“Her disastrous miscalculation” – Sir Nick Harvey’s view on Jo Swinson’s support for December election

Former North Devon MP, Sir Nick Harvey stood down as Liberal Democrat party chief executive shortly before 20th October last year.

In this fortnight’s Private Eye, a letter from Nick is published which severely criticises a decision made by the then party leader, Jo Swinson, soon after he left the role on 28th October.

He doesn’t pull any punches:

Though I had departed by then, the Lib Dem pivot on 28 October to back an election appears to have been taken that weekend under SNP pressure, and left Labour no choice but to follow suit.

It was a catastrophic mistake, gift-wrapping everything wanted and handing it to him for Christmas… majority government, Brexit, and given the state of the Labour Party, potentially ten years in office.

Defeated Lib Dem MPs, Jo Swinson among them, paid a heavy price for her disastrous miscalculation.

With a hat-tip to Liberal England.

* 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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  • Peter Martin 10th Jan '20 - 10:13am

    Nick Harvey has it right as far as he goes. However, there was more than one “disastrous mistake”. The Labour Party’s tactics were just as bad as the Lib Dems. It was a big mistake, on the part of Hilary Benn and his allies to force the PM, even a Tory PM, to write a grovelling letter to the EU. Most Labour voters, as do most voters in general, have a sense that UK politics should say UK politics. Siding with a what they, rightly or wrongly, perceive as a foreign power with whom we are in tough negotiations didn’t go down at all well.

    It would have been much smarter for both parties, this time last year, to go through the motions of opposing Mrs May’s WA bills, but to abstain in just sufficient numbers to allow them to pass. Then you’d sit back and watch the Tories tear themselves apart and reap the benefits at the next election which could well have been at the same time anyway.

    Yes, it would have been a tactical retreat, but tactical retreats are often necessary to avert strategic disaster. In trying to win a complete victory, the ultra Remainers in both the Lib Dems and the Labour Party have led their parties to total defeat from which it will take at least a decade to recover.

  • John Marriott 10th Jan '20 - 10:17am

    I am in 110% agreement with Sir Nick Harvey. The problem is that ‘campaigning’ is hardwired into the Lib Dem psyche. I’ve invented an equation: Lib Dems + Election = Political Heaven. Anyone for Conference?

  • It is quite ridiculous, in my view, to suggest that Jo Swinson was unaware she was handing victory to Johnson by backing an election in the way she did. Think about it. She knew that mixing brexit with an election would only favour the tories (as did Johnson which is why he sought it). She knew that the leave vote was united under the tory flag. She knew that Labour were in deep trouble. She knew that the only conceivable chance to pull this off was with a powerful remain pact which she expressely rejected (even so far as to choose the only postion that made such a pact close to impossible: revoke article 50).

    The notion that you can attribute all of this to “error of judgement” is simply wild. There was a hell of a lot of deep scullduggery going on in this whole debacle and the UK public had better get a lot better at realising that not all political players are what they claim to be nor do they necessarily desire what they claim to desire.

  • I should also point out that everything I have said about Jo Swinson and the Lib Dems is equally applicable to Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party. He also knew perfectly well they were giving the election to Johnson. It seems that more politicians wanted brexit than they cared to admit publicly.

  • @ Paul Walters

    I don’t know Paul and neither do you if you are being honest. What I do know is that you don’t have to be a secret tory plant to secretly desire brexit more than you are letting on. Nor do you need to be a secret tory plant to prefer Johnson in the chair over Corbyn.

    But coming back to the mockery you began with. Do you really believe that the most powerful institiution in the land is entirely immune to MPs pretending to be something other than they are in order to gain political advantage for A. N Other. If you really do think this to be such a wild proposition I suggest you read some history on connections between past MPs and their connections to intelligence agencies both foreign and domestic.

  • Graham Jeffs 10th Jan '20 - 10:45am

    JS responsible for mind-boggling ineptitude followed by a disastrous campaign. Total failure to connect with ordinary people. Possibly gender obsessive, “pc” is not the same thing as “liberal”. I do not miss her.

    But the more important issue is how do we avoid this happening again? There has consistently been advice on this in these columns, much of it making similar points.

    But is anyone listening? Can a party hierarchy that allows an email to go to members at the start of the GE campaign pillorying Corbyn and Johnson for being ““white, old, leave men” be anything other than unhinged?

  • @Paul Walter

    It seems that Paul has a gift the rest of us lack: the ability to read the minds of others.

    All I can say is that I become highly curious when two leaders of two separate political parties both pursue strategies that even the village idiot can see will lead to a Johnson victory & then claim miscalculation. If you are not equally curious then perhaps you need to learn to look beyond the veneer.

  • nigel hunter 10th Jan '20 - 10:51am

    The last 10 years has been a roller coaster of disaster. I hope the next decade shows wiser leadership from the opposition all round cos if not Tories will rule for ever. Yes I am angry!

  • @Paul Walter

    Paul, judging by your comments I feel certain that you probably take a dim view of staunch Corbynites and SNP zealots. Have you ever considered however that behaving as they do, just under a different flag is no better?

  • @Paul Walter

    Wanting brexit was only one of the possibilities that I floated and you will note that Paul strategically avoided discussing the other.

    But on the brexit thing, yes Paul. The whole point of deception is that you do things that are of opposite of what you actually want such a speaking in favour of something and then esoterically working against it. I don’t know that this is the case but does it happen in the real world – yes. In fact it is bread and butter politics.

  • Even though some of us tried to tell you ……. an empty chapel in Rochdale does somehow seem appropriate.

    O happy band of pilgrims – Spotland Methodist Church …
    https://www.youtube.com › watch
    Video for hadleigh farm unity band o happy band of pilgrims▶ 3:15
    18 Jul 2011 – Uploaded by Christopher Lawton railway and organ
    Spotland Methodist Church in Rochdale, Lancashire.

  • David Becket 10th Jan '20 - 11:06am

    @ Graham Jeffs
    How do we avoid this happening again?

    A complete clear out, by the March Conference, of all senior figures involved in the Campaign. No ifs, No buts, Out

    A chance at conference to hear all our MPs state their case of where the party should be going.

    A veto of all candidates for leadership to see what baggage problems they will bring. Jo’s was obvious all along, Gender Obsessive.

    The election of a leader with no connection to the coalition.
    As our leader will be inexperienced a balanced support team for him/her.

  • “It was a catastrophic mistake”
    Not for the SNP.

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Jan '20 - 11:10am

    Personally, I found Harvey’s letter in my PE to be repulsive. Is that his view of democracy? Exclude the people until they have been ‘stitched up’ by devoutly remain MPs?
    And how many of those are left after the electors finally got their hands on them?
    I was (and am) a great admirer of Jo. I thought she was the best option for PM and has demonstrated eloquence, intelligence and honesty. She sacrificed her political future to get the voters back into the equation for which she has my gratitude and respect.
    Politician’s disrespect for voters, dating back to long before the referendum, has got us into our sorry state and not Jo’s honesty.
    Purrrleeese! don’t tell me that more people voted for “Remain parties”. First read a few year’s worth of Corbyn’s weekly column in the Morning Star and then tell me he is a Remainer.

  • Peter Martin 10th Jan '20 - 11:10am

    @ krg,

    Have you ever tried arguing a case which you don’t totally believe in? It’s very difficult. Give it a go some time. Barristers are trained to do this, but even they have great difficulty.

    It is much more likely Jo Swinson’s flaw was just the opposite – that she believed just a little too strongly in what she was saying. It’s quite probable that none of her friends or immediate relatives was in favour of Brexit. In her mind no reasonable person could be in favour of leaving the EU. It was beyond her comprehension that the voters wouldn’t see it her way once she’d got out on the hustings and had the chance to ‘put everyone right’.

  • @Peter Martin

    Peter I can state absolutely that Jo Swinson secretely wanted brexit because I don’t know that. What I can say is that both Corbyn’s and Swinson’s actions are, in my opinion, deeply suspicious. Maybe Jo simply decided that having Johnson was better than having Corbyn. Maybe Jo decided that the only way to truly end brexit & destroy the tories was to let them run with it, blow themselves up and then have the UK rejoin the EU in five to ten years time. Who knows what political calculations go on behind closed doors. Having said all of this I come back to my intial point which is:

    “I become highly curious when two leaders of two separate political parties both pursue strategies that even the village idiot can see will lead to a Johnson victory & then claim miscalculation”

    Something does not feel right about this for me. I can feel it in my water.

  • This shows the trouble with any post hoc analysis of “how did this happen” – there isn’t agreement on what “this” is. Depending on their priorities, some people consider the bad “this” to be we’re leaving the EU while others consider it to be setting on fire decades of accumulated political capital and good will. If it’s the first then clearly we shouldn’t have had an election or referendum, though the last parliament was too cowardly to just revoke article 50 – and the result of the following election would have been even more emphatic. I’m actually not sure that EU membership could have been saved any time post 2014. If the bad thing that is supposed to have happened is setting on fire all the political capital and good will, then the answer is simple – be democrats, accept the 2016 referendum and let May get on with implementing it (by voting for her WA or abstaining). There might have then been space in a 2020 election against May to make some headway with actual issues like shocking underfunding of council services, overpriced houses, landbanking, generational inequality, matching post 18 courses to actual demand for their graduates, and so on.

    Regarding the white old men email. I’m not a member anymore so I didn’t get it. The new leadership would do well to remember that any election in Europe (including the EU27 btw) is decided by the votes of white men, their wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and girlfriends. Perhaps keep it to policy next time.

    We should avoid calling people unhinged though. In the 2010 election there was a joint pledge to use responsible language relating to mental health in politics and we should keep that going (you may remember Nick Clegg calling the ECR group “nutters” and having to apologise as this was offensive to nutters).

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 10th Jan '20 - 11:45am

    I would like to think that Jo Swinson backed a general election because she realised it was the only democratic course of action. The public were thoroughly fed up with the stalemate situation since 2017, with Parliament claiming to be opposed to “no deal”, and yet refusing to back any deal. Most people recognised that a general election was the only democratic way to resolve the situation.
    It would have been completely unacceptable for Jo Swinson to have backed any attempt to make Jeremy Corbyn a “caretaker” prime minister, without an election, especially in view of how unpopular Corbyn was with the public. Any attempt to install someone other than Corbyn as caretaker Prime Minister would have been even more unacceptable, as they would have no democratic mandate whatsoever.
    I expect Jo Swinson did realise the election would probably result in a Conservative majority. But after all, that was up to the electorate. It would have been wrong to refuse to back the election that the public wanted, on the grounds that they might make the “wrong” decision. And it may well be that Jo Swinson did consider a Conservative government to be preferable to the only other real alternative – a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn. That doesn’t make her a “Conservative plant”. But she did seem happy to serve as a minister in a Conservative led coalition, and somehow I find it hard to imagine her as part of a Corbyn led government. She may well have thought Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister was a worse outcome than Brexit. That doesn’t mean she “secretly wanted Brexit”.
    It may of course just have been that she thought the Lib Dems would be likely to have more success in an election held before Brexit, than in an election held shortly after Brexit. The Lib Dem policy on Brexit since the referendum has always seemed to have more to do with trying to win votes, than any real desire to stop Brexit.

  • Jo,
    May have falsly thought you could rationalise with stupidity, but the reality is only experience can change their views. Even then it often doesn’t work, we shall have to see if the coming devastation of Sunderland changes Peter’s, I suspect however it will not, only the devastation of his pension will do that, at which point it is far to late to make any diffrence to Peter’s future twill just be grim.

  • @manfarang

    It was indeed in the best interests of the SNP to push for an election that was brexit based at a time of Johnson’s preference with a united leave front and a disunited remain one. Why? Because the SNP wanted brexit & Johnson to make independence all but an inevitability in the next couple of years. In other words the SNP wanted the election because it guaranteed a toxic outcome. Knowing this makes it even more difficult to believe that Corbyn and Swinson were simply acting out of “miscalculation”. I believe that they both knew what the SNP knew: that this election would put Johnson in the chair.

  • I think Jo Swinson genuinely thought she could get close to a hundred seats and that the tide had swung so far in remains favour that Brexit could be ended. I think this was, bizarrely, driven by coming in behind the Brexit Party in Euro elections, a conviction that voters were more angry with the Tories than with parliamentary shenanigans and the continued remainer inability to process accept that voters really were voting on the EU. You got it on LDV and it pro EU circles all the time. It was a howl of rage, it was this, it was that, it was left behinds, the empire and literally anything than accept it was because a lot of people just don’t see the EU as that desirable, because they quite like their nation state and don’t want to be part of beatific pan European group hug. There is no wide consensus amongst the general population that nationalistic politics is innately bad or that wanting to put kith and kin first is small minded and this results in ability of those who do think those things are undesirable to not see the difference between policies being popular, unpopular and populist. In other words it was forgotten that people often mingle “progressive” and conservative ideas, that they are not passively absorbing the ideology of the political classes and that more importantly they have a vote. It’s easier to adapt policy to fit people than to adapt people to fit policy.

  • David Evershed 10th Jan '20 - 12:18pm

    Lib Dems wanted a People’s Vote and rightly we reap the consequences of one.

  • @Peter Martin

    Peter, I don’t know if Jo Swinson secretly desired brexit and was running a Machiavelli deception. I don’t know if Jo Swinson preferred to have Johnson in the chair over Corbyn. I don’t know if Jo Swinson is a secret tory. I don’t know if Jo Swinson felt that the only way to kill brexit was to let it happen, wait for the fallout to destroy the tories and then rejoin the EU in five or ten years time. Who knows what goes on in the realm of political dark dealings behind closed doors.

    What I do know is that which I stated earlier: “when two leaders of two separate political parties both pursue strategies that even slower minds can see will lead to a Johnson victory & then claim miscalculation”, I become suspicious because, for me, something is wrong with that picture.

    Even the SNP knew this would lead to a victorious Johnson & a real chance for their ambitions of independence.

    Something is very wrong here. I feel it in my water.

  • We are all hurting & the desire to make ourselves feel better by thumping each other is perfectly natural. It is also wrong, illiberal & a bit pathetic. We Elected Jo Swinson, we cheered the Revoke campaign & we were all involved in the mistakes in Targetting. It would be more Liberal & more Adult if we all took some responsibility.
    The idea, put about by Momentum that 20 Libdem MPs somehow forced The Election on Parliament is silly. The Tories, Labour & The SNP all wanted an early Election so that is what we got.
    We increased out Vote share by half & we now have 4 or 5 Years to complete our Recovery; we can begin by letting go & forgiving ourselves.

  • Peter Martin 10th Jan '20 - 12:30pm

    @ Catherine Jane Crosland,

    I expect Jo Swinson did realise the election would probably result in a Conservative majority.

    At the start of the campaign there was an article on LDV suggesting that JS would be our next PM. I suggested we tell her she was dreaming. But I’d probably have told Emmanuel Macron he was dreaming too just a few years ago!

    I’d say she did think the time was right for a British “En marche”. Or at least the time was right for the Lib Dems to make a breakthrough with a 100 or so seats which would have deprived the Tories of a majority.

    She was, at it turned out, dreaming about that too!

  • @Paul Walter

    “I strategically avoided it simply because I didn’t realise there was another. What was it?” – It might have been easier for you to simply re-read my earlier post but no matter. My latest post repeats the possibilities so you can catch up.

    The main difference between someone like me and someone like you Paul, is that I don’t know and you do know. At least you believe that you know. Sadly however what you think you know is actually what you have chosen to believe which you have mistaken for knowing.

    When I see something that doesn’t make sense however I ask questions and don’t allow the scope of that investigation to become hindered by preconceived notions. Dismissing everything as poppycock based on nothing more than unflinching allegience isn’t my thing.

    The cut and thrust of everything you have written seems to be, if a politician says they believe in X then they must believe in X. If a politician says they don’t believe in Y then they must not believe in Y. For the life of my I can’t quite understand why anyone would be operating in this format. The very nature of politics is deception layered of deception with a side serving of deception. The very last thing that anyone should be using as the basis for what a politician believes and will subsequently do should be the words flowing from their mouths. Unless we can educate our public and our children to be far more savvy about this, as a country, we are in far more trouble than we might realise.

    Your efforts to completely dismiss a glaring irregularity in the actions of both Corbyn and Swinson, I believe does nothing but harm. Even if it is later proven that no impropriety did take place, having the curiousity and an open enough mind to explore the possibility is vital. Such vigilance protects us from those who may have poor intentions. Complacency in such matters can be lethal.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 10th Jan '20 - 12:52pm

    krg, What’s really so mysterious about opposition parties voting for a general election? Surely opposition parties are supposed to be constantly eager for a general election?

  • Julian Tisi 10th Jan '20 - 1:18pm

    @Paul Barker
    Thank you for saying that – I agree. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but let’s remember that the push towards an election was irresistible, given the Parliamentary stalemate. Had we been seen as preventing an election and one were to have taken place we would have been punished heavily as undemocratic. And on that… revoke was in hindsight (and for many of us in foresight) an overreach at best, horribly bad at worst. That and “I’m a candidate for PM” came up sadly too often on the doorstep.

  • Sue Sutherland 10th Jan '20 - 1:32pm

    I just wish that all the great and the good of our party would make a New Year’s resolution that they won’t comment in public about things that have gone wrong for us. We need an internal party review ASAP and I hope that Nick Harvey gives evidence to that, but in the meantime activists are getting on with canvassing for the next round of elections, showing a political maturity that squabbling in public is only going to undermine. A bit of loyalty to the party and its members wouldn’t go amiss.

  • Jeremy Cunnington 10th Jan '20 - 1:36pm

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing Mr Harvey!

    Can I just say I couldn’t disagree with him more. The Lib Dem’s main aim has and was to stop Brexit and having an election was the last chance of that happening after Johnson got his deal and enough Labour MPs indicated they were going to back him. If we hadn’t gone for it many of our new support would have been disillusioned. Apart from Corbyn’s toxicity the major problem we faced was the Brexit party standing down in most of our target seats thus preventing the split in the Brexit vote and allowing us to win seats, this was not apparent at the time of the election call, nor was our leader’s unpopularity.

    Indeed if anything the mistake was for the Lib Dems it was not to go for an election in October before Johnson had got his deal. This would have meant the Brexit Party was still in play the Brexiter zealots would have been unhappy. You’d have still had the Corbyn factor but there was enough chance to get a hung parliament. This would have left Johnson to go for no deal if he had won, but Johnson is a coward and as we have seen with his deal in dumping the DUP he would have found a way of not doing no deal. Once Johnson caved in to get his deal the writing was always on the wall.

    As for holding off from an election until after the withdrawal agreement had passed with the idea that parliament would have passed the deal but with enough safeguards, the result of the election would have been the same / similar thanks to Corbyn’s unpopularity and all the checks would have been undone.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Jan '20 - 1:50pm

    Catherine Jane Crosland

    The public were thoroughly fed up with the stalemate situation since 2017, with Parliament claiming to be opposed to “no deal”, and yet refusing to back any deal.

    The real issue was that there were many forms Brexit could take. There were some who said they would support Brexit, but would rather remain in the EU than leave without a proper trade agreement. There were others who dismissed such a trade agreement as still being controlled by the EU, and so the extreme Brexiteers said they’d rather remain in the EU than have an agreement which was like still being in the EU and having no say over it.

    This should have been made clear, and used to state why a second referendum was needed, where there would be a choice for which system to choose, once the details had been worked out. The choice would need to include Remain, if it really was the case that no actual form would get majority support, but the referendum needed to use the Alternative Vote system so that no-one would feel forced to vote for their second choice in order to prevent what they least wanted from winning.

    What actually happened was that the form of Brexit that got worked out, which was actually a reasonable balance between hard and soft Brexit, got voted against by extreme Brexiteers, who then lied and made out that Brexit didn’t happen not because of them but only because of opponents of Brexit refusing to accept the referendum.

    So, should our MPs have voted for a moderate form of Brexit on the grounds one has to compromise to enable things to progress, and so agree to something that is not your ideal? Well, voting for what we didn’t really want as a compromise was what our MPs did in 2010-15 and did we get any thanks or recognition for that?

    We should have made all these things clear, but we didn’t. Starting with AV – how useful that would have been to avoid what happened in the 2019 general election where many felt forced to vote for who they didn’t really want to avoid splitting the vote. And how not having AV is a good example of how people vote in referendums to make a general protest, and so may end up getting something they wouldn’t really want if they thought a bit more about it – and were properly explained how it really worked.

  • Richard O'Neill 10th Jan '20 - 1:53pm

    @krg – that is quite possibly the most bizarre theory I’ve ever seen on LDV!

    In all the posts you’ve made here you haven’t provided any genuine motive why she would want Brexit. When do you believe this scheme emerged? Has she been planning it for years or was it more of a spur of the moment thing?

    Clearly she hoped that an election would lead to a major breakthrough for LDs. Guilty of being too optimistic at worst, not some dastardly plot!

  • Matt (Bristol) 10th Jan '20 - 1:59pm

    We need to recall that the move towards an early election took place in the context:
    – of Corbyn’s refusal to engage with a cross-party movement to put in place an alternative government that did not feature him at its head
    – a ‘cliff-edge’ situation with no agreed extension to the Brexit deadline in place at that time, amking no-deal, at least in theory, a very real possibility.

    Swinson and Sturgeon wrote to Tusk to propose the election, in order to prevent either a no-deal, or a very short Brexit extension that they feared would play into Johnson’s hands. It was my understanding that it was the existence of the letter that secured Macron’s agreement to a longer extension.

    I have for some time suspected that Swinson may have – behind the scenes – been persuaded by figures in ALDE (given Macron’s party participates with ALDE in the European parliament) in this regard, to un-gum the European negotiations.

    Many people said at the time it was a gamble, and if right, Swinson would win big, and if wrong, she and the party would reap the whirlwind.

    Those above who say ‘Labour’ was in favour of an election are not wholly accurate — it was clear that whilst the Corbyn leadership favoured it, there were splits within the shadow cabinet and wider party.

    The other underlying chaotic factor in the early autumn was that the expelled pro-European Conservatives had failed to organise together and did not speak with one voice, although nominally a fairly large presence in a -temporarily – very unstable parliament.

  • Frustrating the democratic referendum, perpetuating a dysfunctional Parliament and blocking the minority government may seem good tactics to Nick Harvey, but all of that had already gone on for far too long. It was bad for democracy, bad for the country and eventually career ending for the politicians who engaged in it.

    Denying democracy only ever works for a while. The people were denied a vote on the EU for four decades, even though it had become very different to what they agreed to join. They get their opportunity to vote at some stage. That vote is ignored by politicians at their peril. The people are sovereign as they reminded Labour and the Lib Dems last month.

  • It’s easy to say this, but at that point what was the alternative?

    Labour had enough folk who wouldn’t back a confirmatory ref/’People’s’ Vote (it’s an aside, but what an unfortunate name for a campaign…). A government of national unity was off the table without Tory rebel support and I’m not sure it would have been practical anyway. There was fairly limited scope to keep stalling things out for all that much longer, and even if the odds were 5% of success in a GE that’s still better than the zero you’d get trying to paste on some amendments to the WAB and letting it pass via Labour rebels.

    Arguments about whether it would have been better backing the other compromises earlier (an iteration of May deal, customs union, etc) are fair enough. But at the point they were at, it was either GE, second ref or let the deal through. You’d still need a GE to have a functioning government to enact it, so that was coming regardless.

    I suppose they could have really publically amped up the pressure on Labour for the second ref before the GE. They could have emphasised the realistic dangers of going into the GE (for Labour electorally), also reminding that a GE wouldn’t have been the sensible way to resolve a specific Brexit question. If Labour then chose the GE over second ref then they would then own the consequences of doing that, and given how little Corbyn liked talking about Brexit he had to have known going into a Brexit election by choice was not going to be a winner. I also think even Labour must have known the best case realistic scenario in the GE – a minority govt coalition with SNP – wasn’t exactly going to be an easy ride, if they could even come to an agreement in the first place. If remain-oriented folk also were aware of the permutations here, they likely could have added pressure onto Labour to back the second ref before GE too. Realistically, the best case scenarios in that GE were pretty naff; there were good odds a ‘least worst’ option would have left them exactly where they were in a hung parliament again. I don’t think this angle was pushed enough.

    It’s probably fair to say that at that point, most options were between bad and awful.

  • @Catherine Jane Crosland

    No Catherine you are wrong. Opposition parties are supposed to be keen on elections when operating from a position of strength. Opposition parties chomping at the bit for a general election when operating from a position of weakness should spike your curiosity.

    If your son/daughter was serving in the armed forces and (god forbid) was mortally wounded because their commander told them to run naked at a machine gun nest you’d probably be somewhat p’d off to say the least. If when questioned, the commander advised that they felt that all battalions exist to fight and should therefore always welcome the fight, I think you’d be disgusted.

    You fight tactically on ground you choose at a time of your choosing and you fight to win. That did not happen here and ignoring it does not change that fact.

  • “Hindsight is a wonderful thing Mr Harvey!”
    Don’t know about hindsight, it was obvious before an election was agreed, that agreeing to an election before 2021 was irresponsible…

    Prior to the election Westminster was beginning to find its feet and develop cross party communcations and negotiation; since its back to normal with zero substantive debate…
    If the LibDems are serious about changing the voting system to one which will favour the creation of minority governments then the LibDems need to get massively better at operating in such environments and communicating to the electorate that what they are seeing is democracy in action – what BoJo and his predecessor want isn’t democracy – eg. near zero scrutiny and meaningful debate in the HoC on BoJo’s Brexit Bill.

  • Mack

    Agreed. There was no majority in the 2019 Parliament to do *anything*. There had been indicative and substantive votes on customs unions, 2nd referenda, and all sorts of other options. None of them came close to passing because they needed not only all of the opposition MPs (including the ten or so strongly-Leave Labour MPs, the Labour rebels like Ian Austin who quit the party and endorsed the Conservatives in the election, and so on) but also a good number of Conservative MPs to vote in favour – and the Conservative rebels were almost all in favour of leaving, but not like that, rather than having a second referendum to stop it entirely. The idea that without a general election a workable majority could have been found to pass all the legislation required for a 2nd referendum and then stay as a working government long enough to actually run it … incredibly wishful thinking.

    The only thing it could get a (very narrow!) majority together for was asking for yet another extension to avoid ‘no deal’. And sure, it could have kept doing that until May 2022 or the EU’s patience ran out, but it’s not clear that it would have helped much or stopped us eventually ending up in this situation again. Bad as things are, that would probably have been worse.

  • Peter Martin 10th Jan ’20 – 10:13am:
    The Labour Party’s tactics were just as bad as the Lib Dems. It was a big mistake, on the part of Hilary Benn and his allies to force the PM, even a Tory PM, to write a grovelling letter to the EU. Most Labour voters, as do most voters in general, have a sense that UK politics should [stay] UK politics. Siding with a what they, rightly or wrongly, perceive as a foreign power with whom we are in tough negotiations didn’t go down at all well.

    Indeed. Across the political spectrum there was growing anger against the antics of the EU fifth columnists and assorted anti-democrats who had turned parliament and the country into an international laughing stock. The longer it went on, the greater the backlash was going to be. Perhaps Swinson, or her advisors, realised that the party was painting itself more and more into a corner?

  • Alan Stephenson 10th Jan '20 - 4:23pm

    David Cameron said ”We wiil have a refendum on our membership of the EU and the government will abide by the result however close”
    The LibDems said ”no,we don’t like the result,we want to stay in, or at least have another referendum,and try to change the result ”

    This is how it came across to the people ,the LibDems simply became known as the Lib Undems.
    Why is it so difficult to understand why you did badly in the GE
    People like simple messages they can understand ,and when told something will be done,it must be done,or woe betide anyone wishing to go against their wishes.

    For the record ,I voted remain,but firmly believed that the referendum result had to be acted upon as stated by the government.
    Labour were clearly unelectable as things stand ,and probably will be for the forseeable future ,but that is their making.

    My old mum used to say”There is none so blind as those who will not see”

    The electorate must be listened to ,this the lesson of the GE of 2019

    Good luck for the future LibDems,we need you,but you must listen carefully .

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Jan '20 - 4:48pm

    There is much talk of liberal values hereabouts but many of the opinions expressed, starting with Harvey are denouncing the leader for not obstructing an actual election.
    Yes that’s what she is charged with. For putting the peoples’ opinions first, not ignoring, sidelining or dodging them.
    I am not in this political bubble but the people of this country were disgusted by parliament and showed it when they were finally allowed their say.
    If Jo was responsible, she deserves the highest praise not castigation.
    I am sorry to be leaving the EU but if that is what the people want, then so be it.
    There are some egos here that would not fit into a Zeppelin hangar and if some advice for a way forward is wanted then make your first “Value”, respect for the British people.

  • @Jeff – I fully agree with your comment. A majority of the public are proud of the UK. They were proud of our long standing system of Parliamentary democracy until certain politicians trashed it spectacularly in front of the entire world. The people were very angry.

    Many people here understandably calibrate good and bad decisions within the context of their political ambitions. They appear to have no awareness of how the wider public views these decisions and the consequences for the party in the polls.

    @ Allan Stephenson – I have been telling them that for years but they don’t want to know. The time for campaigning is before the referendum. After the referendum is the time for accepting the democratic result and uniting behind the resulting policy or at least allowing it to proceed.

    People here disagree with that simple statement about our democracy and have the notion that there is nothing wrong with rejecting the result. In my opinion, that makes the party incompatible with the democratic conventions within which it seeks to participate.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Jan '20 - 5:12pm

    @Alan Stephenson: The Lib Dems, as an opposition party, are not bound by any pledge or commitment made by David Cameron, one-time Prime Minister of a rival party, heading a government of which the Lib Dems were not part. The idea that government pledges should ever be binding on anyone not in the government that made them goes against the most basic principle of democracy.
    And campaigning for a mandate to override a previous mandate is exactly what democracy is about. It may be that we didn’t sell the point very well, but the idea that the 2016 Brexit referendum result was somehow sacrosanct is a dangerous attack on the fundamental principles of democracy (because in a democracy no mandate is sacrosanct, any mandate can be legitimately and democratically challenged at any time and replace with a mandate to do the exact opposite), and someone had to challenge this false notion of “democracy”.

  • I don’t agree with Nick. What was the magic alternative to an election? Holding the country to ransom for another 3 years in the hope that Johnson (who made clear we needed an election) would take the blame? Installing Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister without consulting the public?

    Hopefully we can shed some of these aging egotists who think they are smarter than the public, smarter than the membership and smarter than the party leader.

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Jan '20 - 5:48pm

    This thread is not castigating Jo for campaigning against Brexit. That is absolutely her democratic right.
    This theme here is a denunciation of her for failing to obstruct an election but I have yet to read, in the scores offered, one reason which is honourable, defendable and which justify the title “Democrats” in the party name. All are devious, Machiavellian or manipulative, not to mince words, and the party should be grateful they had such a leader who realised that national peace would only be restored if the people were allowed a say and the opportunity to divide the MPs into sheep and goats.
    She has my admiration and respect.

  • @ Alex Macfie – Technically you are correct, but the LibDems agreed to having a referendum, campaigned ahead of it and was expected to honour the result like everyone else. That is what we normally do in this country.

    Even the hard left Labour Party tied itself in knots in order to avoid trashing the referendum result. This party, on the other hand, seemed to go out of its way to trash it before breakfast, before lunch and again before dinner.

    I refer to the intention to have a second referendum. Then the intention to ignore the result if it was another decision to leave and finally the intention to ignore the whole thing and revoke A50. I think this must be a first in such brazen undemocratic behaviour by a UK political party. The electorate was not impressed at all.

  • Alex Mcfie
    It wasn’t a government mandate. It was a referendum. They’re fundamentally different things. I know you believe in the representative model, but overturning a referendum result annoys voters and they can sack politicians at the ballot box, but politicians can’t sack the electorate. Personally, I think you should always get a broad public consensus by treating voters as the reason for democracy rather as a tool to elect MPs. Voters are not little children who need to be guided by grown ups.. I’ve always edged more to the delegate model for this very reason. The point isn’t to win and have your values triumph, it’s to have governments of countries that more or less suite the people who live in them. It’s also why I support PR.

  • Alan Stephenson 10th Jan '20 - 6:21pm

    Alex Mcfie

    Democracy as defined in the Merriam Websters dictionary

    : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections”

    The Libdems voted for a referendum on EU membership in parliament in 2015 ,the vote was 544 to 53 with SNP voting against,so presumably the LibDems agreed to abide with the wishes of the people in that referendum,as stated by the government,or why did the LibDems not vote against the referendum bill ? You can’t have it always.

    Surely this is democracy,you give the people a vote,and you agree to respect the result.
    Mandates ,values and the rest of it mean nothing to people unless you agree to carry out their wishes,and they gave you their answer and you chose to ignore them.

    I agree,no decision can bind any future government,but that decision has to be acted upon first,otherwise it just looks undemocratic to the voters,and that is how they saw the LibDems,as undemocratic.Ask people,they will tell you.In fact the people have been asked and have given their answer quite emphatically on Dec 12th.

    The people will always punish those who defy them sooner or later,unfortunately the Libdems suffered badly in the election,and Labour even worse,maybe you and them will listen to the voters one day.

    As I wrote before, look and listen carefully,it’s no good telling the electorate that they got it wrong,the voters will always have the last say.

  • Peter Watson 10th Jan '20 - 6:24pm

    It is apparent that over the last couple of years there were all sorts of political calculations and miscalculations by all of the parties and all of the MPs. Although many of these spun around Brexit, the more self-centred interests of each party and each MP were also a significant factor in their decisions.
    Regardless of the motivations behind the Lib Dem strategy and the mistakes made, it certainly seems unfair to pin all of the blame on one person, though it’s probably the easy way out after a relatively presidential election campaign by “Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats” that allows her advisers and colleagues to hide in the shadows.

  • David Allen 10th Jan '20 - 7:06pm

    krg – You are half right. Corbyn did secretly want Brexit, though his main reason for endorsing an election was simply vanity. He believed that he was a brilliant campaigner who could (as in 2017) turn things around single-handed, and he was fed up with messing around getting nowhere in a hung Parliament, while he got older, and risked reaching the point at which a demand that he retire might emerge.

    Swinson, on the other hand, certainly did not want Brexit. However, she didn’t NOT want Brexit anything like as much as she pretended. So, faced with what appeared to be a golden opprtunity to gain lots of seats and plaudits, she took the massive risk of endorsing an election on Johnson’s terms. It went pear-shaped, of course. First, she sold the pass on the Remain campaign, and helped Johnson to win power. And secondly, Remain voters twigged that she had sold the pass, and deserted the Lib Dems, so that the big win in seats never materialised, either.

    There, nailed it for you! But I do emphatically endorse your general remarks:

    “The notion that you can attribute all of this to “error of judgement” is simply wild. There was a hell of a lot of deep skullduggery going on in this whole debacle and the UK public had better get a lot better at realising that not all political players are what they claim to be nor do they necessarily desire what they claim to desire.”

  • @ Alan, Innocent, Andrew and Glenn, – Thank goodness that there are some sensible democrats prepared to stand up and be counted. Thank you. The party has no future unless it recognises democracy.

  • As (apparently) crazy conspiracy theories are the order of the day maybe remember that there is one person involved in this debate who opposed the Maastrict treaty. And it wasn’t Jo.

  • Alan Stephenson 10th Jan '20 - 8:08pm


    Thankyou for your comments,democracy is a very interesting subject and it’s good to read eveyone’s interpretations of it.
    I indeed was a ditherer on the EU referendum ,many things about the EU I didn’t like at all,but in the end I decided to vote remain,better the devil you know was my reasoning.However having voted and found myself on the losing side I had to ask myself whether or not I was a democrat.and believed in the democracy of our country,as is practiced .
    I watched the parliamentary proceedings with great interest and came to the conclusion that the electorate would make any party pay heavily that wished to overturn the referendum result.Unfortunately the LibDems chose to do just that ,defy the peoples decision,I had a good idea that that would not be acceptable come the election,and was astonished at any political party putting revoke to the electorate.A blatently obvious bad judgement I thought,but who was I to know ,just a simple voter who cares about democracy in our country.I know quite a few people who voted remain but they all said that the result must honoured in the name of democracy,otherwise were does it stop.

  • Matt (Bristol) 10th Jan '20 - 9:31pm

    Peter Watson:
    “Regardless of the motivations behind the Lib Dem strategy and the mistakes made, it certainly seems unfair to pin all of the blame on one person, though it’s probably the easy way out after a relatively presidential election campaign by “Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats” that allows her advisers and colleagues to hide in the shadows.”

    It did seem to be being pushed as a personal call by Jo and a small group around her at the time, to be fair.

    But yes, this was enhanced by the presidential campaign.

    And I think it’s only fair to point out that the candidate in the 2019 leadership election who most consistently argued for a presidential general election campaign and banged on about ‘electing a future prime minister’ was not Jo Swinson. It was Ed Davey — who got his way, and now seems to reap the reward of leadership resulting from a strategy he envisioned, fronted-up by his rival.

  • Alan Stephenson the 2016 referendum was won by Leave campaigns breaking the law. No democrat should have supported continuing with implementing that result once the investigations of the Electoral Commission and the appeals against them had been finalised. The only democratic solutions to the problem that Leave.EU and Vote Leave created by their off-the-scale law-breaking were: re-run the referendum; trigger A50 but have another vote once the deal was done. Unfortunately there are not enough democrats in the Tory and Labour parties. So now we are where we are.

  • Alan Stephenson
    The problem with honouring the result of a referendum in which the winning side lies, cheats and breaks the law is that you encourage lying, cheating and law-breaking. Then where does it stop? This is why we should not proceed with Brexit without another vote.

    Of course the people who voted for it did not (most of them) lie, cheat or break the law – this is why we should not cancel Brexit without another specific vote (and so the revoke policy was wrong).

  • Richard Taylor 11th Jan '20 - 8:03am

    Sir Nick just reflects the views of many of us. At the time I didn’t foresee the disaster ahead, I just wondered why, I couldn’t see the logic in it. Combined with the decision to back revoke, the presidential campaign when we didn’t have a realistic president the whole period in the Autumn was a disaster and one which the country will pay for. Why did she make these decisions, certainly not because of a secret desire for remain. Inexperience and bad advice.
    After losing the best opportunity many of will see in our lifetime, what is the purpose of the Liberal Democrats? In a 2 party system where polling less than 20% results in few MPs, might not promoting liberal values be best done within one of the 2 main parties?

  • Richard Taylor 11th Jan '20 - 8:05am

    By secret desire for remain, I of course meant secret desire for leave!!!

  • “..might not promoting liberal values be best done within one of the 2 main parties?”
    Fat chance of that. Both have become more extreme.

  • Peter
    “Democracy does work if he losers respect the result, anything else is chaos.”
    Who were the losers in NI and Scotland?

  • Manafarang
    In Scotland the independence supporters lost in a referendum on Scottish independence. This was a referendum on membership of the EU. Scotland had a lower turn out in the EU referendum. Remainers keep doing this “we didn’t win so we want to split everywhere up, we won here , we won there “. You did not. It was a head count. Not an election with seats and boundaries. Calls for independence increased whilst in the EU. I find it interesting that unionists were more likely to vote to leave the EU and yet we’re supposed to believe that EU is keeping the UK together. The SNP supports EU membership after the referendum for the same reason they supported it before the referendum. The EU makes independence more rather than less likely.

  • Innocent Bystander 11th Jan '20 - 9:59am

    The Union is over. The English need to accept that and work through how to protect English interests. The SNP will be very well prepared to protect their own. English nationalism is dormant but you only have to get to a quarter final of something to see English flags everywhere. Since the Act of Union the English have shared everything but that attitude will evaporate like dew when the “Yes” result is announced and our screens are full of screaming Scots and waving Saltires.
    The Scots have a long history of wanting to share what south of the border has. Hadrian did not have to build a wall to keep the Romans in.
    It’s going to be seriously unpleasant but it’s another consequence of Brexit. Ulster has gone already, the Scots next and England will be left like some surrounded, overgrown Kosovo. This is the future. It will just have to be handled.

  • Alan Stephenson 11th Jan '20 - 10:00am

    Peter Brand

    Thankyou for your comments,to a large extent I have to agree with you about the lieing,cheating and deceiving etc.during the referendum campaign,but unfortunately this seems to happen during most elections,and in most countries,it is for the people to use their judgement as to who is telling the truth,and for them to believe what or whom they wish and vote accordingly.I do not believe it would have made much difference, if any, to the referendum result had the people have been told the perfect truth.
    I think the anti EU feeling had built over the preceding years by the people being denied votes or referendums at previous EU treaty changes,to be denied these votes as to who or how their country is governed did not sit well with the people,they do not forget and forgive very easily.Perhaps if Gordon Brown had allowed a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty it would have gone some way towards alleviating this anti EU resentment,but he regarded the important treaty change as not very important,and if memory serves correctly he did not even attend the signing of the treaty,he was too busy elsewhere and sent David Milliband to sign .

    The situation with Scotland and N.I however is not easy to resolve ,they did have their say and rejected leaving the EU and this should not be swept under the carpet ,however the referendum was a UK wide refendum and no or very little thought seems to have been given for the situation if those countries subsequently voted differently to England and Wales,which they did

  • Peter Martin 11th Jan '20 - 10:02am

    @ Paul Barker,

    “The idea, put about by Momentum that 20 Libdem MPs somehow forced The Election on Parliament is silly.”

    Is it? The Labour Party had 262 in the 2017 Parliament. So there weren’t the required number of Labour votes to defeat the Early Parliamentary General Election Act (2019) which effectively circumvented the FTPA (2011). It’s possible the EPGEA could have still passed without LibDem support, but there was still a chance of stopping it. The Tory rebels could have sided with the opposition.

    With LibDem support there was no chance.


  • suzanne fletcher 11th Jan '20 - 10:07am

    A lot here about what Jo thought, said, did. But she won’t have done all of that on her own, there will have been a group of trusted advisors.
    I have no idea who they are / were though. Does anyone?

  • Re Scotland. I beg to differ. EU membership aided Scottish nationalism. Outside of the EU the logic starts to be questioned. As I said before it is vey telling that Unionists tended to vote Leave and that Remainers now want to abandon them. We are constantly told that dissatisfaction with the UK drove Brexit. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that its the other way round . A strong tendency in the Remain camp is intent on spreading disunity because it keeps the EU federal fantasy alive. It is going to be fascinating to see what happens when the sky fails to fall, all the apocalypticism proves wide of the mark and they end up looking like the Lords of the Righteous Church.

  • Neil Fawcett 11th Jan '20 - 11:49am

    I agree with Matt (Bristol), Mack and others.

    The choice at that stage was between definitely leaving the EU on Jan 31st, with or without a deal, or a General Election.

    The Withdrawal agreement had been voted through with substantial Labour support, and Labour had repeatedly refused to support a People’s Vote on any of the 17 occasions we’d proposed it.

    There are legitimate criticisms to be made of the campaign messaging and tactics we then embarked on, but there was no easy choice to be made at that point.

  • Peter Martin 11th Jan '20 - 1:32pm

    @ Innocent Bystander,

    “This is the future.”

    Or maybe not? You might like to clean your crystal ball!

    Another scenario is quite possible. Brexit turns out to be not quite so bad as the doomsayers predict. The problems that are intrinsic to the eurozone come to the fore again with more civil unrest in Italy, France, Spain and Greece. One or more of these countries departs the euro unable to repay their Target2 debts. Germany decides it has had enough and decides not to throw good money after bad…..

    Leaving the UK and deciding to apply for membership of a failing EU, complete with an obligation to join the eurozone, might then seem to be not such an attractive option after all.

  • The most significant event that torpedoed the Lib Dem campaign was the Brexit party capitulation to the Tories. If you had told me in mid Oct that Boris would miss his own 31Oct and we would have a Dec election and Brexit party would only get 2% no one would have believed you. The Lib Dems strategists clearly did not account for this outcome.

  • Alan Stephenson
    The Act calling for the referendum, in common with nationwide referendums each time, as I understand it, made it clear that the result was Advisory, not Binding on the Government. Many people who claim it is undemocratic to hold a further referendum on this quote David Cameron pledging that the result “will be implemented”. That may have bound him and his Government’s actions but not others.

    Our failure as Remainers, following our failure to properly describe the benefits to all Europeans of the EU, including to UK citizens (sorry, “subjects”), was in not showing categorically that it was NOT undemocratic to hold another referendum following the flawed first one, and describing the terms of an agreed deal as against the terms we already in place. It was those believers in that concept of “democracy” which led to the situation we are in now. I agree another referendum MAY have been won again by Leave, but at that point it would have been perfectly clear what the specific trade-offs were being made in the agreed deal, so there would no longer be a legitimate argument that we didn’t know what we were specifically voting for, and Parliament would have been morally bound to follow the people’s lead.

    There were many reasons why the June 2016 referendum could have been ruled out – either as having substantial rule and law breaking, not asking for a “supermajority”, as any major constitutional change in any organisation would, setting an electorate which deliberately excluded key groups (mainly those who would have reasons to vote Remain), not having sufficiently described what each outcome meant, asking a question far too complex to be answered by a simple Yes – No etc etc

    With these in mind, and remembering the poison (much of it lies and distortions by the press and others) fed to the nation over many years – by the way, compare the result in Scotland, not much different to the 1975 Remain victory, where the press has been notably more positive to European institutions over the years, to guess at the influence of this factor – it was foolhardy to call the referendum in the first place. Having called it on a flawed format and rules, the ONLY legitimate way to reverse, once it is accepted as binding is to have another referendum with the specific deal mentioned above.

  • Innocent Bystander 11th Jan '20 - 4:51pm

    The future will unfold as it will and we shall see who is right. I am sure the SNP has had many behind doors discussions with key EU players. They certainly look confident and smug about the options for an independent Scotland and my instincts say they would be in much less haste for Indyref2 if they had been rebuffed.
    As to the EU being on the point of collapse, well that’s just another Daily Express fantasy. There are hundreds of millions of its citizens wanting it to survive.
    So it will.

  • Alan Stephenson 11th Jan '20 - 5:33pm


    In law technically you may be correct that referendums are advisory,but it is what is told to the people and written on the referendum literature what mattered to the people .How could a government say the day after the referendum that the government didn’t think the electorate would vote to leave ,so therefore we will ignore the vote ,or hold another referendum and hope for the correct answer,there would have been riots on the streets

    In 2015 did not the Libdems vote to enable the referendum to take place,presumably by doing so they said they would honour the result.If not ,why would they vote for a referendum and then renege on their promise,it does not sit well with the electorate

  • Alan Stephenson

    Surely voting for the Referendum to take place meant on the terms of the Bill in place, not that we, the Lib Dems, would go with precisely what 50% + 1 decide? Had 97% of voters decided on Leave, then clearly those arguing that “the people have spoken, and we must implement their wish” would have had a lot more going for it. We as a Party did not, as far as I know, go along with Cameron’s hubris, and say that we would implement anything on a simple majority. To go back to another of my original points, we as a Party knew the complications, and knew that “what Brexit means” was contradictory and would involve trade-offs, all of which would be uncomfortable for various parts of the electorate.
    In particular, we knew, and opposed strongly the Farage / Johnson line on immigration, that they wheeled out during the campaign to get more people out voting Leave. There is very little evidence that immigration numbers is directly related to the EU rather than economic need.

    Many right wing Tories and UKIP thinkers regard four things as key (not immigration):

    1 The idea that EU Law prevails over English and Scottish (and all other member states’)
    law. This was accepted when signing the Treaty of Rome in 1973, and has had broadly positive effects.

    2 The obsession that a small minority have had with the mechanisms of forging trade deals, which seems misguided and has not concerned the majority of voters, Leave or Remain.

    3 The perception by many on the right of politics that Human Rights should not be administered as currently. This has also been a semi spurious argument in terms of the EU, being something administered more widely by European Court of Human Rights, not an organ of the EU, and underpinned by the UN Charter.

    4 Fisheries and Farming

    Fishermen have always attacked the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy for depriving them of fishing rights, whereas looked at objectively, the main drivers are fish populations and the way the industry is organised in the UK with small number of large organisations controlling the quotas, and very little left for the smaller operators.

    The Pro-Leave people used subterfuge, and yes, lies, to get a very small majority on board for this major unpicking of international rules and relationships, at a time when the world, literally, is on fire. Irresponsible, dishonest or what?

  • As one of Ms Swinson’s (former) constituents I can tell you that she lost because she ignored local politics in favour of national ones. Exactly the same reason our SNP MP lost to her the last time.

  • “The Union is over.” – Innocent Bystander 11th Jan ’20 – 9:59am
    There has been a series of insightful opinion pieces in the New York Times in recent weeks on Brexit, the one relevant to this point is: It’s time to let the fantasy of the “British nation” die. [Full article readable via Google News, otherwise free account needed.]

  • Alex Macfie 12th Jan '20 - 2:55pm

    Peter: Why do you say “Even the hard left Labour Party tied itself in knots in order to avoid trashing the referendum result”? (Emphasis added.) The hard left tends to be pro Brexit; certainly Corbyn has a long history of opposing anything and everything to do with the EEC/EC/EU. Like his late mentor Tony Benn, he considers it to be a capitalist conspiracy. So many hard leftists were very happy with referendum result. And besides, slavish obedience to the referendum result is very much in keeping with the Leninist doctrine of “democratic centralism”, where once a position is put to a vote and agreed on, any dissent from it is forbidden. This is why dictators are fond of referendums.

    And so I come to Alan Stephenson: As a private individual, I do NOT bound to get behind something I disagree with because the majority have voted for it. If I were, then I should become a cheerleader for the Johnson regime, and any dissent from or criticism of the government should be considered “anti-democratic”. It doesn’t actually matter that Lib Dem MPs voted for the referendum legislation (although it was a mistake for us to do so). It did not bind them to supporting everything that happened as a result of the referendum, because a Parliament cannot bind itself. We didn’t know at the time that the government had no plan for Brexit.
    And you assert, as if it were self-evident, that the result of last month’s election shows an overwhelming endorsement of Brexit. It does no such thing. The Tories’ 80-seat majority disguises a national mood that remains deeply split. Certainly where I live there was little endorsement of Brexit or of the idea that the “will of the people” (a phrase typically used by dictators) needs to be respected above all else. My experience of people who criticise the “Revoke” policy for being “undemocratic” is that they tended to be people who weren’t going to vote for us in the first place, either because they were Brexiteers or followers of the JC cult. The Tories won by winning over Lexiteers in the North. Lib Dems took some votes off the Tories in more Remain-leaning areas we were targeting, but not enough to win very many seats. The main reason for this was probably not our Brexit stance, but fear of Jeremy Corbyn, causing many Remain voters to hold their noses and vote Tory.

  • Alan Stephenson 12th Jan '20 - 4:32pm

    Thankyou Tim13 and Alex MacFie

    Just for the record,I actually voted Remain at the refendum,although reading through my comments it may appear that I am an ardent leaver,or lover of Farage, I despised the man, and I am not a leftist admirer of Corbyn and his ilk.I was never a great admirer of the EU but I believed that we were better in than out and the benefits of membership greatly exceed those of being on the outside,I was very disappointed at the result of the ref.
    I very nearly voted for the Libdems because of their second ref stance,it was only when they talked about ”revoke” that changed my mind,which to me did seem very undemocratic,but that is my view,the view of an ordinary Joe Soap voter.
    Alex ,I can understand that you personally did not endorse the referendum promise or commitment,and that was totally your choice,but when a government commits to abiding by the ref result and puts that commitment in the ref literature,that is what the ordinary voter expects to happen ,The result may not have gone as many would have wished,and indeed not as I wished,indeed it could be argued that there were many faults with referendum,lies ,cheating ,corruption etc. and I would have preferred a 60% threshold ,but that wasn’t how it was.
    The result was for leaving the EU and that was what the people expected the govt. to work towards,anything else just looked undemocratic and defying the wishes of the voters,therefore the result of the2019 GE

  • Hi

    I have voted lib/lab/con I’m my life but its since the financial crash began I started following politics (specifically select committee’s then ) so I’ve been engaged in the political since then .

    I read Con blogs , lab blogs and as of to night Lib blogs .

    I live in a Manchester constituency (60 % of votes in the constituency were leave V 40% remain ) part of labour’s ‘Red Wall ‘ but TOTALLY against our MPs voting record over Brexit since , and I’m a leave voter .

    You take the electorate for fools at your political peril .

    As a leave voter (I do seem to be in a minority here ) their is no way a leave voter could consider the lib Democrats (that’s a joke in itself … democratic enough to vote it through , just not follow it through and revoke against a mandate ) .

    I don’t want to go much into Ms Swinson , other than to say she ‘grated’ , in sure she had an army of SPADS , next time time HUMANS .

    Labour itself is in the exact same turmoil , because of the same issue….. the Westminster bubble .

    I think the electorate are sick of professional politicians (Eton , Barristers , lawyers ect ect) people semi / privileged people in life , the sooner we get a few nurses , truck drivers and generally ‘the working man’ in MP positions the better we will be .

    Their were glaring holes in the election strategy I saw coming as did many people… DEMOCRACY being one of them .

    You can’t hold a second referendum till the first has been enacted …. the political brexit football was kicked into the long grass far too many times , you got the mandate , get on with it .

    3 1/2 yrs with a dead parliament was 3 yrs to long and a draining of the swamp IE anyone who stepped in front of the electorate with the wrong tone was going to reporting to the job centre .

    I could go on and on , but I didn’t come here to point the finger …. more to see how your handling it , and I can say as a voter about as good / bad as labour are and that’s awful


  • Alan Stephenson 13th Jan '20 - 9:17am

    Hi Malc

    Well said,but be careful with the ”D” word,they don’t seem to like it on here

  • Yawn. Yet another attempt to try and shift the blame for the GE onto the LDs in order to deflect from the utter failure by Labour to hold their own “safe seats”, much less make serious advances in their “target seats”.

  • What a lot of experts who know exactly why we did badly even if there are contradictions and hindsight analyses galore. In for a penny; in for a pound. Try this for size. We lost the election because a majority wanted brexit. As a party we failed to address those who voted leave in the referendum. We should have put our arguments to remain in a confirmatory referendum[ not called a people’s vote ]in a way that addressed the concerns of many leave voters. As for Jo Swinson, I thought she represented our policies admirably. Revoke and being a potential Prime Minister were less errors of judgment and more a consequence of the macho posturing expected by our adversarial politics. She lost her seat simply because of the SNP surge throughout Scotland. I very much hope that she does not go to the House of Lords; we surely have more than enough Lib Dems there for any political requirements; and that she stays to fight either her in her old constituency or in the next Scottish Parliament Elections

  • Alex Macfie 14th Jan '20 - 7:10pm

    Malc: “You can’t hold a second referendum till the first has been enacted ” This is a made-up rule. It doesn’t hold even in Switzerland, which has quite a lot of experience of direct democracy, so there they do it properly.
    Alan Stephenson: You clearly know it all, quite obviously the Lib Dems need not bother with the extensive review of the 2019 GE result because it must have been because of the decision to seek a democratic mandate to supersede the one established by the 2016 referendum, as opposed to the many other factors that affected our result (fear of Corbyn, targeting failures, poor media management, leader targeted by trolls, obsession with fringe issues (e.g. GRA)). We’ll probably have to agree to disagree on this; as far as I’m concerned the mandfate from the referendum is no more and no less important than any other democratic mandate, and like all democratic mandatges, it can be democratically overriden, it is not sacrosanct. And BTW on promises and reneging on them, a promise is only as good as the thing being promised. The Tories reneged on their commitment to implement the Poll Tax in the 1987 Parliament. Do you think they’d still have won the 1992 election if they had not done that?

  • Judith Abel 14th Jan '20 - 7:22pm

    I haven’t read all the comments in this blog, but am coming clean. I voted Labour in the General Election, so will be resigning from the Party. Having delivered leaflets for the Lib Dems in previous General Elections in both Bermondsey and Old Southwark and Bath and for the Lib Dems in last year’s European Elections, I just couldn’t in all honesty vote for the Lib Dems this time around. Despite all the demonising of Corbyn, I thought many of Labour’s social justice policies were at least idealistic and the Lib Dem position on Revoke was just not tenable without a further Referendum.

    There I’ve said it now – I’ll wait for the brickbats now.

  • Firstly, my sense of it is that the SNP bounced the Lib Dems in the European Parliament into supporting a GE. There probably was a grain of truth that, to get unanimous support from the EU Council for an extension, a democratic event had to take place and UK Parliamentary paralysis was leading to the EU Council dragging their feet. Once the extension was granted, there was no need to rush straight into the GE on the SNP’s terms – let the SNP collude with the Conservatives to run the simple majority path to a GE, but we should have changed tack to collaborating solely on a PV at that point.

    Moving on to digression, I fear, as the third party, we are always succumbing to the temptation of finding something that will ‘break through’ or set us ‘way apart’ from the field – like looking for the magic bullet that will deliver for us. The Tuition Fees debacle was a ‘break through’ pledge that was bad policy. Revoke was ‘way apart’ (the purpose of Revoke was to distinguish ourselves from the Labour party which was moving to PV – ignoring the fact we were different enough by not having a hard left leader) which literally received minority support within a minority. For the price of chasing headlines, we end up with years of (self-) flagellation. Perhaps it would be a good idea to stop headline chasing.

    Why aren’t we doing what Labour did over a century ago by identifying a demographic that isn’t being served at all by any party, and building ourselves up as their voice? It has been obvious since 2017 that this demographic is not Remain voters. Why aren’t we looking closer at the way the digital economy is making freelancers of us all, and speaking up for individuals against digital monopolies? Justin Trudeau unashamedly says he is standing up for the ‘middle classes’ (Canadian shorthand for everyone who is neither a low nor high earner and, critically, includes middle-income workers who are not part of a union). Why aren’t we working harder to secure the votes of immigrants and ethnic minority citizens (even Vote Leave put more effort into chasing the votes of 1st and 2nd generation immigrants)?

    If the Labour leadership falls to a Corbynite, and we have not tried to become the voice of the large demographic of middle earners, this country will not have a decent opposition for a decade.

  • Alan Stephenson 16th Jan '20 - 11:56am

    Alex MacFie

    No,I do not know it all,in fact I know very little,I’m just your average Joe Soap voter who tells it as he sees it,obviously I see it wrong !

    You say ”The Tories reneged on their commitment to implement the Poll Tax in the 1987 Parliament. Do you think they’d still have won the 1992 election if they had not done that? ”

    The Tories Poll Tax was in fact implemented in 1990 and abolished 1993.I think perhaps a local tax would have worked,therefore spreading the tax burden more evenly instead of property owners/tenants having to cough up

  • richard underhill 18th Jan '20 - 1:39pm

    I have read the comments highlighted in gold, but I may have missed something.
    In May 2019 there were good results in local elections, celebrated by our then leader, and exceptionally good results in euro elections, which only last if we remain in the EU.
    Probably lots of tory voters stayed at home, as they did after the Maastricht treaty.
    We should be careful about believing our own propaganda.

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