Liberals gather in Bournemouth to pioneer new strategies to rebuild and win again

International Office_with textFollowing the UK General Election on May 7, the Liberal Democrats have taken stock, rallied the membership and elected a new Party Leader, Tim Farron. With 20,000 members having joined the Party since May and 3 recent council election victories, the #libdemfightback is well underway. Liberal parties across Europe have faced challenging elections in the recent past, and it is essential that we share our experiences and learn from both each others’ mistakes and winning strategies.

In order to kick-start this debate, the Liberal Democrats International Office brought together a distinguished panel, including Hans van Baalen, ALDE Vice President, MP and MEP for VVD and former President of Liberal International, Annelou van Egmond, the D66 Director of Communications and key architect of the Party’s revival, Hans Stein, the Head of International Relations for the German FDP; Khatuna Samnidze, the Chairman of the Republican Party of Georgia, and Victoria Marsom, the Head of Strategic Seat Operation for the Liberal Democrats. In the chair was Iain Gill, Head of the Liberal Democrats International Office. 

The room was packed with an audience of more than 200 people, as Iain Gill introduced the speakers and subject of subject of discussion:

Most of Europe’s leading liberal parties have suffered near death political experiences at some point in their political history, and each one has not only been resuscitated but has thrived and grown stronger. This event brings together chief architects in those revival campaigns to share technical and campaign experiences with the broader liberal democrats faithful.

Hans van Baalen opened the discussion, stressing the need for all members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) to support the Liberal Democrats in rebuilding and fighting the EU referendum campaign.

VVD, D66 and other liberal parties across Europe will be on hand to help with the fight back.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 08.25.23Annelou van Egmond shared her perspective on how to rebuilding a liberal party, with her own experience in the Dutch D66 party. Following the 2006 election, in which D66 won just 2% of the vote, its worst result ever, she was one of the key architects of the party’s revival. Four years later, D66 more than tripled its vote share with 6.9%, and in the 2012 election, the party took 8%. Van Egmond shared some of the secrets of their success: a short campaign execution, hiring an external evaluator, investing in strategic local polling, and daring to oppose and be different.

Don’t just think about Left and Right. The big divide in politics is not between Left and Right, but between blamers and optimists. Liberals need to be radical on issues such as welcoming refugees and supporting civil liberties.

Victoria Marsom explained the crucial role that sister-parties played in the 2015 election campaign:

Sharing ideas and strategies among liberal parties is vital. It was Annelou van Egmond who provided new strategies for the Liberal Democrats, tailored to meet the specific conditions of different regions and constituencies, in the run up to the election on 7 May.

Hans Stein gave an account of the FDP’s experience in the 2013 election in Germany, where the party failed to reach 5% of the vote, and lost all of its parliamentary representation. He referred to the importance of taking time over coalition negotiations and the careful selection of ministerial posts that relate to what the Party stands as key lessons learned from the FDP’s experience.

Stein ended on an optimistic note for both the FDP and the Liberal Democrats, and expressed his amazement at the enthusiasm for this debate:

When I see the huge attendance in this debate I am not afraid about the future of the Liberal Democrats!

Meanwhile Khatuna Samnidze discussed the political dynamics facing a liberal party in Georgia, a part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and a country divided between political parties leaning towards Russia and those with Western outlook. Samnidze emphasised the importance of liberal networks to her party’s efforts in seeking EU membership for Georgia:

We need support from liberal parties across Europe if we are to win the pro-EU argument.

Across Europe, the Liberal Democrats, FDP, D66 and many other liberal parties are facing a challenging political climate. And with the rise of nationalism and the real possibility of a Brexit, the need for a liberal voice in politics is greater than ever. The role of ALDE, LI and cooperation between sister parties will be instrumental in bringing about a resurgence of liberalism across the continent.

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3 Comments

  • paul barker 9th Oct '15 - 12:01pm

    I have been looking at the local byelections last fought in May, where we stood candidates both times. So far there are only 9 examples, 3 showing tiny falls in our vote & 6 showing a wide range of rises. The average is a rise of 6% since May. Its very early days of course but the results so far look hopeful.

  • Glenn Andrews 9th Oct '15 - 12:45pm

    Liberal Democrat GAIN Aird & Loch Ness (Highland) from SNP; if that’s not positive I don’t know what is.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Oct '15 - 10:41am

    Andrew Marr’s Start the Week on 12/10/2015 is really worth two separate threads. One on Kissinger, who served in the US army in Europe during World War 2 and one on Stalin’s ambassador to London (a Menshevik) and the failure of the UK establishment in 1936 to prevent World War 2, or to reduce its scope.
    Kissinger made a point about the gratitude of the population. Because they had not experienced the worst case scenario they were not grateful that it had been avoided.
    In a smaller way the electorate are not very grateful for the avoidance of an economic disaster in the UK in 2010. Those who feel a need for economic advice now might listen to Vicky Price, who was on the Today Programme on12/10/2015 after 8.30.

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