Moving beyond fightback

Have we reached the point when it is right to move from “fightback” to something more positive?

Talking of “fightback” made sense for a while after the election, when we bruised after an almighty pounding but were also experiencing a membership surge.

Even recently I have seen talk of “fightback” on web sites and in emails to activists in different parts of the country and even in literature going out to the public. I am thinking in terms of things inviting people to “be part of the fightback”, or proclaiming that the “fightback is on”, or linking “fightback” to having more members than this time last year.

The snag is that this can sound as if we are fighting back against our political opponents and against the electorate who deserted us. This might be compounded by grief over electoral losses. Though understandable, it is not a reason for people to vote Liberal Democrat. But we have a rich heritage and set of values, well-summarised in the preamble to the constitution. That, and the policies that flow from it, are well-worth voting for.

Rather than “fightback” I have in mind the plants that seem to have died off at this time of year, that suddenly grow back in the spring, stronger than ever.

Wearing my hat as chair of Cambridge Liberal Democrats, I am not thinking of “fightback”. I am thinking about the pathway from where we are to Liberal Democrat control of the City Council, to one or two Liberal Democrat MPs (depending on what happens at the boundary review), and to working with others to have Liberal Democrat MEPs from the East of England and a Liberal Democrat County Council. This is not about a shallow grab for power: it is about a vision for the free, fair and open society, about freedom from enslavement by poverty or dull conformity, and an internationalism that engages constructively with the rest of the EU. These are things we can build most effectively by getting elected to public office. They are a strong and positive message.

Even the pounding we took in May needs to be set in perspective. It was obvious that there would be a short term cost associated with entering the coalition. We put national interest ahead of party interest in a way that we can be proud of. The present government is giving a painful series of illustrations of what the Tories do when left to their own devices — and a sense of how far we moderated them.

I am concerned because I have seen messaging and literature from a variety of local parties which gives me a sense of being written by people who are still reacting from a place of bruising. Invitations to “be part of the fightback” risk giving the subliminal message “we are fighting back but we don’t expect to win”. Even making a play on the number of new members needs to be handled carefully because in case it sounds as if we are surprised.

I would be saying this even if we were not facing an EU referendum and deeply divided Labour and Conservative parties. As it is, both parties have internal problems and are struggling with an EU referendum, where we are able to stand clearly behind the “yes” campaign. We have a real prospect of widening our support base as we do this, among people who realise they are naturally Liberal Democrats.

Has the time come for “fightback” to become “resurgence”?

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at

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  • To be honest, I have avoided use of the term as far as possible. For me it has too many implications / connotations of accepting all that went on in the Coalition years, and not signalling a wish to learn from the past. All we need to do is kick against the traces…

  • Peter Watson 14th Feb '16 - 9:42am

    “We put national interest ahead of party interest in a way that we can be proud of.”
    I’m always a little confused when Lib Dems make this statement. It sounds noble, but what does it really mean?
    Why is it in the national interest to support and implement policies if the party thinks they are wrong? Or are Lib Dems normal ‘un-Tory’ policies intended to be against the national interest? Perhaps the statement means that it is better to have a stable government doing the wrong thing rather than an unstable one trying to do the right thing.
    Why exactly is the Lib Dem sacrifice, which delivered 5 years of a mostly Tory government and 5 years of an entirely Tory government, considered such a good thing?

  • Absolutely. Some of us suggested this a couple of months ago, glad for the support. We must stop reminding people of our electoral folly since 2010, we must have a plan policies and strategy for an independent party future, particularly in Scotland.

  • Mark Argent may feel that we have fewer problems than the Tories and Labour with the referendum – let me assure him that is not always true, and I have encountered quite a lot of opposition from less pro-EU elements in the party.

    Reading this article more carefully, I think the whole thesis, of not being negative, is flawed. Again, one of the real problems with modern politics is (like other areas), the perceived need to be relentlessly “positive” about what you personally, or your party has done. This does not fit with British culture, and it militates against an attempt to identify problems and improve them, along with showing how difficult some things are to improve. Politicians should not be like car salespeople (remember S…..r Norris?!) They don’t appear at the top of the pollsters’ hit parades, do they?

  • “It was obvious there would be a short term cost associated with entering the coalition”

    Mark Agent – you must really look on the bright side of life if you consider what has happened to the party as a short term cost. I would wait and see what happens in the Scottish and Welsh elections before you start talking about a “resurgence”.

  • Picking up the comment on “putting national interest ahead of party interest” — my reading of the formation of the coalition is that we were likely to get the pounding we have had. In 2010 the formation of the coalition and ensuring it was stable and united were needed (at least given the instability in the markets and dire predictions of what would happen if there were a minority government).

    Picking up the comments about being relentlessly positive: my own view is that we do have something uniquely valuable in our heritage, which is summed up in the preamble to the constitution. There are some tough struggles in the world, but what we offer has a flying start. As an: “freedom from enslavement by poverty” is a very different approach to wealth inequality than traditional socialism and, in my view, is a better approach because it is not about greed that makes the poor attack the rich, instead offers possibility for real change because it doesn’t run aground on the vested interests of those who would seek to stay rich. A second example is the current EU referendum: I find it hard not to read that as triggered by the Tory divisions over Europe and risking Britain accidentally stumbing out of the EU, which sounds like David Cameron putting his own party’s interest ahead of the national interest.

  • We will have moved beyond `fightback` when we have a decent economic policy and when we’ve finally understood that Labour are there as a competitor not an ally.

    You only do that by understanding the electorate are broadly centre left to centre right; that Corbyn is there as an open goal as wide as a football pitch and that we’re willing to put the boot in. Don’t believe me – speak to anyone that has kept their seats in a labour leaning ward or follow Rochdale Lib Dems.

    That’s not to say we don’t have a real go at the Tories. The shine is coming off Osborne – yet it’s in the local seats where gains are to be immediately made.

  • ADRIAN sanders 14th Feb '16 - 10:48am

    I’ve told people we put the interests of the country before those of the Party when entering a Coalition and given my prediction of where it would end believed that was what we were doing at the time. But that wasn’t what the leadership was saying back in 2010. The leadership was arguing against sceptics like myself who thought Coalition with the Tories would damage (it nearly, and still might, destroy) us, that we needed to show we could take on the responsibility of Government in order to gain more support in the future from people who presently don’t vote for us because we haven’t exercised that power. I am sure many readers will remember that claim well, while we all know how it ended.

    The fight back is to get noticed and we are still a very long way from that position as the latest Com Res poll shows with our highest rating being people who are neither positive or negative about us. In other words we are the most irrelevant.

    I’ve written before about the danger of us becoming a group of like minded people who come together a couple of times a year at conferences to debate among ourselves and celebrate a few town and parish council election wins.

    Until we can walk, by going back to the basics of community politics to regain the notice and trust of the electorate, everything else is pie in the sky.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Feb '16 - 11:20am

    It’s a good point that the “fightback” can be seen as fighting back against the electorate, so whilst it was a good thing to begin with, should probably be dropped by now. Although there should be no hard rules about it.

    I don’t always follow my own advice, but really we need to become passionate about winning. If anyone wants to engage in any culture wars or try to shift the centre-ground, which I often try to do myself, then it needs to be with the belief that the battles are winnable and not just a desire to change the electoral system and sit in parliament as a significant minority most of the time.

    Adrian mentions community politics, and I agree it is good, but nowadays a lot of “community politics” is undertaken online and people shouldn’t try to work extremely hard in order to make-up for a lacklustre manifesto.

    I’ve voted Lib Dem a few times partly because of online goodwill. With a more internet generation this will only become more important.

  • Neil Sandison 14th Feb '16 - 11:50am

    We can move beyond fightback when we have secured and gained additional council seats in May .When we have consistent good results in all elections .When we have moved in good double figures in national polls until then it continues.

  • An article full unnecessary adjectives and lots of ‘mom and apple pie’….

    As for “Rather than “fightback” I have in mind the plants that seem to have died off at this time of year, that suddenly grow back in the spring, stronger than ever”…

    I’m minded of Peter Sellers in “Being There”

  • Thomas Shakespeare 14th Feb '16 - 1:20pm

    Great article, Mark! We have to ask who we are fighting back against. If it’s the electorate, that won’t get us anywhere.

  • The road to getting a second chance with voters who punished the party so badly at the Election is going to be so much harder if people don’t start to get real. Sheffield Manchester Liverpool etc where the battle for 4th 5th place is going to be a real fight just get the party heard and enter the debate winning comes after.

  • It’s good to see an article about how we need to move on and start to reconnect with the voters on issues that are important to them, rather than the endless stream of navel gazing articles on someones particular hobbyhorse like AWS. Until you realise that your problem isn’t not being liberal enough, but is being too self limiting, lacking real empathy with most voters and just endlessly going on about how if only I was allowed to solve my one issue, things would miraculously improve, you will get nowhere.

    The #libdemfightback, however well intentioned, will not result in any progress as long as it remains merely an endless exhortation from the top that the troops should just work harder. Quite simply the leadership – and this means you Tim and our few remaining MPs – accept your responsibility for getting the party into this mess and come up with a new approach that resonates with the electorate, the party will continue to drift downhill and all the hard work over the last 50 years will have been totally wasted.

  • Paul Kennedy 14th Feb '16 - 5:04pm

    To be fair to the leadership I think they are trying to develop a new approach which will inspire our members and resonate with enough of the electorate to make electoral progress up to and beyond 2020:

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Feb '16 - 1:22am

    yes on community politics but the national message today and , as Eddie says internet presence is relevant,no one is even reading leaflets by parties that ae not getting any good national coverage , or not anyhting like enough.

    We need bold actions and policies that are not bleeding heart liberal left or neo liberal right .We need Liberal Democrat RE connect , that is how to fight back.

    No amount of policy that just gets a moments headline but does not resonate with people , can do it ,less on caring , sharing criminal justice and more on accountable,responsible, criminal justice.

    Less on why Trident is wrong and more on why we are not Corbyn.

    Less on why we love the greens and more on why we are more in keeping with where most people are at who are green.

    Less on the Tories are heartless without more on why we are not and yet can be strong too

    Less on why Hunt is wrong without how we and not all the other parties currently have the answers on health

    All our spokespeople are doing a, frankly , admirable thing, in picking up and getting on with it.We need to re connect in the mainstream and at the same time be exciting and noticed .How hard is that ?!

  • ADRIAN sanders 15th Feb '16 - 11:35am

    Lorenzo, I don’t diagree with Eddie on new communities – if you have read the theory and practice of CP you will know it applies to communities other than just council wards; but schools, hospitals, work places and of course today the internet and the multitude of communities within. On policies though, beware. I am always reminded of the rapid polling growth of the SDP after it was formed that peaked and started to fall with each policy document the Party produced. It is campaigns that win elections, not policies of themselves and it is community politics that builds trust with the electorate so that you can be competitive in those elections though your campaigns. I am afraid I disagree with you on being neither bleeding heart liberal left or neo con liberal right. Certainly the Liberal Democrats should be no place for neo cons – let them go play with the Tories or Ukip or the UK Liberatarian Party. But without our voice standing up for the oppressed, the poor and the persecuted which is neither left nor right but Liberal there really is no hope for this Party at all. I think standing up for unaccompanied child refugees is precisely the bold action you request, and if that’s bleedin heart liberalism in action then lets have more of it. I could go on but I’ve a Focus to write.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Feb '16 - 12:12pm

    Standing up for the vulnerable is good, but they really need to be vulnerable. Refugees over economic migrants, unless they are highly skilled (generally), campaigning against benefit cuts over obsession with boardroom equality or bashing Wall Street etc.

    People need to instinctively feel sympathy for the cause, rather than hostility. Of course, it is a big like something for nothing, but showing a motivation for love rather than hate comes across as good.

  • ADRIAN sanders 15th Feb '16 - 12:59pm

    Eddie, I suggest to you that “unaccompanied child refugees” are vulnerable. I would also suggest that a civilised liberal society does not cut subsistence level benefits and is concerned about inequalities whether related to gender or excessive pay. If you disagree go here:

  • @Adrian “I suggest to you that “unaccompanied child refugees” are vulnerable.”

    The trouble is that Tim et al have decided that those already in Europe are more vulnerable than those in the refugee camps and so is effectively saying our neighbours, the French, German’s etc., aren’t civilised and just don’t know how or have it in them, to look after such children, but we the British do!

    Eddie is on the money; to many people, across Europe, the people arriving aren’t so much refugees as economic migrants and opportunists.

    I suggest a civilised liberal society will much that is within it’s power to address inequalities, but it will also be doing much to ensure it’s continued existence. I’ve yet to see anything credible from Tim et al on how their policies will maintain our liberal society. Perhaps Tim and others actually don’t want a liberal society, but are too scared to admit it?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Feb '16 - 2:04pm

    Thank you for your comments , what you advocate is not what I ever want called “bleeding heart liberalism “! I am of the view we need more policies on standing with the genuinely vulnerable and poor and downtrodden , the refugee children you mention of course amongst them ! I had in mind a little more on the side of victims of dangerous drivers , like Greg Mullhollands bill does, and a little less soft soap on releasing low level criminals without also talking about dealing with the dangerous ones , and so called rehabilitation which does not include an old fashioned word , punishment, of violent illiberal thugs and bullies !

  • David Allen 15th Feb '16 - 5:40pm

    “Fightback” was, of course, first used before the election, with the meaning “fight back against Clegg and all his works”. We lost that fightback, and then we lost an election. Quite why we should now wish to re-adopt the “fightback” term, in very different circumstances, is not at all clear.

    Does it mean “We were right, the voters were wrong, and we now seek to prove that point and rub the voters’ noses in it?” Or is it just a sly dig against the people who first used the term? Or what, exactly?

    “Fightback” is the sort of slogan sports teams use when they have lost a key match, but still have faith in themselves and think they can get back onto a winning streak if they just put the effort in. The implication is that they don’t much need to change their personel or their style of play, they just need to rediscover their willpower. Well, if that’s why “fightback” appeals, it’s totally wrong for the Lib Dems.

    “Rebuild” or “relaunch” are the kinds of word which sports teams use in different circumstances, for example when an ageing team which has been very successful eventually stops winning, and suddenly they all look tired and outdated. The manager then pleads for a few years grace to train up some youngsters and discover a new way to win. That’s more like what we Lib Dems need to do. I’m not sure that the point is recognised, however!

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Feb '16 - 10:58pm

    Fine fighting talk from the Chair of Cambridge Liberal Democrats – good for you, Mark. I think we still need ‘fightback’ though, against the indifference of the public to us, the widespread idea that we are now irrelevant. We need I believe to keep telling the public what good things we did in Coalition – great example raised today, the free schools meals policy – and what has been lost since, such as apparently some financing of that provision. Tell them what we did, then tell them what we have to offer now. Do it by social media, but also we think here in West Cumbria by a detailed leaflet: we’re delivering the first 10,000 of those at the moment. Then let’s develop our policies further so we can tell people more in future Focuses. But don’t forget to point out the influence we had and still have. More money for mental health? Good to see that this Government has learnt from Norman Lamb’s work, to begin to give mental health equal priority in the NHS.

  • Peter Watson 16th Feb '16 - 8:32am

    @Katharine Pindar “great example raised today, the free schools meals policy”
    A great example of what?
    Clegg’s announcement of the scheme was a complete surprise to Lib Dems. Not only had it never been a Lib Dem policy, the party had previously opposed it when trials were launched by Ed Balls, and the evidence showed there were better ways to invest that amount of money in education. The quid pro quo was allowing the Conservatives a tax break for married couples, something opposed by Lib Dems. The scheme is currently in the news because the end of temporary transitional funding for small schools means that some such schools will have to use their teaching budget to pay for it.

  • The stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

    Where would you place this article and these comments?

    An amazing amount of denial in the article, I think – “short term damage”!

  • “Even the pounding we took in May needs to be set in perspective.” I suspect that things will get worse before they get better. They may be a bit of a dead cat bounce in winning a few council seats back, on the other hand there are likely to be many more places were the decline in money, (from Cllr subs or HQ) less publicity, less campaigning, the loss of an MP and above all the other parties targeting lib dem held seats to lead to further loses. With a poll rating of 7%, the party is way below what it scored in the local elections in 2012.

    Anyone think the Police and Crime Commissioner elections are going to improve on the fiasco of last time ?

  • “It was obvious that there would be a short term cost associated with entering the coalition”

    Obvious to who ? Not to the people in the party telling us the priority way to convince people “coalition worked” and who ended up telling the electorate to vote Lib Dem because of the danger of UKIP/SNP/DUP coalition Government.

    After 90 years of being the third largest party in the commons, Clegg and Co have got us down to 5th and the prospect of what left of our MPs losing their seats in a boundary review which the Leadership supported.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Feb '16 - 7:07pm

    We should continue to oppose the first past the post electoral system, which is unsuitable for the House of Commons in modern times.
    It would also not be satisfactory to say that there was a referendum on the Alternative Vote, which was not what we really wanted anyway and was kore than our coalition partners really wanted to concede, as we saw from the vigour of their opposition and from what they said.
    Introducing the Single Transferable Vote for local elections in England and Wales would be a useful step forward.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Feb '16 - 7:08pm

    Typo, sorry: kore should be more.

  • Simon Banks 27th Feb '16 - 3:18pm

    Yes, I think fightback was a good and appropriate slogan for our members and supporters in the wake of the general election. It accurately reflected the mood of determination and anger, or, as someone sloganised before us, “We have lost a battle, but we have not lost the war.”

    Yes, we need to move beyond it now. Yes, we should be able to articulate a positive vision of a better world, better U.K. and better Chipping Sodbury or wherever. It is not a new thing to see Liberal Democrat literature consisting entirely of attacks on what the Tories or Labour are doing plus our candidate teetering on the edge of a pothole. It’s a question of balance: of course we must be attacking Tory cuts to police and mental health funding, for example, but we must also say how our approach is distinctive and how people can take power for themselves.

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