LibLink: There’s no way to deny it, the Lib Dems are on the rise again

Last week’s election results show that, overall, the Liberal Democrats are fighting back argues Tom Brake in an article for the Huffington Post.

Our party made the most gains in the English local elections, increasing our share of seats more than any other party, now having 45 more, passionate Councillors working hard for their communities.

We strengthened our support in the liberal heartlands of Eastleigh and Cheltenham. We dominated the results in Southport, Cumbria and in Watford, where we took control of the council. And we gained seats in cities like Hull, Rochdale and Manchester thanks to my fantastic former colleague John Leech, who will provide the only opposition to Labour there.

Up and down the country we’ve seen the green shoots of liberalism grow up in communities disillusioned with an impotent Labour party dubbed as the worst ever Government opposition, and a heartless Conservative Government imposing ideological cuts to valued public services.

While we only managed to retain our five seats in Scotland, it’s worth highlighting the fantastic results in Edinburgh Western, North East Fife and the Orkney and Shetland Isles. Admittedly results in Wales and London can be viewed as a disappointment and are incredibly undeserved after the brilliant campaigns run by Kirsty Williams and Caroline Pidgeon.

It’s no secret that Caroline was by far the most skilled and qualified candidate and I am sure that as our Assembly Member she will continue to be a passionate voice for Londoners.

I congratulate Sadiq Khan for becoming the first Muslim Mayor of a major western city. Despite not being from the same party, I was proud that Londoners rejected the shameful, divisive and frankly racist Tory campaign, which thankfully fell flat on its back.

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  • This is I think the 6th post local election analysis piece that is robustly upbeat and “didn’t we do well”. The sole exception is the back end of hte piece by John Pugh which ended “For the party that does not sit down after the victory cheers have died down and ask itself ,”Now what went wrong ?” won’t be cheering for long.”

    Ignoring for a moment that there there is a way to deny it (as the party lost ground across several sets of elections) I have to ask the question why has LDV not had any editorial mention of the less upbeat analysis from Mark Pack on his excellent Lib Dem Newswire. Mark is a pretty widely highly regarded commentator on Lib Dem fortunes and is about the only wholly Lib Dem sympathetic commentator on elections on polls. He certainly isn’t a constant doom and gloom merchant.

    His verdict:
    “verdict: the modest nature of the party’s recovery shows how much it needs to change to really recover – and that if it does, it will work. But the reactions so far raise serious questions about how many people in the party are up for that change.”

    The question has to be put – why has Lib Dem Voice had no mention of this? Is he raising questions the editorial team would just rather not see asked?

  • paul barker 14th May '16 - 2:50pm

    Thanks to Hywel for pointing me to the Mark Pack piece which I had missed.
    Of course Tom Brake is wrong that there is no way to deny facts, there are lots of strategies. Hywel has gone with distraction – “Look over there, a kitten!”
    I expect most commenters to go for burying the irritating facts under mounds of other facts but if all else fails facts can be simply ignored.

  • David Allen 14th May '16 - 6:24pm

    Words fail me paul barker. “Pots and Kettles” doesn’t do it justice.

    Yes there has been a slight recovery, and yes that’s better than five years of unrelenting decline. However, is it anything very much more than a dead cat bounce?

    We have stopped clegging. We have, to some extent, eliminated a negative. That has been enough to enable some strong local campaigners to get more attention for their own strengths, and win a few council seats. But that’s about all. We haven’t yet created much in the way of positive enthusiasm, other than at local level.

    Yes, it will take time. But without a bit more distinctiveness, a harder edge, a few more specific reasons to support us other than “soft centre”, I fear it could take for ever.

  • David Evans 14th May '16 - 9:25pm

    I do wonder what world the people who are encouraged to write for Lib Dem Voice inhabit. Even those few MPs who remain are still in total denial of the disaster they inflicted on our party. If Tom simply looked at the analysis Mark Pack has published and I have further analysed and commented on, it seems in the wards that comprise Carsharlton and Wallington constituency we may just have managed to average 20% of the vote. That is in a constituency where Tom took 35% of the vote last year, and just held on ahead of the Conservative who polled 31.7%.

    I fear this continual talking up of one small part of what was another poor set of results across the UK, is not an attempt to keep the party’s spirits up, but much more simply a distraction technique to hide the fact that those that remain have no idea of the changes needing to be made to save the party, and no willingness to face up to the truth of what they did as it all went wrong.

    Too many of us are still in denial. “It wasn’t me” will not save the party. It will simply ensure its destruction.

  • @ Newshound

    “We dominated the results in…….., Cumbria……..” Oh no we didn’t…….

    We did ok – as we should – in South Lakeland Tim’s own patch – but has Newshound ever visited Cumbria ?

    There are six District Councils and a County Council (including South Lakeland).

    Can he/she tell us how many seats we won outside South Lakeland ?

  • The answer is 1……. in Carlisle …… where the result was :

    Labour 28 seats
    Conservative 20
    Independent 3
    Liberal Democrat 1

    By all means be cheerful – but please get the atlas out.

  • T A GILBERT 15th May '16 - 7:15am

    Yes, of course we should analyse what went wrong – but I suspect that most of the decline is still down to the Coalition. A lower average vote makes it harder to win everywhere, and the bigger the constituency, the harder it is. Which is why we haven’t yet stopped tanking in Welsh and London Assembly elections, and the PR element in Scotland. But to mistake advertising our successes in 2 extra Scottish constituencies, and 45 extra council seats for ‘complacency’ is wrong in my view. I have seen no-one who advocating complacency; almost everyone recognises the hard work necessary to recover. But shouting from the rooftops about our successes is necessary, too! That ordinary voters learn of our successes is vital in rebuilding the wider credibility which will make it that little bit easier to win everywhere. No-one else is going to do it, are they? Yes, let’s have a ‘harder edge’ to our campaigns (assuming that’s beneficial and we all know what it means!), read Mark Pack (link, please!) and learn new and better methods and strategies where we can.
    But, frankly, talking down our own gains as ‘dead cat bounce’ really would be the surest route to oblivion!

  • T.A. Gilbert : “almost everyone recognises the hard work necessary to recover”.

    It’s much more than that. It’s about having a product of quality that’s easy to sell.

  • Bill le Breton 15th May '16 - 9:29am

    This was a piece for Huffington Post and therefore was exactly the right thing for Tom to write.

    So ‘people are not writing’ this kind of stuff ‘for LDV’. It is LDV which is continuing to publish propaganda here. So is LDV an outward facing propaganda site? Or is it trying to help the Party meet the challenge of where it is?

    Two things are required to revive the fortunes of the Party. 1 increase training for campaigners. Make sure there is massive amounts of training at conference. Write and distribute a lot of campaigning material now. Use the 1989 People First campaings as a model. Give every region a Kickstart weekend and a free place for one or two activists on such an event.

    2. Of course improving campaigning skills is not going to give an immediate impact. It will take years to rebuild the party at grassroots. Therefore our main resource for the short term is the impact of the leader. Everything must be done to help him gain profile and traction. The overriding mood of the country- in fact much of the world – is an anti-Establishment/ Down with the Incompetent Establishment/ Worst Elite in Generations mood. And who better to do this than Tim Farron? And at least until 2007, the Liberal Democrats.

    We have actually wasted a year … and the results are in many ways proof of that – good performances from the places that have strength and a history of campaigning success.
    Why did we waste this year? Because people have found it difficult to adjust their mentality to the new situation. We are not the Establishment.

  • I’m sorry TAG, but your view that “to mistake advertising our successes for ‘complacency’ is wrong” is misguided. Indeed I have seen no-one advocating complacency for the party. However what we still see is complacency of the generals at the top, whose only real mantra is that the troops go out and fight harder, with not an ounce of recognition of the mistakes they made and are still making. So, yes someone else has to do it for the infantry, it has to be done by the generals, and nowhere do we see that being even considered.

    That is what john Pugh is implying in his piece, but too many of us seem to prefer a comforting lie than to face up to an uncomfortable truth.

  • Richard Underhill 15th May '16 - 11:45am

    We currently have a hugely important election happening. Campaigners need to be campaigning. Tom Brake is right to be positive.

  • Tony Hutson 15th May '16 - 1:20pm

    A lot of good sense from Bill LeBretton: the problem here is that LDV has never really decided whether it wants to be an internal debating forum for party members to speak frankly, or a public platform for the party to transmit its key messages to the general public. Both are valid, but I fear they can’t co-exist on the same site, and its this dilemma that is leading to discussion threads like this.

  • Chris Maines 16th May '16 - 11:51am

    I usually agree with Bill le Breton on most things, whilst increasing training for campaigners and improving Tim’s profile are important, the priority for the party must be to articulate a clear and distinctive vision of what Liberal Democrats stand for.
    It is true the Coalition damaged our reputation of not being part of the establishment but it also has confused people’s view of what we stand for.
    In London, voters think they what the Greens & UKIP stand for, although we had the strongest and best qualified candidate our brand is still damaged and the perception of who we are is clouded by our role in coalition.
    There is mutterings about the need to rebrand – which I guess means a name change, new logo or colours. What is actually needed are a few distinctive, radical policies that clearly differentiate us, that we can own and enthusiastically campaign on.

  • paul barker 16th May '16 - 6:28pm

    I notice that according to a survey by Labour List (the Labour equivalent of LDV) nearly three quarters of Labour activists feel that Labour did well in The Locals. Labour lost seats, we gained seats.
    Perhaps we need to be more optimistic & Labour, less.

  • Portsmouth South, for example, saw better local election results for the Lib Dems than 2010 in terms of lead over the Tories – generally thought to be a very good year for us.

    Across Portsmouth South, the result was: Lib Dem 38%, Lab 22%, Con 20%, UKIP 12%, Green 8%.
    A lead over the Tories of 18%, in contrast in the run-up to the 2010 General Election we had a lead in local election over the Tories of between 7% and 9%.
    Last year we did 5.5% worse in the general election compared to the locals, Labour 3% better, Conservatives 7% better, Greens 4% worse, UKIP 1.5% better
    Applying this correction factor would give:
    Lib Dems 32.5%, Con 27%, Lab 25%, UKIP 13.5%, Green 4%.

    Perhaps not surprisingly the Tory MP turned up to the count, saw the lie of the land and left abruptly after only 5 minutes! All of this does not necessarily imply that we will win Portsmouth South at the next election – the Tories can comeback and there seems still to be a Labour and Green vote to squeeze

    I haven’t looked in detail at other seats but it looks as if we would have “won” many of the English seats the Tories took off us last year such as Eastleigh, Colchester and Watford (a gain!). Indeed as in Portsmouth South, that is so, even taking into account the fact that we do a bit worse in general elections compared to locals .

    These seem good signs but there are three things we need to do:
    1. Through our policies and messages, there is a need to build coalition of Lib Dems, Labour and green voters especially in target constituencies along with soft conservatives. Education. NHS. But also liberal with small l policies. And green policies in the broadest sense. The millennial generation should be ours – they just don’t know it yet! (And would echo Chris Maines in this).
    2. Target (very large) resources at our marginal seats. There is no doubt that the Tories will throw large resources at these seats and they may benefit from incumbency.
    3. But we also need to re-build our national vote to at least the mid to high teens. 2015 shows that we can’t win target constituencies without a high enough national vote.

    At the moment Scotland is Scotland (!) and London Mayoral and GLA elections have always been structurally difficult for us. It would seem though that England headed more in our direction than most commentators have given us credit for. But there are many months to go until the next General Election and a lot of hard work.

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