Mark Pack’s December report – the challenges of 2024

Bigger stakes, harder choices: general election year

It now looks pretty certain that 2024 will be a general election year. Or perhaps I should say that 2024 will have at least one Westminster general election, because if there is a close result…

We do, however, know for sure that regardless of what happens with general elections, there is an important round of local elections – and Police and Crime Commissioner contests – in May.

It will therefore be an important year in which everyone can play a part in our success, whether it is about winning a target local or Westminster seat near where you live, or helping to build up the party locally while supporting our target seats elsewhere.

It also means that for our party the stakes in 2024 are higher, and the choices harder.

We have the opportunity in the general election to overcome the huge political handicap of having so few MPs in Parliament. It is not only that we are missing out on giving more people the benefits of a Lib Dem MP. It is also that the number of MPs we have is a huge determinant of how much media coverage we get, how many resources we have and how much influence we hold in Parliament. More Lib Dem MPs will not only be great news for those constituencies, it will also benefit us across the whole country.

But if the stakes are highest in a Westminster general election year, the choices are also hardest. Because we know how much more there is to politics, and to elections, than Westminster elections alone. Local government and devolved elections are crucial too, and we both have some of them coming in May 2024 and even more coming in the years immediately after. So getting the balance right between the short term, narrow focus on our Westminster target seats and the long term broader growth of our party is always hardest in a general election year.

So too is the balance between the short term focus on the next polling day and the sustained long term investment, such as in our technology and in our campaign staff teams. Our traditional model is one of boom and bust – throwing everything we can at a general election but then followed by a big downsizing of our efforts immediately after. The elections at other levels that happen early in the next Westminster cycle suffer as a result, as do tasks – such as improving our record on diversity and inclusion – which needs and deserves sustained long-term effort.

But perhaps the biggest tension is the natural – maybe even inevitable – one between what most matters to party activists and what most matters to floating voters. It is natural that the more involved you are in politics, the more you get deep into issues that are not always top of the mind to most voters. It is important of course that our answers to these twin messaging challenges – what motivates activists and what wins voters – are always open, honest and compatible. But it is also wise to acknowledge that they are not always identical.

Our For A Fair Deal pre-manifesto, adopted in Bournemouth, does both. It zooms in on those concerns at the top of so many voters’ minds – especially the NHS and cost of living – while also providing a clear liberal response to all the other challenges of our time, such as tackling climate change and fixing our broken political systems.

Explaining what we stand for

We have started up a new email series for members and supporters explaining what we stand for. It takes our For A Fair Deal and through the series runs through it a section at a time, to explain what we stand for and our vision for Britain. The first one is also online here.

If you did not receive it, email [email protected] with your membership number and/or postcode and they can check on your email subscription status and address in the party’s records.

How Lib Dem councils are tackling climate change

To mark COP28, the annual climate conference, Lib Dem led Portsmouth Council has showcased 13 of its projects that are helping to tackle climate change. From coastal schemes to renewable energy and greener travel options, they show the difference that Liberal Democrats in power can make. You can read about all 13 here.

Meanwhile the global environmental charity CDP has awarded Lib Dem led Somerset Council an A- grade for its climate change work, which compares with a regional average score of B and a global average score of C. Dixie Darch, Lead Member for Environment and Climate Change, said: “A greener and more sustainable county is one of the new Council’s priorities and we are delighted that this well-recognised benchmark for good practice has given our work such a seal of approval.”

Win prizes!

Tickets for the 2023 Lib Dem Christmas Draw are now on sale. Just under three quarters (70%) of funds go to the Lib Dem body you pick when buying your tickets and prizes include £1,500 in cash, a chocolate truffle gift hamper (yum) and half a case of champagne.

Get your tickets here (this link will default to supporting the excellent work of LGBT+ Lib Dems).

Congratulations….

Congratulations to Cllr Hannah Perkin, Leader of the Lib Dems at Swale Borough Council , who won “Community champion of the year” at the Local Government Information Unit annual awards. Very appropriate for it to go to a Lib Dem!

Happy Christmas

We end the year with more Liberal Democrat MPs, more Liberal Democrat council leaders and more Liberal Democrat councillors than we started the year. That has only been possible thanks to generous support of our members, donors and volunteers. Many thanks for all you have done for our cause this year, and I wish you the very best for Christmas. I hope everyone gets a good break before the big challenges of 2024.

Do you have questions on any of this report, or other Lib Dem matters? Then please drop me a line on [email protected]. Do also get in touch if you would like to invite me to do a Zoom call with your local party or party body.

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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74 Comments

  • David Warren 12th Dec '23 - 10:32am

    We don’t appear to have candidates in place for Barnet in either the London Assembly elections or the Westminster one. Given the former is next May and the latter is almost certain to happen in 2024 this is aconcern.

    Whilst I accept we are not a target area, we still need a voice for the Liberal message. We need votes London wide for the Assembly election where I hope we can increase our representation.

  • James Fowler 12th Dec '23 - 12:28pm

    Thank you Mark for sensible words as ever. The best case scenario must surely be that we exceed the SNP tally of MPs and return to being the third party. The collapse in SNP support now makes this plausible, and I for one will be canvassing in the hope (amongst other things of course!) of this outcome.

  • We should really concentrate on the top 40 to 50. That hopefully puts us above the SNP and therefore greater media coverage. In the meantime we should focus on no more than three main themes around cost of living

  • I wonder if these emails on our policies in the pre-manifesto ‘For a Fair Deal’ is a response to the letter in The Guardian from 30 members calling for a change in messaging which has been interpreted as a call for new bold and distinct policies? I wonder if it is an attempt to pretend to members that we are talking about all the policies in it with voters and the media?

    Mark implies that the party needs to provide messages that motivates activists and matters to floating voters. I think it is clear it has failed on the first one and I am not convinced its messaging will persuade enough floating voters for us to have more MPs than the SNP after the next general election. It seems that our messaging is targeted not to scare off Conservative voters who will never vote for another party.

  • Graham Jeffs 13th Dec '23 - 9:59am

    Reality: the public at large haven’t a clue what the LDs really stand for. Myriad “policies” are not enough – there also needs to be clear messaging as to what the LDs stand for in terms of principles and strategies, policy then needs to be related to those – and to be sold to the electorate in that way.

    We are almost anonymous as a national party. On top of that, the scenario that David Warren describes is not an isolated one. Yes, we need to focus on targets, but we also need to vigorously encourage all the bits in between……our bridgehead is far too small. It isn’t going to prove viable. Like it or not, people do look at the polls and from that they conclude whether or not a party is a realistic consideration. We are risking not even motivating floating voters in our targets because they don’t see us as credible.

  • I had a conversation with a colleague yesterday at the establishment where I volunteer. She wondered what I meant when I said I was at heart a Liberal Democrat supporter. I boiled it down to “I reckon we stand for freedom and fairness; the freedom to be who you are, and fairness to make sure your freedoms don’t, as far as possy, make life worse for others. Oh, and standing up for international responsibilities”. She seemed quite impressed with that!

  • Steve Trevethan 13th Dec '23 - 1:28pm

    What might be our headline, attention grabbing policies?

    What might be our election winning/doing reasonably well, mémorable tropes?

  • Peter Davies 13th Dec '23 - 4:09pm

    There was much talk of a ‘core vote’ strategy. People largely stopped talking about it when many assumed an almost exactly opposite meaning to the original one. It stated that a party’s vote was made up of a series of layers built through hard work, popular policies, good candidates and leaders and a tactical element but all these rested on a core vote of people who support the party even when none of the other layers apply. The reason that the Tory and Labour parties can beat us even when we get the rest right is that they have a large core of voters who see themselves as being Tory or Labour and not just voting Tory or Labour. Our core is tiny so the mountain we have to climb in every seat is high. We need to build the size of our core vote across the country by ensuring that people who think like liberal democrats know they are Liberal Democrats. As Graham says, that requires clear messaging as to what the LDs stand for in terms of principles.

  • rural liberal 13th Dec '23 - 4:27pm

    @Colin Brown

    “I reckon we stand for freedom and fairness; the freedom to be who you are, and fairness to make sure your freedoms don’t, as far as possy, make life worse for others. Oh, and standing up for international responsibilities”.

    I wouldn’t disagree for what it’s worth, but, and it’s a big one, while they might mean different things by different bits of it, there’s nothing there that couldn’t be said by a sincere supporter of Labour, the Conservatives, or many other parties.

    It’s not differentiating particularly.

    The party *used* to be able to say some variation of co-operative but not socialist, free trading and not Tory. International in outlook but generally against all structures, international, national and local, that got in the way of all of that.

  • Leekliberal 13th Dec '23 - 6:15pm

    Graham Jeffs 13th Dec ’23 – 9:59am
    ‘Reality: the public at large haven’t a clue what the LDs really stand for.’- How true, and even worse, nothing is going to happen to sort this serious deficiency as our leadership have crushed the many activists begging them provide any sort of a vision to voters of what a Lib Dem governed UK would look like. For example, on Brexit, an issue that once defined us, Sir Ed’s silence is deafening. As an activist in a non-target seat, where keeping our £500 General Election deposit is our target, I am in despair as the party bumble along with around ten percent in the opinion polls struggling to keep ahead of Reform UK.

  • nvelope2003 13th Dec '23 - 8:41pm

    The problem is that the present leadership would prefer to hang on to a few seats in Parliament than grow the party because that would risk an eventual takeover by new leaders. They will ally themselves to another party to get a position even if that risked the end of the party by linking with the Conservatives. They have done it before. Sorry to be blunt but it really is a matter of life and death.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Dec '23 - 1:00am

    What would motivate activists in non-target seats would be, I suggest, a sense that the leadership is leading us all in a great national effort, to make the Liberal Democrat party nationally well-known and well-liked and important in voters’ eyes: a party aiming to have a share in power again because our principles and our policies are good for the country. We should stand proud, recognising how much we have to offer, keen to share it with our fellow citizens. For we are in fact a great party, and if we stand and work together, and don’t then spend too much time in analysing ourselves, our national polling will rise and all local efforts will have backing. Just have confidence, Ed and Mark; I have faith that we can make this happen.

  • David Evans 14th Dec '23 - 3:43am

    It’s interesting to see how out of touch our senior figures are, and with comments like “Our traditional model is one of boom and bust – throwing everything we can at a general election but then followed by a big downsizing of our efforts immediately after,” the gap between rhetoric and reality is clear for all to see.

    It is well understood that the party had been making steady electoral progress from the 1970s. Initially, it was progress in terms of councillors but later from the 1990s, our increasing numbers of MPs became more apparent to the general public. By 2005 our councillors had more than doubled and our MPs had tripled.

    This however was smashed in a short spell of 5 years beginning in 2006 when suddenly a batch of MPs decided that overt infighting was a quicker way to success than the hard work associated with the steady progress made in the previous 30 years. A putch was held, Nick became leader and the catastrophe began.

    And ever since, those involved and those who actively supported them have developed this curious narrative that what went on in the past (that delivered the growth) was all wrong, and what they wanted (which had coincided with the destruction of all that progress) was what we needed to do more of.

    What “motivates activists and what wins voters” is actually the same thing – a successful Lib Dem party. Activists are doing their bit in by-elections, but our leaders …

  • James Fowler 14th Dec '23 - 8:24am

    National polling is a lot less important than where those votes are cast. We all know that.

    Neither the Greens nor UKIP/Reform were serious, organized forces until comparatively recently. Many of our radical non-conformist or none of the above conditional supporters of the 80s, 90s and 00s have gone there. There is no point chasing after them, and doing so would compromise our liberalism.

    Liberalism is a hard sell when times are bad. It requires people to respect the integrity of others as individuals. It requires people to think about their interests rationally. It has little to say about Belief and Tradition as systems for living in the world except that they are mostly wrong. Yet Tradition and Belief remain important factors in most peoples’ lives, especially so when their backs are against the wall.

    Of course I would like polling to be higher, but I am not surprised that the Party is on around 10% nationally and various cures I’ve seen proposed appear worse than the problem itself.

  • Cllr James Moore 14th Dec '23 - 2:31pm

    Reasons for optimism?

    It is interesting that before the ‘breakout’ election of 1997, where we won 46 seats, the party was not doing much better than now in the opinion polls. It had dropped from the low 20%s in 1994 to around 12% at the start of the campaign. However, year after year of good local council election results boosted us in the places where it mattered and that gave us real credibility in constituencies where we had a shot of winning.

    Of course, Paddy’s leadership and the collapse of the Tories helped us take advantage of the situation, but I suspect we were only really able to do so because of the groundwork laid in council elections in the years before. So here’s another vote for what the Americans call “big-picture racing” – thinking about the longer term.

    You can’t really claim “Only the Lib Dems can beat the Tories here” unless the number of councillors and activists on the ground show it is actually true. Fortunately, in many cases it really is, so bring on all those bar charts and maxi-sized poster boards…

  • Mick Taylor 14th Dec '23 - 6:51pm

    @DavidEvans. I really don’t think you can call the election of Nick Clegg a putch. It was a leadership election. There may be some small element of doubt as to whether the result was correct given the problems with the postal system, but, with hindsight, would we have been better off with a leader who then went to prison for trying to cover up a driving offence, shortly after we entered a coalition? As to the idea that a catastrophe occurred in 2006, that’s just overt nonsense. Although we were a few seats down on 2005, 2010 was an election result that was amazing compared with most election results in my lifetime in the party since 1964.
    What if, is never the best way to ask what might have happened if circumstances had been different. I, along with the vast majority of the LibDem membership voted for the coalition. With hindsight, always a perfect science, I was wrong. It’s easy to be wise after the event, but rewriting history to create a narrative that is incorrect, really isn’t the way to go.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Dec '23 - 8:55pm

    James Fowler. When the national polls rise for us – which they have failed to do for many months – we will know that voters all over the country are getting aware of us and what we are offering them. Beware of complacency about the small parties – because of their clarity and narrow focus, they can creep up on us if we continue to remain nationally insignificant, and the Greens especially can take voters we would expect to claim. Even in target seats, as I have been told by a campaign director of one, our progress is on a knife-edge. The national campaign to win voters everywhere is the needful backing for their local campaign. As I pleaded above, will our national leaders please lead that national campaign, focusing on tackling poverty and the needs of voters everywhere for a better standard of living and better local government services. Our councillors do wonderful work, but the cutback of central funding is limiting their capacity to provide any but the most basic services in rising numbers of authorities.

  • Mick Taylor,

    The putsch was in January 2006 when 25 MPs forced Charles Kennedy to resign as leader.

    I don’t recall the Liberal Party in the 1970s talking about its core values, or its principles or values. In October 1974 it received 18.3% and 13 MPs were elected. In the 1979 general election their share of the vote fell to 13.8% and 11 MPs. One of the problems we have is that the SNP have more MPs than us. I agree with David Evans that what motivates activists and what wins voters is the same. What we need to be telling people is what we would do to fix public services and the economy as well as what we will do on fighting climate change.

  • Peter Davies 15th Dec '23 - 8:13am

    “would we have been better off with a leader who then went to prison for trying to cover up a driving offence, shortly after we entered a coalition?”. Probably yes actually. We’d have had a chance to elect someone prepared to take a more independant line and not just be seen as Tory lapdogs. Chris would have got almost all the blame for his own actions and a fair chunk of everyone elses. Of course, it’s quite possible that if he’d been leader we wouldn’t have been in the balance or that someone else would have been driving.

  • James Fowler 15th Dec '23 - 9:20am

    @ Katherine. I understand your point. From my perspective I am not complacent, rather:

    a. I want to be realistic about the attractions of liberalism to a population where very significant numbers of people are bewildered by events, made desperate by material shortage, and, most of all, afraid of the future.

    b. I want to remind us that modest national vote shares can have significant parliamentary outcomes when carefully stacked, and that large national vote shares have generally been meaningless when cracked across the whole electoral landscape.

    c. I want to point out that situating events as crises is often a device to facilitate poorly justified but fiercely cherished ideas that would be rightly rejected in a less emotionally heightened atmosphere.

    d. I want to say that we never to confuse our own political enthusiasms as being representative of the wider population unless this is backed by rigorous polling data. Linked to that, we are well past the point where a few new, colourful policies will change anybody’s mind. Policies are only a small part of much bigger and more emotional mosaic of opinion where voters assess past actions and make intuitive judgments about the values that would guide a Party when facing a novel situation. These judgments are formed over years and decades.

    Finally, I miss Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy and the whole era from about 1994-2010 too. Happy times. Easy times. But they are gone, and they are not coming back.

  • @ David Evans, David, you say,
    “This however was smashed in a short spell of 5 years beginning in 2006 when suddenly a batch of MPs decided that overt infighting was a quicker way to success than the hard work associated with the steady progress made in the previous 30 years. A putch was held, Nick became leader and the catastrophe began”.

    I’m afraid that’s not the case, David. Ming Campbell became the Leader after Charles Kennedy. I don’t wish to rake over old sadness, but unfortunately Charles’ state of health at the time (and the consequences resulting from that) inevitably made it impossible for him to carry on as a successful Leader.

  • I was a fan of CK and I did know he had an alcohol problem, but mostly it was under control. We should remember that the press also knew about it and said nothing for years. That all changed in 2006 when his alcohol problem became widespread knowledge and the press stopped protecting him.
    It was the right thing for CK to stand down, both for his own health and to stop him becoming a focal point for criticism of the party. To call it a putch is nonsense.
    I was also a fan of CH and voted for him as leader. I do wonder if , had he been leader, he would have just accepted the fine and points and not gone on to leave his wife, but again that’s in the realm of speculation.
    What is absolutely true is that you can’t change the past or rewrite history. Our job as Lib Dems is to learn from our mistakes and move forward with the right policies and beliefs to gain as many seats as we can and ensure the departure of this dreadful Tory government. Quite frankly, anything else its a distraction that will cost us dearly, when we could be making significant gains.

  • Nonconformistradical 15th Dec '23 - 10:46am

    “It was the right thing for CK to stand down, both for his own health and to stop him becoming a focal point for criticism of the party. To call it a putch is nonsense.”
    Seconded

  • Hi David (Raw), Good to hear from you again. You are right of course, I should have said “Nick became leader (after a short period with Ming) …”

    Sadly Ming’s tenure was quite short, but at the age of 65, up against Tony Blair (age 53) and David Cameron (age 40) he was quickly portrayed as an old, old man in the media and after a little more than a year of almost continual pressure, first from the press and later internally as well, he stood down in late 2007.

    It was a shame, I liked him almost as much as I liked Charles, but at 65, the fact that the press would focus on his age was rather predictable and indeed those more cynical among us would probably say should have been expected.

  • Likewise Hello Mick (Taylor), You too are absolutely right on the need to stop re-writing history. Mark really needs to be more careful in his background narrative – some of us (including you, me and David) were around at the time and know it was continuous hard work for many years building success on success with occasional setbacks being overcome with yet more hard work. It was never ever “boom and bust” as he put it.
    As for your point about whether it was a putch or an election I suppose it depends on how you interpret the statement released to the press at the time by Ed, Nick, David Laws etc, which began “We have indicated to Charles Kennedy that we would no longer be prepared to serve under his leadership after this weekend and wish to give him the next couple of days to reflect on his position.”

    As it was Charles quickly resigned, Ming became acting leader and then leader for just over a year. In just under two years, after Ming’s subsequent resignation Nick was elected as our new, young, dynamic leader.

    As for Charles, did he fall or was he putched? I’ll leave that to you.

  • Peter Davies 15th Dec '23 - 1:44pm

    “It is also a question of the extent that Nick Clegg can be accredited with a rise in Liberal Democrat support in the run up to the 2010 election.”
    We gained one percentage point and lost 5 seats. That probably has more to do with Labour’s failings than anything we did.

  • Peter Davies,

    If Chris Huhne had been leader in 2010 I wonder if we would have agreed to the Conservative’s public spending cuts and not including keeping the student tuition fee pledge. I expect so.

    James Fowler,

    Indeed those of us alive in the 1970s were a lot younger then! Most people give politics little thought. They don’t think about how a party might act in government when faceing a novel situation. A large number of floating voters make their minds up in the last week of the general election campaign. So having three or four issues which we try to persuade voters we have the best policies on could work over the long term.

    Martin Bennett,

    In the 1970’s Jo Grimond meant nothing to me and nor did the Young Liberals or community politics. I remember Jeremy Thorpe and his hovercraft based campaign, the 1976 leadership election and the Lib-Lab pact.

    David Evans,

    Having looked it up, Mark Pack was born in 1970. I expect he joined the party either during the Alliance days or after merger. For him it was “boom and bust” as he was employed by the party sometime after 1991 and definitely for 9 years and 6 month between 2000 and 2009. He is talking from a head office view point about how the party employed staff.

  • Peter Davies 15th Dec '23 - 5:00pm

    “If Chris Huhne had been leader in 2010 I wonder if we would have agreed to the Conservative’s public spending cuts and not including keeping the student tuition fee pledge. I expect so.”

    I expect so too if we had won the same number of seats. That would not necessarily have been the case. Had we fought a more radical or less successful campaign, it is possible the Tories might have been able to form a majority or coalesce with the DUP while a more successful campaign against the Tories might have given us the option of Labour spending cuts instead.

  • @ Peter Davies and Michael BG. “If Chris Huhne had been leader in 2010 I wonder if we would have agreed to the Conservative’s public spending cuts and not including keeping the student tuition fee pledge. I expect so.”

    The short answer is he wasn’t …. and it didn’t. He stayed in Cancun to miss the student vote with Clegg’s agreement.

    Indeed, to have lost a second Party Leader to police arrest (well after the Budget and student fees) reminds one of Oscar Wilde in ‘The Importance of being Earnest’…… “To lose one may be regarded as a misfortune.. to lose two looks like carelessness.”

  • @ Peter Davies, “a more radical or less successful campaign”.

    Sorry, Peter, there’s not necessarily any connection between your two adjectives. Jo Grimond began the ‘successful’ revival of the Liberal Party in the late 1950’s by being ‘more radical’, indeed, many of us these days might predicate that any success requires more radicalism.

  • Peter Davies 15th Dec '23 - 9:18pm

    I didn’t suggest there was. I said or not and. A more radical campaign would be expected to take seats off Labour while losing some to the Tories. We might have ended up with more seats and still given the Tories a near majority.

  • In the 60’s and 70’s the Liberal Party under Jo Grimond and Jeremy Thorpe had radical and distinctive positions on joining the EEC, opposing Lab and Con immigration bills, workers on boards, community politics etc and I am baffled by suggestions otherwise. Those times should be the inspiration for the party today.

  • David Evans 17th Dec '23 - 1:32am

    Indeed Michael BG. Your point is very well made.

    Mark is an exceptional internal activist and organiser, but he does tend to report things as a man of the centre even when he is writing as president of the whole party. As a result, he tends to drop in the inevitable head office memes “Things are difficult, and we are doing our best, but we are better now than we were in the past when things were messed up so badly”. However, the truth is things are inevitably messy in election years, often defined by the saying of local activists – “We know what we are doing in our patch in a difficult situation. Let’s hope the centre don’t mess things up”.

    From the mid 1980s to 2005, the national party, first led by Paddy and then by Charles, did great stuff more often than they made a mess of things, and both encouraged and indeed helped local activists to get on with it in their patch. Locally some activists did make a mess from time to time, but overall more made a good job of it than made a mess of things. It was only when we started getting arch centralisers who wanted to control things from the middle, that things started to go badly wrong.

  • Nonconformistradical 17th Dec '23 - 8:20am

    “Mark is an exceptional internal activist and organiser, but he does tend to report things as a man of the centre even when he is writing as president of the whole party. As a result, he tends to drop in the inevitable head office memes….”

    A key point – the main reason why I have never considered voting for him as party president. He comes across as too much part of the head office furniture.

    I would not support for president anyone who hasn’t got a good track record of involvement with individual local parties in active campaigning for election to public office (with or without success)

  • Simon McGrath 17th Dec '23 - 11:13am

    @nonconformistradical ” I would not support for president anyone who hasn’t got a good track record of involvement with individual local parties in active campaigning for election to public office (with or without success)”

    Mark has a very strong record of local campaigning and was one of the key figures in Lynne Feathrstone becoming an MP . That’s why she backed him in his Presential bid :
    https://www.markpack.org.uk/159992/he-knows-how-to-make-you-win-why-lynne-featherstone-is-backing-me/

  • Nonconformistradical 17th Dec '23 - 11:41am

    @Simon McGrath
    That’s London-centric – what – if anything – has he done outside London involving local campaigning?

  • Paul Holmes 17th Dec '23 - 2:52pm

    @Marco. Though it is worth noting that those ‘Radical and Distictive Liberal positions’ saw the Liberal Party of that time elect an average of around 6 MP’s (as in 1970) whilst the 14 in Feb 1974 was their highest postwar level – a level which we think today is a sign of how badly we are doing!

    Neither did the ‘Radical and Distinctive’ Reject, Re-Run and Revoke policies of 2016-2019 bring the sweeping electoral gains (just 12 in 2017 and 11 in 2019) that some said would inevitably follow.

    Clearly more is needed than just being ‘radical and pleasing the activists’. See also Labour’s dismal electoral performances in 1983 and 2019.

    If we ran an election based upon my favourite policies we would never win. We do also have to bear in mind that inconvenient feature of democratic elections called, the electorate.

  • Chris Moore 17th Dec '23 - 9:26pm

    We’re talking about the near and long-term future of this great party.

    Where Mark Pack has campaigned is trivial and of no relevance to the issue here. I’ve read and been told that he’s a very good campaigner and has helped out in many local campaigns. I gather he lives in London; so I imagine he’s helped out more in and around London than in Scotland. So what? We need to do better much locally in London. Not a strong area for us currently.

    Some things have been going right in the last couple of years. Let’s not overlook that amidst all the doom and gloom:

    1. The party has campaigned on a series of new issues which have struck a chord with the public – and been taken up by other left-leaning parties. The state of the water industry, ambulance waiting times, GP waiting times., the plight of carers etc.

    Maybe none of the above excite activists, but they are absolutely vital for voters.

    2. We’ve had a serious advance in local government, a sine qua non of success in the relevant seats at Westminster level.

    3. Several of our MPs have begun to make a name for themselves: Daisy Cooper, Layla Moran, Helen Morgan. They will all be assets in the GE.

    4. We are better organised in our target areas. And the party is sounder financially.

  • @ Paul Holmes

    Under Charles Kennedy we also had a distinctive liberal message and outflanked Labour on spending, Iraq, ID cards, tuition fees and even joining the Euro. Our vote % was double what it is now and that momentum was necessary to make targeting work.

  • David Evans,

    Indeed, the party has become more centrally controlled. In the 90’s there was huge resistance from old liberals to moves towards more centralisation. This influence decreased in the 2000s. It is possible that many of the 14,000 members who left the party between 2009 and 2014 were part of this resistance. By 2021 over 28,000 people had joined the party and were still members. It is unlikely that many were from the 14,000 who had left.

    What is needed is to convert the majority of the party into liberals of the pre-merger type. How this can be achieved is the problem.

    Paul Holmes,

    We had radical and distinctive liberal policies in 1997 when we gained 26 MPs, in 2001 when we gained 6 MPs and in 2005 when we gained 11 MPs.

  • Graham Jeffs 18th Dec '23 - 10:50am

    Ironic that we preach de-centralisation and then do the opposite ourselves. Not likely to make the best of our resources is it?

    The people at the centre have no idea how demotivated so many activists are – the hill to climb in moribund areas is now huge. GDPR seems to have been used to curtail the ability of small cells of activists and potential activists to build truly local organisations.

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Dec '23 - 11:07am

    Graham Jeffs has expressed the essence of the problem.

    Is the party still a national party?

  • Peter Davies 18th Dec '23 - 12:20pm

    “The party has campaigned on a series of new issues which have struck a chord with the public – and been taken up by other left-leaning parties.”
    … and they are now seen as issues of those other parties. Tory imcompetence is not a distinctively Liberal Democrat issue.

  • Nonconformistradical asks, “Is the party still a national party ?” One must add a further question, “Is the party raising issues that chimes with public opinion ?”

    On 13 December, the polling organisation Statista released the latest online data about public opinion on Brexit. The gap is widening that Brexit was wrong. 55% now agree it was wrong and 33% that it was right to leave. 12% don’t know.

    The continued trappist silence from Sir Ed & Co means they are in danger of missing the bus.

  • Chris Moore 18th Dec '23 - 4:41pm

    @Peter Davies: don’t exaggerate. It’s inevitable that other parties move on to our terrain, if we actually say things that are relevant to voters’ concerns and popular. We should go on promoting those issues.

    In contrast, Revoke is the poster child of a policy that is distinct and will not be imitated by any other party in its right mind. I don’t believe that sort of distinct policy helps us at all.

  • Chris Moore 18th Dec '23 - 4:48pm

    I’m staggered to read claims on LDV that what Paddy offered was “distinct” policies.

    This is nonsense: he was heavily criticised by many party members up till the ’92 election for concentrating heavily on the Balkans’ conflict, instead of developing popular domestic policies. “The Rt Hon Member for Sarajevo”.

    When Blair and Brown reformed the Labour Party, Paddy became extremely concerned around 95/6 that Labour had parked their tanks on our lawn and stolen our policies.

    I do not think being able to offer policies that are uniquely ours is of any importance.

    What we need to do is present a coherent liberal message that addresses the concerns of voters. That other parties choose to nick our policies is inevitable, if we are talking sense. It should be welcomed.

  • Mick Taylor 18th Dec '23 - 5:25pm

    David Raw makes a really valid point about Brexit. What polling is Ed Davey seeing that makes him keep a vow of silence about the EU?
    There is a second question that I have seen no polling about. Of the 55% who now think Brexit a mistake how many think that Brexit should be reversed? I suspect not too many. I would start negotiations to rejoin today, but, sadly, I don’t think that view would have majority support. I hate referenda with a passion and would never, ever, have another one on any matter at all. I suspect that even if there was a clear LibDem victory at a general election, we would be almost forced to have one if we were planning to seek re admittance to the EU. It must be accepted that the terms for us to rejoin would be significantly worse than the terms we enjoyed as members before.

  • “That other parties choose to nick our policies is inevitable… …it should be welcomed” I agree with that but it isn’t a choice between courting controversy (e.g revoke) and total blandness. The people’s vote on the deal was a popular policy hence why Labour copied it. We should have taken that as a win and stuck to our position not change tack.

  • Chris Moore,

    In the 1992 general election I remember be happy with our policies. I think both Paddy and Charles did not try to interfere in policy making and left it to the members and this enabled us to have liberal policies.

  • Chris Moore 19th Dec '23 - 7:33am

    I’m glad you were happy prior to 1992, Michael. So was I as it happens.

    Still Paddy WAS heavily criticised by many activists for failing to concentrate on domestic issues and not developing signature policies.And there was little “distinct” about us from a policy point of view.

    Indeed, some activists got very upset about Labour becoming mildly positive about PR as they thought it would cost us votes.

    Both lines of criticism were not very cogent.

    The idea that we have to have unique policies to be successful is a really poor one.

  • @Chris Moore: Totally agree with you when you say, “The idea that we have to have unique policies to be successful is a really poor one.“. The perfect example of that is Labour under Keir Starmer – riding high in the polls and looking like a dead cert to win the next election despite that their policy offering appears to be little more than, “We won’t be as incompetent as the Tories” And contrast that with how far Corbyn’s attempt to offer numerous unique policies got him.

  • David Evans 19th Dec '23 - 5:13pm

    I strongly agree with Chris Moore and Simon R regarding the incorrect view held by so many here on the impact our policies have in determining our electoral success.

    Having canvassed on the door for decades, I can honestly say that I can count the number of times I have been asked by electors about any of our specific policies on the fingers of one hand. Indeed I have been harangued on our Brexit policy on many, many more occasions than all the other policies put together.

    Quite simply, what people want is competence and integrity. That is what we had in spades in times gone by and we had it because we worked hard, all year round and when we got elected we did a better job than our predecessors.

    That is why I also disagree with one half of what my friend James Fowler said when he posted “Finally, I miss Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy and the whole era from about 1994-2010 too. Happy times. Easy times. But they are gone, and they are not coming back”.

    Yes, Paddy and Charles are not coming back, but those times were never easy times, and they certainly can (and must) come back if we work hard and elect leaders of a similar calibre.

  • In the 00’s we had distinctive and liberal policies.

    I know this because if we hadn’t then I wouldn’t have supported the party in the first place.

  • I love this site. Speculating about what Huhne would have done as leader is about as useful as debating whether Jeremy Thorpe put an imprint on his hovercraft. But it’s all good clean Christmas fun x

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Dec '23 - 10:09am

    It is the overall view of our party by the voters that we must try and strengthen and improve, it seems to me. So that there is a general understanding that we will be good for the country if we gain more power. The by-election triumphs will have helped with that, but now we need to be seen and heard without that help.

    In the Election year we are in, our MPs and Parliamentarians speaking out on the subjects that most concern the voters will be very important, and we activists will back them up in the councils and on the doorstep. But we surely do then need those three or four ‘bold and distinctive’ policies that John Curtice recommended to be decided now and to become common ground for speaking out, whether centrally or locally. Not easy for independent-minded Liberal Democrats, but rather important! And one background statement we can all repeat, it seems to me: “We were the party that was most against Brexit. And now more than half the population realises Brexit was wrong. We want closer ties with Europe to be built now.”

  • John Bicknell 20th Dec '23 - 10:56am

    ” “The idea that we have to have unique policies to be successful is a really poor one….Labour under Keir Starmer – riding high in the polls and looking like a dead cert to win the next election despite that their policy offering appears to be little more than, “We won’t be as incompetent as the Tories” ”
    You are correct – but Starmer/Labour do not need to offer more than this – they are the official opposition, the natural alternatives. A smaller party, such as the Lib Dems, need to represent something different (if only a certain vibe – individual specific policies are often less important), in order to justify their existence. Otherwise, what is the point of them existing at all?

  • Peter Martin 20th Dec '23 - 1:20pm

    @ Katharine,

    “And now more than half the population realises Brexit was wrong. We want closer ties with Europe to be built now.”

    This isn’t quite right. The most you can say is that more than half the voting population would probably vote to remain in the EU if they had opportunity to turn back the clock and reinstate the same terms and conditions as we had previously.

    But, of course, we can’t turn back the clock and we won’t be offered the same terms and conditions should we re-apply to join.

    This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to develop closer trading ties with the EU and of course all other countries too. We don’t need to be in the EU, which does mean sharing laws, to buy French wine just as we don’t need to share laws with Morocco or Chile to buy their wine and other produce.

    The sensible approach is to wait and see what actually happens in the EU over the next decade or so. If they make a success of their “ever closer union” there will be a case for joining up properly, no opt outs using the euro etc, rather than in the half hearted fashion we did previously.

    The debate about the EU needs to involve looking at what actually goes on there. Remainers, for totally understandable reasons, have always shied away from doing that.

  • Chris Moore 20th Dec '23 - 2:29pm

    @ John Bicknell: In 97 we went into the GE with very similar policies to Labour. We do no need to mark ourselves out by having a notably different policy offer.

    @Katherine: John Curtice is an academic and pollster. He’s not a political strategist.

  • Chris Moore 20th Dec '23 - 2:32pm

    The Tories are on their last legs. We need to be part of the movement for change.

    It worked in ’97. It will work now. Please let’s not blow it, by majoring on our pet policies – PR, SM, UBI – because we wanna be different, man.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Dec '23 - 8:56pm

    @ Peter Martin. I was quoting the polls, Peter: their finding that more than 50% of the population ( voting or not) apparently now think that Brexit was wrong. Chris Moore, I think we should follow John Curtice’s advice, if we wish to see our national poll rating rise from its continual 10- 12%, because it does seem sensible to give the voters some definite knowledge of what we want to carry out for the country in government. I hope we shall be in a position to influence the next government.

  • Chris Moore 21st Dec '23 - 4:35pm

    @Katherine: Labour are on course for an overall majority. We will not be participating in government.

    There are scores of political thinkers and strategists in the UK who we might listen to. They will give a range of conflicting opinions as to how we might improve our position.

    I see no good reason why what John Curtice says is now supposed to be uniquely authoritative.

    The argument either stands or falls of its own accord. Adding the words, John Curtice says so, does not make it any stronger.

  • Chris Moore states strongly, “I see no good reason why what John Curtice says is now supposed to be uniquely authoritative”.

    Mr Moore, of course, is entitled to his opinion, but I’m afraid it’s far from a universal view. I know my late friend Michael Steed (who worked with Professor Curtice for many years ) wouldn’t have agreed – and I think it much more likely that the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries got it right when Professor Curtice was introduced at their Annual Conference. I quote :

    “Professor Curtice’s polling work has been universally lauded for its accuracy. Drawing on over 38 years of experience, his predictions often go against the grain, to correctly predict shock election results. Professor Curtice was able to predict, with remarkable accuracy, the outcome of the 2017 general election, where the Conservative Government lost its majority”.

  • Mick Taylor 21st Dec '23 - 7:37pm

    @Chris Moore. You’re a to more confident than I am that Starmer can get through the election without blowing it, that he won’t have a Kinnock moment. Can he survive a full fronted Tory press assault with a vacuous manifesto that only promises to be less bad than the Tories?
    The election is Labour’s to lose. Our job is to win as many Tory seats as possible ( and perhaps one or two Labour ones) so that we can have enough MPs to influence a Labour government with a small majority or a minority government, if that were to happen.
    After the 2010-2015 experience I really don’t want us to hold the balance again, because we would get the blame again for everything the public didn’t like even if we didn’t go into government.
    A large bridgehead is possible if we put forward a half decent manifesto ( including but not exclusively PR, UBI and SM please) and we can sell tactical voting to get the Tories out.

  • Katharine Pindar 21st Dec '23 - 10:26pm

    @ David Raw. Thanks for your useful comment on Professor Curtice, David – yes, I agree we should heed his advice, and it was good that we could hear it. David Bicknell is right to say that our party needs to show something different from Labour.
    Chris Moore (please can you spell my name correctly) – we will hope to influence the prospective Labour government, as others have said. I think the ‘bold and distinctive’ policies we have to offer, on health and welfare and local services for instance, should certainly include GBI , NOT UBI folks – the party decided for Guaranteed Basic Income at York. Why? Because GBI is both a distinctive policy AND one we will hope to persuade a future Labour government to take up, because we have shown that deep poverty can be eliminated within ten years. We need to commit to fight poverty, and this policy, building up from increasing Universal Credit, is the beginning of a way to do it.

  • Chris Moore,

    I remember us being distinct in the 1992 general election when I was my local party’s agent. The Labour Party was different then from how it was in 1997.

    Simon R,

    Corbyn’s Labour Party did quite well in 2017 when they had lots of policies which were popular with young people and the Labour Party increased their share of the vote by 9.6% and reduced the Tories lead from 6.5% to 2.3%.

    The Labour Party have a few policies – get more economic growth than the Tories, abolish Non-Dom status and put VAT on school fees and use the money for the NHS and schools and finally increase government spending on green issues to £26 billion a year in the fifth year of a Labour government. Along with our policy to end deep poverty within the decade, we should make it clear that we would invest more on green issues, in the NHS and on education, to ensure we don’t lose votes to Labour in our target seats and seats where we are second.

    David Evans,

    I expect like most of us, you canvass more in local elections and by-elections where national policies are not so important. It is the leaflets which are supposed to convert people to vote for us, not canvassers talking about our policies.

    Mick Taylor,

    UBI is not party policy a Guaranteed Basic Income is.

  • Peter Davies 21st Dec '23 - 10:47pm

    “we have shown that deep poverty can be eliminated within ten years”
    No we haven’t. We’ve expressed an aspiration to do so. We have costed a first stage that would not come close to eliminating deep poverty.

  • Michael BG, I would think that almost every Lib Dem activist canvasses more in local council elections and by elections than general elections because there are so many more of them. So what is your point?

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd Dec '23 - 11:16pm

    Peter Davies. You are mistaken. The party policy to ‘End deep poverty’ was passed at York last spring. The Fairer Society motion, F12, includes the option 2 which was passed: it reads, ‘introducing a Guaranteed Basic Income by increasing Universal Credit to the level required to end deep poverty within decade and removing sanctions.’ For details of how this is to be done, consult the LDV Archive for October 6 of this year, to reread Michael’s article of that date, entitled ‘Ending deep poverty by April 2029’, which had more than 120 comments. It is sensible for us now to press for this policy to be widely known, and then taken up by the new government of 2025, supposing the Labour Party will also wish as former Labour governments have wished, to tackle the depths of poverty in our country.

  • David Evans,
    So what is your point?

    You had posted saying that few electors had asked about our party’s specific policies. I was pointing out this is most likely because you canvass more in local elections and by-elections where national policies are not so important rather than because in general election electors are not interested in national policies.

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