP.

    If you notice, all the other parties have fairly specific USPS ( “big business, pensioners, workers, Scotland, the environment” etc) but Lib Dems can only suggest very general ones “everyone”, or abstract things like “freedom”. It’s fascinating! I have a very clear idea of what Lib Dems stand for but I find it impossible to summarise so it will fit on the back of a postage stamp. And I don’t thnk it would have been any easier before the Coalition either.

  • @ Paul Walter

    “We’re out day and night working for all in this country”

    I don’t doubt LibDems work hard out in the country, but how can you claim you are working for all. You are certainly not working for the majority who want immigration cut to the bone, when you are diametrically opposed to the majority view, and work very hard to defy and undermine it.

    Is this not the crux of the matter about the perception of the LibDems. What you are actually doing on many issues is working hard to promote your view, hence your current low appeal to the electorate.

    It’s not rocket science, you have your values, and the public have their values. Whatever efforts local LibDems make on behalf of their electorate on buses and wobbly pavements, no longer translate into automatic support for national policies. For decades the LibDems have had a captive market for the none of the above voter despite few actually supporting your policies. With the advent of other parties voters can now vote for a none of the above party that actually reflect their views.

    If LibDems want their votes again, they are going to have to listen rather than preach at the national level on national issues. If you can’t do that, or won’t do that, then the outcome is predictable.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Feb '16 - 1:34pm

    I am supporting Paul on this.

    Too much downbeat ,woe is me ,happens ,when we, or anyone, points inward and goes to the heart of who or what they are and criticises it.There are times I look outward , at politics and the party and despair , but only a moment.We must believe in ourselves, individually and together !

    We have the best , I would say , only , philosophy worth adhering to.There are many differences of opinion, but it is ours and open to anyone who wants to make it his or her own.

    Anyway, what,s wrong with motherhood and apple pie ? We would none of us be here without motherhood, and I do like apple pie !

  • Paul, it’s about what voters think each party stands for. If people don’t know what you stand for, it’s hard for them to have a reason to vote for you. Next time you are “out, day and night, working for all in this country”, ask a few people to describe each party in five words or less. I’m willing to wager many people will say ” Tories: rich and powerful; Labour : workers rights” etc but I’d be interested to hear what they say for Lib Dems.

    {in brackets because it’s a side-issue: Some people will vote for the party of big business because they think that’s what makes a country prosperous. Others won’t because they equate big business with exploitation of workers and tax avoidance, etc }

  • Lorenzo ” Anyway, what,s wrong with motherhood and apple pie ? We would none of us be here without motherhood, and I do like apple pie !”

    Hey I love apple pie, especially served hot with two scoops of ice-cream mmmmm ! 🙂

    I also love The Preamble, I often quote it to people on here, even though I am no longer a Lib Dem. I had actually never heard of it until I came on this site but I think it’s absolutely spot-on!

    But it’s all a question of messaging. You can’t quote the Preamble every time someone says ” what do Lib Dems stand for?” and if you did, people would say ‘ yeah everyone believes people shouldn’t be enslaved by conformity…etc…’

    That’s the problem.

  • I quite like “Liberal Democrats stand for evidence based policy, not hysterics”. Unfortunately it sometimes isn’t true and I don’t think that’ll be an easy sell in the current political/media climate.

  • The message that most remember (at least my generation is Thatcher’s “Labour Isn’t Working”…Pithy and the details followed….
    The thing was that, after the so called “Winter of Discontent” IT WORKED…

    I’d suggest a photo of Cameron and Osborne with the caption, “Do they represent YOU”..Pithy and details to follow..

  • Paul Walters

    I really don’t see how people thinking that the Tories stand for the rich and powerful gains them votes. The whole basis of your thesis is ill-founded.”

    Well it’s not just about the Tories, as I’ve said above. My “thesis” is simply that the other parties have a more straightforward ‘identity’ than the Lib Dems. Even I find it hard to pigeonhole you lot and I’ve been hanging out here for years.

    But on your specific point – well, 27 Lib Dem seats fell to the Tories in May 2015, so they are gaining votes from somewhere, where from the rich and powerful, pensioners, or any of the other groups I mentioned above. The Tories are masters at messaging. They had the whole ” long term economic plan” sewn up, and now it’s “Britain is safer, stronger and better off in a reformed Europe” all over the airwaves. Every minister who comes on the airwaves is repeating it as nauseam. It was even in the letter signed by all those big businesses yesterday! I’d even bet that there are people who, if asked to describe the Tories in two words, might even say ‘ economic competence’ even though it’s totally untrue, such is the power and brainwashing effect of their ‘messaging’ .

  • ” Well I think you can. I have and people like it.”

    Of course people like it, that’s my whole point. Heck, even the Tories say they don’t want people to be poor. No-one is going to say on the doorstep ‘ hmmm I dunno, I quite fancy some people being enslaved by poverty, more for me innit’ .

  • Well it’s not just about the Tories, as I’ve said above. My “thesis” is simply that the other parties have a more straightforward ‘identity’ than the Lib Dems. Even I find it hard to pigeonhole you lot and I’ve been hanging out here for years

    Oh, they’re easy to pigeonhole. A Liberal Democrat is someone who thinks if you disagree with them on any issue, you must be misinformed, stupid, or racist.

  • Malcolm Todd 24th Feb '16 - 3:49pm

    Paul — are you sure that isn’t just what you think he thinks we think? I think it might be.

  • Alan Carter 24th Feb '16 - 4:18pm

    I suspect that in the wake of the last five years, most voters would complete the sentence as “the Lib Dems stand up for the Tories”. I don’t think the party is going to get far until that changes. Whether there’s anything you can actually do to accelerate this, I really have no idea.

  • Some great points as ever.
    The preamble is great but it would be even better to see some powerful straplines that voters now and in the future consistently and positively identify with and therefore with us.
    Coalition is not a dirty word, but its true, if we need to enter into another one we must be clear not to breach promises. I understand coalition requires compromise, heck life seems to require some level of compromise. So clarity on what are our fundamental red lines is vital, easier if we make less promises, less policies.
    Do the electorate need to be educated to expect less & perhaps to pay more ( a discussion on rights and responsibilities ), but to expect the truth from politicians. Who could do such a thing?
    I cannot escape from a feeling that, having suffered all the cuts and with plenty more on the way it seems a point must soon be reached when taxes will need to be raised, (by all means, plug tax loopholes and always look for efficiencies. Now, how could you sell that one to the voters, assuming anyone agrees?

  • David Allen 24th Feb '16 - 5:45pm

    Paul, Phyllis,

    Well, if you (reasonably) demand a five-or-six word limit on a strapline, then the Preamble can reasonably be abbreviated as:

    – stand for liberty, equality and community
    or perhaps;
    – stand for a fair, free and open society

    Both of these fine phrases effetively express the balance between parallel aims which, when the Preamble was first written, defined the Liberal Democrats well. (So, no Malcolm Todd, it’s not just about freedom, on its own that would be a one-sided position).

    The trouble is not the words. It’s that people don’t believe, after years of Clegg, that we still really stand by these words.

    One step that would help would be for Tim to use these words more prominently, and for asinine slogans like “look left, look right then cross” to be binned!

  • @ Paul Walter
    “As far as the sentiment of the immigration debate is concerned yes we are on the side of refugees (as distinct from “immigrants”). ”

    ” Are you saying we should abandon our principles to chase populist policies? ”


    Are you sure about those two statements?

    A key plank of the LibDem 2010 manifesto was ‘earned regularisation’ or to cut out the wordy waffle an amnesty for illegal immigrants, not refugees note, but illegal immigrants.

    By 2013 with immigration now a matter of public concern and debate, Nick Clegg dropped the policy.

    Populism or Damascene conversion. Old Groucho’s thoughts spring to mind “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

  • @paul & Phyllis

    It’s really not that complicated. The reason the voters don’t know what the lib dems stand for is because prior to the coalition they thought that they did then discovered that they were wrong.

    The voters thought the lib dems were about free higher education, taxing rich people more and stopping the tories at all costs. There was also a smaller subset of voters who believed the lib dems were also interested in decriminalising the personal use of drugs.

    This should not be surprising as these things are exactly what the party spent decades promoting. The “pledge”, the relentless it’s a two horse race, labour can’t win here, vote lib dem to keep the tories out leaflets, Kennedy’s tax promises and years of complaints about hedge fund managers paying a lower rate of tax than their cleaners and all the under the radar stuff about drugs legalisation.

    The party then put a Tory in number 10, broke the “pledge”, lowered the top rate of income tax, increased VAT and the drug laws changed not one bit.

    Are you surprised that the votes don’t know what the party stands for? But that’s not the problem anymore is it? The real problem is not telling the voters what the party stands for its getting them to believe it.

  • When Charles Kennedy was leader nearly everyone trusted the LibDems and support was starting to build giving you more elected officials. Then we had the LibDems in government with Nick Clegg, tuition fees, secret courts, bedroom tax and a “new kind of politics”. Now when people think of LibDems they think of politicians that will promise anything to get elected. So going back to to the original question of what do people think the LibDems stand for it’s dishonesty.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Feb '16 - 8:13pm

    Well done Paul Walter, especially for that defence of our immigration policy. Useful discussion too of what we stand for, Preamble and its summaries. In our new West Cumbrian leaflet, the front page puts it: ‘We seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and believe our united Party with its consistent policies is needed more than ever.’ (We’re distributing 10,000 of these leaflets, which also mention some Coalition achievements and what’s gone wrong since!) But I’m actually writing here to remind everyone that we now have a weak and divided Government as well as a weak and divided official Opposition, so this is the time to tell the country that we are needed and that we have much to offer. We can mock them and I have myself, but this is a dangerous situation which we now need to confront.

  • ADRIAN sanders 24th Feb '16 - 8:49pm

    malc and others on here and countless others across the country who voted for us in the past tell us the same story, and still we ignore it.

    Forget for the time being what we achieved in coalition because it doesn’t wash with those who genuinely – and correctly in my view – feel betrayed after having been encouraged in Con/LD marginals over many years to join a broad coalition of voters to keep the Tories out of power.

    It seems to me there is only one way to survive a Coalition created under a First Past the Post voting system and that is to reward your tactical voters with a proportional voting system next time. Otherwise what’s in it for them if you form a coalition with the Party they voted for you to keep out!

    Until we face up to the fact that we betrayed our tactical voters, are prepared to apologise to them and promise that we will reward them next time FPTP offers us an opportunity to put some of our policies into practice, we will have learnt nothing.

    I would be interested in the views of any ex voters on this and if this might not be the only way back for the Lib Dems in the short-term.

  • Peter Watson 24th Feb '16 - 9:34pm

    @Paul Walter “We take liberal positions on policies”
    What do you mean by “liberal”, and how certain are you that the rest of the party shares the same definition(s).
    Typing the word into Google, the first definition offered is “willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas“. A party defined by that could be voted in on one platform and then be open to a different one. Hmmmm, that sounds familiar. 😉

  • @Paul Walter
    Lib Dem immigration policy as you describe it there is not only perfectly sensible, it’s also pretty much indistinguishable in principle from the policies of all the other major parties. Which is why I find it so disappointing and unhelpful when Lib Dems frequently throw accusations of xenophobia around at people who are saying things that are perfectly compatible with your quotation – an obvious recent example being the debate over Cameron’s attempts to restrict benefit payments for EU migrants.

  • Peter Watson 24th Feb '16 - 10:10pm

    The Preamble is great, but does it really define Lib Dems?
    Labour’s constitution states,

    It [Labour Party] believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few; where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe and where we live together freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

    Is that something that Lib Dems oppose?
    The Tories seem harder to pin down, but 10 years ago Cameron set out the party’s aims and values:

    To improve the quality of life for everyone through:
    A dynamic economy, where thriving businesses create jobs, wealth and opportunity.
    A strong society, where our families, our communities and our nation create secure foundations on which people can build their lives.
    A sustainable environment, where we enhance the beauty of our surroundings and protect the future of the planet.
    The more we trust people, the stronger they and society become.
    We’re all in this together – government, business, the voluntary sector, families and individuals. We have a shared responsibility for our shared future.

    That doesn’t sound too bad either.
    Policies, rather than ideals (or motherhood and apple pie statements), distinguish the mainstream parties, and currently the Lib Dems appear to be in something of a policy vacuum.

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Feb '16 - 10:57pm

    Paul Walter 24th Feb ’16 – 9:40pm
    Paul, as a Preamble LibDem not to mention ‘@Preamble_LibDem’ (plug plug!), I totally agree that we should all be able to unite around the words of the Preamble – they do afterall represent the vision we all sign up to. I do however believe an unresolved issue is that some willfully ignore the bits about equality (reducing this at best to equality of opportunity) and recognising weaknesses in the market and being willing to use the powers of a democratic state to intervene when necessary etc.

    Now you may object to use of the term Orange Booker but we all know this is simply a shorthand for a certain minority but influential group of MPs, financial backers, special advisors, Think Tank employees etc. who sought to shift liberalism away from the social justice Liberal Democracy of the Preamble towards a more economic or classical form.

    Only once we have some agreed economic policies will we know if the Liberal Democrats are going to return to being a radical reforming party true to its stated values or one which has lost its soul and a key and distinctive reason for its existence.

  • Adrian – well said. For this particular former Lib Dem voter (and party member well over a decade ago), you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    Although the Lib Dems were closer to my views than the other two mainstream parties on most issues prior to 2010, it was electoral reform which really motivated me to vote for them. It was very clear that the other two parties didn’t want to deliver it, and it made sense that the Lib Dems would want it – even aside from any moral imperative, the party clearly stood to gain electorally from abolishing FPTP. While there were one or two much smaller parties that better represented my views in general, voting for the Lib Dems seemed like the most pragmatic option since electoral reform was right at the top of my agenda (other big concerns for me were drug law liberalisation, protection of civil liberties, and protection of public services; I felt the Lib Dems let me down on all three. I also care a lot about house prices and banking regulation, and I didn’t really expect much from the Lib Dems on those fronts in the first place).

    The handling of the coalition negotiations with regard to electoral reform is what caused me to switch allegiance to another party. It seemed clear to me from the outset that the AV referendum would be lost. I don’t understand how the party leadership could have been naive enough to believe it had any real chance of success. This wasn’t a concession from the Tories; it was the Tories seizing a chance to damage the cause of electoral reform. To me, it shows that either the Lib Dems haven’t got a clue about how to negotiate in the interests of their voters (which, for a third party in our system, is a very big problem!), or that they weren’t very serious about their support for electoral reform. Either way, I no longer feel I can trust them on the issue that was at the core of my support for them. Sadly, it’s not obvious to me how the party could regain my trust.

  • @Paul Carter.

    Even if the AV referendum had been won, could anyone really consider that electoral reform?

    You can argue over the technicalities of no need for tactical voting (which coming from the party of the two horse race leaflet is ironic in itself) but in practice AV would change nothing.

    Under AV the tories would still have a majority (albeit a slightly larger one than they have now), it wouldn’t be any easier for small under represented parties to gain representation and landslides would result in even bigger majorities for the winning party.

    What exactly would AV fix? If it’s not going to fix the core issue that parliament is not representative of the way people vote what is the point in it?

  • I’ve been thinking about this and I think pre-2010 I would wager a lot of people would have said ” Lib Dems stand for principled politics” . That would have encompassed trust etc. Which I do think used to be the USP. I still think a majority of Lib Dems are all about that.

  • Ref my expats 24th Feb ’16 – 2:20pm….
    I’d like to amend my message to “a photo of Cameron and Corbyn with the caption, “Do they speak for YOU”..

    At least, then, we might get voters to look at our policies instead of wasting paper on “acres of generalisations that can mean all things to all men (women)”…

  • David Allen 25th Feb '16 - 1:52pm

    Rfs7 and malc make a pretty strong case for dumping the Lib Dems in the dustbin of history, if that is what one wants to do.

    For those who don’t, the practical question is – What do we need to do, in order to convince the voter that we have radically changed our own spots, discarded the views and the policies which failed us, and restored something like the centre-left principles which Charles Kennedy (and to a fair extent, Ashdown while he was the leader, Steel and Campbell) stood for?

    It can be done. Big changes can happen. Blair’s ditching of Clause 4 was a massive shift of position for Labour, irrespective of what one thinks of it and its aftermath. Clegg brought big changes to the Lib Dems. Now we need big changes in the opposite direction. Steady as she goes, or cautious evolution, will not do.

  • David Allen

    Yes of course big changes can happen. But how are you going to resolve the Trust issue?

  • @David Allen.

    If I may answer your question: “What do they need to do to convince the public that the lib dems have radically changed?”

    Nothing. The lib dems have not radically changed so you should not try and convince the public that something that is definitely not true is so. Read this site. They’re not sorry for the coalition at all. They just regret its effects on their electoral prospects. What on earth makes you think the values of the liberal democrats have changed?

    The lib dems haven’t changed, all that has happened as I said previously on this thread was that their voters have realised that they are not the party they thought they were and stopped voting for them. That doesn’t mean the party is any different.

    The only way the lib dems can survive is by attracting a different type of voter, one who agrees with what they actually are. And if there is no electoral space for this then the party is irrelevant and dies.

  • David Allen 25th Feb '16 - 6:07pm


    Good question. Well, we started by electing a new leader who did not sign the tuition fees pledge and who kept a distance from the Coalition government. So far so good… Our new leader has also made some quite visionary speeches which spell out a combination of traditional centre-left principles with some updating for the 21st century. However, these have not yet really been matched with effective, headline-catching new policy proposals. This may be because party grandees and donors do not want popular and radical new ideas. We shall see. If we do not move forward on this, we shall fail at the first hurdle.

    Beyond that, I think you are quite right to highlight trust as a key issue – indeed, one that we should explicitly identify for attention. We should all be seeking ideas to regain it. Just to try out one such idea, what about a self-imposed limitation to (say) a £10K maximum permissible individual donation per annum, so that unlike our opponents, we cannot be controlled by rich donors? Yes, I know we “need” the money, but more than that, we need to do without the money! If we do not do without the money, then again, we will not regain trust.

    Will it work? The odds aren’t great. But nor are the odds that Mr Corbyn, who would let the man with the Kalashnikov fire first, will gain a nation’s trust, either. And nor are the odds that Boris, or Nigel, or George and Dave, will deserve the nation’s trust. So I still cling on to Lib Dem membership, for now. But it may take a realignment, or a new party, before we can genuinely gain trust.

  • Katharine Pindar 25th Feb '16 - 7:03pm

    RsF7, it’s not true to say ‘they’re not sorry for the coalition at all, they just regret the effects on their electoral prospects’. There is great regret in the Party over the failings of the coalition ministers, in ignoring Conference decisions and in backing austerity measures (read the CCC 2015 Election Review). But, David Allen, I don’t think we have done or need to change radically, though I’m a Centre-Left Lib Dem myself and oppose drift towards economic liberalism and against greater equality. Look, this was the first Coalition Government in Britain for many years and our representatives there were likely to make mistakes. As I recall, Nick Clegg’s idea was that they must be whole-hearted in commitment to that Government because the country had grave problems with the Deficit, etc., and to be opposing from the start was liable to reduce the Government to impotence. It seems to me that was a reasonable view to take then. I think that now we have a rubbish Government and rubbish main Opposition, it’s time to stop berating our own, and all pull together in defence of our shared values and good attitudes. Small example – we know on reading about the Amnesty report that Britain is undermining human rights that Liberal Democrats’ universal reaction is disgust and determination to continue fighting on that front.

  • David Allen 25th Feb '16 - 8:14pm

    Katharine, you say that we should be a centre-left party. You also say that we should continue to advertise “positive messages” about our role in the Tory-led Coalition government. Do you see any sense of contradiction between these two aims?

    We are flatlining in the polls at the derisory level of support we received in the General Election. Your recipe for recovery is, broadly, change nothing very much. Do you think this will work? If so, how will that happen? How long, do you think, before something starts to happen?

    Do you have faith that the public will just come around eventually to recognising that we have “a rubbish Government and rubbish main Opposition”, and that therefore, their salvation must be the Liberal Democrats? If so, how will they come to this realisation, given that our eight-man band of MPs are currently getting almost nil publicity for their very existence? How will we make news?

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th Feb '16 - 8:48pm

    Hi Katherine
    You write ” … I’m a Centre-Left Lib Dem myself and oppose drift towards economic liberalism and against greater equality.”

    I feel that non-pick and mix Preamble-believing Liberal Democrats like myself won’t be able to come to terms with the loss and damage of the coalition period until it is clear our party has abandoned the very drift towards economic liberalism and against greater equality that you refer to.

    We are fighting for the very soul of our party. Until that battle is over, old wounds will not heal. Attempts to sweep quite fundamental differences in economic vision for our society beneath the carpet will only serve to prolong the healing process.

  • @ADRIAN sanders 24th Feb ’16 – 8:49pm

    “Forget for the time being what we achieved in coalition because it doesn’t wash with those who genuinely – and correctly in my view – feel betrayed after having been encouraged in Con/LD marginals over many years to join a broad coalition of voters to keep the Tories out of power.”

    Absolutely on the button: yes, yes and yes – that’s the story of the South West. And yet every time I’ve made that same point, the degree of denial has been extraordinary… it was fear of an SNP/Labour coalition, it was…

    Until the party embraces that fact – and actively deals with the resulting issues, the South West is lost.

  • Bolano,

    The point you make clearly has particular resonance in the South-West. But it is also pretty valid in a whole lot of other places which became Con / LD marginals – from Twickenham and Eastleigh through Sheffield to the Scottish Borders – where we supplanted Labour as the main force which won support to keep the Tories out. These were the bulk of our seats, and until the party “embraces that fact – and actively deals with the resulting issues”, Britain as a whole is lost, not only the South-West.

  • paul barker 28th Feb '16 - 4:44pm

    The Referendum really shows up the nonsense about Labour & Tories having a simpler message, we are campaigning to stay while both the Big Two are fighting to stay & to leave.

  • Peter Watson 29th Feb '16 - 10:40am

    @paul barker “we are campaigning to stay while both the Big Two are fighting to stay & to leave”
    So is there no place for Euro-sceptic Lib Dems?

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