Opinion: We need a positive and distinct liberal identity. And then we must burn it into the consciousness of the electorate.

Voters have rewarded parties with strong, positive messages and punished those with more equivocal positions.

The two clear winners of the election were the Tories and UKIP, which more than quadrupled its share of the national vote compared to 2010.

Most voters pay very little attention to politics, but even they knew what these two parties stood for.  Vote Tory for an economic plan that is working and to avoid instability under Labour and the SNP.  Vote UKIP to cut immigration and reclaim our national sovereignty.

Labour and the Lib Dems, the two main losers, both had messages that were in some sense equivocal.

Labour spent five years vacillating between the Blairite centre ground and being the party of the Left that Ed Miliband clearly wanted it to be.  And in the pressure of an election campaign, it settled for being an ‘austerity lite’ option, reluctant to confirm that it would spend more than the Tories.

The Lib Dems deliberately chose an equivocal message. We said that we wouldn’t focus only on the economy or on addressing inequality, but rather would do a bit of both.  And we defined ourselves by reference to the two main parties and largely negatively; we aren’t cruel like the Tories, and we won’t trash the economy like Labour.

There is nothing wrong with being that sort of party.  But when the pens of undecided voters hovered over their ballot papers, this ‘we are somewhere in the middle’ message didn’t cut through and inspire confidence.  I say this with the benefit of hindsight, and without attempting to cast blame.

In fact, the Lib Dem difficulty in this area runs far deeper than this year’s campaign messaging.  Politically disengaged voters instinctively know in broad but positive terms what they will get under the Tories or Labour, because they have sung to the same basic tune over decades. The Tories will look after our finances, prioritise economic growth and put more money back in our pockets by cutting taxes.  Labour is committed to fighting economic inequality and will invest in our public services.

The same cannot be said for the Lib Dems.  We as party members are sure about what we stand for, but people who glance at politics only occasionally are not. As we rebuild as a party, we must remedy this.  We must take a handful of positive commitments and values and seek to burn them into the consciousness of the electorate, as we did in the past with ‘a penny on income tax for education’ and opposition to war in Iraq.  They must go beyond being key messages and become part of our identity.

These commitments and values shouldn’t point to how we are like or not like the Tories or Labour.  They must be positive statements about what we would do and why we would do it.  They should reflect the distinctive liberal beliefs that are shared by everyone in our party.  And, while they must talk to the concerns of voters, they must also come from our guts, so that our conviction in them is fierce and unbreakable.

* Julian Gregory was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Islington North at the 2015 General Election

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96 Comments

  • Problem was that until 2010 the Lib Dems had no record to defend in Westminster and also had the exclusivity as the party of protest.
    Obviously that all changed but some of the positioning over the past 5 years of trying to be in government and opposition directly contributed to last Thursday night’s result.

  • The Welfare Reforms and Bedroom Tax were not cruel? Again denial, until you start admitting to those policies wholeheartedly supported by Clegg & co you may as well give up now.

  • What about the SNP and The Greens( How much more positive can you get than we can save the world and deliver a better country) ! UKIP certainly did win more, But they were hardly positive. And The Conservites whilst positive on some things were ruthlessly negative on others, . They only have a five seat majority , a few results away from a vote of no confidence, . This is another attempt by Lib Dems of a more right leaning persuasion to pretend that the what happened that is other than what a happened. We got clobbered for going into coalition with the conservative and because we hurt the people who voted for us. It’s that simple. We lost most of our support to the SNP, The Greens, Labour and to UKIP,(who are actually basically an anti Johnny Foreigner party). The right of the Party was wrong and they need to accept this. If you think otherwise ask where the projected 125 seats were and why we only have 8 left out of 60! This utter self destructive madness and self delusion has to stop. I do think we need to be positive, but this also takes realism.

  • Bill le Breton 10th May '15 - 12:39pm

    So, cutting to the chase what are these ‘positive commitments and values’?

  • Bob Browning 10th May '15 - 12:43pm

    The key differentiator for me is that Liberals will prioritise civil rights. This contrasts with the Labour party’s terrible record on human rights.

    The other differentiator from Labour is decentralisation rather than a centralising tendency on their part.

    As for differentiators from the Tories… how much time do you have?

  • I’m normally quite critical of posts here but I totally agree with this one. Nick Clegg’s strategy was wrong. Promoting the party as an essential coalition accessory for use with parties of every colour does not inspire voters who want to vote for a clear strategy with clear policies and clear actions.

    Parties that are strong on ideology and that spend most of their time in opposition tend to have impractical policies that never have to withstand the practical test of implementation and public acceptability. The LD have experienced the challenges of government and the realities of responsibility in office. It would be a massive mistake for the party to regard its failure in the election as reason to ditch the experience gained in office and return to the mentality of an opposition party within a comfort zone dominated by ideology alone.

    I am also concerned that the party will elect a leader who will quickly reinforce all the liberal principles in order to restore the pre-coalition feeling of self-satisfaction. This would be a mistake.

    First, there needs to be analysis of why the electorate turned its back on the party. (It was not just the disgruntled left.) Then the party needs to identify its strategy for the future. Finally, it needs to find the most able leader who is committed to implementing the changes needed. It needs an interim leader to manage this process.

  • Bill le Breton 10th May '15 - 1:00pm

    Thank you Julian.

  • Boris Tabaksplatt 10th May '15 - 1:09pm

    Gutted. Without a doubt the 7 May 2015 will go down as the blackest day ever in UK politics.

    We Liberals need to develop some spine and address the important issues confronting our country.. The world is changing rapidly and England needs to stop vacillating and make decisions urgently.

    Resolve the sovereignty issues regarding Europe.
    Fight for the freedoms of the individual.
    Regain control of our borders.
    Stop supporting the meddling foreign policy or the USA.
    Get to grips with our aging and costly energy network.
    Reward those who innovate and drive our economy.
    Examine the benefits of a.devolved Federal UK

    Not sure who in the party would be willing to role up his sleeves and start making progress on these issues.

  • John Minard 10th May '15 - 1:13pm

    It will be harder with even less coverage than previously – we are no longer 3rd party and so it will have to be making our own news and making best use of the internet and social media as well as local campaigns and leafleting.

    I’d like to see a new liberal orientated news and views website, with a password protected members area for access to research and campaigning material, internal party notices, party votes, as well as suggestions and rapid 2-way feedback; parliament /HQ to the street and vice versa. Our party press releases should go there first!

  • @Peter “The LD have experienced the challenges of government and the realities of responsibility in office. It would be a massive mistake for the party to regard its failure in the election as reason to ditch the experience gained in office and return to the mentality of an opposition party within a comfort zone dominated by ideology alone.

    I am also concerned that the party will elect a leader who will quickly reinforce all the liberal principles in order to restore the pre-coalition feeling of self-satisfaction. This would be a mistake.

    First, there needs to be analysis of why the electorate turned its back on the party. (It was not just the disgruntled left.) Then the party needs to identify its strategy for the future. Finally, it needs to find the most able leader who is committed to implementing the changes needed. It needs an interim leader to manage this process.”

    Amen to that brother.

  • I agree with the general thrust of this, but also with Bob and Peter above.

    I would say, though, that we should caution ourselves against assuming that if only people understood what we actually stand for, they must surely agree with us. Many won’t and don’t, and how we approach them will be crucial; just writing them off seems to be a recipe for permanent irrelevance. That thinking appears to me, at least in part, to explain Labour’s current conundrum.

    But bearing that in mind, I do, as I said, agree with Julian’s article, and with Bob and Peter’s remarks above.

  • I am glad that TCO is around as she has such an unerring knack for identifying the advice the Party should not be listening to.

  • Positive commitments and values? Is it so hard?

    We are strong defenders of individual rights and freedoms; we are sceptical of the rights for governance at all levels, of all accumulations of economic, social and political power, to have the ability to exercise coercive constraints over individuals.

    That said, do take note of Peter’s remarks. There is a strong danger that we simply repeat the recent error of the Labour party. Criticism there can be aplenty, but disavowal of the last five years will do us no good. We also have to face the fact that a large slice of our pre 2010 support was a protest, sticking up a couple of fingers to ‘them’; this group would always disappear once we became one of ‘them’. Doubtless we will attract such voters again and will be happy to do so, but we must not delude ourselves into translating this sort of support into anything other than ephemeral. Julian Gregory’s article is a pointer to the need to also attract a more committed and more durable support.

  • @David-1 your acid remarks were neatly bracketed by two that agree with me concerning Peter’s sound advice. I take it you’re another member of the install Farron and gallop off left tendency?

  • Mark Walter 10th May '15 - 1:55pm

    I agree that we spent too long focusing on coalition politics, and not enough on our policies and values as distinct from the other parties. We need a clear message of what we stand for – in government or opposition, and the electorate can just us against it.

  • We have to return to being a protest party – doing what the Greens are now doing, but better.
    We have to be left of centre as Labour are now going for the middle ground – which will, in my opinion, do them no good. Our ‘Middle of the Road’ position in this election clearly didn’t work.
    We must be in the game on principle not for power.
    We must be careful about ubiquitously using terms like liberalism – what does it mean in the context of developing a coherent policy for on the NHS or education. People don’t get it and nor do I.
    We need to start by working out what society and ordinary people really need for a better happier life, not what we think they need.
    I will spare you more of my thoughts – but I know that if we just keep saying we got it right but people just didn’t understand we are toast.

  • Over the last year or so there have been many on LDV who have often posted very negative comments. A few of these have been so constructive an informed that it is not really right to regard them as negative. Matthew Huntbach is one example and at times also Bill le Breton. These contributors are to be listened to, as indeed are those who have consistently sought to project a positive public message, Simon Shaw springs to mind. We must ensure that our commitment to Liberalism does not narrow down to a select sect.

    Then there are those whose negativity has been untempered and predictable and will doubtless continue to attack those who do not share what seems to be a scorched earth approach.

    The road back will indeed be hard and often lonely. The irony is that while the nay sayers have often jibbed that no one is listening (how can they have said so without listening?), the reality now is that few really will be listening and it will be hard to be heard. The danger is that we would go for stunts that seek headlines but become hostages to fortune. The tuition fee pledge was one example (we should have left it as a policy); the Green Party became ridiculed for its unrealisable policies and SNP may be put in a lot of trouble if Cameron shifts Scottish taxation wholesale to the Scottish budget.

  • I don’t think the voters were interested in our policies. They thought of us as the party of broken promises and that was enough for them to turn their back on us. They no longer trust us and once trust is lost it is very difficult to regain.

  • Judy Abel:
    “We have to return to being a protest party”

    No, no no!

    We must return to being a principled Liberal party. If you are looking for protest, I can assure you that this stance will give us much more material than we can cope with to protest about.

  • What’s becoming interesting to me is that the best ideas seem to be coming from places other than LDV, often written with the provision “you won’t read this on LDV”. These pieces regarding big abstracts like “positive commitments” are meaningless to me and I think people are just writing out of shock without having thought very much about what’s happened. To me, this is symptomatic of the problem – LD’s talk loud and say nothing.

    A place where liberals bite their tongue?

  • I enjoyed David Boyle’s Guardian piece: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/08/liberal-democrat-party-radical

    Didn’t feel the need to tell you his 5 ideas or anything like that, just a statement about how he sees it.

  • Judy Abel “We have to return to being a protest party”

    No no no!

    This is a complete waste of time. We’ve done that experiment – it doesn’t work. As soon as you go into government they’re gone.

    Pick something, anything to believe in – I’d even join david-1 under the red banner if the alternative was being a protest party

  • @Martin. What I mean is an ‘anti status quo’ party. We do need to be ‘protesting’ about inequality in Britain, Labour are now saying they need to be the party of aspiration because the political centre has moved so far to the right. Is there no party then that is going to be on the side of ordinary people who are struggling to pay their rent, trying to cope with soaring commuting costs, to survive in the increasingly uncertain jobs market and on low paid jobs?

  • I have always liked Conrad Russell’s summation of liberalism, which I put as – in government we will control the powerful to give more freedom and liberty to the people.

    With regard to our record in government there is no easy solution. I would hope most of us can agree that we should not have supported the bedroom tax and the harsher sanction regime. Hopefully we can all agree that the pupil premium, the triple lock on pensions, and increasing the personal allowance were our major achievements. Some will want to add equal marriage and free school meals for primary pupils. The tuition fee pledge is the most difficult topic to deal with. Our policy is still to abolish tuition fees and we could state we made a mistake that we should have kept our pledge even if it meant we would have had to find more welfare cuts for those of working age including those in work.

    We didn’t really make clear that being better educated and not left behind will improve the number of choices a person has and might benefit them economically. The triple lock and raising the personal allowance clearly benefits people economically, which increases their freedom. However the very poor were not helped, their freedoms were reduced and this was our huge mistake in government.

  • David Evans 10th May '15 - 2:41pm

    Michael BG – Yes. It all ties in with Jo Grimond’s “Liberals should be on the side of the governed, not the governing.” That is what Nick got so wrong over the last five years. Even when he was, he had to be dragged there, screaming and kicking.

  • Stephen Campbell 10th May '15 - 2:55pm

    @Julian Gregory: ” we aren’t cruel like the Tories”

    The denial continues.

    Your party by and large voted for welfare sanctions which led to vulnerable people going hungry or mentally ill people pushed so hard they took their own life. You voted for the Bedroom Tax knowing full well there were not enough places for those who were willing to move to and knowing the disabled would be hurt disproportionately by it. You did nothing – nothing – to challenge the Tory narrative of “strivers vs. shirkers”. In fact, your party gave us the phrase “Alarm Clock Britain” with its insinuation that only those who are able to work have any worth in our society.

    Basically, you and the Tories made the poorest and most vulnerable pay through austerity for the mistakes and crimes of the financial sector and political class. You were more interested in attacking Labour, the SNP and the Greens than defending those who used to vote for you against austerity. You saw the Tories as your friends and gave the impression (with Danny Alexander on the TV and LibDem MPs cheering Tory cuts in the HoC) that the coalition was a love-in rather than a business agreement.

    In short, you and the Tories punished the poorest and most vulnerable in our society for the mistakes made by those at the very top. You hurt the innocent. Your definition of “not cruel” is a bit odd to say the least.

  • Already I see signs of the thinking that resulted in failure for Miliband. He positioned Labour as the party that would look after the working man, implying that the working man is underpaid and in need of welfare support provided by the taxpayer.

    He alienated, by implication, the majority of workers. These include ordinary workers who would love to afford a home of their own and fear that future taxation will make that possibility even more remote. The squeezed middle class worried that they would be squeezed more.

    Those who created small businesses were being branded as the greedy employers and attacked for having contracts that benefited variable work loads. These contracts also suited mums who had to have flexibility in order to look after their children when required. Large businesses considered whether they should relocate.

    The point I am making is that a strategy driven by ideology can quickly distort the entire project. Labour ended up threatening the very existence of those who create wealth, create jobs and pay taxes. They should have started by thinking about how they could encourage these essential activities, since economic growth is required to pay for improved welfare.

  • Stephen Campbell 10th May '15 - 3:01pm

    @David Evans: “Yes. It all ties in with Jo Grimond’s “Liberals should be on the side of the governed, not the governing.” That is what Nick got so wrong over the last five years. Even when he was, he had to be dragged there, screaming and kicking.”

    This is exactly the point. LibDems pre-Clegg always championed the powerless. They stood for those who were ruled over rather than the rulers themselves.

    In government, the opposite happened: the party became the defenders of those with power, versus those who had none. It wasn’t so much the fact that, along with the Tories, you made those least responsible for the economic crash bear the brunt of the pain. It was the fact that you suddenly seemed to agree with it and the speed with which you repudiated your previous stances – see how Danny Alexander came on TV to defend Tory disability cuts mere weeks after he was campaigning against Labour’s increasingly cruel attitude towards the disabled.

  • @Judy Abel Labour’s mistake, and it will be ours too if we’re not careful, was to look anti aspirational. Ultimately what is that we’re trying to do but to give everyone the chance to live their lives as they see fit? And surely that has to include personal aspiration.

    We should celebrate the small entrepreneurs for the dynamism and creativity and the bonus of the meaningful employment and tax revenues that come with them. Diversity should also operate in the economy.

  • @Peter spot on again.

  • It might sound tough, the top priorities of a political party are to create security for its citizens, control of its borders, build a strong economy, provide a sound education, provide health care, etc.

    Caring for the mentally ill is an admirable objective but it should not be the starting point when debating the policies of a political party.

  • Jenny Barnes 10th May '15 - 3:32pm

    ” Vote UKIP to cut immigration and reclaim our national sovereignty.”

    Actually, UKIP is more about leaving the EU. Our national sovereignty is constrained by our relationship with the USA, WTO, IMF, World Bank, potentially TTIP, NATO, and so on. You don’t hear much about UKIP wanting to scrap those constraints.

  • Stephen Campbell. Thank you for articulating the concerns so many of us have about the Lib Dem (past) leadership. You are spot on.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th May '15 - 3:37pm

    TCO 10th May ’15 – 1:45pm
    “@David-1 … I take it you’re another member of the install Farron and gallop off left tendency?”

    TCO, please yourself and everyone else a favour and stop prattling on about us galloping off to the left.

    I can understand why you and certain others wish to paint mainstream Preamble-supporting social justice Liberals as dangerous lefties but clearly this reflects more about your own personal political positions than ours.

    When I have heard Tim Farron speak he has spoken convincingly and passionately about the rights of people, about liberty, fairness, housing, the environment, mental health, regionalism etc.

    He – and people like myself who hope to get the chance to vote for him as leader – are mainly property-owning, reasonably well educated, working/middle class, family men and women with a strong belief in fairness, freedom and democracy.

    The last thing we are is dangerous anti-social stability lefties.

    We are the members most committed to party democracy. We are the members who would be shouting the loudest if any attempt were made to ‘install’ Tim Farron or anyone else as party leader.

    Please get a grip man.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th May '15 - 3:41pm

    Obviously missing a ‘do’ between the words please/yourself !

  • @ TCO People can only dream of aspiration in a low wage economy that’s the problem. We need a resurgence of manufacturing and skilled jobs, which will deliver greater wealth to spend on things like the NHS and to help those people who are struggling – usually through no fault of their own.

    Example: a neighbour told me that, since the welfare cuts, a person she knows who suffered a brain injury is now only funded to go to the local support group (Headway) once a week. He used to be picked up and taken to the group twice a week. That support group is probably one of the few things that keeps this man going. Real cuts hit hard. Some people are just concerned about surviving, never mind aspiration.

  • @Stephen first take the plank from your own eye. I’ll stop prattling on as you put it when I’m allowed to put forward my points of view in a way that those points are addressed fairly and not dismissed as being from “Tory Central Office”.

    Deal?

  • One of the first things I wrote about in the aftermath of the election was the qualities I expected from a Party Leader — namely, a good sense of political strategy, a knowledge of the Lib Dems’ real and potential voter base, a willingness to learn from mistakes, flexibility as to tactics but a willingness to stand up for the principles voiced in the Preamble and, where necessary, to make enemies.

    I don’t see that as particularly ideological and it is certainly not ‘left.’ I see Nick Clegg’s mistakes as being primarily not of the heart but of the head. I do worry about the Party being constrained by ideological tendencies, the idea all problems can be solved by a quick fix and a simplistic slogan. Good politics is not charging off in after a mirage seen on the horizon, but making one’s way slowly and checking the ground for quicksand. Nick Clegg had his eyes set on the shining city on the hill and failed to realise that there was an impassable morass directly in front of him. I want a leader who keeps his eyes on the ground and is well aware of the lay of the land.

  • “@ TCO People can only dream of aspiration in a low wage economy that’s the problem. We need a resurgence of manufacturing and skilled jobs, which will deliver greater wealth to spend on things like the NHS and to help those people who are struggling – usually through no fault of their own.”

    Yes Judy but you seem unable to see the connection between the first and second parts of this paragraph. Where are these jobs going to come from? Are you advocating government sets up factories to employ people?

    If not, then these jobs come from the businesses that need these skills.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th May '15 - 4:11pm

    Judy, I believe we all aspire to something. Placing the requirements of one ‘aspirational’ group above all the others is a way in which those of certain political sympathies keep the conservative economic narrative at the top of the socio-economic political agenda.

    You have to wonder if those who buy in to that narrative believe that people who live in local authority or social housing for example are ‘non-aspirational’?

    Hardly a Liberal view!

  • Choosing a leader at this stage will simply provide a vehicle for that person to implement his or her preferences and favourite policies. This is not a very professional way to run a party.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th May '15 - 4:27pm

    TCO 10th May ’15 – 3:58pm
    “@Stephen first take the plank from your own eye. I’ll stop prattling on as you put it when I’m allowed to put forward my points of view in a way that those points are addressed fairly and not dismissed as being from “Tory Central Office”. Deal?”

    I made that joke once – a couple of weeks ago when, in reply to my question regarding how you were able to post endlessly on LDV despite you being in your 40’s, you started down your I do/do not work for an independent think tank series of posts.

    You only have yourself to blame if you joined a political party without first understanding its core values. Blaming mainstream members who did understand its values can not be blamed for reclaiming Liberalism from those who sought to recast the party in their own image without seeking a mandate from the party.

    The clue is in the name … Liberal Democracy. You may be able to translate the words into Latin but you seem unable to understand their meaning in English.

  • Stephen Campbell 10th May '15 - 4:34pm

    You definitely need a positive message. For those of us on the lower to bottom end of society, the past 5 years have been bad and are only going to be worse for the next 5.

    We need hope.

    People want to feel that their labour is worth more than the absolute minimum a company can get away with paying them. Disabled and mentally ill people on benefits need to hear the message that they are not scroungers and are actually valued in this society. Teachers, nurses and other public sector workers are sick and tired of the right beating on them, telling them they’re “lazy”. Immigrants are receiving increased abuse and blame for all of society’s ills. Our country is swiftly becoming a very cruel, nasty place for those who are not on top or in the upper branches of the middle class. Our society is becoming more and more divided. We need a strong, compassionate and positive voice that will be inclusive of everyone. And, yes, that includes the misfits, the disenfranchised, the vulnerable and powerless. After all, the wonderful preamble makes clear that one of this party’s missions is to free people from the slavery of “poverty, ignorance or conformity.”

    And as for aspiration, are there not many kinds? Some people may aspire to unlimited riches, power and possessions. Not all of us do. Some of us simply aspire to live a happy life, free of illness, comfortable enough to be able to afford the basics and a few extras. Some of us aspire to a more compassionate, slower, less wealth-driven society. When people go on strike for better wages or conditions (or simply to keep the conditions and pay they originally signed up to), is that not a form of collective, solidarity-based aspiration, as well? Some of us aspire to actually feel valued as a member of society in an increasingly shallow and cruel society where one’s worth is valued by how much profit or shareholder value they produce.

    LibDems need to champion and respect these values and aspirations in a positive manner. You need to stand up for and champion the forgotten, the powerless, those who feel left behind. You can start by dropping the neo-liberal consensus which sees private always good and public always bad. You need to realise that neither the market, nor the state, has all of the answers and the solution is often a mixture of both.

    Or you can continue as a Tory-lite party, but that strategy was proved to be pretty much bankrupt on Thursday.

  • @ Stephen. Of course we all have aspirations, it’s what keeps us going, but we need much greater social justice for them to have a chance of being realised by most people. I thought Lib Dems believed in a fairer society anyway – or was that slogan just for the purposes of the election?!

  • @ Stephen Campbell. Very much agree . My last comment was a reply to the other Stephen!

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th May '15 - 5:30pm

    Judy Abel 10th May ’15 – 4:37pm

    Hi Judy … I think something was lost in my writing or your reading of my post. Do please have another look at it.

    Clegg’s ‘enabling everyone to get on in life’ used to irritate me enormously because for millions of our fellow citizens it simply isn’t that easy. I question why the aspirations of someone working to ‘get on in life’ and buy a second car or home are placed above those who, in difficult circumstances, aspire to simply feed, clothe and house their family.

    I could easily have written most of what Stephen Campbell wrote. You will have to take on trust my very genuine personal belief in a fair society. Not in a fairer society, in a fair society!

  • Boris Tabaksplatt 10th May '15 - 5:37pm

    I’m disappointed that this excellent opinion piece by Julian seems to have done nothing to stop the left/right internecine party wars. People here seem more interested in finding a new leader than dealing with how the party can get to grips with solving the urgent issues of our country which will effect both rich and the poor to varying degrees.

    Strong countries with good economies can afford to spend the money needed for a good welfare program. Without this basic building block the less well off always suffer – Greece is an exemplar of this undeniable truth and I don’t want England to go there.

    So I implore everyone in the party to stop the quest for a new leader until we have discussed the way forward and developed a new manifesto. This needs to address the urgent needs of our nation and have as wide an appeal as possible across left. right and centrer. I don’t think there is a quick fix to get things back on track, as the ordinary man in the street currently sees us as irrelevant.

  • Stephen Campbell 10th May '15 - 5:58pm

    @Stephen Hesketh: “I question why the aspirations of someone working to ‘get on in life’ and buy a second car or home are placed above those who, in difficult circumstances, aspire to simply feed, clothe and house their family. ”

    Abso-bloody-lutely! The Tories (and some on the right of the LibDems) say those of us on the left don’t understand aspiration. Well, we do. They just don’t understand that some people’s aspirations aren’t to be a millionaire, an expensive car or a mansion. Some of us simply aspire to be happy and healthy. And for those of us on the bottom of society, we often aspire to just the basics.

    The Tories and some right-wingers simply cannot comprehend that not everyone is motivated by amassing a horde of wealth or “stuff”. Some of us are motivated by the desire for a more equal, compassionate and less-money focused life and a desire to help others and foster a sense of belonging and community.

  • Jane Ann Liston 10th May '15 - 6:17pm

    @Stephen Campbell ‘… not everyone is motivated by amassing a horde of wealth or “stuff”.’

    Interestingly, I was discussing matters electoral with a Labour party member on Friday, and noted that, at least VAT increases did not apply to the likes of food and children’s clothes, though they did apply to ‘luxuries’. ‘Do you not think the poor have the right to luxuries?’ quoth she? Now while some items liable to VAT are anything but ‘luxuries’ (sanitary protection, if I’m allowed to mention such a thing, comes to mind, and thank you Gordon Brown for cutting VAT on it as far as he could under the current rules), in general surely nobody should have a ‘right’ to luxuries, but everybody certainly should have the right to essentials.

  • @ Stephen Hesketh. Sorry, I got the wrong impression from what you wrote. I re-read your comments and your post after mine and I completely misunderstood. I have been trying to tidy the spare room in between posting, so maybe that’s why! Too much dust!

    So both Stephens – I absolutely agree with you! So great to hear from people who don’t think amassing more wealth should be the be all and end all of life. If we could just get this message across to the new members who are signing up (because they are obviously idealistic – which is really great) I think we could come back quickly as a party.

  • @Stephen Campbell it’s all very well being less money focused, but you seem to forget that someone in society has to generate the income that pays the taxes that pays for the schools, hospitals and benefits that everyone utilises.

    Demonising people for wanting to earn more money, when a chunk of that goes to the exchequer, seems bizarre.

  • @Stephen Campbell ” They just don’t understand that some people’s aspirations aren’t to be a millionaire, an expensive car or a mansion. Some of us simply aspire to be happy and healthy. ”

    That’s very presumptuous of you.

    @Judy you and the Stephens are building a straw man. What Peter and I are saying is that Labour’s rhetoric (and ours) was not to say that the pursuit of wealth should not be elevated above everything else, but that it was seen as a bad thing to be punished.

  • The party is proceeding with nominations for a new leader. I think this is a daft decision. The party should debate and decide on strategic priorities with input from potential candidates, senior party figures, local activists and grass roots members. Then they should decide on the leader best equipped to implement the agreed strategy.

    Picking a leader first is going to by-pass any democratic debate about strategy since the leader is not going to implement one he or she finds unattractive. Well done, Lib Dems. off to a bad start!

  • Another problem I find here is the general obsession about compassion, liberalism, welfare, caring for the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, the mentally ill, etc. I do not disagree with any of these admirable concerns but none of these is the basis of a party strategy.

    They are motherhood statements about welfare. As one or two others have pointed out, you need to state specific changes you would make and also specify how you would pay for them.

    Even so, this welfare stuff is a small fraction of the business of a national political party. What about the economy, foreign policy, defence, or are these less important than free school dinners? I can hear you all saying “yes”.

  • @Peter I totally agree. Too soon for a new leader.

  • Paul Osborne 10th May '15 - 7:07pm

    Like many I was shocked by the results on Thursday, but having thought for a few days I realise that I should not have been as the signs were there.

    What happened to the LDs being a more centralist party, arguing for moderation to both capitalist greed and socialist equality? Instead I saw a campaign hanging on to the polls that was expecting another coalition and the lack of message reflected that. The identity was lost.

    In 2010 the LDs did great because the electorate was tired of a New Labour led by a warmongering Blair and the fragile economy of Brown whilst also being very wary of the Tory greed, the LDs may have been the protest party but they were also a moderate party and gave the electorate hope that there was a better way. That has not come through in the last five years of being browbeaten by the Tories.

    Please work out a clear unambiguous vision with a message that goes with that vision and stick to it. Let the electorate know who you are, what you represent, who you represent and how you intend to do so – some will be alienated by that – live with it! You cannot keep everyone happy all of the time, but what you can do is offer those who think about who they are voting for, is some hope and sensibility in your policies and plans.

    The previous “penny on tax for education” was almost genius as it was honest. How about tuppence for the NHS? That may be all it is worth in five years time… What about the 100 billion for Trident due to be spent over the next 30 years? Make something of it – say how it (or some of it) can be used elsewhere to benefit the electorate as that is arguably a lot of money being wasted on something we have not used in 70 years and is increasingly unlikely to be used (I hope).

    I have been an LD supporter for the last 20 years or so and nearly so nearly became a member in the last few days but now I need to be clear and certain what the party intends for its vision for the UK looking forwards before I make that commitment.

    The message has been lost and I am sorry to say that.

  • @Peter are you a party member?

  • TCO: If you want to shift the Party in a particular direction, you might want to try advocating for positions directly opposite to what you really think, because right now there’s nothing more discreditable to an opinion than your endorsement of it.
    Unless, of course, that’s what you’re doing already!

  • It is a sad world where “obsessed with compassion” can be used as an insult.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th May '15 - 7:33pm

    Judy Abel 10th May ’15 – 6:36pm

    Hi Judy. No problem; I have done the same thing myself before today!

    Clegg claimed we would be different (an end to lies) then cynically broke a very public pledge.

    We have five short years to prove that although very human and far from perfect, we are the party anchored firmly to fairness, freedom and democracy. The party of ordinary citizens, of the governed not the governing. The party of social justice.

    The only way is up!

  • Eddie Sammon 10th May '15 - 7:34pm

    At the end of the day we don’t really agree and it would be better for everyone if we were split into three different parties. Social Liberals, Economic Liberals and Centrists.

    The big danger for the Lib Dems is the “march of the Blairites” as the Huffington Post are reporting. They have the knives out and one thing for sure is they know how to win votes – Iraq aside.

    We will also be squeezed on the other side by Boris Johnson. Only an excellent candidate and leadership team can survive in 2020 with these contenders on either side. Unless Labour elect another Miliband.

  • I am not a party member. I have voted LD in the past but not recently. I do recognise that the party has many decent people with good intentions. However, I find the culture very frustrating.

    I am trying to help by being challenging and a little bit provocative but always polite. I honestly do not know why I am doing this because I know it is pointless. Perhaps if I stimulate some objective thinking, that is my reward.

  • Peter Watson 10th May '15 - 7:54pm

    @Peter “What about the economy, foreign policy, defence, or are these less important than free school dinners? I can hear you all saying “yes”.”
    I hear everybody saying “no”. Free school dinners was simply a rabbit that Clegg pulled out of his hat midway through the Parliament as a sop for allowing the Tories to introduce a tax break for married couples (which is also less important than the economy, foreign policy and defence).

  • Stephen Campbell 10th May '15 - 7:59pm

    @Peter: “Another problem I find here is the general obsession about compassion, liberalism, welfare, caring for the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, the mentally ill, etc.”

    The measure of a society is how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members. The Tories don’t care about them. Labour sometimes plays lip service to that, but then talks about being “tougher than the Tories” on welfare. That is why, until a few years ago, the LibDems was my party for over 20 years.

    I truly feel that many people in charge of our society exhibit sociopathic qualities. The lust for money and power for the sake of it. The kowtowing to the already-powerful in society. We need a compassionate, human alternative to the nasty world our “leaders” have built for us over the past 30 years.

    I feel sad for you if you think it is wrong for a party to show compassion and for it to make one of its missions be the protection of the vulnerable, poor and weak. After all, those are the values set out in this party’s constitution.

    I do find it odd and sad, however, that what you call an “obsession” with compassion and caring for the less fortunate and those unable to stand up for themselves to not be priorities for a political party. Do these people not deserve the same representation as millionaires and the middle class? Do you see them as less than human?

    I fear it says more about you than it does about people who hold a strong desire for social justice.

  • @Eddie Sammon
    Labour has decided that they need to move towards the centre ground and appeal a bit more to the wealth creators. The Greens already occupy the far left and now have the opportunity to cover the region previously occupied by Labour. UKIP is mopping up centre-left Labour seats in areas where the voters are unhappy with old and new Labour. They are also taking centre -right seats from the Tories.

    You are right. The big squeeze is on. The next few months are critical for LD. The party has to choose the right strategy and the right leader. Finding the right position for the party is very important. It needs an USP (unique selling point) I must admit I do not have a good feeling about that, especially if the new leader trots out old policies.

  • Stephen Campbell 10th May '15 - 8:11pm

    Essentially the party needs to decide if it represents the powerful or the powerless. Does it favour entrenched concentrations of power, or does it want to challenge those entrenched powers? Is the party on the side of those who govern or those who are governed? Does the party favour mega-corporations with no loyalty to any nation or small businesses who struggle, but still pay all their taxes?

    Personally, I feel the party needs to read, read and again re-read this simple, beautiful and powerful statement located here: http://www.libdems.org.uk/constitution

    Once the party finds those values again and sets to put them into action, it very well may begin to recover. And then centre-left people such as myself who want to fight for a better society will most likely come back, happy in the knowledge the party has found its soul again.

  • Stephen Campbell 10th May '15 - 8:17pm

    @David-1: “It is a sad world where “obsessed with compassion” can be used as an insult.”

    Ain’t that the truth? It just goes to show what a self-centred and soulless society 30 years of neoliberalism has built for us.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th May '15 - 8:24pm

    TCO 10th May ’15 – 6:37pm
    “@Stephen Campbell it’s all very well being less money focused, but you seem to forget that someone in society has to generate the income that pays the taxes that pays for the schools, hospitals and benefits that everyone utilises.
    Demonising people for wanting to earn more money, when a chunk of that goes to the exchequer, seems bizarre.”

    TCO if that is what we were saying it would indeed be bizarre. I am not at all demonising ordinary people for wanting a comfortable lifestyle.

    I had the opportunity to study and for much of my life been lucky enough to earn sufficient to pay 40% on a proportion of my earnings so that my family, friends and fellow citizens can enjoy the benefits of living in a civilised society. A society in which we all have rights and responsibilities.

    I guess everyone here would agree with this and behaves in the same way. However, I am not arrogant enough to believe that this has all been achieved purely by my own efforts. Much of what I have is down to nothing more than luck and chance; to an enlightened and supportive family and good teachers etc. I recognise that with small changes in time and place, I might not be in such a fortunate position today.

    I have met many gifted business people, most also the beneficiaries of time and place. What has struck me however is that most of these very driven people are not actually more intelligent or worthy than me, they are simply more driven. As a result they are more likely to get to the top.

    Most would also be driven demented by the fairly ordinary mundane jobs most of us undertake day in and day out. They actually enjoy the challenge just as others might enjoy caring, creating or attention to detail. Together we create and sustain a, globally speaking, privileged lifestyle on this continent.

    My issue is how anyone is prepared to believe that those in the ‘top jobs’ are worthy of such large and growing pay differentials:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/top-bosses-rewards-now-143-times-workers-pay-9674953.html
    “Remuneration gap between FTSE 100 bosses and workers triples since 1998”

    Are bosses more worth such sums or worthy of so much more than those who built those businesses from scratch? No of course they are not.

    Having been rewarded with such sums, is it right that they pay, as a real proportion of income, less than ordinary citizens? No of course it is not.

    This has become a runaway gravy train for the already seriously wealthy and super rich. Someone writing in this thread called those born before 1965 “the entitled generation”. I believe we are well on our way to creating a society where it is the wealthy who consider themselves entitled – not the poor, ordinary or pre-1965 generations. Ah, it’s come back to me; I think it was someone who posts under the pseudonym ‘TCO’.

    Be that as it may, my answer is simply that everyone should be treated fairly … “We will foster a strong and sustainable economy which encourages the necessary wealth creating processes, develops and uses the skills of the people and works to the benefit of all, with a just distribution of the rewards of success. We want to see democracy, participation and the co-operative principle in industry and commerce within a competitive environment in which the state allows the market to operate freely where possible but intervenes where necessary … We recognise that the independence of individuals is safeguarded by their personal ownership of property, but that the market alone does not distribute wealth or income fairly. We support the widest possible distribution of wealth …”

    Please pardon me for being a run of the mill Liberal Democrat.

  • I have a headache reading through all the posts on the ideology of liberalism and how important it is to be principled.

    Unless the start point for the Lib Dems is to go and find out what the issues are that business is facing, the problems of getting a start-up off the ground, finance for new businesses – unless you actually go and speak to those people you have no context in which to build a liberal or principled ideology.

    Unless you go and meet homeless people, those in unsatisfactory housing, those struggling to buy their first home – how to you put into context what you’re trying to do?

    I feel as though problem solving (which is what politics should mainly be about no?) is playing second fiddle to deluded dreams of being the principled white knight who ends up getting no votes and falling off his horse!

    If you cannot build the narrative of the party from the real experiences of people on the ground – and work your values and principles around them (instead of expecting things to fit your ideals and principles) then you will never connect with real people and people will not vote for you.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th May '15 - 8:46pm

    Eddie Sammon 10th May ’15 – 7:34pm
    “At the end of the day we don’t really agree and it would be better for everyone if we were split into three different parties. Social Liberals, Economic Liberals and Centrists.”

    I actually don’t agree Eddie. At the end of the day we, like every other party, are a coalition. We have all read and understood the aims of the party. No need for anyone to leave or for the party to split.

  • Boris Tabaksplatt 10th May '15 - 8:53pm

    @Alan Gee 10th May ’15 – 8:26pm

    +1

  • Eddie Sammon 10th May '15 - 8:53pm

    Hi Stephen, I am not saying split right now, I am just saying having a manifesto and campaign almost contradicting each other is a mistake, so in the future the party needs to decide where it stands. Hopefully at the next leadership election.

    Best wishes

  • @Stephen Campbell

    I think you should read what I actually said more carefully. I said that these concerns were admirable. I never said they were wrong.

    I talked about an obsession with these sentiments and based that on the many comments on this post. It is clearly the major theme. That is not wrong at all, but the purpose of the post is to discuss the identity to be projected to the electorate.

    Welfare concern is a fine image but it is probably not broad enough to be an election winner. There are many other national issues such as the economy and foreign policy. I challenged on this but the challenge was ignored.

    All parties have people who share LD compassion for the vulnerable. I accept that you seem to make it your only priority. There is a danger there. Some people who agree with you are also concerned about the ever expanding welfare budget and would like to see the needy get more but those who are not genuine cases get less. So your policy has to be measured otherwise it could deter voters.

    I am sorry but not surprised if you now regard me as a nasty bit of work. I said elsewhere that I find the culture here frustrating and this is an example of what I meant.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th May '15 - 8:58pm

    Stephen Campbell 10th May ’15 – 5:58pm
    [@Stephen Hesketh: “I question why the aspirations of someone working to ‘get on in life’ and buy a second car or home are placed above those who, in difficult circumstances, aspire to simply feed, clothe and house their family.] “Abso-bloody-lutely!”

    Thanks Stephen

    “Some of us simply aspire to be happy and healthy … {some} simply cannot comprehend that not everyone is motivated by amassing a horde of wealth or “stuff”. Some of us are motivated by the desire for a more equal, compassionate and less-money focused life and a desire to help others and foster a sense of belonging and community.”

    Abso-bloody-lutely from me also!

  • My apologies for my first comment it came over much harsher than it sounds.
    My point is really this. We treating the Conservative win very much in the same way as mainstream media is. as if it was some sort of unstoppable machine that has stormed to power on a wave of upwardly mobile positivity. The fact is that it has a tiny majority that could be wiped out in a handful of bye-elections. Most of these seats were won at the expense of the Lib Dems which is being portrayed as the result of the Conservatives out-flanking and ruthlessly destroying its erstwhile partners. However, the voting figures do not back this up. They are in truth a vindication of what people like Matthew Huntbach were saying. The progressive Vote or Left or whatever you want to call it got split and in truth Big lib Dem majorities were lost because votes its votes shifted all over the shop, whilst the still large Conservative vote stayed stable.
    They’re having a similar argument in Labour circles with mendacious old Blairites like Peter Mandelson making sneering comments about the mistakes of their campaign and the “poor” v “aspirational” voters when in reality they were decimated by the SNP and lost great chunks of there once solid student votes to the Greens as they had once done to us and another chunk of their vote to UKIP, who are anything but “aspirational” (whatever this buzzword is supposed to mean) ideological Blairites. The votes that saved them from bigger humiliation were in truth inner city economically disadvantaged second and third generation migrants and die-hard northerners the kind of people old Mandy thinks automatically support labour so can be dismissed and therefor unimportant in his grand narrative a fourth way or whatever he sound bite he conjures up this time. But here’s the thing. Does anyone like, believe or trust Peter Mandelson, does anyone think Teflon Tony was a great Prime Minister and has David Cameron been greeted by cheers of grateful citizens embodying there aspirational spirit> The answer to all these things is No. And similarly obviously Nick Clegg proved to be a similar mistrusted political force,
    About 40% of the population didn’t even vote because most people think the world according to the present political orthodoxy is self serving. So how about we stop talking in jargon, be honest and offer a proper liberal alternative one that recognises a mixture of much extended personal freedom, honesty, fairness (not the Tories inversion of the concept) rather than yet another one that just says it has with no real evidence to back it up. Because to me the problem isn’t really Left v Right, it’s good v bad, reality V baloney.

  • @Peter I’d be more than happy to discuss the economy, foreign policy and defence with you.

  • jedibeeftrix 10th May '15 - 9:41pm

    “I’d be more than happy to discuss the economy, foreign policy and defence with you.”

    The problem is that too many lib-dem’s (is that an oxymoron these days?), think foreign policy is wittering on about selling unmarked israeli produce in the EU, and likewise that mental health funding for veterans represents a robust policy on Defence.

  • @ Peter
    Some things not need to be said. In a discussion on what liberals stand for the issue of power has to be the central consideration. After five years of reducing the freedoms of those on welfare, there is going to be a discussion that says we must never let that happened again.

    Since 1979 there has been a movement that says it is OK for there not to be enough work for everyone, but those not in work are vilified and have their economic freedoms reduced. To address these lacks of freedoms does not mean that we don’t accept that the economy has to be managed. There are some liberals who say it is not the role of government to intervene in the economy to help any section of it. I believe that those liberals who are concerned about welfare are not part of this group.

    Quantitative easing has been used to restructure the banks, but increasing the money supply could have been used differently to subsidize companies to employ those who find working difficult, to provide finance for small businesses to expand and so generate growth in the economy. Increasing the money supply could have been used to finance the building of more houses for rent. This would have helped people get a home and stimulate the economy and so create conditions for companies to expand.

    I have a real issue with the idea that any human being should not get enough money from the state to live on. Many of the people who are seen as in the non-deserving group are likely to be people who employers would rather not employ and some workers would rather not have as their colleague. To me the alternatives are clear, provide conditions where employers have to employ them, provide them enough welfare to live on, not provide them enough to live on so they become ill and die. I know which of these is unacceptable to me and fellow liberals.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th May '15 - 12:17am

    Peter

    He alienated, by implication, the majority of workers. These include ordinary workers who would love to afford a home of their own and fear that future taxation will make that possibility even more remote. The squeezed middle class worried that they would be squeezed more.

    But this is nonsense. One of the reasons property prices have been pushed so high and so many cannot afford a home of their own is because property is not taxed as it used to be, even with the old rates system, so owning property becomes a valuable investment, much more effective than investing money in building up a business. A property tax system, with needs-based allowances, would help bring housing prices down and so help ordinary workers get a home of their own.

    The Tories have been adept at putting forward things that actually help only the top 5% or 1% or so of society, but making at least the next 50% think it includes them as well. If one truly wanted to reward work, would one not want to shift taxes from income to property? But the Tories don’t put it like that. They have invented this phrase “wealth creator” and used it to mean anyone who is rich. So we are led to think that people who have done little useful in their lives, but happened to have inherited a large amount of money have somehow “created it”. Many of those the Tories call “wealth creators” would be better labelled as “wealth absorbers”, that is people who do not do anything productive, but are in a position to take money from those who do.

    The Tories tell us that high taxes on the rich are an attack on “entrepreneurialism”. Poppycock. What sort of person is it who has some good idea which could benefit society, a service they can give that people want, or something they could make that people would want, who sits in bed thinking “Oh, I won’t bother, because if I invest in producing that, too much of the profits I taken would be taken in tax”. No, people who are truly entrepreneurs, who truly have good and valuable idea they want to try out are driven by those ideas, they will want to see then put in place. The sort of person who says “Well I could go out and make money, but I won’t” is the spiv type, the person whose products and services are no good and they know it, but who is just out there to cynically push them to make money for themselves.

    If one truly wants to support the entrepreneur and develop a more business-oriented society, what one actually needs is strong social support so that people feel they can take risks and try out new ideas. In a society where most people fearful, where if one step goes wrong you could be out starving in the streets – the sort of society the Tories are building – you can’t afford to be an entrepreneur unless you come from a background so rich you don’t have to worry. It’s better in the sort of society the Tories are building to find a safe and boring job and keep your head down.

    The Tories are really the party of the idle rich. Our political ancestors were not afraid to say that. Look at some of the word used by Lloyd George and Liberals going back before him, having a go at the landed aristocracy. So much of what REAL 19th century Liberal said would be branded “an attack on entrepreneurialism” or similar if said today.

  • Mathew.
    by and large I agree with you these days.
    The reason property is valuable is because there is not much else to the British economy and no one will let the price drop because no one wants to admit that they have been encouraging people to invest in a glorified Ponzi scheme.. People’s retirement and GDP relies on it to maintain the illusion of growth. So what you’ve ended up with is all these properties that are generating spectacular wealth on paper, but are too expensive too buy so don’t actually sell. Property companies in this case are buying because the investment looks great in much the same way banks buy up debt, In truth it all looks fantastic until someone tries to collect. It’s no accident that sub prime kicked off the great recession and it is no accident the Bank of England can’t raise interest rates. It’s also no accident that the Conservatives are going to extend the Right to Buy to housing association tenants in the hope that it will squeeze a breath into the flat-lining patient or that they are planning to sell off that other flatliner the student loan book, This is what happens when the economy is dependant the debt accumulator that is the banking sector. Look at private debt, lowering incomes and low productivity. It’s all very dangerous.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th May '15 - 7:56am

    Glenn

    The reason property is valuable is because there is not much else to the British economy and no one will let the price drop because no one wants to admit that they have been encouraging people to invest in a glorified Ponzi scheme.

    Indeed. Tory economic policy is utter madness, they think we can have an economy which works by everyone selling houses to each other. It is a Ponzi scheme, and the Ponzi scheme which is Tory economics is now being funded quite a bit by selling off what we can to the global super-elite, turning this country into a sort of giant Cayman Islands. But whoever heard of a tax haven with a population of 60 million?

    It’s also no accident that the Conservatives are going to extend the Right to Buy to housing association tenants in the hope that it will squeeze a breath into the flat-lining patient

    The Right to Buy is at the heart of so much of Britain’s problems. House prices were kept down because council housing was an alternative available to all. When people were forced to buy because there was no alternative, inevitably it pushed prices up, and led to people borrowing more than they could safely afford out of fear that if they did not do so they would never get decent housing at all. The social instability caused by the collapse of the council housing system is massive. The breakdown and scattering of families it led to had a big impact in welfare costs, as it ended much of the informal support that people used to give each other.

    One of the biggest reasons state spending remains stubbornly high is that people who once would have lived in council housing now live in private accommodation paying hugely more in rents than would have been the case if we still had cost-only council housing, and subsidised by housing benefit. The private landlords who get huge amounts of money taken from taxpayers and given to them in this way are a classic example of “wealth absorbers”. People who are housed in this way are trapped, because if they go out and earn a bit of money it’s taken away from their housing benefit, and they are never going to earn enough so that they can go over and above enough to pay all their rent and have some to spare.

    The Tories and their right-wing press mouthpieces silence any talk about this by calling it “the politics of envy”, “an attack on wealth creators” and similar nonsense. I am incredulous to find that in talk about how the Labour Party should move on, many in that party seem to be moving towards accepting this Tory propaganda. What we need is the guts to argue it down and show up what it really is, not surrender to it.

    What did we find in the general election? People saying “all the parties are the same”, and from that moving to feeling they had to vote for whichever looked the most competent. So it was turned into a beauty contest, with the right-wing press helpfully putting up pretty picture of Mr Cameron and ugly pictures of Mr Miliband to help people make up their minds. And what was Labour’s reaction to this? Why, to spend most of their time jeering “nah nah nah nah nah” at the Liberal Democrats, under the supposition that was all that was needed, it would bring a big chunk of votes to them and they needn’t actually spend much effort seriously challenging the Tory nonsense and showing up how dubious the sort of lines they use actually are.

    The student tuition fees thing is a classic example of this. Because it was the prime “nah nah nah nah nah” issue, Labour didn’t feel they needed to mention that if you subsidise universities through the state, you need taxation to pay for it. Oh no, it was put as if it could all be done by a wave of the hands, so the Liberal Democrats were bad people for not so waving their hands. Well, if you don’t put across clearly the message that if you want state services you need tax to pay for them, the right will put out their “all tax is just envy” line, and the naive will believe it.

    The reality is that a strong and stable economy in which all are in a position to contribute their best and take the sort of risks that is necessary to progress needs a good safety support of state services, needs high quality education, needs a strong infrastructure system, and that all costs. To say that discussing how we can best pay for it is all just “politics of envy” is madness.

    We need to come out forthright and say things like this. But what did Clegg do? Attack the timid and centrist Labour Party as if it was some extreme left-wing movement, and push out the Tory tax-cutting argument making out untruthfully that was what was in our 2010 manifesto by forgetting the bit there about shifting where taxes are raised not overall cutting of them.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th May '15 - 8:07am

    Michael BG

    I have a real issue with the idea that any human being should not get enough money from the state to live on.

    The Tories want to cut welfare payments so that if you have more than two children you are not given enough to support the others.

    Well, I suppose we are all good liberals who take the line that abortion should be a sacrament, so anyone with two children who finds themselves pregnant should feel honoured to be pushed down that road. But what about those who already have three or more children? Sorry, these things happen, it can be an accident, but it can also be that you thought you could afford it and then lost your job. Well, the Tories will need to find ways to allow people to get rid of their extra children who can’t be afforded any more. Ideas, anyone? A kiddy market where you can sell them off? A way you can get them painlessly put down?

    This is the reality of the government we have elected, thanks to the “nah nah nah nah nah”s trashing the Liberal Democrats, thinking this a supposed easier way to Labour power than actually building up support for decent humanitarian policies, and ending up, yes, trashing the Liberal Democrats and so throwing so many of their hard won seats back to the Tories. Which I said all along is the main thing they would end up doing. I didn’t predict that it would leave Labour looking so unimpressive that it would lose all of Scotland to the SNP, however.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th May '15 - 8:13am

    Alan Gee

    Unless the start point for the Lib Dems is to go and find out what the issues are that business is facing, the problems of getting a start-up off the ground, finance for new businesses – unless you actually go and speak to those people you have no context in which to build a liberal or principled ideology.

    According to the Tories, the main problem people trying to get a start-up off the ground were facing is that the stonking big house they were going to buy once it got going and they made money out of it would be liable for a bit of extra taxation.

    No thought that perhaps higher property taxes might bring house prices down, might mean would-be entrepreneurs aren’t spending so much of their money on housing that they can’t afford to put any of it back into their business, that perhaps making owning houses less attractive an investment might lead to people investing their money instead into entrepreneurs.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th May '15 - 8:17am

    Stephen Campbell

    Some of us simply aspire to be happy and healthy … {some} simply cannot comprehend that not everyone is motivated by amassing a horde of wealth or “stuff”

    Yes, and people who are happy and healthy are more likely to be productive. The Tory and New Labour idea that the way to make people productive is to make them more stressed, and so unhappy and unhealthy, is madness.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th May '15 - 8:45am

    Martin

    A few of these have been so constructive an informed that it is not really right to regard them as negative. Matthew Huntbach is one example

    When I was Leader of the Opposition in the Labour-run London Borough of Lewisham, I adopted a constructive opposition approach. What that meant is that I would look at what they were doing, and consider what I would do if I were running the council. So that meant if they were having to make cuts to meet the budget, or it was difficult to find council housing for those in desperate need due to the right-to-buy and effective ban on building more, I wouldn’t yell “nah nah nah nah nah” at them, and make out that they were bad people for what they were forced to do. No, I would recognise the various constraints of reality, and any criticism I made would contain alternative ways of doing things. If after looking at it I could see there were no easy alternatives, I felt it was wrong to attack them negatively as if there were and they were bad people for not using them.

    I did it this way after having experienced the hugely damaging effect of Labour “nah nah nah nah nah” negative opposition when it was them against a Liberal-run council. For example, when the Liberals ran Tower Hamlets, Labour spent almost their entire time in opposition trying to find ways in which whatever the Liberals did could somehow be put as motivated by “racism”. They got rid of the Liberals in this way, but caused huge damage, some of which we see now with the Lutfur Rahman affair.

    Sometimes I was told my approach was weak, and we should be more forthright in opposition to Labour. But the Liberal Democrats grew in size and influence while I led the council group there. I have always felt that “nah nah nah nah nah” politics is destructive and in the end anti-democratic. One particular problem is that it closes down thinking. To me, this idea that you win power more by abusing your opponents than proposing and getting acceptance for the sort of policies you believe in is so wrong. Yet the two-party system which Labour was so desperate to restore very much encourages this negative “nah nah nah nah nah” approach.

    I have tried in my criticism of Clegg and the Cleggies over the years to do it in a way where any criticism is accompanied by what I believe would be a better alternative way of doing things. Although I very much disliked what they were doing to the party, if I sat down and considered their actual position and thought through what I would have done if I were there, and realised it would have had to be much the same, I was supportive of them. This is how it was over tuition fees – thinking about it I could see there was simply no way the Tories would have agreed to the funding required to keep the “pledge” apart from hugely damaging cuts elsewhere and to universities themselves. So I could see the argument that the apparent U-turn was actually a clever compromise, agreeing to what on the face of it seemed to the opposite to the “pledge”, but insisting on terms and conditions which kept universities well funded and open to all, and really underneath much the same people paying much the same money in much the same way as the alternatives.

    This is an example of constructive opposition. The “nah nah nah nah nah”s did not like me for it, they supposed that since I did not join in with them on this issue, I was a secret Cleggie underneath, perhaps just put up to give the illusion of variety in the party. But I could see the negative attacks on Clegg and the Liberal Democrats on the whole over this issue, almost never with any realistic alternative or even an acknowledgement of the difficulty of the situation they were in, would have the classic negative opposition effect: destruction of your opponent but no building of positive support for yourself, and the crunch that comes from having won by ignoring reality, which is that you too look bad when you have to face reality.

  • SIMON BANKS 11th May '15 - 8:18pm

    The protest element of pre-2010 Lib Dem votes has been exaggerated. Polls showed by the early 2000s that our voters had a pretty clear profile – pro-diversity, pro-civil rights, pro-redistribution of income and moderate on tax and spend. I’d say hose people had a fairly good idea of what we stood for. Problem is, we’ve lost most of them. What we had left in May was a valuing of the hard work of likeable MPs. That wasn’t enough when people got scared about the government of the country.

    I agree with Julian both about the centre ground message and about Labour. Ed Miliband and team failed to articulate a clear, memorable, credible message about how a Labour government would be different. They had a very difficult task, it’s true, but Ed Miliband came up with four or five interesting themes and then failed to pick one and keep hammering it. Perhaps the political thinker who would best have educated him was Von Clausewitz.

  • People started deserting the Lib Dems shortly after the 2010 GE. First it started with the Councillors. But what I struggle to understand is why people rejected perfectly good LD Councillors for what the Parliamentarians did. The Councillors and MEPs /MSPs hadn’t broken any pledges. I remember my aged relations who had a very good LD councillor and also a very good MP saying to me in 2010 “why should anyone vote for the LDs now?”. But then they carried on voting LD because the liked the Councillors and the MP. Sadly the MP lost his seat last week.

  • Phil Beesley, I have no idea what you are talking about. You’ve been accusing a couple of people of “entryism” and of being “trots,” and for all I know you are right, but if you’ve provided evidence for these accusations in some thread or other I have yet to see it.

    If you don’t have any basis for these allegations but are merely assuming them based on the tone or ideological tendency you detect, or think you detect, in their comments, then I think it would be better not to make them. They have a rather deleterious effect on the discussion as they create a sort of witch-hunt atmosphere.

  • @Matthew Huntbach: “Our political ancestors were not afraid to say that. Look at some of the word used by Lloyd George and Liberals going back before him, having a go at the landed aristocracy. So much of what REAL 19th century Liberal said would be branded “an attack on entrepreneurialism” or similar if said today.”

    But of course that is part and parcel of the mythology constructed by self-styled “economic liberals” — that Liberalism existed in its purest form under Saint Gladstone, but then was betrayed by evil centralists like Lloyd George (and I suppose Churchill!) who loosed the socialist virus into the British body politic.

  • Hi Julian,
    Sorry, but the tories didnt win this election. Sure they got a majority of seats in parliament, but a liberal ought to understand that is a function of the system, which is designed to create a clear winner from even the smallest lead over a party’s rivals. It is more accurate to say the liberals lost, resoundingly, and as a result their seats were redistributed mainly to the largest contender. UKIP was one of the beneficiaries of the demise of the liberals as well. SNP were the only clear winners in my opinion, and their success was impressive. UKIP tried, but quite honestly failed. in a year or two they too will be dismembered by the tories, once the EU referendum is over.

    Labour didnt really lose. they went up about 2% in vote share in England. In Scotland they were swept away, where they were competing against a party which really did have public conviction behind it. In Scotland they lost in a fight with a party promising to pay special attention to the needs of Scotland, rather then England. One might argue it is amazing they had remained in power there so long in such a climate.

    In England I do not believe any of the parties really won or lost on their policies. They did so on their reputations, and it was purely the best of a bad lot. UkIP is one man, Farage. He exemplified the principle that the party leader matters a very great amount. No discernible policies for the government of the Uk except to leave the EU, but Farage’s personal commitment, credibility, and apparent honesty got him the success he did achieve. He exemplified exactly how liberals have traditionally won seats. Clegg mania was a great draw 5 years ago, but he is now burned into the public consciousness as the deputy prime minister of the conservative government. Cameron has a lot of what it takes to be a leader and a real asset to a party. If perhaps some years ago he had chosen to join the labour party rather than the conservatives, I could imagine he might have done well, and perhaps by now been chosen as leader. If he had, then he might now have led his party to victory and be Labour prime minister. I really dont think the differences in their manifesto policies would matter.

    Its a mistake to believe voters judge the libs on how good their policies would be for running the country. they have not done this in my lifetime and I am very doubtful they will. What matters has always been how good their policies are as an opposition, someone to stand up for something inconvenient to the main parties. Tuition fees, an excellent single issue libs could coalesce around. That went well.

    The lessons to be learnt from this result are the same as I heard a pollster saying before the election. you need a good leader and a good issue. you need at least one of these, or its really bad for you. The only English party with a clear issue to fight for was UKIp. The only leader respected by the voters was Cameron.

    If there is a lesson from my observation of British politics, it is that there is no room in a first past the post system for three main parties. If liberals want to continue to exist they have to either accept the role of the people’s champion and permanent opposition, or destroy one of the main parties. I see no way to supplant either conservative or labour, so forget planning what you would do in government. Another five years of coalition and the total number of lib MPs would have been zero. Councillors too.

    I see from comments above that some people still believe the liberals must leave their image as recipients of the protest vote behind. I’m a lifelong protest voter. if you dont want to be my party, fair enough, I will find another. SNP looks promising., slight name change perhaps. They seem to stand up for the little guy against the big guy. I believe the liberals have made a real difference to politics simply by exisiting as a third force nagging at government. It isnt just what a party does in government, its the agenda they can create in opposition.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach

    “It is a Ponzi scheme, and the Ponzi scheme which is Tory economics is now being funded quite a bit by selling off what we can to the global super-elite, turning this country into a sort of giant Cayman Islands. But whoever heard of a tax haven with a population of 60 million?”

    Piffle, with respect. 🙂 First you are not looking at the national picture, go to the North or Wales and you can get a terraced house for £50K. The housing market IN LONDON (where you live no doubt?) is very overheated, it is true. And at the top end it is used for investment purposes by mafiosi and oligarchs and sells for absurd sums. And? Are you suggesting the State interferes to stop this? Why? What good would a fall in prices do?

    More, the market you and I live in it isn’t a Ponzi scheme it simply reflects a fundamental law, that of supply and demand. There is a finite supply of good housing stock in nice areas of London. Too many buyers chasing too few houses = higher prices.

    And the top of the market doesn’t drag it up, the bottom of the market pushes it from below. Uncontrolled immigration, from overseas and the provinces pours into London every year overwhelming those taking their profits and leaving the city,

    We can’t increase the supply in London much without knocking down the current stock and building skyscrapers a la New York or Hong Kong. Therefore the way to get London prices affordable is to manage demand.

    Put in place immigration controls. Kinda like Nigel said to much scorn but no serious argument in the “Challengers Debate.”

  • @ Danny

    “UKIP tried, but quite honestly failed. in a year or two they too will be dismembered by the tories, once the EU referendum is over.”

    That depends on the result. If we vote to leave, which I fervently hope we will, then yes UKIP will have served its purpose and we can all move on to other things.

    But if (as seems more likely) we vote to stay in we won’t give up. That won’t be the end of it, any more than the loss of the Independence Referendum was the end of the SNP. The campaign will continue until we set this country free , and the Tories won’t dismember us. We will dismember the Tories.

  • David-1 thank you.

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