Opinion: Winning where?

For me, last week’s Crewe and Nantwich by-election was a disaster. Not a disaster for our candidate, Elizabeth Shenton – who achieved a good showing on difficult ground – but a disaster for the party’s integrity.

I speak of the Lib Dems’ ‘Winning Here’ spin. Whilst I realise that it was important for us to maintain our share of the vote, and for Nick Clegg and the party to get behind our candidate, saying that we are going to win the seat, when we were clearly never going to come close, smacks at best of a level of rose tinted unreality that makes us look like grinning fools, and at worst a total lack of respect for the voters’ intelligence.

This country has had enough of spin. Though in this case we didn’t lose the election because of it, we didn’t hold our own because of it either. Yes, there may have been a switch around of voters – previous Lib Dem voters, who we at least credit with intelligence, switching to the Tories to ensure that New Labour get the kicking they deserved – and a switch to us by Labour voters who simply would never vote Tory; but from day one we WERE NEVER GOING TO WIN this one. If we had had the guts to say it, we might have done better than we did.

Why? because that would have been grown up politics, something that we espouse, and which we might have gained respect for.

For me, the ‘Winning Here’ slogan is like the joker in its a knockout. If you play it on a hard game, you lose the advantage. By using it at Crewe, where it was manifestly untrue, we devalue the card, we cry wolf, and as a result, in the future, in other places where we are close and need that belief to drive us to victory, it wont be there. It will have become spin, just like all the rest.

But we are not like the rest. The Tories will win the next general election, not because of their policies, but simply because they are not New Labour, and they ARE best placed to win. We should NOT play them at their game. We should change the rules, we should tell it like it is. Warts and All, Blood Sweat and Tears. Sound familiar? They are phrases from honest winners.

No Spin to Win. If we make that our mantra, it will become our reality.

* Kevin Stevenson is a Liberal Democrat member.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Parliamentary by-elections.


  • Need to show more respect to the voters intelligence. Lets not follow the American lead and invent a British way.

  • David Morton 29th May '08 - 9:14pm

    I’ve some sympathy with the thrust of this but.

    1. If we hadn’t maintained a public fiction that we could have won any concession would have been on everyones squeeze leaflets and the result may have been much worse.

    2. Such a statement would have demotivated activists leading to a self fulfilling prophecy.

    3. how do you objectively decide which by elections you can win and which you can’t ? should we have been upfront at the beginning of Brent East and admitted we couldn’t win that ?

    4. you don’t know who you are taking down with you. it may be very worthy to admit you can’t win a seat and thus suffer a bit but what about the regional Euro vote and council base ?

    5. who’ll donate money to a camapign you have admitted you can’t win ?

    6. which media will give you air time ?

    7. the research suggests that one of the key deterents to Lib Dem voting is a belief by voters that we can’t win in certain places. What happens if you turn up and say “Yup”. Does that make it better or worse ?

    Its not that you are wrong per se its just that FPTP is a testosterone fuelled system and I think you would be surprised how quickly we would be derided if we didn’t play the game however disingenious it seems at times.

  • Surely you just don’t say anything, but go on about the policies. To openly say we can win this makes it sound like the Lib Dems are putting there hopes on Miracles.

    The public that the Lib Dems should be fighting for are the realists who want good government in every way.

  • Paul Griffiths 29th May '08 - 9:33pm

    Mr Morton is right in all his points. Furthermore:

    8. I don’t believe anyone involved with the campaign said we “would” win it.

    9. It was a week ago. The voters of Crewe and Nantwich have already moved on. A week from now no-one will be able to name our candidate.

  • David Morton 29th May '08 - 9:47pm

    Tommorrows You Gov. Con 47 Lab 23 LD 18

  • David Morton 29th May '08 - 9:59pm

    Bernard, I would agree that does seems silly and cynical and have delivered similar myself in a seat where we were third ( though one which we won from third at the next GE !). It does feel dishonest but as my example shows occassionally it can be accurate in the long term.

    The real place to have tried out this theory would have been London. A proper campaign based on educating the electorate about the voting system and the second preference with perhaps a hinted recognition we might not win may well have led to an increased first preference vote as people could have voted Boris/ken as an insurence according to taste. Instread a traditional camapign led to a squeeze.

    meanwhile the unconventional ( and on here completely derided) Green/Berry camapign admited she couldn’t win, explained the system and there vote held up despite big turn out increases.

    I Kevins piece would sit better in a London post mortem context than a difficult by election.

  • What the Party should have said is why they deserved to win. perhaps taht was too difficult?

  • I have sympathy with this too. The usual flood of pleas for help and cash didn’t ring true this time, and I couldn’t help wondering whether the time and money lavished on C&N was that well spent. I suppose that we have to do our best in by-elections, but beyond the short-term we could perhaps have done ourselved more good by concentrating special efforts in some winnable seats rather than expending so much to come an ok 3rd.

  • Richard Church 30th May '08 - 12:21am

    It is amazing the way our party gets screwed up by its election messages after the event. Nobody remembers the Tories saying in their leaflets, with bar charts, that they were going to win Leicester South (they came a poor third), or Brent East, and of course Ealing Southall.

    You cannot seriously fight a by-election without saying that you can (not will -can) win. Anything else would have produced a real crushing in Crewe.

    The Tories are a policy vacuum. They have nothing to say about the credit crunch, nothing about worldwide oil prices, nothing about tax cuts to help the poorest and nothing about the green agenda.

    Their government would be a pale immitation of Blairism.

    We need to keep saying that.

  • passing tory 30th May '08 - 11:39am

    Well, for one I am going to agree with Lib Dem practice. I don’t think there should be a problem with any party making out that they are going to win, and I don’t think that they should be criticised for doing so.

    There are cases where the electorate may well give a wry smile while muttering “in your dreams, mate” but it is an acknowledged part of the game that I think is widely understood.

  • This is ridiculous. Grown-up politics? No, amateur politics. The headlines would have been: “L-Ds Conceding Crewe.” At which point, our activists and canvassers — and of course our voters — would have actually conceded Crew!

    Richard’s right. You have to say you “can” win, principally because — well, you never know, maybe you actually can.

  • I spent quite a lot of the campaign dissuading the campaign team from some of their wilder ideas (and, unlike some former leaders/ candidates I have NO intention of spilling beans) but, by and large, I was happy with what was published.

    For example, “Elizabeth Shenton, winning for Crewe & Nantwich” was entirely legitimate.

    And “Lib Dems, winning here” was entirely factual – on May 1st we gained 2 seats from Labour [stopping the leader of the Labour Group in his tracks].

    BUT, the eve of poll tabloid headline “Shenton set for amazing win” was, in my humble opinion, an error. But I don’t want to be overly critical, as I suspect that those responsible for the headline did a damned sight more work than many of their critics.

  • Though it was only a newspaper – wasn’t it? – that proclaimed “Shenton set for amazing win”. Did our Leader or Chief Executive make an attributable statement that Elizabeth was going to win? I certainly don’t remember that they did.

    How many people here seriously believe tabloid newspaper headlines? Not many, I would think. And I don’t think too many electors in Crewe and Nantwich did either.

  • terry champion 19th Jun '08 - 5:00am

    I think it all very interesting to debate the merits of an aggressively optimistic message but the real issue is why did we only narrowly avoid losing our deposit.
    In my opinion, the present leader of the Party is there for one reason,and one reason alone – to ensure that we return substantially more MPs at the next
    General Election than we have at present.
    I would like to see at least 120 but would be happy with 90. Frankly, I just dont see how it is going to happen. We all know that historically a swing to the Conservatives tends to undermine the LibDem vote but we should never have allowed this latter-day Tory party to emerge in the first place. We cannot always depend on Lord Rennard pulling rabbits out of hats,genius though he is.
    In summary, this present leader better start showing results and soon. Quite frankly if something really positive doesnt happen soon we should turn back to Kennedy.
    Yes he had problems – but he produced!

  • Have you been to Henley, Terry?

  • John:
    “Have you been to Henley, Terry?”

    Not sure what your point is. It could be one of two things:
    (1) You’ve been to Henley and you think we’re going to win, proving terry’s fears unfounded.
    (2) Unless terry has been to Henley he’s not allowed to comment.

    Maybe you’d like to explain which.

  • terry champion :

    “the real issue is why did we only narrowly avoid losing our deposit”

    er, what are you on about?

    The Lib Dems took 14.4% in C&N – the threshold for the deposit is 5%.

    “Narrowly avoided ?”

    I think not . . . . .

  • terry champion 19th Jun '08 - 11:24pm

    Yes Ive been to Henley- in fact i,ve rowed there.
    I am trying to make the point that Libdems are not presently going for the jugular.Winning is not the thing- it is the only thing! I am also making the point that leaders should be held accountable for results – and not over a five year period .Its a today thing. We can’t go on making close races of elections.
    we have to start winning. Let’s start with Henley and to hell with a “dishonourable”
    second place finish.

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