Opinion: The aftermath – from a seaside cottage…

Liberal Democrat badge - Some rights reserved by Paul Walter, Newbury, UKI may have been rash.

The Friday of the Council elections results saw me make a decision. Finally – after wrestling with mixed feelings whilst rejecting the electoral blandishments of other parties – I would join the LibDems. So I did. Then I went on a family holiday (it was half term).

Why did I join the party at what many have proclaimed was its lowest ebb?

For me, it’s about a longterm aim to reshape the governmental structures of our country where power is held nearer to the individual citizen, where political and commercial interests are held to account by the communities they impact upon. I don’t see another party which can bring this about. The Conservatives have never been serious about it; Labour won’t do it without pressure; it’s certainly not central to UKIP’s project; the Greens have limited power to act effectively.

Anyway, there I was on my holiday, watching the European results come in. In total we were 7 adults. It turned out that 3 (including myself) had voted LibDem, 1 had voted Labour and 3 had voted Green. All had voted in the South West Region. All 7 had more than once voted LibDem before. Why the change?

To quote one person: ‘I knew little about the people, little about their policies, so you could say I voted for the concept’.  (They voted Green). Most people agreed; it was about perception. And our party did not win on perception.

For some, it was about who could keep out the UKIP surge; almost all decided late. There was a clear media message that LibDems were heading for a wipeout; so they looked for another alternative to stave off the Farage menace.

There was also, sadly, a consensus that the ‘Party of IN’ campaign presented an image of a party that did not believe reform of the EU was needed. When I presented LibDem views on giving the EU Parliament more power, or reforming the UK voting system for MEPs, there was no recognition. People ‘knew’ from the media that Nick Clegg was an uncritical fan of the EU. The Greens’ closely-worded and reasonably-toned arguments on this subject had been appreciated, also the fact that the Greens named all their candidates; contrastingly, LibDem literature was felt to be high-handed, naming only 1 or 2 candidates.

Add to that the overall impact of (yes, still) tuition fees and benefits cuts. We are not credited for breaking through into government in difficult economic times whilst mitigating Tory agendas. We are discredited for going into government and failing to significantly change the system. People like to vote for winners, not failures.

I want to be part of a party that has a message of hope. It’s there; that is why I am joining. But until we have a clear will to seriously change the systems by which our country is run, and hard evidence that we can do it, we have little chance of building again a broad coalition of support.

* Matthew Campbell is a member of Bristol LibDems, lives in South Bristol and works for a local authority in the South West of England. He also posts on this site as Matt (Bristol).

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    The Tories would say it’s part of the localism agenda. But they have held councils in low regard since Thatcher’s days – “giving them more power is like letting children play with matches”.

    Giving councils much greater freedom fits with a liberal policy agenda. It can include allowing higher council tax charges, along with ability to raise funds through other taxes and borrowing. It may be a hard policy to sell though, so might have to be packaged as part of ‘a more progressive tax system’.

  • Completely agree, and yes, within the progressive university graduate bubble I generally exist in, its the Greens that are gaining. Outside of that bubble, family members and such who voted Lib Dem because of Charles Kennedy’s personality or because Ming was old enough to come across as something more than a jumped up sixth form prefect are being hoovered up by UKIP, but on the policies and ideas front, its Greens.

    My response to the inevitable question of why I’m sticking with the Liberal Democrats is that the third party idea is bigger than the current mess, and more important. The third party will always be drawing heavily from idealists, optimists and people who recognise the corruption of the duopoly. It builds up to 50 or 60 seats, manages to hold the balance of power, enters coalition and then gets scapegoated, conned and generally hung out to dry by whichever of the main parties it props up. Its supporters become disillusioned, they reject the compromise, decide that the third party is also corrupt and go find a new one.

    The problem is that doing that throws away institutional memory. The Liberal Democrats as a party are infinitely better placed to actually achieve change further down the line than 2015, because we have now as part of our institution the memory of coalition government and the challenges and mistakes we had to go through. We know that the establishment can’t be trusted, from bitter experience of trying to hold it to an agreement.

    A replacement third party just restarts the cycle and faces a long hard slog towards the same wall of electoral fire.

  • Stephen Howse 3rd Jun '14 - 11:14am

    “He also posts on this site as Matt (Bristol).”

    Excellent. Welcome to the party, Matt!

  • How can we be a party of hope with the current leadership, who is trundled out to support it, Ashdown and Williams, surely with the greatest respect where is the youth, the vitality and drive. Like the party, itself it has gone.
    It is so sad but until we face these realities we are going to be squeezed to death at the next general election.
    We need fresh faces, fresk images, fresh approaches and even a convinced Europhile like myself has to say we need to restructure our approach here as well.

  • Matt (Bristol) 3rd Jun '14 - 12:20pm

    Hello all, thank you for responding.

    WIll; I agree with you – however, it’s a shame our own local parties can perhaps have a tendency to fail to resist the temptation to overplay the ‘raising council tax is always bad’ card if they think it will win them local votes. THis issue is not a raise in abstract terms, it’s what it’s spent on, surely? The horror that was the local election campaign leaflet about ‘council waste’ was also a mantrap we didn’t need to put down for ourselves if we really believe in devolving power.

    But I don’t think being Democrats as well as Liberals stops with just giving power back to local authorities (or conglomerations of local authorities, or new regional authorities, or the Scottish Government, or whoever). It could also include ensuring that any new bodies set up for whatever purpose are locally or regonally rooted, with proper forms of internal and external democratic accountability as necessary, or seriously considering remutuallising all those ex-mutuals that went belly-up during the financial crisis (but I htink this one has gone for now as an option, sadly).

    TJ – Hmm, being a third party just for the sake of being a third party is a somewhat limited goal. However, I see what you mean about the ‘wall of electoral gunfire’; it feels a bit right now like the party has progressed in some sort of evil computer game (Mortal Elektorate, anyone?) to a new level in which all the puzzles are more tricky, the big boss is faster and harder, and you suddenly find out shortly before you hit the deck that you should have picked up the magic crystals three levels ago. Now, how do we survive at this new level?

    Hello, Stephen.

    Theakes – Hmm. Counter-accusations and mutual distrust do not win elections, do not create a party of hope and do not create genuinely fresh strategies. The leadership is the leadership until it changes. I am not anyone with any status or authority to make it change, myself. If the leadership changes in a messy and underhand way, it will cement the (not always fair) public image of failure I am talking about.

  • No need for the leadership to change in a messy or underhand way. The leader resigns and a new one is appointed either after an election or if there is agreement after the period for niminations. Simple all done and dusted, we move forward, not backwards. We are in a complete mess, that is the public perception,

  • Gareth Hartwell 3rd Jun '14 - 12:51pm

    I don’t think any of our leaders have communicated the EU reform agenda effectively – I remember having endless arguments at conference about this twenty years ago.

    I went to one fringe event at a conference where some Euro-sceptics wiped the floor with Russell Johnston and Andrew Duff in a debate because they were so much better prepared even though they had a weaker argument.

    I’ve always thought that EU reform was of critical importance. My experience of managing a large chunk of the Galileo programme (costing billions – funded by the EU and ESA) confirmed this because I now understand how money is wasted in these major programmes and how it could be stopped. (I tried very hard to talk to Vince Cable about this but I couldn’t get past his civil servants. They don’t believe me because the companies and organisatons who benefit from the funding tell them that everything is OK for obvious reasons.)

    But this doesn’t stop me being a passionate supporter that we need to be in the EU and take a bigger role in making it work better.

  • Matt (Bristol) 3rd Jun '14 - 2:33pm

    Theakes, you don’t need to convince me, you need to convince a certain N. Clegg. And then find him a good job to do so that he isn’t the focus for any future splitting within the party. Until that time comes, what else do you suggest?

    I suggest in the interim that concerned members who feel that miscommunicaiton and (arguably) wrong priorities are losing us the battle need to work hard convince the leadership and the party as a whole that the tactics and policies need to be reviewed and emphases shifted. If that doesn’t convince you, I’m afraid I don’t see a lot of other constructive options right now.

  • Foregone Conclusion 3rd Jun '14 - 2:56pm

    Welcome to the party, Matt.

  • Welcome Matt!


    “The leader resigns and a new one is appointed either after an election or if there is agreement after the period for niminations. Simple all done and dusted, we move forward, not backwards. We are in a complete mess, that is the public perception,”

    One thing that a leadership election less than 12 months before a general election will ever be is ” Simple all done and dusted”.

  • @Matt (Bristol)

    Its not that being a third party is the goal long term, but that remaining the third party is really what we need to focus on for 2015-2020.

    Long term, of course, the goal is to replace one of the two largely identical parties of managerialistic authoritarian central control with a Liberal party able and willing to deliver and then defend the radical change this country needs to see if it is to survive, let alone prosper in the 21st Century.

  • John Probert 4th Jun '14 - 12:15pm

    Can’t we agree that Nick Clegg has far too much on his plate and that he has to jump about like a cat on hot bricks?

    Is Nick a very poor delegator or are his advisers simply not up to their job? That could explain why our case for the EU was handled so badly.

    Perhaps the party itself is not properly structured to handle the flak when we’re a party in ‘government’.

  • Matt (Bristol) 4th Jun '14 - 12:38pm

    John Probert – I get the cat on hot bricks thing. The fact that we are no longer facing 2 rivals (Tory and Labour) but increasingly at least 5 (with Greens, UKIP, Nationalists added) adds to this; we can no longer target our message as clearly as we could in the past to rebut or refute one party’s claims; we have to fight on all fronts all the time.

    It seems like we decided (which seemed like a good idea to many of us, e included) to round our fire on UKIP and pound away hard at them, while the Greens sneaked up and picked our electoral pocket when we weren’t looking.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Jun '14 - 4:14pm


    The Liberal Democrats as a party are infinitely better placed to actually achieve change further down the line than 2015,

    Er, not if we’ve lost so much support we’re no longer capable of winning any seats.

    because we have now as part of our institution the memory of coalition government and the challenges and mistakes we had to go through.

    Plenty of us have had experience of running things in local government, where we have also often experienced difficult balance of power situations. Had Clegg bothered to listen to people with that experience he might have avoided many of the mistakes he made.

  • Matt(Bristol) or Matthew Cunningham, now you have blown your own cover,
    Welcome to membership of the Liberal Democrats.
    Being a member of the party has all sorts of advantages over just being a supporter. For example you can now take part in the constitutional moves to bring about a leadership election.

    Your article is very welcome because it provides an insight into the success of the Green Party in the EP election. This is a subject that has been almost ignored on LDV and in the mainstream media. The Grren Party group has 6 MEPs in the European Parliament because 3 Greens were elected and the 3 SNP MEPs sit with the Greens. A fact that I have not seen reported in the mainstream media at all.

    One might ask why there has been a media blackout on The Greens. Perhaps it is because it does not fit with the story that we are all being bombarded with, ie that UKIP was an unstoppable force and that any party which believes in improving democracy within the EU was bound to fail. The Green Party were almost ignored in the run up to election day and even more so since the results have been out. For any believer in democracy this was and is a scandal.

    The BBC is a major criminal in this assault on fair and accurate reporting. The Greens have an MP and MSPs and a significant number of experienced councillors unlike UKIP and yet the BBC has spent more than a year promoting UKIP in a shameless way whilst either ignoring or belittling and patronising The Green Party.

    Unfortunately Patten the outgoing chair of the BBC was such a dullard that he probably has not taken much notice of politics and political reporting since the voters of Bath booted him out twenty years ago.

  • Matt (Bristol) 3rd Jun ’14 – 2:33pm
    “Theakes, you don’t need to convince me, you need to convince a certain N. Clegg. And then find him a good job to do so that he isn’t the focus for any future splitting within the party. ”

    I am more than happy to provide a job for Nick Clegg. I will pay him out of my own pocket if he stands aside as leader.

    Of course it will be on the basis of an exclusive zero-hours contract so he should not expect to be called out to do any actual real work and like everybody else on a zero hours contract he should not expect to earn enough to live on.
    Is that the sort of job you had in mind, Matt?

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