Instilling a fear of failure will return us to pointlessness

The Apple Lisa – a famous failure

I’ve worked in the computer industry for almost the whole of my adult life.

My first experience fixing one was at 11, maybe 12 years old. My childminder’s husband had a computer I was allowed to play on so long as I asked whenever I wanted to change the program (so I didn’t break it) but, of course, I did. And then, it stopped working. At that moment I knew I either had to fix it, or tell her husband what I did.

I fixed that computer bloody quickly. In hindsight, it was an obvious problem – but also, one I didn’t make again. But I’ve made a lot of mistakes since – indeed, you could say that the entire repertoire of my knowledge and experience is grounded in failure, learning from failure, and building that in to success.

In the computer industry we have a saying – “fail fast”. It’s probably also a saying in other circles, but it embodies a culture that all successful companies strive for – enabling people to take risks, try new things. Put simply, they’re empowered to fail.

Whole companies – start-ups – are empowered to fail. It’s expected; an investor will pick some “sure things”, some that are a little risky, and a few “moon shots” – companies financed to try something they will probably inevitably fail at, but if they do succeed they could disrupt and reconfigure an entire sector of the economy. And one of them will, inevitably, succeed.

(We could write a whole other essay about how this culture, when misapplied, leads to terrible things. “Fail fast, but recover quickly” may be a better slogan. But I digress)

You see where I’m going with this.

I’m not going to pass judgement on the recent campaign – frankly, I don’t think I have enough of an understanding of the entirety of it. Certainly, any analysis I will provide will be hard to extricate from my opinion on how it “should” have been run (everyone sees, in a failure, the “I told you so”). I’ve given my input to the review process and I will wait for it’s evidence, analysis and findings.

What I will say is that, for the first time in my memory of the party, we took a bold and unapologetic, Liberal position – and we stuck to our guns. In 2016 we could have taken an equivocal position on Brexit, in 2019 we could have stuck to a People’s Vote. And for those positions we were noticed – “What do the Lib Dems even believe?” was no longer a question on voters’ lips. They knew what we believed. Over the last few years we progressed (in the minds of most voters) from a zero-issue party to a single-issue party. For all our failures, that’s a monumental turning point in our history.

Because we took a risk.

If there’s one lesson I want us to learn, collectively, as Liberals and as Lib Dems, is that we need to take bold risks even when some of those don’t pan out. We need to be prepared to fail – and then to lift up those people who bore the brunt of that failure and – yes, do the retro, do the analysis, learn from the failure, but – make them know they still have our support, and maybe we’ll see in them the inspiration to put ourselves in the firing line next time.

When companies fire people for failing they create a culture where nobody tries. In the computer industry these companies were defenestrated, with their power and influenced either greatly reduced or else snuffed out entirely, carved up and sold off for parts.

We used to say “Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM”, but most people can’t buy IBM now. After decades of timid conservatism amongst their leadership, they had to sell off their computer manufacturing arm – the very thing IBM was known for – to save the rest of the company.

* James Belchamber is Chair of South West Birmingham Liberal Democrats and runs the Lib Dem Digital forum.

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  • I don’t see the leadership decisions here as considered risks. The slide down hill started when Vince Cable came up with his Brexit slogan, it continued when the party refused to accept the result of the referendum and demanded another, then there was the threat to ignore the result of a second referendum if it still produced the wrong result. The Revoke policy was just dreadful.

    All of this destroyed the integrity of the party and it is now seen as arrogant, undemocratic and completely out of touch with acceptable standards in a demcracy.

  • @Peter. Great post; I concur in every particular. Another wrong move was the adoption of defecting MPs who had lied to their constituents to get elected having stood on a manifesto commitment to leave the EU. The endorsement of such behaviour further reinforced the parties arrogant and anti-democratic image. When Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless defected from the Conservatives to UKIP they had the integrity and respect for democracy to call by-elections. Had the party insisted that all defecting MPs submit themselves to such a ‘people’s vote’ it may have given an early warning of what was to come.

  • Alan Stephenson 13th Jan '20 - 1:40pm


    I fully agree with you ,but you’re flogging a dead horse,some on here just seem to be blinkered and have cloth ears,no insult intended,just a turn of phrase.They just seem to want to stick rigidly to their agenda and fail to see the big picture.

  • James – excellent article and a perfect antidote to the rather churlish one yesterday that had me seething!

    For what it’s worth, I think our 2019 strategy might have worked extremely well had “No Deal” still been on the table. I too had assumed that Johnson wouldn’t make such a blatant volte face as to sign up to a worse deal (with a customs border chopping off N Ireland!) but we underestimated how desperate/shameless he was.

    Once that parameter was no longer there, and with the Corbyn threat looming large, it was always going to be hard not to be squeezed.

    That’s not to say there aren’t lessons to be learned. But the knee-jerk call for “heads to roll” doesn’t really help and only hinders any process of learning those lessons.

  • It’s all very well but we aren’t in the computer industry and we aren’t “empowered to fail”.

    We took a big risk when we entered into coalition with the Conservatives and happily told 2/3rds of our voters we didn’t want them any longer. This was ok though, we had a grand vision to replace them and more with centre right “soft” conservative voters.

    This didn’t happen. The party had simply spent 5 years insulting 2/3rds of its former support and succeeded in reducing itself to 8 mps and 8% of the vote.

    With the EU referendum (which we voted for and supported) we decided we could make huge gains by positioning ourselves as the champions of remain. This has increased our vote share slightly but not led to any more MPs (we are now at 11).

    Those are two risky strategies, the first one was supposedly going to make the party into a recognised party of government but instead it has almost destroyed the party. The second one hasn’t worked either. We’ve definitely alienated some former voters though we have gained more in return. Will they continue to vote for us after Brexit?

  • Paul Barker 13th Jan '20 - 3:09pm

    We got hammered in 2015 because of The Coalition. I apologise for backing The Coalition, I was wrong. So were 90%+ of the membership.
    We got hammered again in 2017 & yet again (much less so) in 2019 & again it was, essentially because of The Coalition. What evidence we have suggests that our Campaign & our Leader made no difference either way.
    We were/are still too small & we got squeezed. Nothing else mattered much.
    Can we all agree that The Coalition was a big mistake & that we wont make it again in 2024/2025 if there is another hung Parliament, however tempting the offer.

  • The results looked bad because our expectations were so much higher, especially in the number of MPs. Our votes across the country went from 2.4 million to 3.7 million, a 56% increase, but we finished with 1 fewer MPs.
    The last time we had about 4 million votes but only 11 MPs was David Steele’s first election in 1979. In the two following General Elections (1983, 1987) our total vote fell slightly (unless you add the SDP vote too), but we got more MPs.
    So few MPs from so many (if not enough!) votes in 2019 suggests that we have forgotten how to target at parliamentary level. Perhaps because we were ‘fighting the last war’, doing what had worked in the Euro Elections and assuming we would get a similar level of support.

  • BTW I remember the Apple Lisa well. We had two in our lab (at STL Harlow), and despite the small screens they worked well. The problem was commercial – they cost about £7,500 each, “too much to spend on a secretary” as our MD said when I showed them to him, and in those days managers and directors didn’t do their own typing – or still less DTP. The Lisa was in effect the prototype of the Apple Mac, so its failure led to a much greater future.
    ‘After hours’ one day, I designed new telling pads for Harlow Liberals on a Lisa, and we used that design for years. Our local PagePlus design is still based on it.

  • Christopher Haigh 13th Jan '20 - 4:25pm

    @Jeff- before he became leader Vince was saying sensible pragmatic stuff about accepting the result of the referendum and making the best of it. After he became leader for some reason he started coming up with his Exit from Brexit nonsense. We then became even more extreme in our policies under Jo. It was not good to encourage defections from mainstream parties either in my humble opinion.

  • David Wright 13th Jan ’20 – 4:11pm:
    BTW I remember the Apple Lisa well. We had two in our lab (at STL Harlow), and despite the small screens they worked well. The problem was commercial – they cost about £7,500 each, “too much to spend on a secretary” as our MD said when I showed them to him,…

    That’s the trouble with managers; they don’t know a good investment when they see one.

    ‘Rare working Apple Lisa-1 sells for $50,000’ [November 2017]:

    If you feel foolish for having spent $10,000 for an Apple Lisa-1 computer in 1983, you hopefully kept it. A working model recently sold for more than $50,000 at auction. One of Apple’s biggest commercial failures is now one of the most coveted pieces of vintage tech.

  • “We took a bold and unapologetic, Liberal position – and we stuck to our guns.”

    And this would be perfectly fine if we were the RSPCA or Barnardo’s. But we are not a pressure group, we’re a political party with the goal of winning votes and seats. Our message is only relevant in as much as it contributes to us doing that.

    There is nothing inherently righteous about us taking a bold and unapologetic position on anything if is not going to get us closer to winning votes (and implementing it).

    The second part of this sentence “and we stuck to our guns” sums up in six words what is wrong with the attitude of so many people at the top of the party (and what labour’s issue is).

    A good strategy needs to based on reality and what is going to work. Seeking to pretend that voters are irrelevant and all that matters is looking ‘unapologetically liberal'( which revoke was not anyway, but that is a separate issue) is the prime example of a terrible strategy.

  • Paul Barker 13th Jan '20 - 4:55pm

    The next General Election is 4 or 5 Years away, the Next round of Council Elections only 4 Months.
    I wish I could suggest that a repeat of last Years Gains were likely but they arent. In fact the Headlines aroundThis Mays results aer going to be awful unless something very big happens. Our Vote Share is likely to be up on 2019, in fact there is a possibility that we could come second but those arent the sort of things that interest The Media. The Headlines will be about Seat gains (Tories) & losses Us & Labour.
    As of now The Tories are up 15% on last May while we are up 2%. Unless Johnsons “Honeymoon” ends very quickly we are likely to lose Seats in May.

  • I don’t think we’ve ever had a party wide consensus on the coalition. Arguably we could do with an independent review of the coalition era far more badly than we need to review our most recent election campaign.

  • James Belchamber 13th Jan '20 - 5:18pm

    “And this would be perfectly fine if we were the RSPCA or Barnardo’s. But we are not a pressure group, we’re a political party with the goal of winning votes and seats. Our message is only relevant in as much as it contributes to us doing that.

    There is nothing inherently righteous about us taking a bold and unapologetic position on anything if is not going to get us closer to winning votes (and implementing it).”

    Yeh, see this is exactly what we need to avoid – and exactly why I found the party a bit pointless before the coalition. It seemed to be willing to take every position in a bid to build a coalition where nobody agreed on anything – which fell apart the second the party got in to power.

    (Iraq was a notable exception, and I now know there were people in the party fighting hard to keep us grounded in our beliefs. But from the outside it looked like a loose coalition of everything from Social Liberals to Conservative Localists)

    Remember that before the Coalition we both had EU support codified in our constitution, and were disingenuously offering people a referendum on the EU. We were both pro and anti-Trident, to the point we actually came up with a policy of a pretend submarine. Still, in the party, some of us will be led by “someone else’s conservatism” to ask questions like whether a woman MP should be in a relationship with another woman, or expressing her sexuality in public.

    It’s entirely pointless achieving power if it’s built on something we don’t believe – because either we won’t do what we believe (for fear of losing voters) or do what we believe (and lose them).

  • Alan Stephenson 13th Jan '20 - 6:14pm

    Good interesting post James

    Sort of a party of All things to All men (and women of course)
    Guaranteed to be popular

  • Tristan Ward 13th Jan '20 - 6:35pm

    In what way, in a Parliamentary democracy, is it “undemocratic” to propose a policy and say you will implement it if you are elected with a majority govwrnment.

    The answer of course is that there was a referendum before but we all know how flawed that was, and further, that a majority today thinks Brexit is a bad idea. If it is proposed that all decisions can only be taken if there is a referendum in favour then I respectfully disagree.

  • James Belchamber 13th Jan '20 - 7:06pm

    “In what way, in a Parliamentary democracy, is it “undemocratic” to propose a policy and say you will implement it if you are elected with a majority govwrnment.”

    It’s not. It was always a stupid attack, only applicable to the government that ran the referendum (and any future government formed of parties that promised to honour it). If we win on a platform of overturning the referendum result, that’s pretty clearly a democratic mandate.

    Honestly, I suspect they know their arguments don’t hold water; not that it matters. They’re not here to help us achieve our goals – they’re here to persuade us that our values don’t matter and our goals aren’t worth trying to achieve.

  • @ Tristan – I think you answered your own first question.
    I don’t think that your opinion that the referendum was flawed invalidates it any way.

    How do you know that a majority today thinks that Brexit is a bad idea?

    Perhaps we could test that by having a vote to see how many think that we should get Brexit done. Oh, we just did that….

  • I don’t believe that the coalition episode was a factor in the recent election except, possibly, with a minority of former LibDem supporters who may still hold a grudge.

    Martin makes an excellent point. Why did the Conservatives do so well?

  • David Evans 13th Jan '20 - 8:07pm

    Peter repeats Martin’s question “Why did the Conservatives do so well?”

    The answer is simple. We gave Boris what he wanted, the one thing he was good at – An election!

  • Alan Stephenson 13th Jan '20 - 8:14pm

    ”Why did the Conservatives do so well?

    I think the voters had something to do with that

  • Katharine Pindar 13th Jan '20 - 9:02pm

    James, it’s no good getting noticed if we are noticed for the wrong reasons. Suggesting we could form a majority government was pure fantasy politics, as if we hadn’t had enough of fantasy politics from the Brexiteers, and many people will have thought it so. To put our a leaflet in October showing Jo with the caption ‘Our next Prime Minister’ was folly on the part of our leadership collectively. We were the sensible party till then, leading as the Labour party could not on being the main anti-Brexit party. It would have been sensible to state that, though Jo would doubtless have been a better PM than either Johnson or Corbyn,, we would work with whatever majority party was elected on a Confidence and Supply basis to promote Lib Dem values and policies as far as we could.

    Furthermore, the Revoke policy was not only anti-democratic in suddenly changing our democratic policy of letting the people decide what the people started through another vote, it was also undemocratic in saying that if people vote for us to be the majority party that is exactly what they are saying. Allow people freedom to vote for us for whatever reasons they choose, don’t try and force their hands!

  • Martin wrote:

    “Meanwhile on another thread with a story from Cheltenham where despite the Greens standing down and Labour losing its deposit we still failed to regain the seat. Are we to suppose that continuing disenchantment with The Coalition drove voters to the Conservatives? How does that work?”

    How does it work? Let’s try.

    Firstly, the coalition had an overall negative impact on how voters see us, not just among people on the left. Secondly, the surge in Tory support among the non-metropolitan white working-class had an impact outside former Labour heartlands. It would be interesting to see the box counts from the council estate areas in Cheltenham. There was something of this effect in 1983, when many Labour voters switched directly to the Tories in places like Richmond and Chelmsford, not because of Europe, but through a combination of their strong support for the prosecution of the Falklands War and and their distaste for Labour’s espousal of identity politics (especially in London). You can squeeze the Labour vote, but it won’t all necessarily come to the Lib Dems.

    The core vote is strongest in the “London coffin” (from Chessington up to Muswell Hill), West Surrey, parts of Hampshire (“the Itchen/Test basin”), the Thames Valley, the “opportunity ark” from St Albans through to Cambridge, and the “Avalon balloon” from Lyme Regis up to Bath. Those are the platforms on which we have to build. How? Stick to our principles on Europe, make the environment ours, no backsliding to Orange Bookery, downgrade identity politics, and fill lots more seats in council chambers.

  • Graham Evans 13th Jan '20 - 10:07pm

    @ Dominic I agree with you entirely. Johnson’s deal was really enough to get the Brexit party to effectively withdraw from the fray and provide tacit support to the Conservatives. What the deal demonstrated is that in many respects Johnson is as unpredictable as Trump. This makes it difficult to predict how the Brexit negotiations will pan out, and what will be the impact on Liberal Democrat electoral fortunes.

  • Jenny Barnes:

    “Look at how the DUP managed with far fewer MPs than the LDs had in coalition.”

    The DUP isn’t in competition with the Tories. It doesn’t even stand in the vast majority of the country, and cares next to nothing about anything that happens outside its own backyard, so is easy to buy off with a wad of cash. In other words it’s pretty much the opposite of the Lib Dems, not just in its politics, but in how it operates within the UK polity. There are, therefore, no real lessons for the Lib Dems to learn from the DUP’s experience with Confidence & Supply arrangement.
    Good point (about coalition being handled badly), bad example.

  • “What do the Lib Dems even believe?”

    This is a core question to answer before the next election. It’s great that ‘Stop Brexit’ struck strong tones, but the narrative around ‘building a brighter future’ was far less focused in comparison. If you asked your average people what LDs stood for aside from Brexit, especially pre-election, I think they might have struggled. I think a lot of people feel like Westminster is far away from them and not really listening to their concerns over being left behind, globalisation, austerity, immigration, underinvestment… I don’t think LDs really told these people that they hear them, Brexit won’t solve those issues, but x y and z will instead. It’s a pity that some of the leaviest leave areas will be the ones most hard hit by Brexit economically.

    I think that what Revoke symbolised was more of an issue than what it was. It gave the first impression of wanting to stop Brexit without consent, when that wasn’t actually the case. It also said to leave voters that their concerns and thoughts and feelings didn’t really matter. Spoken in context, Revoke was a tolerable policy, if not an ideal one (if you criticise Tories for running their Brexit on 43.1% of the vote, a similar criticism could be levied at LDs…). But, out of context, people just saw the word ‘revoke’ and had a visceral reaction to it. And in practical terms, an early and consistent second ref campaign with a firm commitment to remain essentially did the same thing without having that visceral reaction involved.

    In politics, the way things look is often more important than what they are. Being aware of how people (often low-info voters!) perceive things is an important part of strategy, one I think the left in general sometimes forgets. Be bold, yes, but know how it’ll come across.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Jan '20 - 12:29am

    ‘Vote for me and you’re voting for Revoke.’ Well, once we were a listening party. Think again, party leaders, consider the psychology as Mack says. and stand up for what we do know we believe in, for this new decade.

  • From my point of view I struggle to find a link between the learning processes of an individual and the working of a democratic process. So I would like to make a few comments based on my reaction to earlier posts.
    First on the coalition. At the special conference I voted in favour. The reason I did so was that I felt that it was responsible of us to give a priority to solve this problem in the world’s financial system. What happened after that was to me, and many electors, a total failure to even try to convey how this problem could be solved without disastrous results for lots of our fellow citizens.
    To me what happened was clear. The party consisted of large numbers of people working in what was basically as volunteers. As we lost council seats our party disappeared over large parts of the country.
    We do not have any substantial resources apart from our our members. We are fighting against people who access to resources we can only dream of.
    To me the greatest problem was not the message put out to the public by whoever is running our party. It was and is the message put out to us as members. I received lots of emails that failed totally to understand that we are a democratic organisation.
    My belief is that the first question we need to ask is not why so few people appear to be liberals, but why the party which claims to be liberal appears not to be.

  • Tristan Ward 14th Jan '20 - 7:00am

    @ Peter

    For good evidence that most people Uk do not want to leave the EU seethe series of polls asking the referendum question. The Independent also had apoll a couple of days to the effect 52:48 in favour of Remain.

    And before you say polls are always wrong, pretty well every poll I saw about the general election was accurate and many polls before the referendum predicted a leave result.

  • Kathy Erasmus 14th Jan '20 - 7:51am

    Absolutely spot on

  • James Belchamber 14th Jan '20 - 9:53am

    @Paul Walter

    That’s a red herring – your article, ostensibly about unfairly rewarding failure, was actually about punishing failure. It was a call to ensure people who fail are not given further opportunities, even where they would otherwise be a good fit for the job, to punish them for their failure – and instil in others a fear of failing, which you call an “incentive”.

    The management style you described is largely on the way out – companies have realised that if you encourage teams to iterate on failure, they will find success. As a party we need to do that (and we won’t if everyone’s keeping tight-lipped out of fear) – learn what went wrong, what went right, iterate on it and find success. We haven’t done that enough, but returning to “rolling heads” will snuff out any chance we have to learn the lessons from the people who failed.

    (Note: failure is different from negligence. But you didn’t talk about negligence, so I didn’t see the need to address it. People do get fired for negligence)

    I do, however, find some humour in the idea that Nick and Jo felt no incentive to succeed – or that they would, should the party refuse to give a peerage, or a reference.

  • I wish you would stop battering the coalition, has there been a better govn since?

    2017 and 2019 elections there appeared to be a majority in favour of remain but other matters such as a fear of a Marxist govn trumped those concerns.

    The big question of the moment is what can be salvaged from Brexit, LibDems seem to have no ideas on that.

  • James Belchamber 14th Jan '20 - 11:25am

    Paul, you retroactively marked it as “devil’s advocacy” after a backlash in the comments. Leaning on that classification is disingenuous. I stand by my condemnation of your article, especially given the editorial line the team have taken in my interactions with them trying to get my own pieces published. It was very clear that they wouldn’t publish anything that “isn’t very kind” to “people who are physically and mentally exhausted”.

    One rule for us, another for you, it seems.

    My responsibilities to Liberalism only require me to ensure you are able to express an opinion, not to protect you from criticism of that (or the team behind you for platforming it). I am not required to be tolerant of intolerance generally, or – specifically within the party – nasty and baseless sniping. We expect these people to get up and work towards elections in May, meanwhile you’re calling for scalps.

    It’s a shame that, given time to reflect, you’re proud of your words.

    And I can assure you I won’t be found at your next job interview making the case that you shouldn’t be “rewarded” for them.

  • @Frank West “I wish you would stop battering the coalition, has there been a better govn since?”

    Precisely. The age-old tension between impotent perfection and messy compromise.

  • I understand why the coalition period is still a a sore point. The party was right to grasp the opportunity of power sharing. The ability to make or change laws is the only purpose of politics and the only way to achieve anything. It was also a lesson to those involved that accountability brings responsibility and ambitions that seem perfect when there is no chance of implementing them need to be scrutinised more critically when they will affect the entire country.

    Policies therefore need to be practical and acceptable or justifiiable. Many current Labour policies fail that test and may keep the party out of power in the future.

    Lib Dems may be quite happy having the policies the members strongly support yet know in their hearts that they could be obstacles to electoral progress. Guiding the party through these considerations is a key role of leadership. I think there has been failure there and the Revoke policy is such a glaring example that I cannot avoid mentioning it again.

  • Tristan Ward:

    Polls on attitudes to Brexit were very sensitive to exactly what question was asked (and consistently so, it wasn’t random variation or systematic differences between polling companies)

    If they asked people “how would you vote in a re-run referendum?” there was a small consistent majority for Remain. If they asked people “what do you think should happen next?” there was a small consistent majority for Leave.

    The 10% or so of the electorate who would have voted Remain had a second referendum come up, but believed that the first referendum meant we should Leave without holding a second referendum … often got overlooked in talk of “a Remain majority”.

  • Frank West 14th Jan ’20 – 11:24am
    You say “I wish you would stop battering the coalition, has there been a better govn since?”

    I agree, but ask the further question “Why has there not been a better government since?”

    We do need an honest understanding of why, what we did in coalition lost us all that support.

  • Peter Watson 14th Jan '20 - 1:25pm

    @Jenny Barnes “Many of the voters probably think that what LDs believe is “support the Tories, but sound a bit nicer” if in government.”
    I think that is broadly true, though “sound a bit nicer” is unfair as I believe that the Lib Dems have looked more like a genuinely compassionate version of the Tories.

    If I were to sum up the impression given by the party in recent years, I would say there has appeared to be a preoccupation with the interests and self-interest of the sort of comfortably-off middle-class graduates (perhaps more arts & humanities & IT than science & engineering) that might be labelled by some as a “liberal metropolitan elite”. This is tempered by a real concern for the poorest in society but without enough understanding or appreciation of everybody else in between. This is probably a very Anglocentric view and Scottish Lib Dems might be perceived differently.

    I don’t know what the solution is (in many ways I would be part of the problem, ticking nearly all of the Lib Dem stereotype boxes as a white, middle-aged, middle-class graduate, albeit living in the north west rather than the south east) and I wouldn’t have the political nous or vocabulary to describe it, but I would strongly recommend reading posts by Matthew Huntbach!

  • Andrew McCaig 14th Jan '20 - 7:26pm

    Revoke was certainly a bold policy. There were circumstances in which it might have worked electorally. It was a misjudgement by whoever was pushing it but I do not blame them for taking the risk.

    However it was emphatically NOT a Liberal policy. Overturning a referendum by a vote of less than 50% is antidemocratic and therefore illiberal, because we are (or should be, there are some worrying signs here) the unified and consistent Party of fair votes.

    In contrast, the People’s Vote policy was perfectly Liberal. The result in 2016 would only be overturned if a majority of voters wanted that. How could that possibly be undemocratic?

    To answer the question upthread: No, Boris Johnson does NOT have a mandate for his form of Brexit or anything else. He is almost certainly doing something at the end of this month that the majority of people now think is a bad idea. He is taking advantage of our elective dictatorship and we should be backing the 56% who did not vote Tory by calling him out on this at every opportunity.

    So to conclude. Risks are OK if correctly calculated. But for a Liberal Party illiberal policies are not. Breaking the Pledge on tuition fees was another good (and even more disastrous) example of a policy that went against our contract with the electorate and was therefore illiberal.

  • David Allen 14th Jan '20 - 7:36pm

    Jenny Barnes: “There’s a place for allowing failure, for sure. However, there are also places for not taking risks. Consider the 737Max. … hundreds killed – CEO defenestrated, billions wiped off the share price, car parks full of unsaleable aircraft. …. Who made the mistake? well, in this election, clearly, the voters got it wrong. Let’s have a new electorate…”

    A great comment. Many of the following comments which seek to identify which specific risks we should not have taken, and which specific failures we should not now seek to condone or explain away, also make sense. But there is an overriding, generral point that needs to be made.

    What is the psychology which leads people, who have just experienced disaster, to go out on a limb and actively praise the type of behaviour which led to the disaster? It is the psychology of denialism.

    As long as denialism holds sway, specific prescriptions for avoiding future disasters – however well-designed those prescriptions might be – are unlikely to progress. The denalists will undermine their effectiveness. That process is clealy visible in the Labour leadership contest. Long-Bailey and Corbyn are the denialists-in-chief, but others such as Starmer and Thornberry must also tack toward denialist positions, because “mankind cannot bear too much reality”.

    It would be nice to believe that the Lib Dems will do much better than Labour in overcoming their recent disasters. Sadly, I think that to suggest that this is now happening would be – denialism.

  • Yet another ‘silver lining’ article, which doesn’t appear to appreciate the difference between a risk and a mistake.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Jan '20 - 10:52am

    Andrew McCaig. Well said, Andrew. I entirely agree with your points about Liberal decision-taking, a very clear exposition.

    David Allen, I am doubtful about your theory of denialism, Politicians do have to take risks, and the problems arise when bad judgements are made about what risks to take. I suppose I am most worried about collective misjudgements by our leadership, people going along with initial bad judgements, None of us is wise, so I hope leaders will at least now pause to consider, and think twice before going along with opinions and suggestions, whoever is making them. We have, unfortunately, now plenty of time to pause and think.

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  • Joe Bourke
    Peter Martin, yes, the EU Cap system no longer applies to the UK, but the UK Agriculture Act emulates much of the previous policy. As this IEA report http...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Joe, "The government does not borrow from itself" ?? It likes to pretend it doesn't but you must be one of the very few to believe them. Tru...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Joe, I'm sure you must be aware that the EU's CAP is history as far as the UK is concerned. In any case it relies on high tariffs to stifle competition. Th...
  • Jeff
    Peter Martin 23rd Oct '21 - 11:55am: There has to be a better way which will involve more direct support to our farmers. This means we pay farmers to...
  • Jason Connor
    That's not the point about compulsory mask wearing it's not their purpose. They have proved to be effective in protecting others, what social liberalism is all ...