Local and European campaign review

Fortis Green by-election 2004: volunteers at work stuffing envelopesAs Chair of the Party’s democratically-elected Campaigns & Communications Committee, Nick Clegg has asked me to conduct a review into the Local and European election campaign and result. I will be joined in doing this work for Nick by a small group comprised of Cllr. Abi Bell of Hull City Council, Cllr Ruth Dombey – Leader of Sutton Borough Council, and George Lyon – former MEP for Scotland.

I have spoken to Nick and we have agreed that this review will be a full and frank one that explores both what went right and what went wrong in the campaign. It is clear that there a number of points on both sides of that ledger and hence plenty of lessons that absolutely can and should be learnt.

Like many in our party, particularly those of us who have been fighting Labour in urban areas, I saw valued colleagues and friends lose their seats on Thursday despite years of diligent work for the communities they serve. So I am personally determined to do all I can to make sure we draw the right conclusions from what happened last week.

Our review will build on the work that is already on-going in parts of the party – such as that being coordinated by English Party Chair, Peter Ellis – and I intend to lead discussions on this at both CCC and FE. But more importantly it is an opportunity to draw on the views and experiences of members and local parties from across the country. If you or your local party colleagues have views or analysis that you would like to contribute then please do email us on [email protected].

I have agreed with Nick that we will report back to him before the Summer recess. And I will, of course, also share my conclusions with the appropriate party bodies at that stage too.

I know that like me, every Liberal Democrat member wants to elect as many Liberal Democrat MPs and Cllrs in the 2015 elections as possible. I very much hope that by having an honest and constructive review we will play our part in helping achieve that. I look forward to hearing from you.

* James Gurling is Chair of the Federal Campaigns and Elections Committee and the General Election campaign.

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This entry was posted in Campaign Corner, News and Party policy and internal matters.


  • We have to bear in mind the sheer hostility of the media narrative against the Liberal Democrats at present and for the past four years. The constant press hammering, particularly of Nick Clegg, has had its effect on voters’ willingness even to hear what we are saying and take it in.

    In my canvassing, I found that only on the basis of campaigning on behalf of a fantastic, hard-working local councillor (sadly subsequently defeated) was I able even to start a conversation with voters on the doorstep. Once begun, I could explain our viewpoint on key things they were concerned about nationally, and it seemed many voters did start to take in what was being said and would consider voting for us.

    But unless we can engage voters with a “ground war” on the doorsteps, delivering our message direct and probably verbally rather than in print, the sheer weight of hostile, distorted and negative media coverage of the Liberal Democrats means the “air war” will be the determinant factor. It is going to be a slog, but I firmly believe it is the only way it can be done.

  • Peter Chegwyn 30th May '14 - 9:06am

    With the greatest of respect to James Gurling, this Review announced by Nick Clegg on his radio programme sounds like a thinly-disguised attempt to deflect attention away from Nick’s Leadership and failure to communicate a winning message.

    I’d have more confidence in a review that was completely independent of the Leadership and wasn’t appointed by and answerable to the Leader.

    It sounds like a ‘sop’ designed to suggest that the Leadership are listening to their critics when, in truth, nothing looks like changing.

  • James, good luck with your review. I hope it will be a full and frank one with no limits on what can be discussed. One thing that concerns me however is your statement that “I have agreed with Nick that we will report back to him before the Summer recess. And I will, of course, also share my conclusions with the appropriate party bodies at that stage too.”

    Why are you not planning to share your conclusions with the membership – are they not the most important group in the Party since they are the foot soldiers needed on the doorsteps? I think if people have suffered in losing their colleagues and then participated in your review then at the very least it’s a courtesy to feed back your findings to the Party at large. Given the current concerns and cynicism about the purpose of this Review, it is doubly important. I’ve always thought if the Lib Dems as a very open Party but this talk of only reporting back to the leader and the shadowy “appropriate bodies” is not a good sign and us only going to lead to more distrust.

  • @Tim Oliver – morning Tim,I’m making an assumption here but – typo alert??!!

  • paula keaveney 30th May '14 - 10:05am

    Liverpool may well want to contribute to this and to any other wider review. However you need to give a clear deadline for submissions , and a commitment to share evidence with those who have given it, if you want us to have any faith in this.

  • Ah yes I see what is happening here. For the rest of this session, the Review is being carried out. Then we have the results given to the Leader just as Parliament breaks and he jets off to sunnier climes. So nothing happening before new Parliamentary session starts in September. Then we’ll be told it’s all too late to change leader or Strategy before the next GE. I’m starting to think that Tony Greaves was right then when he said on this Forum that this is a way to kick the leadership issue into the long grass. I’m not saying that James is being used but it does make one wonder.

  • @ James Graham

    “I really don’t understand what this will achieve when the parties single greatest strategic question – whether Clegg is an asset or a liability – is off the table.”

    It’s not “off the table”. It’s been put forward, no-one came up with a better alternative and an explanation as to how he or she might save the party, so the debate failed to progress.

    Please feel free, along with any others, to progress it when you have some positive suggestions. We are all ears.

  • So long as you are “doing this work for Nick” (and not for the membership of the Party as a whole) you are hardly likely to return any review that directly or indirectly impugns Clegg’s leadership style, skills, or competence, are you? You don’t tell your boss he’s wrong. For this to be credible it needs to be wholly independent.

  • Stephen Donnelly 30th May '14 - 11:11am

    The internal structure of the party is unusable for most members. In my area we have an informal borough party made up of hard working activists, then a constituency that has not held an AGM for some time, which elects members to the party conference (I may or may not be one of them, I don’t know), held this year in Glasgow, which then appoints people to various committee that seem to have some, but not much, influence on the party. There is also a regional party, though it is not clear how that fits in to the structure, I also believe that there is an English party, which presumably will not be meeting in Glasgow.

    Making a contribution to policy through that structure would take years of effort. Long ago as a student I had time to commit and did get involved in the party. Most people with jobs, and families, simply do not have the time to play an active role locally, and work their way quietly through the party structure. That is left to professional politicians, retired people, students, and the one or two professions that lend themselves to that kind of commitment. Not surprisingly the party has lost touch with a sizeable part of the electorate. Politics is not only about local government.

    This enquiry is a chance for the leadership to by-pass that structure and listen directly to all the members.

  • Bill Le Breton 30th May '14 - 12:10pm

    WANTED: I am on the look out for any Euro Election leaflet with a picture of Nick Clegg on it. I’d even be willing to accept a leaflet put out for general distribution by an MP in the last Six months with a picture of themselves and the Deputy Prime Minister. (One from Hallam doesn’t count!)

    Why are they so rare, when no one is willing to say he should stand aside for the sake of the Party? Poor RC (elsewhere) is still puzzled and is seeking high and low for an answer.

    In 1989 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was almost as unpopular as Nick Clegg and similarly seen as an electoral liability by many in her Party, but she hung on. Even the stalking horse, Sir Anthony Meyer did not succeed in flushing out a big beast to challenge her.

    It took those three no’s, a devastating resignation speech from Geoffrey Howe and a nearly successful first round victory by Heseltine in a leadership contest a year later for her to resign.

    Why? Because the power of patronage of a prime or deputy prime minister is enormous. A dissolution honours list lies 11 months away with a bucket of peerages for the loyal. A reshuffle of ministerial and even cabinet places in two months. Committee chairs and foreign trips to be shared out. And, and campaign funds and opportunities to be rationed among the faithful – or diverted from the anyone stepping out of line.

    Finally, there is also love of Party and not in the sense of not wanting to damage the Party but in the sense that after years of dedication, how could someone who breaks cover to admit what they all say in the privacy of their own space that they have no confidence in the Leader now, continue to serve the Party if the Present leader continued in post. It is called conscience, deep, unselfish conscience.

    So, until a maverick with enough money to pay their own way, or a real party loyalist breaks cover, MPs will have to continue to communicate in code.

    But the Tories were lucky to have a Grandee like Heseltine. He saved his party from electoral defeat on a large scale in 1992 and he probably also saved them from division in 1990.

  • I’d just like all the Clegg apologists to spend the weekend in Newark and knock on 100 doors each. Then tell me that he’s not the problem. In the last two days we have seen endless attempts to distract us from debating the real issue and this is another one. Meanwhile the awful task of getting 75 constituencies together is continuing in the background a process that Newark will only serve to drive forward.

    Nick Clegg is destroying this party in more ways than one.

  • I am afraid that a lot of the comments so far come across as paranoid. Our Party & The Leader we Elected have set up the Review that many Members were asking for; if you have anything useful to contribute then write to The Review.

  • Tim Oliver – While I am sure there are plenty of “scared” cows around, we certainly don’t need sacred ones!

  • Thanks Adrian for that piece by Simon Radford, which rather nicely makes the case for fundamental change. Agree with Paul Barker (!) – it may even be that Nick will decide the time has come for him when he reads the results!

  • Geoffrey Payne 30th May '14 - 1:03pm

    There are no ethnic minority activists on the committee I note. Recently we had our executive meeting in Hackney and it was very interesting to find out how we held on to Cazenove in our borough from our councillors there. I hope the committee will take evidence from them.

  • Newark poll: CON 36%(-18), LAB 27%(+5), LD 5%(-15), UKIP 28%(+24).

  • “Our review will build on the work that is already on-going in parts of the party”

    I thought the purpose of the review was to find out what went wrong. Saying it must build on the current situation suggests “full steam ahead”

  • Tony Dawson 30th May '14 - 5:27pm

    So,James, you have spoken to the problem and he has asked you to look into something else. An interesting thing to do with 342 days to go to the General Election.

    @Phyllis :

    “James, good luck with your review. I hope it will be a full and frank one ”

    Well, there is always going to be a first time. We are still waiting for the review of the 2010 campaign, are we not?.

  • Paul – no-one was asking for a review. They were asking for change. Mostly for a change of strategy. For many also a change of leader. And if the leader doesn’t want to touch the strategy or even acknowledge any elements that might need changing, then the case for changing the leader gets ever stronger.

  • Indeed, it never occurred to me that there wouldn’t be a review. It’s a sign of how disastrous the leadership and management of our party has become that the idea of reviewing our performance after electoral catastrophe is treated as a big ‘concession’ rather than something that would happen automatically!

  • Liberal Neil 30th May '14 - 5:49pm

    I have always held the view that a robust review process should take place after every annual round of elections and that there will always be useful things to learn, however well or badly that particular round was.

    I have a lot of comments to make on the national european election campaign, the regional european campaign and the national part of the local election campaign.

    Many of my points will be relevant to any future ‘joint’ election and concern how we could use our limited resources far more effectively.

    So I am glad the review is happening. It will be important that its findings are written down and then turned into an action plan.

    Anyone who thinks that the ONLY thing that is wrong with the party’s campaigning is the current Leader is, frankly, one bar chart short of a squeeze leaflet.

  • No, of course there is much that can be changed apart from the identity of the Party leader, and if only the name of the leader is changed but everything else remains the same, the exercise will certainly have been pointless.
    However, there are two interrelated reasons to start with a change of leader:
    First, the considerably if not universally held belief that the record and outlook of the current Party leader are an obstacle to the type of internal reform that is required.
    Second, anecdotal evidence indicating that even if significant internal reform were achieved, many voters would still not consider voting for the Party under its current leader.

  • As I understand it, Nick Clegg saw the considerable gap between alleged EU enthusiasts and LibDem supporters according to polls as a target audience to play for in his “Champion for the EU” campaign. This plan failed. Was there a flaw in the plan or was its failure due to other factors?

  • Nothing will change unless you can find a way of changing the media narrative. The character assassination of Nick has been scandalous over the past few years. Ask yourself why previous politicians who have made mistakes never got the same kind of treatment?? mmmmm ….well then you have your answer as to where we are at. The media is totally opposed to the Lib Dems and even when the party does well gives it no credit. We are a threat that’s why,.,,,while UKIP is a prop to shore up the duopoly in the longer term and to maintain vested interests.

  • The character assassination of Nick has been scandalous over the past few years. Ask yourself why previous politicians who have made mistakes never got the same kind of treatment??

    Some of them have done. But it boils down to this: the media love trashing a loser, and nobody in recent memory has lost so much, so fast, and so consistently as Nick Clegg.

  • “Nothing will change unless you can find a way of changing the media narrative”

    Brown was treated terriby (remember the fuss about his handwriting ? ) and Kinnock much much worse.

    However, I don’t think most natural Lib Dem voters pay much attention to the likes of the Daily Mail, Telegraph etcetera. They are usually very independent minded, ‘ awkward squad’ type of people (that’s meant as a compliment). I honestly think if it was all an unfair media narrative, this type of voter would be more likely to support lib Dems. For the real reasons for the loss of so many natural LD voters, there is a great deal of insight in the article ” is anyone listening?” on this site.

  • Peter Watson 30th May '14 - 8:42pm

    Tim Oliver “two-thirds of our remaining voters want Clegg to stay”
    Where was that statistic? According to the survey on this site, barely half of the members want him to stay.

  • Peter Watson 30th May '14 - 8:44pm

    @Ashley “Ask yourself why previous politicians who have made mistakes never got the same kind of treatment??”
    Can you think of any that did not get that kind of treatment? Clegg benefited from the way that Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell were treated; did he play any part in that?

  • “Newark poll: CON 36%(-18), LAB 27%(+5), LD 5%(-15), UKIP 28%(+24).”

    What’s the betting that a sizable chunk of Column 2 will shift to Column 4? If only to give the Tories the kicking they deserve? I would never vote for UKIP myself under any circumstance, but in this case it’s mightily tempting.

  • Nonconformistradical 31st May '14 - 8:47am

    @Liberal Neil

    “I am glad the review is happening. It will be important that its findings are written down and then turned into an action plan.

    Anyone who thinks that the ONLY thing that is wrong with the party’s campaigning is the current Leader is, frankly, one bar chart short of a squeeze leaflet.”

    Fair enough – but it is in no way clear how individuals will be invited properly to participate – an announcement via LibDemVoice is going to attract responses primarily from the online networking community and those with the biggest axes to grind.

  • I considered voting Lib Dem in the European elections but then you launched your campaign for the local elections with a document full of bogus stories sourced from the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and the Taxpayers Alliance. Your strategy seemed to be to present yourselves as the antithesis of UKIP in the European elections while mimicking them in the locals.
    In the event Clegg is so distrusted and hapless that all you achieved was to give UKIP a massive boost.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 31st May '14 - 1:39pm

    The worrying aspect behind this proposed review is that Nick still believes he has the support of the party. All we need to do, he thinks, is to find a new way with Nick as leader? Really? Actually, the way Nick chose for the Euro Election was so obviously wrong. Why call a debate and lose it? Nick will now lose every debate he takes part in. Why would a large percentage of voters in the UK support Nick’s pitch for more of the same from Brussels. Europe has to change, we told him and were ignored. By sticking to a bad plan more Councillors were also lost. I was a supporter until the last few days but how are 4 people in a room going to solve Nick’s image? This review will lead to more of the same. We need an EMERGENCY CONFERENCE of members, the Review team is too small – much depends on ALL of us!

  • chris j smart 31st May '14 - 4:09pm

    Nick Clegg will continue to feel comfortable with support of the party as the more who leave increases the percentage of his supporting membership. When are the dwindling party membership going to recognise that support for current strategies comes from only a very small isolated proportion of the liberal democratic voters. Do you wait until only 25% of recent (since 2010) membership is left or 10%? By then the pundits who proclaim the LIb Dems are in terminal decline will have been proved correct. I am not rejoining until the direction of travel has been reversed and I start to see some semblance of the party I have voted for since 1957. A review is the last thing that’s needed. If you wait to wield the knife to remove a diseased limb the patient suffers a protracted and difficult death of gangrene. Someone in the party needs to take Nick’s advice and grow up and make some difficult decisions.

  • Jenny Barnes 31st May '14 - 4:50pm

    I would vote u kip in the Newark by election. If ukip were to win the effect on the Tories would shift them to the right, making them less electable in the ge.

  • Tony Greaves 31st May '14 - 8:56pm

    I think UKIP will win Newark with about a 5000 majority. We will get 3%. How will the party Spinmeisters present this as a triumph?


  • I got an email inviting my comments and it was very satisfying putting all my fury into a two-page email, Since I’ve chosen to remain a party member, what I wrote remains private.

  • Stephen Hesketh 31st May '14 - 9:34pm

    Martin Tod 30th May ’14 – 5:32pm and 5:34pm
    “… no-one was asking for a review. They were asking for change. Mostly for a change of strategy. For many also a change of leader. And if the leader doesn’t want to touch the strategy or even acknowledge any elements that might need changing, then the case for changing the leader gets ever stronger.”

    Precisely. He must also halt his plans to foist a David Laws-written manifesto on the party and any thought he and his centre-right grouping have of our red line policies for any post general election coalitions or agreements.

    Even if he manages to survive until the general election, he doesn’t have a hope in hell of remaining as leader after it.

  • Peter Watson 1st Jun '14 - 1:19pm

    @Tony Greaves “How will the party Spinmeisters present this as a triumph?”
    Voters in Newark were put off by the false impression that there was disunity and debate over the leadership, triggered by a little misfortune in May’s elections (which itself was inevitable because of mid-term blues, and being the minor partner in a coalition, and a hostile media). When those few people complaining calm down and we come together behind The Dear Leader, then 2015 will be a great triumph for Clegg and for Liberal Democracy.

  • Paul In Twickenham 1st Jun '14 - 1:55pm

    The tabs in today’s YouGov poll for The Sunday Times make interesting reading. We all now know that Mr. Clegg has managed to achieve an all-time low for net approval at an impressive -65%. There’s also the headline number which is Lib Dem at 7% – and I am surprised by how “meh” I feel at that. We’ve all become inured to single-figure poll ratings.

    There were two standouts for me: firstly, the “should Clegg resign?” question where 62% of Lib Dem supporters said he should stay and only 21% said he should go. So 3 in every 5 of the 7% of voters who continue to identify as Lib Dems think that Mr. Clegg should stay. Mmm…

    Secondly I was taken by the response to the “state of the economy” questions. When asked “How do you think the financial situation of your household will change over the next 12 months” we see 19% expect it to be better versus 34% who expect it to be worse. And yet the “strategy” of the party is to ride on the shirt-tails of a recovery and hope that in 11 months from now a grateful electorate endowed with a renewed sense of economic well-being will decide that Mr. Clegg is actually a jolly good chap and that it’s time to support the Lib Dems again. Mmmm….

    I sincerely hope Tony Greaves’ prediction for Newark is wrong, but fear it is probably right.

  • If Nick goes there will be trouble;
    But if he stays it will be double.

  • Paul in Twickenham
    “………………..So 3 in every 5 of the 7% of voters who continue to identify as Lib Dems think that Mr. Clegg should stay. Mmm……”

    Says it all really.
    What Pady Ashdown used to call “real votes in real elections” such as we had iin this year’s EP and local elections are apparently to be ignored now.
    Nowadays Paddy like some 1930s Colonel Blimp turns up in TV studios to argue that if the party activists are not out on the street campaigning this weekend they are doing a disservice to the party.

    Well Paddy some of us are campaigning. We are campaigning to remove the ball and chain that is dragging us down.

    We are campaigning for the sort of Liberal Democrat Party that you lead.
    We are campaigning to get rid of the tepid, sub-thatcherite inadequacies which the voters rejected in their hoards.

    This comment is being posted at 16.20 on Sunday 1st June 2014

  • Tories won Newark with a 7000 majority, for the record.

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