It’s time to take on Labour

I recall a local by-election in an inner London area many moons ago. No names no pack drill although a few might work it out.

In that by-election we extensively campaigned by leafleting and knocking on doors. Our canvass was comprehensive and our campaign, by an excellent local community campaigner, was superb.

On the day there we had so many people that there wasn’t enough work to go round – thus, two people were telling on each polling station and knocking up was done by rota. Sounds brilliant doesn’t it – we must have won, mustn’t we? Well we came a strong 2nd behind Labour.

Who was the agent? Piers Corbyn brother of Jeremy.

It was similar to another national byelection. Again the same conditions prevailed. Again we came third to Labour.

Why do I say this? It’s because I see the same fate befalling the Labour Party. It doesn’t matter how many activists you have, how many members on the ground – it matters not at all if you’re not persuading people to come out and vote for you.

This is a salutary lesson for Lib Dems. There’s a stonking great centre to centre left area that’s crying out to be filled by as Tim Farron says `an economically credible party that is socially just`. Unlike Labour we do not leave the stage. We keep on fighting to win elections so that we can give power back to people.

I feel there is an element in our party that actually want to cuddle up to Corbyn. As far as I’m concerned, if we did that we may as well then be called Labour Lite.

Ask those that face Labour every day how to fight Labour. The last thing they’d say is “be nice and try and build an alliance with Labour politicians.” What they’d say is that their Labour local bigwigs are nastier than the Tories and the only language they understand is effective opposition and electoral defeats.

I despair at more LDV articles  being positive about Corbyn. He’s essentially carrying on the old Labour pastime of `providing an analysis without any proper solutions`. We need to be finding out what part of the analysis we can work with and provide our own liberal solutions. We don’t do that by joining with Labour but audaciously staking out the ground they’ve vacated and communicating with the general public.

The only language Labour understand is when you fight them head on and appropriate their vernacular for your own electoral ends.

If we can’t do this as a party now then we have no business, apart from in specialised local areas, to be in the world of politics.

The time for pontificating in paralysis over Corbyn is over. We were in paralysis for five long years. We are no longer in Government – it’s time to attack!

* John Abrams is a member and activist in Stockport

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  • An element of the party ‘cuddled’ up with the Conservatives and a battering was the partys reward. If you start ‘attacking’ Labour you will need to be careful that they don’t ‘attack’ back too strong’. The party needs to continue saying sorry again and again until the voters decide to forgive and not reminding voters of the man who led you to oblivion is a wise move. Clegg is bad business for you haven’t you worked that out yet.

  • Interesting that LDV has felt itself forced to publish so many variations on the same theme.

  • Simon mcgrath 2nd Oct '15 - 9:42am

    Very good points. Scary that a number of Lib Dems seem to want to cuddle up to Corbyn.

  • Well – Yes!

    Corbyn as leader of Labour is a by-product of the coalition and the consequent validation of what this article terms ‘Labour nastiness’ against what was for the most part a continuation of Labour’s own economic policy.

    My only caveat is that it would be a serious mistake to suppose that Corbyn will still be leader in 2020 so we need to be aware that we could be putting effort into attacking a position that might disappear.

  • …………………This is a salutary lesson for Lib Dems. There’s a stonking great centre to centre left area that’s crying out to be filled by as Tim Farron says `an economically credible party that is socially just`. Unlike Labour we do not leave the stage. We keep on fighting to win elections so that we can give power back to people…………………

    Yet more about. this mythical utopian place called the ‘centre’…..As for `an economically credible party that is socially just’ why not add ‘Mom and apple pie’?….
    Perhaps Labour ‘has left the stage’ because everyone up there were singing from the same hymn sheet? If you think 8 voices out of 650 will make any difference’ good luck! Our strength was always our local council base and yet, post 2010, that was what we lost first……Our leadership still refuses to admit the scale of our fall from grace and, until we do, we’ll remain a fringe party….

    I can count on the fingers of one hand articles about the current government and yet I’d need to remove shoe and socks just to start on the ‘Labour’ related threads….

  • Seems to me that it is not a question of taking on Labour, or the Cons or UKIP or the Greens. We have to look at ourselves and let the public know something that is clear. coherent and different. It can be outrageous, but we need a stand. You can always back down in ayear or twos time once a base has been established. We are seemingly in a mind set that all is coming our way. It blatently is not. Just look at the Local election results yesterday, they again resemble the appalling state of affairs between 2013 and 2015. At the moment we are not fighting back so far as the public is concerned, and that is what is important. Indeed anything we do fire seem to be firing constant blanks and missing the target

  • James Baillie 2nd Oct '15 - 11:02am

    Taking on Labour really isn’t the issue at the moment, everybody’s desperately trying to club them to death anyway. We need to be taking on the Tories, as the governing party, rather than abdicating our responsibilities as an effective opposition and flogging distinctly lame ponies if not quite dead horses.

  • Stephen Howse 2nd Oct '15 - 11:43am

    We do indeed need to be talking about the need to remove this Tory government in 2020.

    However, that’s five years away. In the meantime a number of us up and down the country will be fighting Labour locally and trying to remove Labour councillors and councils from power.

    We aren’t going to get back into national government before 2020 at the earliest, but we can get back into power in urban areas up and down the country if we offer a clear, coherent, liberal alternative to Labour in those areas.

    So we absolutely do need to be clear about where Labour is going wrong and how we are different from them, in the same way as we need to for the Tories.

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Oct '15 - 11:44am

    John Abrams | Fri 2nd October 2015 – 8:55 am This is obviously right as a national strategy.
    I have no comment about Labour-facing seats. In Tory-facing seats in England we need to establish ourselves as being in first or second place and, for the sake of electoral credibility, well above whoever is third.
    We should note that at the Labour conference JC said that before he was an MP he was an agent (for 14 years?) in Hackney, which may partially explain how and/or why he has held his seat in Islington despite gentrification.
    The strategy should include something about registration drives. JC said at the Labour conference that ithey are a lot of hard work, but politically necessary for Labour.
    They are also necessary for democracy, so three points about the Tories
    1) Using the elctoral register to help administer the poll tax/community charge undermined the electoral register
    2) David Cameron promised, apparently reluctantly, at PMQ to do a registration drive, but may have had problems delivering on his promise caused by his party, would this be a barnacle to be ignored?
    3) the legislation of the current government, as commented on by our peers, also opposed by Labour.
    The national strategy should also include the hugely important imminent referendum. We can wait a week, for any announcements at the Tory conference about the timing, which will be before or after the elections of May 2016.

  • Dave Orbison 2nd Oct '15 - 12:20pm

    John Abrams: ‘Attack Labour not the Tories’ ‘ We [LibDems] were in paralysis for five long years.’
    Paralysis, really? I don’t think is a fair summary of the past five years. The only LibDem love affair I have seen was between the LibDem frontbench and the Tories in the previous Government. Far from being paralysed over the last 5 years, the LibDems enabled the last Government. The electorate expressed their disdain of the LibDem’s part in these shenanigans repeatedly and then empathically in May 2015.

    I think the article highlights the disarray that the LibDems are in. What do LibDems stand for? Should they define themselves by polices they adopt or by reference to other parties? If the latter, must the LibDems be equidistant from Tories and Labour for fear of being portrayed as too cuddly towards one or the other? In an era of austerity, are social liberals and eco liberals compatible, judged not in terms to signing off to a general preamble, but in their ability to agree a defined, credible economic policy that delivers social, fairness and justice, build 300k homes etc?

    Given that it is this Government which is causing so much misery and intent on introducing a raft of illiberal legislation, I would have hoped that self-evidently the target for the LibDems (and Labour) would have been the Tories. After all, the notion of cuddling with political opponents, including Labour, surely in a perquisite to successful coalition politics, something the LibDems have long since championed.

  • Conor McGovern 2nd Oct '15 - 1:10pm

    It would be great if we could take the fight to George Osborne as Tim seems to be morphing into a Tory on economics, before we start attacking someone who’s at least trying to do the right thing to make our country a fairer place to live.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Oct '15 - 1:18pm

    Just when I think that Lib Dems on this site have stopped behaving like the People’s Front of Judea another thread like this appears.
    Once again we’re told that the party needs to do something, “finding out what part of the analysis we can work with and provide our own liberal solutions.” But we’re no closer to deciding what that something should be or which solutions are “liberal“. A parallel thread about the preamble to the Party’s constitution shows that even if there is some consensus on the destination there is a significant division between people on how best to get there.
    The party seems to be portraying itself as anti-Labour, anti-SNP, anti-Green, anti-UKIP, pretty indifferent towards the Conservatives, but not really clear about what it is actually for to the extent that articles and posts condemn those parties and their positions even when they are promoting policies that Lib Dems could agree with.

  • Over the past decade we failed to encourage more working class members, we failed to get a more diverse party and now Labour is reaping the rewards. We elected Farron because of his “man of the people” credentials, now Labour elects a guy that’s far more convincing on those grounds (who did vote on gay marriage, embryology and assisted dying). Over the next 3 years Corbyn will either convince many centre-left Lib Dem, Green and even UKIP voters that he’s the candidate for them, or he’ll prove to be the intellectually bankrupt Marxist he’s been accused of, perpetuating Labour’s credibility crisis. At this stage it would be unwise to bet against him and for those tired of talking about it – it’s just begun, we’ve probably got the best part of half a decade ahead yet!

    What’s he’s right about is it’s the best time in the cycle to work on deep internal democratic reforms, we should get debating more of them in earnest. If by the next election Labour look to be more open and democratic, liberalism can be a perceived trait extrapolated from these other attributes (open/democratic institutions seem more liberal). They’ll eat us as hors d’oeuvres.

  • Andrew McCaig 2nd Oct '15 - 2:15pm

    Since the OP is from Stockport I thought I would have a look at the 2015 local election results there.

    In 6 seats we won, the Tories are a near second in 5, and Labour in just one
    In 7 seats the Tories won we appear to be in second place every time, with usually more Labour votes than the gap between us an the Tories
    In 7 seats Labour won, we are second in only one, and usually 4th or 5th

    Making gains in 2016 in Stockport seems entirely possible, but they will be at the expense of the Tories and we need to be attacking the Tory government strongly to win back some tactical Labour votes. We are not going to be gaining many safe Labour council seats next May, and when we did in the past we were a good deal more left of centre than we are now. That applies to places like Leeds and Hull. We showed we were a more effective opposition to the Tories in those places, and better (or potentially better) at running the council. Michael Meadowcroft certainly did not win in Leeds West by seeming like a Tory… He showed he cared about habitual Labour voters more than Labour did…

    The Tories are in power in Westminster and are doing many things we should be opposing. Where Labour are in power at local level of course we should be attacking them. But attacking Labour for their barely formed national policy agenda should not be our priority – by showing we oppose the Tories we can chip away at the more Blairite wing of the Labour vote. We are certainly not going to do that by endlessly discussing Jeremy Corbyn on LDV!

  • When we were in government our leadership spent most of it’s time attacking the main opposition…and look how that turned out!
    Now we are in opposition, guess what, we are attacking the main opposition…..You couldn’t make it up

  • I moved house around the time of the GE, and picked up several copies of the Southport Visitor to help with wrapping… Every second page (no exaggeration) was an advert for the Conservatives, and an attack on the Lib Dem incumbent (John Pugh).

    His excellent campaign team, and his record as the local MP ensured he held onto the seat – but it was far too close for my comfort – not because his votes went to Labour, but because the Conservaties tried to stage a coup.

    I’d argue, outside of Scotland, that this was the case in every Lib Dem seat. We granted the Tories their majority! and we did it by attacking Labour, and nailing our colours so firmly to the coalition government that we were punished instead.

    At the moment, there’s nothing to gain from attacking Labour. They have no policies, have only just elected a leader, and have no power. All we’re doing is shouting into the void, or adding our small voices to the cacophony of left-right hate.

    When Labour actually has a position worth debating – I’m all for lighting a fire under them (if it’s nonsense)… but until then, could we stop being so bloody ineffectual?

  • Christopher Haigh 2nd Oct '15 - 4:47pm

    Hi AM- it is definitely in the interests of the conservative party to destroy the liberal Democrat party so that they can pick up all our once held seats in the south west. The ConservativeHome website that Simon Shaw directed us to read was bemoaning the fact that they had achieved destruction but Jeremy Corbyn might let us back in. It’s so strange that the right wing of this party are so attached to the Tories.

  • David Evans 2nd Oct '15 - 4:51pm

    Since time immemorial, it has been a well know fact that when Labour were in power in Westminster we won council seats from Labour and when the Conservatives were in power we won council seats from them. Anything else (except where there is next to no option) is futile.

    Despair over attitudes to Corbyn may be understandable John, but fighting Labour at the wrong time will lose us much, much more than it will win.

  • Thanks for all the comments. My view is that most voters are a lot more casual than party activists. We can never be `the nicerist people ever` party. That looks as if it’s again going to be left to Labour. Only by pointing out the faults of Corbynism (that it is counter-productive and lacks efficacy) will we win round the pragmatic voter. Moderate conservative voters need to know that we are a distinctive voice and part of that is attacking Labour. Currently many are projecting what they want on to Corbyn as it tries to define itself. It’s up to us to help define it – for the detriment of the Labour Party,

    In Stockport Constituency we have one ward which is Labour facing. The last thing we do is allow Stockport Labour bigwigs to call the shots. At the last election and running up to it we were framing the arguments and subverting Labour language and purloining it as our own due to the superior policies and actions that we had taken as cllrs and a lib dem led council.

    You either use Labour to help attract the voters in the centre and centre left (and pick off some conservatives) or use Labour to persuade them that you are the more radical force for change due to economic competence.

    I make no apology for using the word `centre` – it’s where most of the voters are and I’ve yet to hear a policy framework of the left that would have worked in May. My view is that our results would have been WORSE.

  • Further to Tim Oliver’s post above, it is not just in Hull and Leeds that we customarily fight Labour, but also in Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, North London and many other places besides. Whatever national strategy we adopt, it cannot involve us in putting in only token efforts in Labour-held constituencies.

  • It’s time to attack ? It is if we are to have any pretensions as a serious party…… But…….

    More to the point it’s time to stop playing at politics by putting up paper candidates for local government by-elections resulting in derisive 2% or less totals. If people can’t be bothered to get out on the door knocker day after day,evening after evening they don’t show any respect for the electorate and they don ‘t deserve anything better . All it does is advertise weakness and demoralise those of us who have had to work at winning seats by dedicated campaigning in the past.

  • Nigel Jones 3rd Oct '15 - 11:33am

    We must not cuddle up to any other party. Jon Abrams is right about the fact that although Labour sometimes propagates principles that we can sympathise with, in practice they want their own way and are very happy to kick us out of their way. Indeed, Corbyn has attracted many of those who have publicly despised us because of the coalition and will continue to attack us and propagate dogmas we cannot wholly agree with. The Tories are less loud in public about us, but in practice get up to all sorts of devious methods to attack us in their campaigns.
    The basic point is this: we must look at the problems the nation faces, take a little time to find our own up to date solutions, taking note of public opinion and communicating at national and grass roots levels. Jon is right to remind us of Tim’s excellent mantra of “an economically credible party that is socially just”, since alongside civil liberties that identifies us well. We must rebuild our own identity alongside those people who share our approach and get on with it. We must leave it to the public and the media to discuss whether we are attacking others or taking the centre ground or veering to the left or right; I don’t want us to use that language. It does us little good to talk much in public about our tactics in relation to other parties. People who are not among our activists are not interested in tactics, they want to know what we stand for.

  • Tony Dawson 3rd Oct '15 - 4:42pm

    Interesting that Piers Corbyn is Boris’ favourite weatherman (a strong climate change denier)

    and that his dabbling with the Liberals or Lib Dems or SDP has not made the ‘party politics’ but of his Wikipedia entry.

  • David Raw,

    Putting up no-one looks even worse, I am afraid. I read on Twitter that we have delivered 6 full leaflets in Edinburgh Western since the General Election – it is hard to do that with our limited resources and also put up much of a fight in nearby Linlithgow. Putting effort into every hopeless local by-election where we start from 5th place is not a good use of resources, but I do wonder if we are still over-targetting in Edinburgh (admittedly now there looks to be a chance of a Westminster by-election there…). Perhaps if we spread our efforts a little wider we might get a list seat or two at Holyrood…

  • While some of us have drawn back from campaigning for PR at Westminster in recent years this may be the one area where talking to Labour Party people (along with others) about anything makes any sense eventually. But first they have to work out for themselves that getting into Government – under any leader – is probably not going to happen again under First Past the Post. The Tories have ever increasing resources and the necessary moral bankruptcy to exploit a rotten system to the hilt. But in the first instance Labour have to do the sums for themselves. In places like Bradford we fight Labour hard on the ground but this is not the same as national campaigning as bit part players in an anti-Corbyn onslaught which will happen anyway. We have more important priorities.

  • Great comments – i think it’s important to remember that it’s up to Labour to work put their own stuff and up to us to do the same. It takes enough energy to do our own thinking and finding ways to tackle the open door of where Labour are right now. In fact I’d say it’s one of our priorities. How to do it and what to say. It’ll be an unforgivable luxury to think for Labour as well. In fact that’s subliminally what they want.

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