Opinion: What does the evidence tell us about our strategy should be?

evidence of organized lightAs a party committed to evidence-based policy, we should be asking what the evidence tells us about the questions of strategy and leadership we now face. The discussion is currently impressionistic and getting fixated on the past. We need instead to stick to the evidence and to what it suggests we should do in the future. There are many examples one could give about the leadership issue, but here is one about strategy.

Nick Clegg has explained the party’s strategy like this: ”

We said in 2010 we were going to do something exceptional which was to enter a coalition for exceptional reasons – to deliver the economic recovery which has finally been delivered… Just at the point when our decisions, our big judgments are being vindicated, we are not going to buckle, we are not going to lose our nerve and we are not going to walk away.

That is, to put it crudely, we are trying to claim credit for the economic recovery.

This is not new. When the coalition was being formed, many said that the whole enterprise was a gamble on the success of the coalition’s economic policy. And when the conference was debating economic policy, the leadership’s anxiety was that if we denounced austerity, we would be unable to claim credit for growth.

There is, however, one big flaw in this strategy. The electorate is not giving us credit for the recovery. If they are giving anyone credit, it is the Tories. The evidence for this is hidden away in the British Election Study, published on 7 May. One of the many questions asked in this survey of more than 20,000 electors was a conventional one about economic optimism or pessimism, but which also asked whether each party was responsible for the country’s economic prospects as the voter perceived them. So, for example, we can ask of economic optimists whether they think the Liberal Democrats are responsible for their hoped-for improvement in economic conditions.

The answers are very unhelpful for our current strategy. Optimistic voters think – by over 5 to 1 – that we are not responsible for the conditions that give rise to their optimism. In contrast, those same optimists think the Conservatives can claim credit for the coming economic improvement by a majority of 4 to 1.

If one looks at crucial subgroups of voters, such as electors who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 but have moved to Don’t Know (more than a fifth of our 2010 vote), the situation is nearly as bad: a 4 to 1 majority against giving us credit and a majority of 4 to 3 in favour of giving the Conservatives credit.

There is no reason to believe that as more voters become optimistic this pattern will change. There is also nothing obvious we can do about it. Just repeating ‘we did it too’ is feeble. Referring to tax thresholds, pensions and apprenticeships, good things in themselves, looks peripheral, even irrelevant to the issue of claiming credit for growth. If the argument is that austerity led to recovery (which is, of course, highly questionable, but this is politics not economics), that is an inherently Conservative point of view and so not surprisingly, the Conservatives will get the credit for it. As an electoral strategy this looks hopeless, even irrational.

People keep saying ‘but what is the alternative?’ The British Election Study also includes a question on voters’ self-perceived inclination ever to vote Liberal Democrat. That is where we should start. What are the views, for example, of voters who have a high propensity to vote for us but who are not voting for us now? By more than 2 to 1 they favour redistribution of income, by 3 to 1 they are for greater environmental protection and by 8 to 1 they oppose further privatisation of public services. As Nick himself said in his acceptance speech in 2007, you have to start where people are, not where you wish them to be. The question is, do we have the courage and does the current leadership have the credibility, to move the party to where our potential voters are?

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  • I don’t see why “there is no reason to believe that as more voters become optimistic this pattern will change.” All the current evidence shows that existing Tory voters are the most optimistic about the economy whilst existing Lib Dems and Labour voters aren’t. As more of our market becomes optimistic (assuming the economy keeps on growing) then it should start to bring us with it.

  • John Barrett 28th May '14 - 4:00pm

    Well said David. I suspect the simple answer to your final question is – No.

  • David Howarth 28th May '14 - 4:12pm

    @Thomas Long
    The trouble with that theory is the pessimists blame the Tories and don’t blame us (by a majorities of 4 to 1 in each case). Who voters think is responsible for economic conditions is pretty stable across pessimists and optimists. They don’t change their minds as they become more optimistic.

  • Sadly, I am growing ever more doubtful that we are a party of evidence based policy :/
    I hope that when the manifesto is published I will be proved wrong (e.g. renationalisation of railways, a policy which a vast majority of the public favours, is shown to work far better than a privatised system when used elsewhere, but is seen in the Westminster bubble as some sort of Communism). I doubt I will be 🙁

  • Great piece David but sad reading.

  • Up to present, all political leaders, including Nick Clegg have said yes,yes,..yes we’re listening to the voters. But as I see it, ‘listening’, for them has amounted to little more than ‘in one ear and out the other’.
    So what does the evidence tell us about a change of strategy?
    Well, when it comes to a change of strategy, based on the evidence presented, at least George Osborne’s cat Freya, had the wit to scan the election results and whisper to herself, ” sod this for a game of soldiers,….I’m off”!
    Sometimes animals are far, far smarter than humans.

  • John Roffey 28th May '14 - 4:45pm

    Yes – excellent article.

    Perhaps rather than calling for NC to go – a policy group should start drawing up the key issues for the manifesto and asking him if he could lead the Party into a GE with the policies they decide upon.

  • Let’s face it in simple terms, this party is in a bloody mess. Putting off the inevitable will only bring forth further destruction upon ourselves. Without that it could well cease to exist and go the same way as David Owen and his SDP,

  • “If the argument is that austerity led to recovery (which is, of course, highly questionable, but this is politics not economics)”

    Well the argument should be made that austerity didn’t lead to recovery as there was no austerity, simply a redistribution of existing spending (real terms increases in NHS spending, nominal cuts in Defence/prisions etc).

    But as you say this is politics not economics.

  • NC and the Lib Dems have been very courageous and made the right decision to join the coalition. The UK needs firm, stable Government in 2010.
    Lib Dems were bound to lose support if they ever entered Government – the party has attracted disaffected Labour voters (on the left) and disaffected Conservative voters (on the right) in different parts of the country. That is only achievable whilst the party is a protest party never getting into Government. UKIP are doing the same now – getting old Labour and Tory Euroskpetics together.

    Lib Dem core vote is 10%, Tory core vote is 30% (1997 and 2001) and Labour core vote is 27-28% (1983, 2010). Those are facts.

  • It is always refreshing to read something by or listen to something from David Howarth.

    The evidence included towards the end of what our likely supporters want us to go for is especially revealing –
    ” By more than 2 to 1 they favour redistribution of income,
    by 3 to 1 they are for greater environmental protection
    and by 8 to 1 they oppose further privatisation of public services. ”

    This is such a rational and well written piece it would be nice to think that Nick Clegg might read it and respond.
    I guess that will not happen as he is probably busy with “carefully orchestrated interviews”.
    But then again his office could win some plaudits by proving me wrong.
    I guess a few twenty-two year old bright young things monitor LDV from one of Clegg’s many offices in Westminster. Let’s face it they’ve got nothing else to do now that the coalition has effectively closed down its programme of legislation.
    So go on punks, make my day, get the dear leader to read David Howarth’s piece and respond in person.

  • Shaun Nichols 28th May '14 - 6:06pm

    A well written piece and a reminder that we need to listen to the electorate and not plough on, with our heads down, muttering “there is no-one else, there is no-one else but Nick”.

    I suspect the Tories will shut down any attempt to pursue a Lib Dem agenda which would be a better fit for those voters we need to win back in time for the General Election. The Queen’s speech won’t contain anything radical apart from trying to out-Ukip, Ukip.

    A very depressing situation.

    The evidence will also show Nick’s poll ratings are dire, he is not an asset in an election (at which ever level) and is doing the Tories bidding.

  • David Howarth, thank you for this article. Refreshing to read a rational and well-thought out article after the frenzy of the last few days.

  • Paul Murray 28th May '14 - 6:15pm

    David Howarth – thank you for a superb analysis of why the Liberal Democrats are in such dire straits. As Bill le Breton notes elsewhere we are in this situation because of a deliberate strategy that sought to reposition the party on the economic right, to a place where it was expected that some of its previous supporters would not follow but that – by some unspecified mechanism – a new set of supporters would come to replace them. Well they have built it, but no one has come.

    John Barrett gave a simple answer to the critical question that you ask at the end of this article. What is your own considered view?

  • paul barker 28th May '14 - 6:22pm

    The fundamental problem with the article is that it assumes the voters are thinking about Politics now when all the evidence suggests they are not.
    In 2010 45% of voters made up their minds in the last few weeks, that proportin of late deciders has risen rapidly over the last couple of decades & its reasonable to suppose it will be even higher next year. Its very hard for Political nerds like us to fathom just how littl most people think about Politics outside General Elections. What the voters mostly think now is simply a version of what they thought in Autumn 2010. Its not that the voters dont think Politics is important, simply that they see no need to think about it till a decision they beleive is important is at hand.
    Our contribution to The Recovery & many other things will be considered next spring in the context of the time. UKIP will be irrelevant & we will be mostly compared to Labour Then, not Labour Now.
    That is why I keep banging on about Labours splits, divisions which will widen as Polling gets back to “Normal” after the effects of The Euros/Locals/Newark wear off.

  • David Allen 28th May '14 - 6:33pm

    Good article. I would only add that I doubt whether the Tories deserve any credit for economic recovery, either. While boasting about how austere they are, they have not in fact made any very big spending cuts yet, apart from cuts to benefits. Those have surely not been responsible for our improving economy. I think the most likely explanations for the recovery are:

    (a) what goes down must eventually go up again – we hit recession harder and earlier than most other countries, so now we’re liable to be the first to bounce back, even if it’s a bit of a dead cat bounce. And/or:
    (b) it’s a good old inflationary temporary boom, led by house price inflation, stoked by “Help to Buy”, and due to fall apart sometime soon after the 2015 election. And perhaps:
    (c) Carney exudes competence while the Eurozone looks like a mess, so we’re winning business.

    Then, to get back to Howarth’s central point – For sure, the voters do not identify us with the austerity policy. They know that we had lots of qualms about it and that the Tories, with a bit of help from the Orange Book wing, dragged us there. The voters are quite right to conclude that if they want more austerity, they should vote Tory, and if they want less austerity, they should vote Labour (or Green). At the moment, a Lib Dem vote seems to mean a vote for doing economics the way a major party tells us to. And nobody is going to vote for that!

  • John Roffey 28th May '14 - 7:00pm

    Picking up paul barkers point about voters deciding who they will vote for closer to the actual election – although leading Tories have said that they would not consider a pact with UKIP – I think there is very good reason to believe that Cameron will be obliged to take this route, by his Party – if they are not clear favorites to win the GE outright in the months leading up to the GE. Such a pact would almost certainly guarantee the Tories a good working majority.

    The irony is that if NC and his advisors knew, now, this would happen – they would abandon the current strategy – which seems solely aimed at demonstrating they are reliable coalition partners!!!

  • Tony Dawson 28th May '14 - 7:05pm

    @paul barker:

    “In 2010 45% of voters made up their minds in the last few weeks”

    That is utter rubbish. A high proportion of voters may have SAID they made their minds up at this time and even a lot of them may have believed it but in fact most people like to believe they are more open to change than they actually are. A huge majority of those ‘decisions’ will have been to stay with the party that they were going to vote for before this period.

  • The question is, do we have the courage and does the current leadership have the credibility, to move the party to where our potential voters are?

    Not are… Were.

    And that’s the key issue.

    The Lib Dems have proclaimed themselves “the greenest” of the main parties and yet is seen fighting fracking protesters. Raising the tax threshold is fine if those very same people aren’t hit by a cut in welfare somewhere along the line. As for renationalisation, Labour had been fighting each other for near enough 50 years over Clause IV and its interpretation by the media vis-a-vis the electorate, ending up Con-lite: Tories in Red Ties. In contrast, the Lib Dems were the anti-war party, the anti-establishment party. You’d happily escort Grandpa Ming along to the recycling centre on a Sunday and join Charlie in the pub for the match. Or that’s how it was portrayed. But haven’t we been here before and hasn’t a massive shift occurred since?

    Basically you’re suggesting the target is left of Labour. The problem herein lies that the potential voter characteristic is a likely former voter and amongst those who have not forgiven the party for the fact that their vote effectively put the Tories in power. It’s a personal thing. A moral issue. They remember the 80s (and possibly the 70s). They are likely causal activists and have been dealt body blow after body blow for 4 years in punishment for their sins. But now, in an attempt to cleanse themselves, they are amongst the parties biggest critics. They’re also unreliable, in that at the slightest whiff of Tory majority rule come 2015 they’ll be over to Labour quicker than you can say ‘what weapons of mass destruction?’.

    However they are viewed as potential voters because they closely identified with the Lib Dems in 2010 but now feel they have no political home. Last week they more than likely voted Green or Labour. Or abstained. So if the party were to target what sounds like its last remaining hope, it is one of the most difficult challenges there is.

    Regaining trust is nigh on impossible and its loss is subject to the breakdown of so many relationships. Some of these relationships eventually reform and blossom. But they take time and effort and are so very fragile and wary few make it. Sorry often isn’t enough. It’s fair to say that their brief flirtation with the new kid on the block is over. Not to be repeated. And yet while they remain without a political home, there is still that slightest chance they’ll risk a date with his older uncle, but dare not tell their old sister.

    But this is all part of the grand plan isn’t it. One look at history shows the Lib Dems do well under a Labour Government and less so under a Tory one. It also shows the fate of the Liberal Party after Lloyd George’s coalition with the Tories (odds on Nick joining the Tories after 2015 anyone?). And surely all that was taken into consideration during the inner-party coalition talks along with the various exit strategies, protection measures and campaign fall back plans should things go awry as history suggest it might, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?!? Please tell me the leadership is professional and experienced enough, or surrounds itself with people who are, to have at least considered the fate of junior parties in coalitions across the board, factoring in their rarity in Westminster along with the unfavourable media mix, and so don’t have to rely on one of Baldrick’s cunning plans to save the day.

  • would have to agree that the policy of the coalition government has been borrow and spend to create a recovery. They may be spinning it as austerity, but it isnt. It is not even clear they have been significantly more austere than labour would have been, but hey, politics is about perceptions.

    And on the subject of perceptions. the perception is that the liberals had an attractive set of policies last election. They got some seats on that basis. They ditched the policies. The problem is not which attractive policies you might adopt, but why anyone would believe you intend to carry them out.

    If I can ofer one gleam of hope, it is that I was quite tempted to vote UKIP in the EU elections. I shall not under any circumstance be voting for them at a general election, whereas I have voted lib quite often. But what is the point of doing it again?

    To answer my own question, I would vote lib to keep out UKIP/con. How many seats remain where this situation would apply?

  • Stephen Hesketh 28th May '14 - 9:00pm

    @David Howarth – Thank you. Excellent piece
    @Helen Tedcastle – Not sure if they lack the courage … or the desire!
    @John Roffey – I actually have some sympathy for this point. Sadly Clegg seems to have reverted to his Centrist self as soon as the polls closed in 2010. My biggest fear is not him leading us into the 2015 election, frightening as that is, but him and his neo-Con allies leading us after it.
    @Theakes – the biggest lesson about Owen and the Owenite SDP is what happens when an individual believes they are bigger than the party they ‘serve’!
    @John Tilley – as always one of our best contributors.
    Everyone will be glad I’m running out of steam but finally mention Iain BB. One of the best MPs we never had, “There is no anger or passion in the campaigning of our leaders against the maldistribution of wealth and income.”

    Why do I have the feeling that Clegg and the small but influential economic Right of the party have completely overlooked the bit in the preamble about equality and community?

  • Bill Le Breton 28th May '14 - 9:07pm

    Well done Iain for reminding us of this.

    I have also been dismayed that A number of ill-informed commenters here who have referred to the level of austerity that has occurred, or in their opinion not occurred. In holding this view they are at odds with for instance the IMF, but hey, what does the IMF know about economics and austerity !

    The IMF annual World Economic Outlook for 2014 publishes the structural balance for the UK. The structural balance plots the actual fiscal position purged of the estimated budgetary consequences of the business cycle, which is why the commenters rather basic view of austerity is at odds with the actuality.

    The UK’s structural balance has declined from -10.2% in 2009 to -3.7% in 2013, a quite considerable programme of austerity. It is set to reach -0.1 in 2016.

    Just Google IMF WEO 2014 if any of you remain sceptical.

    It is also worth considering that large parts of the budget are protected or delegated and so the part that can be reduced is concentrated on a relatively small number of expenditure heads, which is why the cuts have hit some service areas extremely hard.

  • Steve Comer 28th May '14 - 9:24pm

    @vern “One look at history shows the Lib Dems do well under a Labour Government and less so under a Tory one.”
    Sorry but your look at history is short term and flawed. The Liberal Party always did better under a Tory Government (eg 1957/8, 1962/63, 1972/73) as did the Lib SDP Alliance in 1981/85, and the Liberal Democrats in 1990/91 and 1994/96. The Blair period was unusual in post-war politics in that the Tory party never revived in opposition (they gained a few seats in 2005, but only added 1% to their popular vote). Had the Tories won an overall majority in 2010 we might have been winning Council seats and by-elections since, but I suspect only on a protest vote.

    David Howarth poses a good final question, but there is a further problem. in 2003-5 we were starting to get more people who instinctively were starting to self-identify as Lib Dem. These were largely more educated voters often in middle management positions in either the Pubic Sector or SMEs. Many of these were in seats like David Howarth’s Cambridge, Oxford West, Bristol West, Manchester Withington etc. We seem to have gone out of our way to antagonise these voters since 2010 by being seen as anti-public sector workers and defenders of Thatcherite economic orthodoxy, and not doing enough about green issues.. Why would they come back to us? Many have found a comfortable home in the Green Party which has been largely untainted by power and unscrutinised in terms of it’s economic policy.

  • Peter Watson 28th May '14 - 10:26pm

    “As a party committed to evidence-based policy, we should be asking what the evidence tells us about the questions of strategy and leadership we now face.”
    Maybe somebody could try to find some evidence, perhaps by commissioning some polling in important constituencies. Wouldn’t that be helpful? 😉

  • Steve Comer. Interesting analysis, but I don’t understand why SME middle management would necessarily be anti economic liberalism.

  • Andrew Garratt 28th May '14 - 11:00pm

    Is there any chance of being able to get the data in csv or xls format? It would be easier then to consider the margins of error, sample sizes and sub-sample sizes etc. I note a number of questions are of the “tick all that apply” … it would be good to see how potential bias through people failing to recognise that has been tackled… after all Conservative comes before Liberal Democrat when using alphabetical order!

  • Danny “And on the subject of perceptions. the perception is that the liberals had an attractive set of policies last election. They got some seats on that basis. They ditched the policies. The problem is not which attractive policies you might adopt, but why anyone would believe you intend to carry them out.”

    That’s it, in the nutshell. That is THE problem facing the Party. Nothing to do with shouting louder, ‘getting our message (?) across, using social media, glossy flyers, opinion polls, surveys, petitions etc. it’s ALL about the trust.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th May '14 - 11:26pm

    The poll about the opinions of those who would consider voting Lib Dem is interesting, but it doesn’t also include Lib Dem voters who would consider voting Conservative, which they would lose if there is a significant shift to the left and a break from the past four years.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th May '14 - 11:29pm

    Also, politicians changing their values in order to win votes is one of the things why people vote UKIP. Argue to suddenly present ourselves as left wingers by all means, but it’s not about strategy.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 28th May '14 - 11:33pm

    Mathew Oakeshot has given you the evidence. But you choose to ignore it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '14 - 11:33pm


    One look at history shows the Lib Dems do well under a Labour Government and less so under a Tory one

    No, it’s the other way round. Try looking at the Liberal votes in 1951, 1970 and 1979.

  • Interesting to read that there has apparently been no austerity from this government … In my household we’ve had pay freezes, increased pension contributions, the closure of the local sure start centre, the imminent closure of the local children’s hospital, a compulsory redundancy…. As to credit for the recovery – unless you are sat on top of a big house price increase its pretty hard to recognise any recovery.

  • @david howarth
    Thanks. The best article here in a long time. Also in full agreement with Iain BB

  • @Eddie

    So what is your conclusion? Carry on the direction of the party, shout even louder about your achievements, because you believe the country just are not hearing the message at the moment.
    Personally I think the message is clear and it is being heard and it is being rejected by vast numbers of former members and voters.
    Do you think that these people should sacrificed, so the party can continue with its orange book agenda and somehow that will deliver you electoral success.
    Where is that success going to come from? The right spectrum is pretty sown up by Tories and now UKIP, its very overcrowded.
    The party is down to it bare core vote and even that is unstable, there are those on the left or center holding out hoping for a change in direction, but how long that support will last who knows.

    If you think the parties best chance of electorate success is to carry on as normal, i see your core vote dropping to probably 5-6% and on that basis you might as well merge with the tory party on a permanent basis. Because there will defiantly not be the numbers or resources required for you to carry on as an independent party that can campaign effectively and be a driving force in party political.

    I get the impression from some people on here that they want to be a party of the center right and to get rid of those wet lefties. If that is the view I wish people would just be honest and come out and say it

  • Eddie Sammon 29th May '14 - 12:12am

    Hi matt, my conclusion is that the party needs a message of liberalism with no adjectives. For the purposes of party unity and respect the words left, right, centre, economic and social should basically be banned :).

    I don’t want to get rid of the centre-leftists, but I do think we have some far leftists in the party who should go and join Labour.

  • Well Eddie, all I can say to that is I hope this happens sooner rather than later. Your obscure positioning of far lefties will certainly alienate those still in the party from the center or left of center who feels that the direction the party and leaders have been taken will now not listen to them or indeed want them.

    At least it some honesty for a change, but good luck with the next elections, have a feeling you are going to be rather short of funding and foot soldiers

  • Eddie Sammon 29th May '14 - 12:33am

    matt, idealists are welcome is they show moderate levels of discipline. Liberalism doesn’t mean authority has no legitimacy.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th May '14 - 12:40am

    I’m not talking about this all night and day, I wish everyone the best, we just have to accept that people disagree, me included.

  • Alex Sabine 29th May '14 - 1:10am

    As others have noted, the premise that the coalition has been ultra-austere is exaggerated, if not plain wrong. There isn’t a single definitive way of measuring this, unfortunately, but British economic policy since 2010 has been middle-of-the-road by international standards – certainly looser in both fiscal and monetary policy than a number of eurozone countries and not that different from America. By British historical standards fiscal policy has been pretty tight, but comparable to the other corrective squeezes in the mid-1970s, early 1980s and 1990s.

    Of course, given the exceptionally weak global backdrop and the long shadows cast by the financial crisis, you might well argue that policy ought to have been looser – but in any event the coalition’s rhetoric of donning a hairshirt has run significantly ahead of the pragmatic reality. In reality it has pursued a substantial, but measured, fiscal tightening alongside loose monetary/credit policies; and once the external headwinds (especially commodity prices) eased in 2013 the economy started to fire up again.

    Whether the turnaround would have happened sooner if the pumps had been primed more is debatable – but in any event it would not have changed the broad trajectory and challenges facing any credible government tackling the shattered public finances.

    It is not that austerity ‘led to growth’; merely that it was, and remains, a prerequisite to a sustainable recovery lasting more than a couple of quarters. In isolation, fiscal tightening dampens demand and subtracts from growth – but there are many complex interactions in a debt-laden economy and also the choices available are constrained when you enter a crisis with the public finances heavily in the red.

    In any event, continued fiscal tightening of about 1% of GDP per year currently looks compatible with above-trend growth rates, and given the horrendous residual deficit it is the minimum that the next government of whatever colour is likely to aim for. (It’s striking that despite all its sound and fury about austerity, Labour has accepted George Osborne’s post-2015 budget ‘envelope’.)

    So the narrative of austerity versus stimulus (which was always a caricature in the British context) has already been overtaken by events. The challenge instead will be how the remaining, highly necessary, fiscal correction will be accomplished and the choices involved over the next Parliament and beyond. The nascent economic recovery allows both coalition parties to claim they have done the spadework for that task – but no more than that.

    On the shape and nature of the fiscal repair work still to come, all the main parties are still being worryingly coy about how they intend to accomplish something they all agree is necessary. That dissonance is only likely to fuel further cynicism and disillusion among the public – so maybe a way for the Lib Dems to start to regain credibility would be to put flesh on those bones and be first out of the starting blocks in framing that debate.

  • David Howarth 29th May '14 - 1:35am

    @Andrew Garrett
    The dataset is not available in .csv or Excel. It’s in SPSS or Stata. The website also explains how to use it in R, which is free, so I would suggest you use that.
    The sample size for the crosstabs of economic optimism or pessimism against responsibility for economic conditions is 9951.
    The size of the subsample of Lib Dems who have moved to Don’t Know is 873.
    The size of the subsample of voters with a high propensity to vote for us but who are not voting for us now is 1235.
    On column randomization, you’ll have to ask Prof Ed Fieldhouse of the University of Manchester, who is the PI of the project. The full team – from the Universities of Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and Strathclyde – is listed at http://www.britishelectionstudy.com/meet-the-bes-team/ .

  • Eddie Sammon 29th May '14 - 6:06am

    “Vote Lib Dems, Get Tories” would be plastered over people’s houses if you try to fight Ed Miliband on the centre-left.

  • Tony Dawson 29th May '14 - 9:04am

    @Eddie Sammon :

    ““Vote Lib Dems, Get Tories” would be plastered over people’s houses if you try to fight Ed Miliband on the centre-left”.

    And why are they not going to do this anyway?

    Eddie, you appear to be genuinely concerned but do not have any experience at all of electoral politics. You live in an area where your local Lib Dems are highly-effective but need fresh blood. Why do you not take steps to involve yourself gently in real politics?

  • Eddie Sammon 29th May '14 - 11:22am

    Hi Tony,

    I’ll email Southport Lib Dems and offer my help in Ainsdale. I’ve just been pre-occupied with other things and felt unable to.


  • Richard Dean 29th May '14 - 1:08pm

    I see two main problems with LibDem strategies over this parliament.

    One is the focus on minority rights and interests, at the perceivable expense of majority rights and interests. This is seen in the immigration stance, gay rights, support for ECHR, and a whole lot more. While we may be justifiably keen to improve the lot of minorities, an electorate changes its opinions and prejudices only slowly, so forcing change too rapidly has the effect of generating resistance and even eventual backlash.

    Another is the focus on monetary values rather than less tangible ones. An example is the LibDem claim to be putting money back into people’s pockets via tax etc. This is not only the wrong focus for many, it’s also demonstrably false since people don’t feel they have more, and it’s contested since the Tories claim the credit too. UKIP is successful in part because it focusses on the less tangible values associated with control, immigration, and country.

    Electorates like drama but not stress. The recession causes stress. UKIP is clever at creating more stress through appeal to emotion, then creating drama by arguing that the establishment oppose their facile solutions. The establishment participate and support UKIP’s drama by criticizing UKIP in an obviously irrational way. LibDems need to look at HOW they present themselves and others to the electorate, as well as WHAT they present.

  • David Allen 29th May '14 - 1:46pm

    On the austerity question: I am sure that both Bill le Breton and Alex Sabine would trounce me in an economics examination. I will permit myself a wry smile when I see how much they disagree with each other.

    I confess that my belief that Osborne has made lots of bloodcurdling noises, while quietly being fairly middle-of-the-road in practice, comes merely from reading the opinions of financial commentators. I’m not qualified to understand the reality, so I look for people who are. In my view, the guys to trust are the ones who don’t grind a political axe, but are simply seeking to make money from the markets, for which an objective analysis of reality is called for. They, on the whole, think Osborne is a pragmatist who likes to dress in wolf’s clothing, and a believer (on the quiet) in dubious forms of economic stimulus such as Help to Buy.

    Muxloe wrathfully protests that he can see a lot of austerity in social policies, and here I have to point out that I quite agree with him. That’s what Osborne’s wolf’s clothing is all about. Osborne’s social crusade is to widen inequality and to crush the poor under his boots. He can do that more easily by pretending to have nobler motives, by pretending that he is rescuing the national economy, by pretending that his austerity goes wider, when in fact it does not.

    It is what the Bullingdon Club training scheme for topdogs is all about. To be a topdog, and to stay a topdog, you do not simply pose in a relaxed manner in front of your stately pile and exude charm and self-confidence, as Cameron now does. No, you must also be prepared to hit the poor, and to keep hitting them, so that they learn their place. Actual physical violence is something you must be prepared to engage in, and here the Bullindon training is crucial. Of course, as you age and grow wealthier, you can progress to the point at which you command violence from others, and you fight with the pen rather than the sword. You combine the patrician self-confident pose of a Cameron with the subtle verbal violence of an Osborne. That is our class war party, the Conservative Party. Led by the Bullingdon boys, whose training is central to the way they rule the nation.

    These are the people we chose to form an alliance with, and we must never do so again.

  • Evidence, chickens and headless springs to mind…

    2010 around 2% growth, elections and then the emergency budget; lost growth economy tanked, that is what happened.

    Since then I have witnessed the lowest people in the economy and most vulnerable the sick and disabled face cuts, an onslaught of rhetoric that has alienated, scared, and tainted these people.
    (there needs to be laws to protect the sick and disabled from discrimination or any ism for that matter)

    A similar rhetoric has been used against immigrants and we wonder why certain parties are surging.

    I have to ask why the poorest are being asked to make these sacrifices, why there is no protection for sick and disabled against such abuse, and why when we are all in this together, the upper tier in the economy just make more gains whilst those at the bottom suffer the cost.
    London and the economic City structure are to blame, have no doubt we had to bail the economic City out, but should we have done so at such a cost to those at the bottom.

    The perception is when the city is in trouble, we are all in this together, and when it does not need the help the rest of the UK can please be quiet and accept the crumbs the city sweeps off the table, this has to change in the short term future or our democracy will have failed our people.

    London and the city is sucking the life out of the rest of the UK, eventually the people will say enough is enough.

    The party has failed the people, failed to protect the poorest and most vulnerable, leadership change will have no effect overall, the 2015 GE will make the changes no matter what the party decides, that is what the evidence is pointing to.


  • Passing through 29th May '14 - 7:48pm

    @Tony Dawson

    ““Vote Lib Dems, Get Tories” would be plastered over people’s houses if you try to fight Ed Miliband on the centre-left”.

    And why are they not going to do this anyway?”

    Even more so if the Party takes Eddie’s advice and purges its ranks of all remaining left-leaning members, tells them they aren’t welcome and should all join Labour and then move decisively to the right claiming that the “radical centre” or “true liberalism” is, despite all appearances, actually somewhere near where Cameron has positioned himself.

    You’ll be able to hear Labour HQ popping champagne corks for miles around.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th May '14 - 3:25am

    Passing Through, where did I say purge the left leaning members? I said purge the ones who tried to press the self-destruct button after May’s elections. People don’t like a bit of stick, but it’s just tough because I’m not wasting my life infighting in a fringe party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th May '14 - 6:53am


    The problem herein lies that the potential voter characteristic is a likely former voter and amongst those who have not forgiven the party for the fact that their vote effectively put the Tories in power.

    This is a point often asserted, but it is simply not true. All opinion polls in the 1980s showed that Liberal and SDP voters (opinion polls also showed there were almost no voters who drew a distinction between these two parties and would have voted for one but not the other) split evenly in second preference between Labour and the Tories. Therefore, the presence of a Liberal or SDP candidate made NO DIFFERENCE as to whether Labour or the Tories won a seat in those seats where Labour and the Conservatives were the main contenders. It simply was NOT the case that the Liberal/SDP Alliance “split the vote and let the Tories in”.

    The reason this is believed is that the SDP was founded by people who left the Labour Party and did indeed have the initial aim of taking the bulk of the Labour vote. It failed in this aim within months of its formation, that failure being indicated when it started moaning at the Liberal Party and asking for a share of “winnable seats” by which it meant seats where the Liberals had already built up a good vote. If it was “splitting the Labour vote” it would have been happy to have been left fighting Labour-held seats, but it didn’t want those because it found it wasn’t winning over that sort of vote.

    It’s a personal thing. A moral issue. They remember the 80s (and possibly the 70s).

    Yes, I remember – the Liberals were starting to make inroads into the Tory heartland. They were reaching out and gaining votes that Labour weren’t able to gain. They were winning in places that had long been written off as “true blue Tory”. Far from splitting the vote and letting the Tories in, as you allege, they were taking the Tories on. To this day we have Liberal Democrat MPs in Eastbourne and Lewes, which once would have been written off as constituencies that would never return anything but a Tory MP.

    Sadly, there are other places in the south – I name places in Sussex as that’s my home county – Worthing, Shoreham, Hastings and Rye, Mid-Sussex and elsewhere, all of which looked like local Liberal effort would eventually win over and force out the Tories, and it did for a time at local level. Labour has managed a bit of a gain in some of the rougher parts of Sussex – Brighton and Hove certainly, Hastings too though it combines as a constituency with much more Tory Rye. But the decline of the Liberal Democrats in the other parts has meant constituencies that once looked like they’d join Eastbourne and Lewes as LibDem are now very firmly back as certain holds for the Tories.

    The long-term consequence of the collapse of the Liberal Democrats will be a Tory revival. It has ALREADY HAPPENED in local government in Sussex. That’s something all those who have been cheering the LibDem collapse should think about. Congratulations folks, you are back to the old two-party system. It WILL give you a pure Tory government again, sooner or later, and “sooner” here means 2015, “later” means the next general election. Well, when that happens, will you still be cheering? Because I’ll be blaming you, and I will be able to say once again “I was right”.

  • “The long-term consequence of the collapse of the Liberal Democrats will be a Tory revival.”

    The voters do understand, and blaming everyone but those responsible is just silly, the LD party screwed the pooch, for years the party has been on the edge by saying one thing in one area and pretty much the opposite in another, the party gave the perception and portrayed its self as leftish or right-ish depending on the area to get voters support and let’s be honest the party got away with it because the voters let them.

    But it was inevitable that at some point or another; the party would have to be what it really is, again let’s be honest voters and some members were taken by surprise, the leopard changed its spots or the chameleon was finally uncovered whichever is appropriate.

    What happened during 2010 is why the party is at this point at this time, this was all predicted by those members and voters who could not support a party following the path it has taken, everything it once stood for was thrown away, discarded in the chase for power, proclaiming it was for the good of the country really does not wash, not for the poorest or the sick and disabled, I am sure the upper tier of the economy appreciates all the party has done.

    At what cost to the people, those that needed the party to be all it supposedly stood for prior 2010
    Where is the honour of the party…

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th May '14 - 12:41pm


    The voters do understand, and blaming everyone but those responsible is just silly, the LD party screwed the pooch, for years the party has been on the edge by saying one thing in one area and pretty much the opposite in another, the party gave the perception and portrayed its self as leftish or right-ish depending on the area to get voters support and let’s be honest the party got away with it because the voters let them

    I’ve worked for the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party for many years, in all sorts of areas from wealthy semi-rural parts to rough inner city parts, and I’ve been happy with what the party’s been doing in all of them and felt the people I have been working with are my sort of people. I have not noticed this big right-ish and left-ish thing you claim. John Tilley was an activist in a posh part of south-west London, while I spent 12 years as a councillor for a ward in south-east London which was in the 10% most deprived wards in the whole of the UK, yet we seem to be saying similar sorts of things.It’s only recently, in less than the last10 years, that there’s been this influx of people who seem to be obsessed with extreme free market ideas, who I do feel uncomfortable working alongside, but mostly I don’t find myself working alongside them because mostly they seem to reside more on the internet than out there deliverling leaflets etc.

    I don’t see any more of a difference than between the Blairites in the Labour Party and the old left, and the remaining old school paternalistic Tories in the Conservative Party and the swivel-eyed free market extremists. All parties have a range of opinions. I’ve also noticed a fair amount of tuning the message to the area in Labour and Conservative literature, in fact I would say if anything more so than I’ve seen in Liberal Democrat literature.

    As for ” blaming everyone but those responsible”, can you please explain why you suppose I have any responsibility for the actions of Nick Clegg, seeing as how I’ve consistently opposed him since he first surfaced as the person pushed by the right-wing press as “obviously the next leader of the Liberal Democrats”? On the more general issue, you seem to be another of those who somehow suppose that 57 Liberal Democrat MPs could have said “jump” and 300+ Tory MPs would have jumped to their tune, dropped all they ever believed in, and adopted a 100% Liberal Democrat manifesto.

    I have had to write at such length recently, because I am trying to talk some realistic sense based on what is possible. It is a matter of great regret when those of us who are trying to pull the Liberal Democrats back from the path of disaster where Clegg has taken it to turn round looking for some sort of support, and all we find is unrealistic fantasists like yourself.

  • “No, it’s the other way round. Try looking at the Liberal votes in 1951, 1970 and 1979.”

    That is exactly right. More, the great By Election wins took place under Tory Governments, eg, Orpington and Bermondsey. (You could also argue Inverness in 1954 was part of that trend). And of course the great SDP By Elections came under Tory Administrations.

    Soft Tory voters leave the Party in Government and return in Opposition.

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