My first thoughts on the way forward

As I start writing this post, it is less than 24 hours since the polls closed and that dreadful Exit Poll was published so this is to some extent a first draft of what where I think we got it wrong and why we must not assume that we have 4 years to prepare for the next General Election. I am writing and publishing it to start a discussion rather than be dogmatic about what needs to be done, so please join in and give our new President and new Leader a start in working out how to move forward.  Also I haven’t focused on policy issues, more on processes as that is where I think we need to learn the lessons.

This was the third General Election since I joined the Lib Dems and I could not be as engaged this time as I had been in 2015 & 2017 for work and  personal reasons. This gave me a better opportunity to observe what was going on this time with the knowledge of having been a candidate myself before.

Firstly, I don’t think we should attach any blame to the incredibly hard-working teams up and down the county both in target seats and in “no hope” ones. From what I saw, many people went above and beyond what could be expected of volunteers. Yes, I am sure mistakes were made and I hope every seat holds a post-mortem in the new year to look at what they could do better. That said I am not sure, even if they did everything they could do and did it exceptionally well, it would have made a substantial difference.

This brings me to my second and main point. General Elections are decided by  what voters see on television, look at on social media, read in the newspaper and hear in the radio, probably in that order. Sadly for us, much of the access to these outlets, especially television & newspapers, is controlled by a media that since 2010 has been hostile to us and done its best to misrepresent us and exclude us. I don’t think this will change in the next few years. We can’t simply moan about it. We need to factor it into our plans for the next General Election. And, as we cannot be sure the next Election will not be until May 2nd 2014, we must start getting those plans ready in January.

Because we cannot rely on fair coverage from the media, we need to make them, and voters generally, sit up and take notice of us. How? I am not sure, but I know we have loads of creative people in our party, at all levels and in all areas, who will have great ideas on the how. We need to find ways to harness this creativity and use it to get our messages out. 

Whether it is having the best policy on the redistribution of wealth (better than Labour’s) or having the only credible tax & spend plans (better than the Tories), or in any number of different policy areas, if no-one outside the Party knows then we won’t get the credit for it. We cannot get those messages through in the few weeks in the run-up to the election. We need to start straight away.

Finally, I think we need to use all of our MPs  to spread the load so not all of it falls on whoever becomes leader. Of course, the Leader, whoever that is will need to be central but, as we saw with Tim in 2017 & even more so with Jo this year, other parties will target their seat and try to take it from them. We must give them the space to campaign in their own patch.

* Leon Duveen is a Liberal Democrat activist in Worksop, Nottinghamshire

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36 Comments

  • nigel hunter 15th Dec '19 - 11:27am

    Yes, spread the burden to ALL the MPs cos ,as you say, the Leaders seat is targeted by the opposition.
    Equally lets get rid of bar charts on the leaflets AND SELL OUR POLICIES AND AIMS IN THOSE VACANT SPACES. That is cos as you say, we cannot rely on the media supporting us Equally a leader not tainted by the coalition would be handy. That could reduce the vitriole that was spouted by momentum.

  • I’d disagree with your rankings I’d suspect social media has edged ahead of TV and the media. By the next election it will be clearly ahead. As to TV well that will still be important although by effectively supporting Depeffle the BBC has signed up to budget cuts which will cut its reach next time, ITV will be under budget pressures as advertising relentlessly moves on line. As to C4, well no friends of us but even less friendly to depeffle so their fate is uncertain to say the least and Sky are costly and I suspect cuts will follow. The dead tree media is in relentless decline and while some may clamber online they will be niche players in the next election; I would expect the express group to be gone and the sun and daily mail to both have less than a million readers ( much less). Which leads us to social media the home of the lie, well here you need to keep it simple and don’t be afraid to call a spade a shovel ( Tis not nice I hear the cry, well nice wins nowt). Radio is the same as TV for much the same reasons.

  • Agreed about the targeting of leaders. I saw Ming saying he thought being leader gave MPs a boost, but that may have worked pre-social media days, but now it just means that you come under greater attack. A compounding issue in this election was that Jo is a new leader and therefore didn’t have that ‘boost’ of extra TV appearances during the less combative phase of the parliamentary calendar where voters are more open minded and journalists less hectoring.

    I mentioned elsewhere that I received my own copy of the mini manifesto the day after the election. It’s a good document, and only wish it could have been seen by more people before the election. The Christmas post would be a factor for this election, but it got me thinking about whether or not we should be producing more of these and not just at election time. Would it be viable to have mini-interim manifestos published and delivered through letter boxes once a year in key constituencies? Or maybe focus areas with new and younger residents, such as students, who might be more open to reading one?

    I’m sure others have thought of similar, and perhaps it’s been ruled out on the grounds of costs, or because it’s been trialled and found to be ineffective. I know that there is a lot of evidence to support keeping messages simple, but this time around we’ve been very vulnerable to accusations of being a single issue party with no other policies. In some cases, this allows rival party activists to invent our other policies, or claim that they align with the Tories/Labour as suits them.

    We need to find a way to let more people know what our other policies are.

    And we were steamrollered by other parties in terms of social media during debates etc. There probably is an over reliance on believing what social media has to say on things, but newspapers and the radio pick up on things, and like to report reactions. When I went into Google news to see coverage of one of our policy announcements, it was invariably accompanied by aggressive stories from the right and left wing press, and then a string of negative ‘top tweets’ from people who might have liked it from their own party, but have managed to find issue with it/us. Unfortunately, this is another one of those problems that are easier to identify than solve.

  • Christopher Curtis 15th Dec '19 - 12:54pm

    Before we think (rightly) about how we communicate better, we have to really sort out what it is we are trying to communicate. I hate to admit it, but if we can’t boil or message down into a three or four word phrase, that means something concrete and summarises what we stand for, we’re never going to get heard.
    We would have been better with something like “Remain and Rebuild” repeated until everyone got completely sick of it than we were with an evolving and slightly too complex and too detailed manifesto.

  • Joshua White 15th Dec '19 - 1:11pm

    The election results are painful and deeply disappointing. I’m going to add my thoughts as a Lib Dem member. Frankly, the party’s policy to revoke Article 50 felt wrong politically and in principle. We feared being outflanked by Labour but our policy for three years to hold a referendum on any Brexit deal was consistent and clear. The crushing electoral system’s squeeze on the Lib Dems and neglect by the broadcasters was evident but can we find a strategy in the next five years to mitigate these handicaps? Finally, much like the Labour Party, in the age of social media I fear that Lib Dem activists, members and supporters spend too much time listening to each other rather than listening and talking to people they don’t know. It’s very easy to build shared interest groups online. Can we all break out and reach out to a wider group of people? Can we build a coalition for electoral reform. So too can we build an enduring, cross part ‘European movement’ to support Britain’s ties to Europe? In this age of nationalism, xenophobia and isolationism, the Liberal Democrats have a responsibility in finding ways to survive and thrive. Winning requires persuasion. Let’s start that conversation now.

  • I don’t agree with everything Dr Lee says but on this he was spot on

    “But as soon as the BBC decided not to be impartial and to frame the choice as Corbyn versus Johnson, the game was over. For the future, the liberal progressive centre has to present a credible alternative to rightwing populism and nationalism.””

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/14/lib-dems-warned-not-to-back-december-election-vince-cable-tim-farron

    So when the BBC come begging for friends remember they are no friends of ours.

  • Poor BBC their loyalty has been repaid

    Non-payment of the licence fee could be decriminalised, it is reported.

    The Sunday Telegraph said Boris Johnson is looking into consulting on whether people who do not pay the £154.50 licence fee for watching television or BBC’s iPlayer catch-up service should be prosecuted.

    It comes after Downing Street refused to appear on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme due to what they believe is its pro-Remain bias.

    Last financial year, 25.8 million households had TV licences bringing in £3.6 billion to the BBC.

    https://www.itv.com/news/2019-12-15/non-payment-of-tv-licence-fee-could-be-decriminalised/

    Well that didn’t take long at all. I’d need a heart of stone not to laugh. Could I suggest they start the cuts with Question Time and Radio 4, then Radio 5 and their star news commentators.

  • Lazy Scribble 15th Dec '19 - 1:56pm

    The great tragedy of this election is that, with the crucial issue of the day being Brexit, in the end it boiled down to a choice between two leavers. Why didn’t the Lib Dems break through more? Well, frankly you need a stronger front guy, someone who is a brilliant media personality. I’m sorry, but Jo wasn’t that. And you need a stronger sense of professionalism. Take this website, for example, it feels amateurish. When you’re running for government you can’t afford that. I hope you guys can pull it around because this country desperately needs a strong centralist party to fight back against populist nationalism. Because we all know how rises in populist nationalism usually end.

  • So, the main points are: don’t blame the hard working volunteers, our lack of media coverage was the main problem and don’t leave all the campaigning to the leader.

    I can’t argue with any of that, but with respect, I don’t think these factors even begin to explain the election results.

  • Anthony Acton 15th Dec '19 - 3:02pm

    It’s a narrow point, but the way the BBC and Fiona Bruce set Jo Swinson up with that rigged Question Time audience still rankles. Jo coped fairly well, but the programme left the indelible impression that she had no support whereas the other leaders’ soundbites were greeted with rapturous cheering (as Bruce delighted in pointing out to Jo). That was at the start of the campaign and that’s where the slide in the polls began. I don’t think the party should be too quick to defend the BBC against whatever’s coming to them now.

  • Alternatively, Anthony, maybe that was a sign that we were fighting the wrong battle and we didnt have policies that would cut through to the voters we needed to appeal to.

  • Back in 2016, Leave won the referendum. 48% voted to remain. In the current election, leaving aside national and single priority parties, We had Tories promising Brexit, Labour promising a new (BRINO) deal and second referendum and Lib Dems promising to remain and to revoke Article 50. In these circumstances, the Lib Dems were the only guaranteed Remain option and should have captured the Remain vote.

    What went wrong? There are many clues. The Lib Dems did not pick up lots of Remain votes. But then, Labour didn’t either, they did worse than the Lib Dems. So where did the Remain votes go, and why?

    Answer that and you will begin to understand.

  • Innocent Bystander 15th Dec '19 - 3:19pm

    There are no arguments to defend the BBC or to justify its continued existence. It is a bloated anachronism rapidly running out of friends.
    Youth ignores it, despite any number of pathetic attempts to attract them. Its customers are from the rapidly disappearing end of the age spectrum.
    Those who still love it can pay for it themselves.

  • What went wrong?

    The Lib Dems should have realised that they couldn’t stop Brexit without helping Labour getting into power. Swinson’s campaign was based on a false prospectus that she could stop Brexit, and stop Corbyn and become PM herself.

    About 30 seats that Labour lost could have been saved if the Lib Dems and the Greens didn’t stand against them. Swinson’s arrogance in thinking she could be PM and her refusal to accept a Labour led government caused this Brexit disaster. It was a mistake to make the election into a referendum about Corbyn, the personal attacks weakened him so that he was no longer seen as a credible alternative to Johnson. The Lib Dem path to success is when Labour does well, as in 1997. A secret deal with Labour could have been done so that we didn’t fight each other in marginals.

    The Tories win by divide and rule, the ‘centrist’ delusion and the first past the post system. You can only beat the Tories by creating a united opposition. The Brexit party Ltd stood down in Tory seats, the refusal of the Lib Dems and Greens to help fellow Labour remainers gifted the Tories and leavers (who are a minority) the election and we will now have Brexit as a result.

    I suspect that Swinson preferred a Johnson Government and Brexit over a Corbyn led Government. Her involvement in the coalition with the Tories in 2010-2015 has resulted in her going native, the same applies to Davey. It would not be a good outcome for the party if he becomes leader.

    Remember that when your grandkids ask why Scotland became independent and England is a small lonely poor country on the edge of Europe.

    What can we do in future?

    1. The Lib Dems need to give up the pretension of being a national party. Under FPTP it’s pointless contesting every seat. We need to do tactical deals with non-Tory parties. We have more chance of success focusing all our resources on a smaller number of realistic seats.
    2. Consider having a primary system like in the USA, only one candidate chosen from either Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, NHS party etc should stand in a GE seat, selected by a combined membership and registered supporters.
    3. People should consider creating a pro-democracy movement Hong-Kong style to fight to make the UK into a real democracy with PR, elected upper-chamber, federal system etc. Remember the Tories wouldn’t be in power (and Brexit going ahead) now if we had PR, they have a minority of the votes.

  • “Because we cannot rely on fair coverage from the media, we need to make them, and voters generally, sit up and take notice of us.”

    Plenty of coverage for the revoke idea but nothing else to break through. I suggested phasing out council tax (the most hated tax in the country) in favour of increased tax on companies (turnover or transaction tax which could then have been extended to replace business rates and employer NI to even out online and High St). Didn’t go down well, taxing people out of their homes with a hugely complex land tax much more popular, though admittedly that did not actually make the manifesto this time round.

    LibDems have the problem that they think people are liberated by govn handouts rather than keeping a much bigger chunk of their hard-earned wages which I suspect will be an ongoing mantra from Boris et al. Democracy does favour the vast mass of people who are working hard or retired after working hard, if only in their sheer numbers.

  • John Marriott 15th Dec '19 - 3:35pm

    For goodness sake, stop blaming the media. The party leadership made some duff decisions right at the start. I have always maintained that being a ‘liberal’ is a way of life, which not all of our citizens share. When it comes to ‘core vote’ I reckon that, as far as voting liberal is concerned, you are looking at around 10%. What those who oppose conservatism should do is to seek common ground, which means Lib Dems, Greens AND Labour burying their differences and working together. Under FPTP it really is the only way.

  • Barry Lofty 15th Dec '19 - 3:48pm

    I wish people would stop blaming us oldies for all the woes that the past few years have thrown at us. I too feel that the BBC has fallen way below its standards of previous years and find the quality of its output falling rapidly but I would hate to see it disappear completely as some of the other broadcasters are even worse. I make no apology for getting old and some of the comments just sums up the way our country seems to be going, sadly

  • Lazy Scribble 15th Dec '19 - 3:52pm

    @Mark Valladares

    I know. No offence meant. However, there are plenty of free platforms available to create a more “magazine” style site, and to move away from the blogging style which I think is a bit dated now. I’ve been dipping into this site for a few years and sometimes reactions to big news stories get hidden below smaller stories, because, I guess, the smaller story item was posted later. A category based magazine style, I think, would allow you to separate out topics which focus on more internal affairs and those which capture the interest of non-members. Anyway, best of luck. The UK needs you!!!

  • tony zendle 15th Dec '19 - 4:04pm

    May I firstly agree with those who would like to see the biased and illiberal Question Time scrapped. When people complain about the bickering in the House of Commons they should realise that it is only mirroring what goes on in the outside world, as show by QT.

    Secondly to those that want ‘pacts’ with Progressive parties, remember that they are not our friends; that Labour want to eat Liberals, not befriend them; that there is a difference between Liberal and Socialist, especially of the Corbynista type.

    Build the base again. If Labour continue down their current route, and with Boris in power there are opportunities ahead.

  • A rightward Scot 15th Dec '19 - 4:26pm

    I am regular reader of LDV & v interested in politics. My daughter is a member of LD. I am a conservative.
    If you had been close to capturing the 1/3 of Tories who voted remain we would have been looking at PM Corbin & no Tory would want that. I think that many conservatives are surprised how far away you have travelled from the centre since 2015 as a reaction to the coalition. I am not surprised. As a reader of LDV I see many many comments on increased spending. Not many at all on how to create wealth or the right conditions to allow it to be.
    You were in a tricky spot. Vote Jo, get Jeremy. Some in LD & LDV seemed ok with that. No Tory could so the 1/3 stayed put.
    On taxes, your main policy was simple. 1p. But I had a sense, perhaps wrongly, that that was just a start & IHT, council tax, and air transport would all be moved higher quickly. Reform for LD means more ££. We have the highest APD or equivalent in the world and we are an island.
    On Jo Swinson herself, I was surprised that she wasn’t lent votes by my party to keep her as an MP. But I am not in her constituency & I do think she she was closer to LAB than CON on every single issue so on reflection maybe they simply couldn’t.
    I hope LD can survive & thrive. I’d like to think I could lend you my vote in the future if you needed it. But you are too far away from people who think they are moderate conservative

  • Nonconformistradical 15th Dec '19 - 4:29pm

    @Lazy Scribble
    “However, there are plenty of free platforms available…..”

    I don’t think it is the cost of the platform which is the issue – it is the editorial effort and the time that takes.

  • David Evershed 15th Dec '19 - 4:30pm

    Normally Lib Dem support increases as the Lib Dems get more media coverage in a general election campaign.

    This time the more coverage we received, the polling showed we received less support.

    So it is the content of the message that was unpopular not the lack of communication.

  • Paul Barker 15th Dec '19 - 6:12pm

    Our support declined steadily from early October till now (& possibly beyond, we wont know that till mid January) all explanations must take account of that.
    I dont believe that our problems had much to do with our Message, our Leader or our Campaign, the explanation is simply that we are still suffering the after-effects of The Coalition.
    Our sucsess in May gave us a temporary boost which wore off, leaving us with too little support to be a believable alternative & leaving Voters to decide who was worse, Johnson or Corbyn.
    We need to build Our Core Vote & Our Local Government base. Labour or The Tories will screw-up at some point & we need to be ready to take 2nd Place.

  • No David the percentage of media exposure Jo Swinson got was 5.8%, even Nigel Farage got more and his company only contested just over half of the seats.

    By percentages of media exposure

    Depeffle 31.7%
    Cornyn 26.9%
    McDonald 8.2%
    Farage 5.9%
    Then Jo at 5.8%

    So the quote “So it is the content of the message that was unpopular not the lack of communication.” is untrue because for it to be true we would have to have exposure and the media made sure we didn’t. They wanted to present it as a two horse race and they did.

  • @paul barker

    “We need to build Our Core Vote”

    Who exactly is the “core” vote these days?
    It was not so long ago that many at the top of the party regarded the core vote as orange bookers, is that still the case or have things moved on?

    I am not being critical here, it is a genuine question because different Liberal Democrats from different wings of the party could have differing ideas on who the core voter is.
    It seem to me that since 2015 after each set of election results, people are complaining that the party needs to build on its core vote and yet that stratergy does not seem to have worked.
    So who exactly is the core vote? and if the party has not managed to attract enough of them previously through its core policies, then isnt it time to try a different approach and attract a “NEW” set of core voters with a different policy direction and maybe that would be more successful at the ballot box and gain LD more representation in parliament

  • Vivien Biggs 15th Dec '19 - 6:47pm

    The biggest mistake was the policy that we would revoke if we won a majority. It was unrealistic to suggest that we would be in that position and just left us wide open to being attacked as undemocratic.

  • If we are considering what coverage we receive on TV I think we need to think about what TV likes. In the debates we are always going to get hostile questions about the coalition and austerity. This is why we need to reject austerity, recognise it was the wrong policy in 2010 and have policies to reverse all the benefit cuts since 2010 – over £34 billion of them.

    Turning to what is reported, we need radical policies that stand out. I suggest ending poverty in less than ten years, promising to get economic growth close to 3% each and every year using both monetary and fiscal policies, building 3.1 million new social homes by 2030, and being carbon neutral by 2030. Then we would get coverage on these and questions on them.

  • Innocent Bystander 16th Dec '19 - 8:12am

    @a rightward Scot
    I share many of your well put sentiments. You are right to be suspicious as the LibDems are well gripped by the seductive lure of Keynes and will spend beyond the nation’s means. You are even more right that the party does not even try to address the crisis in actual wealth creation with an economic agenda endorsed by the New Covent Garden Soup Company, (no, I hadn’t either).
    I will be sorry to see Scots such as you leave us when the Nats finally get their way. I know my fellow countrymen and they can quickly become fiercely English. Free movement will definitely end on a line between Gretna and Berwick.

  • Robert (Somerset) 16th Dec '19 - 9:06am

    Hostile press, bias TV and dodgy social media? Maybe it’s a case of going back to basics. Wasn’t it David Penhaligon who once said ‘If you have got something to say put it on a piece of paper and shove it through a letterbox?’

  • Peter Hirst 17th Dec '19 - 1:45pm

    Under our present electoral system, we can double our seats at the next election if we work with the other parties on a joint strategy to not contest some seats in return for a clear run in others. We should continue this strategy until we gain a better voting system that should be our priority. This should all be decided within a year though some elements might need to remain confidential.

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