I Can Feel it in The Air

Canvassing in Wokingham

Ever since the 2015 general elections, knocking on doors has been difficult; almost a chore. I can’t say that residents were abusive, but they were certainly challenging, very direct and uncompromising. I remember at the conference after the 2015 general election we had one of the largest attendances ever, and the general atmosphere was very positive. This was all the more unexpected because of the media’s scorn for the party (which was very unfair) and the loss of so many MPs.

The attitude of my friends who supported me and the party changed. We had many discussions where they were critical.  When I asked them why and then presented facts which in most cases proved their arguments were baseless, the poor attitude towards the party remained, although they conceded the point. I am not sure why this happened. I am not sure that we can blame only the media for this but for a while, voters seemed to have all sorts of reasons to dislike the party. This affected members in the party and for me, an example of such reluctance was evident before the 2017 general elections with difficulty we had (when I was a Regional Chair) trying to get members to stand as prospective parliamentary candidates.

But, after the 2017 general elections, the attitude on the doorstep started to soften. Our support for the IN campaign for a while did divide opinion not so much against us as a party, but for the stance we took. I obviously believe we were correct to fight, and continue to fight, to stay in Europe, and that has been reflected in the massive increase in our membership (the increase in membership has in many ways refreshed/livened up the party for the better).

Since 2017 canvassing residents has been much more positive. I am beginning to hear comments that are evidence of the hard work we have been doing locally (and I am sure it’s the same in many other wards). I am a candidate in the local elections where I live and have been knocking on many doors. I am seeing a change of attitude on the doorstep: “Oh Liberal Democrat … -“say many more residents with a smile. It’s very refreshing.

I suppose one has to question why the change. Is it because we have steered a clear course, particularly on Europe, and stuck to it? Is it the poor performance of the Tories, especially after their inept negotiation performance in Europe? Or is it the hapless Labour party being incongruous on a range of policies? Indeed, over the last 18 months or so there have been many references in the press and on TV about the excellent work we did in government, and there are over 16 million people who don’t disagree with us on Europe. This softening of attitude and the community work we have been doing in our wards is starting to get acknowledged again locally. Hopefully, the better response we are experiencing on the doorstep will be reflected in the results of the forthcoming local elections.

 

 

 

* Tahir Maher is a member of the LDV editorial team

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24 Comments

  • David Evans 18th Apr '18 - 5:44pm

    I’m afraid I class this as another of those “It’s so unfair that we were so badly treated in coalition, but it’s going to be so much better now” articles. But I really do wonder. We remain at between 6% and 9% in the national polls, and with only 12 MPs we remain of next to no consequence as far as the media are concerned. At conference we focus on wonderful policies which aren’t noticed by the public and approve a strategy that is so meaningless as to be anodyne. The one thing a reasonable proportion of people know about us is the EU, and even there people think Labour are clearer on what they want. And of course that will disappear in 11 months when Theresa May finally implements Brexit.

    Only local activists with superhuman efforts in council by-elections are making any sort of impression. We are yet again pinning our hopes on the next set of elections in May, but the 200 gains we need to achieve to make any sort impression in the media seems to be a pipe dream (we lost over 750 in 2014 and 2015). Rallings and Thrasher’s estimate is only 30 net gains, even double that is extremely poor. I hope and pray the infantry can do much better than that, but there is only so much they can do on their own.

    But it is when we say “The attitude of my friends who supported me and the party changed. We had many discussions where they were critical. When I asked them why and then presented facts which in most cases proved their arguments were baseless,” the flaws become apparent. The key word is *friends*.

    How hard did your friends push you on “You went into a general election with a Party Election broadcast of ‘An end to Broken Promises,’ and then you broke a pledge that almost every one of your MPs personally signed”? What about your opposition to cuts before the election which became Conservative austerity within weeks? What about Secret Courts legislation that Conference twice voted against, but Nick Clegg just went ahead with? Why was the FCA Review of Banking dropped?

    If we are serious about recovering, we have to face up to the situation we are in and work out how to get our voters back quickly, not just cling to a model of recovery that may deliver in 50 years if we are lucky.

  • Tahir I am surprised that your friends waited till after the 2015 GE to be critical and harsh. Mine were doing it from 2010!
    But, like you, I do detect a slight softening of that negativity. People were angry with us. Really angry. Our leaders made some big mistakes in coalition, and they had no political/media strategy to over-ride those. We were always going to have to serve time in the doghouse of public opinion – and we have. But, time passes. Anger fades.. New issues/leaders/mistakes start to dominate the agenda. If we keep doing the hard work on the ground – which is crucial – I believe we can slowly rebuild. That’s why the next 2 weeks are so important. Every Focus delivered, every door knocked on. Recovery won’t happen overnight, but it will happen faster if we all get out there on the streets and do what we do best. So any member/supporter reading this who hasn’t done any campaigning yet, please do some!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 18th Apr '18 - 6:55pm

    Tahir, your experience is not an isolated one. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are starting to recover that lost ground. Good luck in Wokingham.

  • I will be disappointed if we do not gain the Thatcham and Lymm by elections tomorrow, we are in a reasonably strong challenging position in both, plus a good history in the seats pre coalition. If we are successful hope the headlines are not of the “amazing, incredible” kind. However I would hesitate to think they suggest widespread gains in a fortnight. Life is still hard out there North of the Fosse Way.

  • Caron – many thanks. Just back in after a couple of hours of door knocking. No one really had a bad word to say, a number clearly stated they would not vote for me but politely.
    @David – Our time in government recently was almost an aberration it would have been far better for us to continue our growth in the number of MPs until we reached a critical mass (as it were). That didn’t happen and we went into government, were dealt a bad hand, made MISTAKES, but overall we did a lot of good too. We have a weird electoral system, the press doesn’t like us because we tried to control them but all that does not mean we are not relevant and the foundation of what was lost is now being slowly rebuilt and will in time bring success. I feel positive

  • Alan Greenfield 18th Apr '18 - 8:19pm

    IMO even with 60 plus MPs the & media set up still largely ignored or treated the Lib Dems as if they didnt exist. Unless you are the Government or Official Opposition you are just about frozen out.

  • OnceALibDem 18th Apr '18 - 8:40pm

    Be very very wary of reading too much into ‘the positive feel on the doorstep’. There was lots of this in 2015 and in elections 2011-15. It can be a useful measure but you need to look at the actual hard data of canvass returns (sadly one of the party’s many lost arts of campaigning).

    “No one really had a bad word to say, a number clearly stated they would not vote for me but politely.” Though always worth bearing in mind that if you win 40% of the vote on a 30% turnout 8 out of 9 people you speak to will not be voting for you 🙂

  • John Marriott 18th Apr '18 - 9:41pm

    What people tend to forget is that the number of parliamentary seats won by the Lib Dem’s peaked in 2005 under Charles Kennedy and was on the decline by 2010. No doubt Clegg’s performance in the Leaders’ Debates, the fact that the Labour Government was running out of steam, the world economic crisis and the public not being quite ready to trust the Tories led to the hung parliament of that year.

    It is quite likely that, where the party has campaigned regularly with an effective candidate, it can win in local elections and win handsomely. However, a General Election is a different matter. At the moment, as far as England is concerned, it’s back to two party politics with a vengeance and it might stay that way at national level while we stick to the current voting system.

    What might overturn the apple cart is another world economic crisis or a Brexit that might prove economically disastrous to GB plc or, heaven forbid, or the type of conflict that could suck in some of the world’s major players. I have four young grandchildren. I honestly worry about the future that awaits them unless a little more common sense prevails. Whether that common sense involves the Lib Dems or another new and not yet clearly defined political force remains to be seen.

  • I read The Rallings & Thrasher report where they predict we will make a dozen Net gains; I coundnt see any predictions of National Equivalent Vote percentage though. The thing to remember with R & T is that they base their predictions on the Parties Local performance over the previous 11 Months, normally thats fine but this time Libdem performance went through three Peaks & Troughs, by my reckoning. I feel that just averaging those out rather than relying on the most recent is likely to be misleading
    I am predicting a National Equivalent Vote for us at around 22%, double what we got 4 Years ago, I would expect that to give us Net gains between 100 & 200 Seats. Feel free to laugh me to scorn in 15 Days time.

  • Tahir, I am surprised to read that you found it difficult to find people to stand for the next general election after 2015. Once we were out of government I was much keener on being a candidate and keener to knock on doors. When I did knock on doors in early 2017 before the general election was called I found the response quite positive and didn’t find much negativity about the coalition, not that I found many supporters.

    You seem not to be aware that we made net losses in terms of MPs in 2010 down from 62 to 57.

    @ David Evans

    I have pointed out that imagining we will gain 200 seats is just setting us up to fail. I suggested winning back half (155) of the seats we lost in 2014 would be an excellent result. Mark Pack (https://www.markpack.org.uk/154558/colin-rallings-michael-thrasher-2018-local-election-prediction/) has pointed out that Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings are predicting 18% vote share and 30 gains in line with last year. So anything above this would be a success. Last year we had net losses of 42; in 2016 we had net gains of 45 and before the coalition the last time we had net gains was in 2008 when we gained 34.

  • Tahir, I am sorry but you are being disingenuous. I am not going to relist the many calamities that were visited upon the most vulnerable members of our society, which I may add, were only implemented with Lib-Dem support. In trying and justify the pain, misery and hardship that those measures caused you patronize us by saying that we do not know what we are talking about or as you charmingly put it “when presented facts which in most cases proved their arguments were baseless,”. Try that line on someone that has had their benefits cut. I have no desire to be confrontational but your(rather unobjective) version of what the Coalition did cannot be left unchallenged.

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 19th Apr '18 - 3:47pm

    Michael – it wasn’t easy to get PPCs for 2017. The main impression i got talking to members was that they were quite deflated and were in the main not keen to stand again so soon. Many were not keen to go out canvassing again, some were not happy with the party (for various reasons), and a lot of members were tied after 2015 GE and the Euro referendum (2016) and just did not have the funds or vigour (as it were) to engage in another campaign. It was a difficult time. I am very grateful to those who did stand and campaigned.

  • David Evans 19th Apr '18 - 4:26pm

    Michael BG – I agree totally, imagining we will gain 200 seats would be just setting us up to fail. What I was pointing out is that we need 200 gains to get even a small positive mention in the national media, maybe just for one day. If we don’t I don’t see anything that will turn things around before next March when Brexit finally knocks the last USP from under us.

    Of course there might just be a parliamentary by-election in a winnable seat before then, but bearing in mind we are second in only 37 seats (only a little over one in eighteen) the chances of any sort of recovery seem absolutely tiny. That is why these “My good friends are still being nice to me” sort of articles which we had in spades throughout the coalition disaster are simply a distraction from us actually facing up to the mess our leaders have got us into.

  • Saskia is correct. Mr Mahir may want to brush it away with the phrase “many reasons” but I’ll be more specific. My local food bank provided emergency food supplies to well over 700 people in the first quarter of 2018. A third were children. The majority were affected by Universal credit introduced by Lib Dem votes. Buff said.

    Apologies needed, fresh start needed, inequality to be tackled – then maybe,just maybe, Lib Dems may recover self respect and be listened to. Till then who cares about 200 councillors making a firm stand on doggy products.

  • paul barker 19th Apr '18 - 6:46pm

    On a more general point, I think we all need to get used to expecting a wide range of possible results. Members who get to sit in Radio or TV Studios need to be prepared to say that results were much as we expected, whatever the results are. My “prediction” of 22% & Gains over over 100 Seats are at one end of the range, but it is important that if we do get results like that, our spokespeople should not look or sound relieved, gobsmacked or overly elated. We need to be ready with a line of “Steady/Accelerating Progress” unless we do too badly for that to be plausable. We have to stop sounding pathetically grateful every time we do well.

  • Everything David Raw said….the party members need to listen and motivate the leadership to acknowledge these truths.

  • David Evans, spot on.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Apr '18 - 12:27am

    I don’t understand such negativity. Let’s be realistic, talking about the next elections we are facing, but negativity in the face of an electorate gradually accepting us again when comparing us with the present disaster of a government and a divided fence-sitting opposition is not in my view realistic. To take a case in point: we did indeed accept Universal Credit as a useful idea in principle, but it is not Liberal Democrats who allowed it to be implemented so thoughtlessly and harshly that many have been badly affected and driven to increased use of food banks and greater impoverishment. We have compassion and we try to put things right. Best wishes, Tahir, keep up the good work.

  • Katharine, the Lib-Dems were in power when UC was conceived, drafted and pushed through parliament. Not even an entire ocean, would suffice to wash our hands of the matter.

  • Katharine, you say you don’t understand what you choose to describe as negativity, but in a recent thread, after I pointed out a fundamental flaw in your viewpoint, you said that the data I had provided was inappropriate, and when I asked why it was inappropriate when it was factually correct, you simply shut down communication by saying you weren’t going to discuss it.

    If you wish to understand why we are in the mess we are in nationally, you have to be prepared to engage with those who have been warning us of it. The simple fact is that we are making significant gains in Council by-elections, but are doing appallingly in General Elections, and there is no reason to expect the former to change the latter except in the very long term.

    To those of us who have been around for a while and are prepared to face up to the facts, this is totally predictable. But to learn and understand we all have to be prepared to engage, and be prepared to accept that our rosy view of what happened in coalition and where we are now may well be little more than mere imaginings.

  • I do agree with Katharine re negativity. In one of my comments I do say in capital letters that we made mistakes the point I am trying to make is that even though we seem to be stuck at 8% in the national polls things are beginning to look up.
    @Saskia and David – I understand you are somewhat angst but I do not view our time in government through rose tinted glasses. However there comes a time when you need to accept the mistakes made, hopefully learn from them and move on. Your comments do highlight one important point and that is we have not had a clear lib dem vision of policies and where the party is going. This has left us currently in a vacuum, if we get a clear vision going forward we then have something to build on and be positive about. I understand that and like yourselves find myself questioning why it’s not there. But that aside we need to take the fight on as there is a need for liberal democracy in our society. You might find reading the article in the latest Liberator by Tony Greaves “Apple Turnover” to your liking.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Apr '18 - 7:08pm

    David Evans, it is more negativity to try to resurrect supposed grievances; I would simply point out that a remark may be factually correct but inappropriate, and ask you to stop. Saskia, I didn’t say that the Liberal Democrats didn’t share in passing the UC legislation, but that we would not have agreed to it being so thoughtlessly and harshly implemented. I have sufficient faith in my party to suggest that.

    Tomorrow back to delivering in South Lakes, a more useful exercise than commenting in LDV just now. But thanks to everyone who helped through your comments to make my thread, Keep the faith: our party should not consider any merger, full of worthwhile discussions which lasted for nearly a fortnight until yesterday, and had 189 comments in all.

  • Tamir, we didn’t “overall do a lot of good”. We overall supported a lot of bad things while doing a few good things which either we don’t get credit for because they sound Conservative or which have now been reversed.

    It would be good to see those of our MP’s who were in government positions recognise that we betrayed our ideals while in government and that we were wrong to support the Conservative austerity policy. It would be good if those people who signed off the 2015 manifesto stated that they recognised that it failed to present a picture consistent with our values before 2010. We need a widespread acceptance that we messed up big time while in coalition and we need to make it clear that no one in a position of power or influence will ever make the same mistakes again.

    I am not sure what affect it will have on public opinion but it would clear the decks ready for us to have as our number one aim lifting everyone living in the UK out of relative poverty, followed by reducing economic inequalities down to the level of the 1970s and so creating a more liberal society.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Apr ’18 – 7:08pm……I didn’t say that the Liberal Democrats didn’t share in passing the UC legislation, but that we would not have agreed to it being so thoughtlessly and harshly implemented. I have sufficient faith in my party to suggest that….

    I don’t. We agreed to implement the bedroom tax even where no alternative accomodation was offered. That was a shameful act aimed at penalising mainly the aged and infirm…

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