Annoyance of LibDem MPs over power of “new sexy people” in 2019 election decisions – Five candidates ready for party leadership contest – Timetable today

Ailbhe Rea has written a long article on the Liberal Democrats for the New Statesman.

There are some interesting points about the 2019 election covered, based on reported conversations with our MPs:

  • Personal affection for Jo Swinson, coupled with respect for her resilience: “Party figures like to joke that “you could punch her in the face” and she would merely take a breather and keep going”
  • Scathing criticism for decisions taken under Jo’s leadership – Multiple “hubristic”, “stupid” decisions which went “unchallenged”
  • The decision to support the December election is described as the first “strategic error” and that “we believed our own hype”
  • The “Revoke” decision by conference is described as “madness”
  • The “new sexy people” who had defected from other parties had the ear of the leadership while existing MPs were sidelined
  • Politely, while stressing how talented he is, there is some “annoyance” that Chuka Umunna was Jo Swinson’s “shiny new best friend” who was listened to at the expense of other LibDem voices
  • Various other criticisms of Jo Swinson’s leadership such as putting too much emphasis on quantitative rather than qualitative information, not listening to grassroots campaigners etc etc

Ailbhe Rea writes that today is a big day in the diary for the party’s post mortem on the general election:

On Saturday 18 January, a chair for the review into the Liberal Democrats’ general election performance will be appointed, a timetable for a leadership contest will be set out, and a post-mortem will be underway.

The article also reports that five candidates are lining up for the forthcoming leadership contest:

  • Daisy Cooper
  • Ed Davey
  • Wera Hobhouse
  • Christine Jardine
  • Layla Moran

You can read the full New Statesman article here.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Ian Patterson 18th Jan '20 - 9:27am

    Pace leadership. It is beyond potty for 5 out of 11 MP’s to run for it! This is simply aping Labour.

  • Christine Jardine increased her majority despite the SNP surge!

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Jan '20 - 10:08am

    Boldness and bad judgement have evidently typified the approach of our leaders to the party’s decision-making in the last six months, from the promotion of Jo as the possible next Prime Minister to the inadequate framing of the motion to Conference which passed the new Revoke policy, together with the conduct of that debate. There has been an over-confidence in Jo and in the good results of the summer elections which led seemingly to valuing the opinions of Jo’s associates and newcomers over that of highly experienced people such as our former leaders and ex-MPs of long-standing. Generally, the advisable listening to and consultation with people who should have been involved, not least representatives of ordinary voters, seems to have been discarded.

    My immediate thought now is that I won’t vote for any of our leadership contenders who contributed to that disastrous decision-making, and it will be important for each of them to disclose their own thoughts and judgements of last autumn. Meantime, many thanks to Paul for bringing us this useful review from the New Statesman, which confirms what some ordinary members had already suspected.

  • Richard Easter 18th Jan '20 - 10:27am

    The aim now for the Lib Dems should be to get back to local politics and win back the West Country. Forget Remain and being a party of Chukka’s corporate City mates. The EU policy now has to be something similar to that of Norway (which would leave the door open to rejoin should there be any demand for it by a significant proportion of the electorate in the future).

    Ditch all the identity politics and corporate love ins and get back to being the party of the rural working class, of localism and of small business.

    Swinson may have been loved by top brass in the party, but was disliked by the country. Conversely Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown seemed to have been liked by the country but disliked by the top brass in the party.

    It is a shame the party does not have a commanding figure like Ashdown. In this era of nationalism, it would have been credible to have someone with Ashdown’s pedigree – ex forces and a statesmanlike demeanour to make the case for why patriotism doesn’t have to mean migrant bashing and small minded bigotry. And perhaps someone like that can credibly point out the hypocrisy in supposedly being an independent country with hostility to the EU, whilst selling out to Trump and for that matter getting close to some very regressive nasty countries such as Saudi Arabia.

  • Richard Easter 18th Jan '20 - 10:29am

    By the way Ed Davey is far too linked with the coalition and appears to be “orange book” on economics.

    Even if Labour elect Starmer, there isn’t a cats chance in hell the two are going to be able to work together. Starmer appears to want something close to the 2017 manifesto, Davey appears almost to be the diametric opposite on economics.

  • “One MP is holding out hope of mass defections if Rebecca Long-Bailey wins the leadership contest, while others envisage working closely with other candidates. Another MP highlights the possibility that the SNP will be damaged by Salmond’s forthcoming trial.”

    Those are hopes. Not a strategy.

    One problem that has bedeviled the party is the belief that MPs are some sort of fount of knowledge of electoral tactics and strategy when they aren’t. Knowledge of such things isn’t needed to become an MP, nor does winning an election magically imbue you with additional knowledge.

    But by virtue of having the letters MP after their name – and in some cases questionable personality flaws (which is not just the case with MPs in fairness!) they are able to dominate any debates sometimes by force of personality.

    One move might to be massively scale down the role that MPs have on party bodies that do set tactics. I assume there is a body that sets strategy but there is no sign of it having done so in the last c.5 years.

  • @Brett – Christine Jardine? Really? A marginal seat in Scotland which the SNP will probably win at the next election”
    Why do you say that? She increased her majority this time, against the trend, and (unlike East Dunbartonshire) we hold the equivalent seat in the Scottish Parliament as well. You have a lot to say about Scotland, clearly without knowing what you are talking about.

  • Very interesting. But not surprising. While 3rd party squeeze was clearly going to happen as soon as Farage inevitably backed down, as was the GE (but why leave LD fingerprints on it?) it really was the Revoke policy shift that made/makes the LDs look like idiots (the problem was not that it was undefendable but that it had to be defended.) Some blame has to go to the leader, but given we are a democratic party, can those members who voted for this at conference please explain how they thought this policy would attract voters?

  • As an ex-Lib Dem who retains some affection for the party but will probably never vote for it again, I would add the way that Sam Gyimah was announced to the world as a Lib Dem almost as if he were the second coming. The Liberal Democrats almost seemed to be a second Conservative Party with him and the other defectors, which just reinforced the links to the coalition days.

  • James Fowler 18th Jan '20 - 10:56am

    I agree with Ian. Five of eleven is nuts. However, quick thoughts on a fag packet as follows:

    Daisy Cooper – Too new. No national profile at all and risk of being shot to pieces at Westminister. Candidature as a future place marker.
    Ed Davey – ‘Past’ candidate, but proven and able. Effective caretaker.
    Christine Jardine – Too marginal and dare I say it, association with Scotland and Scottishness may be problematic while Johnson and Sturgeon slug it out.
    Layla Moran/Wera Hobhouse – Just sufficient experience of the SW1A zoo. Will face immense problems getting a hearing in the context of a re-invigorated chauvinist press and HoC.

  • Laurence Cox 18th Jan '20 - 10:59am

    The issue about Jo Swinson being overly influenced by defectors to our party from both Right and Left is an important one. You really have to ask the question whether these people were liberals (with a small l). I certainly had serious doubts about one of them (Philip Lee) which I expressed on this site at the time.

    What would concern me about any of the post-coalition candidates is their lack of experience in Parliament. To put it simply, none of them have been tested and if whoever is chosen were to make the same sort of mistakes that Jo did, it could set back our Party for a generation.

    We may very well find that those who swelled our membership to a six-figure level disappear just as quickly as they appeared once it becomes clear that we cannot simply rejoin the EU on the same terms that we enjoyed in it. As new EU members under Article 49 we would have to sign up both to Schengen and to the Euro (an independent Scotland wishing to join the EU would be in the same position). A pragmatic leader might look towards rejoining the EEA, which I suspect most Leavers would have been happy for us to remain in.

  • John Marriott 18th Jan '20 - 10:59am

    Called me old fashioned if you like; but I quite Ed Davey. He has a back story. Life hasn’t been easy for him or his family. Yes, he comes over as a bit bumptious at times and, of course, he’s a man; but so what? Oh yes, he was an integral part of the Coalition government (mind you, so was a certain Ms Swinson), and he might have been ‘Tangoed’, although the orange is clearly wearing off.

    Come on, folks, admit it. You haven’t really got much of a choice, unless you want to commit the political suicide of going for someone, who isn’t a sitting MP. I remember saying when Jo Swinson was chosen worrying how secure her majority was. With his comfortable majority, they appear to like him in Kingston and Surbiton. and, besides, there’s no SNP candidate breathing down his neck.

    So, if I had a vote I know where it would go.

  • John Marriott 18th Jan '20 - 11:04am

    Oops, I really do need to check my copy before pressing ‘send’. If anyone is in doubt, that is, those of you who have bothered to read my post, that first sentence was supposed to end with “I quite like Ed Davey”!

  • “I certainly had serious doubts about one of them (Philip Lee) which I expressed on this site at the time.”

    There was a formal complaint about Dr Lee which was never dealt with. You have to wonder why he was given apparent favourable treatment.

  • One key factor in Lib Dems failure to attract enough Tory remainers in the GE, as well as the obvious fear of Corbyn, was the fact that Boris had a deal on the table. In September it looked like Boris was trying to crash us out with no deal. Tory remainers were fearfull of this and were prepared to back Lib Dems instead. The end Oct deal made Boris’ Brexit position seem more moderate and palatable to the Tory remainers resulting in the vast majority of them staying put. Analysis shows that 1/4 of Tory voters in the GE were remainers.

  • Yes Christine increased her majority and has every right to stand as did Wera who is now a good contender for the leadership although Katherine and Richard above has got it right in all the points they make. Some of the celebrity MPs who defected to the Lib Dems really did rule the roost unlike other genuine ones like Sarah Wollaston to use that phrase deserved better. Councillors are able to appeal to all classes not just the middle one so it’s time for the Party to reach out at national level. I also said the same about Mr Johnson’s deal that in achieving something it seemed to end the fears of a no deal even if this may not later be realised. But if you look at the polling as the campaign progressed most of the shift went from Lib Dem to Labour not to the Conservatives.

  • Can I just point out that Ailbhe Rea is a Labour “Journalist” writing in a Labour magazine in an article intended for Labour supporters. Labour have spent the last 120 Years trying to destroy us & they will carry on doing that. This piece will be meant to do us as much damage as possible while making Labour supporters feel better about their Party & its prospects.
    LDV readers who treat these “Revelations” as simply disinterested, objective reporting are being very naive.
    I am not saying that anything in this article is a direct Lie, simply that it will have been “Sexed Up” & moulded into a suitable shape – suitable for Labour that is.

  • The New Statesman article is well worth a read, and sets out the mistakes made during the campaign (but struggles to identify from where they came) and some of the strategic choices we now face.

    The internal review of the 2017 campaign provides a benchmark for how not to do it, since we learned few lessons from that fiasco and the Federal Board somehow though it sensible to appoint the very same person to chair the 2019 election campaign, which plumped new depths of misjudgement and futility.

    I voted for Ed last time around, and respect his experience and political skills, but worry that the chance to defend the coalition’s record has been and gone (not least because tuition fees is now seen as an obvious mistake and the economic case for austerity is believed by no-one nowadays). Yet beyond Ed we are left with a set of candidates all of whom have personal weaknesses, mostly of inexperience, that will be hard to overcome.

    More than anything we need a leader who recognises that the London-centric identity politics cul-de-sac into which Swinson and Brinton and others have steered the party is a dead end, and we urgently need to reconnect with the marginalised rural constituencies that used to provide the party with its base. There aren’t many seats left in SW London to win.

  • Ian 18th Jan ’20 – 1:29pm:
    …the economic case for austerity is believed by no-one nowadays.

    The EU believed it and still do.

    ‘Austerity has not been a Tory choice, but an EU one’ [July 2019]:

    The EU has opened Excessive Deficit Procedure measures against the UK three times (1998, 2004 — 2007, and 2008 — 2017) since the Stability & Growth Pact was signed. It was the most recent recommendations from 2008 which led to all major parties in the UK promising to reduce the deficit through austerity measures.

  • Five candidates and one without parliamentary experience ?

    It’s getting like the Swiss Navy. Lots of admirals and no ships.

  • Wera Hobhouse is great – and gets stuff done. She would make a really good leader. Of course the right-wing press would give her an impossible time for being German – even if she came to the UK many years ago – but she would deal with BJ very effectively

  • Ian Bailey, you make a lot of sense. And it’s good to have you on board.
    The point made by Paul Barker is also important: this article was written by a Labour hack for a Labour rag, intended for a Labour audience. I’m sure much of it is fair, but let’s not lose sight of that.

  • Judy Abel 18th Jan ’20 – 4:17pm:
    Of course the right-wing press would give [Wera Hobhouse] an impossible time for being German – even if she came to the UK many years ago…

    She could always seek advice from Gisela Stewart.

  • Jane Ann Liston 19th Jan '20 - 3:47pm

    I’d have thought Christine’s being a Scot is a plus, because she would be automatically aware of the sensitivities north of the Border.

    And please don’t assume that another independence referendum is a foregone conclusion – independence still doesn’t command a majority of votes, although the SNP are the prime beneficiaries of FPTP in Scotland.

  • Denis Loretto 19th Jan '20 - 6:10pm

    I don’t think that talk of Labour hacks and Labour rags cuts any mustard. You do not have to agree with every statement in the New Statesman article to recognise that it is a forensic examination of where we went wrong. And it is couched in relatively kind terms.
    One issue which is already becoming accepted wisdom is rubbishing the decision to go for a December election. Looked at from a point of view that says while there is any chance of avoiding brexit altogether that chance must be taken (and that is the core of Lib Dem policy ever since the referendum) the election decision can be seen as the logical final throw. I for one am convinced that, buoyed up by the group of Labour MPs determined in effect to stymie the “people’s vote” Johnson would have got a narrow majority for the withdrawal bill. An election, sensibly fought and properly marshalling the “remain” forces, might just have stopped this.
    Personally I think history will show that the core failure by those remain forces was the failure to persuade enough of the leave voters that the details which emerged during the 3 years meant that they had backed the wrong horse. Even if a people’s vote had been introduced there was a strong possibility that the “Tell them again” slogan would have won.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Jan '20 - 11:17pm

    I entirely agree with all your points here, Denis. Well argued.

  • Andrew Tampion 20th Jan '20 - 7:37am

    The core failure of the remain forces was to fail to recognise the legitimate concerns of Leave voters and not to press the EU for further substantial reforms before the 2016 referendum. This was compounded by a the crass stupidity of campaigning for a second referendum in which the Remain option was one that had already been rejected.
    If you want to go back further if Gordon Brown had put the Lisbon Treaty to a referendum then either it would have been approved and thereby legitimised or rejected and not been put into effect.

  • Innocent Bystander 20th Jan '20 - 8:43am

    All of that Peoples’ Budget, Keynes stuff is wishful thinking. Neo-liberalism survives because no one has imagined a viable alternative.
    Then will someone, anyone, give me the way Santa Claus governments deal with globalisation?
    The developing world’s work force do not enjoy the benefits your ideal society demands so their products are far cheaper so all your factories close. Now what?
    The best I see is those who desperately point at the steadily failing economies of Scandinavia (keep your eye on Sweden but don’t invest) or the party’s economic revival agenda which is (I summarise) :-
    – the “Hero of Responsible Capitalism Cross” for “good” employers (as if Investors in People and any number of Queen’s Award schemes had worked)
    – the National St Jude Investment Bank for the proposals laughed off Dragon’s Den
    – support for xxxxxx (insert the latest high tech fashion thing here, after all it worked for Harold Wilson).
    – change our employers to workers’ cooperatives because all the world’s greatest employers are run as Kibbutzes now

  • Joseph Bourke 20th Jan '20 - 10:27am

    Innocent bystander,

    this is a short discussion of globalisation

    Globalisation requires international institutions to facilitate trade. There is an urgent need for a global agreement on environmental destruction. The most efficient way to limit pollution is with a levy based on the damage. True free global trade requires a common international levy on pollution that compensates for environmental damage. Firms then have the choice of either paying the tax or levy on pollution, or reducing pollution to avoid the tax.
    Pollution charges need not damage growth. The developing countries currently inflict taxes on their production and trade that reduce their production and growth. If these governments enact a “green tax shift,” replacing their taxes on sales, wages, and value added, with taxes on pollution and land value, their economies would be both more productive and more environmentally clean.
    If some countries have pollution levies or controls while others do not, then it would be within true free trade for the importing countries to add the pollution levy to the price of the imports and allocate the revenue to conservation efforts and development of renewable energy.

  • Innocent Bystander 20th Jan '20 - 11:20am

    Joe, I always appreciate your comments and would like to know how you, personally, would answer my question. I would enjoy that.
    As to the link, I read it. I suppose Robbie (who wrote it) must have read it. His mother maybe also. You and I now make it four. That just leaves 7,760,025,559 people who haven’t and never will.
    As a practical solution to how a UK govt could respond to globalisation it might as well be a recipe for scones.
    No matter how many times I pose the simple question “How does the west maintain its lifestyle in the face of competition from nations who have much lower expectations and demands?” None appears.

  • Peter Martin 20th Jan '20 - 11:48am

    @ Joseph Burke,

    “If some countries have pollution levies or controls while others do not, then it would be within true free trade for the importing countries to add the pollution levy to the price of the imports …….”

    This is effectively just an import tariff. Tariffs don’t solve anything. Tariffs simply reduce trade. In the limit where tariffs are extremely high trade levels tend down to zero. It wouldn’t matter if the tariffs were applied to exports. The effect would be the same.

    Tariffs on imports don’t therefore necessarily disadvantage the exporting country. If any country can’t export then its ability to import is compromised too so everyone suffers. This seems a counter intuitive result. If you need a more formal explanation see Lerner’s

  • Peter Martin 20th Jan '20 - 11:49am

    Sorry meant to say see Lerners symmetry theorem.

  • Anne Chitnis 21st Jan '20 - 8:03pm

    I’ve lived abroad for more than 15 years so I’m no longer allowed to vote, but I’m now in my late 70s and have always voted for the party. What puzzled me was why the party opted for an almost presidential campaign, when it became obvious fairly early in the campaign that Jo Swinson was not popular with the public.
    And why did nobody understand that the huge numbers who voted LibDem in the European elections were bound to drift back to their political home at the general election.

  • Alex Macfie 23rd Jan '20 - 9:15am

    Anne Chitnis: Jo “was not popular with the public” principally because of the successful hatchet jobs on her by hard-left keyboard warriors on social media, and our failure to respond effectively to them. It wasn’t helped by the determined effort by broadcasters to freeze us out or stitch us up. This is not to “shift the blame”, because our media strategy team should have anticipated it and responded effectively. Unfortunately we were still hampered by a tendency to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules even when our opponents were obviously not doing so (a hangover from the Clegg era, perhaps) — the Brickley Paiste approach to politics.
    I don’t think our campaign was particularly “presidential”, as we have always made our leader the focus of general election campaigns (as have both the other main parties). And there was nothing inevitable about voters “drift[ing] back to their political homes”. Fatalism is no route to success in politics. But again, we needed to anticipate it and force ourselves into the debate on our terms. We needed, and still need, an Alastair Campbell type of ruthlessness in our media strategy to shoot down inaccurate negative coverage and force media to put our side across.

  • Anne Chitnis 21st Jan ’20 – 8:03pm:
    And why did nobody understand that the huge numbers who voted LibDem in the European elections were bound to drift back to their political home at the general election.

    3,367,284 voted LibDem in the EU parliamentary election.

    3,696,419 voted LibDem in the UK General Election.

  • chris moore 24th Jan '20 - 4:43pm

    It’s good that we are now officially allowed to criticise the many ridiculous decisions made post the Euro elections. All those involved in the decisions should do the right thing and step back from strategic direction of the party

    Let’s go back to being a true liberal party, not a single-issue pressure group.

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