Get clever, get brave and reform to win

As the Liberal Democrats are about to take on a new leader, one question looms large. Why, in its various incarnations, has this mainstream political party failed to win power for almost  a hundred years?

While we blame variously the right-wing press, the voting system and so on, the truth may lay closer to the party itself that needs structural modernization in three distinct areas – mission, message and management.

With the centre ground deserted, we have been handed an open goal, but have yet failed to score. Unless we act now with fast, brave and clever leadership, that goal will be scored by others.

First, the mission.

After the referendum, thousands of new members joined, believing the Liberal Democrats would design a new, big picture vision for Britain’s future and they wanted to be part of it. Instead, they were told to deliver leaflets on issues such as pot-holes and speed bumps because: “This is how we do things.”

Many began drifting away.

At September’s conference, I asked delegates how they thought we could win government.  “I don’t think we want that,” summed up a long-standing member. “It would be against our values.”

So, what is the mission?  Is it to win a parliamentary majority and govern Britain? And if not that, what?

Second, the message.

The campaign slogan for a second referendum carried no explanation on how this would heal divisions within society which is what a new rising party would have to show it could do.

In the same way, there was no bold message capturing public imagination, one that cascaded from brand, to headline, to story and finally to manifesto small print.

So, what is the Liberal Democrats’ bumper sticker?  Why not start with something like British values are Liberal Democrat values and hone it from there?

Finally, management.

New members expected a professional, disciplined operation. They had no idea that our federal structure actually means you can pretty much do whatever you want. In my election area, veterans simply vanished and headed off to friends in their favourite constituencies, leaving our own first-time parliamentary and council candidates unmentored and swinging in a lonely wind.

Meanwhile, new members were bombarded with e-mails to go one day to one constituency, the next to another, the next somewhere else. Utterly confused, many ended up going no-where.

A management system needs to reflect what the party wants ultimately to achieve. If it is to win government, there needs to be structure that makes this possible.  At present, it is not there.

The choice now is to remain as an activist party, occasionally influencing policy, campaigning for a moral good and measuring success in leaflet deliveries. Or we can reform and try to punch our way to power.

Many say it is impossible, too naïve to even contemplate.

Yes, reform would be painful and winning would take guts and imagination.  But, if Obama, Macron and Trudeau can do it, so can Britain’s Liberal Democrats.

* Humphrey Hawksley is a member of the Hammersmith and Fulham Local Party and on the Executive of the Liberal Democrat European Group.

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  • Finally someone has got the message. I got a phone call aaking for me to go to cambridge during the election, thirty plus miles from where I am

  • Rob Harrison 1st Jul '17 - 9:13am

    Well written and thought provoking. Clearly we were surprised at speed of the election and many systems (or even PPCs) were not in place. Given the wobbly and weak government, there’s a chance that the next election will come soon and we need to be much more focussed more quickly.

    Dutch D66 and the German FDP have both shown how a clear message and improved organisational strategy bring benefits. Both have this year increased their vote massively.

    On messaging – are we really clear what we want to achieve in the Brexit negotiations? Do we want to reverse Brexit (as I do) or are we prepared to accept “soft” Brexit, because “Brexit” is the will of the people? What do we want from a soft Brexit?

    Brexit is going to hit small and medium-sized businesses – how do we encourage entrepreneurship and job creation?

    On education – how do we support young people. Can we reverse tuition fees – or build up a scholarhip system to support students and reduce student loans? There’s a clear message there to be developed.

    We need to be really professional and mentor our candidates. Not just young ones or ones from under-represented groups. All candidates need help and support to run their campaigns. The party has improved massively since I was an aspiring PPC many years ago who one went to a weekend training session organised by the Yorkshire Liberal Federation.

    We also need to train our members and supporters. Not everyone wants to be a candidate. Many have other skills that they can usefully employ to the benefit of the party. Where, for example, is our training on social media use?

  • Robert Spolander 1st Jul '17 - 9:20am

    Spot on! Will you be standing?

  • I looked into the Lib Dems after the EU ref. As a former conservative voter for many years their current set up is not one I buy into. The Lib Dems appear to be. HOWEVER. I am frustrated that there seems to be a contentment to be also rans. Like children at school being told that participation is what matters. This is not what people want for a credible alternate option in politics.

    The last general election allowed the Lib Dems an opportunity to plug a gaping hole in politics. Corbyn was on his knees and the Conservatives are hated. Yet where where Lib Dems? Nowhere to be seen and led by someone who was allowing his Christian values to get in the way of his politics.

    This article posted sums up everything that the Lib Dems need to address. And they need to start by appointing a leader that isn’t content with taking part. They need a leader that will build their credibility in U.K. Politics and take them to power

  • I know politics is primarily voluntary but it doesn’t need to be amateurish. The first thing, I would have thought, would be for each constituency to have inventories of activists and their capabilities. The development of those capabilities then becomes part of the inter-election process. The second thing is communication of strategy to those activists. The third thing is that it is only common decency to ask for out of area support via the constituency. In that way the the recipient would know the capabilities of the volunteers. The national campaign doesn’t need any further comment but I hope that there will be some analysis/report at national level.

  • Sadie Smith 1st Jul '17 - 10:11am

    I have always been clear.
    The Party has a great tradition of reforming society and with few exceptions has seen itself as left of centre and one which encouraged members to do things and think things.

    New members have been fascinating. Some utterly brilliant folk and a few who did not expect to do anything but pay a subscription. Somehow that Party would magic change.
    Life ain’t like that. And we are used to helping each other out. So being invited to go to Cambridge was sensible. We wanted Julian back in the House and bits of help were needed. The favour would have been returned.

    We do have an issue over identifying the next group of target seats, and we don’t need to identify them too strongly as targets. But some sears need a bit of help in getting within distance of that. Having lived in all four Black Country boroughs I have seen the challenge and the extent to which it can be met.

    Blaming most Leaders is unhelpful. But people realise that the default media story is Party v Leader for most Parties now.

    It is possible to do better than we do at present. But that involves both the Party freeing up its members to develop their areas in line with the Preamble. HQ can’t fix everything, nor should it try to. I am fascinated by our Oxwab result. I thought it might happen last time but this time Layla and the team made it. If we look at successes and then use the information intelligently we can make progress. And the media will, mostly continue to sneer. That’s life.

  • James Sandbach 1st Jul '17 - 10:37am

    Challenging post from Humphrey – broadly agree, throughout the Party’s history whilst we’ve sometimes got one of these right (mission, message, management) but rarely all three right and in sync at the same time especially during critical election periods. This time round I felt were we were strong on mission, mediocre on message, and weak on management. Of course to be strong on management you do need some critical mass resources to manage – the loss of over a thousands councillors (including political control of some key cities, boroughs and counties) and dozens of MPs/MEPs plus their staff as (unnecessary) collateral damage in the coalition years was complete heamoraging of the Party’s whole national infrastructure; left with structures that no longer function we still haven’t found (or even recognised the need for) a management model that works for delivering campaigns with such depleted resources despite having hit our highest membership figures ever.

  • Andrew McCaig 1st Jul '17 - 10:47am

    Arthur Bailey
    The Tories have been gaining power for decades despite alienating well over 50℅ of voters.. 48℅ of Remainers should have been plenty to push us back over 15%, but the reality is that Brexit alone did not determine enough people’s votes on either side to make a difference in most seats!

    Westmorland and Lonsdale voted Remain, but Tim’s majority fell massively. I think that tells us where the problem lay for us in this election.. A Leader who is great on the doorstep and when giving a conference speech but not on TV, where it matters in a General Election.
    Meanwhile we have to stick to our pro-EU position or we really will become the pointless Party I am afraid. If we had adopted the Labour obscure position on Brexit we would still have lost the 3 northern seats and Ceredigion, would probably not have gained 4 of the English seats we did (exception Eastbourne), and might possibly have gained St. Ives. The fact that we did gain Leave-voting Eastbourne shows that our Brexit stance was not the big vote loser you suggest.

  • Andrew McCaig 1st Jul '17 - 11:13am

    The other problem is that while we may perceive that the centre ground has been “deserted” the reality is that it has not. The Labour policies of less austerity, end to public sector pay freeze, end to tuition fees, more money for schools and even public ownership of utilities and train franchises are all perfectly centrist things that we have generally supported in the times we were more popular than we are now. The fact that we proposed weaker versions of all these things allowing Labour to say “your school will be cut under the Lib Dems” (for example) was a big problem in places like Leeds NW. The problem with Labour’s manifesto was not that it was left wing (in fact it mostly benefitted the middle class) that the income side of it did not make sense, but British voters are sick to death of austerity and Corbyn recognised that in a way we did not.

  • Phil Wainewright 1st Jul '17 - 12:15pm

    I’m willing to give two cheers to Humphrey, but on management he is completely off the mark. The veterans in his local party knew what they were doing, and if he’d followed their example and picked one of the constituencies in those emails he would have learned a lot about how a professionally run campaign works. (By the way, the list was changing because our information about the position in each seat was being updated as the campaign went on). Mark Pack’s excellent video on targeting explains the rationale:

    This is the Liberal Democrats, you can expect guidance and mentoring, but in the end you make your own choices because we reject conformity – and if the organisation attempts to impose it, members quite rightly tell it where to go (“Help Julian Huppert win in Cambridge? You must be kidding, I would have to drive 45 minutes to get there!”).

    On mission, yes we have to go for government. That means we have to find a message that aspires to put 360 Lib Dem MPs in parliament.

    But if we’re going to achieve that, then each of us are also going to have to knock on doors, deliver leaflets (even about pot holes and speed bumps!) and get active on social media. And we will still have to target in general elections, because if the surge fails to carry us to that magic 360 (or 240 to form a minority government, etc) we must ensure we maximize the number of seats we do win so that we can survive to fight another day.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Jul '17 - 12:32pm

    This article is against everything I have stood for as a member who joined the Liberal Party in the 1970s. It shows no understanding of or appreciation of the hard work people like myself put in to build the party up. It seems to want to replace a true liberal party with a top-down managerial type party. I don’t want to be in a party like that.

  • Our country is broken . Whether it’s social care, a fair education system, a positive vision for environmental protection and sustainability, a plan for manufacturing and small business – we must generate wealth to fund health and social care – or a determination to tackle violence against young people and abuse of the elderly in care homes – we need to work out what we are for. Ideology can only take us so far.

    The key for the Lib Dems is to show they are more concerned about other people’s wellbeing than just their own ideology. Liberalism will not stop people having to go to Foodbanks or students from having to pay outrageously high tuition fees, often for very poor courses. It will not stop us having worse cancer outcomes than comparable countries in Europe or some of the most expensive rail fares in the world.

    If we cannot offer people hope through intelligent, well-crafted progressive policies rooted in fairness and yes, better safeguards in areas like health and safety, planning and employment we really don’t deserve people’s votes.

  • When people talk of “structural modernization” I think they are talking about lessening democratic control and giving the centre more power, which as liberals we oppose. We have to have structures than mirror how we want society to be organised.

    There is nothing wrong with the mission and message idea suggested by Humphrey Hawksley. Of course our mission should be to be in government and our message should be to make Britain a more equal society and a more liberal society where no one has to conform or lacks the choices of the rich. However our message also should include empowering people locally and being seen locally to be on the side of the people. I joined the party for national reasons, but I was not put off by the emphasis on local elections. Therefore this does not have to put new members off and in my local party we have new members helping out in the local election campaigns.

    If new members expected a disciplined operation they don’t understand how much we are a party of individuals. I thought this time the message about where to work was clearer than in any other general election. All emails I read said go to one of two constituencies. We were sent in the post an internet address where we could put in a post code and find where we were being asked to go. Getting the balance right between working locally and going to a target seat is difficult. Good candidates and agents would organise group activities both in the constituency and together in the nearest target seat.

    Humphrey does not state how he wants to change the management of the party. Personally I would like more discussion of the target strategy well before a general election which keeps all members informed of the process and decisions and how they can get involved in it. There were some seats I was surprised to discover were not being targeted and I wanted to know why

  • John Littler 1st Jul '17 - 6:55pm

    LibDems failed to come over with much that was radical or distinctive enough to motivate enough people to vote for them.
    The public want radical change here as in France. Macron was considered centrist, but it was not a middling position half way between right and left. He offered the most radical change in the most believable and untainted form.

    In my opinion, the economics have to come first. Strong regional policy, an active industrial policy, improvements in infrastructure and boosting education, training, science and academia are needed to support the new high tech industries, as well as traditional manufacturing. We need to incentivise re-shoring of work lost to the far east, which with robotics can now be competitive in the UK.

    Vince is the person to get behind this.

    I read the party’s policy doc in this area and although there were some interesting ideas, it was not a big bold enough effort and there was little headline stuff to flag up. In particular, there was insufficient on manufacturing. We need manufacturing to support the regions and to beat the balance of payments deficit, which is big and growing and needs to be borrowed in now more expensive foreign currency at over -6% of trade flows. Germany by contrast has a +8% surplus and a strongly government supported co-operative capitalist approach.

    Labour’s approach can be countered by the whopping great overblown size of it. £500 bn over 10 years, half on infrastructure and half on Industry, would be difficult to spend effectively, would suck in huge amounts of overseas labour and materials and would max out the economy and push up borrowing hugely and likely interest rates.

    Of course a hard brexit would undo any good works and must be prevented. University of Groningen Trade Economist specialists analysed hard brexit as a 18% reduction in UK exports and that even if trade deals could be obtained from every other country in the world, it would still represent a 6% less UK export trade than the present position. Continental countries would lose only 1%-2% of their trade, so a manageable amount.

  • Bruce Milton 1st Jul '17 - 7:59pm

    Many points in this article I agree with.
    – Key topic is having a leader who can engage the electorate with our policies and is obvious, honest, educational and visionary about LibDem values benefitting the many by leading the UK in the EU.
    – We are a proud pro EU party and all arguments at this time of division with in our amazing country should focus on how a LibDem government could better position the UK positively within EU taking head on the Leaves concerns, immigration, sovereignty, control
    – We MUST regain the young vote back by showing we are the party of vision to end austerity in a controlled imaginative manner.
    Management of the party and coordination of resources will always be critical and surely we have people looking at this NOW as an election is surely looming

  • Well done Humphrey but I fear you will be brick walled by those who don’t want change and will claim all is rosy all the way down to 0.7% voter share.
    It distresses me somewhat, as the need for a new way was never greater and there are half a dozen posters, across LibDem voice, like John Littler here, who could form a nucleus of positive new thinking. However, there are many who simply repeat the preamble as the vote winner as if freedom, equality and escape from poverty were exclusive trademarks of the LibDems and that no other party can strive for them.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Jul '17 - 10:21am

    I f I had bumbled into the Liberal Democrats in 2015 or 16, I probably would have written an article like Humphrey’s. But I got seriously involved with the Liberal democrats in the isle of Wight in 78. We had an MP – a very good community campaigner but also the instigator of the first Enterprise Agencies. We also had the best agent in the country and three or four very good community campaigners all of whom were members of the Association of Liberal Councillors. So, we fought a classic community campaign in support of our MP in 79 and retained the seat and won control of the Council. For 10 years I knew nothing but power, how to retain it and how to spread it out in the communities of the Island. We went to by-elections and learnt more. We went to ALC conferences and learnt more. We shared information and encouraged each other in our Liberalism. That was a relatively unique experience. Ours was the first council we Liberals ever had a majority in!

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Jul '17 - 10:29am

    From 79 to 2005 the Party grew organically. People became their areas first Councillor and then got two more elected to their ward and found good campaigners in neighbouring wards. Building large council groups and perhaps getting their MP elected. It has to be said that this was done in most part by ALC because the ‘centre’ hadn’t a clue.
    Soon, we had fifty odd councils which we had a majority in and 100 more in which we had the balance of power. Again the technique for progress was through joining what became ALDC, reading their mailings which contained lessons from others, going to ALDC conferences, networking and ALDC trained political advisers to support groups.
    But what we also did was to slowly get people we admired into position at the centre.
    Arguably – actually without argument, our most successful period as a Party happened whern the Chief Executive was a former leader of our Group on Oxfordshire CC and the Campaigns Chief was a community campaigner who had cut his teeth as a school boy in Liverpool. High point 11MEPs, 60 MPs, 4,000 councillors, 70 odd councils that we controlled (Liberals love power!) and 150 balanced councils where our influence was always more than the two other parties because we were smarter and better networked and great learners. And because we managed power very well and communicated in a way that saw us retain that influence year after year.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Jul '17 - 10:43am

    Then between 2007 and the autumn of 2010 all that was smashed.
    So what you see now is not even a pale shadow of the political machine that existed up to 2007. Lots of scar tissue you and vacuums into which people have crept who would not have had the qualities necessary to hold those posts in 2005, say, or in any years before that.
    So, there has to be change. But you are wrong to say that we aren’t keen to hold power. That we were not serious about forming a Liberal Democrat Government. There are no lessons peddling that myth. Nor should we ignore the chances of learning from people who are better at doing politics, by visit the very few areas where good campaigning survives. And we built our launch pad by targeting. The watchwords were: Concentrate (target resources) Campaign and Communicate. You don’t make progress without that discipline.
    That was the long road approach. I for one can’t do another long march. But it is sensible for the younger and more energetic to build similar foundations to the ones we did in the 80s. It could be easier with modern comms – anyway. Join ALDC and get into their networks, physical and virtual.
    I think there is a shorter way that is also worth trying, but it requires a very different approach and very different thinking.
    Here’s a clue. Should we be the Party of the 50+%, the 48% or the 7.5%?

    It may surprise you but I think we can grow more quickly by being the Party of the 7.5%.

    Anyway most of what Humphrey write is hogwash but coming into the Party when he has, that is understandable.

  • @ Bill le Breton ” Ours was the first council we Liberals ever had a majority in!”

    Oh no it wasn’t. Look up Huddersfield, Orpington & Finchley in the 1950’s/60’s to name but three.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 2nd Jul '17 - 11:04am

    Thank you, Bill le Breton, for your detailed and useful account. This view, together with the aspirations of the new recruits who now comprise a critical mass of membership, needs to be collated into plan that can win national government. I am sorry if you think that goal is hogwash.

  • I agree with Bill (minus the unfortunate insults). His postings are a good recent history of the party and show that we do indeed have the capacity to organise and campaign in a constructive, professional way and to win and hold power, but this was all ‘smashed’ by poor leadership in the coalition period. We need to get back to that kind of integrated campaigning – but the fact that our strategy in those years was in many ways a bottom-up one is not a weakness, it is a strength. Or at least it can be.
    In terms of ‘why have we not been competing for power at Westminster’, there has not been enough mention here of the electoral system. For 8 General Elections in a row we obtained around 20% of the vote (+/- 3%) yet we got just a very small return of seats. That’s not an excuse, that’s an endemic hurdle in the system.
    But one of the great things about this party is that you really can get involved. John Littler, you have ideas about industrial strategy? Great. But don’t just write about it on here. Contact the federal policy committee, join a working group. If there isn’t one, start one. I’m serious. The FPC will welcome your input. You could be part of writing our policy and getting it in the manifesto.
    Those who ask ‘where’s the training’? This party does TONNES of training! Join ALDC, or contact the Campaigns dept at HQ.
    We are in a bind, strategically. 2015 was a crushing blow, and with our MPs we lost so much of our resource base. It’s hard to be a national party when you have just 8 or 12 MPs. The reality is that we are in a re-building phase right now. But we were fewer than 500 votes away from having 3 more MPs. That’s why targeting matters, and why the leaflets about pot-holes matter. But there’s no reason why these can’t go alongside a bold national strategy and Humphrey’s 3 Ms. Indeed, they should. Integrated campaigning is what matters. But always remember, our bottom-up structure is not an accident. And it needn’t be a weakness.

  • Phil Wainewright 2nd Jul '17 - 11:36am

    Humphrey, thank you for responding. This debate is necessary to make sure we develop our strategy successfully. Organisation is always going to be more difficult in the Lib Dems than it is in other parties because it has to be done by persuasion and guidance, rather than the hierarchical command-and-control of our opponents.

  • paul holmes 2nd Jul '17 - 12:25pm

    My personal experience over 34 years -16 years as a Cllr, 9 as an MP, 29 years as a Campaign Organiser – very much matches up with Bill’s and with most of his conclusions I don’t know what he means though about being the Party of 7.5% and doubt I would agree when and if he explains that throwaway line.

    Since 2007 we have been bedevilled by Leaders and self appointed Strategists alike who want the quick fix and believed that voters could/can be moved around like chess pieces at the whim of those ‘in charge’ and their personal pet beliefs. As a result we have been all but destroyed in electoral terms.

    If those who want to ‘quick punch’ through to power are not convinced by the actual election results in every year from 2011-2017 they should look further back to examples of how a Third, now, Fourth Party fares under FPTP. The Liberal surge from 2Million votes in 1970 to 6 Million in 1974 did not bring an even remotely equivalent surge in MP’s. Neither did the Alliance surge to 25% of the vote in 1983. Yet the slight fall in % vote from 1992 -1997 saw us more than double our MP’s and we went on to another post 1920’s record in 2001 and another in 2005. The difference then was that a publicly popular Leader fronted publicly relevant and popular policies and elections strategy at the centre was in the hands, not of theorists, but of a vastly experienced individual who knew how to win real elections in the real world.

  • Andrea Clifton 2nd Jul '17 - 3:15pm

    Humphrey, the discussion this 3 weeks is wonderful. At last, the realistic people are raising their profile. Thank you, thank you. The usual moaners still write their philosophies as they have for years. All talk,no do. Our local branch has well meaning candidates who haven’t the slightest idea of modern life,it’s needs and expectations. No one of any consequence has ever visited to help. The branch just sells raffle tickets and coos over new babies. I support all you write. That makes 3 brilliant contributors who have dared give voice in the last months. Be brave and lead a rally for change.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '17 - 3:17pm

    Humphrey Hawksley

    Michael BG and Matthew Huntbach, as far as I am aware, there has been very little examination of what structure is needed to win power. I don’t know if it means ‘lessening democratic control’ or creating a ‘top-down managerial party’, but surely it is best to diagnose and then decide, before dismissing any reform it out of hand.

    Having been a member of the party for 39 years, and actively involved in places where it grew greatly in strength (before crashing thanks to following what people like you suggest), I do know what I am talking about.

    The centralisation of our party under advertising manager types in recent years has contributed greatly to its collapse and the way it is now seen as the opposite to what it used to be seen. It was seen as a party of the people against the arrogant central elite who run the country. Now it is seen as the party of the arrogant central elite.

    This is an issue I have thought about and written about here and elsewhere for years. I stand by everything that I have said in the past. The party since it elected Clegg as leader has always done the opposite of what I have suggested it should do, and it has lost support constantly because of that.

    Anyway, let me put it very simply. What you want, the top-down management controlled party which is all about forming a rigid set of policies and wanting to seize absolute power to implement is the Leninist model of political party.

    What I support, the decentralised party which is about ensuring we have a truly representative Parliament, with policy made by the representatives is the liberal model of a political party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jul '17 - 3:26pm

    Andrea Clifton

    The usual moaners still write their philosophies as they have for years. All talk,no do.

    I was the leader of the Liberal Democrat group in the London Borough of Lewisham, and actively involved in it campaigning, when it grew from being a small third placed party with just three seats to one which was the main opposition party with eighteen seats, seriously challenging Labour and achieved a fairly close second place in all three Parliamentary constituencies. Since then, thanks to the disastrous way the centralised leadership of our party has destroyed its image, it has dropped back to worse than it was before.

    So am I really just a “usual moaner”? Am I really just “talk, no do”?

  • Meher Oliaji 2nd Jul '17 - 4:10pm

    When I joined the party about 15 years ago, I explained to my (mocking) friends that the Lib Dems, free from the responsibility of power, could promote the sort of forwarding thinking ideas and policies (like taxing pollution, or reforming voting systems) that the bigger parties needed to see becoming mainstream before adopting. Not a waste of time.

    It took me a few years to discover the pleasure of being able to say “this we offered you in our manifesto, and this much we managed to deliver” (this is Lib Dem Voice, so itemisation not required).

    But asking people to vote us into power starts with proving we can be trusted to make their lives better if given responsibility. That’s why where we get 5 to 10% of the GE vote, we talk about pot-holes and street-lights. To get from protest vote to MP (from 5 to 30%) we need to say “look, voting for us works”. Maybe our local parties are not so good at explaining to new members WHY, but there is a “why”. And it is the reason why, in a General Election, we say: Help in those seats where local parties already have a core of voters who believe that Lib Dem policies and politicians can deliver, not because we came second at the last GE, but because we have run the Council there effectively.

    The mission may have been unfocused, the message badly expressed, and the management inexperienced – but that is precisely because in the last 7 years we have lost the expertise built up in our local government base. The death of New Labour should be a lesson that top-down parties cease to be parties and start being organisations and naturally lose their meaning.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Jul '17 - 4:41pm

    Humphrey: First, sorry but was held up by number of posts allowed in 5 hours.

    You write “needs to be collated into plan that can win national government.”

    Of course that is the destination. It always was. It remains so for me at any rate. There is no point in politics unless at every level it is a campaign to seize power and then to redistribute it so that people in the many communities in which they function are better able to take and use power for themselves and for those communities.

    But I think your route is cobblers because it is based on a myth: if you begin an analysis with a myth you build on sand. We are not where we are because activists were not working to win power and responsibility. That was not the reason we smashed our infrastructure and lost our activists.

    Nor does saying that we should be the party of the 7.5% deny that as the ultimate destination. It is the realisation that you don’t march from 7.5% to 50+% by doing the same thing only in a more managerially ‘better’ way. We did well when we used a particular media to connect with people that others did not use and a media that was itself the message about our politics. We can do that again. But it will be different. We can’t do politics in 2017 like we did in 2007 or even in the great days of 1997 because a) we have lost so much capacity and reputation, and b) because the world has changed so much.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Jul '17 - 4:50pm

    I hope to write a second part to in which I also hope to convince Paul Holmes – who I admire greatly.

    In that piece I argued that we need to work in the garage like the early computer and software developers not some remote office in Great George St. In the next piece I want to suggest that there is a virtue in being one of the 7.5% because the 7.5 per cent are RIGHT and the 92.5% are wrong.

    It is actually sometimes good to be in a very small minority – ask Alex Ferguson about the power of making people think that the world is against you, but wrong, or in this case less perceptive about what is best for our countries. We have to build on that emotion. Do it right and we will find that more and more people remember the 2017 election as the one in which they voted Lib Dem. 7,000 actually attended the 1971 Glastonbury Festival, yet today a 100,000 will swear they were there. I want people in a few years time to believe they were one of the 2.3 million who voted for us. Actually I want 18 million to believe they were one of the 2.3 million. That is how it can work.

    The changes required are so different to the way things were that the only way to communicate them is by metaphor. So – we are like Apple in 1997 when Jobs returned.

    Revenues falling – market share below 10%. Microsoft and others rampant. The game was not to compete on the ground that they had overtaken Apple on.

    We start by working on the pride of those 2.35 million who voted for us. On honour their heroes (by which I do not mean heroes in our Party). Who typifies what they value? Who uses our politics? How do we make our (the Liberal democrat’s) politics better, how do we make it the politics that the next 16 million use as their first choice?

    We don’t need a third Party that is light blue Tory or light red Labour. We don’t need to find a centre – because if there is a centre, it is already contained in the Labour and Tory Parties. We need new ground. We needed a politics that 15 plus million never knew they wanted. Or needed.

    That is our challenge.

  • The necessity for us to present a clearer version of our core values – Liberty,Equality and Community, with their implications in international, national and local affairs, one of which is vigilance concerning Brexit, because so far the community of our country has been undermined by others.

  • Trevor Stables 2nd Jul '17 - 6:11pm

    Thought provoking stuff. I have been a member of 7 Local Parties since joining in 1982. Most of that time I was busy professionally but still managed to stand as a PPC and as a Council Candidate 3 times.
    Before joining J had been a Labour Councillor. It struck me many times over the tears how distant organizationally we were compared to Labour where the building brick us The Ward Party and involving members at very local level.
    I get the need for targeting, but also know that most members who join will want to deliver leaflets or canvas locally, a few will travel to targets or phone canvas. If local campaigns aren’t happening then our national vote share falls.
    We need to concentrate on Mark Pack’s and David Howarths Core vote strategy. Vince will help but we need Jo in place if she wants it as soon as possible.
    On Policy, we have great ideas but two things are lacking. The ability to get the message over in easily understood chunks. Take Drugs for instance, this could be a real winner if we sold it as …. Smash the drugs Barons. Cut Crime and abuse. Treat addicts and remove Street value.
    We need to be absolutely clear on Brexit, we are against it.
    We failed to cut through this time because Tim was ambushed at the beginning of the Campaign by media working with Labour who feared a surge by us.
    We have to be much more precise and willing to bite back, too often we are seen as too nice.

  • Chris Lewcock 2nd Jul '17 - 6:15pm

    Mostly agree with Bill le Breton’s and Paul Holmes analyses – though not perhaps some of Bill’s needlessly alienating taunts which rather spoil his arguments ;-). One thought. The rot set in well before 2007. By that time the Party (as a whole, not just “guilty men” at the top) had already become complacent about the successes of targetry. The evident decline in overall % support since the 1980s was ignored. Tactical targetry isn’t wrong but a constantly refreshed wide base of support is needed for successful long term strategic targetry – for finding future targets and for “troops” to go and help in the target areas. Thus, many seats which had looked eminently winnable at one time e.g. Gillingham, Chelmsford, Hastings and Rye somehow got forgotten about as other short term targets came in to view. The many, many individuals potentially willing to work for Lib Democracy but in non-target areas found themselves with no solid engagement with the Party for years (even decades). They gave up on the Party as the Party had given up on them and the wider base of support needed for successful targetry has as a result crumbled away.

  • David Hopps 2nd Jul '17 - 6:18pm

    Interesting and, although it is not quite my experience, such feedback needs to be considered seriously

  • Simon Banks 2nd Jul '17 - 8:13pm

    Well, for a start, the reasons why we declined in the 1920s are mostly not relevant today – the Asquith – Lloyd George split, the rise of assembly-line production in large factories with confrontational industrial relations, the fallout from the First World War…

    It is, though, healthy to ask ourselves what is wrong with the party, but also to recognise what is right with it – in effect, a SWOT analysis. Contrary to what Humphrey suggests, very few of the 2015+ new members “drifted away” and many of those who wanted to be active were more than happy to get involved locally and in grassroots activities. In some cases no doubt we failed to offer them politics rather than activism, but many local parties promoted lively political discussions in pub meetings or online. They were strongly encouraged to go to Conference; many did and were enthused.

    I believe the party’s message was clearer and more ambitious recently than during the coalition or at the 2015 general election. But all those keen new members we were continuing to recruit and the well-focussed campaigning on Brexit, while they delivered some local council successes, failed to deliver any more votes in the general election. That suggests two basic issues to me. One, how is the enthusiasm of the new members and the great increase in members to ripple out to make a substantial difference to our vote? More social media activity is probably one of the answers. Two, how do we better connect our local campaigning, which we are not Liberals if we disparage, to national themes? This is best done not through a box in the Focus which highlights some national policy unconnected to the rest of the Focus, but by pointing out where local issues connect to national ones – for example, that a bad decision has been made by an unelected quango and Liberal Democrats would…

    How shocking that D Howitt was asked to travel thirty miles! Our local party Chair and I spent two hours each way getting to North Norfolk on election day and we didn’t think it wasted. Of course, we’d have liked to have had a winnable seat within half an hour’s drive and we are working towards that, but we know we’re not there yet.

  • Dave Orbison 3rd Jul '17 - 6:58am

    Trevor Stables – re Brexit “Tim was ambushed at the beginning by the media who were working with Labour”.

    The media working with Labour? When did that happen? As for being ambushed, the EU was supposed to be the defining issue for the LibDems with 48% of voters as the target. The LibDems were no more ambushed than any other party and Tim Farron’s treatment was nothing compared to Corbyn’s.

    The LibDems lost so badly because they relied too much on the idea of farming the 48% which ignored the fact that people were concerned about other issues too.

    They lost because they could not be trusted and because many former supporters still feel strongly a sense of betrayal over the Coalition. On top of that they failed to win over young voters as they could not distance themselves from student fees, and still can’t.

    TVoters see a party that is unsure of its direction and suspicious of what they say. It’s not about party management- it’s about trust.

  • I disagree with almost everything in the article….The party that I supported from the early 1960s (I’m showing my age) was a radical ‘bottom up’ party; what brought about it’s demise was it becoming a superficial top down group…

    Tony Blair was viewed as the reason Labour became electable so the Tories got ‘Tonylite’ Cameron and we got Clegg…All three believed passionately in absolutely nothing….

    As for ‘Pot Holes’ and ‘Speed Bumps’….Our national rise in popularity was built on local councillors whose involvement in such things kept us, as a party, in the running; (Concern about Trident comes only every GE but the binmen come every week)…

    Post 2010 the position of our councillors was reversed. They were ‘tainted’ by the decisions at Westminster and lost their seats in droves; with them went the local activists and the whole thing snowballed…

    We are currently hanging on by our finger nails and even more centralisation will spell the end of us…

  • @expats
    “We are currently hanging on by our finger nails and even more centralisation will spell the end of us…”

    You say this as do many “older” members here (sorry to appear ageist, but there does seem to be a clear division here), because that’s what you’ve always done!
    There is a saying we have in the sales world:
    “If you do what you’ve always done, then you’ll get what you’ve always got!

    The world has changed. We now have 365/24/7 media (National/TV/Social media).
    People get their information now from these routes, not from local community discourse – which although still there is greatly reduced for demographic & more transient reasons especially with the target Lib Dem voter being more likely to be young, educated, busy working, multicultural etc)

    Trust is undoubtably important as is the destruction of the core vote in the early part of the 21st century.
    So how to rebuild it quickly now in a very different world to the 60’s 70’s 80’s.

    We have just seen the power of young Labour activists fed a diet of policies (some of which the Tories are now seriously considering) and then flooding social media/staging rallies – rapid diffusion type activities and National/Regional set pieces.

    Building locally brick by brick will I fear be geological in its speed, especially from our low base and low trust. There simply isn’t the time to go that route now and besides it not how young people do things and how they think in the main.
    We now need a rocket fuelled radical high impact National driven effort with clear messages, attractive polices and razor sharp thinking towards our target voters.

    It’s going to uncomfortable for many Lib Dems – things have to change.
    More outward looking top down message, management and mission is I believe essential to build a core vote, loyalty and trust quick enough not to be left standing

  • Mike S 3rd Jul ’17 – 10:17am…………….Evidence?
    You say this as do many “older” members here (sorry to appear ageist, but there does seem to be a clear division here), because that’s what you’ve always done!
    There is a saying we have in the sales world:
    “If you do what you’ve always done, then you’ll get what you’ve always got!

    62 MPs down to 12…9/10 MEPs lost…Hundreds of councillors lost..Vote share down from around 25% to barely 7%…, does that count as evidence?

    As for your sales quote…………… ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’ seems to have stood the test of time …Coca Cola stuck to the same mantra for over a century and only came a cropper when they tried your ‘new improved recipe’ approach…

  • @ expats

    My challenge back is that you are concluding that it was the ‘top down way of doing things that led to the decline.

    I am saying I don’t belief that is necessarily or even probably true (especially in the world as it is now)

    I believe the main reasons were wrong leader (Vanilla essence), wrong U turn (trust pledge etc), wrong target audience during Nick’s years, destroying the faith of the Lib Dem base, wrong party to align with who two thirds of the Lib Dems voters in 2005 were against including the very leader who argued passionately again the coalition who you cite in your article above as did Paddy and others. Seems like it’s not the fact the Lib Dems don’t listen to the ‘elders’, but they listen to the wrong ones.
    Charles knew exactly what would happen to all the hard work

    You may be right expats, it is difficult to correct for all the variables to be sure.
    But I struggle to see how people can conclude the faster top down approach (with the right people) coupled with bottom up working too obviously), won’t lead to a stronger National message and a faster recovery? I do agree trust, loyalty and great messaging/policies are crucial from a senior leadership team.

  • It wasn’t just top down leadership – it was what the leadership believed in.

    The group around Nick Clegg (Alexander & Laws) believed in reducing the size of the state – in effect rejecting the Liberal traditions of Keynes and Beveridge. “Mr Laws said the public sector’s share of the economy should be cut to 35% from the 49% it reached in 2010-11” BBC News 24 June, 2012.

    In other words, they backed austerity. They shackled the Liberal Democrat reputation to austerity with all it meant in terms of welfare cuts, public sector wage freeze, the destruction of local government services, the bedroom tax and of course student fees. They were seen as Tories with an orange logo. They flew in the face of traditional Liberal policy…………… and we know what the electorate made of it.

    More recently there has been the one trick pony fixation on Brexit to the exclusion of everything else. That’s why, amazingly, the Labour revival came when Corbyn centred his campaign on opposition to austerity.

    The party is now seen as inept, untrustworthy and wrong…………. it didn’t have to be that way. No wonder some of us ‘oldies’ are wringing our hands in despair. And if anyone mentions ‘the magic money tree’ remember it could be shaken for Ulster, two aircraft carriers without planes, Trident, HS2 and for a time Afghanistan.

    Politics is about choices and priorities. Over the last ten years the Lib Dems have made the wrong choices and appalled their traditional supporters. The next Leader is in the Last Chance saloon.

  • There is no doubt that Liberal Democrats desperately need a new direction but I don’t think the seasoned campaigners here have given much in the way of signposts to the future.
    I’ve never bought any Apple product. Not least because there has always been a similar product which does much the same job at half the price. There is of course a market for Apple products because their customers see them as stylish, cool, a little bit elitist and they have the money to pay the premium in their desire for ‘coolness’.
    Google tells me that Apples’ total market share has fallen in the last year from 13% to 11.5%. This tells me that Apple have probably maxed out their brand for customers with more money than sense, who are looking for cool stuff to buy into.
    So why would anyone want to re-style a political party around an ageing brand like Apple which has a stagnating and openly elitist market share at 11.5% comprising of customers with more money than sense?
    To also hear an old LD campaigner declare that ‘the 7.5 per cent are RIGHT and the 92.5% are wrong’, made me gasp. But even if we take a sharp intake of breath and such audaciousness at face value, we cannot forget that the 92.5% each have a vote. Surely to win people over to a political idea, politics needs an equivalent Uber for the common man, not an Apple for the elitists.?

  • Yup. This has been the case for twenty years.

  • This thread seems to have degenerated into an ‘us and them’ argument which I think is wrong and completely unnecessary.
    Surely we can have our traditional local campaigning strength AND a bold national identity/message. Integrate these and make the whole thing work effectively. It doesn’t need to be either/or.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Jul '17 - 2:14pm

    @Dominic Shadbolt
    Crikey. Talk about lighting the blue touch paper ….
    I was bored of these interminable quo vadis threads, but I might keep an eye on this one!

  • It must be the first time I’ve been told that being an ‘old fashioned liberal’ is ‘cool’…
    ‘Cool’ was Blair, Cameron and Clegg …..Being ‘cool’ was telling us old lefties that we weren’t wanted in the ‘New, Improved LibDems’..Why bother with us when there were plenty of disenchanted ‘Tory Lites’ and ‘Labour Rights’ queuing up to join…

    The ‘Brexit’ battle has been lost but not the war…A wise general picks his ground and, more importantly, his time….The ground will be on the ‘deal/no deal’ and the time will be when the majority see Brexit for what it is…

    As for, “Would it really be so tragic to ditch the heritage the current Liberal Democrat brand? After all, unlike the Tories or Labour the Liberal Democrats are new on the scene. Liberalism isn’t, the LDs are. Having a party that goes back to the core values of liberalism and isn’t polluted by extremes that have leaked in from the established parties and practices is a good thing.”…..

    More like a 6th form question for debate than a realistic assessment…

  • Humphrey Hawksley 3rd Jul '17 - 2:48pm

    You are right, TonyH. The thread is revealing. That the long, hard, careful party building at a local level collapsed so quickly like a pack of cards indicates that in itself this is not a viable path to Downing Street. Had careful, long-term local structures been more robust, one electoral cycle of ‘superficial’ leadership, as described by Expats, would not have been enough to inflict that degree of damage that we suffered. We are the only mainstream party that can counter the extremist rumps now driving the Tories and Labour. There is not yet a Liberal Democrat vision that captures enough of the country’s imagination to win elections. Once we have this, it will need a degree of central management to make it work. I am afraid that those of you who are opposed to this may wake up one day in a country that is thoroughly illiberal.

  • paul holmes 3rd Jul '17 - 2:55pm

    @Chris Lewcock. I don’t think you are right in your comments about Targeting. Until the disaster of 2015 you can’t really argue that our GE % vote was declining compared to the 1980’s. Yes there was an all time high (best for nearly a century) of 25% in 1983 but 22% in 2005 and 23% in 2010 was not far off that and was better than the 1987/1992 and 1997 results/%’s.

    It is also a fact that Targeting cannot be said to have reduced our campaigning strength elsewhere. The number of serious Target Seats grew from 1997 to 2001 to 2005 to 2010 (although it got far too ambitious in 2010) as did the number of MEP’s, Councils controlled etc. We also expanded into some very new areas especially in Labour facing areas.

    The Target Seat strategy in those days was not about central Party strategists ‘picking winners’ out of thin air because they thought such and such a constituency matched up to some theory about Liberal Conservatives or Remain voters being ready to switch wholesale and over turn large Labour or Conservative majorities at short notice. It was instead based on supporting the efforts of Constituencies who built up local campaign teams and local reputations and credibility to a point where hard evidence, including actual election results, showed that GE success was in reach if extra resources and support came from outside. No one but themselves ever stopped local members, in any constituency, from undertaking that building up process. PPC’s used to be encouraged to adopt realistic Campaign Plans that included both building their constituency and helping a Target Seat.

    In much more recent years however much of that seems to have been abandoned.

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Jul '17 - 3:10pm

    Humphrey, if it were the means by which we built our platform for the ‘summit bid’ that was at fault in 2010, vanishing like snow, why was that not the case in Scottish Parliament and in the Welsh Assembly when we held the balance of power in those two institutions?

    No, it crashed because we fought a campaign in 2010 on ‘no broken promises’ and boasted about distinctive difference between ourselves and ‘grubby’ politicians and immediately appeared to be desperate to get our backsides in the state limos and keen to make love to the PM in the Rose Garden.

    It did not crash in Scotland and in Wales … and in scores of Councils where we had similar situations because we followed lessons that we had learned over 40 years – all written down in Life in the Balance.

    Sadly we had a leader who ignored that advice and actively abandoned the 2010 voters believing that he could assemble by 2015 a substitute vote for the 5 million that he had lost in the process by August 2010 (see Ashcroft polling that summer of Lib Dem 2010 voters).

    That is not to say that we have not been badly managed over the last 7 years. We have. Yes it would be better to have abetter team at the centre. But here is an alternative explanation.

    London is a huge problem. It is so easy for Londoners to skip into committee meetings and ‘manage’ the professional staff that ALL the key party positions are held by London based people. These are more often than not lawyers or people who earn their crust in PR and Public Affairs. Good you might think, but actually not good, because political campaigning is very different from commercial campaigning. There is very little negative campaigning in commercial PR and advertising. Politics is won and lost on the quality of negative campaigning and the quality of rebutting negative campaigning. Fact.

    Our best campaigners are produced in the sticks. But these people either can’t afford to come to take on London jobs of don’t want to leave the communities in which they campaign so well. The 10 best campaigners in the Party had no involvement in either the 2015 or 2017 election.

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Jul '17 - 3:27pm

    The danger of your prescription is that it actually hands more power to those inadequates to mess up the next set of elections.

    When you are a small operation you beat the big guys by disrupting their game. That is what Gates, Jobs and Musk and countless more have done. And all of them have done it not by creating strong centralised and hierarchical organisations but flat decentralised ones that gave people room to be creative. Liberalism actually suits flat and decentralised. Our period of greatest success had exactly that with campaigns being decentralised to begin with. Then the centre monitors what works and concentrates its forces on what is working, and getting every layer of campaigning integrated on that – we call it the Dual Approach – campaigning within and outside the institution we seek to take power in.

    The centralising process of the last 10 years – Clegg called it the professionalisation of politics, ho,ho – actually made seats dependent on the centre and unable to create their own collateral. In this election seats with good prospects were having material created and dispatch centrally with minimum input! Why? Because the Tories did this in 2015 so we copied them.

    You wish to rely heavily on the airwar. A) we don’t have the resources for that and B) we have not been very clever at the central messaging. (see the Londonisation of the messaging process, above comment).

    There is nothing to stop you coming up with a great solution, but it will take some evolving of ideas. Some putting up and some knocking down. But do understand that some real background knowledge is very useful in this. Some people have been campaigning very successfully for many years and you should talk to them. Always happy to engage.

  • I agree with Matthew Huntbach, Bill le Breton and other “traditionalists” (to give them a name) who argue that the established Lib Dem approach has been fundamental to the success in local government and that strength has, in turn, been central to getting MPs elected.

    But … they are talking primarily about LOCAL government. “Reformers” like Humphrey Hawksley, Palehorse and Mike S are talking primarily about NATIONAL government. In fact, I don’t think the two sides are actually so far apart – the traditionalists are dismayed by, as Matthew Huntbach puts it, “the centralised leadership of our party” yet apparently assume that the reformers must want to throw out the democratic and participative baby with the bathwater.

    Speaking for myself that assumption is absolutely wrong. The Lib Dems do national governance and policy-making is done very differently from local and, as the record shows, it simply doesn’t work as judged by voters. It has produced no coherent narrative, election results are overly reliant on “manoeuvres”, it’s unable to control leaders who go off-piste, etc.

    It is alleged to be democratic and participative but it’s not. Turnout for the most recent federal committees concerned with policy was under 10%. The highest individual vote (first preference) was only 1.3% of the membership, all the others were well below 1%. As for participation, I’ve never seen a more “black box” approach, all tightly controlled, opaque and with no way of tapping into the vast pool of expertise among the membership.

    This is a disaster. The whole approach to national policy-making needs to be overhauled to make it sync with traditional liberal instincts. Obviously, it’s a different context from local government so the specifics will necessarily vary although the genetic connection should be apparent.

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Jul '17 - 3:57pm

    Sheila, I like the idea of an Uber for the common man – go with it. Tell us more about it.

    You don’t like me trying to use Apple and Jobs as a metaphor, but it is hard to explain in other ways. There were two things different about Apple under Jobs and that was that he built a sense of community. That is why it is relevant to our politics. You win in politics when you create a sense of community.

    To say the 92.6% were wrong is not to say that it should not be our mission to recruit them to our community. Or that we should be satisfied by 7.4%. But 7.4% is the reality –
    they are the ones using your Uber – isn’t it them who you build market sahe on? But between 2015 and 2017 we didn’t increase the size of those who’d vote for us. Whatever we did or said it didn’t get them into our tent.

    The second thing Jobs did was internal. He made people within the organisation think they could do incredible things, invent new ways of doing things. That is what we need. If you think you could help create a party that was for politics like a Uber for the common man – then crack on. Create it. Tell us how it would work. I’ll follow if you lead. What I don’t think it will work if it is just black cabs better managed.

    Dominic S – ok keep going. I am not sure there are refusniks here. None of us here had any influence over the last 2 years, or the 5 before then. Some of us had influence over the Party’s development in the 1990s, when actually I think you would have enjoyed it.

    Dominic you wrote, “There is much squeaking from those in the inner circle that there was a plan, there was focus, there were contingencies etc.” But actually there has not been a single squeak from anyone in the inner circle. They were totally out of their depth. There was no plan. They missed the open goal. None of us here are denying that. See my comment above about Londonism. In the election we fielded probably a fifth team. They have kept their heads down. Allowed the leader to take the flack and they will be in post again tomorrow! Aim at them.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Jul '17 - 4:26pm

    I shall do what I usually do and rarely get much support for, often by the very people who could benefit the most here, and say, many who think they are against each other and at odds , are actually not as far away from each other !

    It is not true that Humphrey is advocating a top down elite , running things.

    It is not right that Bill and co., think it and are thinking what they believe in is so far away. Bill mocks , myth, but uses metaphor ! Inconsistent .

    There is a sensible amount of ideas here to consider.

    I do not think David , as in Raw, is correct about the ideological stance being as staunch in a centre right Liberal direction from the coalition leaders and nor should he. Again, inconsistent . He is staunchly backing Sir Vince , one of the biggest players in it, sorry, do not tell me a man old enough to be Nick Clegg s father, was easily led up a rose garden path by a younger pup !

    I really do think if Nick Clegg had led our party to a majority government in better economic circumstances, he would have run a good Liberal , Democrat , government, with a range of contributions.

    I criticise him , strongly, sometimes, but do , and praise him, as with all those ministers , including our new leadership, deputy too, when they are deserving of it.

    We must revitalise , top to bottom, inside out.

    And stop the blaming .

  • I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the nay sayers in the comments are all late-middle aged men, looking back with rose tinted spectacles at the 1970s never-was of their youth?

    Great article that hits the nail on the head.

  • Stephen Howse 3rd Jul '17 - 5:30pm

    “(Jobs) made people within the organisation think they could do incredible things, invent new ways of doing things. That is what we need.”

    And yet we are in a party with internal structures which are perfectly designed to crowd out those who do just this. Even if there was a Macron figure waiting to break through in the Lib Dem party, he’d be suffocated.

  • @ Lorenzo

    1. Are you saying I’m incorrect and that David Laws never said, “the public sector’s share of the economy should be cut to 35% from the 49% it reached in 2010-11” (BBC News 24 June, 2012) ?

    2. That Mr Law’s successor, Danny Alexander, didn’t introduce the public sector pay freeze to 0% for two years and the 1% thereafter ?

    3. That the Treasury, with Mr Alexander involved, didn’t pursue policies whereby Local authorities had to scrap access to vital services for 150,000 pensioners and cut child protection spending by 8 per cent post 2010. (Financial Times, 2015).

    4. That council spending 2010-15 wasn’t cut by £18bn in real terms since 2010 ?
    That’s equivalent to a fifth of spending by England’s 300-plus local authorities, whose budgets for running services, from social care to road sweeping, was been reduced at twice the rate of cuts to UK public spending as a whole. (Financial Times, 2015)

    That Councils’ attempts to meet rising demand with diminishing resources were illustrated by the number of children forced to stay in bed-and-breakfasts or shared hostels for more than six weeks at a time — a breach of the law since 2003 ?

    VINCE In Mr. Clegg’s early days, yes, “joined at the hip”. But colleagues will rememberlater Mr. Clegg denied the “joined at the hip comment” and side lined Vince. The so called “Quad” consisted of Clegg, Cameron, Alexander and Osborne. No sign of Vince (our best economist).

    I’m really sorry, Lorenzo, but there’s the reality and what you wish to see………… or perhaps you didn’t notice at the time.

  • @ Dominic Shadbolt @ Bill Le Breton

    We need to listen to BOTH these guys

    Blue torch paper underway Peter and not a moment too soon!!

  • TCO 3rd Jul ’17 – 4:57pm……………….I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the nay sayers in the comments are all late-middle aged men, looking back with rose tinted spectacles at the 1970s never-was of their youth?……….

    You mean as opposed to the party’s younger members who seem to have problems even recalling events of less than seven years ago…
    As for decrying stuffing leaflets through doors; it didn’t end there. There were householders to talk to and, more importantly, to listen to….It also showed a degree of commitment that ‘tweeting and texting’ (today’s junk mail) doesn’t…

    As for age…It seems that old fashioned personal appearances by a 68 year old managed to inspire/energise the young into voting….Sadly, it wasn’t for us..

  • paul holmes 3rd Jul '17 - 10:29pm

    @TCO Or is the main difference between those who have experience of running/winning/standing for election in the real world (and usually use their real name) and those who simply speculate in some form of fantasy football style fantasy politics (and have a greater tendency to hide behind anonymous labels).

  • @ Humphrey Hawksley

    Thank you for responding. Even if the dictatorial management style was the most successful style for winning elections we would need to reject it. If we run the party in the same way we wish society to be run, the risk that those elected to public office will reject this way of running society when elected is lessened. We know that we had MPs in 2010 who didn’t sign up to the way the party was run and they didn’t change society to be run in this way in government. (When I read David Laws’ “22 Days in May” I was struck by his distaste of the membership of his antagonism towards them.)

    When I was studying management it was taught that the democratic management style is the most successful model. Perhaps you are looking at the wrong thing. It is not management style but management itself which was missing. This could have been because of a lack of training and or communication. I did agent training before 1992 really for that general election, I don’t recall be taught that part of the role of the agent is to support or leading local teams to travel to the nearest target seat. So perhaps this was the problem in your local party. We can be professional but the only discipline we can have is self-discipline.

    If I have understood history correctly the SDP had a greater emphasis on management and centralisation and the belief that a good national opinion poll rating would get them into government. This did not happen in 1983 with 25.4% of the vote. It was not until after 1992 that we made a breakthrough at the national level increasing our MPs to 46 but only 16.8% of the vote (in 1997).

    We need to continue to fight local elections and deliver focus leaflets to get councillors elected. We need to find how to communicate effectively with younger voters who might not read leaflets put through their door both locally and nationally. And for best practice to be shared widely within the party. We also need to have a policy to scrap tuition fees / student loans and replaced them either out of general taxation or with graduate tax.

  • Bill

    An idea like Uber doesn’t need to be sold to people. Its popularity self generates ‘adopters’ of the idea. A good idea doesn’t need to be hawked around and ‘campaigned’ from door to door. A good idea travels by word of mouth and the internet between eager adopters of ‘this new thing I’ve heard about’.
    And this is where it gets iffy for LD’s because ideas like Uber are by definition POPULIST. Of course populist is a dirty word to LD’s but it’s where the voters are at. So whatever the message is that LD’s are trying to sell, it seems clear after several iterations of failure, and that it’s neither popular nor populist and voters don’t want it.

    So what are the options for LD’s 1) Listen to voters and be more populist, designing policy that sells itself to voters who actually want it. 2) Despise voters, question their intelligence, shout ‘the message’ louder, and continue to bombard them with unsolicited door knocking with ideas they have already rejected several times. 3) Wait for the populism of the left and right to disappoint, and usher the dejected voters back into your vacant centrist fold.
    Option 1 recognises a need for real change. Option 2 looks closer to harassment than campaigning. Option 3 recognises the centre ground is vacant, but assumes its temporary instead of the possibility that it is vacant in the same way an old Detroit car plant is vacant.
    Asking voters what they want and working with them is the obvious answer, but more troubling is nagging doubt that LD’s even care what voters want, preferring to shower contempt on their unmet needs.

  • paul holmes 4th Jul '17 - 11:11am

    @Martin Fletcher. Whereas I think the Lib Dems lost out badly in the 2017 GE precisely because we had spent the previous year banging on about little else but our opposition to Brexit.

    Single issue pressure groups don’t win elections under the UK’s FPTP voting system (UKIP: 12% in the 2015 GE, not a single MP) however right on their single issue may or may not be with the electorate at any given time..

    Even less so if they deliberately abandon previous areas of electoral strength in pursuit of a shiny new ‘Core Vote Strategy’ based only on concentrations of urban, educated, professional, middle class ‘liberals’.

  • Peter Watson 4th Jul '17 - 11:17am

    @Martin Fletcher “I joined the Lib Dems earlier this year because it was the only national party opposed to the catastrophe that is Brexit.”
    Perhaps all of those new members who were opposed to Brexit would have been able to exert more influence to achieve their desired outcome by joining either the Conservatives or Labour.

    “I didn’t hear Tim Farron and other Lib Dem leaders making the positive case for EU membership”
    This has been the case since the start of the Referendum campaign in 2016, and unfortunately the party did not learn from the failure of that negative approach.

  • Bill le Breton 4th Jul '17 - 11:32am

    Sheila, it’s a dreadful phrase, but we truly are on the same page.

    It was not about selling to the public that I was asking, it was selling the idea to the Party and especially to its so called strategists and office holders.

    If you read my piece on Garage Politics ( ) you will see that I was using the metaphor of Apple in its earliest stage – it was happening in Job’s parents Garage. Also that it was Mac users in the early days who ‘sold’ the capabilities of the Mac to their friends and neighbours. What starts as a few users becomes more and more, becomes a community. Why? Because the ‘product’ allows people to do more, to do things they couldn’t do before, could do things they didn’t realises they needed to do before. The product made them freer, made it easier for them to seize opportunities, made things possible that they had not previously imagined. And makes them do things together.

    That is what a good political party of the future should be like. That is the way even a Party with 7.4% support, if it uses these approaches, will grow from. And it will disrupt the easy life of our competitors.

    Also there is absolutely nothing wrong with populism. I am in favour of Liberal populism.

    There is a fourth option and that is Liberal Leadership. Everyone thought Community Politics was about just doing what people wanted – if they wanted their neighbourhood to be exclusively white, help them achieve it. But obviously that is not what was intended. Community Politics was always about creating a Liberal Movement, by Leading people to the right cause.

    Again in the garage piece I explored this. I am against focus group and polling driven politics. I favour leadership. People right now don’t know they can take A Liberal Uber. We don’t wait for someone to tell them about it. We don’t wait for a black cab to rip them off, We go out there and campaign for Liberal Uberism to adopt your metaphor.

    But I disagree that Uber or Apple are centre grounds. They are reinventions. The centre is an illusion. It comes into fashion every now and then when Product A and Product B fails. The answer is never Product a bit of A and a bit of B … it is C where C is an imaginative innovative response to the needs of the People.

    Can we keep talking?

  • @Dominic Shadbolt
    I think you have to give more credit to the party strategists (not a lot). I suspect they quickly realised that If we went b*lls out for Europe (a stance I once held), then we would have lost Norman Lamb and probably would have been wiped out in England. The feedback on the doorstep was dire. Nobody seemed that bothered. It was over as an issue. The problem was twofold.
    Firstly, our policy on Europe did not reach out in any way to the leave side of the debate. It was pretty much the status quo that had been rejected but with a second vote. We would have been far better making a statement as to how we would campaign to stay in a REFORMED EU if we could have achieved those reforms through negotiation.
    Secondly, Labour played a blinder in the wording of their manifesto paper. This may come back to haunt them but they got away with it.
    On this issue we did not inspire the voter to elect us as an ‘effective opposition’ (our strategists can’t hide from that one).

  • Bill le Breton 4th Jul '17 - 2:42pm

    Well done DS, you are gradually getting it.

  • Peter Hirst 4th Jul '17 - 3:04pm

    We need a clear distinctive message that is broad enough to have mass appeal and is distinctive enough to get us support. it must gel with the public mood. civil rights, transparency or accountability might fit the bill. It must be consistent and yet flexible. too much to expect?

  • paul holmes 4th Jul '17 - 3:04pm

    @Dominic/Martin. No I still think that you two were involved in a very different GE to the one I took part in (were you involved in any practical way by the way?).

    All I saw for a full year from June 2016 to June 2017 was a constant emphasis on opposing Brexit. Endless Press Releases and speeches and Literature all hammering that one theme. Despite the fact that it didn’t work in 3 out of 4 Parliamentary by elections ‘we’ stuck to the strategy, abandoning previous areas of strength because they were in areas that voted Leave and pouring scarce resources into seats where we we were 12,000 to-20,000 plus behind in the mistaken belief that the Remain voters there would switch wholesale to us (hint -they didn’t).

    As PJ notes above “The feedback on the doorstep was dire. nobody seemed that bothered. It was over as an issue.” Or as a colleague of mine who went canvassing for a weekend in the Stoke by election said “They have got Brexit on everything and its going down like a cup of cold sick, even with people who voted Lib Dem before.”

  • It seems clear that we need to split;

    – pragmatic power-seeking let’s get things done National Liberals
    – purity-preserving in-my-day-things-were-better-in-the-70s left-leaning pavement-patching Local Liberals

  • Peter Watson 4th Jul '17 - 6:21pm

    Sadly this is yet another thread that shouts that Lib Dems need to do something: something new, something different, something clever, something radical, something popular, something that will push Labour and the Tories aside, something they can communicate clearly, something which will be a clarion call to like-minded liberals everywhere.

    And that something is ….. what? Nobody seems to know. But apparently it will involve messages and branding.

    If you’re going to argue with each other then at least fall out over something of substance, like actual policies. As a party, and Brexit-aside, what do you want to achieve? What do you want to change and what do you want to keep or improve? How do you want to deliver it and how do you want to pay for it?

    In particular, it’s a crying shame that the difference in opinions between the right and the left of the party can even lead to a member dismissing those who built the party’s record in local government as “left-leaning pavement-patching Local Liberals” in favour of apparently different “pragmatic … National Liberals”. If you’re going to rebuild your party you’ll need success at every level of government.

  • Phil Wainewright 4th Jul '17 - 9:12pm

    I feel like I have lived on both sides of the debate in this thread. On the one hand, I work with mostly California-based, digital technology companies who are ambitious to change the world. On the other, I designed my first Focus leaflet in the days before DTP, when you literally had to cut and paste the artwork with scissors and glue.

    And I have to say that each side has to listen to, respect and learn from the other. You can’t build local strength without going out, knocking on doors, listening to what people care about in the community, and presenting a message that acknowledges what matters to them. But you don’t win nationally without presenting a consistent message that conveys our unique values as a party. Yes, that requires discipline and professionalism but it must be adopted by consent, not by edict.

    Politics, however, is not exactly like business, and values are nothing like products. We are not a start-up, constantly pivoting until we land on the one idea that’s a best seller. A political party can’t pick and choose policies based solely on what’s popular, unless those policies also authentically reflect and embody its unique values (I believe political scientists call this ‘valence’) …

  • Phil Wainewright 4th Jul '17 - 9:12pm

    … The locally based approach in the years running up to 2010 resulted in our greatest successes in vote share and numbers of MPs, so let’s not knock it. It failed to survive the experience of coalition because we were not assertive enough of our values — our leadership of the time assumed that competent governance would see us through. They got that devastatingly wrong.

    Now we face a conundrum. Do we pick ourselves up and go back to the painstaking work of rebuilding our local strength, one council ward at a time? Or do we seek to bounce straight back into contention as a national force at the next election, seizing the opportunity of a fractured political system in which the established parties need only one final nudge before they crumble into pieces?

    Well why not do both? We didn’t have social media back in the 1990s, so the only way to connect with the electorate was by pushing leaflets through doors. It took years to spread a message, whereas anyone today can publish instantly to the world. The corollary of that, however, is that we must remain true to our shared values at every level of campaigning, because unlike in the 1990s, any inconsistencies across the country are easily discovered and shared.

    We don’t know whether we can finally achieve the surge that takes us into power on our own terms – but we should have the ambition to aspire to that, so long as we simultaneously invest in the painstaking local approach. Then, if the ultimate success eludes us once again, at least we will have begun to rebuild for the future.

  • paul holmes 4th Jul '17 - 9:45pm

    @TCO. I don’t about the 1970’s I wasn’t a member then. But I do know that the record levels of our national electoral success (best since 1922) was in 2005 with a slight dip in 2010. Regrettably that was followed by electoral disaster as ‘pragmatic power seeking National Liberal types’ and ‘lets do exciting new things as a quick route to success’ thinkers all but destroyed us in the last 7 years.

  • Bill le Breton 5th Jul '17 - 7:51am

    Well done Phil.

    I take your point that values are not products.

    But if we go back to the famous expression about helping people to take and use power in their communities, then, perhaps those of us who have tried to serve this mission have concentrated more in helping people ‘take’ power and less about how we help them use power.

    If we look at that part of the mission that is not about ‘our techniques’ for winning power, so much as our ability to explore ways in which people in their communities will find it easier to use that power, then, to that end, a ‘gadget’ is a useful analogy. As is the ‘marketing of those gadgets’ and so too is the way building a community from those who ‘use the gadget(s)’ is key to the ‘take up’ and success of these gadgets/strategies for creating opportunities and seizing life chances???

  • Phil Wainewright 5th Jul '17 - 9:30am

    OK Bill let’s hope I’m not going to stretch the analogy to breaking point, but let me give this a try – albeit while reiterating the caution that politics and business aren’t the same …

    Values are analogous to what is called ‘brand’ in business circles. LD values/brand revolve around respect and tolerance for individuals, coupled with a belief that people achieve more by working together than apart.

    Policies are like products. You should never adopt a policy/product that conflicts with your values/brand (which is why the coalition’s tuition fees, secret courts and bedroom tax have been so damaging for LDs). Far better to have policies/products that reinforce your values/brand (pupil premium to raise life chances, no Brexit because there are more urgent things to spend the money on, leading role in the EU because working together internationally).

    Then there’s business model, which is analogous to the ‘techniques’ mentioned in your latest comment. That too must be consistent with and reinforce your values, especially in execution. So at a local level, we keep people informed and encourage them to take power for themselves. At a national level, we decide policy by one member one vote, and we abhor leadership coronations even when they seem unavoidable.

    And I agree with you Bill, there’s so much more we could do to promote our values through encouraging and supporting the theory and practice of what you’ve called garage politics, ie grassroots campaigning.

  • For those – mostly long serving members I suspect – who say we have to start from the ground-up (like we’ve always done, and got nowhere nationally), please read about the rise of Macron. From no party base to power in the Elysée and the Legislative in 18 months.

  • paul holmes 5th Jul '17 - 1:23pm

    Ken, Macron (a Cabinet Minister in Hollande’s Socialist Govt so not a total newcomer) was fighting in an entirely different electoral system to our FPTP system. The USA also uses our FPTP system which is why Trump could never have won as an Independent but only by piggy backing his particular brand of populism onto the Republican Party.

    Also of course Macron faced two principle opponents, the long established and formerly dominant Republican and Socialist Parties, who for different reasons had trashed their brand. In the UK the two principle opponents, far from trashing their brand have just taken 82% of the vote between them, their best joint share in half a century. They did this, not least, because the Liberal Democrats who had taken around 20% of the vote (range of 17% -25%) at every election from 1983 -2010 then trashed their brand between 2010-2015. We followed that up by adopting an ‘exciting new Core Vote strategy’ plus campaigning for the last year as a single issue Party – on an issue where the electorate had moved on and so saw us as irrelevant on June 8th.

    We now have 12 MP’s and 7.4% of the vote as compared to 22% and 62 MP’s in 2005 or 23% and 57 MP’s in 2010. But for FPTP of course we would have had over 120 MP’s in 2005 or 2010. We now have 1 MEP compared to 14 previously and barely cling on in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament where we were previously in Government for 4 years and 8 years respectively. Which method saw us get nowhere nationally?

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