Occupying the Liberal Ground

In May 2015 Labour were flattened. The Liberal Democrats were washed away. Both parties stunned by surprise collapses and a Conservative majority the polls just didn’t predict was supposed to happen. But whilst the Liberal Democrats fight to rebuild and the Conservatives dig in to their newfound control of politics how can we prevent ourselves moving to join Labour in their denialist quagmire that elected Corbyn?

Corbyn is not a bad person, he is simply the wrong person. Labour’s denial is rooted in the incomprehension that New Labour was a runaway electoral success for the same reason that Ed Miliband was a flop – New Labour was a broad church, extending well beyond Labour’s heartlands on policy and was seen as pragmatic and efficient. Even the Iraq War could not dent that success, leading to another election win in 2005. Labour is delighted to have elected a “real” left wing leader but in doing so it has abandoned its chance at a broad appeal that brings in votes beyond the party’s core. It has abandoned the political centre where elections are won. It is the same reason the Conservatives have leapt out to adopt some previously left-wing causes such as the Living Wage, tax devolution and equality. Cameron and Osborne, bolstered by the mandate of a majority and a Labour Party fleeing left, are setting about building a political dominance not seen since the heyday of Blair.

The reason this is working is simple. The Conservatives have learned how to appeal and approach people who do not think the same way they do. They wrap their innately conservative aims in language and imagery that appeals to non-conservatives. They use their developing foundation as the party of pragmatism and security to push the entire social system to the right – whilst veiled in a centrist screen.

The Liberal Democrats need to learn and use this ability to appeal to the social middle whilst drawing people towards liberalism. In order to occupy the liberal ground of politics more is required than to speak in liberal language and enthuse the Liberal Democrat core audience.

In my last article I argued for a more Muscular Liberalism and was criticised by some as essentially arguing for us to stop being liberal. However, the policies I underscored are already core issues for the Liberal Democrats. The living wage, drug reform, justice reform, bank reform, equality, feminism and Trident. Many of them radical policies, not necessarily centrist ones. But what I emphasised was how these issues are framed and promoted.

To win elections, to appeal to a broad liberal church and occupy the liberal ground the Liberal Democrats need to stop talking like Liberal Democrats. We need to learn from the successes of the Tories this year and the failures of Labour. We need to talk to, and talk like, the “social middle”. We need to push the debate towards liberalism cloaked in a pragmatic, secure and centrist image that has won every majority of the past 20 years.

It is fantastic that we can talk between ourselves as if liberalism is self-evident. However, to the wider public, it is not. The wider public will not “embrace the diagnosis” of a cause which does not sound like them, does not engage with them and that preaches to them. We need to emulate our local success – a success built on efficiency and trust at a local level, of listening to people on the door step and not telling them how they should think. Listen, do not preach, and sound like the people you want to vote for you. Make people liberals not by convincing them you are right but by convincing them they were liberal all along.

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65 Comments

  • Another Mark 10th Oct '15 - 12:01pm

    By your logic, why don’t all the parties just merge into one? Then they’ll attract everybody. Or more likely, nobody.

  • The Lib Dem collapse was no surprise to many of us. It was just others refused to listen. At the moment we are moving slowly upwards, for the next year we rely on the image and perception of the leader to get us out of the hole, not policies or positions. That comes after we have got ourselves in third place and especially after the referendum which is what poeple will focus on..

  • This is not what actually happened. The conservatives got 24 per cent of the potential vote, That’s how many people they appeal to. Their vote was barely up on 2010 crucially the other votes split which gave them a default win. The Labour vote despite losing Scotland went up but not by enough. As a Lib Dem voter, I think the problem was and is an inability to understand that the Conservatives were the main opposition in a lot of Lib Dem seats and too much effort was and is wasted in joining the Conservative attacks on the other opposition party, which simply backs up the conservative party.
    Now as for the rest of it. The electorate is not an amorphous blob and they increasingly don’t even bother voting. Turn out’s are pitiful , thus the notion of broad-based consensus is extremely sketchy. The way to unseat governments is to attack them not agree with them. We have a prime minister who is a punch line to a pig joke, a man who personally campaigned to put Saudi Arabia on the Human rights council, a chancellor with a dismal record, a collapsing health service, failed military intervention, dangerous European policies etc. And what do we get? Pointless squabbling amongst the opposition parties instead of a coordinated attack and eulogies about the alleged tactical genius of a Tory Party that scraped a very flimsy majority, (and 12 seats is both scraping and wafer thin by any measure)which is why they scraped their teeny tiny more luck than anything planned win in the first place. The main thing you can lean from the Tories is cheap shots and distortion.

  • Tony Dawson 10th Oct '15 - 2:50pm

    “In May 2015 Labour were flattened.”

    No they weren’t.

    They were smashed in Scotland (just like the Lib Dems were) by the SNP.

    In England, Labour pretty much held their own overall. In my part of England, they did rather better than that.

    You will not reach the truth by starting from a repeated distortion.

  • “Trident”…… is a core policy ? In what way ? Do you want to keep it or get rid of this expensive totem pole ?

    “the Liberal Democrats need to stop talking like Liberal Democrats”…… ?

    Talking like what then, the Tories ? That was tried and failed over the last five years. We need to start talking like the radical non-establishment party we used to be if we are to regain the seats we lost to the Tories – particularly in the south west.

    .

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Oct '15 - 8:19pm

    Can we please let Corbyn’s Labour Party get on, come up with some policies, and see what people think about them? Joining in saying “me too” to the Tories’ attacks on him, many of them outrageous, isn’t going to help us. As we saw in the 2015 election, it just means that those who agree with those attacks side with the Tories as they see us as a waste of space, and those who disagree with the attacks are outraged and never want to vote for us again?

    I am myself surprised at the number of people who have said that though they didn’t particularly like the Tories, Ed Miliband’s Labour didn’t seem to stand for anything at all, and the LibDems seemed just to stand for “me too” to the Tories, so it therefore made sense to vote Tory, as they at least the Tories knew what they were doing and were competent at it. This is not, as you and others are suggesting, support for right-wing economics, or rejection of left-wing economics. What I am finding is that many who took that view are now excited by Corbyn as he does seem to be offering something different that is a real alternative to the Tories. These “nah nah nah nah nah” jeers at Corbyn are putting off potential supporters, and winning none.

    What we need to do instead is be a bit cool on him. Accept it is good he is broadening the debate, and that the suppositions of the Tories need to be argued against, as he is doing, but suggest that perhaps some of what he is suggesting is a little unrealistic.

  • Tristan. – some of us get it. I just hope that the responses to this article and your previous one aren’t representative because if they are we will talk ourselves into irrelevance.

  • Dave Orbison 11th Oct '15 - 8:54am

    Glen and Matthew – fully concur.
    TCO – in case it has passed you by the LibDems are already considered as irrelevant by most people.

    For me, the article does illustrate the muddle and mixed signals coming from the LibDems at the moment and a complete lack of political strategy and direction. Once again Corbyn is dismissed, this time with the detailed policy analysis that he is just ‘wrong’. The Blairites are portrayed by comparison as the sensible and electable component of the Labour Party (notwithstanding that they have failed in the last two elections).
    The article lists a number of headings that rather grandly claims these to be core LibDem issues, ‘social issues’ where LibDems have radical positions. Well, I’m not sure how radical they are but I would be willing to bet that Corbyn would not oppose many of them. Just take Trident for example.
    If Corbyn is wrong then where does that leave the LibDems on these social issues where there is common ground with Corby? Why has Farron courted the Blairites who are illiberal, authoritarian, and Tory-lite. The traditional scrap between all three parties over the ‘middle ground’, the floating voter, is what has led to increasing numbers of voters just giving up. “You are all the same” – I’m sure canvassers have heard that many times.
    Corbyn is reaching out to that large percentage of the electorate that do not vote. He may fail – but thank goodness he is willing to offer an alternative from the “3 shades of grey” that we have seen over the last 15 years or so.

  • TCO 11th Oct ’15 – 6:46am
    Tristan. – some of us get it. I just hope that the responses to this article and your previous one aren’t representative because if they are we will talk ourselves into irrelevance.”

    As opposed to …. ?

  • Dave Orbison
    “the LibDems are already considered as irrelevant by most people”
    Not as irrelevent as the Communist Party of Britain and the other far left groups.
    The Communists believe in education.The Liberals believe in education but there is still a vast difference between the two. Communism is largely finished but Liberalism is where people will seek inspiration.

  • @David Orbison – in case it has passed you by, Blair resigned in 2007. The 2010 and 2015 elections were lost by those arch Blairites Gordon Brown and ed miliband, oh, hang on a minute….

  • Until this Party gets into the Conservative mindset and understands it it can never deal with the voters that really change elections – the centrist conservatives. Note I haven’t said become conservatives – I’ve said UNDERSTANDING them. What drives their motivations, how strong their motivations are etc etc. The last thing this party needs to do is give any credence to the slow moving car crash that is Labour. There aren’t these masses of people that don’t vote that will suddenly be switched on to Corbyn and certainly not enough to win an election.

    I wonder whether the party psychologically wants to win again? We should be framing what Labour is about from a non-right perspective NOW – ditch the nicey nicey ATTACK! If you don’t think the revelations on Northern Ireland, Press TV, Russia Today interviews, Falklands, `Just spend money` philosophy, his total lack of conviction on radical devolution, his flip flopping on Trident, his far left views aren’t enough material to put in a leaflet then you really should get out of politics or join Labour.

    Believe me it’s the only language they understand. Smartly choose your ammunition – but please stop accommodating them psychologically. When the history books have been rewritten it’s this party’s paralysis against fraudulent Labour attacks between 2010 – 2015 that will be seen as the death knell of Lib Dem fortunes in conservative facing seats. In Cheadle too many Labour voters parroted the anti austerity messages and other Labour claptrap thinking they could vote Labour and keep their Lib Dem MP.

    It’s pretty clear where British politics is going – the only real narrative going is Cameron’s `low tax, low benefit, high wage` vision. You either engage with it and do the intellectual heavy lifting to oppose Cameron – ie he’s too incompetent at doing it, it’ll be too quick, not doing it in the right way – also there are issues that stand alone and `rise above` that narrative – Syria, refugees, housing, assisted dying, real radical devolution. You cannot frustratedly enfoce a world view on the electorate that they don’t want to hear and that is against the main trajectory of British political thinking. It might make you feel better, might make you think others think like you yet it’s pretty futile.

  • Sounds eminently sensible.

  • @John. You get it. Tristan gets it. The Corbyn fans/don’t minds/he’s got a lot of policies that we should supports don’t get it.

    It’s nice to feel good about the purity of your viewpoints, but it’s a compete waste of time for a political party.

  • Dave Orbison 11th Oct '15 - 11:43am

    Manfarang……And the reference to the Communist Party came from?

    John – you indeed paint a very bleak picture. I for one don’t share your view. I certainly don’t believe the LibDems should descend into the gutter and spread nasty and hateful stuff as per Cameron and the likes of The Daily Mail. Blair won on a mood of optimism and because people were sick and tired of the same old same old from the Tories. The Tories do not have a monopoly of winning elections and it would be a dismissal decision by Farron to ape them. With all due respect the LibDems were hammered in 2015 Not because of Labour but precisely for being too close to the Tories.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Oct '15 - 11:44am

    In May 2016 in England and Wales there will be PCC elections (in London for the Mayor). We need to think hard about policy before the conference in York in March. Regional conferences (southeast in Eastbourne on 31/10/2015) should be developing ideas if they decide to accept the challenge of contesting the elections on a broad front, debating initially in member-forums.

  • Your article appears to have similarities with the analysis offered by Compass
    http://www.compassonline.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/The-Osborne-Supremacy-Compass.pdf

    However before anything else the party needs clear radical policies of it’s own.

  • Tristran’s last paragraph is right on the money. We will not achieve success until we get people to accept that voting Lib Dem as a good thing to do. “Make people liberals not by convincing them you are right but by convincing them they were liberal all along,” is an excellent antidote to the things that have gone so badly wrong over the last few years.

    Sadly there are still so many who were content in toeing the party line while in coalition, who are still in the ‘We were right all along’ camp. “History will look kindly”, “We did it in the National interest”, and even now “I agree with Nick” are three of those comforting, but ultimately self defeating mantras that simply prove to the public that we are happy with what went on in coalition, and so we are not like them and most definitely they are not Lib Dems.

    We failed throughout coalition to persuade voters that Lib Dems were on their side, and the result in May was the inevitable consequence of that. Indeed it was the Conservatives who persuaded key voters to believe that they were Conservatives while we just looked on and willingly took the blame. “Grown up government” is what Nick called it. – usually in response to pleas to change before it was too late. Now we have to change or it will be too late.

  • John’
    What you will end up following your logic is a larger Conservative majority and no revival for the Lib Dems what so ever. This is what the may election. The attacks were all aimed at labour, the SNP and the Greens. It failed miserably, yet we are again being asked to ignore the government and concentrate on attacking the opposition! So the way foreword is doing more of what plainly failed in the first place and the way to unseat the conservatives is to mirror the conservative. I repeat. The conservatives got 24% of the potential electorate. That’s who they represent and thus they have appealed to 24% of electorate not a broad based middle ground. In fact the broad based middle ground is probably better represented by the 40% of the electorate who didn’t vote which dwarves any of the support for any party. This doesn’t mean this apathy is right wing or left wing, simply that there are vastly more people who believe than politic is pointless than in the much vaunted middle ground,

  • Dave Orbison 11th Oct '15 - 12:43pm

    TCO – @David Orbison – in case it has passed you by, Blair resigned in 2007. The 2010 and 2015 elections were lost by those arch Blairites Gordon Brown and ed miliband, oh, hang on a minute….

    Seriously,a re you suggesting that there were major policy differences between Blair, Brown and Miliband? If so, funny as when Brown took over and then Miliband I do not remember a load of disgruntled Tony fans and Shadow Cabinet running to the Press and saying it is the end of Labour; we need to join the LibDems; etc etc. On the contrary the problem was that Blair/Brown/Miliband were seen as virtually the same with nothing to offer. Yes, they may have been portrayed as subtle shades of grey – but in terms of policies – there was a gnat’s whisker between them, nothing that you average voter could pinpoint. Corbyn offers a distinct break with the past.

    You seem very sure that “you get it” and so must be right. Well given you are so in tune with what the people want I am only left wondering how it can be that the LibDems haven’t formed a majority Govt all by themselves. Or just perhaps your finger is not so close to the nation’s pulse as you seem to think it it. I’m not claiming that I am right or that Corbyn will be elected – I am prepared to admit that. Only time will tell. I’m just puzzled as to why you think your views have to be right.

  • Dave Oribison
    Me. You speak of alternatives and that is one of them. I am looking forward to the publication in book form of the many articles written by JC and JM in the People’s Daily with all its purity of politics.

  • Tristan I think it is wrong to say that Corbyn was elected by a denialist nightmare. People are looking for hope. In Scotland the SNP offered hope for a better life and they won. Now Corbyn offers hope for a different way in politics and look how many people rushed to join Labour and vote for him. We offered hope of making a difference in politics and then we blew it when we abandoned our promised stance on tuition fees. UKIP offered hope and failed to deliver, likewise the Greens.
    People are fed up with the politics that resulted from all those years of policies based on the opinions of swing voters in marginal seats. If so many voters want a centre party then why didn’t we gain more MPs rather than lose so many? I don’t believe the Tories actually won the election I think they got there by default partly because we lost so many seats and partly because Labour were hammered in Scotland.
    I think we have a real problem with Corbyn because he is trying to be different and because most people will not see his extreme left views because most people do not delve that deeply into political theory. Instead of positioning ourselves in a cynical way we must let ourLiberalism shine through as I believe Tim Farron is doing. I also think we could show a bit of disrespect in Westminster. In Coalition we got swallowed up by the trappings of power and forgot to be critical of the Establishment. Why don’t we start clapping any speeches that we agree with?Why don’t we try to open up the House of Commons to ordinary people so that they can present petitions? We’ve done that in local councils so why not in Westminster. There must be other things that we know more about through having been in Coalition. Let’s show that we have learnt some lessons by debunking the self centred traditions that most people would think are ridiculous. Let’s bring power to the people.

  • SueS
    True what you say.
    A bit of Community Politics is in order.

  • @SueS “If so many voters want a centre party then why didn’t we gain more MPs rather than lose so many? ”

    Simple.

    Half our voters were voting for the “not a Tory” or in protest. We lost those when we went into coalition.

    Unfortunately for those that remained, a “vote Lib Dem” for a continuation of the coalition was not an option, so they chose the least worst option between Conservative continuity and Labour/SNP.

    And that. ultimately, is the choice that the majority of the electorate face under FPTP – centre-ground politics is popular but is always approached inwards from the edge; it doesn’t grow from the centre outwards.

  • If the party continues to snigger and kick at Corbyn I think it is game over. Labour voters minded to ‘lend’ you there vote wont be too impressed and The Conservatives will laugh at and finally forget you. Interestin times ahead.

  • Paul Pettinger 11th Oct '15 - 2:30pm

    “We need to push the debate towards liberalism cloaked in a pragmatic, secure and centrist image that has won every majority of the past 20 years.”
    This is borrowed analysis for Con and Lab. The last twenty years offers a story of the Lib Dems becoming more distinctly centre left, and more successful, and then becoming centrist, imploding and getting heavily squeezed. Successful Liberal parties tend to pick a left right side and work within – the king maker in the middle position sounds attractive but (as May showed) isn’t a viable way forward, esp under FPTP. As long as we think otherwise, we are going to struggle in the Commons.

    “The Conservatives have learned how to appeal and approach people who do not think the same way they do” – and the Lib Dems are still struggling to appeal to people who think similar as we do – who have a broadly liberal outlook. One step at a time. Unless we want to start appealing to people on the centre right, and change our position on things like immigration and welfare, more shallow centrism isn’t going to help.

  • paul barker 11th Oct '15 - 3:01pm

    We have very little evidence so far but what we do have suggests a recovery is happening. We are standing more candidates in local byelections & in places where we have fought seats we last fought in May our vote is mostly up. We dont actually know why we lost support during The Coalition; one reasonable theory is that voters just didnt think we made any difference & since we werent in Opposition any more it was as though we all went on holiday for 5 years. We abandoned a role the voters thought they understood for one they thought unimportant.
    We can recover & there is evidence that we are recovering, lets emphasise the positive & look forward.

  • Dave Orbison 11th Oct '15 - 3:41pm

    Paul Barker “We don’t actually know why we lost support during The Coalition”.
    Oh come on Paul. I knew many people who like myself voted LibDem. The coalition with the Tories, student grants, bedroom tax, public pay freeze….. was exactly why I am many were outraged and turned our backs on the party. Yes. others will have deserted for other reasons but are you really saying that the LibDems have no idea why we lost support? I know there are still some who cling on to the view that the Coalition was the right thing etc and they simply cannot bring themselves to admit they may have been wrong but ….. For 5 yrs Clegg and co demanded that Labour apologise for their mistakes in Govt. OK then when will the LibDems apologise for their mistakes – or are they above this? If so, how do you expect to win people back?

  • David Evans 11th Oct '15 - 5:17pm

    Paul Barker, There are so many unjustified “assertions” in your post, you are in danger of believing the rhetoric and ignoring the real problems we face. Assertion 1) “We are standing more candidates in local byelections,” Compared to when? Since the general election there have been 83 by-elections we didn’t stand in 24. That is about as bad as at any time in the coalition, and much, much worse than before that. Assertion 2) “& in places where we have fought seats we last fought in May our vote is mostly up.” In fact in almost all seats our vote is down. We have been getting a larger vote share because of a reduced turnout. For Example in Goldsworth East in Woking where we gained a seat last week, our vote was down from 859 in May to 594, thankfully the Conservative vote fell from 1,592 to 562.

    By all means celebrate the positive, and James Sanderson and the Woking team deserve our hearty congratulations; but by ignoring the negative, like we did for the last five years, and hoping labour implode, we are simply engaged in wishful thinking.

  • paul barker,

    Yes, I agree, there are positive signs, but mostly in places where we got 25-30% in the general election – target seats which we may have lost in 2015 but where voters have heard a lot from us over the last few years.

    So far there has been little sign of improvement in moribund places where we were 4th or 5th last time. In those places we are still written off (even where we did deliver a leaflet or two). This is not surprising since our national poll rating has not improved.

    What we need is a winnable Westminster by-election… Edinburgh West perhaps? Should we secretly campaign for Goldsmith as Mayor?

    I also have a strange feeling we may do better than expected in the Holyrood elections, perhaps even winning back some constituencies…

  • paul barker 11th Oct '15 - 5:57pm

    @David Evans. We need to get an expert in , wheres Mark Pack when we need him. My impression was that we were standing in a lot less than 70% of the seats over the the last few years, often we were not putting people up even in seats that we had held.
    Its pointless comparing voting numbers in local byelections with previous rouns of voting as numbers involved often fall significantly. Unless its a really hard-fought seat most voters probably wont even realise there is an election happening. Percentages are all we have, its the movement that counts.
    I dont think I am being wildly optimistic, I have already said elsewhere that I expect us to lose ground in London & unfortunately thats where all the journalists, bloggers & experts live.

  • David Evans,

    Of course you can occasionally win a low turn-out by-election by getting your voters to vote while the others do not, but in these days of postal votes it is far harder…

    In May in was general election day and pretty much everyone who ever votes did vote. Yet we still won numerous council seats, including in places where we did hopelessly badly in the other ballot box on the same day. Differential turnout affecting results is also an assertion with little data to back it up.. If we increase our % vote significantly in a local by-election in is very likely we will do the same next May on local election day IF we put in as much effort.

  • David Evans 11th Oct '15 - 7:48pm

    Andrew McC – I’m afraid you argument does not accord with the stats.

    “in these days of postal votes it is far harder,” the evidence shows postal votes don’t make that much difference. You just have to do the work. Strange how that is what we have learned over the decades and it still works now. Indeed, I remember the year, 2004 I think, where all elections were 100% postal. We still won on differential turnout on that day too.

    “In May it was general election day and pretty much everyone who ever votes did vote. Yet we still won numerous council seats, including in places where we did hopelessly badly in the other ballot box on the same day.” But overall we lost a further 411 councillors, most won in May in the previous five years. Reason: Differential turnout.

    “Differential turnout affecting results is also an assertion with little data to back it up.” Actually there is lots of data from ballot boxes over the years. I really suggest you ask around for it, or do some analysis yourself.

    “If we increase our % vote significantly in a local by-election in is very likely we will do the same next May on local election day IF we put in as much effort.” Here perhaps is the nub of your misconception. We don’t have the resources to put as much effort into a ward in the following May, unless we are willing to sacrifice every other ward. Lib Dems help each other when they can, but when there are multiple defences on the same day …

  • David Evans 11th Oct '15 - 8:03pm

    Paul Barker,
    “We need to get an expert in.” Actually you are talking with one. Been doing it for forty years now.

    “My impression was that we were standing in a lot less than 70% of the seats over the the last few years,” However in your previous post you were unequivocal “We are standing more candidates in local byelections.” I only ask that you make it clear when you are putting facts forward and not just repeating what you believe.

    “Its pointless comparing voting numbers … Percentages are all we have , its the movement that counts.” However in your previous post you say “in places where we have fought seats we last fought in May our vote is mostly up.” Please be as clear as you can in what you say. As I have pointed out to Andrew McC differential turnout makes understanding the movement much more important. Based on past experience we are progressing very little. Indeed compared to most previous years, overall we are treading water at best, and at the worst end we are in a pitiful state.

    I understand that you believe that you are not being wildly optimistic, but you are. Currently, if we don’t improve dramatically soon, we will lose another significant tranche of councillors next May and they will not be in London.

  • @David Evans, what you say is very interesting but can you give some figures to back up your opinion, ideally comparing like with like ?
    To everyone else I apologise for this becoming a dialog.

  • Dave Orbison 11th Oct '15 - 10:40pm

    Phyllis, yes I should have added the NHS debacle to the list, though I am not as forgiving. I think Clegg and Alexander and co really overplayed ‘blaming Labour for the economic mess’ when they know themselves it was far more complicated than ‘Labour overspending’ being the cause. Politics, I guess. But having relentlessly banged on about the need for Labour to apologise still in 2015, I think it is high time for some frank admissions. Farron does not appear to be willing to do that and so blew his 1st big opportunity at Conference. We can debate the finer points of any given policy till the cows come home, unless and until the LibDem leadership grasp this nettle , they risk remaining a fringe player going forward.

  • George Kendall 12th Oct '15 - 12:16am

    @Simon Shaw “I think that part of Labour’s problem is that it’s not just about whatever future policies they come up with, a lot of it is about Corbyn the man.”

    Besides, we may not be given specific Labour policies for years.

    Ed Miliband made a point of not giving detailed policies till late in the last parliament. He was following the normal practice of oppositions – attack the government, and only provide your detailed alternative close to the election. We may do similar.

    I suspect Jeremy Corbyn will also want to delay getting controversial policies signed off, because he thinks it will keep him as leader longer. And once he’s been there long enough, it’ll become very hard for his opponents in the party to get rid of him.

    If we are to differentiate from him, and we need to if we’re not to be dragged down by him, we will have to point out flaws in his more general proposals. Like: where is the money coming from to end all the cuts and reverse many of the previous cuts?

    But no need for us to snigger and kick at him. Just pointing out where we disagree should be enough. And we should be putting most of our energies into promoting ourselves.

  • Paul, You were the one making the arbitrary claims. I suggest you try to verify your own figures rather than ask others to do the work for you. Otherwise, I suggest you stick to clearly indicating when it is just your opinion.

  • Phyllis, the party were very clear at Gateshead, but were overcome by two pieces of what I can only describe as political shenanigans. Firstly, there was a clear emergency motion on the emergency motion ballot, supported by Evan Harris among others, which clearly set out that the party should vote against the reforms. However, a spoiler motion was put forward by Nick Clegg loyalists called on the ballot paper “The Shirley Williams motion” which was similar, but rather less strongly worded.

    I am convinced that the “Shirley Williams Motion” was deliberately so named to undermine support for the critical motion by using name of a fine politician as a test of loyalty of members (or a dog whistle as some might prefer it). Additionally, I was told that in the ballot to decide which emergency motion was to be debated, every paid member head office staff was told to vote for the SW motion. There were several high profile speakers including Nick Clegg who “said that afternoon that you were either on Shirley’s side or Andy Burnham’s.” As a result the SW motion won by six votes, with iirc several hundred votes for both options, and by such a fine margin, the future of a party was undermined.

    The debate on the motion was very forthright, and two amendments to toughen it up were passed, including “Conference regrets that some of the proposed reforms have never been Liberal Democrat policy, did not feature in our manifesto or in the agreed Coalition Programme, which instead called for an end to large-scale top-down reorganisations.“ but ultimately it didn’t change Nick and Paul Burstow’s chosen direction.

    I left Gateshead hopeful that this would act as a warning to Nick and the leadership to be much more wary of the Conservatives and I thought they would learn the lesson. Sadly the lesson they chose to learn was that they could undermine and ignore Conference at will as they showed with the later votes on Secret Courts.

  • David Evans

    Yes it was very close and I remember being hooked on the TV coverage all day. It was a very close vote and it never should have been because ‘Shirley’s motion ‘should have been turned down by a huge majority.

    I cannot express my deep disappointment that so many people could be manipulated by a line such as ” support Shirley or Andy Burnham” on such a huge issue which, apart from all the other reasons not to support it, would cost so much at the very time we were told incessantly that ” there is no money” . Did the activists leave there brains at the door and their own principles in order to “support Shirley”.?

    Even now, I feel such fury when I look back at this because this was the one issue where the party should have said ” not in my name’ and walked away. I supported the Lib Dems going into Coalition because I thought when it came down to it, they would country before things like ” supporting the leadership”. but they didn’t . They put Shirley before country.

  • Andrew McCaig 12th Oct '15 - 12:17pm

    David Evans,
    Sorry for the late reply due to the automatic delaying mechanism…

    “In May it was general election day and pretty much everyone who ever votes did vote. Yet we still won numerous council seats, including in places where we did hopelessly badly in the other ballot box on the same day.” But overall we lost a further 411 councillors, most won in May in the previous five years. Reason: Differential turnout.”

    Well, in May many activists were diverted away from council seats into nearby target constituencies. Hence we did LESS work than we had when the seats were last fought, often in 2011. That is not “differential turnout” at work. I used to believe in differential turnout, and still do in many circumstances (and yes, I too have organised campaigns at all levels and was very active for many years, but not recently). But what gave me pause was Horsforth ward in Leeds where I used to live, where the winning Lib Dem vote was 48% in 2010 on General Election day with a 71% turnout, and 46% in 2008 on a 42% turnout. Both times a long-standing councillor was re-elected, but in 2010 there was very little campaigning by the Liberal Democrats either in the local elections or in the general election in Pudsey constituency, with two major target seats nearby…. By your argument we should have done far worse in 2010 as all those Tory and Labour voters who do not bother with local elections turned out. What actually happened was a big swing from Tory to Labour, as Labour worked much harder than usual. (But the Tories won in the GE of course)

    Anyway, I certainly agree with you that the level of work done affects our results greatly, and that often more is done in local by-elections for obvious reasons than when many seats are up. The same is true of the other parties, so to look at the real trends we really need to know exactly what was done in a seat by all the parties. In those terms we should be better off in 2016 than in 2012, since we are defending far fewer seats from a similar opinion poll position. I would be very surprised if we lose another 411 seats, but what happens depends on many local parties and what they do between now and next May. Success in local by-elections helps with that effort and we should celebrate it..

  • George Kendall amd Simon Shaw.
    I really don’t get you guys. Honestly, you would d think Corbyn was in power or leading the Lib Dems from the way you talk. We were stabbed in the back by the Tories. They were our coalition partners. They’re press spent all their efforts on sniping at the Lib Dems,. They’re in power and it was David Cameron that put the largest sponsors of extremism, Saudi Arabia, on the Human Rights council. why is who Corbyn talked to in the past more relevant than who our international embarrassment of a Prime Minister supports now amongst both the far right groupings of Europe and sponsor of terrorism in the ME. Personally, I’m much more concerned by David Cameron’s uselessness on clear and present dangers, inability to stop school children joining terror groups and the rest of it than Jeremy Corbyn talking to people 30 years ago who are now part of the British Democratic process, which is what Sinn Fein are. What is to be gained by stirring up long dead nonsense about Ireland other than fuelling tensions.

  • Phyllis, yes you are right. I am slightly more forgiving, I believe a lot of the (generally rather inexperienced) payroll vote were largely dragooned into voting for the Shirley Williams motion out of loyalty to the leader and his vision, while the constituency representatives generally voted against, but sadly not by quite a big enough majority as the organised payroll vote. One thing that I never knew is how the ballot for the two motions was managed and counted. It was STV and there were two other motions in addition to the two NHS motions, but I don’t know if the count was attended by counting agents for the different motions.

    Overall though, as I said, I left believing Nick would lean from the experience and would better handle the rest of the Bill and would also reflect the party’s views better in future. However, as we now know, after he totally ignored both the Secret Courts’ votes, when push came to shove, Nick’s loyalty was to the Coalition first and Liberal Democracy second. Though he probably didn’t see any difference. 🙁

  • “I left believing Nick would learn …” not lean.

  • Dave Orbison 12th Oct '15 - 1:17pm

    Glen agreed. I am bemused by some of the attacks on Corbyn when, I say again, there is much in common between him and LibDems in terms of desire for social justice. I think the problem is there are many (past Coalition supporters) who are terrified at the prospect of drifting towards having a closer relation with Labour than Tories. The sneers are pretty juvenile and despite what is said, pretty much echo the Daily Mail line – ‘anthem-gate’, wearing his little hat to run the railways etc. Then there are the more theoretical arguments – the man’s a socialist for goodness sake he supports the State and we know free markets rule … but they don’t necessarily deliver. Funniest of all (especially from the LibDems) – he’s nothing more than an obscure MP. Goodness, how terrible that democracy should actually put an ordinary person in charge of a party when all he has done form 22 years is worked solidly as a hard working, low expense claiming MP. Equi distance between Tories and Labour worked in 2015 did it?

  • @Comrade Orbison, I salute, sir, your indefatigability!

    No-one has a problem with agreeing with Jeremy, many people do. I’m just surprised they want to be Liberal Democrats.

  • @Dave Orbison ” I am bemused by some of the attacks on Corbyn when, I say again, there is much in common between him and LibDems in terms of desire for social justice. ”

    Do you honestly think that any serious politician doesn’t want Social Justice? The important thing is how it’s delivered and on that front we know that Corbyn departs formt he term “serious politician” quite significantly.

  • Dave Orbison 12th Oct '15 - 3:32pm

    TCO “Comrade Orbison” + “Do you honestly think that any serious politician doesn’t want Social Justice? The important thing is how it’s delivered and on that front we know that Corbyn departs form the term “serious politician” quite significantly.”
    By way of example, cutting legal aid. What is socially just about that? The direct consequence is that the poor are denied access to justice. Was this the Tories purpose – well I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps it was not their purpose, rather, it was just that they do not care. Justice denied all the same. I don’t regard politics as akin to supporting a football team. I don’t care who delivers the policies I support – I just want them enacted. That is precisely why I am not tied by any allegiance to Labour or LibDems (nontribal you may say). I disagree with you about the route to implementation too. Who cares how we get there so long as we build a fairer, just society for all? This is why I criticise those who claim this is ‘our policy on social housing’ or ‘progressive taxation’ or whatever. It doesn’t matter to me, just let’s get it done. Your opinion on Corbyn not being ‘serious’ is one to which of course you are entitled but you confuse opinion with fact. As for past deeds ‘I understand that the purpose of the Bullingdon Club’ in burning £50 notes in the faces of homeless people was because they despise poor people.
    Now what was the question you asked about ‘serious politicians and Social Justice?’ I am wondering how many times you raised these concerns about Cameron and Osborne before supporting a Coalition with them in contrast to your insistence we must reference Corbyn back to a thirty year piece of history. By the way was I a ‘comrade’ when I was a member of the LibDems, remember what you said about no sneering now?

  • Dave Orbison
    Let a more global perspective prevail. With the election in Burma next month I am sure Mr Corbyn will be keen to come and observe first hand and explain why the failed socialist economic policies of past years should continue to be implemented in the name of social justice.

  • Dave Orbison 12th Oct '15 - 5:50pm

    Manfarang Not worthy of comment
    Simon. I see people in courts today who pre Coalition would have had legal representation now they don’t. It’s that simple and cannot possibly be seen as just. Likewise some 80% reduction in Employment Tribunals. Is this just?

  • Peter Watson 12th Oct '15 - 6:13pm

    @Dave Orbison “Equi distance between Tories and Labour worked in 2015 did it?”
    As a party, Lib Dems have not tried equidistance in 2015, either before, during, or since the election. The official line has very much appeared to remain justification and continuation of an 80%+ Tory coalition.
    I would much prefer the party to be “independent” rather than “equidistant” and define itself around some core principles and policies instead of the shifting space between 2, 3, 4, … other parties. Unfortunately, almost half a year into a new parliament when the rest of the world has moved on from the Coalition years and is looking to the future, this party seems to lack a raison d’être and is making little effort to define one. From the outside it seems that Lib Dems (again, as a party) are simply waiting for the electorate to return to a “Labour/SNP/Conservatives can’t win here” option rather than decide what sort of Liberal Democracy it wants to represent.

  • Dave Orbison 12th Oct '15 - 7:11pm

    Apologies – Manfarang and Simon – the post from Robert NW was from me but I epically failed to correctly fill in the fields as I squinted using my mobile. Now corrected – moderator But Simon, the poor was once able to get legal representation and now cannot. You cannot dodge that such a cut was in itself a regressive step, social unjust by misrepresenting my point.

    Peter – I agree with the point you – I guess I was trying to be diplomatic in suggesting a equidistant position. Actually I agree with Blair’s analysis that in 2010 the LibDem manifesto offered something to the left of Labour but post the election they switched to the right of Labour. The exodus of members, supports and voters that followed has left a party whose rump, I would agree is still bias towards Tories – though some valiant efforts are being made to point out what a catastrophe the Coalition was for the UK and the LibDems.

  • Little Jackie Paper 12th Oct '15 - 8:48pm

    Shaw – ‘Anybody can be “socially just” when they think there is a bottomless pit of public money that can pay for everything.’

    Sorry, what do you mean by this?

    Serious question, not getting at you.

  • Dave Orbison 12th Oct '15 - 9:15pm

    Simon- glad you agreed the Coalition decision to cut legal aid was not ‘socially just’. No Corbyn isn’t advocating extending Legal Aid so far as I know. There I’ve answered your question. Are you suggesting that he should not reverse this nasty policy unless everyone gets Legal Aid? No, that would be silly. How would I pay for the reversal? Through progressive taxation- aren’t the LibDems in favour of this too?

  • Peter Watson 12th Oct '15 - 9:52pm

    @Simon Shaw “But the overwhelming majority of the population (for example the middle 60% income and wealth-wise) have always been denied access to justice.”
    Really? What is the basis of this claim? If true then it suggests our legal system needs a pretty radical overhaul, or are you suggesting that this is an acceptable state of affairs?

  • Dave Orbison
    The question of poverty (and creation of democracy) is not worthy of comment.Shame on you.

  • J C
    “Great to welcome Burmese MP Zayer Thaw to Holloway Neighbrhod Group and Islington Town Hall today. Released from prison 2011, elected 2012!”

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