Opinion: Setting the record straight

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 08.06.08 Liberal Democrats LibbyI was misquoted on BBC radio 4 on Monday. They said I had asked for Nick Clegg’s resignation. Would that it were as simple as asking for a leader to resign–as if that would change everything. But it isn’t. And I don’t feel in any way that I am being evasive or woolly by not asking for a change of leadership. What I am asking for is a root and branch review of our campaign strategy.

Let’s examine the facts.

We have just suffered a disastrous set of results in the Euro elections and continue to lose seats at the local level in council elections. At the same time in the most recent British Social Attitudes Survey, by far the largest group of people in the country identified with Liberal Democrat values, over values associated with either the Conservative or Labour parties.  So there is a seeming contradiction here.

In addition, we are a pro-European party, yet received less than 7% of the national vote in the European elections. This despite almost 60% of people, in recent polls, favouring remaining in Europe but with significant reform.  Another seeming contradiction.

So what are we doing wrong, as a party?  Why are we not communicating what we stand for effectively?

On the huge plus side, I have no doubt that we did the right thing going into coalition and that we have achieved a large part of our manifesto in coalition, after decades in the wilderness.  We have been a responsible party of government and have learned a lot that can further equip us in the future as a serious political party, able to take tough decisions.  We have had to compromise and a lot of policy decisions are not ones that we would have taken had we governed alone, and, boy, have the media delighted in exposing those policy areas, to the near exclusion of the policy areas where we have made a positive difference.

But on the negative side, people still seem to struggle to understand the values we espouse and many think, at best, that we have sold out, and at worst that we are there merely to prop up a Tory Government.

With 11 months to go to the General Election and after being almost wiped out in Europe, we must take stock and look at what we are doing wrong and how we can improve.  It’s almost like we have entered Government, so have had to change the way we behave and act as a political party, but have remained with an outmoded  style of campaigning that more suits the old party—the one in political wilderness.

Of course, part of the root and branch review of strategy must look at the leadership.  That is only rational.  But it is by no means certain that the conclusion of the review would bring about a change of leadership.  In addition, we are a democratic party, and have to take lots of views into consideration.

So what I say is: bring on the review. And as soon as possible.  I think it is the only sane and rational thing to do in this set of circumstances. Then we will be able to work our what is the best thing to do in the interest of the values that the party was created to embody. These are values that most people identify with but still do not understand in which party they reside.  This is our current, over-riding challenge.

* Helen Flynn is an Executive Member of the LDEA. She is a former Parliamentary Candidate and Harrogate Borough Councillor and has served on the Federal Policy Committee and Federal Board. She has been a school governor in a variety of settings for 19 years and currently chairs a multi academy trust in the north of England.

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  • Gareth Hartwell 28th May '14 - 4:58pm

    I listened to the radio 4 interview and I thought it was very clear that you were asking for a review and not asking for the leader to resign.

    Sadly, it seems as though we are going to get neither and will be destined to spend the next 12 months with this distraction when some decisive leadership could have avoided that.

  • Well said Helen Flynn.

  • Gareth

    “Sadly, it seems as though we are going to get neither”

    If everyones calms down and stops flinging blame around we could get a decent review of campaign strategy done fairly quickly.

    But to get that done we need to get on with it, as time is ticking away.

  • In addition, we are a pro-European party, yet received less than 7% of the national vote in the European elections. This despite almost 60% of people, in recent polls, favouring remaining in Europe but with significant reform. Another seeming contradiction

    Its not contradictory at all but is a telling indication of how out of touch you are with your previous supporters. Jolly good luck with any review but as Clegg has indicated just carry on as usual I dont think you are going to get too far.

  • Daniel Henry 28th May '14 - 5:15pm

    Out of all the post-mortems we’ve had so far, this is the one I agree with the most.

  • “I have no doubt that we did the right thing going into coalition ”

    I read this time and again. And yet clearly, going into coalition – and all the u-turns and broken promises that came with it – is the reason why our poll ratings are so dire, why we are losing MEPs, councillors, not to mention members and activists….

    At some point, we are going to have to swallow hard and admit we did the WRONG THING going into coalition.

  • Bill le Breton 28th May '14 - 5:20pm

    Helen, you did very well on the interview I saw. But would this review of our campaign take place before or after the promised review of the 2010 campaign that post Manchester contained the seeds of our present troubles.

    The leader chose an outsider to lead the 2010 campaign who was paralyzed when the negative stuff came flying in and who fought an appealing AV referendum campaign. Then he and his coteri took control of this campaigndespite of the fact that it was diametrically opposed to the campaign objectives that Paddy and Oly have been putting together for 2015.

    He has form. Make a mess and go all frail. Wait for everyone to sympathize, play for time and then when the coast is clear carry on regardless.

    A general election campaign is presidential. Our Presidential candidate is Nixonian. Sad, undeserved but true. We don’t need a review. We need a different leader. If he resigns one will emerge very quickly. Perhaps a Jack or a Jill Kennedy.

  • You have been calling for NC to go, just indirectly. Also you say 60% favour the EU and lament the 7% the LD’s got. Well you have never had 60% and it is hard to believe 60% of the British public are fervent EUphiles. It is well known that most people do not favour the EU (even if on balance they want to stay in). Remember the Lib Dems are seen as the most pro-EU party, even wanting to join the Euro. Not a majority position.

  • Will – going into Coalition was correct. Is your opinion that the Lib Demsshould never be in Government and have the luxury and comfort of being a perpetual opposition party able to pick off Government supports whether they be Tory or Labour?
    Many Lb Dem policies have been enacted. But it sounds like you would rather be at the sidelines and able to jeer the governing party.

  • Will Mann – yes, going into coalition was bad news. But – not going in would probably have been worse. One plausible scenario: six months of Tory chaos, another election (“Give us the majority we need”), a Tory majority … and then what? IDS, Gove, Lansley, Osborne … all free to wreak havoc with no restraint. I know there are other scenarios, but should we have risked this?

  • Peter Hayes 28th May '14 - 6:06pm

    My iPad went so sleep on battery so sorry if this is a duplicate.
    I have to agree with Sid Cumberland that the coalition was necessary. What was not necessary is the old one party cabinet agreements. If it was not in the agreement the minority party should have a free vote.

  • Tony Dawson 28th May '14 - 6:59pm

    @Psi :

    “If everyones calms down and stops flinging blame around we could get a decent review of campaign strategy done fairly quickly.”

    Remind me of when we are going to get the sensible independent review of the failed Campaign in 2010 let alone what followed in the subsequent four years.

  • @Mike + others

    Why wouldn’t we have been able to influence policy if we’d turned down the coalition? A minority Tory government would have needed our votes to get their budgets through. We’d have had plenty of influence, but no ministerial cars of course. We also could have avoided voting for tuition fees, etc.

    The Tories might well have called another snap election, but they’d have been up against Brown’s successor – would Labour really have picked Red Ed if an election was so close? – and might have seen their vote fall.

    At the moment we are positioning ourselves as forever being the junior partner in a coalition – which means limited influence and plenty of broken promises.

    Or we could go back to opposition and the strategy of the 20-odd years prior to 2010 – building up our base locally, turning that into MPs, and eventually getting to numbers where our demand for PR can no longer be ignored. Only with PR do we re-enter a coalition.

  • I have nothing about Clegg that would suggest a review is likely and any reviewer will likely be beholden to the leader which makes it seemingly pointless. At this point, only a leadership contest seems like a way forward

  • Technical Ephemera 28th May '14 - 8:30pm

    I for one don’t doubt you did the right thing going into coalition. Unfortunately once in it you mishandled it horribly. If you had voted against the Lansley health bill you would be much better off. Sadly this passivity in the face of red claw Conservatism is a bit of a track record.

    The reason you are in deep trouble is your voting record in coalition, not because you joined it.

  • Will – the Conservatives would have called a snap election 6 months later and would have won. Look at their opinion polling from late 2010 – they were well in the lead.

    The country in 1974 decided at the second attempt to give Labour a majority and I am sure a similar sentiment would have occurred this time round. The Conservatives would not have accommodated anywhere near as much as they have in a formal coalition – pupil premium, AV vote, massive expansion of income tax free limit etc.

    Red Ed was chosen by the unions, they would have still chosen him. Party members and MP’s voted for his brother.

  • Tony

    “Remind me of when we are going to get the sensible independent review of the failed Campaign in 2010”

    Everything from 2010 on would need to be worked through.

  • Shaun Nichols 28th May '14 - 10:18pm

    I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for a review because it won’t arrive.

  • Will Mann – some of us want to see that happen before we shuffle off.

  • Helen Flynn

    Not sure a big review is needed. The reason LibDems lost a lot of support – me included – was because of tuition fees. You cannot stand at a GE on a platform of “no more broken promise’s” have political leaders looking you in the eye making “pledges” and then voting to raise tuition fees from £3k to £9k within weeks of being elected. The leadership have said that they will never again make promises they can’t keep, but it was to little to late , the trust was gone. If there was one thing the LibDems had that the Tories and Labour didn’t it was that people trusted them, the LibDems were the good guys and they blew it.

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