Oblivion: The LibDems

In the English collective memory Covid-19 and Brexit are pre-eminent. Further away, we have had Suez and Dunkirk. Etched deeper into the English psyche is the Somme and Gallipoli. In the mists of time, buccaneering adventurism marked the first Elizabethan age which set the beginnings of an Empire. This has entrenched the view that this plucky little offshore island can see off all-comers with a game of bowls and a hopeless cavalry charge.

Meanwhile, back in the real world the evidence paints a very different narrative! Let’s just recall that Henry VIII had just severed English ties with the predominant continental power; the Roman Church. He ‘took back control’ and this later ushered in the buccaneering spirit where state sponsored piracy challenged legitimate international trade and the Bard became the propagandist in chief aka Murdoch to embed the then myths of past glories, “Once more, unto the breach dear friends…” (Henry V, Act III, Scene I). Thus the myth of Britishness was born; a completely artificial construct which is now in tatters as the last bastion of the English Empire unravels. Ireland will inexorably gravitate towards reunification. Scotland is closer to returning to its sovereign status than ever before. Wales, with so many English colonists, makes future change more troublesome and unclear. These vassal States will not wish to be taken down by the incompetence of their English masters in the City of London.

Covid-19 presents us with a real chance to change the flawed paradigm which has brought us to our knees. The deep irony of a neo-fascist government, or in more nuanced terms, populist (ugh), having to adopt pure communist measures to cope with total societal collapse is the significant political event in recent history. However, to navigate the post Covid-19 world will require more than superficial consideration of events. The forces of conservatism or harking back to the future and the failed bipolar political rhetoric of the last century will have to be jettisoned. We need a radical and progressive agenda. The UK context has to be reframed as the basis for any hope of future success. The so called British, whatever that now means, are going to have to understand their history differently. In particular, English exceptionalism and islander parochialism are but local examples of the lethal combination of arrogance and ignorance which have led to a culture of amateurism and selfishness which must give way to a vision for the future in the global village.

A flourishing Europe, reformed money, citizens’ well-being, resilient infrastructure, modern governance and a cared-for planet is a start.

The real challenge today is that there is NO VISION and no prospect of the LEADERSHIP for that vision to emerge when it is most needed. The LibDem Party has blown its chances to make the first step in a post Covid-19 world by postponing the leadership election until 2021; no leader means no vision!

… and now Keir Starmer … which is sad and terminal.

* Paul Fisher is the Chair of Liberal Democrats in France.

Read more by .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • As the lockdown was starting I read about an Egyptian novelist who had been arrested for a minor political protest by Sisi’s thugs. I downloaded one of her novels in solidarity – a historical tale of the shameful period of Lord Cromer’s governorship of Egypt in the early 1900’s – an example of the exaggerated Britishness which Paul Reynolds alludes to. I strongly recommend the novel “The Map of Love” – her name is Adhad Soueif.

    In mentioning the examples in international affairs, Paul might have mentioned Iraq in 2003. Some of those who are relishing the new leadership of the Labour Party are indeed the Blairites who led us into that shameful fiasco which still has serious consequences throughout the Middle East and into Europe. I heard Alan Johnson heaping praise on Keir Starmer yesterday but a few weeks ago I heard him say he would still do exactly the same as the decision he supported to invade in 2003. Lisa Nandy as Shadow Foreign Secretary probably gives us some reason for hope but then, as Paul suggests, possibly make us less relevant.

  • Steve Trevethan 6th Apr '20 - 12:04pm

    An excellent analysis!
    Might we also work for a democratic cohesive Europe free from the current extractive financial rules and practices in the E U? (“And the weak Suffer What They Must” by Yanis Varoufakis is an interesting read.)
    Might we work for a nation and a Europe which is starting to escape from the American Empire?

  • graham watson 6th Apr '20 - 1:16pm

    This – and the comments it has spawned – are valuable reflections on our current plight. Postponing the leadership contest, which was already taking too long, suggests too many LDs think we have the luxury of time. In politics one rarely, if ever, has. The UK’s problems – and Paul rightly speaks of England’s problems, since the problems of the other nations are not the same – are grave, but no graver than those of some other European nations. What the EU offers us, for all its faults, is the chance to build a new future together, not ignoring the past but recognising our individual and collective shortcomings hitherto. To have turned our back on the EU is a tragic folly and we must endeavour to get back in. But even ‘alongside’ the EU we can have an impact on the development of the continent’s civilisation. We will not start with a blank sheet after COVID-19, but the lesson of previous pandemics is that they offer us a chance to re-think and to re-position. That re-positioning must be global rather than simply European, but the EU, though in need of reform, is a good building block and has a lot to offer in terms of influence on global thinking. I suggest we start with the three major sets of global challenges: climate change and energy provision, inequality (wealth, gender and life chances) and migration, internationally organised crime and terrorism. Our Liberal philosophy puts us in a much better position on the starting blocks than those of other persuasions. But we’ve no time to lose.

  • Let us face it. There are dozens, nay hundreds of seats where we do not have any chance, saving a deposit at best. To many of us a Labour Party led by Starmer would appeal, particularly in those places where the Conservative majority is within the 5 – 6000 range.
    I voted for Mark Pack. Thought he was a man of vision and action. We have no leader, why?.

  • Peter Hayes 6th Apr '20 - 2:14pm

    We currently have some very good spokespeople but their press releases are being ignored and a new leader would also be ignored. We need to work locally using our local knowledge to support people who are housebound and build on that for local elections. We have too many places where we are strong locally but the Tory scare tactics results in a Tory MP, Starmer might weaken the scare tactics but local action is where we have strength when parliament is shut down.

  • Sue Sutherland 6th Apr '20 - 5:47pm

    There are two separate opportunities for us as a party arising out of this crisis, and neither of them are about the virus itself. The first is that the economic consequences of lockdown will be tragic if the government returns to its old austerity practices and/or the old climate changing ways of consumerism to pay off its vast debt. We therefore need to look at how we can both restore economic well being and green the economy at the same time.
    The second is that having to delay the leadership contest during the crisis (and beyond if we assume the crisis will be over before the FB’s date) has revealed the lack of power and influence the membership has on the party.
    So we need to appoint a group of economists to consider what needs to be done to produce a fairer greener economy than we’ve seen before, much in the way Beveridge worked on the idea of the Welfare State during WWII itself. Secondly we need to take steps to make our party more democratic in the political hiatus we now have.
    So please Ed can you set up an economic/environmental group to tackle the first issue and Mark can you take steps to provide members with more opportunities to express their views to our leaders and have influence over the outcomes.

  • From the title of this article I was expecting to read a rational argument why the Liberal Democrat party will cease to exist. I didn’t. I read an article about how English people see themselves because of their view of history. And a call for them to view our history differently.

    I agree with the interesting comments made by John Alderdice; we do not need a leader to have a vision, and we do need a process for us to make policy that met the vision of the preamble to our constitution of a society without poverty, without people being ignorant, without anyone having to conform, which is more equal than now and in which people feel much freer with greater liberty and is taking action to save the planet.

    Sue Sutherland,

    We have recently elected the members of our Federal committees, including the Federal Board and a new President. Our democratic constitution is supposed to allow members to have their say.

    We had a constitutional review after 2015 and things haven’t got any better. I think they are worse. The only way we can change how the party works is not to rely on top down processes as you suggest but with grass root amendments to the constitution to change how we work, so there is a mechanism for members to express their views on issues and these views can influence those who make the decisions. (Part of this must be the publication of the minutes of all party meetings and recorded votes so we know who voted how, the restoration of annual committee elections so we can remove those people who didn’t vote the way we wanted them to.) And changing how motions are selected for conferences so more radical options get on to the agenda.

  • Simon McGrath 7th Apr '20 - 8:40am

    In the past i have ( rightly ) had articles turned down by LDV for not being good enough – clearly the same standards are no longer being applied.

  • @ Simon McGrath

    How the ‘myths of Britishness’ can arise by referring to events in 1415 in a play written in 1599 is beyond me. A chorus of Flower of Scotland might seem an appropriate response.

  • nvelope2003 7th Apr '20 - 9:37am

    Simon McGrath: Maybe they get so few they cannot afford to turn any down. The party is almost invisible now and Keir Starmer will make things worse. We have a Labour Party which is more attractive to moderate voters now with a very able leader.

  • Steve Trevethan 7th Apr '20 - 11:29am

    “The collapse of the Inter-Ally debts and the German reparations in the 1920s showed that debts which can’t be paid, won’t be paid.” [Michael Hudson]

    “What promised to be a progressive social democratic Europe half a century ago is turning into a power grab by financial predators.” [Michael Hudson]

    “Despite our ability to bring food from the earth, we are incapable of creating a system in which the hungry can be fed.” [Yanis Varoufakis]

    Perhaps we need to develop economic policies which expose and remedy the fraud and cruelties of Neo-Liberal Economic policies rather than just hope for a “magic” leader?

    P.S. The books and articles by Michael Hudson and Yanis Varoufakis are well worth reading!

  • Paul Reynolds 7th Apr '20 - 12:33pm

    It seems to me that Paul Fisher’s article is making the point that Lib Dem survival as a party cannot be taken for granted (on rhe basis of prior survival or other bases) and oblivion isin prospect … in order to warn of it and try and prevent it. I did’t read it as a prediction or inevitability. By the way John (Kelly), the article is written by Paul Fisher not the other Paul (ie me). Best wishes to all. ‘Stay safe, help others’, as the phrase goes.

  • Sue Sutherland 7th Apr '20 - 1:47pm

    Michael BG I’m all for grass roots action but am unable to get it going and don’t know how such action can express itself. I voted for Mark because I see him as someone who will encourage this. In the meantime bottoms up should be our rallying cry.

  • James Fowler 7th Apr '20 - 4:20pm

    Calm down. There is really very little point drawing any conclusions from what is going in polls right now. The big virus narrative will look very different in a month, different again in three months. How things will look by Christmas is anybody’s guess – but I suspect lot less different from last Christmas than some people hope/fear. Virus or no virus this was always going to be hard time for us. An triumphant and invigorated Tory Party combined with a swing to moderation in Labour was already clearly in prospect. All the virus does is allow the government to wrap itself even tighter in the Union Jack. What exactly would/could a newly elected Lib Dem do to prevent that? Five seconds of headlines immediately buried under the Covid avalanche, followed by silence. What a waste. If we wanted to be really brave and distinctive we might be sounding the alarm about the terrible infringement of civil liberties and well being the lock down represents – a position currently about as popular as being a conscientious objector in August 1914. But, like the ‘Conchies’ we may yet find the balance of moral sentiments on current events comes to rest in a very different place from where it started.

  • Sue Sutherland,

    I think Local Parties Executive Committees should be enabling members to submit motions to conference, so when they debate whether to allow a motion to go forward in their name they should not be discussing if they are in favour of it, but is it consistent with liberalism and how they can improve the text to try to help it get selected for debate.

    Have you tried doing an article for LDV to get support for a motion? And posting on the LDV members’ forum and in some Lib Dem Facebook groups? I have been successful in getting members to support my proposed motions by emailing them. (You can message members on the LDV members’ forum.)

  • The Liberal Democrat Leadership has been conspicuous by it’s absence throughout the entire coronavirus crisis. They should have been screaming from the rooftops at Johnson’s failure to act sooner, at his refusal to work in consort with the EU in acquiring protective equipment and ventilators (does anyone seriously believe the ‘missed email’ nonsense), at the woeful lack of testing and the abysmal record in distributing what little equipment there is to frontline staff, at the stupidity of allowing non- essential building work to continue (anyone who thinks that the 2 metre rule is workable has clearly never been near a construction site), at the inexplicable absence of any health checks or quarantine restrictions for those arriving at our airports and the array of Government spokespersons who consistenly respond to requests for clarification with waffle and avoidance.

    The Government has been behind the curve at every step of the crisis, but instead of holding Johnson and his colleagues to account, the Lib Dem Leadership has remained silent and left what little scrutiny there has been to Corbyn, Hunt and other non-Lib Dem voices. Begging the question – what is the point of a polical party that can’t even find its voice when confronted with a national disaster?

  • “You are conflating silence with lack of media coverage.”

    So what is the point of a political party that aspires to power but which can’t get media coverage during a time of national crisis?

    Now, more than ever, is when we need a strong voice and leadership. Do you think Ashdown would have been getting ignored by the media right now? Or Kennedy? Or Clegg?

    We can’t keep blaming the media for not listening if we dont have a compelling voice that makes them listen.

  • Dilettante Eye 8th Apr '20 - 1:42pm

    “The Liberal Democrat Leadership has been conspicuous by it’s absence”

    Its a sad observation to make but no less true, in that a politicians priorities tend to follow the order …. my career…. my Party… my Country.

    If L Nandy or RL Bailey had won the Labour leadership, I’m sure the voice of Ed Davey would be out there for all to hear. However, with Keir Starmer as Labour leader, what are the potential options for Ed Davey’s first priority, i.e. his career?

    Would Ed’s his career benefit from fighting Keir Starmer at the next GE, or accepting the offer of a couple of LD bottoms on a Labour governments front bench?
    Seriously, has anyone recently? asked Ed Davey if he even wants to be Lib Dem leader?

  • Alex Macfie 9th Apr '20 - 6:33am

    Why does the OP think Keir Starmer’s election as Labour leader is such a bad thing? Lib Dems (and Liberals before them) tend to do better when Labour has an electable leader, because it means soft Tories aren’t so easily scared by the prospect of a Labour government. By far the biggest reason I got on the doorstep last December why soft Tories wouldn’t vote for us was that they didn’t want Jeremy Corbyn in No. 10.
    The attempt to woo the soft-left vote by emphasising Labour’s hard-left baggage also only had limited success at the last election. It’s understandable why we distanced ourselves from Labour; this is the only option available when Labour is led from the hard left. But Labour successfully portrayed us to Labour-LD waverers as “yellow Tories”. The Coalition probably made it easier for them, but they’d have done it anyway, and as we know the hard Left are masters of the hatchet job. With them out of the equation (or at least without the backing of a major party machine), things will be much easier for us.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Apr '20 - 6:35am

    Dan M-B:

    “Do you think Ashdown would have been getting ignored by the media right now? Or Kennedy? Or Clegg?”

    Yes, they would.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Apr '20 - 7:59am

    Paddy was mostly ignored the first ~18 months of his leadership, and back then he was mostly considered a lightweight. I would not have fancied our chances had he had to fight a general election in those difficult times, when our opinion poll ratings occasionally dipped to asterisk.

  • Johnny McDermott 12th Apr '20 - 8:39am

    I liked the title… but kept reading. What do these etchings have in common, and what do they teach us today? You haven’t said.

    Flowery language and grand images. Ok. But what does any of it mean? Nihilism? I get that, but then we jump from Henry VIII, the tyrant, to Henry V, the lion! No, wait, a myth of Britishness… a contentious statement in itself – but to no apparent coherent end!

    What is this article about?! The end of Empire? The fickleness of national memories? Or personal ones? Identity: national, civic, ethnic? Highlighting failing strategy, though no apparent suggestions, of any sort?

Don’t tell me it’s all a nuanced or mystical mix, not without revealing, since clearly I’ve missed the point, what exactly it is… the point you’re making? DOOM.

    No… a CHANCE… to change a ‘flawed paradigm’. One of those nothing sayings. It means: a “broken model”. Like a train set, in need of glue? What does it mean?? Change what to what?

  • Paul Fisher 13th Apr '20 - 7:53am


    Interesting read.

    My article has achieved what it set out to do; it has exposed the lack of a coherent LibDem offering to the electorate which foreshadows oblivion! As to those who did not understand the article, I am afraid I cannot help you. More worrying are those that cannot see the linkage between leadership and aim. Not being able to make this connection is at the root of our demise and this cultural cul de sac needs to be overcome to make progress. Radical and progressive action is needed to forge a realistic strategy and this will not be achieved via the formal structures of the top heavy committee structure and Party Estblishment. What suceessful enterprise has a governing board of 45? Think about it!

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Alistair
    I strongly disagree with this piece and appeasing tyrants - based on the obvious and legion parallels with the Sudetenland - a place I have been to about 30 or ...
  • Barry Lofty
    I read an article today by Paul Waugh of the "I" newspaper in which he states that the government knows that penalising people on benefits does not actually wor...
  • Michael BG
    This change in the sanctions regime is unlikely to end up with many people actually being employed in the sectors with shortages. Just because unemployed people...
  • Ernest
    The current crisis: US-Ukraine-Russia. The Ukraine politically and economic are as close to Russia, Germany & the EU, such a conflict will be a disa...
  • Ernest
    The current crisis: US-Ukraine-Russia. The Ukraine is close to both Russia, Germany & the EU. Then obviously, the Ukraine cannot join NATO unless Russ...