Our party president and co-leader on the big challenges ahead

There are two versions of 2019 which future historians of the Liberal Democrats may write about. One is about a party that was on the road to recovery since 2015, took a big hit in December, but then continued upwards afterwards. It’s a story in which the successes of the first half of 2019 were the ones that pointed to the future. Or there is the version in which the Liberal Democrats were in continued decline after 2010, showed brief signs of life in early 2019 but where it was the disappointments of the general election that pointed to the future.

Either could yet turn out to be the one that’s written. Which one gets written is down to us here in the present.

That means getting our own house in order. It means learning the right lessons from last year – and acting on them, successfully electing a new leader and also making a success of the May elections.

These elections are much bigger than many people realise because, although they are the smallest in the round of English council elections, the presence of London, Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner elections means that the elections are nationwide in England and Wales.

But it’s not only about elections. It’s also about our purpose in a period when there’s a one-party government in Westminster with a comfortable majority.

Westminster is not the only source of power in the country, and even in Westminster, the existence of that majority does not mean the government is impervious to successful campaigning. After all, how many people turned up for work at one of our many pressure groups and non-governmental organisations the day after the general election and said, ‘right, let’s pack up work for the next few years because we now can’t do anything’?

We can still campaign at all levels to turn our values into practical action, and we can still win victories at all levels. And there are many Liberal Democrats in power – including Kirsty Williams, the education minister in Wales, and 50 Liberal Democrat council leaders or co-leaders around Britain.

The big black cloud hanging over all of that is January 31st, when Britain leaves the European Union. But although we have may lost that battle, there is still a long-term struggle over Britain’s attitude towards its neighbours and how we best go about dealing with problems that cross borders.

Our values – our pro-Europeanism and our internationalism – won’t change on February 1st. We will have new political battles to fight and we need to find more effective ways of promoting what we believe.

Through all that, we’ll still be pro-European, we’ll still be internationalist and we’ll still be a vital liberal voice.

This article was originally published on Mark’s blog and Liberal Democrat Newswire #133

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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  • nigel hunter 29th Jan '20 - 2:50pm

    Yes .We can be European by,for example, commenting on the fact that 5G does not have to come from China. ERICSSON AND NOKIA can supply it (5G).Why go cap in hand to China when we do not need to. By buying European we are not subservient to China AND Trump cannot complain that Western security is at risk. Saves face all round.

  • Absolutely, Mark. There is already a sense that this government is unprincipled and rudderless, over Huawei, HS2, or even over the brexit negotiations (Part Deux). Some of this is even being expressed in the very Tory press. By May, I suspect many of the voters who habitually take part in local elections will already be looking at alternatives…

  • The Liberal Democrats are being starved of publicity..the media is not interested the boost from the European Elections has soured. The party needs to face up to the cruelty and misery shown to the poor and vulnerable during Coalition. Electing a new leader stained by the dreaded Coalition will make things worse. Take some advice from an ex Lib Dem voter..address the past with truth and humility then maybe the party has a chance to prosper.

  • David Becket 29th Jan '20 - 3:26pm

    We have 11 potential candidates for leader. I would agree we discount any candidate who held office during the coalition.

    The membership now needs to see any of the MPs who are remotely interested, we must get to know them, most are new.

    Conference (and another thread suggests changes) would be a good place to start, but it will need changes to the agenda.

    On the subject of the future it is good to see (at last) Stop Brexit on the front page of the web site. However pictures of Vince and Jo do not indicate a forward looking party.

  • John Marriott 29th Jan '20 - 5:06pm

    So that rules out Ed Davey then? What an utterly futile, and I would add, illogical idea. When are you folks going to wake up and realise that beggars can’t be choosers? The only way that the Lib Dems are likely to exert any long lasting influence on the body politic is through coalitions. That means making difficult decisions.
    @David Becket
    “11 potential candidates for leader.” You can’t be serious. One of them at least has only been an MP for a couple of months. For most people it’s in Parliament where reputations are made, not unfortunately in the Council Chamber or the Conference Hall.

  • David Becket 29th Jan '20 - 10:18pm

    @ John Marriott
    Remove Tim, Ed (coalition), Layla (e mail connections), Jamie (Doubt if he would want it, though his seat has a proud history, and you are down to 7. Do we want to risk another leader with SNP breathing down her neck. That leaves one experienced MP and the newbies.
    It is not an easy decision, we need time to think about it and any MP considering it must become better known with Party and Public. Farage came from nowhere, did Atlee look like a leader?

  • Kathy Erasmus 30th Jan '20 - 8:07am

    Totally agree, this country needs the Liberal Democrats more than ever it’s time for us to step up our campaigns with confidence and we have to accept there will be no pact with Labour whoever is elected. Brexit is a short and nasty spasm in our long relationship with Europe, let’s get to work

  • John Marriott 30th Jan '20 - 9:20am

    @Kathy Erasmus
    “This country needs the Liberal Democrats more than ever(.)” Are you sure? Actually, that’s me playing the Devil’s advocate. Yes, it does, if you mean England and then some. Actually, your statement would make an excellent essay title or event a motion (to ‘Conference’?). You see, there IS more to life and politics than the Lib Dem’s; but both would be sadder places without them. As your famous namesake, he of Rotterdam, was supposed to have said;

    “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”.

  • @ John Marriott Yes, John. So far as the Coalition is concerned, one should also
    reflect on another saying of the old Rotterdamian,

    “He who allows oppression shares the crime.”

  • Yes Europe should not go away (keep it on the back burner). However with Brexit we should open up our internationalist credentials for we will need to trade with the World. Our contacts can be part of that effort with the party at the fore.

  • Gwyn Williams 30th Jan '20 - 12:34pm

    Europe may not be the defining issue of the next year as it was of the last but it will certainly be a high profile issue. There will be lots of traps into which a new Lib Dem leader could fall. Being seen as supporters of the EU27 may please the Party’s activists but will merely make the Tories case for them. Following the 92 General Election the Tories seemed to be invincible. 6 months later the Pound being forced out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism destroyed their reputation for economic competence. Maybe our transition out of the EU will be smooth and unhindered. If not there maybe a historic opportunity.

  • Dean Crofts 30th Jan '20 - 2:48pm

    I agree we will always be there European and internationalist. What we need to define as a party is how to get people to vote that have never voted before and how are we going to attract working class voters to vote for is. The Tories have for now persuaded working class especially in the north of England to vote for them, the biggest challenge we gave is marketing ourselves to this group so we can win elections on a national level.

  • Peter Hirst 30th Jan '20 - 2:55pm

    Our values won’t change though it will be harder to implement them post Brexit. We need to strengthen civil society and direct democracy through Citizens’ Assemblies and other means. We also need to reach out to those countries that support liberal democracy and would appreciate some support.

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