Opinion: The twin intellectual conceits that damned the Liberal Democrats’ election hopes in 2015

 

History has the delightful habit of rendering as fools those who propagate the consensus view of a contemporary event, not because the consensus is ever totally wrong, but because it is comfortable and provides comfortable answers to snuggle up to, rather than looking deeper into the harsh eyes of reality and the bigger truths that are revealed.

And so it is with the Liberal Democrat post election postmortem. The consensus view huddles around the notion that it was only tuition fees and anger about the coalition that lost it, but we knew about those from a long way out and still felt we would get more than twenty seats. Two slivers of reality that the Lib Dems could not bring themselves to acknowledge drove our total of seats down further.

The first of these conceits, and the one that is both the least contentious and the most uncomfortable, is that we were too blasé in believing that our traditional campaign tactic of talking up the local and ignoring the national would work. It has of course been effective in the past, but it was hugely conceited to assume that rival parties would not be working on ways to crack that particular code. Of course the coalition made it easier for it to happen, but we signalled what we were to do, with rhetoric in the national media about our ’57 by-elections strategy’, signposting the direction of our campaign to all.

The intellectual conceit we couldn’t grasp (and to an extent still cannot), is that our rivals knew, perhaps for the first time in a  generation, how to tailor their messages to combat ours, rather than as in the past, simply putting out messages that ignored ours and made us stand out as different. If the party is to have an immediate term future, we must assume that they have cracked that code on an ongoing basis, and develop additional strategies to go alongside the local champion rhetoric.

The second conceit is one far less palatable for many Lib Dems to live with – the idea that the coalition did an adequate job on the economy. Too many Liberal Democrats could not overcome their instinctive view that a Tory Chancellor couldn’t possibly be right . The reality is that the consequences of policy makers’ flawed handling of the global economy will be felt in the future, and that Osborne was, as Vince Cable wrote during the government, pursuing ardently Keynesian policies.

So the Liberal Democrats became the first party in the known universe to acquiesce on a relatively successful and (given that many polls showed the public had greater confidence in Osborne than Balls to deliver on the economy) popular set of economic policies, so getting the blame for the many failings of the coalition, but no credit for its most popular success.

Intellectual conceits can fester unharmed from the moral high ground of opposition, but Liberalism is too important to be shunted to the sidelines by those who are afraid of challenging their own assumptions. If we want to be a party of government again, they are going to have to.

 

 

* David Thorpe was the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for East Ham in the 2015 General Election

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37 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Jun '15 - 11:39am

    David Thorpe

    The second conceit is one far less palatable for many Lib Dems to live with – the idea that the coalition did an adequate job on the economy. Too many Liberal Democrats could not overcome their instinctive view that a Tory Chancellor couldn’t possibly be right .

    Eh? It looked to me like the message that the coailtion did an adequate job on the economy was at the centre of our election campaign.

    So what are you saying we should have done instead of what we did? It looks to me like those of our ex-voters who were unhappy with the Tory economic views despised us because we seemed to be singing their praises, and so voted Labour or Green, while those voters who agreed the Tories had done a good job felt it was best to vote Tory even if they had voted for us in the past.

    You seem to think we should have sung the praises of the Tories even more than we did in our general election campaign. Do you honestly think that would have helped us?

  • While agreeing with the article I also think we were wrong to accept the consensus of the Polls & Media that the Election was “too close to call.” Most of us thought The Tories would be well ahead & we should have said so. So many voters switched from us to The Tories to keep Labour out when Labour stood no chance of getting in, we could at least have challenged the consensus.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Jun '15 - 12:14pm

    We need to look at the success of the Conservatives, SNP and even people such as Tim Farron (and his local team). I’m going to be boring and call for a “balanced approach”, but at least it is kind of evidence based.

    We also need to win the culture wars. Labour thought they were winning the culture wars, but didn’t. However despite the Conservatives winning they are still very toxic in some areas and professing support for them can cost you friends.

  • It’s much simpler than you make out. The Lib Dems had a lot of voters who were adversely effected by the policies enacted by the coalition. If for you instance have high numbers of disabled voters, high numbers people in social housing voting for you, high numbers of public sector workers voting for you and high numbers of students voting for you then why would they vote for a continuation of policies that hit them hardest. Plus, in the first two years the policies actually stalled growth, thus prolonging the recession and the Coalition was borrowing at record levels, plus by May 2015 economic forecasts were down. Then there is the question of alleged popularity. 40% of the potential voters didn’t vote for anyone at all which is nearly twice as many as voted for the winning party?
    The point is that it is irrelevant whether or not more voters trusted Osborn more than Balls because they are not actually anything to do with the Lib Dems, where as it was vital that they respected and trusted Clegg, Laws and Cable. To me the mistake was to fight on a record that was widely seen as Conservative, thus making the Lib Dems seem irrelevant. Also Nick Clegg basically had the same job as John Prescott, acting as buffer between the real prime minister and criticism, or when a senior Conservative was unavailable for comment. No one seemed to notice this in the Lib Dems.

  • (Matt Bristol) 29th Jun '15 - 12:47pm

    I’ve just lost a very long post attempting to enage with David and Matthew’s points about the messaging around economy. Drat.

    Basically, I think we failed to convince people that George Osbourne and David Cameron were advocating a plan that made a mockery of their claims to be representing economic continuity (which they were, and they are now implementing it). Unable to separate them from what they claimed as ‘their’ success (after all they were PM and Chancellor, right?), unsure at a grassroots level (and I include myself) of whether we really wanted it, our narrative of what we were doing and where we were going looked flimsy and lacked conviction.

    Add I also think every time we made the assertion we were ‘in the fight of our lives’ etc, we reinforced the opinion that we were desparate chancers on a losing streak. Why vote LibDem? They might lose, no-one votes for them any more. Vote for one of the other guys. I think this was probably believed by many even in those constituencies where we remained in contention.

    Lastly, I think with hindsight the only cast-iron way to have emerged from the coalition with significant widespread credit and recognition for any perceived success in the coalition’s economic strategy, however much we in reality may have had a hand in it or not, was to have gone all out for Vince Cable as Chancellor in 2010. I cannot comment on the likelihood of this outcome which would have been a really high stakes gamble, but it probably fits into Paul Walter’s list of what-iffery in his post over the weekend. Whether we could have lasted 5 years of that arrangement without leaving coalition, and whether Vince would have used the Chancellorship to attempt to seize leadership of the party is another ripening field of speculation all together.

  • Paul

    I think it is a bit unrealistic to suppose that when all the polls put Tory and Labour neck and neck people would suddenly start listening to some Lib Dems telling people the Tories were going to win on the basis of what? Canvas returns? Gut feeling? After all they were not listening to us on anything else!

    Regarding the article – well I agree that we have to look at what the others were doing and improve our campaigning… But as Matthew says there is no evidence that agreeing with the Tories more would have helped us in all those seats we lost to them. Maybe we could have got a few more Tory tactical votes in Labour facing seats but most of them were not very marginal as it turned out!

    I think the local champion rhetoric did work much as normal (after all we did do FAR better in seats we were defending than anywhere else), but in a General Election you can’t win many seats from 8% in the popular vote…

    And we really do have to avoid the “intellectual conceit” that the Tories experienced some surge in popularity! 0.7% vote increase based mainly on fear of the SNP was hardly a surge! The Tories did not get hammered on the economy but they certainly did not gain much from it either.

  • Paul Pettinger 29th Jun '15 - 1:28pm

    ‘The second conceit is one far less palatable for many Lib Dems to live with – the idea that the coalition did an adequate job on the economy. Too many Liberal Democrats could not overcome their instinctive view that a Tory Chancellor couldn’t possibly be right . The reality is that the consequences of policy makers’ flawed handling of the global economy will be felt in the future, and that Osborne was, as Vince Cable wrote during the government, pursuing ardently Keynesian policies.”

    The paragraph immediately above is muddled and contradictory (doctor heal thyself!). The coalition didn’t pursue Keynesian stimulus – but didn’t (thanks in part to Lib Dems) continue the logic of austerity by responding to lower than expected tax receipts with yet further austerity. That second battle was a success for Keynesians, but the policy pursued was not Keynesian.

    If the last Government’s economic policy (which wasn’t Keynesianism) was a success then defenders should explain why it failed according to its own performance measure. The Govt’s aim was to close the structural deficit by 2014/15, but this is now not expected to happen until 2017/18. The original coalition agreement stated, ‘The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the measures in this agreement’.

    The economy has not grown nearly as quickly as the Government assumed, and wages and productivity stagnated throughout its term. Yet despite the Government’s many tens of billions of unplanned extra borrowing (which isn’t the same thing as Keynesian stimulus), interest rates on government debt are still very low. These factors highlight that the greater challenge for the coalition Government was not, sticking to aggressive austerity measures, but should have been driving investment (an authentic Keynesian approach). Their analysis was fundamentally misguided and unhelpful. For a crude, but stark, demonstration of the success of austerity vs Keynesian stimulus, please compare the fortunes of the Eurozone with that of the USA. For Tories to ignore the lesson of Keynes is one thing, but for some Lib Dems to is quite another. For Lib Dems to then paint austerity as Keynesianism, as suggested above, really beggars belief.

  • Paul Pettinger 29th Jun '15 - 1:28pm

    Putting the question of whether the Govt’s approach was a success (which it wasn’t, even in its own terms), the article is also mistaken in believing that the Party could obtain an electoral dividend for trying to take ownership of Osbournomics. As David Howarth has pointed out, (at https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-what-does-the-evidence-tell-us-about-our-strategy-should-be-40422.html), this approach was flawed – it was probably doomed from the very beginning.

    The Govt’s analysis and diagnosis made recovery harder and more drawn-out. Our leadership’s economics were wrong, and their political strategy was wrong. The sooner we recognise this the sooner we can move forward on a surer footing. Basing economic policy in a binary debate between siding with whichever of Balls or Osbourne voters trust more is more split the difference politics, which has served us so poorly. Our economic policy should be based, first and foremost, on sound analysis.

    Framing the coalition as pursuing Keynesianism, when it didn’t, isn’t helpful. The Govt’s policy didn’t however become as austeritarian as it would have done without Lib Dems in Govt. This is a success we should be proud of – but the leadership didn’t make this point. Instead it foolishly continued to frame coalition and Lib Dem economic policy as the same.

  • The article and subsequent comments make a number of points which may or may not be valid. The truth is that we are all lookong for reasons as to why what happened did so . Many of us look to our own prejudices and experience when making judgements.
    The party needs a real, in depth, professional analysis that is independent to examine what went wrong and ensure we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Guessimg, no matter who does it, won ‘t give us the amswers we need .

  • “how to tailor their messages to combat ours”???…

    No one even bothered to argue/campaign against our policies; the Tory/Labour election campaigns almost completely ignored us…..They believed in 5 years of evidence, even if we didn’t

  • Tony Dawson 29th Jun '15 - 2:14pm

    “our traditional campaign tactic of talking up the local and ignoring the national would work.”

    I know nowhere where this has ever happened or would ever work. And I have worked on originating and editing messaging in ‘target seats’ from Edge Hill in 1979 to Southport in 2015. We have always talked up the local on the back of/in harmony witha national Party image and content policies) which the great British public found to be largely favourable even if they ‘ knew’ we were never going to be in government.

    Flo Clucas calls for evidence and analysis. The evidence has been there shouting in our faces for most, if not all, of the past four years during which our electoral fortunes have largely been static. It is not so much an elephant in the room as a herd of elephants in the room. It was totally predictable the moment the ‘rose garden’ love-in kicked in with the public only weeks after the tuition fees trust breach (from the Party and leader that had campaigned on ‘Trust’). If you were not seriously loyal to this party, would you have bought a used policy from them? I would not have done and my family turned their back on the Lib Dems.

    This election, however, was the hardest ever to try to do this: we were trying to emphasise the local against a national background where a load of people (including many of our former voters) thought that we were either an irrelevance or to be despised and if there was any ‘policy package’ out there it certainly was not getting through to anyone much. Even then, some of us managed to hold on to a fair chunk (60 per cent) of our previous vote level, including winning a few new votes off the Conservatives. The ‘local bastion’ strategy worked reasonably well until the last ten days or sowhen the SNP/Labour?Lib scare began to increasingly hit home with a chunk of voters – but by no means anything like the majority of those who deserted us from 2011 onwards.

  • Tony Dawson 29th Jun '15 - 2:56pm

    @paul barker

    “So many voters switched from us to The Tories to keep Labour out when Labour stood no chance of getting in, we could at least have challenged the consensus.”

    No chance of getting in? Here in the North West, even AFTER the very successful Tory last week campaign about the Labour/SNP/Lib Dem threat, Labour still won two seats from the Tories. If you include the SNP part of this ‘threat’ the Tories conjured up, the only part of it to really fail was the Lib Dem bit. 🙁

  • I think that in May 2010 many people gave the LIb Dems credit for being principled and different from the ‘old parties’ but then the Rose Garden happened, and Nick Clegg saying that he and Cameron would have nothing to disagree about in the next Leaders’s Debates, and then Danny et al seeming to embrace austerity. Then the NHS reforms and the bedroom tax and secret courts. By the time we came to 2015 people had already written off the Lib Dems as being just like the Tories for a good three or four years, the MPs just seemed so comfortable in the Coalition and putting policies through which were the exact opposite of what they had been arguing passionately for in the run-up to May 2010. . You lost your USP and sadly, I’m not sure you will ever find it again.

    I think the biggest mistake was accepting Collective Responsibility in a naive bid to seem ‘grown-up’. Differentiation should have been the order of the day.

  • Flo Clucas 29th Jun ’15 – 1:31pm……………….. The party needs a real, in depth, professional analysis that is independent to examine what went wrong and ensure we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Guessimg, no matter who does it, won ‘t give us the amswers we need………………

    We’ve tried the ‘professionals’ why not try ‘amateurs’…..Ask friends and colleagues why they wouldn’t vote LibDem….and co-ordinate the replies…..

    Pre-election I was talking to a large group of 18-25s in the West Country (and asked “who they would consider voting for…Tory/Lab/Green all got a mention but the two parties that they said they’d never vote for were UKIP (Racist) and LibDem (untrustworthy)…..

    To me it seemed obvious that, if ‘untrustworthy’ immediately comes to mind, few look any further for reasons….

  • Phyliss
    “You lost your USP”
    This would appear to make perfect sense.
    The challenge now I guess is to redefine exactly what it is, and ‘sell’ it to both the party and the electorate with ‘razor sharp’ clarity – which has always seemed an unbelievable difficult thing for us to do – but I suspect will become essential.

  • David Allen 29th Jun '15 - 7:02pm

    The analysis probably does need to be done by independent professionals. That’s the only way to get our denialists to acknowledge the truth of the evidence that has been shouting in e.g. Tony Dawson’s face (see his 2.14 post above!) for the last four years.

    Mind you, even then I’ll bet most of our denialists will stay denialists. You don’t often hear “I’ve changed my mind, now I think climate change is real.” And we won’t often hear “My hero Clegg turned out to have feet of clay.”

  • Richard Underhill 29th Jun '15 - 7:45pm

    David Thorpe said ” we were too blasé in believing that our traditional campaign tactic of talking up the local and ignoring the national would work”

    Did we think that? When pollster Ryan Coetzee came to target seat Maidstone he told us that the turnout in a general election is about double that in a local election or euro election. About half of those who vote are only interested in national issues and only vote in general elections. In order to win these people need to be addressed and convinced. This sounded like ‘a statement of the bleedin obvious’ but many people seem to ignore it.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Jun '15 - 7:49pm

    ‘expats ‘ above is right.
    In order to rebuild the Liberal Democrat brand we need to achieve and demonstrate the highest standards of integrity.

  • david thorpe 29th Jun '15 - 9:17pm

    the centre of our campiagn was em[phasising local champions nlot the economy. and danny alexander in one of the stupidest political acts i have ever witnessed di an alternative budget to osbrone’s last one-at a time when the election campiagn was in full swing-so we didnt champion our role in it-we tried to differentaite from it

  • david thorpe 29th Jun '15 - 9:19pm

    expats in the tagret seat in which i worekd-they tailored the messgae- to combat our local champion messaage very effectively-and our lib dem mp knew the tories were onto something from weeks out…

  • Richard,
    If turnout in General Elections was the problem why did Westmoreland and Lonsdale have pretty much the highest turnout in the north of England and also the highest Lib Dem vote anywhere?

    And time and again we have held council seats on general election day on double the normal turnout even as we got thrashed in the general election vote. The problem is not the people who only vote in General elections, but the fact that many of our local voters (even when we had a lot more of them) do not vote for us in general elections, in most places

  • Tony Dawson 30th Jun '15 - 8:18am

    @Andrew

    “The problem is not the people who only vote in General elections, but the fact that many of our local voters (even when we had a lot more of them) do not vote for us in general elections, in most places”

    Andrew, that is not true and has not been true in the past in most places where there is (or has been) a significant Lib Dem local force. While there has not been total transference from local to national, the difference has not been much more than 1000 votes across a constituency.The trouble is now much more that in large tracts of the country few people would vote Lib Dem in any local election, let alone a national one. And, indeed, that there is no Lib Dem locally for many people to vote for. 🙁

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Jun '15 - 10:11am

    Andrew

    The problem is not the people who only vote in General elections, but the fact that many of our local voters (even when we had a lot more of them) do not vote for us in general elections, in most places

    There’s a lag effect. I remember seeing this in Lewisham. In 1994 I was elected as a councillor with a fairly comfortable majority in what as then the one ward in the borough where we had a long-term local campaign. In the 1997 general election I saw the ward festooned with Labour posters, and so many of those who voted for us locally told us it was just a local vote and they’d vote Labour nationally. In 1998 I was re-elected again with a fairly comfortable majority.

    From then on we pushed locally, increasing the number of wards where we were active and building up a fairly big group of councillors by the time of the 2006 local elections. This enabled a move to campaign at Parliamentary level, with good second places in the three constituencies in the borough by the 2010 general election, two of them close enough that had circumstances been different they would have been classed as winnable in 2015. These were constituencies which in the past had been classed as Labour-Tory marginals, with the LibDems pushed into poor third place.

    So, I would say many people need a good long experience of seeing LibDem councillors in action, and realising they are good sensible people, and seeing what we are about, before they switch to more general support for us. A similar effect can be seen elsewhere – it can take at least a decade for local votes to become also national votes, and it requires persistence to do it.

    It was all lost in Lewisham, of course, in the 2014 local elections and the 2015 general election, pushed right back to where we started.

  • Interesting thread.
    I do think that a lot of the problem was over tactics from the start. Helped along by personal attacks on Nick Clegg from most Labour supporting people and even slightly leftish media outlets. His and our reputations were trashed , mostly unjustly. We have all been painted as untrustworthy at a time when we were doing a mixture of really good things and some which were not too bad policy but dreadful politics.. Tories nicked the good stuff and got away with the bad.
    I am not sure if Flo’s idea of outside assessment will work. It is tricky to be independent and to understand politics.

  • Bill le Breton 30th Jun '15 - 11:29am

    David Thorpe writes ” …and danny alexander in one of the stupidest political acts i have ever witnessed di an alternative budget to osbrone’s last one-at a time when the election campiagn was in full swing-so we didnt champion our role in it-we tried to differentaite from it”

    And he is right. I always thought the Clegg/Reeves strategy of a first phase of ‘closest possible association’ followed by a subsequent phase of differentiation was the height of folly. It HAD to be the other way round.

    In terms of political mismanagement, then, the record of Clegg is second only to that of Charles 1.

    And where we are now – either you acknowledge the wisdom of Matthew H above, “So, I would say many people need a good long experience of seeing LibDem councillors in action, and realising they are good sensible people, and seeing what we are about, before they switch to more general support for us. A similar effect can be seen elsewhere – it can take at least a decade for local votes to become also national votes, and it requires persistence to do it. ”

    Or you are looking for some fix and are nothing but a dreamer.

    Why does the re-establishment of our reputation require winning local elections first? Because it is possible to exploit differential turnout in local elections – especially by-elections. This is much tougher in Parliamentary campaigns and General Elections.

  • @David Allen – I agree we need independent analysis.

    “Mind you, even then I’ll bet most of our denialists will stay denialists. You don’t often hear “I’ve changed my mind, now I think climate change is real.” And we won’t often hear “My hero Clegg turned out to have feet of clay.””

    Nor will we also hear, I fear, “the strategy of the last 40 years was the wrong one and sowed the seeds of our catastrophe.”

  • Matthew it was the same in Bath a few years earlier than your experience , but against the Tories under Thatcher. I think if we can elect a leader who is seen as the members’ reaction against the Coalition we can start to rebuild the trust we have lost so that we can build up locally again. We will have shown that we do not approve of broken promises.
    There are people who already appreciate what we achieved in Coalition and some of those have joined the party but most people do not think that deeply about politics. I think we will be able to show them what we achieved in Coalition once we regain their trust, especially when the Tories are seen for what they are. People had forgotten this and thought Coalition policies were Tory but they are beginning to realise their mistake. We need a leader with a strong voice who engages with the public easily to make sure that we are heard once disillusionment with the Tories sets in.
    We must make sure that we don’t throw those achievements away because they are going to be vital in regaining our Parliamentary seats and winning others.

  • Good article, I agree with a lot. I feel like much of the recovery
    was despite Osborne rather than because of him but we managed to get no credit. For example, he said one thing and did another. He said what the markets wanted to hear and we were then able to borrow more cheaply as a result but he borrowed more than he said and usually the markets punish this at some point.

  • I don’t see this in term of “conceits” so much as a series of astonishing political misjudgements, most obviously that trust doesn’t matter, compounded by an intellectual confusion about what liberalism means today.

    Hence the author believes that “the coalition did an adequate job on the economy” while Paul Pettinger doesn’t. I’m with PP on this but you don’t have to get to grips with arcane macroeconomics to come to that conclusion. The promised rebalancing of the economy didn’t happen, not one little bit. The Coalition seemed to have no idea how
    to improve productivity and in fact presided over a decline. If they did have an idea about how to increase productivity it was to have lots of apprentices but it’s new emerged that this was all a case of generating feel-good numbers and that (with a few honourable exceptions) firms still cannot get useful technicians or the funding to train them as HE funding remains deeply dysfunctional.

    Elsewhere the deranged emphasis on targets continued unabated representing the long arm of an increasingly manic philosophy of centralised control. Teachers, doctors, everyone is so snared in targets and central direction that their jobs are becoming a misery but, entirely unsurprisingly, the results in schools, hospitals etc. disappoint. Cue more targets ad nauseam.

    Meanwhile the financial sector is more and more cancerous to right thinking people, delivering the Tory dream of ‘economic rent’ in abundance but only by consuming everything it touches and above the law. What could possibly go wrong?

    So the Lib Dems largely went along with Tory thinking, offering Tory-lite meaning only minor dissent around the immaterial edges. I think liberalism means something very different than that; I think it means offering apprenticeships that aren’t measured by their number but by their quality, in offering professionals freedom to get on with their job with the maximum delegation consistent with prudence, equality under the law and so on.

  • Richard Underhill 30th Jun '15 - 11:37pm

    Andrew ,

    I was mainly canvassing in the target seat of Maidstone and the Weald, amd in Tunbridge Wells.

    I have not been to Westmoreland and Lonsdale , but if you all work as hard as Tim Farron did in the Eastleigh by-election you deserve good results.

  • Richard and others,

    I was not trying to suggest that local votes never turn into national votes. As Matthew says, when built up solidly, they do, at least up to a point, and in the past often enough to win.

    What I was saying is that in wards where we have a good local track record the differential turnout in a general election often makes very little difference. For example in Cleckheaton (Kirklees, near where I now live) we got 37.5% of the vote in 2014 on a 34% turnout and 35.1% on a 64% turnout in 2015. All the main parties were down due to UKIP standing and getting 18%, but we were down least. Meanwhile in the Batley and Spen constituency on the same day we got a miserable 4.7%. The best local vote we got in any other ward in the constituency was 5.7%.

    So in Cleckheaton and quite a lot of other places I could point to the extra general election voters were just as likely to vote for us locally as the regular local election voters, but very few of either of them voted for us in the general election!

    Richard – I have never campaigned in Westmorland and Lonsdale – just looked at the results! Sorry if i gave the wrong impression

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Jul '15 - 7:38am

    I was not saying that Ryan Coetzee was wrong. In the target seat of Maidstone the party took opinion polls of local voters. The Tory MP had been criticised and laughed at in the Daily Mail, but was re-elected on the Tory brand.

  • John Nicholson 3rd Jul '15 - 11:42am

    I think the argument in this article about our economic position assumes a level of sophistication that the wider electorate does not have. I also think things are simpler than this view implies. We lost trust immediately we went into Government and, regardless of the nuances of the debate and even how some of MPs voted, tuition fees became the defining issue: We were seen to sell out on a “pledge” for the sake of gaining power. Whether that description is entirely fair is beside the point; it was the public perception of what occurred. Once that happened, our standing in the polls plummeted and at every subsequent election (local, Euro, even the Eastleigh by-election) we lost vote share and (apart from Eastleigh) a massive number of seats. There was one conceit that we had, in my opinion, and that was “incumbency factor”, where assumed we might hold a reasonable number of seats (25-30) based on incumbent MPs bucking the trend of reduced national vote share. Well we didn’t. In 2010, Nick Clegg promised a “new politics” but we actually gave the public five years of “old politics” and it cost us dear. Putting this sort of thing right is probably more straightforward than dealing with the more arcane aspects of economic policy. The difficulty will be in getting the people to trust us again.

  • Simon Banks 5th Jul '15 - 10:06am

    Some important stuff here and we may have to face up to the possibility that the reduction in the local effect, the incumbency boost and so on may be a semi-permanent shift.

    But I found the message on the economy confusing. I’m not sure, David, if you’re saying the problem was that out activists culpably couldn’t be enthusiastic about Osbornomics, or that the party leadership failed to stress economic success or that natural Liberal Democrat voters weren’t convinced. The former would be attacking activists for rejecting a strategy that while quite popular, was illiberal because it hit the poorest hardest. The latter would be an interesting perception. The one about the party leadership would simply be untrue. The central message on the economy was clear enough: we did it. What perhaps we didn’t stress enough was that the Tory approach without us would endanger the gains. We should have hit over and over and over again on their uncosted proposals and unidentified cuts.

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    To get a GNU, needs a successful VONC against the current government. Getting even three Tory names to support the motion would be a major...
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