High, positive impact for a hard-fighting political machine.

The Liberal Democrats are preparing for new leadership at a time when a gaping vacuum continues across the British political spectrum. Our strong and motivating voice is needed more than ever. The challenge is how to make it heard.

I wrote earlier advocating broad brush changes to the party (Get clever, get brave and reform to win,). I now follow up with four examples of initiatives that could give us high, positive impact with minimal paperwork.

First, investigate bad practice. In March, the party brilliantly uncovered EU nurses quitting the NHS through a Freedom of Information request. There needs to be a stream of such reports. Within our membership is an array of skilled investigators from the security services, lawyers, journalists and others. Investigative units could uncover bad and illegal practice in housing, the environment, the health service and so on with results fed through our MPs and peers to hold government to account.  This would require an element of top-down management, but if handled effectively, one stunning investigation after another could have the public on the edge of their seats, expectantly waiting to see what appalling misdeeds the Liberal Democrats uncover next. 

Second, deploy the peers. Twelve MPs are unable to offer British voters wide parliamentary representation. But, the Liberal Democrats have almost a hundred peers in the House of Lords, each with a geographical area, town or village attached to their title.  They could hold regular surgeries and feed issues into the parliamentary system through questions and committees. This would show voters that there is no corner of Britain the Liberal Democrat hand does not touch. It would also initiate a long overdue change of thinking within our unelected upper chamber, showing that peers are also grass-roots parliamentarians aware of people’s concerns. Many do this already. Many do not.

Third, EU reform. We cannot sell a reversal of Brexit to the British electorate without there being reform within the EU itself. This has now begun, but Britain is not involved. The Liberal Democrats could have a team working with EU parliamentarians who are designing a modern EU that would be acceptable to the millions whose trust has been lost.  As the new Europe unfolds, the Liberal Democrats would be the only British party operating at its heart.

Finally, our name. Liberal Democrats is clumsy, indecisive and rolls uneasily off the tongue. The name is a hybrid created by that long-ago failed split from Labour.  To get noticed, a party that wants to punch through needs a re-branding of sorts. We could return simply to being the Liberal Party.  Or we could go one step further indicating that we are becoming a lean, convincing, modern, hard-fighting political machine and call ourselves the New Liberal Party.

* Humphrey Hawksley is an author and journalist, specializing in international affairs, and on the executive of the Hammersmith and Fulham Party

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Becket 14th Jul '17 - 1:31pm

    There is a Liberal Party that would not like us take over their name. New Labour worked for them, New Liberal might work for us but it would need to be associated with a raft of new policies and a new approach.

  • John Chandler 14th Jul '17 - 1:33pm

    “New Liberal” sounds too much like “Neo-Liberal”, which has negative connotations amongst a significant chunk of the country.

    I agree with everything here, except do we really need a rename/rebrand? I have no problem with us being Liberal or Liberal Democrats, or more normally “Lib Dems” amongst everyone else, whether they vote for us or not. A rebrand just seems like we have something to hide, we’ve lost the plot, or we’ve failed miserably and need a reboot.

  • Max Wilkinson 14th Jul '17 - 1:39pm

    I agree that we need to rebrand. Start with the name. Then look at everything else, including the message and the collateral. Eventually, we might be able to decide what colour our posters are supposed to be and what font we use.

  • paul holmes 14th Jul '17 - 1:52pm

    Or we could be really radical and just campaign consistently on Lib Dem policies that are relevant to voters. Like we used to.

    Oh -and stick to those policies when we get the chance to implement them instead of reversing them overnight.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Jul '17 - 1:53pm

    Humphrey , as with some others, makes such a silly and so pointless dig at the history of the very party he cares to help ! TheSDP can be derided by some, I was a youth in Labour at the time, they called them many things, seeing the shyness of the Labour malcontent moderates today, I think the gang of four and their many colleagues were brave and principled.

    The word Democrats is more important in the title than anything as to drop it at the moment we are seen as flying in the face of democracy , which we are not doing, is to , fly in the face of democracy , as most of us are democrats first !

    We should perhaps re brand. We should, if we did or do, become full paetners with our sister party in NI and become , as we were in those SDP years, The Alliance , we were known as , or the SDP / Liberal Alliance, There is thus now, The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland , it could be at uk level, The Alliance Party of Liberal Democrats, known as the Alliance Party, with the The Alliance Party of Scotland , England ,Wales, the nations versions for oraganising.

    We are the party that represents alliance, everything speaks of that, unity, coalition, agreement, debate, iterntionalism.

    The article is good, this part of it just daft.

    As the series of comments show, there is no appetite for it.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Jul '17 - 2:00pm

    Extra edition,

    On the subject I comment on, we have two main reasons why the name I advocate would work , one I mention, the other , it , because of Brexit, helps us emerge in and maintain , the unity or relationships we need in Europe, where we are part of The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. They unlike some still are keen to be Democrats as well as an Alliance and Europeans !!!

  • Dominic
    NO! We do NOT want to be a marketed brand! Our politics is different from marketing. I suspect that several people and organisations you have described (derided?) as “brands” here would reject that idea too.

    Yes, of course our actions in coalition let supporters down, but we had been on our way back from that. If, however, the next election is to be fought on a substantially two party basis, no amount of rebranding is going to save us from another beating.

    Some of Humphrey’s other ideas bear a good look. For instance, use of Peers is already occurring, but probably not on a consistent enough basis. Use of reports in some depth was a fair bit of the Lib Dem offer in Devon and Cornwall in the run up to our widespread success in 1997. We would have to have resources to develop and pull that together which we might find difficult to harness, but definitely worth a try.

  • As for “Reform of the EU”, I suspect quite a lot in the party would see that in the same light as me, ie the polar opposite of the Daily Mail / Murdoch etc version. Try arguing that version without a lot of preparation. If, on the other hand, Humphrey, you mean go along with the Mail etc – surely that is what most of us are trying to avoid?

  • David Evershed 14th Jul '17 - 3:39pm

    Regarding our brand name, the brand is what it stands for rather than the precise name. We should be worrying that no one knows what the Lib Dems stand for rather than what the brand name is.

    Regarding the use of the Liberal Party name, The Liberal Party and the Electoral Commision will not allow the Lib Dems to take the Liberal name or the New Liberals name.

    The Liberal Party also believes in liberalism but sees the best way to achieve free trade is to be outside the protectionist EU with its Common Agricultural Policy.

    Of course should the EU reform one day and become free traders the Liberal Party might consider merging with us and we could once again be called the Liberal Party.

  • @ Lorenzo Cherin,

    “Humphrey , as with some others, makes such a silly and so pointless dig at the history of the very party he cares to help”………

    ……and there was me thinking you were the apostle of kindness and civility on this site, Mr. Ch.,

    As to branding, there’s not much wrong with the good old trusted brand of ‘The Liberal Party’ (est. 1859)…………..

    ‘The Liberal Party’ could legitimately claim your heroes J.S. Mill and that dear old radical Liberal Sir Henry C.B. who branded the Tory Government of ‘Methods of Barbarism’ after meeting my hero Emily Hobhouse (who should have been in Parliament) during the Boer War.

    Nice to have a Hobhouse back in parliament again now though.

  • Some good ideas Humphrey, but I say NO name change.
    First, I’m against it in principle because I’m proud of being a Liberal and a Democrat. But second, it’s also its a bad idea in practice. It really would create the most awful drawn out row. Some of us remember 1988-90 all too well! We’d be a laughing stock, navel-gazing during a national crisis. Remember when Prince tried to change his name to a squiggle? How did that work out for him? And anyway, whatever name we came up with, people would still call us the LibDems for years.
    What we need to do is de-toxify the brand we already have. The situation we are in is because of the coalition, tuition fees and Nick Clegg. Most people, even our natural supporters, still haven’t fully forgiven us for all that. But they will, given time. A name-change won’t address any of this. Hard work and patience will.
    Brexit remains an opportunity. Our ‘referendum on the deal’ idea is becoming more popular. We need to stick with it (this doesn’t mean we can’t say other things at the same time) and position ourselves as THE anti-Brexit party as the shambolic process unfolds. Vince is an excellent person to advocate for this: the sage who sees things before anyone else does. A key factor though is that we must expose the complicity of Labour and ‘oh Jeremy Corbyn’ on Brexit.
    Do all this while arguing about a name change? I don’t think so.

  • “Trudeau is a brand, Macron is a brand, Thatcher was a brand, Trump is a brand, Putin is a brand, The Queen is a brand”
    None of these people changed the name of their party/institution.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Jul '17 - 6:58pm

    I’m trying to stay calm, but a lot of this – beginning with the pretentious title – is to my mind unhelpful nonsense. We don’t need to change our name, which is well known and respected, and involves two ideas central to what we are. We have a strong identity now tied up with being pro-EU and pro individual people. We don’t need to ask our peers to pretend to be MPs, useful as they are, because we have councillors to serve the people in their localities, and we need to work for more of them to get elected.

    The future of our party lies, as always, with hard work to campaign on vital issues, and to promote policies such as those well spelled out in our election manifesto. We have had faults, of not being aware enough of the growing despair, poverty and alienation which led many people to vote Out in the Referendum, and, yes, of not trying to think through what reforms we would like to see in the EU which we hope to continue to belong to, and should surely have a working group to consider.

    It is also the case that many of us have become dissatisfied with the policy-making systems we have and want radical reforms. You perhaps have missed, Humphrey, for instance, Bill le Breton’s latest article which attracted much interest and many useful comments. You also have probably missed my own article, one of the most read of the past week, which was about representing ordinary people better by empowering them, listening to their needs and wants and linking what we find to our central policy making – a genuine extension of democracy which will if carried through both sharply distinguish us from the two major parties and grow trust and liking for us again. I hope you will join us in furthering these ideas.

  • I think the party has tested to destruction the idea that arguing over what they should be called is a good idea.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Jul '17 - 8:01pm

    David Raw , or Dominic above

    I have never avoided a little criticism , making or receiving, if not too personal, and I at no point call the author silly, merely his dig at the, his words, “failed, split” from Labour. I think that very unlike him, in the sense ,it is ,itself ,unkind, to good people. I am sure our stalwart Paul Holmes, who never joined the Liberal Party but was an early member of the SDP, as with our leader to be you support, Sir Vince Cable, might disagree, he ,like me was in the Labour party, unlike me was in the SDP and this means we need to get that has meaning ! He was kicked out of his university Liberals for suggesting or trying for an alliance with the Labour club ! Any wonder some of us even now like the word Alliance !!!

    The best result the third force in politics ever achieved was in those SDP days.

    I do indeed admire the greats of Liberal politics and philosophy , we should all agree on, yes , Liberals , as with much, I ‘d say, we all agree on , more, than many recognise.

    We cannot agree on going completely back to the future. A little re branding never did anyone any harm, but style cannot , must not beat content, a re writing of history by wiping it out, does.

    Tony Blair , yes , faults admitted by nearly all of the supporters of him,including me, did actually respect the Labour party enough to keep Labour in it’s title !

    The New utilised by him, is now old news. It is even older for Liberals.

    The New Liberals, the social ones, if new , or referred to thus as New , in the era of Asquith, can hardly be new today !

    And how many goes as some do well above, do we have to resort to , in order to convince people , the Liberal party ,wording ,is in use , by a , yes, failed attempt at contrariness , a group who could be said to not be entitled to the name , a rump , from the losing side in a democratic vote, in which the majority of the voting members voted to merge !

    If we are to be , and should be, Liberals , we must be , and are , Democrats , also.

    Shakespeare said ,” what’s in a name , that which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.”

    Politics is no bed of roses.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 14th Jul '17 - 8:14pm

    Thank you, Katharine Pindar. I am confused on the issue of peers. They are not MPs. Nor should they pretend to be. But, they are parliamentarians. On my council, there are no Liberal Democrat councillors and we have a Labour MP. Is it really unhelpful nonsense to even float an idea that more peers could offer our voters Liberal Democrat parliamentary representation.

  • Dominic No, I have read enough on branding, thanks. And we have asked people what they think, in fact as I am sure in many parts of the country, we are using that approach as part of a rebuilding process. I stick with the idea that we are not (NOT?) a brand. I think we would not have stuck a high profile reference to not conforming (sorry enslaved by conformity) had we wished to create a brand, as such. Of course there are principles and values we hold (largely) in common. And naturally, when we are campaigning, we are trying to sell ourselves and our party. But not brand thanks.

  • Peter Rothery 14th Jul '17 - 10:30pm

    If its all down to branding we had more PMs when we were whigs – let’s go back to that. 🙄

    The trouble is the product, not the branding.

  • From the University of Auckland:

    Political branding is about how a political organisation or individual is perceived overall by the public. It is broader than the product; whereas a product has distinct functional parts such as a politician and policy, a brand is intangible and psychological. A political brand is the overarching feeling, impression, association or image the public has towards a politician, political organisation, or nation. Political branding helps the party or candidate to help change or maintain reputation and support, create a feeling of identity with the party or its candidates and create a trusting relationship between political elites and consumers. It helps political consumers understand more quickly what a party or candidate is about; and distinguish a candidate or party from the competition.

    Maybe this may help alleviate some of the knee jerk responses above?
    Does any part of the above paragraph stake a chord with anyone?

  • “strike a chord” – curses of predictive text!

  • We should have a clear view of how we wish to see the EU reformed. When I looked the only reform of the EU we wanted in 2014 was to abolished the Parliament meeting in two places! I don’t expect many within the party would support my ideas on how to reform the EU.

    I note Mike S’s definition of political branding and I expect many of us would want us to be recognised by the public as having a distinct message about bringing liberalism, freedom and choice to everyone in the UK. However Humphrey Hawksley is talking about renaming the party. This could well reduce us to zero in the opinion polls which we were before we decided on the name Liberal Democrat (SLD; Democrats anyone?) c. 1988.

    While I have nothing against the first two suggestions made by Humphrey (and they might increase by a small degree our name recognition) they are not a distinct message, they are managerial (elect us because we do a better job – often used by us in local elections, but not a way for the public to understand what kind of society we wish to create).

    It has to be our message about liberalism, taking control, freedom and choice and reducing inequalities that we take to the public and get recognised for, not just being better managers.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Jul '17 - 9:10am

    Dominic Shadbolt

    They agreed that the only way the LDs could get any traction was a totally new approach, one that surprised and engaged people in a radical new way.

    Well, it’s not that new, it’s what we did and how we built up the party.

    Then the Cleggies threw it all away and said that if we became a more conventional political party just like the others, we would get over being seen as “not serious” and so win more votes.

    Branding is about the whole product – the vehicle for our values.

    Seeing a political party as a brand that is being sold is precisely the sort of conventional approach we need to break away from.

  • Chris Lewcock 15th Jul '17 - 10:01am

    Many commentators seem to be drifting into just talking about the Liberals anyway. Go with the flow?

  • Humphrey Hawksley 15th Jul '17 - 10:09am

    The thrust of Vince Cable’s Guardian interview:-
    “He is not looking merely at picking up the odd seat – his age doesn’t permit him that incremental approach – but is more interested in driving up popular support. “You could come from third to first very quickly.”
    As the new leader, our task surely is now to come up with ideas on how we can achieve this, whether it involves Europe, peers representing the voters or anything else outside of the box. Mike S is very good on explaining what branding really means.

  • Dominic (and others who are interested)


    There is a lot of 101 type education linked from this homepage.

    Just a few observations if I may:
    1. there appears to me, to be a resistance to the terminology rather than the potential outcomes here.
    It’s almost as if the terms branding, product, marketing, selling etc are seen as somehow going to the dark side. This is bizarre to me from a group of people who value education and detailed debate above little else.
    2. Political marketing is a fundamental part of political life. Presidents and prime ministers; politicians and parties; government departments and councils all use marketing in their pursuit of political goals. Market research is used, when deciding on policies and service design, to understand what the people they serve and seek votes from want and need; voter profiling helps create new segments to target; strategy guides creation of the political brand to develop an attractive vision; internal marketing guides the provision of volunteer involvement; analytics and experimental research test and refine communication messages; and delivery management sets expectations and helps to convey progress once a politician is elected or a programme has begun.

    Political branding and marketing is not a concept to be feared but to be embraced for what it can potentially do.
    What form that takes is open to debate, but to refuse to engage with the terminology because you see certain words as associated with big business practices is “nose spiking face” stuff. Being attached to the status quo, the safe and the familiar is not leading to meaningful progress. Many here have already said community politics has changed/is way too slow to rebuild quickly. So, what’s the alternative then. Bill le Breton and Katharine Pinder’s articles this last few days contain many useful suggestions as a springboard.

  • “The practice of branding in politics is very C20. Politics can learn a lot from the experts in the field. Those whose livelihoods are tied to the success or failure of their attempts. When money is involved – the promise of riches or losses – it tends to sharpen their minds”

    One word. Consignia.

  • Vince Cable is head and shoulders above corbin or may to be a PM. We should promote this at every opportunity 🙂

  • Peter Watson 15th Jul '17 - 11:37am

    I can’t help but feel that a false dichotomy is being presented here.
    It looks like there are two sides, one promoting style and the other promoting substance.
    You need more of both.
    Pushing a Lib Dem brand is pointless if members don’t agree on exactly what the party stands for. A large part of that is resolving the conflict between the economic left and right of the party as that will dictate how the party would deliver the improvements to society that it wants.
    Equally, working tirelessly on an issue-by-issue basis is likely to be fruitless if it cannot be presented to voters as a coherent and consistent “brand” that is easily understood and which gives the party an identity.

  • Sue Sutherland 15th Jul '17 - 2:00pm

    Thank you for your positivity Humphrey. I found it very cheering and liked your first three suggestions. I’m also indebted to Mike S. for consistently telling us how we can improve our communications with the voters and also with members and supporters. I have found myself very much in the political doldrums recently and obviously a lot of LDV commentators feel the same way so thank you for being upbeat.
    The problem with changing our name is that some of us have been through the emotional grinder to come up with the title Liberal Democrats and don’t want to go through it again. I’m originally from the SDP but witnessed the grief members of the Liberal party felt at losing their historic title. I also think that it’s pointless changing our name if we are carrying on in the same direction that we did in Coalition. I think that is the discussion the party must have and that will be difficult enough without a name change as well.
    However your other ideas seem to be good ones to me and I especially like the idea of using the Lords more in providing improved democracy.

  • I once asked a top brand consultant what her favourite definition of a brand was.

    Her answer: “A compelling promise, reliability honoured”

    And that goes to the heart of the LD’s problem. There is no compelling promise and as for the honoured bit – this being a family blog means I can’t say.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Jul '17 - 4:49pm

    Dominic Shadbolt

    You clearly haven’t a clue about what I am actually, saying, which very neatly illustrates my point. You cannot see out of the box, you have a fixed model in your head of how political parties should be, so your assumption about what I am saying is actually almost the opposite of what I actually meant.

    The ‘Cleggies’ and the ‘Blairites’ are just the sort of people that led their respective parties into a position where they could actually effect change.

    It was purely random that Clegg happened to be leader at the time a general election happened that resulted in a no-majority Parliament. There was nothing in particular Clegg did to cause it. Clegg’s handling of the Coalition, however, did badly damage the party. He was warned about this by people who had better experience and knowledge of how ordinary people think about politics due to years of grassroots campaigning experience. But he, like you, just pooh-poohed us over that.

  • David Allen 15th Jul '17 - 5:15pm

    “Trudeau is a brand, Macron is a brand, Thatcher was a brand, Trump is a brand, Putin is a brand, The Queen is a brand. Why shouldn’t we be?”

    Because what all these politicians did was to adopt new, radical, and wide-ranging policy positions and programmes, which marked them out as distinctive “brands”. Only Macron bothered to choose a new brand name (and “En Marche” primarily just echoed the initials of Emmanuel Macron!)

    The politician who did change the brand name was Blair with “New Labour”. To be fair, Blair had plenty new to create his brand with.

    When we come up with new, radical and wide-ranging policies which differ from the ones we have had for many years, maybe we might similarly decide a name change would help to advertise them. At the moment, changing our name would only be a sign of our own neediness – we would love to find a good way forward, but we haven’t.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Jul '17 - 5:32pm

    Dominic Shadbolt

    Politics can learn a lot from the experts in the field. Those whose livelihoods are tied to the success or failure of their attempts. When money is involved – the promise of riches or losses – it tends to sharpen their minds. Commerce – vast sections – is at the cutting edge. Political parties are mere amateurs.

    So, there we go. You say we need to be run be elite business types, because us ordinary people are clueless. A party needs to be run like a business, according to you: people at the top sending orders down to the minions. Democracy and power to the people is rubbish, oh no, there is an elite class of people who know everything and all power must go to them.

    I rather think that is what the Liberal Party was against. It was the party that opposed the idea that we need to be run by an aristocracy. It built up the idea of a political party as a network of people working together so that ordinary people could become representatives.

    But instead, you want the top-down model. The idea that a political party is all about a Mighty Leader, and a fixed set of policies to be rigidly imposed, top-down.

    Such models are, indeed successful. There was one in the early 19th century in France (I rather wonder if Macron is going to go like that). Then in the second decade of the 20th century in Russia. And a bit later in Italy then in Germany.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Jul '17 - 5:36pm

    David Allen

    Only Macron bothered to choose a new brand name (and “En Marche” primarily just echoed the initials of Emmanuel Macron!)

    Well, indeed, a party whose whole purpose is to promote its Mighty Leader. The Mighty Leader chooses people with no political experience to be in its leading positions, so they rely on him, and don’t have the more critical way of thinking that comes from political experience.

    Aren’t we already seeing Macron very much enjoying being The Leader? Loving pomp and ceremony around him? As I said, very much like how the political revolution in his country ended up early in the 19th century.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Jul '17 - 6:07pm

    I’m getting political indigestion here so I will try to be succinct myself. How does a centre party break the two-party system, Dominic? By campaigning for PR for a start, while also showing that we have a right to lead the radical centre-left. Why don’t I want to involve the peers more in campaigning for us, Humphrey? Because they are not elected, and I am a Democrat. So you go along with the Auckland definition, do you Mike S, which says ‘A political brand is the overarching feeling, impression, association or image the public has towards a… political party’? Let me point out that you can’t manufacture the public feeling for us, which is created and continued by what we do and say.

    I agree with Tim 13, I don’t like this branding idea (and btw I have no idea what 101 type education or C20 may be). Mike, you lose me here in wordy disquisition. What I have valued from you in the past has been your ideas of talking in language the public understands, and having a vision for them, but when I tried to follow this in my article and invited you to contribute you ignored my request (and now you even mispell my name). These manufacturing analogies don’t work for me.
    Michael BG, I was one who did like your ideas of European reform, so please repeat and pursue them.

  • Peter Watson 15th Jul '17 - 6:45pm

    @Dominic Shadbolt “without substance there can be no style, no branding. Our substance is our values”
    I think that the branding is more closely identified with the policies that arise from those values, and that is where I believe the Lib Dem “brand” and identity falls apart because of a lack of clarity, cohesion and consistency.
    I don’t think it is difficult to predict the default Lib Dem position on any issue because of confusion over its brand; i think it is difficult because Lib Dems themselves don’t have a consistent default position.
    For example, it may be a true reflection of Lib Dem values that “Education is at the heart of the Liberal Democrat agenda”, but to what sort of distinctive Lib Dem policies does that actually translate. Are free schools, grammar schools and faith schools the best fit with Lib Dem values that prioritise choice and individualism or are they anathema to those values?
    I believe that the Lib Dem priority should be agreeing and confirming what are its values, their relative priorities, and the policies that derive from that. Debates on this site give the impression that there are (at least) two competing groups that consider themselves the true Lib Dems, and I don’t think that branding can succeed until one of those factions has “won” and can define what that brand should be.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Jul '17 - 7:49pm

    I agree with Matthew Huntbach’s comments above.

  • @ Katherine Pindar

    Thank you for your kind comment I will in the future post my thoughts on reforming the EU. While I was studying “A level” history was when I first came across “C20th” used by my history lecturer, she used quite a few different abbreviations, some of which are standard.

    @ Peter Watson

    You make some valid points. Do we test our policies to see if they increase freedom and choice for everyone or are we happy if only some people gain these benefits? It seems that social liberals and economic liberals do not agree on how to spread freedom and choice to everyone.

    With regard to schools the only way to increase choice is to have more places than children wanting the places. However there is also a control factor; I think it would be liberal for all schools to be run by the parents. I would hope that with parental control the school would provide the best education for its pupils and if not the parents would make the changes to make it happen.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jul '17 - 7:19am

    Dominic Shadbolt

    Really, re-read what I say, try not to overlay itb with your judgements and just read it for what it is.

    Please give me some respect and acknowledge that I have been a member of the party for a long time, and I have experience of success and failure. The party has always failed when it has tried the approach you are suggesting. Its success has always been when it has used the approach I am suggesting.

    The idea that a political party is about creating a fixed set of policies and selling it like a commercial brand has now become so established that many people can’t even think that it could be done in some other way. That obviously is where you are. You think that a political party has to take that form and you argue about the details of that form.

    Selling a party as a brand obviously needs centralisation, and forcing all members to go along with it. That makes the party seem detached from the people. The model I am suggesting is that the party should be decentralised, with more of an emphasis on it being about ensuring getting true representation of ordinary people. We when campaigning should be seen as ordinary people who gain power by co-operating with each other, not as tools of some remote elite who dictate what we should do and what we should stand for.

    This was actually the central issue of the arguments between the SDP and the Liberal Party in the 1980s. The SDP was founded as a top-down branded party. New members of it argued as you do, because they did not understand that politics could have a different model. But it was actually the Liberals who were winning seats in the 1980s, using the decentralised community politics model.

    Again this idea that politics was about creating a fancy brand and selling it was what was pushed when the two parties merged. It was thought by making the merged party appear as a new fancy brand, we would win. The opposite happened – we were almost destroyed by it.

    Clegg surrounded himself with people who thought as you do, and wanted your sort of model of political party, and that was an element that made the difficult situation of the Coalition even more difficult. An aspect of his failure is that he had not come up the ranks through success in grassroots campaigning, and therefore had no idea about how this successfully works. And he had a posh elitist mentality which dismissed those who hadn’t come from his sort of elite background.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jul '17 - 7:51am

    Dominic Shadbolt

    We are not succeeding. All this tweaking is getting us nowhere and the present model is not getting us anywhere

    Yes, the present model is the centralist model forced on us by Clegg.

    Our party did better when Kennedy was leader, and for reasons we now know was rather weak, and so allowed power and the image of the party to be decentralised. I feel it is precisely because Kennedy’s weakness meant the party broke out from being seen as just the party of its leader that helped it develop.

    I was actively involved in the Liberal Democrats in the London Borough of Lewisham during the time the party rose from being in a poor third place to being the main challenger to Labour across the borough. Lewisham West and Lewisham East constituencies showed some of the biggest swings to the Liberal Democrats in the country in the 2010 general election. So why do you regard me as advocating something that is a “failure”? Why do you think the big swing to the Liberal Democrats there at that time was “not getting us anywhere”?

  • Humphrey Hawksley 16th Jul '17 - 8:39am

    My original post was about exploiting resources in the House of Lords, exposing government bad practice, examining European reform, and thinking about party image. The thread, focusing almost entirely on ‘branding’, has revealed much polarisation. Matthew Huntbach, Katharine Pindar and others, who have long experience, hold one corner. Dominic Shandbolt, Mike S, and myself whose expertise lies outside of the party hold another. In many discussions on this, I have found those with long experience are resistant to new ideas and so defensive of their record that such that debate quickly deteriorates. Katharine Pindar, for example, begins by accusing me of being ‘pretentious’ with my ‘unhelpful nonsense’. There are also problems with definition. Matthew Huntbach rightly informs us about success in Lewisham by becoming the main challenger to Labour. Those in my corner are not diminishing Matthew’s achievements in any way. But we regard success as taking the keys to Downing Street. Divisions appear, too, between with those claiming grass-roots credibility belittling the ‘top-down elite’. Matthew makes comparisons to dictatorships. Yes, that is at one extreme. At the other, lies anarchy and we are looking for a mid-way place which can propel us to power. In my few years with the party I have been astonished at the tendency for members to pick fights with each other, rather than embrace and try to build on opposing ideas.

  • @ Humphrey Hawksley ” In many discussions on this, I have found those with long experience are resistant to new ideas and so defensive of their record that such that debate quickly deteriorates.”

    Well, thanks a lot for that.

    Has it ever occurred to you that ‘those with long experience’ might just have had some real success, knowledge and achievements outside the sphere of politics, and might just know what they are talking about ? Doesn’t sound like it to me.

  • David,
    I don’t there is a need to be so prickly. I am sure Humphrey appreciates the achievements of former years. As do I, I am a respecter of veterans and their successes and I am an ancient relic myself and enjoy recollecting former times.
    However, and it’s a big however. That was then and this is now. Many of the honoured Old Guard post here whenever ‘the future’ is debated and regale us with tales of hard won victories after years of preparation.
    But is future to be a rerun of that? 30 years of work for 25 MPs?
    I think that sub optimal for a couple of reasons. The activists of yore are passing away and don’t think young people, these days, have the spare time anymore because the world of work is more demanding and tiring than my generation had it. At least I remember evenings were for hobbies and societies and my children seem to get home late and use their free time to prepare for the following day.
    Also, I think Mark Pack hit the nail on the head when he contends that the result was a set of individual victories won by local hard work and zealotry and not from votes for a ‘party label’ (such as gave the SNP a lot of seats for relatively unknown candidates because of the power of the SNP brand).
    So I would give these uncomfortable new voices a respectful, and not dismissive hearing. If the choices are new, fresh start or 30 years of grinding slow progress I would at least listen.

  • I’m always open and willing to listen to new ideas – that’s what being a Liberal is all about. I’m also long in the tooth enough to recognise a pretentious vacuum when I see it.

    Glug Oxford: Dominic Shadbolt on Vimeo
    Video for Dominic Shadbolt▶ 5:22

    Jan 2016
    In this quick and clever talk Dominic teaches us ‘How to be creative in 5 minutes’. https://twitter.com

  • The wonders of science on LDV . The wrong film on the right heading. Follow the printed words on you tube instead.

  • @ Katharine
    Please be assured, I am not ignoring you. In common with many of us I suspect, life (especially during the week) takes over. I read your article yesterday for the first time after a week of job, life, family, sport, health etc occupying my time. I am happy to help, but please understand this site is not my priority in life.

    To answer your questions:
    1. Re “our policy-making process being too far removed form our voters” from your article – please see below.

    2. “A political brand is the overarching feeling, impression, association or image the public has towards a… political party’? Let me point out that you can’t manufacture the public feeling for us, which is created and continued by what we do and say”

    But it’s not saying that. Your own article suggests engaging your target audience. The eventual message/narrative and subsequent policies arising out of that engagement will form the image that resonates on an emotional level and stimulates customer loyalty & trust over time.
    Remember the TED talk “Start with Why” that I linked a few weeks ago.
    People don’t buy WHAT you do, but WHY do it, is the central message here.

    3. I posted the link above to the Auckland site at Dominic’s request. It is not in everyday language because that is not it’s target audience.

    4. What I liked particularly about your piece was that it was focusing on the consumer,
    and how we engage our target audience in a meaningful way. One of our greatest weakness’s I believe, is that we have not been able to link our values to the wider public perception

    So, we need to be clear about who we are trying to appeal to, the overall message we have for those people – and only then the policies which illustrate and substantiate that message.

    Why/Who – then How – and finally What. (Target – Message – Policy)
    That is why a couple of weeks ago I challenged the policy making process which at the moment appears to be ‘wagging the dog’ and resulting in a diverse range of ‘stuff’ (some may say pet topics) which are then attempted to be stitched into a narrative which doesn’t work because there is no real anchor.

    I believe this is not dissimilar from what Mark is also suggesting:



  • @ Matthew Huntbach
    We are all on the same side here hopefully.
    Nobody is deriding past successes and the blood, sweat, tears and commitment that have led to local success in Lewisham and elsewhere.
    But Nationally the party is a failure.
    The random accumulation of locally-driven success in diverse areas which the party then tries to stitch that together into something that resonates emotionally with the voters simply does not work.

    Regarding Nick: It’s been said elsewhere that he become a “lightning rod for everything that was wrong with the coalition government”. I believe that was probably true.
    it shows the importance of having a clear essence and clear well-articulated values and sticking to them! Otherwise the core vote is and will remain tiny!

    The party did not break through under either Charles or Nick.
    As for today, well, political brands have at least one advantage over commercial ones – their marketing is entirely measurable and on June 8th we were measured.

    @ Humphrey Hawksley
    Whether the party needs a name change depends I guess on whether members believe we are looking at a deteriorating premium brand here, or a successful political brand that is anchored in some core values and has simply lost its way temporarily?

    Your point about “new/outsiders” and “old experienced warhorses” picking fights is well made.

    Many threads appear to be summed up by 2 sentences:
    1. if only these newbies would toe the line and understand we know what we’re doing. It’s been done this way for years and we’re quite happy with the party thank you very much. Just show some respect and then we’d all get on much better. We are right!
    2. Can these people not see, they are failing, it’s not personal, we just want to try and help, but they are so attached to the safe, familiar and established processes, they won’t even listen to us. Don’t know why we bothered joining. We are right!

    When you took in the Economic V Social dimension which is Peter Watson’s well made point above, you get a game of chess that is simply stalemate and demotivating for everyone.

    We need to get past this somehow

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Jul '17 - 1:20pm

    Dominic is correct to defend himself from David’d calling him pretentious for a video that shows a real liberal personality , talking about a really liberal business, for which, organic vegetables, I praise him, and how he did it .

    David, if you criticise me for saying it is silly to denigrate the SDP, it is just as silly with bells on to do worse than that towards someone in a video being very helpful and liberal, and a credit to our party.

  • paul holmes 16th Jul '17 - 1:25pm

    @Palehorse. It achieved 62 MP’s not 25. Then those who derided this record success (since 1922) as too slow took over and all but wiped us out with their rebranding and commercial marketing ‘expertise’.

  • Paul,
    I only appealed for the Old Guard to see the world as it is. Not how it should, could, might have been.
    I see little value in finger pointing over the past, no matter how true the charges are.
    Reminiscences are valuable, and respected, but I find it hard to see that period of 30 years of envelope stuffing and door knocking being repeated by the oncoming generation.
    In this lull between elections I suggest that the opportunity should be taken to listen to new ideas, even the wacky ones.
    I also think the Old Guard should encourage that and not play the time honoured “We tried that once and it didn’t work” card which just silences any new ideas.

  • David Evans 16th Jul '17 - 2:00pm

    Palehorse, It’s not “We tried that once and it didn’t work.” It’s “We tried that once and it *did* work”

  • jayne Mansfield 16th Jul '17 - 2:06pm

    @ Dominic Shadbolt,

    As someone who really has gone all trashy and Momentum, I really don’t see how one can rebrand the Liberal Democrats and make the party a more attractive vehicle for someone with my values and beliefs, political values and beliefs that I have held since I became politically aware in the 1960’s.

    One can quote the preamble, but reading posts on here since 2010, it is clear to me, that when it comes to the nitty gritty of policies that express these values, the Liberal Democrats are a divided party, with no clear underpinning of ideology, ( which I no longer believe to be a dirty word), and shared agreement on how to express these values. In my opinion, it is ideology based on values, that propels a party forward, not branding, it is this that makes some political difference surmountable.

    My values and beliefs have not changed since childhood and my later political awakening. Does this make me someone who is resistant to change, (in a similar way to David Raw who has has held tightly to his own values and beliefs, and still fights for them?). I doubt one could slide a cigarette paper between his and my, political differences , (although we now find ourselves in different political parties), and rebranding to a stronger brand, isn’t going to make me regret my jump.

  • @David Evans “we tried that once and it did work.”

    I must have somehow missed the Liberal or Lib Dem government that happened between 1970 and 2007.

  • David,
    Thank you, but I do think you are trying to miss my point which remains – is a rerun of the previous 30 years the way forward, here and now? That is, decades of envelope stuffing and shoe leather? Are the enthusiastic activists still willing, or fit enough, to do it all again? Are there enough replacement activists pushing forward to take the torch from the faltering fingers of their predecessors?

    My take from the Corbyn/Obama/Macron/Bernie processes is that they “galvanised” the oncoming generation to come forward and get involved. Joining a party and getting the newsletters is easy. Giving up evenings and weekends is the tell tale.

    Has this party enthused its new membership into “Farronistas” or “Cableistas”? I have my doubts, so my position is that the Old Guard should desist from fuming about the past and try and get the young people talking and refrain from clever put downs like “pretentious vacuum”.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Jul '17 - 2:32pm


    All three main parties have various stances, are you who are now leftie Labour keen on the Blairites, or are you now mid distance from each.

    Divides from centre to centre left are easier to handle than from centre to far left.

    A party that has had Tonies called Benn and Blair is not more united.

    I do not get your consistent criticism of this party not standing for something other than division, you are not in it , if you judge by this site, as constantly advised by me, go and read and contribute to labourlist if you want to see divides you can only dream of !

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jul '17 - 4:03pm

    Mike S

    @ Matthew Huntbach
    We are all on the same side here hopefully

    Not really. The more I read here, the more I think the party now consists of people who stand for the opposite of what I worked all my adult life in politics to do.

    Go on you lot, build up you centralised top-down party you seem to love. It is the opposite of what I got into politics to be about. It is the opposite of true liberalism.

  • Well, I think it’s time we called Pax – although Matthew as usual makes a good point..

    I was extremely sorry to hear about your MS, Dominic. I admire your courage and resilience in having to deal with it. I’ve been there with a transplant and appreciate how tough it is.

    On the main thrust of the post, I’m not resistant to change – far from it – but I do resent people accusing me and others of being resistant to change and then starting to squeak about ad hominem as soon as they get a bit back…… and no, Lorenzo, much as I like you, you can’t hold my coat, shout “fight fight” and then get self righteous and nicey nicey about it.

    Jayne, thanks for the kind words. You’re dead right. You can’t get a cigarette paper between us on policy. I haven’t actually left the party but I often don’t recognise what used to be the most radical of the three parties when I joined in the 1960’s in the days of Gaitskell Labour conservatism. I do think that loyalty should be to ideals and policies rather than to a particular party. I must give credit to Jeremy Corbyn for fighting a radical campaign (which we could have done) touching hearts and minds particularly of the young. Inequality and injustice are rank these days.

    As to branding, yes if you must (endless pics of dumpy jeans holding up diamond posters suck). But there’s got to be a radical policy substance behind it plus hard work and commitment to the electorate. Otherwise it’s all froth and blether – and in Yorkshire terms- it means nowt.

    That said – PAX for now – the tennis and the Test match (?) are more appealing.

  • jayne Mansfield 16th Jul '17 - 5:05pm

    @ Dominic Shadbolt,
    I am sorry Dominic, but after several years of reading Liberal Democrat Voice, I am still unclear what these Liberal Democratic Values that distinguish you from left wing Tories or Right wing Labour are? Moreover, they can’t be that great or some party leaders and members wouldn’t be so keen to welcome them into the party.

    I am sure that you passionately believe in the politics that you have chosen to support. I can understand this passion, and I cannot be too critical of you or the party, because the values in the preamble are mine too. I just don’t think that the Liberal Democrat Party in its current form is the party to achieve them. No amount of re-packaging will change that.

    Neonates are social beings, as anyone who has observed them will attest. It was a stage of development that some of us never outgrew.

    Rather than suggesting that the answer to the current Liberal Democrat Party’s problems lies in re-branding, wouldn’t it be better if the party addressed and agreed on matters of substance? For example, Liberal Democrats support the right of the individual to be individual, (good), and choice ( which I find personally stressful and therefore arguable).

    But when as social beings when do our rights to individualism clash with social responsibility and need cutailing? When does one stop advocating the importance of ‘choice’, when for so many, poverty and disability denies choice, but in full knowledge of this, in the interests of not being seen by the electorate as ‘extremist’, the party is too scared or disinclined to fight on their behalf? Given the voting record of Liberal Democrat MPs, I haven’t a clue.

  • jayne Mansfield 16th Jul '17 - 5:26pm

    @ Lorenzo Cherin,
    To answer your question, I am not mid distance between any wing of the Labour party. I very much admire some of the Blairites, such as Yvette Cooper and Stella Creasy, brilliant women. I don’t see politics as personal.

    I have taken your advice Lorenzo and so now read Labour List. I have always enjoyed Paul Barker’s contributions in the comment sections. Whereas Paul has always been a solidly decent contributor and critic, there are those from other unnamed parties whose contributions reflect the nastiness of the parties to which they clearly, if not admitted, belong.

    As far as your comment that I am no longer in this party, true. I changed my voting habit in 2015. Nevertheless, I still have a great deal of respect for contributors on here, even if I don’t agree with them.

  • jayne Mansfield 16th Jul '17 - 6:53pm

    @ Dominic Shadbolt,
    I am sorry Dominic, but when did I express sympathy for your condition?

    My post shows no mercy! Please could you respond my post.

  • Thanks for confirming my original assessment Dominic.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jul '17 - 8:10pm


    So I would give these uncomfortable new voices a respectful, and not dismissive hearing. If the choices are new, fresh start or 30 years of grinding slow progress I would at least listen.

    Rubbish and nonsense.

    The model of political party they want is most definitely NOT “new” or “fresh”. It is the conventional model of political party. It is the model the Liberal Democrats have been following thanks to Nick Clegg.

    Nick Clegg explicitly moved the party in that direction. He appointed people to leading positions to run the party in just the way these “new voices” suggest it should be run. The party has done EXACTLY what these people say it should do. And that destroyed it.

    They want us to carry in going down this road of destruction because they lack the intelligence or insight even to be able to think of politics in terms of an alternative model. They are unable to move out of the box of modern life where everything has to be run in a top-down elitist style by the new aristocracy, the ad-men and business elite.

    The argument we are having now are just the same as the argument we had with the SDP back in the 1980s, when the SDP said much the same thing. Oh, they attacked us Liberals using very similar language to what we see here. They said what was needed was a fancy brand pushed forward in a modern ad-men style, and they’d storm to victory in that way.

    Well, they didn’t, did they? And if you look at what actually happened then, it was the Liberals who were winning all the seats. The SDP only won seats when the Liberals did the work for them, or they adopted the Liberal style.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Jul '17 - 8:10pm

    David , I appreciate the caustic remark, but I never hold the coat and as someone who sticks to principles , would be either in the ring or encouraging all to change tactic. I was just quite impressed with the video of Dominic’s style, backed up with values. I do like you too , though , and respect and agree with you more than you think.

    Jayne , I feel similar about you and disagreement or not ,glad you as do I , often read labourlist, and regret your inability to make your forgiveness or understanding of this party be added to by a sense of it’s very numerous strentghs, one of which is the divisiveness is small beer , compared with it’s friendliness.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jul '17 - 8:24pm

    jayne Mansfield

    When does one stop advocating the importance of ‘choice’, when for so many, poverty and disability denies choice, but in full knowledge of this, in the interests of not being seen by the electorate as ‘extremist’, the party is too scared or disinclined to fight on their behalf? Given the voting record of Liberal Democrat MPs, I haven’t a clue.

    One of the issues is that for ad-men selling things as brands, everything has to be pushed and sold as super-duper wonderful.

    So, with the ad-men running our party, that was how they pushed the Coalition: super-duper wonderful. That wrecked us, because it denied the truth, that it was a miserable little compromise that most of us in party accepted only because we could see the alternative was a Conservative minority government either backed by the DUP, pr which would call a new general election in a short time to get a majority.

    So, the sorry little compromises that had to be made in order to push a basically Conservative government just a little away from the extreme right became seen as if we Liberal Democrats thought them all super-duper wonderful and as if they were just what we wanted in the first place, and only pretended we didn’t.

    So those ad-men did a good job helping the Labour Party, because essentially they backed what would inevitably be Labour’s attacks on us under the circumstances. And now it seems the party I was once such a proud member of consist largely of new members whose image of the party is that put forward by the ad-men, the one that has destroyed us. Perhaps we can’t blame them, because they have been brought up in this rotten top-down ad-men run society, and can’t think of life having any other form. Their image of the party of which I was once such a proud activist is not how the party was, but what our wreckers turned it into. And they want to push it further down that road to complete destruction, because they know no better.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Jul '17 - 8:28pm

    At the end of a formula 1 race they play the national anthem, OUR NATIONAL ANTHEM.
    Well done Lewis Hamilton.

  • @ Richard Underhill Why didn’t they play Flower of Scotland for Jamie at Wimbledon today, Richard ? Surely a much greener sport than F1 Racing.

    @ Matthew Huntbach. For heaven’s sake cheer up, Matty. Remember we got 1.1% in Middlesbrough last Thursday – a real shame the other 98.9% were so obviously deeply prejudiced against our brand..

  • @ Matthew @ David
    Highlighted the 2 of you as this is obviously causing you both a sense of foreboding and Matthew particularly a sense of Deja vu.

    Matthew, can I first assure you, I am no metropolitan elite.
    For myself I am interested only in what works for the Lib Dem’s.
    I was brought up in the next valley (Calderdale) from David Raw a few years behind :-), but to parents, as he knows with similar attitudes.
    I was brought up to respect my elders and am acutely aware that experience, knowledge and insight built up over decades is not to be taken lightly.

    So I am interested in both your views on what you would now like to see happen, given where we are now, in 2017.
    What is different, what will probably still work, what needs to change.
    No harping back to past glories now, just forward looking given where we find ourselves with the resources we have now today.

    Kindest Mike

  • Palehorse et al -but the trouble is that the real world is not one where snazzy name changes and whizzy new policies (although absolutely no one has so far been able to say what they would be) wins elections, especially under FPTP. This is pure fantasy utterly divorced from reality.

  • @ Mike S Good to hear from you, Mike. Happy memories of Calderdale – you’ll remember David Shutt and Dr Mather in Todmorden – who I helped to get elected to the W.R. County Council with a 3,000 majority back in 1969.

    Sadly, we’re now tarnished with the Coalition’s austerity.

    Two things needed. First, a radical programme little different to the one purloined by Corbyn J. – we should have thought of it first. Did you see Corbyn’s reception in Hebden Bridge ?

    Second, I guess we shared an upbringing where hard work was a virtue. We need less posing and a bit more hard graft from activists. 10 votes in Middlesbrough is scandalous and should be investigated……. Never again. It’s like Halifax Town losing 59-0 to Bradford Park Avenue before half time…. and we know what would happen then.

    Third, add some clout from Vince as Brexit truly emerges……. and who knows ?

    Quality products sell with a good sales force, but we should speak to the needs of the people. We live in an increasingly unequal society – if we do nothing – however fancy the branding – the party will deserve to disappear as an irrelevance.

  • Phil Wainewright 16th Jul '17 - 11:03pm

    This thread is full of enthusiasm and commitment to drive the party forward, both from old-timers and newcomers. There is so much we can achieve together, but we are being held back by distrust.

    The newcomers distrust the old-timers because they listen to their stories of incremental progress and they interpret this as a lack of ambition and an unwillingness to change and adopt new models.

    The old-timers distrust the newcomers and their love of top-down, commercially-inspired marketing models, because they’ve seen this fail several times before in the history of the party.

    All this distrust makes people defensive and cantankerous, and they miss what they can learn from each other. Success in individual seats depends on door-knocking, leaflet delivery, being in tune with local issues – and running a professional campaign operation during elections.

    At the same time, the national party does need to improve its organisation, and it has to do a far better job of messaging. In politics, brand must start from values, which accords with what Dominic wrote: “Our values are sacrosanct. These values are the brand values.” The party needs to find a better message to convey those values.

    I don’t see this as an either/or. Once we work out how to put all these parts together, the sum can be far greater – enough perhaps to make the leap from third to first, or if not at the first attempt at least keep us in contention.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Jul '17 - 11:07pm

    David Raw

    David, if as you say ,the radical programme, yes, can agree with that bit, should be , little different from Corbyn, your words, how does that fit with Sir Vince decrying, Venezuelan economics, his words, and a range of policies from tuition fees to nationalisation of industry , where the leader that nearly is, inhabits a space , shall we say ,rather to the centre of that stance ?!

    If we are to be not centre left but left, we might as well sign up to an alliance with the Labour leader, some of us want such an alliance, but imagine it might be more likely with someone like Dan Jarvis ?!

    Would it not be so, that you are a tiny minority in thinking we should have a very similar policy document?

    There is much , left, in Labour , I relate to, but , to quote one of my hero Lord Attenborough’s films, Corbyn and co , for many Liberals , is a Bridge too far ?!

    Also, even if we want or like it, how could a party emerge saying the same things or very nearly , on seven per cent , as one on forty, and get coverage?

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Jul '17 - 12:59am

    You know what? This proposed new approach was all about selling ourselves. Perhaps as an internationally-minded woman that offends me more than it does some men. Mike S. wrote at one point, ‘Market research is used when deciding on policies, to understand what the people want and need … what new segments to target…’ No, Mike, we should find out what our people want and need by talking to them and asking them in our local areas, and coming together to discuss and develop good policies, local and national, and never thinking of them as ‘segments to target’ or of what ‘political brand’ we may be selling to them. Matthew H. wrote, ‘We should be seen as ordinary people who gain power by co-operating with each other, not as tools of some remote elite.’ Yes, Mike, and thus they will indeed see WHY we do it; and as we want to share power with them, can indeed ‘Believe what we believe.’ A very different concept from Dominic’s ‘our current packaging doesn’t achieve success’ and ‘the Command and Control model can be more nuanced’. You weren’t nuanced, Dominic, in describing our party as ‘an irretrievably broken machine’!

    Ah yes, say the newcomers, but all you gave us was 30 years of failure. More nonsense. We achieved thousands of councillors, thirteen MEPs, 57 MPs, and we were liked and trusted. Then, Humphrey, you say ‘Success is taking the keys to Downing Street’, and so we did. stepping up in the national interest, but making grave mistakes with heavy losses in power and in trust. And the recent General Election came too soon in the recovery that we were visibly making. But success just now will be achieving a soft Brexit, or even no Brexit at all, and this is within touching distance. Let us work together with renewed hope and enthusiasm for the Liberal Democrat Party I can still recognise and love – faulty, but in no need of fire and brimstone,

  • @ Humphrey Hawksley

    Matthew Huntbach makes a valid point about the SDP being a top-down organised party, which expected to break through to government on a national swing and a national campaign. It failed. The Liberal approach of targeting and working hard in particularly areas increased our MPs. The SDP had 29 defectors from other parties and two by-election gains going into the 1983 general election and were reduced to six, only one a gain, in an area of liberal strength, having a Liberal MP until 1970. The Liberals increased their number to 17 losing only one by-election gain. Therefore seeking the party to be “more professional” is not a new idea, it was tried and failed. To suggest it again without acknowledging it was tried and failed and trying to address why it failed and why it could work this time is not helpful to anyone.

    Also a name change is something we tried before and it reduced our opinion poll rating to even lower than it has been over the last 7 years.

    I think you need to understand the history of the party and if you advocate something we have tried before and it was a failure you need to acknowledge this and address why it failed before and why you think it wouldn’t fail again.

    I also note you didn’t comment on my more positive comment regarding branding that attempted to find some common ground.

    @ Palehorse

    The greatest growth our in number of MPs happened between 1992 and 1997 (from 18 to 46) and we had turned an opinion rating in the margin of error in 1988 into these 46 MPs and 16.8% share of the vote.

    If we wish to get people elected to councils the only way is via local campaigns which include putting leaflets through letter boxes and knocking on doors. I am not aware of anyone taking a seat in Parliament from another party without some leafleting and door knocking. There is a discussion to be had on what are the new communities and how to empower them, and how to use new methods of communication to reach people. I am not aware of the older members of the party rejecting such a discussion. As I have already posted a discussion of the “brand” as in what the public recognise as having as our overriding message might be useful, but there is a clear divide on methods even if we can agree the destination.

  • Lorenzo, you claim to like history and I for one believe their are lessons to be learned from it. The 1929-39 period is instructive.

    In the USA FDR instigated a programme of public works and state investment to overcome the Great Crash. He did it using Keynesian theory. It worked.

    In the UK, Lloyd George’s Yellow book in 1929 had the same prescription but unfortunately a small ‘c’ conservative Labour Government completely bottled it and in 1931 followed the austerity route with disastrous consequences.

    That’s the type of policy I’m advocating…………… and just because something currently has a Corbyn label on doesn’t alter the ingredients.

    I suggest you get a copy of Robert Skidelsky’s book, ‘Politicians and the Slump’ (ebay and Amazon from about £ 2.50). Skidelsky was in the SDP at one time and is the biographer of Keynes.

  • their there. prescriptive text is awful.

  • @ Michael BG. You make some very valid points – the trouble is some of them are far too young to remember the SDP and their sharp elbowed top down ways.

    Unfortunately ‘Thatcher’s Children’ have been brought up on a diet of Blair fudged market economics and privatisation where as Marshall McLuhan once said, the Medium is the Message.

  • David Raw – so let me get this straight. You want to implement Corbyn”s unashamedly Socialist policy programme?

    And you have the temerity to accuse others of not bring Liberal?

    If you want Corbyn”s programme, there’s an obvious conclusion to draw.

    The Liberal Democrat party exists to promote Liberalism.

    Thankfully the majority of its new young membership (clearly not in thrall to pro-Brexit terrorist friend Corbyn) understand this.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Jul '17 - 8:45am

    By the way, Dominic, if a ‘charismatic leader’ is part of the mix you think we need, we have one until Thursday, but unfortunately not after that. However the once-and-future Vince (as I called him with a rare touch of foresight before he was re-elected) will doubtless bring other important qualities, such as staying-power.
    (Thanks, David and Michael, for those useful reminders of our history.)

  • @ David Raw
    Good to hear from you too David. I was knee high to a grasshopper in 1969, so you’re even more ‘experienced’ than I thought 🙂

    @ Michael MG
    As always, very balanced and thoughtful points.
    I guess the question to ask now then is Why it didn’t work before?
    It would be so easy to dismiss an approach which (Nationally) is potentially much quicker at realising a rebuild (in conjunction with more traditional local approach), simply because of a combination of ideology and the fact is seemed not to work.
    However, has any real analysis been done on whether it was the the top down approach that was the reason for the failure (a direct cause and effect), or other factors maybe different ones in each case that were the real reason fro the failure and they simply happened to have top down approach in common?
    So, for example, Gleggmania at the time did appear to be gaining traction, recognition and the communication strategy appears to be resonating. Did it fail due to the coalition, pledge breaking rather than the approach it used?
    In the case of the SDP, all that time ago, was the approach they used really the same as what is been suggested here? Were there other factors which may have been more important to its failure?
    All I’m saying is we need to be careful not to draw negative conclusion about an approach that could potential help us grow much quicker, without clear evidence that there was a clear cause and effect.

    @ Katharine
    Hi Katharine. Thanks for your comments. I have to say, I sense a fair amount of defensiveness about both our suggestions and Tim. Firstly, you more than almost anyone have embraced many ideas and are conducting your own market research constantly. My learn here is to be careful with terminology which I think can get in the way of the point I’m making. My quotes above were direct from the Auckland website as earlier in the thread I was having a conversation with a couple of guys who were talking this language. I need to be careful I don’t put other people off grasping concepts and speak everyday language where possible as I advocate often.
    As regards Tim – have you asked him? You appear to defend him almost daily here, yet he appears to have moved on now. Surely we do too.

    @ Phil
    Thanks for the encouragement. I agree with your whole comment.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Jul '17 - 10:49am

    David Raw

    @ Michael BG. You make some very valid points – the trouble is some of them are far too young to remember the SDP and their sharp elbowed top down ways

    Indeed. People who were not around at that time now seem to think that the difference between the Liberal Party and the SDP was that the Liberal Party was all in favour of what is now called “economic liberalism”, i.e, extreme free market economics giving all power to big business, and the SDP was more moderate on these issues. That is all due to the propaganda game played by shadowy right-wing groups , which involves rewriting history to make out that was what liberalism was all about. It is completely and utterly untrue.

    What was actually the case at the time of the Liberal-SDP merger was that the right-wing of the Liberal Party was all in favour of it and saw little difference between themselves and the SDP, and it was those on the left of the Liberal Party who tended to be the most opposed to merger.

    When the SDP was founded, they very mush pushed what is being suggested here – that success as a political party was all about putting together a set of policies and a fancy glossy image pushed by professional ad-men types from the top. They condemned us Liberals as “sleepy” and wanted to push us off, supposing we didn’t know what we were doing and how to win. They learnt the hard way that they were wrong. That actually breaking through the two-party system isn’t easy, but we Liberals had developed and were building up ways to to do it.

    The argument here really are almost identical to those we had then – apart from this one difference: we are now living in this Orwellian world where those we true Liberals are arguing with are not social democrats but Thatcherites who have been brainwashed by the re-writing of history into believing that the sort of politics they support is what “liberalism” always meant.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Jul '17 - 11:04am

    Mike S

    So I am interested in both your views on what you would now like to see happen, given where we are now, in 2017.
    What is different, what will probably still work, what needs to change.

    I have been saying what the party has done wrong, predicted what would happen when it did it, and suggested alternatives since Nick Clegg was elected leader.

    The first thing it did wrong was to elect Clegg as leader, and the thing I predicted, that he would push our party to the economic right and that would cause it to lose support has been entirely true.

    I do not think since then I have made a single prediction that has not come true about our party and all it has been doing that has led it to disaster. I have been right in what I have said 100%. If anyone thinks otherwise, please go back and look at my past comments here in Liberal Democrat Voice over the years.

    I am now so pessimistic, because our party seems to have been taken over by people who stand for all that I oppose. I am tired of arguing with such people. I am tired of being right all the time, but everything I said was ignored, so the damage I predicted would happen has come true.

    And still all these people do is just pooh-pooh me and ignore the points I am making, as if I don’t know what I am talking about.

    I have other things to do in life. Let someone else work on bringing back the Liberal Democrats to a party I can once again be happy to support. Right now I still haven’t decided even whether I want to renew my membership. My membership renewal form has been sitting unfilled for two months now. Reading the comments here makes me want to rip it up.

  • @ Dominic
    Just wanted to thank you for your input. More than almost anyone else you have given a lot of your time, insight and knowledge on this thread.
    I think we all can often forget, there is a huge amount of diverse talent in this party now that is sorely needed.
    It may not all get used, but we must surely encourage and support each others contributions as Phil rightly points out above.
    You have had a bit of a roller coaster experience here I sense, but please continue to feed in your insight and expertise.

    As I’m learning, ‘selling’ new concepts here can be challenging.
    There may be good reasons why at a local level particularly we need to continue many practices that are tried and trusted and concentrate on a digital strategy to turbocharge and support the leafleting/door knocking efforts as well as reach the younger demographic particularly.

    However, at National level, just about everybody (old hands included) admit it simply is not working, so all ideas need listening to and taken seriously wherever they come from.
    If something isn’t working than it is clearly not the correct strategy.
    Whether this is targeting, messaging, communication or the whole approach needing a rethink is open to debate and I hope and trust that the decision makers would welcome the sort of input that has been in abundance here.

  • @ Matthew
    Thank you – I can assure you I am listening to you and all that experience and knowledge particularly if as you say your crystal ball has served you well is worth hearing.

    So, just to summarise what do you think now need to happen particaulry at National level.

    PS: If you look back though my own threads, you will see, I taught in a secondary school in the villages around Castleford & Pontefract at the height of the miners strike.
    I saw first hand the devastation of those communities and the effect it had on the kids and their families.
    I can absolutely 100% categorically assure you, I may be one of Thatcher’s children, I may have grown up with sales and marketing practices characterising the Blair years, but as for my politics, well…………………….

  • Mike S. I think that in one of your comments yesterday you inadvertently touched upon the root of the problem in this discussion when you did a two sentence summary of ‘the old timers [supposedly] say this and the new comers say that’.

    60% of our Members are new since 2015. Take out those who rejoined after leaving in disgust during the Coalition and it might be 45% who are brand new. To these new Members what happened pre 2015 is ancient history and all lumped together. Hence the repeated comment that “the old timers seem to be happy with things as they are and the methods that got us here”.

    Our electoral destruction from 2010-2017 is a product of the ‘Whizzy new strategists’ who variously wanted to ‘remake the Party’s image and policies and the way it campaigned’. As an ‘old timer’ I am not in the slightest bit happy with that utter disaster that saw us destroyed at every electoral level in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 or with the even newer Core Vote Strategy of 2017 that saw us reach an all time record 375 lost deposits and a new low of 7.4% of the National Vote. The new members of the last 2 years might think this state of affairs is the norm but it wasn’t.

    By 2009 we had elected a record 100 national politicians (Westminster, Brussels, Cardiff and Edinburgh) and ran more Councils (including large Cities) than ever before since 1922. Then all that work was trashed, virtually overnight.

    If sweeping to power in Westminster was as simple as changing a name, putting stuff out on Social Media and/or adopting new ‘Party Fonts’ or poster colours then don’t you think other Parties would already have done this even if we Liberal Democrats were supposedly too hide bound to seize the opportunity? For the record though I would point out that we have in fact done all of those things before. If there is an earth shattering new policy or two out there that will sweep a Political Party to victory without all that ‘tedious’ knocking on doors and associated campaigning then don’t you think someone would have done it already?

    Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s not quite that simple.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Jul '17 - 12:59pm

    David , I have a degree in history and politics from London University , time included, studying at Lord Wallace’s home of intellectual good sense, LSE, so no mere claim to like history any more than, politics, a very definite liking !

    If you mean adhering to Keynes, not , Friedman, to social liberal economics, not neo liberal, that is fine, but hardly warrents your constant blanket praise for Corbyn, and denigration of the SDP, Keysian champions every one of them, even Lord Owen wants Brexit , to get away from too much neo liberlism and marketisation, his words!

    I think there is a far wider spectrum to those of us who are happy to be considered mainly, Liberal, but social Liberals always, social democrats too. It is because I am so aware of the history , I know where I think we need to go.

    The US, you correctly allude to with reference to FDR, have two very broad parties, that now take in the Democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders, as well as the New Democrats of Bill Clinton. A narrower field than from Jeremy Corbyn to Jremy Brown !

    We need to move as a society , away from both a top down government mentality inevitable in too many socialistic practices, and top down corporate activity , too dominant in the power held by corporations.

    I would suggest more subtlety than constant declarations for any one person leading any one of the parties, as Corbyn and Cable are not the same thing and as we are not the Democrats of the American spectrum, not in the same party.

  • As a newbie to active politics but an oldie to the world this thread is quite intriguing. Speaking from my own experience I think the general public still see us as those nice people (bit out of touch) who are always on the doorstep, good at local politics, who stay in touch and seem to care (Matthew). On a national level I think they don’t see our relevance. We do not have a distinctive enough message for people. They do not relate to our political philosophy because we have not developed a one slogan message that they can cling on to, in the absence of which only policy cuts through (Dominic). We lack distinctive political mass. We do well when there isn’t a lot to choose from on the political scene. When there are real issues we get disappear into the vacuum of the center ground.
    The other question this thread leaves me with is how (in reality) opinion and views flow in this party and how it cuts through to action and policy. Maybe the older hands can explain.

  • Peter Watson 17th Jul '17 - 1:11pm

    @paul holmes
    “60% of our Members are new since 2015 … If there is an earth shattering new policy or two out there that will sweep a Political Party to victory …”
    Presumably a lot of those members are also new since June 2016 and it is uncertain what opinions and beliefs they share other than opposition to Brexit which did not turn out to deliver the “shattering new policy” that would sweep the party to victory.

    If Lib Dems can harness both the vote and seat winning experience of the “old-timers” with the marketing nouse of the “newcomers” it could be a powerful combination. Unfortunately though the split between the two groups seems to be along the same left-right economic-social liberal lines that already divide the party, often with a degree of rancour, and I think that is reflected in the debate above. It is difficult to see how any approach can be successful until that is resolved.

  • paul holmes 17th Jul '17 - 1:11pm

    Mike S. A further illustration could be in your comment this morning that ‘Cleggmania seemed to be working….was it Coalition/broken pledges that stopped it rather than the communication methods used?’

    Any factual historical analysis shows that in fact ‘Cleggmania’ lasted for only about a week or so during the 2010 election camapign. There was one excellent TV debate followed by 2 weak ones and Cleggmania in the opinion polls melted away like snow long before polling day. We were in a position to enter Coalition in 2010 not due to Cleggmania sweeping us to power but due to being in a numerically strong enough position (when the random Russian Roulette of our FPTP electoral system threw up the chance) due to decades of previous work winning seats by ‘old fashioned’ methods.

    Remember that we took 22% of the vote and a historic high of 62 MP’s in 2005 under Charles Kennedy and 23% of the vote and 57 MP’s in 2010. ‘Cleggmania’, if it contributed anything, contributed just a 1% increase in our vote and a fall of 5 MP’s -our highest numerical net loss of MP’s since 1970. Brand new members attracted in immediately after the 2015 GE failure or after the 2016 Referendum failure may be seeing things through a rather different lens to the ‘old timers’ who are far from content with the state we have been reduced to between 2010-2017.

  • PJ; “we are always on the doorstep”. On most areas of the country we have even lost that role. Would be nice to get it back again. I am fed up with seeing just 1 or 2%
    in seat after seat, it is at a local level as well.
    Said it before, will say it again, what staff, management and methods have been changed since the last failure in June. So far as I can see it is sail on as before!
    We need root and branch change.

  • paul holmes 17th Jul '17 - 1:48pm

    PJ.What you say from a political newbie’s perspective may (or may not) be true in the 2017 GE but it was not true before. We had a clear image in 1997, 2001, 2005 in each of which elections we successively gained our highest number of MP’s since the 1920’s. That image still held in 2010 even though the new Leadership since Dec 2007 had started making changes in our stance. Changes which only came to the fore of the public mind during the Coalition. By 2015 we had a clear image of a radically different kind and collapsed to 7.9% of the vote from the 20% we had averaged over the previous 7 General elections. In 2017 we had yet another clear, single, image as the Party opposed to Brexit -and fell to a new low of 7.4% of the vote.

    Go even further back -in 1983 we had a clear image and took 25% of the vote our highest vote share, ever, since the 1920’s. As with Cleggmania in 2010 we even had a very brief period of approaching 50% in the Opinion Polls too -until the reality of election day came around. 25% of the vote in 1983 only translated to around 20 seats however because back then we were not so good at the ‘old fashioned’ Constituency campaigning that turns national vote share into actual MP’s under FPTP, where there has to be a critical mass in one place not an even spread all over the place (Macron won under a very different electoral system). The SDP part of the Alliance (I joined them as a political virgin as the term went in those days) was even worse at this than the Liberals in 1983 winning only 6 of those seats. The SDP were based around being a new fresh alternative, with a high profile Leader, new policies and new slogans and media profile rather than on the ground campaigning presence. Sounds a bit like the brand new, previously unheard of, prescription for overnight success being put forward by some today!

  • paul holmes 17th Jul '17 - 2:42pm

    Agree 100% with Theakes. Back in 2015 I wrote on LD Voice arguing that the Party should go through its London based Office/Committees/Staff and other expenditure with a fine tooth comb and strip out all the resources it could to put into developing and training campaigners around the UK in order to start rebuilding the Party. In my Region for example we have had zero direct input from the Campaigns Department over the last 2 years. ALDC , which I believe only gets 8% of its funding from London, tries but its resources are currently far too limited to have the needed impact.

    Peter Watson raises some very pertinent questions. To take just one, we have already seen some ‘Newbies’ comment here on LD Voice that if the LD’s can’t stop Brexit then they can see no point remaining a member. Now we have never, yet, been a single issue pressure group anyway but always before a National Party with a range of nationally relevant policies. Even if we were to let the ‘Tail wag the Dog’ and become a single issue anti Brexit grouping can I let you into a secret? Twelve LD MP’s cannot stop Brexit however much they point out the pitfalls facing the UK as a result of Brexit.

    We lost the Referendum vote in 2016 and we lost the GE in 2017. At the end of March the vast majority of MP’s in the old Parliament (Labour and Conservative united) voted to move Article 50. A couple of weeks ago the vast majority of MP’s in the new Parliament (Labour and Conservative united) voted against a rebel amendment that wanted us to stay in the Single Market. Unless a number of Conservative MP’s and the entire Labour Party simultaneously rebel against their Leader/Party Policy/election Manifesto then our 12 MP’s cannot stop Brexit.

  • @ Mike S
    “has any real analysis been done”

    There was some analysis on the SDP, I seem to have misplaced my copy of Ivor Crewe and Anthony King’s The Birth, Life and Death of the Social Democratic Party, which I think contained some analysis. I am sure this must have been built upon. As I have said it is for those who advocate similar solutions to those that failed in the 1980’s to find and read this analysis and then present the lessons learnt which would give a different result.

    In 2010 the effect of Cleggmania was for lots of people to think it was worth doing work in their own area because linked to the national surge in support this would give them victory. It didn’t. It has been suggested that because of Cleggmania there were fewer people moving to work in the target seats and this meant we lost MPs and were reduced from 62 to 57.

  • Peter Watson “Resolving the differences between the economic left and right in the Party”. Good luck with that – we have had that over many years – stretching way back into Liberal Party times. No one has achieved it yet – it is, of course, mirrored in Tories: One nation Tory v Thatcherite and Labour: Left social democrat (like Corbyn) v NuLabour, Green: Mango v Watermelon, and UKIP Nuttallites (if such a concept exists!) v Farageistes.

    Certainly when Jo Grimond emerged to revive the Liberal Party after 30+ years of splits spiralling down into irrelevance, it was to the radical left that he appealed, and a generation (my generation and that of the Young Liberals of the time) were motivated to get off our backsides – for many of us, a lifetime of activism. I still fail to see that “centrism” as a concept does much to inspire anyone to action. There may well be some people out there who are less frightened of voting for someone because they say the are of the centre. But as people have said above, our economic right only has electoral failure to show (1920s, 2010 – 15, in particular).

  • Michael BG
    The effect of Cleggmania lasted 2 weeks at most. It peaked at the time of the first TV debate, when Nick made real impact, and took Cameron and Brown by surprise. By the time he had been thrashed in the tabloids and in the second TV debate when the others were prepared, we rapidly went back to a couple of percent of where we had been at the beginning of the campaign. It has always been my (counterintuitive, and minority) view that Gordon Brown won the 2010 campaign – Cameron stayed where he was, Clegg was losing out, and Brown was moving forward. Another couple of days, and we would have lost a lot more seats than just the five, and Labour would easily have been the biggest party, if not scraping back with a small overall majority.

  • Will those of you trying to reassure many of us who have spent the best part of our weekend trying to help here, please go over to this thread below and explain to us what the hell is going on. Is this how the party makes National policy?


  • Katharine Pindar 17th Jul '17 - 9:50pm

    P.J., thank you as someone new to active politics for joining in this useful debate, but please don’t think that a simple slogan can help us. We’ve been round that particular loop – ‘Freedom’ was once favoured and took an enormous amount of discussion – but we generally end up with pointing to our Preamble as a basis. You say that ‘We do not have a distinctive enough message for people’, but surely the overarching message of our time is our commitment to Europe, in many more senses than just wanting to continue favourable trading relations with the rest of the EU. More and more influential voices are speaking of the harm of Brexit now, and the public does know of our policy of wanting to give them a final choice.
    As the rightness of our policy is more and more recognised, the man who has led us steadfastly in pursuing it will no longer be our leader, which is in my view a sad irony; and, Mike S., I won’t refrain from mentioning Tim’s contribution in his last week in post.

    But, Mike, I am very glad to see you back as your polite and genuinely enquiring self again, and not just as a marketing mouthpiece. Thank you for your kind comment on my own contributions, and I do accept that the pressures on you including I suppose a full-time job whereas mine is only part-time mean you can’t always be contributing (but at one time you did seem to be, and I did miss you on my latest). However, I think the conceptualisation of this marketing approach is just wrong for our party or any party.

    Matthew H., I am concerned about your near despair, not only because it’s miserable for you, but because I agree with you so often and value your contributions so much that I can’t suppose there aren’t many more of us who feel the same. Perhaps you could come to Conference? I have found inspiration there myself in the last two years, a sense of many like-minded hard-working sensitive and thoughtful people being around.

  • @Time “our economic right only has failure”.

    Leaving aside the fact that more people voted Liberal in 2010 than before or since – neatly 8m – Gladstone might have something to say about that. As might Asquith.

  • @Mike S

    Nail. Head. Hit.

  • Phil Wainewright 18th Jul '17 - 12:00am

    Paul Holmes: “Unless a number of Conservative MP’s and the entire Labour Party simultaneously rebel against their Leader/Party Policy/election Manifesto then our 12 MP’s cannot stop Brexit.”

    It only needs 6-7 Tories and a handful of Labour rebels to bring down both parties and instigate another general election. Then anything is possible.

    Whatever went wrong in the past, we are where we are. We need to get into shape to ensure we retain/win at least 6-24 seats at the next election, using the proven techniques you deployed to win Chesterfield, but with the addition of social media campaigning giving us extra reach.

    At the same time, we should have the ambition to soar to 60-360 seats, because if we don’t believe we can’t form a government, why should the electorate put faith in us?

    All of this will need much better messaging and organization at a national level than we managed in this year’s election, and far better teamwork between national and local campaigns. Getting the party into shape isn’t going to be easy, it may not be possible, but we just have to get on with it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jul '17 - 12:36am

    Katharine Pindar

    Perhaps you could come to Conference? I have found inspiration there myself in the last two years, a sense of many like-minded hard-working sensitive and thoughtful people being around.

    I am a university lecturer, and Conference almost always coincides with the first week of term, when I have to be at work for all the things that need doing then.

    Besides that, the decline of lecturer’s salaries in real terms when measured against inflation which has gone on for many years now means I can’t afford it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jul '17 - 12:51am


    Speaking from my own experience I think the general public still see us as those nice people (bit out of touch) who are always on the doorstep, good at local politics, who stay in touch and seem to care (Matthew). On a national level I think they don’t see our relevance.

    The point with being active in local politics is that it shows you very much are NOT out of touch with ordinary people. Most ordinary people aren’t interested in politics, they just switch off if you try to talk to them about it. But start talking about some local issue, and they are interested. Show you care for their concerns over it. Show that you genuinely want to represent them and speak up for their cares.

    Then use this to get more general political message across to them. Don’t do it in a way that is obviously “politics”. The whole thing is that you should come across as ordinary people like them, rather than automatons controlled by distant party machines. Ordinary people who will listen to those they represent, and are intelligent and thoughtful, and can be trusted to do the right thing. Drip feed quietly and carefully the proper liberal message.

    It’s important to get the balance right. I quite agree that a lot of “community politics” didn’t – it concentrated just on local issues and didn’t make the effort to use them to develop more general political discussion. On the other hand, making it too obvious party political propaganda just doesn’t work, as it causes so many, often those who most need our real politics, just to switch off right from the start.

  • @ Tim13

    This opinion poll graph https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_general_election,_2010#/media/File:UK_General_Election_2010_YouGov_Polls_Graph.png shows our support increased from 16th April 2010 and was still about 27% after the dip and was not tailing off until the end of the campaign. It also shows Conservative support growing as our declined 22nd April onwards with no dip at the end of the campaign.

    @ Katharine Pindar
    “but surely the overarching message of our time is our commitment to Europe,”

    But this is not a message about liberalism and it doesn’t appeal to about a third of the people still voting for us from some figures I saw in the Parliamentary report on the general election. Having a referendum on the Brexit deal is the right policy but it will not produce a long term increase in our vote.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Jul '17 - 8:59am

    Matthew, that’s good advice on canvassing – I hope you have a local party where you can carry on doing so yourself and feel encouraged by the contacts. Sorry to hear that because of your work (I gathered some time ago that you were a university lecturer, though not in what faculty) you can’t get to the Federal Conference. What about your area Regional Conference? Your ideas and outlook need continued expression! Best wishes.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jul '17 - 10:04am

    Katharine Pindar

    Matthew, that’s good advice on canvassing – I hope you have a local party where you can carry on doing so yourself and feel encouraged by the contacts

    It’s not so much about about canvassing as about the sort of literature that’s distributed. The idea of community politics was to distribute leaflets that weren’t obviously party political propaganda, so that people would read them because they were of genuine interest. So don’t cover them with party political logos, and make sure they have things that people will want to read and don’t come across as just like advertising material pushing the party. If the leaflets look a bit amateurish, rather than produced by professional ad-men, that helps a lot.

    The interaction one has with people when involved in local politics certainly does help give a good feel for the sort of issues that concern them. It does show up that the sort of issue that highly politically motivated people get worked up about is often quite different from the sort of issue that concerns most people. However, when it comes to actual canvassing, in the sense of knocking on doors to find how people are going to vote, it’s best to be quick in order to get round to as many as possible, and so not engage in lengthy discussion.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jul '17 - 10:19am

    Katharine Pindar

    You say that ‘We do not have a distinctive enough message for people’, but surely the overarching message of our time is our commitment to Europe,

    Here I have to agree with Michael BG. The way this was pushed as the “overarching message of our time” by the Liberal Democrats in the 2017 general election shows precisely the problem of disconnection between people with strong political feelings and most ordinary people.

    Most ordinary people did not and do not see membership of the EU as the most important issue, and local involvement will show that. So pushing that above all other things was bound to make us seem as out-of-touch professional politician types who aren’t interested in ordinary people.

    People are concerned about the way we seem to have less control over our lives these days than in the past, the way control of things seems to have passed to remote big business leaders. The Leave campaign built on this, by suggesting this was caused by membership of the EU, and pushing the general idea of Leave being all about “more control”. Well, if you were asked “Do you want more more control or less control over your life?”, you’d probably vote for “more”, and many who voted Leave did so because that is how it came across.

    That is why just dismissing people who voted that way, and suggesting we weren’t interested in them, we only wanted to be the “party of the 48%” was an utter disaster. It lost us so much support from people who voted Leave and used to vote LibDem. It also didn’t win us any support from the many who voted Remain but who weren’t so obsessed by that issue that they thought it more important that anything else.

    The proper way to handle this would have been to show genuine interest in the concerns that people have that caused them to vote Leave, while gently pointing out that actually leaving the EU would not resolve those concerns.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach
    “The interaction one has with people when involved in local politics certainly does help give a good feel for the sort of issues that concern them. It does show up that the sort of issue that highly politically motivated people get worked up about is often quite different from the sort of issue that concerns most people.”

    OK now you really have got my attention. This is arguably the most important sentence (in my view) in this whole thread?

    So, how come then, apparently the motions selected for debate (and presumably) and therefore future policy at conference are apparently set by “the highly politically motivated people” with the massive danger that many bear no relation to the “sort of issues that concerns most people.”

    The way the party appears to set National strategy and direction appears to be exactly the opposite of the community politics it advocates as sacrosanct?

    If I’m understanding it correctly the FCC is effectively setting strategy, because although the FPC is giving direction, the power to select future direction appears to lie with a few people voting on a Saturday for motions that appear to be drafted in the best manner to fuel a debate.

    This explains in one light bulb moment of recognition for me, why there is no powerful National narrative that is capable of resonating with he target voters this party wishes to attract.
    Policy making appears to result in a disjointed, fragmented list of what happens to fit into a process that meets the needs of a conference, rather than the needs of the electorate.

    No wonder the voters have no idea what the party stands for.

  • @ Mike S and Matthew Huntbach You’re both quite right.

    At the moment we’re stuck with a system of policy motion selection as defined by a Committee of (I’m sure) well intentioned worthies selected on a mini turnout ballot..

    It’s not beyond the wit of man or woman to have a 50%/50% split agenda with motions originating from the parliamentary party and leadership – and those selected by an email ballot of all party members.

  • paul holmes 18th Jul '17 - 1:34pm

    Phil Wainewright -I agree with most of what you say but I don’t understand your Parliamentary arithmetic. How can 6 or 7 Cons and a handful of Labour rebels bring down their Parties?

    A winning Parliamentary vote could only be brought about if every single Opposition MP plus a few Conservative Rebels united on one vote. Labour’s policy is to leave the EU and leave the Single Market so most Labour MP’s are not going to unite behind an alternative motion. Hence the recent Labour rebel amendment to stay in the Single Market was easily defeated in Parliament.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach
    “Here I have to agree with Michael BG”

    This to me appears that you were reluctant to agree with me. 🙂

    @ David Raw

    During the coalition the Parliamentary Party submitted motions, (they were conservative and didn’t in my opinion create radical new policy to solve problems the public were facing). Before the coalition individual MPs sometime submitted motions from work done by the Parliamentary Policy unit in areas of their “shadow” responsibility.

    I have made a suggestion in the Conference motion thread about how we could have a relevant debate on important policy. However we have policy in most areas and during a five year Parliament each policy should be considered afresh. However the two year rule could be reduced to one (I am waiting for two years to pass before trying to get support for a motion on a Basic Citizens Income).

    @ Mike S

    There are two main ways the party makes policy. One is via policy papers (which should include a consultation paper and phrase) and via motions from Local Parties, SAOs and members. Strategy should be set by the Federal Board. The FCC is rejecting what it considers badly worded motions. This seems to be a problem. Perhaps it should have the power to pick one or two of them and redraft them together with the movers to make them acceptable. Again it is the Federal Board which should consider our “political narrative”.

    Neil Stockley suggest that Nick Clegg had a narrative for the 2010 general election, when he “blamed ‘the old parties’ for letting Britain down.”

    A narrative could be that neo-liberal economics have benefited the rich and increased economic inequalities and that a Liberal Democrat government would run the economy to reduce unemployment to below 3% and to have policies to really assist everyone (including those who are disabled or have a long term illness) to be full members of society, and we would reform the whole of society to make it responsible to the people and reduce the power of big business and globalisation and unresponsive state institutions (such as GP surgeries).

  • @Katharine Pindar.
    Thank you for your comment. Just because a phrase has not been found shouldn’t mean we can’t carry on searching. I would welcome the chance to shadow you on the doorstep as you launch into the LibDem preamble. I think you’d find that they were in the middle of tea before you got to the second sentence. People need a core message from which they build a set of quick associations to form an overall view. That core is all important. I’ve always liked the phrase ‘Social Justice’ but let’s not set that hare running on a thread that is already 125 comments long.

    @Matthew Huntbach
    I think I like your approach to politics. In any campaign of door knocking I suppose that there are half a dozen people who stay with you. I won’t go into the details of my six, but if there is any point in politics these are the people that keep you fighting. But to implement this sort of approach needs a different structure. We would need to build a whole new level of patch activist who get to know their people. Maybe ten to a ward. That probably means about sixty activists per constituency. Have we got that many?

  • A liquorice allsorts approach to policy making lacks coherence – and that’s what we’ve got. We must learn from the surprisingly successful and coherent approach of Jeremy Corbyn in May/June. There is no coherence to the present Lib Dem message.

    Mr. Corbyn made a sustained attack on austerity linking it to inequality and unfairness – in other words it was a coherent theme. It rang true for many people especially the young and the public sector workers (previously our major constituency of support). It was positive and promised hope and change to a more just society.

    By contrast the Lib Dem message was a one trick pony about Brexit and a kaleidoscope of unrelated bits and bobs which didn’t offer hope. It was also difficult to respond because Lib Dems were/are still tarred with the Coalition brush of supporting many of the policies attacked by Mr Corbyn.

    This isn’t a comfortable message, especially for those on the right of the party, but the party ignores it at its peril. If we can’t inspire hope for a better world then we might as well go tend our allotments and make jam.

    If this message is attacked as a knee jerk apology for extreme marxism, then people are missing the point. They should also ponder the public response to making sustained personal attacks on Mr Corbyn – it’s counter productive.

  • @David Raw your message may or may not be an apology for an extreme Marxist, but the fundamental learning point is it’s very easy to promise when you know you’ll never have to deliver – and would never be able to deliver.

    I would hope those who saddled Clegg and Cable with the unworkable and regressive scrapping tuition fees policy in 2009 – against their advice and wishes – have also learned this.

  • Phil Wainewright 18th Jul '17 - 6:57pm

    Paul Holmes asked about my parliamentary arithmetic. I’ll make this brief.

    It would require 7 switchers to wipe out the Con/DUP majority. That’s the tough nut to crack (but growing Brexit incompetence makes it more likely as time goes on). Given a chance to defeat the government, Corbyn’s not going to turn it down.

    Once the Queen calls Jeremy Corbyn to form a minority government, I’m guessing a handful of Labour rebels would be enough to undermine any semblance of cohesion.

  • @ TCO Labelling someone “an extreme Marxist” is a tired old knee jerk alternative to thinking. The issue is the need for coherent policies. The right wing tabloids used the same failed tactic but I guess 13 million voters weren’t as convinced as you were by their shrill rhetoric.

    You also say………., “those who saddled Clegg and Cable with the unworkable and regressive scrapping tuition fees policy in 2009”. Do you really think Messrs Clegg and Cable were too weak and lacking in courage to oppose a policy they knew to be wrong ? Photos showing Mr Clegg signing ‘The Pledge’ look cheerful enough.

    It would help, of course, if you didn’t hide behind anonymity and declared openly whether or not you are a Liberal Democrat supporter or member. You give me the impression of being some sort of right wing provocateur. I recall a poster on LDV once suggested TCO stood for Tory Central Office. Would you oblige by enlightening us ?

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Jul '17 - 9:52pm

    Matthew and Michael, you know I respect both your opinions in general, but in particular here I think you are quite wrong. Our commitment to Europe is not only the overarching policy for us, but it is one that vitally engages ordinary people, because Brexit is really beginning to worry them. Haven’t you noticed? Standard of living slipping as inflation rises, firms beginning to relocate to other EU countries, all sorts of issues about real concerns arising , which you will both have read and heard about just as much as I have.

    I feel unfairly attacked here also because in my own article I specifically wrote about the need for connecting more and listening to local people, empowering and interesting them at once and taking their concerns for policy development. Of course I know that can’t be done, Matthew, in traditional canvassing when all you do is note people’s voting history and intentions to enter in Connect. And my approach certainly includes handing out locally-produced Focuses which themselves reflect local opinions and invite more, as I was doing locally only last week. I do exactly what you are recommending, and have done for many years!

    I also suggested that there could be direct democratic input to policy development at national level by setting up a Facebook page and email address by which councillors and MPs could directly contact the Chair of the Federal Policy Committee. Please show me the respect of reading my article and comments on it, which was published on July 8. I’ve had enough of trying to contribute to this thread, goodbye.

    P,J., credit me with common sense, of course I don’t spout the Preamble on the doorstep, but it is a basic statement of our values which we come back to time and again. As to trying for the slogan, I don’t really think one could or should be found . As I wrote earlier here, I think the conceptualisation explored is not fit for the purpose.

  • @ Michael BG
    Michael thanks for your response and insight into part of the process.

    My challenge back would be:
    The party also needs to be much more nimble and flexible to respond to changing landscapes.
    Any system which is too process heavy and does not incorporate a free flowing exchange of ideas is in grave danger of being almost constantly out of date.
    How often are theses papers updated?
    How often does a “key issue of the day” come up to conference for discussion or review?
    How many boats have sailed, being missed whilst we are waiting for the really key stuff to come round/be selected again?
    Does conference exist to serve the needs of the members or develop a coherent, current and joined up offering for the electorate?

    Internet = great potential for innovation and pooling of expertise.
    How many of our members are contributing to the policy/motion making process at the moment?

    How can we leverage this?

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jul '17 - 10:45pm

    Katharine Pindar

    Our commitment to Europe is not only the overarching policy for us, but it is one that vitally engages ordinary people, because Brexit is really beginning to worry them.

    Sure, but you’re missing my point. I’m not saying that I myself don’t think of opposing Brexit as important. I was, and am, very firmly opposed to Brexit. I am saying that it didn’t work making this our over-arching policy in the 2017 general election, and in particular doing so in a way that dismissed those who did vote for Brexit. In a similar way, I’m a strong supporter of proportional representation, but I now that for most people, including those who would most benefit from it – poor people in wealthy and hence Tory-voting areas – it’s just a technical and boring issue, and going on about it turns them off.

    If there are things we see as important, but most voters do not, we need to actively engage with then where they are, not dismiss them because they don’t instantly see things as we see them. People are more likely to accept what we are saying on issues that they aren’t that bothered about if we show that we are clearly on their side on issues where they are.

    Nick Clegg got it disastrously wrong when in arguing with Nigel Farage he made the accusation that Farage and Brexit would be “turning the clock back”. Actually, most people who supported Brexit did so because they liked the idea of turning the clock back. Who can blame them when we have had decades of increasing inequality, and a growth of stress and unpleasantness in working life? Everyone I know who talks about work says things are much worse now than they used to be.

    Of course Brexit won’t really turn the clock back at all, and there’s a lot of golden age mythology in that attitude. Still, we should understand why people feel that way and show we can tackle what their real concerns are, rather than just dismiss them, as Clegg in his line against Farage did. In that way, Clegg actually helped boost Farage and the Leave campaign, by in effect supporting their main propaganda line.

  • @ Katharine Pindar
    “I also suggested that there could be direct democratic input to policy development at national level by setting up a Facebook page and email address by which councillors and MPs could directly contact the Chair of the Federal Policy Committee.”

    Hi Katharine
    I would be astounded if your suggestion above does not become a reality sooner rather than later.
    Not sure about a Facebook page exactly, but the general idea of using the internet to consult, fine tune, engage many more members in important processes, become more nimble, more flexible, more effective, more innovative etc is sound thinking.
    The bones of what is possible here and what needs considerable fleshing out is I’m sure just the start.
    Right really do need to get some beauty sleep now!

  • jayne Mansfield 18th Jul '17 - 11:25pm

    “It is very easy to promise when you know that you will never have to deliver”.

    Do you mean the student the student fees pledge?

  • @David Raw: is that a pseudonym?

    TCO stands for Terry’s Chocolate Orange-booker.

    Why does it matter who i am? Judge the quality of my argument not who delivers it.

    As it happens I’ve been active over 4 decades but unlike you I don’t find that relevant. What matters is the future, not harking back to a golden age that never was.

  • @ David Raw

    What do you think of my suggestion for a Liberal Democrat narrative, which is a little different from Corbyn’s?

    @ Katharine Pindar

    I have never been “committed to the EU” and have often thought we didn’t have a clear message on how we would reform it. There has always been a large minority of our supporters who were not “committed to the EU”. You are correct there are reasons for people to be concerned about the effects of Brexit, but I have not noticed Brexit worrying lots of people yet. The Liberal Party does not support EU membership and therefore a case can be made that supporting our EU membership does not increase liberalism in the UK.

    You did write in your article of the need to connect with and empower people, however membership of the EU does not do this.

    @ Mike S

    The Policy Committee has the power to make “interim policy” when necessary.

    We have a very formal system of policy making. This is likely a result of the number of people who attend conference and the formal method of taking speakers. It would be possible to reduce the need for speaker cards and use a hands up system with the chair picking speakers from the floor and also allowing amendments from the floor on ordinary motions.

    When I attended NUS conferences they would cut and paste and edit motions and amendments but didn’t seem to reject any. This process was achieved by the movers of the motions and amendments under the chairmanship of someone from those organising the conference.

    I don’t know if a more inclusive method could be used for the drafting of policy papers, allowing every member who wishes to be part of working groups.

    I think constitutional amendments and standing orders amendments would be needed to achieve this.

  • @Jayne Mansfield “Do you mean the student the student fees pledge?”

    I was referring to Labour’s manifesto – where the hundred billion spending increase pledges were all to be funded by some vague tax on “the rich”. But the tuition fee promise falls into the same category – which is why we should never have had such a policy in the first place (as Cable and Clegg wanted because it was unaffordable – and leaving aside the issue of how regressive it is).

  • TCO Well Mr self confessed Terrys Chocolate Orange Booker, you say, ” why we should never have had such a policy (tuition pledge) in the first place (as Cable and Clegg wanted because it was unaffordable.

    So which is it then ? Was your Orange Booker hero Mr Clegg a weak leader cajoled into saying things he didn’t believe in or was it a case of being economical with the actualite. He certainly looks cheerful enough in all the pics he posed in with the pledge.

    With your particularist Agenda I would have thought you would have favoured the Strong & Stable party rather than waste your time trying to convert a bunch of dangerous lefties in the Lib Dems.

  • @ TCO

    Our 2010 policy of scrapping the £3,000 tuition fees was not the problem. Nick Clegg supported all our candidates signing the NUS tuition fee pledge and then David Laws was joyful in not getting that pledge included in the coalition deal. The Tories knew at that point we were committing political suicide. For our special conference not to have amended the deal to include all our MPs voting against all increases in tuition fees means that the Conference Committee have to accept their responsibility of where we are now along with everyone involved in the process of agreeing the deal except David Rendel who I think was the only person to vote against the deal. Of course our situation was made even worse by our campaign message of no more broken promises make by Nick Clegg.

  • @David Raw I’m far too long in the tooth to believe that misplaced socialists will ever change their closed minds; I believe it might be known as a closed belief system.

    Regarding policy, let me keep this simple.

    Policy is made by policy committee and conference; leaders have to accept what they’re given. The leadership (and I include Cable here) advised the decision making bodies to scrap the policy – they refused (and delightedly so by all accounts – revelling in the opportunity to “get one over the orange bookers”), thereby ensuring the party was saddled with a regressive and illiberal policy.

  • @Michael BG given the policy was decided, and the perceived unlikely event of implementing, Nicks approach was rational.

  • jayne Mansfield 19th Jul '17 - 12:13pm

    @ TCO,
    This is really important.

    I offer you a possible reason for your position in the polls Mr 5% ( Opinium). I seems that your party made a pledge to young people that your leaders couldn’t wait to find an excuse to break. What does that say about their respect, not only for young people who believed them, but for their respect for the party and its decision making?

    As an ‘extreme marxist’, may I ask the question as to how your then leader found himself able to sign the the NHS and Social Care Act with such haste? What level of trust does that show in the Oliver Letwins and Andrew Lansley’s of the world? One might almost feel that you had leaders who struggled to find disagreement with the ( detoxified) David Camerons of this world and were overjoyed to find a reason to show contempt for ‘extreme liberal democrats’.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Jul '17 - 1:11pm

    David, can we have less of the suggestions of people like TCO, who shares he has activism of forty years, being more suited to the Tories, in the very many posts in which we have agreed and disagreed , I have never suggested you should be in the Labour party, and on the left of it, all these years, but now seems a good moment with Corbyn doing well, for that move for many if they insist that the book that contains significant writing from our leader to be , is denigrated as proof of a fellow member here, being not quite one of us !

    All in one sentence !

  • @Lorenzo thanks. Readers will draw their own conclusions as to Mr Raw”s debating skills and ability to address an argument in its own terms.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Jul '17 - 1:27pm

    @Matthew H. Resuming after all, Matthew, because I profoundly disagree with your statement that the party lline over Brexit just dismissed the views of those who voted to leave. Tim Farron certainly did not, and nor did most of the party activists, as far as I could tell. You seem to be assuming a virtuous position of one in touch with ordinary people’s views who alone could see that they couldn’t immediately accept our policy, and disregarding the close attention that I and many many other activists pay to local people’s needs and wants. What, would you have us cease to mention our policy and then miraculously produce it when we are proved right? A fine way to engender trust that would be – and saying he disagreed with party views didn’t unfortunately (incidentally) sweep Andrew George to victory in St Ives.
    Obviously we have to be sensitive to our local people, producing the sort of locally-vibrant literature that Rebecca is delivering here in Copeland and Andrew used in Cornwall, as I saw. We need to support people through the ruin of Brexit, if it happens, and empower them to join with us in preparing a better future. And our party does need to work on better interaction between the locally-sensitive policies that activists on the ground want to push and the party’s policy-planning system, since our shared values prevent us ever being a top-down party, messy as democracy is.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 19th Jul '17 - 2:05pm

    The thread has highlighted for me much about the party. What began as an op-ed suggesting four things we could do for greater impact has morphed into a debate about history with a fair amount of mud-slinging. My investigations idea has had no traction at all and exploiting our in the House of Lords resources only minimal. ‘Top-down’ is used as a catch-all condemnation of any kind of management on the grounds that it obliterates local, grass-roots opinion — as if the Tories and Labour don’t have to carry out the same balancing act. If anything, I have detected a doctrinal intransigence from the grass roots argument while the alleged ‘top-downers’ are simply offering up new ideas. Katherine Pindar is particularly interesting and I value her contribution. She begins by describing all four suggestions as ‘unhelpful nonsense’ and asks that I read her post about empowering individual — with which I agree. What I have yet to see is half side of paper explaining how to do this. Should Parish Councils have tax raising powers? Do we elect fire chiefs and judges. How much control should there be on implementing individual will? And how is this bundled into one national Liberal Democrat message that makes us more electable? Having read this thread, a friend whom I persuaded to join the Liberal Democrats wrote to me: ‘How do sane voices rise above the general hue and cry? You would need to be the first born son of Sisyphus and King Canute and have the strength of all three musketeers to begin to get this machine thinking differently.

    Is he right?

  • @Katharine Pindar
    OK, let’s reset. I have always listened to your comments with a great deal of respect and value your experience. At the same time, whilst I am new to active politics, I have been selling to and in customer facing roles for over 30 years. I am not new to understanding people. So let me have one last go at trying to get my point across and then I’ll shut up. You can take this hypothetically or you and I can actually go and do it. Take off your LibDem badge. Go down to a medium size town shopping precinct with a clip board. Survey about 30 people across the demographic spectrum. Ask them to sum up in a couple of sentences the Labour Party, the Conservative party and likewise the LibDems. As a final bonus ball question, if you want, you can ask them to give you the thing they are most concerned about in the UK at the moment. I think you’ll get some pretty predictable responses on the first two questions. I think the third might disappoint you. What we are trying to do with ‘a Slogan’, a ‘core message’ a ‘Brand’, an ‘Identity’ whatever you want to call it, is to get that to come out of people’s mouths as a response to that third question. This is the trunk of the tree that all our policies rely on to hold them up and form a coherent message. It is the thing you get people to Identify with, the ‘Yes, that’s me’ thing. It is the thing that David Raw was talking about. Betray it and the tree falls down. Now I’ll shut up.

  • Peter Watson 19th Jul '17 - 2:39pm

    @Humphrey Hawksley “The thread has highlighted for me much about the party. What began as an op-ed suggesting four things we could do for greater impact …”
    Oh alright then, back on topic … 🙂
    Investigating bad practice should be done in a way that avoids simply leading to constant negative campaigning and should highlight characteristic Lib Dem solutions. I think that is difficult until there is more consensus on what form those Lib Dem solutions should take, e.g. more funding for the NHS … but how should it be spent? Also, Coalition means that Lib Dems might share responsibility for some of the things uncovered.
    Deploying the Lords is a two-edged sword: they represent an undemocratic approach that Lib Dems want to reform so it should not appear hypocritical. And if they are not already doing the sorts of things you suggest, what is the point of them?

  • Peter Watson 19th Jul '17 - 2:42pm

    @P. J. “Ask them to sum up in a couple of sentences … the LibDems.”
    Never mind the shopping precinct, asking 30 Lib Dems is likely to be just as problematic!

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Jul '17 - 3:24pm

    Katharine Pindar

    What, would you have us cease to mention our policy and then miraculously produce it when we are proved right?

    No, not at all.

    Yes, Tim Farron did seem to start off showing a good understanding of why so many voted Leave. However, I regret that in general our party did come across as the “party of the 48%”, that is only interested in the votes of those whose voted Remain. I think there was a belief that if we pushed that very hard as our main policy, votes would come flooding our way. And they didn’t, did they?

    I remember arguing about this almost straight after the referendum – finding so many people who were just dismissive of those who voted Leave, perhaps just denouncing them as “racist” rather than showing some understanding. I made the same point several times in the year after that – that we should put more effort into trying to show sympathy with those who voted Leave and persuade them that membership of the EU was not actually the cause of the concerns that led them to do so. I was surprised by how often that point seemed to be dismissed or even attacked.

    The general issue here is that we do now seem to have a lot of people who think the way for our party to succeed is to formulate a set policies and people will come to us over that. Actually, that’s not how it works. Most people vote more according to the general feel they have of the party and its candidate rather than by careful policy analysis.

    In particular, we have to deal with the FPTP electoral system. If we had proportional representation, a party with a set of policies that would attract 10% of the vote from people who put that set above all other things, but little more, could do remain in existence and expect to be in quite a few coalitions. With FPTP, it will never get anywhere, well not unless for some reason there are a significant number of places where most of the population put those policies above all other things. As we can see with the DUP, FPTP only discriminates against small parties whose support is spread out, it doesn’t stop small parties who support is geographically concentrated.

  • @ Lorenzo I forgive you for not noticing the suggestion about joining another party came in the opposite direction first. No need to apologise.

  • @ Humphrey Hawksley

    From your last post it appears you relish disagreement. There were many comments which were supportive and some which picked particular issues as being problematic, but you haven’t addressed them. In fact you have failed to engage with most of the comments made. It appears your position is “accept what I suggest” and if you don’t then you are resistant to new ideas and defensive. As you seem to be suggesting things we as a party have tried in the past, history and the lessons YOU draw from it should be part of this discussion. It is a shame you couldn’t engage more.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 19th Jul '17 - 7:37pm

    Thank you Peter Watson. I imagined the investigations to be more along the lines of what Tom Watson achieved with the phone-hacking scandal. This was a Labour driven initiative that forced the Levinson inquiry and gave him a national profile. You are right to flag up warning about our coalition record, but there is enough around Brexit, nuclear, air pollution, NHS, to start us off. On the Lords, our recommendations were defeated, but they are there for the record. So we can approach it from the bottom up. Peers are parliamentarians and can show the voter how they can directly represent interests. I am not knowledgable enough however to know exactly how it could work in what an MP can do through parliament that a peer cannot. And thanks, again.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Jul '17 - 9:10pm

    Well, there’s no getting away from this one, and having cried over Tim’s 2015 speech, I guess it’s time to laugh, or at least lighten up on here. Thank you, Humphrey, for providing the means of this fascinating debate, even though I couldn’t agree with you! Matthew, I am interested in having liked what you have written many times, especially over Tim in that thread, and yet finding you (forgive me!) a bit dense in this. Of course people decide on feelings rather than rationality, including how everyone in their group is feeling and what the social-media echo-chamber is conveying, but again, why do you assume that only you perceive this? And how is it that you only see Remainers dismissing Leavers’ views, when there was so much viciousness coming from the Leave side AFTER the Referendum, with all that denunciation of the supposed frustration of the will-of-the-people, that Remainers might well feel cowed and defeated? But I have tried too many times on LDV to combat that to go over the same ground. I can only point to the fact that more and more people are regretting Brexit, for good reason, and therefore are now more likely to view us with reluctant sympathy.

    P.J., I am probably going to be told this is too long, but I was looking back to your striking and helpful responses on my own article which I noted down (such as your comment, ‘It is about listening to people, but are we any good at it?’) so I want to follow up your latest, later, please. Similarly Humphrey, I will consider and reply. Bit hungry just now though, and likely to be cut off anyway! Au’voir.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 19th Jul '17 - 10:40pm

    @ Michael G Sorry. Yes. Thank you. I completely support you on ending EU parliament meeting in Strasbourg and Brussels, and would love to see in 300 words, your fuller reform plan. I am still hunting for ideas that can be implemented and I was surprised at the conversation. . I am used to someone coming up with whacky, impossible ideas and others saying, that’s crazy but there’s a germ of something we can work on. I accept now that New Liberals would be too contentious, but have yet to pin point what the messaging should be. So let’s spend no more time on that. But, do we have a team in Europe working on reform? I have no idea. If we so, how is it working? Is it really that stupid to suggest peers hold surgeries? Do they already? If so, how does it work? What impact would it have on the House of Lords if all peers held simultaneous surgeries on one day? Has anyone out there stumbled on something suspicious they can’t get to the bottom of? Have pollution levels in your area suddenly risen? How much coastal erosion might be caused by offshore dredging? Gather the issues, then the Liberal Democrats investigate and confront. That was what I had hoped would unfold. But, the predominant strands have been how our history shows why certain things can’t be done. And would still love to see your EU reform plan.

  • Phil Wainewright 19th Jul '17 - 11:05pm

    Something Bill Le Breton just wrote on another thread about consumers and producers I think is very relevant here.

    Humphrey asks, “‘How do sane voices rise above the general hue and cry?” It’s rather like herding cats, I’m afraid. You see, anyone can call for top-down action – and in a party of independent-minded folk there will be plenty of calls for something else to be done. But it presumes we are all consumers, meekly waiting for a top-down decision from on high about what we should all do.

    None of us actually want to be told what to do. So to really get things done, you have to find a way to galvanise action from the bottom-up. Be a producer, not a consumer – this is the truly modern way of the world.

    An investigative unit is an excellent idea. Why not take it upon yourself, Humphrey, to co-ordinate an informal network of LibDem-minded investigators that offers its services to campaigners in the party? Use this nucleus to prove the idea, and thus win support to expand it. Or set up a pilot in which a peer helps reactivate a moribund local area. Don’t ask what your party should do for you, just go out there and make it happen!

  • @ Humphrey Hawksley

    Looking for the positive rather than the negative is much better. With regard to Europe there is going to be a consultation. I remember being active in EU elections, and being present during EU policy debates but I can’t remember what our vision for the EU was.

    I recently sent an email to my MP and the automated reply contained this sentence, “Please note that Parliamentary rules prevent an MP dealing with cases and enquiries from another MP’s constituents.”

    It is possible that there are Parliamentary rules to prevent a member of the House of Lords dealing with enquires from constituents, I don’t know. I have emailed a few members of the House of Lords and I don’t recall ever getting a reply. Perhaps you need to contact one of our Lords and ask them if there are any rules stopping them taking up case work.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Jul '17 - 10:31am

    P.I., you have really set me thinking, thank you. A long time ago (February last year) I wrote in a piece, ‘It is the image that we convey that will count for most as we try to win back the public’s liking and trust.’ I guess we are agreeing on that, and my argument with you, as with others here, is that, you can’t trap an image in a few words. The Victorians used to try to preserve the beauty of butterflies by killing them and putting them in a case. Later people realised that killed the meaning of the butterflies.

    An image is something we recognise, but if it is alive it is shifting and changing shape all the time, and differently received in different minds. At the time I wrote I thought that we conveyed an image of stability and security. I suppose there is still something in that, because we have consistently and steadily under Tim’s leadership made clear our fundamental commitment to Europe, and have shown unity at a time of such deep and disquieting divisions in the two main parties. I think possibly that image of us transcends that of us being the weak party in the Coalition and not preventing enough harms. The image is latent, and could become fully alive as people realise ours is the only party that foresaw and campaigned against the harms of Brexit, and is still clear and steady on the future we want for our country.
    Well, anyway, that’s my little offering of ideas just now, and I’ll go back to considering the other thoughts posted here lately.

  • @ Katharine Pindar
    ‘It is the image that we convey that will count for most as we try to win back the public’s liking and trust.’
    It’s called branding Katharine – whether you like the term or not 🙂

    “An image is something we recognise, but if it is alive it is shifting and changing shape all the time, and differently received in different minds.”

    which is why a party which is inflexible stuck in heavy process driven procedures, without any clear direction and leadership, does not cut though to it’s potential voters.

    Hence the need for clear messages that resonate emotionally and the policies that support them. Strong leadership, strong direction but the the flexibility built in to change (not on a whim – changing messaging too often is dangerous and leads to confusion), direction quickly when something significant changes.

  • @Katharine Pindar @ MikeS
    I know I said I would shut up but I feel this is on the brink of something very important. Katherine, I’m so pleased that we are back to discussing and not arguing. I really do value your thoughts on the bungling of an amateur. Mike S, if we are even thinking of changing this thing we are talking about then it is not what it needs to be.
    The Labour Party is the party of the working man. If it is ever not this, it is not the Labour party. Tony Blair knew that this would always limit the party as more and more brown collars evolved to blue and white collar workers. So he tried to tinker with the definition of ‘The Working Man’ but he knew he could never abandon the working man because it was the essence of the party. It is still a flaw in the Labour Party and might even see it ultimately split.
    The Conservative Party is the Party of the established order. If you have all your pieces in place or think you will get all your pieces in place to be a winner in this society, you will vote Tory. You do not want the rules of the game changed or the board tipped up. They are currently playing a very dangerous game with brexit but if they pull it off they will be strengthened (Grrr).
    What this party needs to find is that essence that defines what it is and cannot be this party without it. I am more and more convinced that that thing is ‘Social Justice’. This is at the heart of my political beliefs. That is why I am not a Tory or a Labour supporter (although I am a bit closer to their positions). If the LibDems are not this then maybe you old hands can let me know and I’ll move on. I will try to write a piece to show how all our policies are supported by this notion and how it can inspire future policy making. And maybe why we are in such difficulties. ZIP

  • Humphrey Hawksley 20th Jul '17 - 6:35pm

    Thank you Phil Waineright. An investigation with impact would need an MP on board to feed it into parliament, the party press office for maximum exposure and the party leadership to follow it through. Similar management coordination would be needed with the peers, Michael BG. Just working with one peer would have little impact. It would have to be a party initiative. Peers can deal with issues, but not individuals on cases, like visa problems.

  • @ Humphrey Hawksley

    In the article you wrote about Peers having a geographical place and holding regular surgeries, which implies them doing case work for individual constituents, which was the point I was addressing in my last post. However if you are calling for our members of the House of Lords being more involved in our campaigns and finding campaigns I can’t imagine anyone in the party being opposed to it.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Jul '17 - 8:48pm

    Dear Mike, like your extra apostrophes you keep bouncing up again! 🙂 We are not going to disagree over ‘clear messages that resonate emotionally and the policies that support them’, only about marketing mantras, people as producers not consumers, and the supremacy of our members. We will go on amicably disagreeing.

    P.J. (sorry a j became an I last time), by all means campaign for and inspire us on social justice, if that is what strikes you as most central to our image and to our fundamental values of liberty, equality and community. For myself, I need to reflect more on the relationship of image and identity. Could I respectfully though ask you to think further on your definitions of the main parties? I have read some interesting analyses lately of how the Labour Party is now appealing to the educated middle classes, and the Tories to the more rigid inward-looking less educated people, though I can’t put my hand on the relevant papers at this moment.

    Humphrey, you have been patient with my impatience, thank you for being so gracious. Actually I have been asking for some sort of study group linking our most knowledgeable pro-Europeans with (I suppose) ALDE people to consider how we would like the EU to reform ever since I wrote a piece here on the issue, but got no answer when I then wrote to Nick Clegg and to Catherine Bearder about it. So I was glad to hear our new leader saying of course reform is needed – perhaps he will promote such a study group.
    I do like your idea of campaigning on issues, and I hope that can also be furthered.
    Finally to reply to you, on empowering individuals, I think it is more a question of respectful attention to people who may not be used to being listened to, than of electing more people to posts – I remain doubtful about elected police chiefs and mayors as it is. There is always more to think about, certainly.

  • jayne Mansfield 20th Jul '17 - 9:12pm

    @ TCO,
    You say that the Liberal Democrat’s were saddled with a regressive and illiberal tuition fees policy, against it seems the better judgement of Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

    I found the following report interesting and you might too.

    ‘Mid life crisis- are student loan repayments really progressive?’ Gavan Conlon . Maike Halterbeck. (Sorry link not working).

  • There seems to be a perception that the Liberal Party got nowhere before the SDP joined them. Not true. Opinion polls had us at over 50% at one point in the early 1970s under Jeremy Thorpe, and that was not a one-off. Look at the by-election wins. Someone should dig out the data and make it available to younger members (and journalists).

  • It is sad when Lib Dems, like TCO who claim to believe in evidence based policy, blame Conference for the Tuition Fees policy and pretend it wasn’t Nick’s fault, but ignore the fact that Nick made subsequently went even further and made the pledge. It is as if inconvenient facts are just not worthy of comment in their world.

  • Peter Watson 21st Jul '17 - 1:52pm

    @David Evans “blame Conference for the Tuition Fees policy … Nick subsequently went even further and made the pledge.”
    In the years I’ve visited this site, I don’t recall hearing whose idea it was for all of the Lib Dem candidates to sign the NUS pledge in 2010.
    Also, I just came across this LibDemVoice article by Julian Huppert (https://www.libdemvoice.org/julian-huppert-nick-cleggs-visit-to-cambridge-18103.html) in which he writes of Nick Clegg’s visit to Cambridge to promote their signing of the NUS pledge: “Nick gave a very clear statement of party policy – we oppose tuition fees, and aim to scrap them for all first degrees. It was great to hear Nick say clearly that he had always opposed such fees, fitting perfectly with my own views.”.

  • @David Raw “@ Lorenzo I forgive you for not noticing the suggestion about joining another party came in the opposite direction first.”

    I don’t think it did.

    I think I was correct in stating that you’d explicitly supported Jeremy Corbin and his policies. If that is not the case, and I have misinterpreted your position, then please take the opportunity to clarify your position vis-a-vis Corbin.

    I merely wonder what the reaction from you would have been had I said that I support Theresa May and her policies. Which, for the record, I don’t.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Jul '17 - 11:46am

    @TCO “I merely wonder what the reaction from you would have been had I said that I support Theresa May and her policies. Which, for the record, I don’t.”
    I know from previous debates that support grammar schools is an important topic for you, and that is very much a Theresa May policy. But obviously that does not make you a Tory any more than my opposition to grammar schools would make me a socialist.

    Indeed, since all parties represent a collection of views on a range of issues there are probably plenty of Labour and Conservative policies from both wings of those parties that, in isolation, Lib Dems could support. But different Lib Dems would agree with a different collection of policies from the left and right of the political spectrum. For me, that is a problem that must be addressed by any centrist political party, and i think that Lib Dems have lost their way in recent years by failing to identify clearly the part of the political centre ground that they want to occupy.

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