How we lost Southport

Gut wrenching horrible was how it felt to be pushed into third place in a seat we have held for the last twenty years but by way of catharsis I would like to tell you good folks what I think happened.It would be good to have other tales of success and failure here.

The election took us as by surprise.Weeks before the Constituency Chair and I had decided that I would announce my retirement from Westminster after what we assumed would be good set of local election results. The snap election forced my hand. But we had ready a great alternative in Sue McGuire ,our council group leader with considerable profile in the town and a real record of action.

The campaign was much better and more high powered than any Southport campaign I have been previously associated with. Lots of help from outside (some incredible shifts put in), bigger canvassing teams, good literature, armies of stuffers, IT & Connect sophistication, bags of help from the national party and two leader’s visits. The pace was unrelenting; the output impressive. Neither the Labour nor the Tory candidate lived in Southport- a fact we sought to exploit. We lobbied at the school gates on education cuts and throughout the town on the dementia tax. Squeezes and switches galore. Other parties campaigns seemed modest in comparison.

What we were not able to discern was any benefit from our national messaging but we did know that if anything was putting people off voting for us, it was invariably something to do with our national rather than our local stance. Many we canvassed intimated that they would stick to us locally while indicating that they had problems voting for us nationally.

The local Labour Party skilfully pursued their strategy of talking up their chances  and campaigned like the Tories against us rather than Theresa May or the Tories (Progressive alliances don’t exist in the North West)

We warned that this would lead to a Tory MP and of course it did.Until polling day, however, we maintained a degree of optimism based on our own usually accurate canvassing.

Polling day disabused us. There was just too much unsettling evidence of people switching and the key driver for this was Corbynmania and the Labour manifesto. When it came to the push people wanted to believe the hopeful illusions on offer and were more fearful of growing social inequality than the perils of a Hard Brexit.

The party chose to fight the election on the terms chosen by the Tories- even though Brexit was brought up puzzlingly little on the doorstep.Labour though offered populist solutions to the problems that really pre-occupied people and even if people did not altogether buy the solutions, they rewarded those who registered their concerns.

I don’t want us to be a nakedly populist party but evidence shows that you don’t defeat populism ever by demonising the populist (Trump and Corbyn both proved that ). To beat populism and stay popular you have to understand and respond to the issues behind it and offer better solutions. Listen more; preach less

General Election 2017 was not a success – more lost deposits , shrinking share of vote, fewer target seats next time- but absolutely the worst thing we can do now is pretend it was.

All the clever campaigning techniques and marketing sophistication in the world is as nothing unless you have a compelling social message and the policies to deliver it. We lost in Southport not because we’d forgotten how to campaign or even because of the genius of our opponents but because the party did not have a clear enough national message that connected emotionally and personally with the local electorate and in a quasi- presidential election in 2017 that mattered.


* John Pugh was Liberal Democrat MP for Southport until 2017 and was elected as a Councillor for the Dukes ward of Sefton Borough Council on 2 November 2017.

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  • This has, of course, a much wider relevance than how we lost Southport. Thank you John.

  • Readers of this article would be well advised to read this brilliant exposition of the Brexit Problem by your own Dr Mark Wright:

    The conclusion particularly would appear to be quite an accurate prophecy given it was written a year ago and what has unfolded since.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Jun '17 - 12:41pm

    I know three people who voted Lib Dem in Southport who are voting Labour next time because the Lib Dems came third and they don’t see the point in a tactical vote for them now.

    I thought the Southpout campaign against the dementia tax with the wrap-around newspaper ads was very good. There are lots of old people in Southport. However in other areas it seemed similar to the Labour campaign but with “Labour can’t win here” added. I can’t remember any criticisms of Labour in the campaign. Maybe there was one leaflet but I forgot it.

    I can’t criticise much anyway because I’m only a commenter and voter. I’m just giving my impressions of the communications. I think John Pugh is right when he said at the count to a newspaper that “The EU is not at the top of most voters concerns in Southport”.

    Thanks for the hard work.

  • Ww kept saying this was a General Election not a Referendum. Southport proved the point.

  • “Neither the Labour nor the Tory candidate lived in Southport- a fact we sought to exploit”.

    Very liberal, not ?

    Interesting that Labour did well on inequality, poverty, public services, welfare etc., and the Lib Dems did well on …….. what ?

  • Dave Orbison 12th Jun '17 - 12:59pm

    I hope the LibDem leadership and some on LDV take on board what John Pugh has said.

    Some of us here have steadfastly appealed for the vilification of Corbyn to stop. I did my share in making such appeals, why? Because I think it is gutter politics certainly but more so because a negative campaign will often underperform when compared to those offering a better future and because it confused voters. The policies highs identified by John Pugh were ones broadly shared with Labour.

    So when the LibDem leadership attacks Corbyn it introduces an element of doubt as to the LibDems position.

    For two years some here have had many laughs at Corbyn’s expense. Vilification, mocking him and dismissing him out of hand. Not so the people of Southport and elsewhere. Perhaps those on here who arrogantly and complacently dismissed Corbyn should be the first to admit some responsibility in the LibDems misfortunes though I somehow doubt this will happen.

  • David Becket 12th Jun '17 - 1:05pm

    Thanks John. I hope our leader and policy makers are hearing this, nationally it was a rubbish campaign ( avoid the obvious four letter word). The worst I have seen in 25 years of campaigning.
    The Brexit message should have been how to make Brexit work. Nobody wants a second referendum, look what happened in Scotland.

    There was no promotion of Liberal values or how they can tackle the many problems we face. We had a bit on health from Norman, but that was about it.

    Tim was quicker to attack others than he was to promote our policies, and his ambition to replace the Labour Party as the opposition made him look laughing stock. (8MPs, 8% in the polls, come off it). Too many attacking sound bites.
    We have to tackle Tuition Fees if we are going to get the youth vote, even if initially we only promise a review. Our leader needs to show more gravitas, and if he cannot he has to go.
    We missed an opportunity that Corbyn grabbed, and we may not get a second chance.
    This parliament is unlikely to last, and we must be ready now. We can start with a clear out of advisors and policy makers.

  • adrian sanders 12th Jun '17 - 1:07pm

    “Other parties campaigns seemed modest in comparison.” How sure are you of that? The under the radar campaign the Tories ran against us in 2015 that we uncovered afterwards had involved tens of thousands of pounds of targeted direct mail, social media and advertising, all accounted for nationally rather than locally. This was repeated in 2017. One voter reported 5 items of literature from the Tories in the final week. Two letters from the PM, one from the candidate, a newsletter and freepost election address, against our freepost address. Many of our members reported not receiving anything at all from the Toreis – tageting at work I would suggest. I’d do some digging to see if this time Southport, Leeds NW and Tim’s seat got what worked so well for the Tories in the South West in 2015 and again in 2017. We need a complete rethink about our campaigning in national elections.

  • Chris Bertram 12th Jun '17 - 1:07pm

    Here in Birmingham Hall Green we made much of the fact that the Labour candidate and former MP, and the Tory candidate both lived some way distant from here. It made no difference whatsoever. I think we have to conclude that local residence or not is *way* down voters’ list of concerns when it comes to choosing an MP, and that if we’re putting it near the top of our reasons to be elected then we’re focusing on the wrong things.

  • Andrew Toye 12th Jun '17 - 1:15pm

    So, Corbyn’s apparent “dithering” during the Referendum turned out to be a shrewd political calculation, enabling Labour to win over both Remainers and Leavers, taking the majoruty of the ex-UKIP vote. Perhaps we can learn from this?

    Be Remainers not Remoaners – highlight the difficulties ahead with Brexit but accept the referendum result and move on. The only way to win back in places like the South West (where we came third overall).

  • Graham Jeffs 12th Jun '17 - 1:21pm

    The party has to come up with a pithy image with which the electorate can identify. To them, what are we? We need a snappy positive answer/vision!

  • They did a bad job and now blame the leadership. If only the party had supported Brexit, etc, etc. Eastbourne is a very similar constituency to Southport. Yet Stephen Lloyd won, the Tories lost, and Labour came nowhere. Answers, please.

    An article on how we won Bath and OXWAB might be more enlightening.

  • paul barker 12th Jun '17 - 1:27pm

    Theres an emerging consensus for a Soft Brexit & we should join that but it doesnt give anyone a reason to vote for us. Our slogan should be simply Stop Brexit. That will gain momentum as The Economy tanks.
    Agreed, we need another policy for Voters who dont want to hear about Brexit, I am open as to what that might be but it needs to be Free. We cant compete with Labour by offering Goody Bags for £1 when they are handing them out for nothing.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Jun '17 - 1:36pm

    Mike S as usual offers intelligent comments and points to Mark Wright , the sort of person in this party who should be at the front more , who understands mush gets us nowhere and robust gets support.

    John Pugh is correct on populism , his antidote , do not bash the populist, good if, as he seems to think, you have a popular alternative, which we did but did not show.

    It is high time that our politics became the politics of the popular to match the politics of the populist. May is finding out that the politics of the unpopular is to meet potential success with actual disaster.

    If our policies had been promoted well and clearly about the important things, we might have done well.

    I understand Simon above, we could criticise Labour if we had a positive message too.

    Tim has been much too negative for a lengthy time. Everything is couched in words like “heartless ” which works if you have a real alternative you put in likeable ways to the electorate.Tim failed terribly in his Andrew Neil programme because he has gt too set in a attack dog style. He succeeded well in his audience with the public with Nick Robinson because he was warm and more positive and listened better.

    We do not need a new leader now, we need a new attitude.

    But those who think we should only criticise the Tories are in cloud cuckoo land . We need to be measured and forensic and constructive in criticism of everything that is humbug.

    We need to be positive in everything we offer and far more professional in how we offer it.

  • You might have hoped that the Party had learnt the lessons from the AV referendum, campaigning for something you don’t actually want, but no, instead we had the promise of another referendum, which has a superficial appeal but is based on thinking the party is where it was in 2009, not in 2017.

    Then we have the people saying we must challenge the populist and attack Labour more – with no idea how this is to be done or by whom or indeed what it means or why.

    The reality is the party is broadly no further forward than in 2015. The party campaigns on candidates and local issues and tactical voting, as John Pugh says “All the clever campaigning techniques and marketing sophistication in the world is as nothing unless you have a compelling social message and the policies to deliver it” You’d have thought we’d have learnt that in 2015, when another million leaflets in a seat would have made no difference. Look how the Tories gained seats in Scotland, look how the SNP swept to power, it wasn’t by focus leaflets, burnt out activists and fighting on their opponents ground.

    The people who can’t accept that the coalition was a disaster for a party still seem to be running the show. They give the impression of having no vision on policy and no electoral strategy except keep slogging away until the electorate realise they were wrong.

    Politics is like walking up the down escalator – we are just one step up from like UKIP, being thrown of the escalator for good if we continue with business as usual. That’s not a call for a new leader, but for new thinking, new policies, new strategies aimed at getting the party back into government.

  • I welcome /am indebted for all comments/advice and hope to find out from other constituencies the secrets of success and reasons for failure. Eastbourne for example is not on the edge of the Merseyside City Region. Did Labour there campaign vigorously and almost exclusively against the Lib Dems ? The Tories in Southport put up very few posterboards so that it looked visually as you drove around that the contest was between Labour and the Lib Dems – was this genius or accidental cock up. People suggest that Labour should have been attacked more but in a seat where you are hoping for a tactical vote in your favour would that do the trick ? Post hoc wisdom is a great thing and I welcomed the advice some commentators on this site offered during the campaign but I can recall no-one saying at the time we must attack Labour more and indeed Tim in his last comments before the election called for Labour voters to join us in ousting the Tories which is a hard ask if you are verbally pummelling their party of choice. Labour voters were very clearly advised by us that Voting Red Gets Blue and so it happened.

  • Andy Canning 12th Jun '17 - 2:14pm

    I’ve always thought that Tim was at his best delivering speeches so why didn’t he have more of them? Especially if we could have generated a decent enthusiastic crowd as Corbyn did it would have made better TV. I think too many in the party only think of the quantity of visits rather than the quality of them – and especially how they look on TV, which should be the priority.

    Also, I feel that somebody should have been telling Tim to speak more slowly. Even when he made a good point in an interview he never stopped to let the point sink home with the audience before moving on to the next thing. This makes it very difficult for the TV audience to have any memory of the points Tim was making.

    Finally, I feel that our campaign simply lacked traction with the voters. Once this became clear by the mid-way point we should have been looking to change course or do something dramatic but we seemed stuck just making the same points that nobody was listening too.

  • Lib Dem target seats if an election is called before boundary changes
    Rank Seat Region Majority Swing Needed

    1. Fife North East Scotland 2 0.00%
    2. Richmond Park London 45 0.04%
    3. Ceredigion Wales 104 0.13%
    4. St Ives South West 312 0.30%
    5. Sheffield Hallam Yorkshire and the Humber 2,125 1.86%
    6. Cheltenham South West 2,569 2.25%
    7. Devon North South West 4,332 3.89%
    8. Cheadle North West 4,507 4.13%
    9. Leeds North West Yorkshire and the Humber 4,224 4.56%
    10. Lewes South East 5,508 5.08%
    11. St Albans East of England 6,109 5.36%
    12. Southport North West 5,880 6.18%
    13. Wells South West 7,582 6.23%
    14. Hazel Grove North West 5,514 6.25%
    15. Cornwall North South West 7,200 7.07%
    16. Winchester South East 9,999 8.75%
    17. Ross, Skye and Lochaber Scotland 7,438 9.67%
    18. Brecon and Radnorshire Wales 8,038 9.72%

    beyond that you are into seats with 5 figure majorities
    to get to where we were in 2005 would mean winning seats such as:

    41. Romsey and Southampton North South East 18,006 17.95%
    42. Cornwall South East South West 19,147 17.99%
    43. Somerton and Frome South West 22,906 18.01%
    44. Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Scotland 14,565 18.26%
    45. Woking South East 20,192 18.27%
    46. Colchester East of England 15,478 18.30%
    47. Vauxhall London 20,250 18.40%
    48. Devon West and Torridge South West 23,086 19.41%
    49. Birmingham Yardley West Midlands 17,414 19.57%
    50. Bosworth East Midlands 22,120 19.69%

  • I think where Labour were not distant we did badly. Labour beat us everywhere. Compare the Labour vote in Eastbourne and Southport. It would have been much easier to get Labour tactical votes in Eastbourne. I suspect the seat will be comfortably red next time.

  • David Konyot 12th Jun '17 - 2:47pm

    The main problem is we had no clear policies, or we didn’t get them across , everyone knew what The Tories and the Labour party stood for , We seemed to be dithering , I know that many liberal candidates have excellent local records and they need stressing but we also need to reiterate Liberal values and send a clear united message nationally

  • An interesting and honest piece. I am interested in the canvassing you did. Was the Labour surge picked up on? What % of the constituency was canvassed. I think you won every council seat at the last set of local elections. Was this on the back of intensive leafleting or face to face canvassing? And of course the elephant in the room question. What do you do now? How do you get 2nd or 1st place again?

  • Peter Watson 12th Jun '17 - 2:54pm

    “Brexit was brought up puzzlingly little on the doorstep”
    This was in Lancashire in the North West.
    Down in the South West in Cornwall in May on Radio 4 Paddy Ashdown said that after 1000 doorsteps, Brexit had only come up a couple of times and then added that everyone understands Brexit is going to happen.
    Heading East to Norfolk, Norman Lamb said Brexit doesn’t come up on the doorstep very much and the majority of people don’t mention it at all.
    Further North in Scotland the main opposition was as opposed to Brexit at least as much as the Lib Dems, so there was no unique selling point on that issue.

    Yet the national campaign banged on and on and on about Brexit.

    Do people in your party not talk to each other?

  • @ S. Shaw. “Perhaps you would care to explain how you think Labour did well ? “………… well, if it wasn’t on the issues I mentioned…….perhaps you could tell us what it was, or do you maintain that they didn’t do well ?

    Don’t you think that for Labour (with the dreadful Corbyn lurking under every bed) to quadruple their vote since 2010 amongst the leafy and well trimmed hedges of Southport does rather fill the definition of doing well….. in fact very well ?

    Being on the receiving end of it as a local Councillor, you are surely well qualified and well positioned to tell us why it happened instead of asking your usual socratic questions.

  • paul holmes 12th Jun '17 - 3:37pm

    For a year ‘we’ banged on and on about opposing the outcome of the 2016 Referendum (but accepting the outcome of the Scottish Independence Referendum because we liked that one). The strategy was based on a belief that Remain voters would abandon their normal allegiances and flock to our banner.

    The reality was twofold. Firstly it shovelled many of our supporters into voting elsewhere. Secondly it made us irrelevant to the GE when it came because the voters had moved on to wider issues where we said little or nothing until it was too late (I did like a lot of what was in our Manifesto).

    Did we very narrowly fail to gain St Ives because it was in a now ‘unfashionable’ Leave area of the country and so lacked central Party support? If a fraction of the resources lavished on St Albans or Vauxhall (started well behind but voted Remain so would be ripe for dropping into our laps so the theory went) had gone to St Ives would we have another MP now? Even if it was the ‘wrong kind of MP’ elected by the ‘wrong kind of voters’ in a non Core Vote/non Remain area? Our Strategic direction of the last year needs some serious re examining because like the ‘Liberal Conservative’ and ‘Party of In’ strategies it seems to have been based on wishful thinking.

  • John Pugh wrote:

    “Eastbourne for example is not on the edge of the Merseyside City Region.”

    Is the point you are making that Labour had a lot of spare activists, or that the mere presence of Labour strongholds not far away influenced voting? The Regional Mayor election in May probably saw a lot of usual Lib Dem voters in Southport voting Labour, a kind of softening up exercise, if you like. It is very difficult to know how to fight these regional type contests.

    “The Tories in Southport put up very few posterboards so that it looked visually as you drove around that the contest was between Labour and the Lib Dems – was this genius or accidental cock up.”

    There were plenty of Tory posterboards in Eastbourne, but they were mainly in the strongly Tory parts of the constituency. In the strongly Lib Dem areas they were very conspicuously absent. In Carshalton & Wallington I saw only one Tory posterboard. Was that by design or sheer bone idleness? I have not a clue.

    Caratacus wrote:

    “beyond that you are into seats with 5 figure majorities
    to get to where we were in 2005 would mean winning seats such as:”

    Labour won Canterbury last Thursday, where they have one councillor. The Labour share increased by 20.5%. A bit more of a challenge for Labour than Bosworth is for us.

  • David Evershed 12th Jun '17 - 3:42pm

    John Pugh “…… the party did not have a clear enough national message that connected emotionally and personally with the local electorate and in a quasi- presidential election in 2017 that mattered.”


  • Paul Holmes wrote:

    “Did we very narrowly fail to gain St Ives because it was in a now ‘unfashionable’ Leave area of the country and so lacked central Party support?”

    Tell me how one gets outside help to St Ives. It is a long, long way.

    I agree that targeting Vauxhall was ridiculous and said so from the beginning. But St Albans was a success story. We finished a strong second ahead of the former Labour MP.

    Your line of argument seems to be that we should go along with positions favoured by the newspapers (like Brexit) even when we know that they are disastrously wrong. The Iraq War comes to mind.

  • Tony Baines 12th Jun '17 - 4:16pm

    We have to get a domestic policy area that is perceived as ours. We need to understand it and champion it. Education used to be our thing before tuition fees. It could be something in health perhaps. People need to understand that we get some of their everyday concerns and have expert, thought out policies to deal with them. Brexit, refugees etc are ok, but they don’t get to the heart of what matters in daily life to most people.

  • I didn’t expect us to hold Southport once John had announced he was not standing, however he points out what needs to change:

    Stop attacking Corbyn
    Have policies that deal with the problems of the nation / people and communicate them nationally (did may people know that according to Oxford Economics our policies would grow the economy 1% more than Labour and 1.9% than the Conservatives?)
    Stop going on about the EU.

    I would add stop giving the impression that we want no restrictions on migration and come up with an immigration policy that restricts immigration a lot, while ensuring the NHS and Social Care have the people they need. Look at the Tory solution of charging companies when they employ people from outside the UK. Look at using this money to train UK people to do that job in the future.

    It appears that Labour managed to get between a quarter and half of the UKIP vote.
    We need to be a realistic choice for people who voted for Labour (for hope) so we can successful squeeze the Labour vote.

    @ Caractus

    Thank you for the list. I assume you are not using Lib Dem regions (no South Central or Western Counties). Is the full list available online? If so, please post a link.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Jun '17 - 4:29pm

    Caracatus, that’s a great list. Certainly everywhere requiring a below 5% swing needs to be a target next time. So we need to be polling about 12%, not 7%. Very crudely. 10% should have been the minimum expected this time, given the circumstances.

  • Tony Dawson 12th Jun '17 - 4:53pm

    @Simon Shaw:

    “…. there were few, if any, criticisms of Labour in our national campaign, and I certainly feel that is a lesson for the future. I am sure a lot of Lib Dems assumed that few would be tempted to vote for Corbyn so there was little need to point out the serious problems with his policies. Unfortunately unprincipled populists, whether or left or right, do gain votes if unchallenged and we mustn’t make the same mistake again.”

    I think that Simon is both right and wrong at the same time. Lib Dems cannot succeed when they can only score 4 percent among ‘non-conservatives’ in most of the country – so have to be able to identify and exploit weaknesses in the main competitor for this vote. You cannot, however, ever be effective at ‘knocking’ someone who is putting themselves out as representing the legitimate wails of the ordinary people unless the particular audience to whom you are preaching believe, BEFORE you try bidding for their vote ,that you genuinely identify with their concerns (ie ‘gut’ rather than ‘head’) at both national party and candidate level. This is true whether or not the opponent you would like to ‘knock’ can add up or is being honest about what they would actually do or be able to do.

  • I don’t think we should abandon our commitment to free movement just because we’d like a slice of the anti-immigrant pie. What we do need to do is find a way to win the argument on free movement so that it becomes a vote winner not a vote loser.

  • I worked in Leeds NW and frankly I don’t know what we could have done differently in 6 weeks that would have made a difference. We lost the election in the final few weeks as lefty liberal deserted us for Labour. Our message to Labour voters was simply not that appealing.
    However there are lessons I think we need to learn. One thing that was evident was that Labour put much, much more emphasis on canvassing to delivering leaflets. They hadn’t delivered a leaflet in the constituency for the six month prior to the election. They clearly had canvassed a lot. In the election they had a much bigger team than us. It is clear through their doorknocking they had recruited a massive team that was able to doorknock the entire constituency repeatedly. It also enabled them to make sure they got their vote out (There vote went up by 6k, ours went up by 250).
    We’ve become a leaflet delivery cult and just delivering leaflet after leaflet will not work. We need to get on the doorstep to expand our team and change hearts and minds. Anyone, who lost, who is thinking of doing a Thank You Focus needs their head examining.
    Secondly, the traditional social networks of residents assocs, allotment groups etc which we’ve worked to death are changing and adapting. These networks exist but are at least partially online. We need to do local campaigning in these online spaces. Figuring out how we do this is a massive challenge.
    The world has moved on and we do to. Campaigns in the future will not be won with monthly focus. They will be won with huge amounts of canvassing, targetted letters and online .
    PS I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do leaflets – they obviously take us part of the way there. But 1. They are not as effective as they were 10 years ago and 2. Given the choice between getting a few rounds of leaflets out and canvassing we need to do the latter.

  • Worth noting that the first 20 or so seats on caractus’s list have been and really should still be liberal … so many narrow misses on home territory doesn’t seem accidental, something didn’t work.
    Here in Wales, not sure that tim was really seen as a credible leader (cheeky chappu maybe, but a PM?) and as I said obliquely maybe yesterday, a real struggle to find a usp. In a nutshell, can recall us being for a second referendum on the EU, denying a second referendum to Scotland, and putting up taxes ?

    Don’t think this comments box supports emojis but if it does, have just placed the ‘eek!’ One here …… @#*

  • Rob – yes, to everything you say above.
    In small retail you can blow as much effort and cash in leafleting as you like, it’s only by talking to customers that you can help them and make a sale. Not sure leaflets can even help get potential customers in the door, social media can, but is not a panacea either. Ultimately the product needs to be attractive enough and distinct enough to persuade folk to commit.
    Not sure politics is much different.

  • I don’t think we should vilify May or Corbyn. neither should we rush to their defence. I’m quite happy for events to judge them and the public to form a view.

  • Dave Orbison 12th Jun '17 - 6:13pm

    Simon Shaw – “I think Eddie is correct in observing that there were few, if any, criticisms of Labour in our national campaign, and I certainly feel that is a lesson for the future.”

    To suggest that Tim Farron did not attack Labour and that was somehow the problem as silly as its untrue. The negative LibDem campaign referenced by several here was part of the problem – it is not the solution. Many, not least yourself made repeated personal attacks of Corbyn during the last two years and during the election campaign.

    This sneering or mocking and dismissive attitude towards Corbyn was reflected far too many times by Tim Farron. Coming from Southport Simon perhaps you would be better able to figure out why the LibDems came from 1st to 3rd, especially with Corbyn as leader – a man you have no regard for whatsoever.

    I looked back through some previous comments of yours and found:

    Simon Shaw 23/8/16 – “As for “people identify with him” [Corbyn] clearly 15% or 20% of the population do, and that amounts to many millions of people. The problem is that 15% or 20% (or even 30%, for that matter) doesn’t win you a General Election. But as we all know, “Corbyn and his backers aren’t particularly interested in that.

    The difference is that we don’t pretend that we could replace the Conservatives as the government at the next general election. In contrast the Labour Party do, although with rather too much emphasis on the “pretend” under Corbyn.”

    Well it turned out to be 40% a wide of the mark. When looking as to why Southport lost perhaps the answer is nearer to home than you realise.

  • Chris Rennard 12th Jun '17 - 6:34pm

    John writes a very compelling tale of what happened in a seat I know well. I helped Ronnie to win it back in 1997 (having lost it in 1992 because of an increased Labour vote) and helped John to retain the seat in 2001 when Ronnie stood down.

    Our prospects in Southport have often depended at least in part on our ability to squeeze the Labour vote. The rise in Labour’s national appeal in recent weeks hit us particularly hard in areas like Merseyside. It gave Labour more credibility in the constituency
    than previously, especially after the Liverpool City Region Mayoral election in which Labour did well in Southport. It was still not possible for Labour to win, even with the recent surge, but they did cost us the seat and pushed us into third place this time.

    Winning it back will depend upon what we now do locally and nationally to support an excellent candidate in Sue McGuire and how we broaden our appeal beyond the 7.4% that we polled nationally last week.

  • @ Dave Orbison
    “As for “people identify with him” [Corbyn] clearly 15% or 20% of the population do, and that amounts to many millions of people. The problem is that 15% or 20% (or even 30%, for that matter) doesn’t win you a General Election.

    If anyone wants to know why Corbyn’s rally’s worked so well, why he is accelerating fast now and why that line bent the way it did in the final few weeks, you need only google:
    “the law of diffusion of innovation”
    It’s a marketing term. It works for any product, in any industry in any country and it’s crucial to understanding WHY that initial 15-20% of people who “believed what he believed” is so important. It’s called the tipping point.

    Once you get enough true believers to 15-18% market share, then the system tips and penetration into the “early majority” starts to accelerate, as long as you have identified clearly WHY you are doing what you are doing & you have “buy in” from that 15-18% (an emotional response to your offering if you like).

    It explains why the tories failed (no buy in, no emotional response, no further acceleration into their ‘early majority’, and it above all explain why the Lib Dem’s need to get to 15-18% market share before anything significant will happen and why they need to sell an emotional message which resonates with enough people.

    Everyone who is and activist, everyone who has knocked on a door, everyone who has spoken to a member of the public will have a piece of the jigsaw which will give the Lib Dems what they need. There are thousands of you!!

    Peter Watson asked earlier in this post “Do people in your party not talk to each other?”
    What I’d like to know is – so now instead of all the guess work, the scratching around for ideas of what worked, what didn’t, what will give a distinctive message going forward which will illicit the emotional response:

    *What channels of communication exist/re being put in place to assemble all the pieces of this jigsaw* at Local then Regional then National level, to see what the picture actually is and the patterns actually are, rather than (yet again) people form within the party banging their drums.
    If you want to resonate with the electorate, you have to assemble THEIR picture, not yours!!!!
    First rule of sales, you will not sell any product if there is:
    a) not a need, b) it doesn’t illicit an emotional response and c) you don’t speak the language of the people you are selling to.

  • Andrew McCaig 12th Jun '17 - 6:43pm

    Well, these would be my priorities:
    1) stay in the Single Market. That will mean as much Freedom of Movement as Switzerland has agreed. Labour are continuing to pretend they can have their cake and eat it on Europe. Most of their voters have been conned on this. If we throw away our central position on Europe in an attempt to win back Southport I am afraid we will lose all the English seats we just gained without getting any back
    2) A graduate tax to pay for universities. We need a defensible position on student fees ASAP
    Vince Cable supposedly wanted this in 2010. It is much fairer and more progressive than Labour policy and importantly does not create debt!
    3) Green policies! With the Green Party sidelined we have the credentials here!
    4) a policy on schools that matches Labour and does not allow them to say we will cut them
    5) stick with the 1p on tax for the NHS
    6) pay for elderly health care from inheritance tax and stop calling it “social care” as if it was somehow optional
    7) invest in regional railways before HS2…

  • Andrew McCaig 12th Jun '17 - 6:56pm

    We also have to recognise we are not starting from 7.4% anywhere in the north of England. I am in Kirklees, where we delivered high quality free post to every voter and a newspaper in target wards. In Huddersfield constituency that was as much as Labour or the Tories did. But still we fell from 5.8 to 2.2%. That is our base vote now in vaste swathes of this country, and we are not so low because we want another referendum (30% want that) but because we are seen as irrelevant. This is largely because the media love the adversarial Presidential system..

    The first thing we should be doing is saying it is NOT ok for the BBC to put one Labour MP, one Tory MP, one Tory blogger and one Labour blogger on Question Time or Any Questions. We are the 3rd national policy, SNP should only be on if the programme is in Scotland, Plaid only if it is in Wales, UKIP never and the Greens if it comes from Brighton..

  • David Allen 12th Jun '17 - 7:09pm

    What everybody misses is that alongside Labour gaining 9%, the Tories gained 6%. A huge swing against smaller parties, who all – except Plaid – lost ground. Why (for example) did the Greens lose ground, despite better leadership than in 2015, despite Trump and the climate making headline news? I think the derisive attitude of the media to almost all smaller parties – especially TV – had a huge, unacknowledged influence.

    The exception proves the rule. Just one minority party leader – Leanne Wood – did get much more TV publicity than her local opponents. Plaid gained. All other minority parties fell back.

    Look also at our own vote. Rising in many target seats, dropping everywhere else. Why so? In my view, because in a target seat, we can “make the weather”, and bombard voters with publicity, to the point that the “afterthought” TV coverage of our party doesn’t so much matter. Outside target seats, the constant drip-drip of “and by the way, here’s a Lib Dem knocking a door” on TV had a corrosive effect on our vote.

    We need to recognise that the 15% gain by the Labservatives is a scandal, and that it woz the telly wot wun it!

  • Joseph Bourke 12th Jun '17 - 7:39pm

    Thanks for this article, John.

    No easy answers here. in my adjoining borough of Richmond and Twickenham where its a straight contest between Libdems and Conservatives, Vince Cable sailed back-in while Sarah Olney was narrowly beat despite a strong local campaign.

    Here in Brentford and Isleworth as well as in Ealing Central and Acton, two Labour/Tory marginals, Labour out-polled conservatives even in formerly strong conservative wards, with the Libdem vote being heavily squeezed by tactical voting.

    I do feel that we need to grab hold of a key inequality issue and own it.. For me, this would be housing and the unique Libdem offering would be Land Value Tax and it’s ability to bring development land onto the market. Combined with the manifesto proposals for a National Housing Federation to commission housing developments, I think this could give us a real solution based around inter-generational fairness.

  • Daniel Russell 12th Jun '17 - 9:14pm

    I also think some attention should be given to Tim’s leadership. He’s a great campaigner but doesn’t have popular appeal. Furthermore his handling of the ‘gay sex is a sin’ question was farcical and sucked all the oxygen out of the campaign right at the start. I got tired of defending him on social media, people just don’t get the nuance of his position and it cost us. I’m not prepared to waste so much time trying to defend it again.

  • Tony Dawson 12th Jun '17 - 9:48pm

    I agree with Simon that Jeremy Corbyn would make a poor Prime Minister. Not that he could be much worse than the present one!

    But where I differ is with Simon apparently thinking that there would be much use in the national leadership of the country’s fourth/fifth political party dissecting the policies of the Labour Party as if such action was ever going to affect the voting of a group of people who are almost entirely voting with their gut rather than their head as much AGAINST every thing Theresa May stands for as for the expensive ‘goodies’ in Jeremy Corbyn’s basket. If you are not trusted already and/or considered relevant by much of the electorate then if you expect to gain any penetration with the electorate I would suggest a rest cure.

  • @ Rob

    My understanding is that for us leaflets change minds and canvassing finds supporters. Canvassing is not the place to change minds. However it can firm up support. I expect some people will vote for us, not because of a long discussion on the doorstep but because we turned up on the doorstep and spoke to them. Therefore canvassing alone is not likely to work for us.

    @ Andrew McCaig

    Your priorities are interesting.

    I would love to stay in the EU, second choice in the Single Market, it still seems unlikely we can stay in the single market as it includes the free movement of people, this is why I like the idea of a second referendum on the deal which will be worse that membership of the single market and staying in. However it must never be our main selling point, just part of the package.

    The Browne report criticised a graduate tax. There are likely to be other problems. If a 5p increase on Income Tax for people earning more than £80,000 only brings in about £6.4 billion what sort of rate is needed for a graduate tax? Corporation Tax seems to raise about £3.6 billion for every 1p of increase according to our figures. So I am suggesting 5p on Income Tax above £80,000 and 2% on Corporation Tax.

    My next priority would be money for schools, the NHS and social care, the issue is how to pay for it – a penny on Income Tax, which means another one for those earning over £80,000 but according to us would generate £6.3 billion. Labour costed their money for schools at £6.3 billion so that means another 1p on Income Tax.

    Of course we should keep our green policies. I am not bothered by HS2.

  • Katharine Pindar 12th Jun '17 - 9:49pm

    Let’s not forget that it was the Tories who fought a spectacularly bad campaign, not us, and we were squeezed because of the national media-led concentration on the drama of the two major parties with such utterly contrasting leaders. That’s said, it’s true that we hadn’t the ‘compelling social message’ or for that matter economic message, and, for me, Andrew McCaig’s useful list of policies we should campaign on rather shows our wide-ranging sympathies and tendency not to produce the one distinctive message with emotional appeal that Mike S. says we need (Hi, Mike! Good to see you repeating that important marketing message again!)
    Yet we could focus and probably should have done on driving home what we meant by a ‘soft Brexit’, the difference that staying in the Single Market means for businesses, jobs, and everybody’s standard of living, and how much we need continued EU immigration, such as the nurses who are no longer applying to work here. We needed more detail there, and also on the opportunities young people should have in the EU, so as not to lose so much of the Remain vote and the youth vote to Labour. We should still assert ourselves as the party which is most closely concerned with our vital EU links, and insist on the relevance of our voice in the negotiations now.

    Small extra points – surely we do canvass a lot and recognise its value, but it’s difficult to get members to do it between elections. In this election I did manage to canvass a couple of evenings in St Ives, coming from Cumbria, and greatly enjoyed being out with Andrew George and his team – well done, Andrew, and please stay on if there is another election any time soon!

  • Little Jackie Paper 12th Jun '17 - 10:03pm

    Katharine Pindar – A word of caution. Some people are getting carried away with the idea that the Conservatives are a disaster at the moment. They just increased their vote share, got a decent swing to them and at 42% of the vote are at levels they were at in the early 1980s. It was movement elsewhere that worked against them. Swings and roundabouts of course – Ed M in many ways got a decent result in 2010 on its own terms, just other factors worked against him.

    From an LDP perspective Corbyn obviously doesn’t fancy asking the voters again on leaving the EU.

    I fully respect Jeremy Corbyn for appearing to reach people who have not voted in the past – everyone should learn from that. But in truth I have to ask how far all he’s done is walk onto ground other parties have abandoned. Are either CON or LDP really offering the young anything?

    It is hard to say what happens next. But looking more deeply at the numbers I’m not sure yet that I’m totally buying the idea that the Conservatives are doomed.

  • Dave Orbison 12th Jun '17 - 10:41pm

    Simon Shaw I am surprised you don’t accept Tim Farron made attacks on Corbyn. It is implicit in John Pugh’s article. On LDV Tim Farron made a submission disgracefully attacking Corbyn comments after the recent terrorist atrocities for which Tim Farron was widely condemned on LDV .

    Tim Farron made numerous attacks on Corbyn. It is simply a fact. It was unnecessary and I and others consistently challenged this, imploring him to focus on policy.

    As for Liverpool in the 1980’s. My family are from Liverpool and I lived close by. I remember the Liberal dominance of the city in the 70’s. Whatever the issues of the 80’s to which you refer, over 30 years ago, the city now has 80 Labour and just 4 LibDem councillors. If the people of Liverpool have moved on perhaps it’s time you followed their example.

    If you think smearing opponents,as some on here have re Corbyn, is a winning strategy based on something that took place 30-40 years ago and events that had no involvement of Corbyn, then that is a matter for you. I’m just wondering why you think the LibDems lost Southport.

  • Katharine Pindar 12th Jun ’17 – 9:49pm…………Let’s not forget that it was the Tories who fought a spectacularly bad campaign, not us, and we were squeezed because of the national media-led concentration on the drama of the two major parties with such utterly contrasting leaders………..

    Sorry, but that is nonsense! May started out as a certain winner and at first all went well.. A month into the campaign and Jeremy Corbyn was still being asked if he’d step down after his party was wiped out…

    Initially, there was nothing wrong with the Tory campaign, “Strong and Stable” was a great slogan EXCEPT that May, under pressure, showed she was anything but…The script was great but the leading actor ‘blew it’….Their whole campaign was based on the vision, shared by the whole country (especially on LDV), that May was strong and Corbyn was weak…May ran a presidential,, personal campaign with no other ministers having ‘speaking parts’; by the time it was proved wrong it was too late to change….

    Mainstream media still had May winning a 50-60 seat majority within days of the election but, and it’s a big BUT, they ignored the fact that by running headlines about “How Corbyn’s rallies attracted hundreds, but hundreds didn’t win seats” they forgot that his speeches were being passed around on the internet…The mainstream media, which is almost entirely anti-Corbyn, proved irrelevant..

  • @ Wee Jackie Paper “Some people are getting carried away with the idea that the Conservatives are a disaster at the moment”. Mmmmmm, does that include Theresa ?

    BBC News tonight : ‘Theresa May has apologised to Tory MPs for the party’s election performance, telling them “I got us into this mess’.

  • MichaelBG – this is wrong – canvassing should involve conversations – for a start that “listening” should help inform our messaging – but actually a squeeze voter needs to hear face to face why there party can’t win. Ours need to know why it’s important to go out and vote and the opposition need to know why their rubbish and were great. We make the fatal mistake of just getting data when we should be giving a message that we know they can’t ignore by putting in the bin!

  • I don’t often come in here any more but as a 2010 Lib Dem voter, I would suggest that the reason your party did not make any progress is that many of us do not feel we can trust the Lib Dems ever again. Sad but true. Everyone I know feels that you have never shown any true appreciation of our sense of betrayal and that you care even less. Even now, when Nick Clegg lost his seat, Tim Farron is calling him his ” hero”. As though breaking one’s word after promising “an end to broken promises” is somehow Inconsequential. I feel that I was misled into giving you my vote in 2010 and I don’t intend to be fooled into doing so again. That is the real reason you are stuck at 7%.

  • @Sesenco. Lets take your Iraq War comparison. As a Party we opposed the illegal (second) Iraq War. For my part I marched against it in London with my then 9 year old youngest daughter, I voted against it in Parliament and I still raise it when appropriate. What we did not do was make it virtually our only topic of conversation and only key campaigning issue for the next election. Why? Because it had happened, it was in the past, we could not actually change an event that had already happened. Also, then at least, we aspired to be a serious Political party not a niche protest group -and we elected 62 MP’s our highest number since 1922 and probably for a long time to come.

    Now lets take Brexit. We campaigned against Leave in the Referendum (although if some of the post Referendum energy had been put in beforehand the narrow result might have been different) For my part I voted Remain and campaigned for Remain. But the clear simple Yes/No Referendum vote was taken. We lost. The vast majority of MP’s in Parliament (Cons and Lab) voted to initiate Article 50. We lost. The vast majority of MP’s in the new Parliament (Cons and Lab) are committed to accepting the Referendum vote to Leave. We lost. How much longer are we going to bang our head against a brick wall shouting ‘stop the world I want to get off’ when the electorate have moved on? Campaign for a soft Brexit as part of a package of policies relevant to voters -yes. Be single issue obsessives over a lost decision that is in the past -pointless and damaging.

    As for helping somewhere like St Ives another commentator has already answered you in part. The other part of the answer is that central spending on direct mail and social media was very important in many of the 10% of seats that changed hands last week. Did we as a Party neglect some constituencies, such as St Ives, because they did not fit the fashionable theory of concentrating on so called Core Vote/Remain areas? Certainly the huge emphasis put on ‘Remain’ areas like St Albans and Vauxhall (unless the latter was smoke and mirrors for the media?) did not achieve the expected result. Meanwhile we missed regaining St Ives by a whisker and ran a national campaign that completely and utterly failed to resonate with voters.

  • Katharine Pindar 13th Jun '17 - 12:15am

    Eh, Expats? – ‘The script was great but the leading actor ‘blew it’ – since the whole Tory campaign was based around May exclusively, that was indeed to my mind a spectacularly bad campaign. As with, putting all your eggs in one basket, and then dropping the basket.

    Rob, I’m all in favour of canvassing, but you know we are advised not to spend much time in discussion, particularly not with those entirely against us (tempting though it is!), but just get the data for the mini-van and keep moving.

    Little Jackie, sorry, but I told you when you were so rude to me that I wouldn’t engage with your posts again.

  • @ expats
    “BUT, they ignored the fact that by running headlines about “How Corbyn’s rallies attracted hundreds, but hundreds didn’t win seats” they forgot that his speeches were being passed around on the internet. ………”

    and it’s probably much more than that.
    Why his rallies succeeded so much, was that they were attended not by half heated party faithful “plants” waving placards that everyone is now numb to and sees through as the cynical marketing ploy it is, but because they were absolutely full of people who were there for THEMSELVES, because they really believed what he believed!! They didn’t just turn up to hear him speak, they went because they really believed in what he was saying!

    When you couple that with huge numbers of internet savvy students circulating Pro Corbyn adverts, rally clips and disaster Teressa videos through multiple digital channels you get a momentum (pardon the pun), that becomes self perpetuating especially when you have the all important 15-18% of core of believers to start with.

    Yes it might end in tears eventually, but that is no consolation to the Lib Dem’s at present. What this shows is:
    a) the importance of identifying a core narrative you can campaign on which simply has to illicit a true emotional response in enough of your core voters
    b) the way the digital world is now arguably as important and will become more important than the press/leaflets going forward – the tories with their demographic could have a real issue here going forward.
    c) Innovation, being nimble and flexibility of response are going to become very important

  • Katharine Pindar 13th Jun ’17 – 12:15am…………Eh, Expats? – ‘The script was great but the leading actor ‘blew it’ – since the whole Tory campaign was based around May exclusively, that was indeed to my mind a spectacularly bad campaign. As with, putting all your eggs in one basket, and then dropping the basket…………..

    20/20 hindsight….When May called the election it was a ‘great strategy’…6 weeks before the election, polls showed Theresa May the most popular leader since the late 1970s (plus 61) and Jeremy Corbyn at an all time low (minus 42)…Would you have changed the script?

    As I said, just days before the election the polls showed, that, although the gap had closed, the Tories were 10-12 points ahead with a probable 50-60 seat majority…Had that happened May would have been crowned ‘queen of the universe’ and Corbyn binned by his party…

    Anyway, that is history…What is worrying is that many on LDV still seem in denial and post silly one liners about Corbyn turning the UK into a ‘new/old’ DDR or Venezuela…If we continue to use such tactics, in a war that has already been lost, this party is finished….

  • @ Mike S Agree.

    I rather get the feeling that Mr. Corbyn is here to stay. The more the British public saw of the real Jeremy Corbyn rather than the Daily Express version of him the more they liked him. The ‘ostrich/repeat the Daily Mail faction’ in the Lib Dems better get used to it and start to articulate some decent radical policies before they are consigned to the dustbin of history..

    Oddly enough, Lorenzo’s spiritual Granddad, the great Campbell-Bannerman, used to get the same sort of abuse from the Tory Rags post Boer War before the 1906 Liberal landslide.

    To be honest, anybody who looks on youtube to see Jeremy Corbyn’s Gateshead Rally will have their breath taken away ………….. echoes of Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign…… and he was saying the things we should have been saying about public services, the NHS and education. I’m afraid the days of a posed pic of a Lib Dem personage standing in front of a glum looking lot wielding diamond banners are gone. Some more original thinking needed.

  • David Hopps 13th Jun '17 - 9:00am

    Very convincing narrative of what is happening in the north. People do care about inequality more than Brexit, blocing out that Brexit can and will make them poorer. We need to care about both with a strong vision of how we would bring about change, and a clear reminder of how we would achieve it differently to Labour in particular. Suggestions, and we do see them from time to time on LDV, that inequality is not an issue, are unhelpful. Less on tactics, more on a passionate desire to improve lives.

  • Mike S. What a brilliant article by Mark Wright. As a strong Remainer, I have to plead guilty to many of the errors he highlights.

  • Simon Banks 13th Jun '17 - 9:49am

    This has got just a bit overheated. I do hope we learn from mistakes in the national campaign, but it was better than the limp “we’re not Tories, we’re not Labour, we’re somewhere in between, and please vote for us to keep us in power” of 2015. We can learn from Southport, I’m sure, but also from Oxford West and Abingdon, Bath, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, St Albans and North Norfolk. Bath look particularly impressive as not only could we not count on the support of a popular MP or ex-MP, but our candidate had to be replaced at the last minute.

    Tim’s goal of replacing Labour is a long-term goal many of us would share – and if he assumed Labour would get tonked in this election, he was in good company.

    We’ve always lost votes when a well-established MP of ours was standing down. When he was standing down on a very small majority, that would always have been very difficult (no criticism of John, who had more than done his duty). What was really disappointing was dropping to third. But then look at where we are now in Berwick upon Tweed, Brecon and Radnor, Montgomeryshire, Colchester, Truro and Falmouth, Manchester Withington, Brent East, Hornsey & Wood Green, Yeovil…. all of them apparently too far behind to be contenders next time.

    Two questions to consider. One, what lessons are out there about how to build BACK up after slipping that much? Two, how does the commitment and enthusiasm of our newer members (something that tends to be downplayed in LDV discussions) get through on a much bigger scale to the general public? I would have added how to make sure those newer members are not demotivated by disappointment, but round here in NE Essex I see no sign of that and I guess that’s so elsewhere.

  • @ Simon Banks
    “What was really disappointing was dropping to third.”

    What that shows (as you’ve hinted at yourself) is that you are relying on a few well known names and not just in Southport.
    If there is no depth and belief in the parties offering, dropping like a stone once a well respected local face leaves the stage is what happens.

    People’s limbic systems are responsible for their decision making, not their cerebral cortex’s mostly. That is why tapping into an emotional response is crucial.

  • Personally, I don’t fear a Corbyn administration but what will inevitably come after.
    He is bound to fail to deliver an economic resurgence. He has promised to create “a million new jobs”. Why not promise 10 million, a hundred million? We are all old enough to predict what will happen. Money will be hosed around on Darian Gap projects with the best connected and most vocal pressure groups getting the funds for their pet projects.
    Putting up corporation tax will send the bigger employers away and putting up top rates of tax will discourage ambition and the smaller businesses will sit on their hands and not expand or even contract. Life savings pots will be wiped out either through inflation or ever more rapacious wealth and property taxes.
    The fantasy of “there are billions available from ending tax avoidance” will melt as McDonnell realises that those who own this money are much smarter than him.
    And who will the voters turn to after him if not a vicious right wing demagogue who will “rescue the UK from the Marxists”.
    You may dismiss this but, for me, all the warning signs are flashing red and those who say the electorate are showing cleverness in these referenda and elections are wrong.
    They are leaderless and are thrashing about looking for someone who can give them the societal benefits they crave without national bankruptcy.
    Who knows who will fill the post Corbyn chaos? I just fear.

  • @Phyllis
    To quote: “Everyone I know feels that you have never shown any true appreciation of our sense of betrayal and that you care even less.”

    If one uncritically swallows what the media and the Labour Party tells them, then I’m not surprised at this line of attack.

    The wheels will fall off the Corbyn band-wagon because his manifesto is a wish-list. It cannot be afforded. I doubt many people actually read it. If they did, they would realise that Labour are hand in hand with the Tories on Brexit, so how on earth do they think they are going to tax giant corporations who are going to leave these shores when we exit the single market?

    If one wants to believe in a fantasy land then by all means vote for a populist. Expect however, that the levels of betrayal felt now towards this party over a graduate tax, will be as nothing to the levels experienced with a Corbyn/McDonnell Government.

  • Philip Knowles 13th Jun '17 - 1:03pm

    I helped run our campaign in Richmond (Yorks) – the real Richmond. It’s one of the safest Tory seats in the country but we’re used to banging our heads against a brick wall.
    We have several professional marketers in our team so we were trying to run a positive campaign. It looked totally different to a normal campaign but we were hamstrung from the start by having to have our Unaddressed Leaflet at the Royal Mail (and delivered all our PV letters) before we had a hint of the manifesto. We got the little booklet (which was really useful) the day before our final postcard went to print.
    We were running a very good Facebook campaign based on our own ideas because we were getting NOTHING from HQ – the online champions started way too late.
    The main party website had the wrong email address and website address for the local party despite numerous emails and telephone calls – it’s still wrong.
    We ran a leaflet about our MPs voting record which went down really well until Labour picked up on it and started using it on the doorstep and used it to persuade people to vote for them.
    Just at the count Labour had more people than in our entire team so they squeezed us on the doorstep.
    Nationally we were invisible and tactical voting was obviously going to happen to keep the Tories out. There will no doubt be an attempt to unseat Tim but that would be a mistake – he may not have the gravitas of some but he’s likeable. We need to be smarter, we need to listen and be able to feed upwards to HQ (who will in turn listen). We need to have short snappy answers to the inevitable questions. We went into long rambling answers.
    For instance, we didn’t put up tuition fees the Tories did – we only failed to stop them. When Tim was asked about his religion he should have answered and then said , ‘Why don’t you ask Theresa the same questions?’. About the EU, ‘We don’t want a second referendum – we just want people to have a say on the deal’
    We are naturally thoughtful people. The public votes on emotion and we need to learn from that.

  • Peter Hirst 13th Jun '17 - 1:08pm

    Nationally we need to develop an alternative message that inspires commitment and that includes electoral reform, civil liberties, human rights, the environment, supporting the oppressed and opportunity for all. This will help to drive enthusiasm, distinctiveness and emotional appeal. We should also of course have the best policies on the big issues but drive our own agenda.

  • Philip Knowles 13th Jun '17 - 1:23pm

    Rob – I missed your post when scrolling down. Four of use went to Leeds NW on polling day. We were in Otley and almost every single person we spoke to said how great Greg was and that they had voted for him. We went away thinking how well organised it was and how nice it was to speak toe LibDem voters (not our normal experience).
    We are too wedded to leaflets (or the wrong sort of leaflet). We do leaflets because we don’t have the manpower to do anything else. We need to be smarter. We need to be working areas where there is potential to make a difference. For our PV letters we looked at the MOSAIC description and tailored the message to the area. We did the same with leaflets and cards looking at the profiles in the area. There are some areas where we will always struggle – don’t ignore them but don’t waste too much time on them – spend more time in areas where there is potential and grow from them.

  • Sue Sutherland 13th Jun '17 - 1:58pm

    Teresa May has just declared that austerity is over. Jeremy Corbyn had a good slogan, For the many not the few, emotive and succinct, but we are still linked to our Coalition stance on austerity and did not have the time to generate new policies based on anything else. Hence, I assume, putting income tax up for the many in order to benefit the many.
    I have said several times on here that the necessary other side of being against Brexit is to have policies that address the very real issues that those who mostly voted Leave live with. Let’s face it, we didn’t have time to get these in place before the election and we haven’t faced up to the question of where the party is now either. Do we still support our Coalition stance or are we going to have a different attitude towards economics and social justice? If we don’t know that how can the voters?
    Corbyn has just resurrected the old Labour mantras without being at all clear on how he is going to pay for his social policies when he and his team want to leave the EU as much as as May’s lot. I am convinced things will unravel and I don’t think May has any idea what social justice is.
    I think what we must do now is fast track our policy making, come up with a broad thrust in consultation with members and for once leave the details until later. We have a much fairer politics on which to base our policies rather than clobber the rich. On reflection and as Brexit pans out I think people will realise we need wealth creators to give us the funds to provide the services we all need. The global companies unwillingness to pay taxes can only be tackled at international level and what do we need for this? Oh yes, to be members of the EU.
    I can remember asking the party to give people hope before the 2015 election, but we didn’t. I believe Jeremy Corbyn has just given people false hope and so what we need to do is keep our heads down, do some thinking and be ready for the next election.
    PS In Bath the Labour vote increased but the Green vote was very reduced.
    PPS Is MikeS on the Federal Board? If not can someone please co-opt him?

  • Joseph Bourke 13th Jun '17 - 5:33pm


    re: you last paragraph “All the clever campaigning techniques and marketing sophistication in the world is as nothing unless you have a compelling social message and the policies to deliver it. We lost in Southport not because we’d forgotten how to campaign or even because of the genius of our opponents but because the party did not have a clear enough national message that connected emotionally and personally with the local electorate and in a quasi- presidential election in 2017 that mattered.”

    See this analysis of how the Conservatives threw away their chances in the previously highly marginal constituency of Brentford and Isleworth

  • Thank you, John for your article and to those who have commented so thoughtfully. Having spent a lot of time in Eastbourne, I can state that Labour, led by an energetic young candidate (a local teacher who also stood in 2015) spent its time attacking us. One leaflet was devoted to attacking Stephen Lloyd and the Liberal Democrats and did not mention the Tories once. Labour in the south can be just as unpleasant as Labour in the north. (In passing I should add that the Green candidate told voters at an NUT education rally on the Saturday before polling day to vote Liberal Democrat.)

    One small point in the great scheme of things: Please can we avoid the multiplicity of shades of orange and yellow used for posters next time? I could have displayed posters of four different shades in my windows.

  • Campaigning should be much more advanced and data driven. There is a huge amount of public domain data than can be used to profile electors and areas but I don’t think anyone is talking about the skills to do that. Back when I used to do this stuff I was talking about skills with SPSS and data manipulation being as important as PagePlus. But when I wanted to add a load of census data to Connect to experiment further I was told that that sort of thing wasn’t encouraged or liked by the VAN team.

    Canvassing is important but it has limitations when it comes to collecting data (people are just not in being one of the most fundamental). But the YouGov constituency modelling has shown how powerful this can be when you can model limited data against a range of known factors.

    But what that is is more clever campaign techniques. If you have a rubbish message then it will do no good.

    I really don’t think that Lib Dems get that they aren’t a great world-beating electoral machine in the way they think they are. As far back as Hartlepool in 2004 the signs were there opponents were working out how to beat them. It was certainly true in the 2006 local elections when the party decided to believe it’s own spin. And that’s certainly true now. Southport, Eastleigh, South Lakeland – these are the places that have been talked about as the best campaigning local parties. It didn’t look that way on June 8th as they were just blown away.

  • I have come late to this discussion, but I see little or no mention of UKIP. The collapse of their vote was probably the most significant factor at this election – or rather, where it went. And that was not to us.
    Another factor was tactical voting – it used to be a key weapon of ours, but this time worked effectively for Labour, who generally were less inclined to return the favour even where it would have unseated a Tory.
    There has been chatter on Facebook about the need for PR – never going to be a massive vote-winner, but as part of a package of electoral reform, might have some traction. Unless labour steal that from us too.
    From my experience in Southport, the Tory campaign was virtually invisible. From my first visit, I was worried by the number of Labour stakeboards and posters.
    The point made about the wretched Metro Mayor election is important. Labour leapt on their strong performance (and our dismal one) and exploited that, with ‘two-horse-race’ leaflets showing them and the Tories neck and neck. It might not have been true initially, but became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    The comment about fielding a less well-known candidate is I think a very minor point. Who knew the Tory or Labour candidates? And how did Wera Hobhouse achieve such a triumph in Bath, only being drafted in at the start of the campaign?
    There is (understandably) much negative comment in this discussion – more helpful would be some analysis of what went right in those constituencies that bucked the trend for us. Was it simply the luck of particular demographics, or were there things we could usefully learn from?

  • You might wish to moderate this post because of self-interest, but on Paul Hunt’s point about the multiplicity of shades of colour in the posters, this was because the election caught everyone including me on the hop, and I had no supply of arc chrome dayglo until a couple of weeks into May. We now have enough stock to see us through the next general election!

  • Matt Dolman 14th Jun '17 - 8:48am

    Very true – and applied to the Conservatives nationally as well.

  • Richard Underhill 14th Jun '17 - 9:51am

    The Labour candidate for Hove, now MP, said on TV that he had 650 people on the streets on polling day. Jess Philips said something similar about 100 people she did not know what to do with. Can Labour really fight general election seats as if they were by-elections?

  • Adrian Sanders makes the most important point above, I think. The Tories online campaigning, in particular through Facebook, was very effective – though there are questions about the sources of their data (see Carole Cadwalladr’s investigations) and campaign sharing with the Trump/far right in the US, and about how (in)effectively election returns cope with spending online. Labour too got immense momentum in the last week through social media with organic sharing. We lagged, but without knowing exactly how much the Tories spent on Facebook ads and sponsored posts (something we may never know, but a *lot*), I’m not going to judge.
    But I remember 1997. The vote polarised to get the Tories out, all people could think of was Labour, and we lost so many good people that year, the only hope being a highly tactical campaign. In 2017, the sentiment settled on wanting to get the Tories out today and worry about Brexit afterward, and it meant we got the squeeze and I don’t think we could ever have been loud enough in that situation. That the Greens got the same kind of squeeze indicates a similar movement. I was expecting losses, not gains, on polling night. But that Corbyn couldn’t win against a Tory party as inept and accident prone as in 1997 says an awful lot about the dire state of UK politics.

  • Lauren Keith 16th Jun '17 - 12:45pm

    The local Labour party in Southport also did a good job of spreading their message & campaigning through social media via both their candidate and a local party Twitter account. Their local party account had more followers that the Southport Lib Dem account which hasn’t been active since 2014 and there was a constantly updated local blog.

    For many (especially younger) people, social media is where they go to for information as opposed to local newspapers and sites, and I do think that social media strategy needs to be more integrated into the ground campaign. Sitting on a polling station in Southport on election day I noticed many younger people voting for the first time who are probably unaware of the strength and track record of the lib dems in the town simply because most of their sources are digital.

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