Opinion: Where now?

Over the last two years I have worked as a campaign organiser with Lib Dem MPs in the Highlands and Islands. However, after last night’s terrible results that is now over for me. I can’t pretend that I am not bitterly disappointed, not merely for myself but because we have lost some of the finest politicians of this generation from the Commons, at a time when experienced level headed liberals are needed most. Many excellent Constituency Organisers, who I have worked with, have now lost their jobs and many wonderful volunteers have given up their time and effort and feel like it has come to nothing in so many places. All of this is through no fault of their own and in spite of running brilliant ground campaigns as Lib Dems so often do. But, hey, that’s democracy.

As Lib Dems we are hurting; every member, activist and supporter should feel hard done by because we went into coalition because it was in the national interest and we’re being punished for it. Our opponents and the media have now written us off as a sideshow or an irrelevance, but I truly believe that we can come back, that we can once again act as a constructive alternative to the “red to blue to red to blue” politics that we’ve all campaigned against for so long.

To come back bigger and stronger we are going to have to do two things; firstly we have to go back to our campaigning roots, we need to campaign and petition on every local issue and every pothole, to rebuild our activist base street by street and ward by ward. Secondly we have to use our time in “the wilderness” to rediscover that radical streak of non-conformity and passion for social justice that has always marked out Liberals from Charles James Fox onwards and that we perhaps diluted for the sake of the coalition.

Now there is more need for Liberalism than ever, in England the Tories hold the whip hand, they are free to implement every policy we have taken pride in stopping during the coalition. Furthermore they will continue to pander to the right, trying to build up imaginary barriers between people by taking us out of Europe. Who will stand up to them? A directionless Labour Party, shorn of their natural leaders and busy making mugs boasting about their close minded attitude towards immigration?

If anything the situation in Scotland is now worse, we are fast resembling a one party state where parliamentarians aren’t allowed to question their party or criticise its leaders, where children are to have state appointed guardians and private medical files can be passed to any and all government agencies. To contrast with this we need to show people that the Lib Dems are the party of ideas, the party willing to embrace debate rather than just shut it down like the SNP. Rather then the politics of scapegoating and grievance like UKIP or the SNP we have to provide a real, sensible alternatives to provide genuine equality of opportunity and increase living standards.

This is the last thing most of us want to hear, but the only way we ca hope to take on any of these parties and give our communities the hard working Lib Dem representatives they need is to get straight back out there and talk to people. Not just over a canvass sheet but also by building genuine relationships with people who have left us so we can restore their trust in us and by campaigning alongside local organisations. It’ll be slow and it’ll be tough but I truly believe that we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and make sure that our values continue to be represented in British politics, because if we don’t do it no one else is going to do it for us.

* Hamish Mackenzie is a Liberal Democrat member who works for a Liberal Democrat MP

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I am sorry but I am not hurting, I feel set free and looking forward to to doing my bit in rebuilding the party. It will take 3 – 4 years but given luck, events breaking for us and a fair wind we can pick up. The worse of the Council election debacle is over now and we should be showing gains back come 2017/18 and we can only go up in terms of Euro MPs at the next Euro election. For the first time in 4 years I am feeling a trait optimistic. We have been in a long tunnel with NO light at the end, now we can just see a twinkle way ahead which will hopefully get bigger once a new leader is in place. Remember I have been one of the constant negative voices over the past 18 months and criticized for it, I now feel optimistic. The message is Move on.

  • We have to really listen hard to the membership – and to what the electorate has, in no uncertain terms, told us. I don’t think we will get anywhere unless we have a new leader who has not been directly associated with the Coalition and we maybe even change our policy on tuition fees. I do not say this because our Ministers didn’t do a good job, because they were all very effective in their roles, but the public still associate the Coalition with tuition fee rises, the bedroom tax and failed NHS reform. Greg Mulholland said this on Twitter today and I agree.

    It will take us much longer to recover if we do not show ourselves to have learned the lessons from our defeat. Our willingness to contemplate being in Coalition with any party before the election also sent the message that we were more interested in power than ideas.

  • You have to put Building Trust as your number One objective. Change of Leader will help – but it must be someone who voted against the Tuition Fee rise. And a change of name would not harm and would mark a clear break with the past five years. Above all, work hard to agree what your party stands for.

  • Theakes: all I see is you claiming to be positive, but little evidence of anything really positive. You will have to do a lot better to dispel the impression that negative is your default setting.

  • Disagree with this – “get straight back out there and talk to people”. Lib Dems have been doing that for the past 3 months or so, it’s not talking the party has a problem with, it’s listening. Lib Dems are highly opinionated, they’re always talking to/at people and that’s how we got the result we did, too much talking, not enough listening.

    In my view, anyone that’s got an opinion on “what to do next” 24 hours later is demonstrating how they’d rather talk than listen – it’s one of the party attributes that have got the the better of us, like not understanding pledges or general optimism (careful theakes, you only rejoined yesterday and its already started!).

    I agree with many of the points made by Judy and theakes above, especially on seeming “more interested in power than ideas”.

  • @martin
    Re-joining seems like a positive step to me. I don’t see that your post has anything to do with this article, just commentary on a posters personality. Don’t understand why.

  • I’m a Labour activist but I feel genuinely saddened by the scale of the Liberal losses. I don’t think you deserved that level of punishment. But before you criticise us for being outspoken against immigration, remember that your own policy on this was similar. As a poster above says, it’s about listening to people. How many LDs went to UKIP? I know this a problem for Labour too. You say we are ‘directionless’, but it’s clear that in urban areas, your vote is more left-leaning, and in rural or suburban areas it’s right-leaning. In my biased opinion I think a coalition or C&S deal with Brown may not have harmed you as much, although I know the arithmetic wasn’t there. Perhaps some dialogue between all the progressive parties is now needed.

  • I’m a 2010 Lib Dem voter. I don’t honesty quite understand what happened in SW England. Not just the Lib Dem vote collapsing but the Tory share going up. Why? Did the Tories exploit anger against the Lib Dems? I joked before the election that if I lived in Yeovil I’d have voted Tory but I’d never have envisaged what happened. Really takes some working out.

    As for the claim about the Lib Dems being diluted by the coalition, I think that’s a cop-out. The party was obviously taken over by people who didn’t believe in those things. I think Clegg blamed ‘gloablisation’ but I think those liberals be they LD or Tory who shrug their shoulders at people seemingly losing out should explain why there isn’t the same problem across much of northern Europe or Australia and Canada. I think I saw a map that showed 9 of the 10 poorest regions in north west Europe (France Germany Scandanavia Ireland Benelux) are in the UK. That’s not because of gloablisation. It’s because of deliberate government policy.

  • Robin Bennett 9th May '15 - 3:32pm

    David Steel has been talking of “recharging our values” whatever that may mean. I trust that he has in mind that our supporters in Scotland have decamped in one direction only in recent years: not to the Tories, or Labour, or UKIP, certainly a few to the Greens, but most of all to the SNP. We must now go back to our roots and principles such as subsidiarity and embrace Home Rule. Not the pale imitation from the Smith Commission which has been given the name Home Rule by some of our ex MPs, but the version defined by Jo Grimond in 1983 (and frequently quoted by David Steel) devolving everything except

    “foreign affairs, defence, and the wider issues of economic policy linked to a common currency and common trade policies”

    This is not quite the SNP’s Full Fiscal Autonomy, but a vision of a common currency, Bank of England controls, and all revenue being raised in Scotland with a subvention to Westminster for defence and foreign affairs.

    Speaking on Radio 4’s Any Questions? On February 13, Ming Campbell said:

    “The present United Kingdom is not sustainable… there has to be a proper understanding of what the English want by way of devolution. And there’s a very simple answer to that, and it’s called federalism: an association of four nations which have as much responsibility for their own affairs as is possible but come together for defence, foreign affairs, large scale economics and in my view also social security and we need a Constitutional Convention….”

    Sounds as if he agrees, except for the welfare bit. Let us not say we need to have a constitutional convention or a federal structure We don’t have that long to wait before another Referendum is upon us.

    George Robertson is the subject of eternal derision for having once said that a Scottish Assembly would “kill Nationalism stone dead” but I dare to think that Independence will lose its appeal if proper Home Rule is adopted. It won’t be in our gift to introduce it, but we can help speed its arrival and regain lost support in the process. .

  • The thing about federalism is that if you don’t want to devolve social security that’s a huge part of the budget. Therefore a large part of Scottish taxpayers money would have to go to Westminster.

  • Paul Mrazek 9th May '15 - 3:49pm

    I urged friends and family in seats with Lib Dem MPs to vote for them but it only helped in one case, Carshalton and Wallington.

    I believe that the leadership of the Party (aka the Orange bookers) took it disasterously to the right. Nick Clegg was overshadowed by Cameron throughout the Coalition . Who benefited from the lie (and it was a lie) that Labour “crashed” the economy ? the Tories. Did Lib Dems or the Tories see the crash coming or offer alternative policies? Show me where they did so. Who gave Nick Clegg permission – entering the election – to abandon as red lines key Lib Dem policies on the EU, and constitutional reform?

    Lessons now need to be learned and some hard truths faced up to. On election night with defeat staring the Party in the face, Lord Ashdown as well as offering to eat his hat was talking up another collation with the Tories!

    I do not know whether the Lib Dems can ever recover. Its core electoral base is small and potential voters have switched to the Greens and UKIP or back to Labour.

    Yes, the Lib Dems now have experience of Government but its ex-Ministers have no seats and little prospect of regaining them. Nick Clegg will not apologise for putting country before party. I appreciate that he has to cling to that belief but more realistic voices in the Lib Dems – who knew the leadership’s policy line was leading to disaster – should have spoken out .

    New Leadership is essential but the Lib Dems must also return to the centre left position it held under Charles Kennedy, and others and then somehow seek to reinvent itself.

  • Building trust and credibility is a start but it’s only one small element. If you’re not working on policy for the next 5 years that you can sell in 2020 then people might think you’re a nice little liberal, but you’re not going to win any votes. The priority for me would be policy that makes sense, joins up with the reality of economics and people’s lives and is dynamic enough to shift and change as the situation changes in the run-up to 2020. Start building a coalition of advocates – students, educators and small business.

  • Paul Mrazek 9th May '15 - 4:08pm

    Where do we go from here? For a start Lib dem voices in the wilderness such as the Social Liberal Forum and the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats need to be listened to again. The Liberal Democrats are too white, too middle class and too “nice” and I don’t mean that as a compliment!

  • Martin, you have completely lost me. Where do you stand at the moment?

  • David Dugdale 9th May '15 - 4:27pm

    I agree with most of Hamish Mackenzie’s comments but I cannot agree that our electoral catastrophe ” is through no fault of our own”. An outcome of this nature has been clear in the polls for years – ever since the original disastrous decision to give and then renege on the pledge about tuition fees. In local elections we repeatedly lost 40% or so of our
    councillors , then 90% of our MEPs. Perhaps only in the Liberal Democrats could a leader inflict such damage and still remain in place. In rebuilding the party Liberal Democrats need to be more honest about themselves , less nice and more ruthless.

  • Ben Maitland 9th May '15 - 4:54pm

    Tim Farron and Norman Lamb might not appreciate this suggestion but… The party should not rule out the possibility of having a leader outside parliament – who can devote themselves to rebuilding grass roots support snd reenergising party activists in the country at large, rather than suffocating as a very small block within in the Westminster bubble…

    It might be hard to admit but it’s worked very well for UKIP. It seems like liberalism now needs a its own Farage-esque champion who can connect with centrists around the country who will be feeling unrepresented in the new parliament. It would also enable them to focus on the future rather than spend the next five years ruminating over the mistakes of the past, and enable the LibDems to adapt quicker than other parties to likely boundary changes and other developments that will shape the landscape for the next election.

    If the leader does come from amongst the remaining MPs I would still suggest that they concentrate on the world outside Westmister… One possible way of achieving this would be to try to form a larger block within Parliament with the other smaller progressive parties – possibly fronted by Caroline Lucas (who herself is unencumbered with the requirements of leading a national party). This would provide a stronger bastion in parliament against authoritarian illiberal policies around immigration, security, etc that the two larger parties are likely to revert to in order to face off the challenge of UKIP and would help showcase one of the Lib-Dems great strengths – the ability to work collaboratively with other parties in the national interest.

  • Where now.
    One thing I think is that all Mps of every party should fight and bring to bare every legal effort should be aimed at is fighting “English Laws for English Mps” it should be made very clear that the General Election elected British MPs and that If you want an English assembly this has to involve a separate election and separate parliament, because what the Conservatives are proposing should is actually unconstitutional to petition the Queen to dissolve parliament. It is a scandal that this nonsense is even being proposed. because it effectively says that an English election is inseparable from a General election and that parliament can be treated as a regional assembly.

  • I just wanted to add re my last comment that working out what went wrong should not be an exercise in apportioning blame. I think we have to start from the premise that at the start of the last Coalition in 2010 those in charge of decision-making did what they thought was right at the time. Trying to find scapegoats, will only lead to more division. We just need a hard-headed evidence-based analysis of what went wrong…. including an understanding for the part played by factors outside our control such as the rise of the SNP and the consequent ‘fear factor’ tactics of the Tories which proved to be so effective.

  • Yes Ben: Kirsty Williams.

  • Jeremy Morfey 9th May '15 - 6:49pm

    Wonderful to see an open forum run by Liberal Democrats. Open and radical debate is perhaps what I most missed when the Party went all authoritarian and managed. Not conforming and not always behaving correctly is something we should be proud of. It gave UKIP a sense of liberation and troubles in equal measure, but any politician worth its salt can take on allcomers and respond to all situations, however bizaar or tasteless, constructively. We should bury the Overton Window for good, and be prepared to go outside comfort zones sometimes. The press, the pundits, the political experts and the enemies have done their worst. We now have nothing to lose – we are liberated. We should not be afraid to speak and be damned, and if we are wrong, let us say so to each other in a spirit of comradeship.

    I agree with Phyllis above that a new leader should be someone who voted against the tuition fees hike. A party that cannot hold its word, even if this means pulling out of Government after a fortnight, is not worthy of the trust of its voters. Lose trust, and all the policy statements in the world become meaningless. The Conservatives profited, most cynically, by demanding a tuition fees hike under the Coalition Agreement, when the Party should have said that if tuition fees rose, that would be the end of the Coalition, and Cameron would have to govern alone. A good compromise (and one explored recently by UKIP) would have been to define essential subjects, such as engineering, medicine and so on, and subsidise tuition fees for these, but raising them for non-essential subjects, such as media studies. That would have honoured Clegg’s pledge, enabled Gove to win brownie points in his party by defining the essentials, and would have shown the nation how Coalition can be an constructive marriage (and I use that word in its true sense) of two opposing philosophies in order to create something new and fresh, rather than conning the nation that an equal “marriage” must be between two parties forced to conform to be like one another.

    I always saw the Alliance between the centralist SDP and the parochial Liberals as a marriage, and abandoned the movement after they formally merged. I felt the essence of Coalition was lost there, and so this proved when the Liberal Democrat party was betrayed by the Conservatives in Coalition.

    Robin Bennett’s quotation of Ming Campbell on federalism and Home Rule means that the Liberal Democrats have common ground with the SNP. While there were those who swallowed the Tory hate about SNP involvement in Government decision-making, there were others (including myself) dismayed that the SNP were not fielding candidates in England, since I am heartily sick of the way the Westminster Commons is set up. Forget the Lords, the Commons is worse, because it purports to represent us, when it really represents the secret corporate lobbyists through their special advisers. I was actually saying it was better to move the UK Parliament to Edinburgh than to continue with something that has become irredeemably corrupt.

    In the likely absence of anything sensible coming out of Labour, the Liberal Democrats could join in with Plaid Cymru and the SNP on a decentralisation, confederalisation platform that was always the core of liberalism, without losing the right to criticise and oppose the political direction the nationalist parties are going. Again, this marriage between opposites reflects the true, lost meaning of the word, rather than pretending that the SNP and the Liberal Democrats in partnership must be like one another for there to be a “marriage”.

    Above all, there is a vacuum for devolving England to the counties, rather than one English state, or regions where the constituent parts have little in common with each other. England has for a very long time thought in counties.

    Before I go and tend to my garden, I have one other observation. If the Liberal Democrats are ever in Coalition again, members should never refer to those in partner parties as “honourable friends”. The Conservatives, at no time during the Coalition, were the Liberal Democrats’ friends, and proved to be treacherous and double-crossing in the most appalling manner. Please refer to them as “honourable colleagues”, but never “honourable friends”. Reserve that for true friends.

  • I agree with Alan Gee.

    The MPs who lost their seats had other interests and organisations they supported.
    I feel it is important to carry those on with the 8 we have and have the original MPs Chairing wherever possible. We will then be seen as not forgetting and this will help 2020.
    I am happy to work on this.
    We need to have a team of volunteers who educate on voting, provisionally targeting areas where we have council, mayor election etc. When there are no elections we work within all schools in areas we are targeting educating those on basic politics and getting British Youth Council to teach them how to follow up in various ways.
    My opinions off course. If anyone wants to meet to discuss further let me know.

  • Laurence Scott-Mack 9th May '15 - 10:26pm

    What happened to the party of home rule – maybe if the liberal party supported Devo Max they would find a base in Scotland. We could argue about contributing to Trident later!

  • David Pollard 9th May '15 - 10:54pm

    Our Scottish ‘big beasts’ should stand for the Scottish parliament next year and put the wind up the SNP. We need top people running Scotland.

  • Sally Haynes-Preece 13th May '15 - 3:16pm

    There may be people reading this blog who are curious about why anyone would want to stay with (let alone join!!) a party that has just suffered a most catastrophic election defeat. So as a very ordinary member of the party , I want to tell you my thoughts at the moment.

    The Tories are backed by big business, labour are backed by the unions still…that is after all how Ed Miliband became leader. But the unemployed and the vulnerable cannot afford to pay anyone to speak for them. The Liberal Democrats (and before them the Liberals) have a history of speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves and that voice still needs to be heard.

    No party and no politician gets it right all the time. but I am a life coach and I know learning from mistakes is a fundamental fact of life. Nick made a huge mistake making that pledge on tuition fees. The party has not always done well in spreading the word about its achievements in government. Learning from these mistakes can provide a spirngboard to recovery.

    And the party will recover. We built up from a small base before (I can remember when we only had 5 MPs). And it is important we do because we need to be the voice for those who have no-one to speak for them. I believe we need to trumpet the fact that we are NOT funded by any large organisation……….so we are in hock to NO-ONE except the ordinary members .

    I didn’t realise until the election how fundamental my identity as a liberal democrat is to me. This election disaster has galvanised me into thinking what can I do? How can I help more? Because it is fundamental that the liberal voice must be heard.

    One of my personal mantras is that I have to ‘stand in my truth’ That means I respect the right of others to stand in their truth even if it different to mine.. It is time for the party to stand in its truth………

    The truth that took them into coalition ( which was NOT a mistake) was that there are times when the common good takes priority. Personally I believe that should always be the case in politics….and that is why I am a Liberal Democra

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • theakes
    Seems a bit late to discuss what our campaign should be, isn't the election next Thursday, most postal votes are in and everyone knows its a two horse race. Ju...
  • James Fowler
    @Russell Simpson - very much agree....
  • Russell Simpson
    Phillip Collins in the Independent yesterday writes:"There is an opportunity here for a party that can summon the spirit of Remain and offer a prospectus that i...
  • Andrew Smith
    There's a world of difference between voters deciding for themselves to vote tactically and parties presuming on their behalf which way they should or will vote...
  • Jacqueline Haller
    i was researching about autoimmune diseases(Multiple Sclerosis to be specific) and current health tech to help curb/manage it and i found this website ww w. kyk...