How do the Lib Dems survive a stronger than ever two-party system?

During this General Election campaign I spent my time helping my local party and in the last week, helping in a target seat. It became clear that this election wasn’t a Brexit election but instead a clear battle between Corbyn and May, Red vs Blue.

The policies of the Lib Dems didn’t seem to resonate nationally even though they were clearly sensible and credible, which lead to our party’s vote share declining by 0.5% compared to 2015. From this it’s clear to see that tactical voting damaged the party in nine target seats leading to deposits been lost in the most extreme circumstances. With the two main parties obtaining a collective 82.4% of the vote, higher than any election since 1970, we need to focus on surviving in a two party system now more than ever.

While our vote share did decline, we did however make net gains but also losing some of the party’s best talent like Nick Clegg on the way. The fact that the party could still make gains in such a tough political climate for third parties is a demonstration for future survival. Targeting the right seats with a mass amount of resources from the central party and the nearby local parties shows how, as a party, we can still stand toe-to-toe with the two larger parties.

Moreover the party shouldn’t have got so bogged down with what should be non-issues. Farron constantly being badgered by the media about his LGBTQ stances could have done the damage in places such as Richmond Park where we lost by just 45 votes. A wobbly election campaign paralleled with the Labour vote holding up in target seats was fatal in so many places such as Cambridge. That is another challenge the party will have to deal with if we are to survive through a two party system stronger than it’s been in my lifetime.

In the light of this election result the Lib Dems have to figure out how to carry on opposing the two main parties by carrying our liberal and tolerant values through this politically turbulent time. As a party we should continue to champion issues on the NHS, mental health and Europe as well as make a new and fresh push for a fairer voting system that would see us no longer discriminated against. While opposing our two rivals on key issues we disagree on, we should also seek to reach out to them in areas we can compromise and make deals that put the country firs;, the key area where this should take place is on Brexit. If the voice of 12 outright pro-EU MPs can fight to keep Britain in the single market alongside what’s left of the moderate wing of the Labour Party and the Scottish Nationalist Party, then the Lib Dems can safely say they fought for what they believed in and got a result.

In addition to lacing fresh new ideas with the longstanding liberal beliefs, there’s the task that all parties are fronted with: understanding this new political territory. The young and old are more divided on issues than ever and Brexit was a political earthquake that the country is still reeling from. The Lib Dems need to be pragmatic to do what they can to survive and then thrive. This being my first general election has taught me a lot about how our tenacious party continues to not only survive but grow and, although the result could have gone a lot better sit hows that we will not be squeezed out of the argument on so many of Britain’s key issues.  


* Jack Haines joined the Liberal Democrats in 2015 at the age of 16 and was elected as a Liberal Democrat Councillor in Hull in 2019. He is a campaigner for Lib Dems for Basic Income @LDforBI.

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  • “How do the Lib Dems survive a stronger than ever two-party system?”

    If they carry on like this in the illiberal treatment of Tim Farron, they won’t.

  • By not pandering to those that shout loudest but by listening to those that speak least; the overlooked and disenfranchised.
    We live in volatile times and if parties can not satisfy the electorate they will die.
    Pay attention to the people who vote for you or potentially will and much less to those who never will, you don’t need their approval as much as you need your voters votes.

  • Ruth Coleman-Taylor 15th Jun '17 - 6:43pm

    By working locally to build support for the Party right across the country, not just in the good prospects. That is how we will bring the Liberal Democrat message to people who want a different approach to politics and who want to change the world but haven’t yet found a political philosophy that works for them.

  • Peter Watson 15th Jun '17 - 6:54pm

    “How do the Lib Dems survive a stronger than ever two-party system?”
    Oh, oh, I know the answer to this one!
    Is it: force out the leader, look inwards, and then argue about religious faith and the merits or otherwise of a certain coloured book?
    No, that doesn’t sound right.

  • David Becket 15th Jun '17 - 7:12pm

    At the end of the day it is the press that forced Tim out. Why did they not ask the vicars daughter if she thought gay sex was a sin?

  • Bill le Breton 15th Jun '17 - 7:34pm

    Richmond Park? Do you live there Jack? Did you go there during the campaign? My information was that it was a chronically disorganised local campaign. And I respect the people who told me that. To lose such a seat once is, perhaps, forgivable, but to lose it twice is incompetence and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Leader of the Party.

  • Yellow Submarine 15th Jun '17 - 7:40pm

    It’s a good piece in that it at last asks the right question which almost no one else is doing. In my life time the Two Party system has been slowly but steadily eroding to the extent we’ve come to see it as one of the laws of electoral Physics. As the third party the Lib Dems have always had a clear place in that ecosystem. Even when Clegg destroyed the party in 2015 other smaller parties took up most of the slack and we saw SNP, UKIP and Green surges.

    But all of this has not only been reversed by sharply reversed. The combined two party share in this election campaign is extraordinary. It doesn’t follow it will be a permanent feature but we shouldn’t assume it won’t be.

    As for the authors prescriptions they are just a description of what they party has been doing for nearly 50 years. It’s stopped working post Clegg.

  • 1. Make sure our target seats are still looked after. We can’t afford to slip away from the prize in seats where we could win next time.

    2. Develop a “National Core Vote Campaign” based around three campaigns – one “fair” campaign, one “free” campaign, and one “open” campaign to reflect the society we want to build. Build volunteer teams based around campaigning on these three campaigns.

  • By sticking to liberal values and continually developing evidence based policies (left, right or centre) which help build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, balancing the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

    Futher, putting the good of the people over the party. Too many people in all political parties are tribal, only interested in the party’s future and are happy to shift their beliefs to chase votes.

  • The 2 party system was stronger in the 70s and the Liberal Party survived the period.

    1. Dump the electorally suicidal second referendum demand. Return to parliamentary sovereignty.

    2. Place PR back at the top of the agenda and although there may be some unlikely, and as her unmet bedfellows on this one we will have more friends on it than before.

    3. Carry on bringing good, solid, Liberal policies to the attention of the electorate. Claim them. Nail our name on them as Boris does with bikes and Heinz does with Beans.

    4. Reclaim the LibDems policies stolen from us by the Tories. Then see 3 above.

    5. Stop equating Liberal with soft. Liberalism stops for those who abuse Liberalism.

  • Russell Kent 15th Jun '17 - 10:30pm
  • David Becket for the record the PM was asked and she gave the mandatory pc response.

  • Jane Ann Liston 16th Jun '17 - 12:32am

    A pedant writes: SNP stands for Scottish National Party, not Scottish Nationalist Party. Just thought I should point this out.

  • Leekliberal 16th Jun '17 - 8:49am

    We need new policies on raising tax for​ the NHS. In the most recent copy of the ‘Liberator’ magazine is a variant of land valuation tax that would be paid by non-doms on their properties and could raise around £10 billion. We need to work to work this up and if it is viable start selling it hard to put our stamp on it as an imaginative LIb Dem policy

  • David Rosen – Point 1 Yes, yes, yes. Not a magic bullet but a minimum requirement.

  • Leekliberal – you want new policies on NHS. There are two for you: first, repealing the Health and Social Care Act; second is a more radical plan than Corbyn: abolishing NHS internal market introduced by Thatcher and Co.

  • Geoff Reid – change it to EEA/EFTA

  • In my experience of the party to date, I think we need to make a significant change in the way we organize and be more professional in our approach throughout. That does not mean that we have to reorganize structures and roles, but does mean we should streamline and align our strategy and policy making, planning, communications, candidate selection and campaigning etc. from the Federal to local levels. We have so many capable people, who could be much better deployed if we created and implemented an efficient and effective framework they could work within. BTW the framework does not imply a straight jacket, only a common way of working which we all understand and helps us make the contribution the country so badly needs.

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