Poll highlights need for Lib Dems to develop compelling narrative

A poll of “blue wall” seats this week should make senior Lib Dems charged with delivering our next election campaign pause for thought.

Field work carried out by Redfield and Wilton Strategies last weekend shows Labour 7 points ahead of the Tories in seats the Conservatives currently hold in the south of England, but the party of Government gaining 2% and us going down 2% since the last poll a couple of weeks before.

Of the 42 seats that Redfield and Wilton count as the Blue Wall, there are not that many that we are seriously targeting so our 17% polling figure should not alarm us too much. However, the Tories are fixing their attention and massive resources on defending those seats and will not miss the opportunity to persuade people that these seats are between them and Labour not them and us. We will obviously be countering that where we are strong with local messaging so that people are in no doubt that it’s a two horse race between us and the Conservatives. We’ve been building very strong foundations in those seats over the past few years. However, we don’t want even a few people in the likes of Winchester and Esher and Walton thinking that they should be voting Labour to get rid of the Tories. If they do, then we’ll have Tory MPs, and surely nobody wants the likes of Dominic Raab in Parliament for another five years.

As Lib Dems we know the importance of targeting our resources very carefully. This, however, shouldn’t come completely at the expense of our national poll rating. The national mood music is very important both in our target seats and beyond. We need to be thinking about the political landscape for the next election and the one after that. Only by getting ourselves into more second places can we hope to properly break through. There is no point in winning a handful of seats in 2024 and ending up with the north face of the electoral Eiger to climb everywhere else.

Our national poll rating remains stubbornly low. We haven’t recovered from our coalition lows, except for that brief period when we were actually saying things that excited people in the early part of 2019. Capturing the imagination with a strong message and giving people a reason to vote for us is a good thing and we shouldn’t shy away from it.

We seem to be so terrified of saying anything that might upset the voters in the blue wall that we end up not saying anything at all. And those progressive minded voters who we need to  back us need to hear us talk about the things that matter to them too. And in truth, the things that matter to them matter to us.

I sense a frustration amongst activists in Labour facing areas that the increasingly centralised national Lib Dem campaign machine is not bothered enough with them.

We need to recover our boldness, passion and sense of indignation at what the Tories have done to this country super quick. We need to start using the P word, the S word the B word and the C word to show how the country can be a much better and happier place to live. We need to talk about ending poverty. We need to sympathise with the aims of our public sector workers who are striking for a decent pay rise and less stressful working conditions. We need to be much more robust in talking about the failures of Brexit which are damaging virtually every aspect of our lives. And we need to win the culture wars, not stand cowed as people are marginalised and demonised by the right wing media.

As Liberal Democrats we care deeply and instinctively about inequality and tearing down the barriers that people face that suck opportunity from them. That everyone should have enough food, safe and warm shelter and the resources to participate in life to the full should not be as controversial as the right wing media makes out every day, yet we don’t challenge them enough. We should be riding a coach and horses through the  Conservative narrative which sets people against each other. We want people to have a decent share of the pie, not fight each other for an ever decreasing pile of stale crumbs. So we need to start talking about ending poverty and giving people a fair crack of the whip.

So far our words on the strikes have been carefully calibrated as to not say much at all. This is a curious decision as the nurses, ambulance workers and teachers particularly continue to enjoy public support. Most of us know someone who has been in a hospital in recent years. Even before the pandemic, nurses were stretched to their limits and we know that their pay is pretty rubbish compared to similar international economies. So why aren’t we supporting them with full voice? Obviously, why aren’t the Labour Party either?

It’s good that we voted against the Strikes Bill, but imagine if we and Labour actually got behind the striking nurses, teachers, post deliverers? Imagine what a persuasive case we could make.  We could shift public opinion even more in their favour and force the Government to give them a fairer settlement. Just a thought.

Arguably our biggest failure has been our unwillingness to challenge the Government on the bloody mess that they have made of Brexit. We were right on this all along and we shouldn’t shy away from pointing out the massive fraud that has been perpetuated on the British people and how much worse off they are because of it. The time may not yet be right to shout the rejoin word too loudly, but we have nothing to lose by saying that Brexit has turned out to be a load of bollocks. Especially as people are realising that for themselves.

And finally,  the Culture war. The problem with standing by while whole groups of people whether they be asylum seekers, people claiming social security or using food banks, trans people or disabled people is that this is really a slippery slope. They could be coming for you next, and if you are in your 50s or 60s and aren’t working, they are coming for you now. Disguising the labour shortages caused by Brexit,  by depicting a generation who may be too ill or too busy looking after elderly parents as lazy is utterly despicable. We can’t let them define people’s value by their “economic activity.”

And how do we win? By painting a vision of a society where everyone has the chance to live a decent life and to be who they are. It’s about togetherness and appreciation of each other not division. It’s the essence of liberalism. We can create a really compelling melody that will ear-worm the voting population in a good way if we choose to.

It is good to see that the Federal Board has made “developing a distinctive narrative” part of its strategic work for its new term, as Party President Mark Pack told us yesterday in his monthly update.  Good, but also depressing, because we have been talking about this for at least 15 years and not actually produced one. When I worked on Ross Finnie’s Scottish leadership campaign in 2008, the need to give people a reason to vote for us was our key message. Yet here we are.

We need to recognise that our failure to do this has played its part in creating the intolerant and divided hellscape that our country is at the moment. It’s not difficult to challenge it and we can look to Charles Kennedy for the way he stood up to this sort of narrative. Remember when he challenged William Hague’s nasty anti-immigrant stuff in 2001 he came out if pretty well. And that was the last election where we didn’t massively under-perform.

This week’s poll shouldn’t really harm us in the seats we hold or the relatively few seats we are targeting, but it should make us think about our development and longevity and about painting that enticing soul-enhancing picture that sets out who we are and that fair, free and open society we want to build.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Listening to people from the recent Marazion by-election in the StIves target seat people do wonder what we stand for. Not that it is to them a burning issue right now. We were helped by a former independent not running and taking 8pc from Conservatives. But come the GE many will return to Conservative. Owen and Clegg banked on Tory votes that never came. We failed to squeeze the Labour and Green votes.That should be concerning.

  • Martin Veart 18th Feb '23 - 12:10pm

    Since I last stood as a candidate in 2017 for Edinburgh North and Leith, a lot has happened in my life. One of the most important lessons that I have learned is the value of a good story. The voting public is desperate to be told a good tale, one that they can take part in and help deliver. It is this storytelling aspect that makes nationalism (whether for Brexit or independence) such a powerful campaigning message. Labour at this time is busy telling a non-story, that they are a safe pair of Brexit hands.
    What is our story? What glorious future will liberalism lead us too? I am not being sarcastic. The leadership’s sole job is to tell that story. Otherwise we remain little more than bystanders sniping from the sidelines.
    Tell our story.

  • It’s another article that contains a long list of desires to increase the costs of each section of the economic pie and nothing to increase the size of the pie. Identifying needs does not win elections, identifying needs alongside a coherent economic policy to pay for them might stand a chance.

  • Don’t worry. Ed Davey knows how to win.

    After all he – and all his team and supporters – told us this repeatedly during the leadership election.

  • If the Lib Dems cannot make gains while the country is being run by such an inept Tory government they are in serious trouble, yes they will need constructive and costed policies, but our country is crying out for honest , knowledgeable and trustworthy leaders who can to restore some prestige, pride and hope again for us all.

  • Mel Borthwaite 18th Feb '23 - 1:07pm

    I don’t disagree with anything in this article but could I suggest a concise way forward?
    There are a large number of things we believe in,
    These is a smaller list of priority issues,
    There should be an even smaller list of priority issue that we campaigning about.
    The party leadership needs to identify the campaigning issues based on those issues which are also supported by the greatest number of none Liberal Democrats – we need to be growing support. Closer trading ties with the EU, via the Single Market, is clearly one of them. In Scotland, transferring more economic and taxation powers to the Scottish Parliament should be a key priority and vote winner (since most in Scotland support this).

  • I commend Caron for biting her tongue as hard as she must have had to in order to write this.

    I’d really love to see some inspiration. Any kind of inspiration. The last time I felt that was when Tim was visiting the Calais refuge camps. Before that? I honestly can’t remember.

    I’d just like a leader that makes me feel SOMETHING. Even rage would be better than weary resignation

  • Martin Gray 18th Feb '23 - 3:49pm

    @Andrew ….It’s about turning vote share into seats.
    As labour found to it’s cost – it lost votes where it really mattered. Ultimately that battleground will be amongst those socially conservative voters that handed Johnson an 80 majority.
    As for our current tentative approach – it comes across as we don’t want to upset anybody , but could end up pleasing no-one so to speak, & end up struggling to hold onto what we already have … Having said that SM, CU, & fom would still be a tough sell on the doorstep..

  • CJ WILLIAMS 18th Feb '23 - 5:09pm

    Andrew Hickey. I note that the 2019 manifesto included a statement of principles and a radical plan to reform the economy, society and politics.

  • Steve Trevethan 18th Feb '23 - 7:12pm

    If, as it seems, we accept and promote the same socio-economic assumptions as the two most powerful political parties, how can we be usefully or appealingly different?

    Might our current major policy be that of having the bland leading the bland?

    Might we support the public service workers in their essential purpose of having a living/decant wage?

  • In the 2010 election the LibDems achieved our higher ever vote share at 23% polling 6.8 million votes.
    The campaign had four key slogans:
    Fair taxes that put money back in your pocket
    a fair chance for every child
    a fair future creating jobs by making Britain greener
    a fair deal by cleaning up politics
    The main line that got peoples attention was putting more money in the pockets of lower and middle income households.
    The issues Caron writes of are what engage many people. Additionally, as Caron highlights “developing a distinctive narrative” is essential.
    For the next election the main line should again be about putting more money in the pockets of lower and middle income households with a minimum income guarantee of £100 per week.
    On jobs and pay we need a minimum wage job guarantee and an inflation clause in the public sector that automatically increases pay for nurses, ambulance workers and teachers by the rate of CPI inflation annually.
    On fair taxes we need a progressive council tax assessed on homeowners and landlords (not tenants) and business rates based on land values (the commercial landowner levy)
    On the energy crisis we need reform of the domestic energy market so that the standing charge includes a fixed allowance for energy usage and only excess use is charged for.
    That’s more than enough for the headlines:
    Minimum income guarantee
    Jobs and wages guarantee
    Fair council tax and business rates
    Fair energy costs

  • John Bennett 18th Feb '23 - 8:17pm

    I vote Lib Dem (or Green) when I do, and never Tory or Labour, for one criterion : Is this party and candidate on my side.

  • Chris Moore 18th Feb '23 - 8:57pm

    @Andrew Hickey: and what a disastrous result it was!

  • Peter Watson 18th Feb '23 - 9:02pm

    Brilliant article, and my first thought is, “About time, too!” 🙂
    I hope this can be a “call to arms” (or just a wake-up call!) for the Lib Dems to offer something more radical than simply not being the Tories.

    The last several years have been no less disappointing than the Coalition years, and with Labour looking so pointless under Starmer, I’ve wondered whether to vote Green or spoil my ballot paper at the next General Election (I can’t imagine not going to the polling station!). It’s more than a decade since I stopped thinking of myself as a Lib Dem and referring to the party in the first person, but I’ve not been able to break the habit of returning to this site for signs of the party for which I used to vote and of which I used to be a member. Perhaps this article is an indication that things will change.

  • I agree that people won’t vote Lib Dem just because they live in a target seat. They need to know that we share their values in order to vote tactically. That is why targeting is not a strategy in itself, it is a way of allocating resources but not a substitute for building a core vote. Tactical voting from Labour supporters is now more important as Sunak is less unpopular in the blue wall than his predecessors.

  • nigel hunter 19th Feb '23 - 12:23am

    Joe Bourke has the plan right.There is nothing wrong in repeating winning policies.Yes we will get nowhere if we hide behind the curtains whilst the 2 big boys make the running.We used to be progressive radical and bloody minded,we need to be again.
    In the 70s we were ahead of the Ecology Party (now the Greens) in ideas.The environment is the problem that todays young,and I must say more of the elderly (over 60s) now sadder and wiser from life are concerned about for they have their grand children to consider.We willl get nowhere if we sit on our backsides.

  • Shaun Roberts 19th Feb '23 - 1:49am

    Great article Caron.

    I think there’s a lot of Liberal Democrats and also a lot of Labour people right now asking where isn’t my party being more bold and more ambitious about what happens next? After all, it’s clear that people have lost trust in the Conservatives.

    I sympathise and empathise a lot with that feeling.

    The one bit that I hold back on is this – the Conservatives aren’t yet beaten and under First Past The Post, could yet come back. Their one and only argument isn’t a positive one, it’s a nakedly negative one that says – be scared of Labour and change. Fear of change saved them back in 1992, it’s the one argument they can hope to deploy in 2023/24,

    Both Lib Dem and Labour leaderships realise this – so they’re both trying not to be scary and play into that fear argument. For all of us that yearn for change, hope, etc , that is a frustrating place to be.

    It’s not a lot of fun for those of us that are idealists, but it’s also the pragmatic approach that potentially secures us 10-20 gains at the next GE AND most importantly the end of possibly the worst Government in our nation’s history.

  • Steve Trevethan 19th Feb '23 - 8:06am

    Might policies and the information needed to promote them have more than the purpose of winning seats?
    Might they also have the purpose of improving the qualities of political discussion and thinking?
    On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the depth, diversity, validity and dynamism of current political discourse?
    Might we do some research and have a practical policy on food banks and the near 30% of our children who are permanently hungry/starving?

  • Creating a narrative that resonates with people’s aspirations should be the #1 task of any political organisation.
    The Preamble to our Constitution is an excellent – but too wordy – place to start. Distill that preamble down to a short Mission Statement and then pick three to five Key words that exemplify the Mission Statement. Group all policies by those Key words.
    Each Key word policy area should be lead by a radical, inspirational policy.
    Remember, we are a long way from forming the next government. So we can afford to be ‘aspirational’ with our policy platform, rather than totally practical.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 19th Feb '23 - 9:39am

    @Joe Bourke for leading the manifesto team (as long as he adds in Climate Change/Green issues which will get votes) and those Seeking Sanctuary here an human rights (which might not get votes but is what we believe in).
    @Steve Trevathan is right that we look at policies not just to get votes but are what we believe in.
    If you don’t have your members and activists inspired, who is going to go and campaign in those target seats?

  • Ruth Bright 19th Feb '23 - 9:57am

    @Shaun Roberts have you actually, carefully read and taken in what Caron said?

    By not scaring any horses ever under any circumstances we run the risk of offering nothing of interest to anyone at all.

  • Times have sadly changed.
    Election manifestos (of all parties) used to be launched with a fanfare, and the aim of maximum publicity.
    Now they are sneaked (snuck?) out as late as possible during election campaigns, before opposing parties and media can tear them to shreds.

  • Catherine Crosland 19th Feb '23 - 10:22am

    I understand what Jennie means, when she says she just wants a leader who “makes her feel SOMETHING. Even rage”. But I’m afraid the current leadership often does make me feel rage. Rage that they are failing to speak out about the things our party are supposed to stand for, especially about human rights issues.
    Sadly Ed failed to speak out against the horrifying plan to deport vulnerable asylum seekers to Rwanda. (He did say he was opposed to it when asked, but has avoided the subject unless specifically asked).
    The leadership has said very little in support of asylum seekers, at a time when the government is falsely portraying people legally seeking asylum, as “illegal” “invaders”.
    The leadership have said very little about the rights of trans people, at a time when they are being vilified by the media, and when the government are deliberately stirring up prejudice against this vulnerable group of people. Ed claimed, during the leadership contest, to care passionately about the rights of trans people, and perhaps he genuinely does care. But he does not have the courage to speak out, which seems to suggest that he cares more about “blue wall” votes.
    If a liberal party does not speak out about human rights, then who will?

  • Lin Macmillan 19th Feb '23 - 10:43am

    Brilliant Caron! Sums up so much about how I feel about the Party. We are floundering around with no clear sense of direction and I’m afraid Ed doesn’t inspire anyone I know to passion in politics. I long for the heady days when we felt that we had policies worth fighting for.

  • The polls show us not doing very well naturally…they don’t support the headline that we need a compelling narrative! But then, I am just being pedantic. Of course we do.

    Picking up protest votes and caring about our communities and our constituents is great but not enough. I have been a lifelong supporter of the Liberals/Libdems not least because the party has always had radical, sensible policies that stand the test of time. Sadly, I am just not seeing any of these at present.

    As a party can we agree on priorities? Here’s my three:
    – NHS and Social care
    – Green Energy and Energy Sufficiency /Climate Change
    – Fairer Taxation including reform of council tax and business rates

    I may be biased, but focus on these 3 areas and we have a radical party of the centre focusing on the difficult topics that everyone knows need addressing.

  • George Thomas 19th Feb '23 - 1:07pm

    I recognise that things may appear bleak for Lib Dems currently but lay of the land appears to be setting up an open goal for the party.

    Probable reasons Lib Dems haven’t grown recently was choosing short-term gain (seeking to attract NIMBY voters from Tories) or need for media attention (attacking Sunak’s one good policy in some form of maths til 18) instead of developing longer term strategy.

    However, Lib Dems are a party who more naturally find a balance between running local campaigns while being an international party, and are a party which was seriously discussing environmental issues before Labour were. This just so happens to be conversation of our times and as the right continue to attack 15-minute cities, well it should only play into Lib Dems strengths more and more.

  • Anthony Acton 19th Feb '23 - 2:22pm

    I agree with Caron and many of these comments. Something is badly wrong. Never since I first joined the Libs in 1961 has the party floundered so badly in the polls at a time when the Tories were in deep trouble. In the absence of the charisma of past LD leaders, the only way to attract media attention now will be to state our conditions for support in the event of a hung parliament.

  • David Franks 19th Feb '23 - 3:16pm

    Why would anybody vote for the Party when the leaders are afraid to mention Brexit?

  • @ George Thomas, “the land appears to be setting up an open goal for the party.”

    George, one of the essential necessities for any successful Premier League football team is to have a consistent charismatic striker who can score goals regularly ……. including the easy open ones….. in all weathers and conditions.

  • Paul Barker 19th Feb '23 - 4:48pm

    Anthony Acton, we are currently averaging 9%, less than 2 Years ago we spent nearly a Year averaging 7% at a time when the Tory position was bad by ordinary standards. Our problem now is that Labour is taking half the Vote.

    In fact our Polling doesn’t matter as much as the extent of Tactical Anti-Tory voting & that is very hard to quantify.

  • John Harris 19th Feb '23 - 7:44pm

    How do voters know ‘what we stand for?’ We have less than 2 years to establish a position in national politics but so far we have completely failed to do so and I blame those at the top. I wrote to all our MPs without a single reply! As a past PPC [Shipley 2010 and Richmond, Yorks 2015] I was able to quote clear and simple policies when knocking on doors. What could I say today? We need simple basic statements that can be part of our Focus leaflets. I would start with ‘Develop better trading links with the EU’ and ‘Two more, higher, Council Tax bands to help pay for social care’.

  • James Fowler 19th Feb '23 - 8:23pm

    Clearly spoken from the heart, and I can see why this resonates with many commentators here. But this assortment of ideas is not a compelling narrative.

    Tactically, it is (a) several hundred words on expenditure and scarcely a word said about revenue and (b) it is more or less indistinguishable from Labour would like to do, only without Labour’s credibility as the government in waiting. Strategically, it relies on assumptions about Britain’s sense of identity, resources and aspirations as they were in the noughties.

  • What I find really worrying about the Redfield and Wilton Strategies poll is that at the 2019 general election we received 27.45% of the vote in these blue wall seats but that is now down to 17%.

    Joe Bourke,

    A £100 a week minimum income guarantee is not ambitious enough. From April Universal Credit will be £85.09 a week for a single person aged 25 or over and our policy is to increase it by £20 to £105.09 a week.

    If the ‘Towards a Fairer Society’ had the correct footnotes and references we would have a reference to See Annex 1 of JRF’s UK Poverty 2022 which can be found at https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2022 to the third column of the table on page 18. The medium income in this column is different to the one in column one. It varies according to the composition of each household. The JRF UK Poverty 2022 Report states that the Median Income for a single person household is £278 a week, for a couple £476 and for a couple with two children £771 (excluding housing costs). If Conference decides to support the minimum income guarantee option which is called a Guaranteed Basic Income set at the level to end deep poverty our policy would be to provide a Guaranteed Basic Income of £139 a week for a single person, £238 for a couple and £385.50 a week for a couple and two children.

    To remove people from living in poverty the rates should be £166.80 a week for a single person, £285.60 for a couple and £462.60 for a couple and two children.

  • Tristan Ward 20th Feb '23 - 6:58am

    This is a story worth looking athttp://liberalengland.blogspot.com/2023/02/nick-cohen-visits-mike-martin-in.html?m=1:

  • Tristan Ward 20th Feb '23 - 7:02am
  • Trevor Andrews 20th Feb '23 - 9:43am

    There is a mantra in business around focusing on your customer needs, not the competition. Instead of blaming the Conservatives or Labour, start telling people what the Libdems stand for and better still, what you would do in power and how you would do it. People want to know what you would do to solve a problem or change the world we live in, not what you think of the other parties.

  • Aside from delivering leaflets in our local area in now Lib-Dem led Wokingham, I have rather lost contact with the ins and outs of the party. And frankly I have no clue whatever what Lib Dem policy currently is on anything. A “compelling narrative” would be lovely. But a few policies – not “what we believe” generalities but implementable policies that other parties would disagree with – would be nice.

  • Peter Hirst 20th Feb '23 - 5:04pm

    Aside from local issues, we need a compelling national narrative. With Keir Starmer seeming increasingly authoritarian we could attract former Conservative voters looking for a new home by promoting our traditional values of liberty, freedom and autonomy.

  • James Fowler 20th Feb '23 - 7:54pm

    As I see it, the current narrative is the absence of narrative. This is not as daft as it sounds.

    The instinct of many Lib Dems is social democracy combined with a dash of non-conformity. This is a very wide and imprecise space on which Labour, the Greens, Plaid and SNP are also camped out to varying degrees and often in a much more defined and credible manner – hence the polls. However, imprecise spaces do allow us the luxury of being everybody’s second choice which does have benefits – especially for by elections. In spite of protestations, I think we can carry on like this if we want. The strength of the Party is really in its excellent councillors who are essentially moderate pragmatists who deliver results locally. This does not require a ‘narrative’, just getting local services sorted out.

    There is of course a coherent and distinctive Liberal grand narrative combining social and economic liberalism underpinned by freedom of conscience, personal liberty and the rational individual. This is what Liberal parties like the FDP, the VVD and the ACT stand for. At this moment, all these ideas are more or less unclaimed in the UK in terms of Party politics.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Feb '23 - 10:52pm

    It’s good that Michael BG, above, gives us figures to aim for in ending not only deep poverty but poverty in this country in general, with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation figures. As he mentions, the Fairer Society motion (F12) at the York Conference next month will start us off, but with the poverty in this country inevitably rising this winter – the cost of basic foodstuffs not falling at all, and with Council Tax rises to come – we do need the party to commit to aiming to end poverty, as Caron says. We know how taxation policy should be changed to pay for it, as Joe Bourke partly indicates above. And I think we should be fairly and squarely aiming at the vast inequality of our country now.

  • Geoffrey Payne,

    Our party’s UBI option is to make a couple aged 25 or over with no children on Universal Credit £89.62 net better off, while the UGI option increases their income by £104.43.

    Andrew Hickley,

    I assume you were only looking at results after 1987. In 2019 we received 11.6% of the vote and won 11 seats down one from 2017. This was not our best share of the vote ever. As Joe Bourke stated that was in 2010 when we received 23% of the vote. The Alliance achieved 25.4% in 1983. In 2005 we had 52 MPs elected. This compares with 71 Liberals in three groups elected in 1931 and 59 elected in 1929. The nadir was between November 1956 and the 1959 general election when the Liberal Party had only 5 MPs. The Liberal Democrats lowest number of MPs was 8 after the 2015 general election.

    Antony Action,

    Below is a link to opinion polls between the 1959 and 1964 general elections.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_1964_United_Kingdom_general_election. It shows the Liberal Party with opinion poll rating below 8% after 1961.

  • Peter Martin 21st Feb '23 - 9:49am

    “During the leadership contest the big hot issue that everyone agreed on was UBI. Whatever happened to that? ”

    Did everyone agree on it?

    It really doesn’t make much sense to be arguing that we’ll need a UBI because automation will take away lots of our jobs at the same time as arguing that we need more workers in our economy. So maybe this is why the idea seems to have dropped out of fashion?

    The tangible benefits we have in our society inevitably rely of the labour of others. We want smaller classes in our schools. We need more teachers. We want shorter waiting lists in the NHS. We need more doctors and nurses. We want more crimes to be solved, we want our rivers to be cleaner, streets tidier…. etc etc. We don’t have the resources to do everything we would like therefore we do have to ensure that we make the best of what we have. This means paying workers properly for doing something useful rather than giving them a subsistence payment and telling them to go away.

  • The Manifesto has to be largely revenue neutral in real terms (with the exception of taxation of natural resource monopolies) i.e. not require excessive tax increases or borrowing for day to day spending. Measures that meet this criteria include a minimum income guarantee (not UBI) that is largely funded by making the tax system more progressive. Annual Inflation adjusted pay in the public sector is funded by the effect of inflation on tax receipts. Minimum wage guarantees are funded by a combination of reduced welfare and fiscal stimulus.
    Proportional council tax is a revenue neutral proposal as is the Commercial landowners levy. Fair energy costs requires reform of the energy market and the basis of taxation of natural resources.

  • Anthony Acton 21st Feb '23 - 10:11pm

    Michael BG – thanks, that’s fascinating, but my point is that we’ve never been so low in the polls at a time when the Tories are also doing very badly. In most of the polls in your list they are well into the 40s – currently they are in the 20s but still we struggle to get more than 9%. That’s why I say that something is badly wrong.

  • James Fowler,

    We don’t want a narrative that includes economic liberalism which the FDP, the VVD and the ACT support according to you. According to Wikipedia the ACT is a New Zealand ‘right-wing classical-liberal political party’.

    Joe Bourke,

    Our policy is already to introduce a commercial landowner levy to replace business rates not Council Tax.

    Our policy on residential Council Tax is to:
    I) Immediately introduce additional higher bands to make Council Tax more progressive; and
    II) Review the case for replacing Council Tax with a simple percentage-based annual property tax based on up-to-date valuations, as is the case in most other developed economies
    I would like to add to this:

    A) The Scrapping of local Council Tax Reduction Schemes; and
    B) The Restoration of the National Council Tax Benefit scheme funded nationally, so that working-age adults can receive the level of support they had before the abolition in 2013 of the National Council Tax Benefit scheme.

    We need to have policies to grow the economy so we can help the poorest in society. It would be good if our manifesto included policies to grow the economy. I think this needs targeting government spending into the poorest regions year on year, but this is not in the Towards a Fairer Society policy paper and motion.

  • Well said, Caron. Even from a distance it’s clear that we’re not putting out much in the way of a national message.

    Historically, the idea (for us anyway) of a few clear, costed policies which connect with the electorate is when we’ve done the best. Remember the “penny on income tax for education” from the 1990s, ironically created in part by Ed Davey as a researcher? Maybe revive (in England anyway) the idea of an increase for the NHS?

  • Previously voters were often just looking for a change and the Conservatives were seen as an acceptable alternative by many people along with the other parties. Labour was viewed as a risk with Corbyn and the Liberal Democrats were considered as a safe place for a protest vote but the debate over the EU has caused voters to look at them more critically and the clear failure of Conservative policies since 2010 has made many people determined to get a change of Government which means voting for the only other party which has a chance to form one which is the Labour Party hence the fall in support for the Liberal Democrats even in areas where they were traditionally strong and the reluctance to vote for them even if they were formerly seen to have a better chance of defeating the Conservative candidate, particularly as they had only recently been in coalition with them, except in by elections. It will take a while for some Labour voters to trust the Liberal Democrats again. It is time to get back to advocating the party’s basic principles instead of hiding them.

  • Jenny Barnes 22nd Feb '23 - 11:28am

    The polling is probably wrong. With the Tory potential vote so low, many existing Tory seats would have a negative vote if the drop were evenly spread. So it must be bigger in seats with larger majorities. I suspect atm the electorate are just thinking “vote Labour, get this lot out” Come the election – never mind the bar charts – many seats would be in play for the LDs. In the relatively safe Tory seat I live in, LDs are second and I think there’s a very good chance of winning it. FPTP magnifies these changes.

  • John Bicknell 22nd Feb '23 - 3:40pm

    It’s difficult to draw conclusions on individual seats from national, or even regional polls. Occasionally one sees polls in individual seats (of course, there’s a margin of error, even in these). There was a recent one in Wokingham, which showed the Conservative vote falling from 49.5% to 42, but this drop was spread between Labour, the Greens, and Reform UK. The Lib Dem vote share was only up 0.34% on the last GE (effectively just a rounding up), to 38%. I suspect there is a similar story in other LD target seats; the party is doing no better than holding its own in these, and only if they are close enough to benefit from a fall in the Conservative vote share will they result in gains.

  • Chris Moore 22nd Feb '23 - 4:03pm

    2017 GE: the main problem was the theological difficulties of our beloved erstwhile leader, not targeting. We lost considerable support during the campaign as a result. It was all people knew about us. We ended with 12 seats – a gain of 4 – and a massive 7.5% of the vote.

    2019 GE: we adopted the self-defeating Remain Alliance strategy, alienating nearly all Leave voters, hence ensuring we were not going to get across the line in more than about 15 seats. As it happens, we picked up 11 seats – a loss of one – on around 11.5% of the vote. Our erstwhile beloved leader ended up with very poor personal ratings. No surprise there, given Revoke which alienated “moderate” Remainers too.

    Both elections were disastrous. 2019 in particular because of the lack of psephological and strategic awareness of our leadership. And the fact we were the turkeys who voted for Christmas.

  • David Evans 22nd Feb '23 - 5:38pm

    Caron is right in her analysis but wrong in her headline. In just over a decade we have lost 80% of our MPs and 40% of our councillors. Our membership has plummeted because no one developed a strategy to keep all those pro-Europeans who joined us post Brexit, and the money those members brought with them has gone.

    The problem isn’t that we need to develop a compelling liberal narrative to take to the public, we haven’t had one of those in many decades. Most people believe that the UK is very liberal already and in global terms it is – no knock on the door in middle of the night if you bad mouth the prime minister, few consequences of civil disobedience so long as you don’t glue yourself to a motorway etc.

    The problem is that as far as the public are concerned our narrative in terms of what so many of us talk about is totally irrelevant to their needs. That, coupled with our leadership’s total unwillingness to do anything that might get us noticed e.g. say something really cutting about Tory corruption and incompetence and link it to the state of the nation because of Brexit, shows how introspective and slaves to their advisors they have become.

    We need to be relevant on a key issue Labour and the Conservatives dare not speak against, even though they know they are wrong and the only one is Brexit.

  • Tristan Ward 22nd Feb '23 - 6:02pm

    @ Michael BG

    “We don’t want a narrative that includes economic liberalism”.

    Why not? We are liberals after all, and that includes economic liberalism. In combination with other liberal principles like representatives democracy, promotion of humans rights and etc, economic liberalism has helped deliver enormous benefits in (for example) life expectancy, wealth and personal freedom in the west and across the world over the last 200 years or so.

    The problems caused by economic liberalism are either problems of success on the one hand, or insufficient attention being paid to other big liberal principles by those trying to gain the benefits of economic liberalism- most recently by “neoliberals” for example.

  • James Fowler 22nd Feb '23 - 6:19pm

    Michael BG speaks for many I imagine when he rejects the idea of being a classical liberal party. However, it remains a piece of electoral real estate that’s liberal, mostly vacant at the moment, and has a coherent and distinct narrative.

    That being said, there is no harm in continuing to combine social democracy, a frisson of non-conformity, and a plague on everybody else’s house – but lots of other Parties are doing this in only slightly different ways and often more credibly as well, so the polls will stay more or less as they are.

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd Feb '23 - 9:27pm

    I hope I speak for many Lib Dems in rejecting James Fowler’s suggestion of apparently chuntering on in an amiable half-hearted typically Liberal way, or accepting Tristan Ward’s surprising defence of economic liberalism. No, for me, David Evans’ approach (hello, David, that’s a surprise from me!) of shouting about Tory corruption and incompetence, and pointing out continually that we unlike both Tories and Labour were undeniably right in being utterly opposed to Brexit, and now its consequences are apparent to everyone. Besides which, look at the dire state of the nation’s economy and the fall in the standard of living and how badly we are comparing now with other G7 nations after more than a dozen years of Tory rule. The fact is that, unlike the others, We Were Right . You can trust the Lib Dems to make essentially and most often the Right judgements for our nation’s progress.

  • Jane Alliston 22nd Feb '23 - 10:35pm

    The only pleasure I get in reading this article is to understand I’m not alone in my deep frustration. Thank you Caron for articulating so well where we are. I can only add that ambition, belief and singleminded determination aided the Brexit movement from its beginnings in Goldsmiths referendum party in 94 . The current approach of the party is so careful (ly irrelevant) certainly no Remainer can object, yet what about the rest of us?

  • Richard Easter 23rd Feb '23 - 4:26am

    How about “not the Westminster Party”?

    Lib Dems have always done best when they are seen as the party of the regions and particularly rural affairs. I never associated Ashdown, Kennedy, Campbell or Farron as stooges of Westminster, but independent men of the regions. (Clegg, Cable, Swinson and Davey sadly acting exactly like part of the Westminster revolving door of corporates, politics and so on).

    One of the gripes many Labour supporters have about Starmer (and I agree with them) is that is he is very much Mr Westminster. You can imagine him attending dinner parties with Allegra Stratton or Piers Morgan but unwilling to go out for a pint with Mick Lynch – and I understand exactly why it annoys Labour voters!

    Importantly there is a group of voters that no party seems interested in touching, the self employed and small businesses in the regions. Labour seems to think that looking credible compared to Corbyn means sucking up to the City and political journalists – and thinks that being tough on migrants and the sick rather than attempting to woo small business owners is the way to victory. The Tories are simply the party of the Cayman Islands, shady hedge funds and Saudi Arabia and have more in common with yacht owning oligarchs in Monaco than the village greens of Surrey.

    Who is speaking up for the sole trader? The small business owner and employee? And especially as of the last day or so – the farmer?

  • Tristan Ward 23rd Feb '23 - 8:02am

    @ Katherine Pinder

    Katherine I do think you need to explain why Liberal Democrats should reject economic liberalism (the clue ought to be in the words) as part of the Liberal Democrat package.

    I total agree that the bastardised version that in neoliberalism (unfettered markets and trade and devil take the indmost) is not on. But that is not what I support, as you can see from what I wrote above.

    Economic liberalism has – in combination with other key elements of the liberal and democratic approach- delivered world wide benefits in wealth and freedom. We should not disguard it: we should promote it as part of the Liberal Democrat package.

    The alternative of pointing out Tory corruption and incompetence is merely what is happening now. I would add a clear goal of rejoining the Single Market and Customs area within the next 10 years, if of course the EU nations would have us.

    You may think that smacks too much of economic liberalism of course, being essentially a project involving free trade and free markets. Afterall Corbyn did think the EU was a Capitalist plot.

  • Tristan Ward 23rd Feb '23 - 9:39am

    @ Martin

    In my view the Liberal Democrats are /should be a party that uses the following tools/principles

    1Human rights
    2 representative democracy
    3 Sceptical analysis
    4 The rule of law
    5 Properly regulated free trade
    6 Sound money
    7 Internationalism

    to advance the aims set out in the pre-amble to the constitution; many of these are directly referred to there. I think economic activity run in line with these tools/principles – specifically free trade and sound money, with a good dose of the rule of law and internationalism, makes up economic liberalism. (The Single Market is a great of example if it working well)

    The whole lot together are not that far from classical liberalism, as put together by the Wiggs, Peelites and Radicals in the 1850s.

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd Feb '23 - 2:44pm

    Tristan Ward: since you have managed to spell both my Christian name and my surname wrongly in your comment to me (a feat not managed by many!) I am disinclined to prolong an argument with you. But there is one simple answer to your queries: I believe in Social Liberalism, and as a member of the Social Liberal Forum Council and having also recently been part of the Fairer Society working group, do try to promote those ideals in my party. I hope we may make progress at the York Conference next month.

  • Tristan Ward

    Economic liberalism is neo-liberal economics. It is not the economics of liberal democracies and it doesn’t include Keynesian economics. It is not what you think it is. It was Keynesian economics which delivered the benefits of everyone getting better off, low levels of unemployment and reducing in the economic divide. Economic liberalism has made the poor poorer and the rich richer and has increased economic inequalities and has made having more than one million people unemployed in the UK normal. It has no place in the Liberal Democrats.

    James Fowler,

    Nick Clegg and other Liberal Democrat MP’s believed there was space in the UK for a political party which was economic liberal but the 2015 general election proved them wrong and we haven’t recovered from the damage done by moving us to this position. The reason is that our leadership has not stated that we do not believe in liberal economics and then repeat it at every opportunity. We still give the impression that we believe that the national debt has to be paid off by our children and grandchildren and that we want to reduce the national debt.

  • Peter Martin 24th Feb '23 - 8:42am

    @ Michael BG,

    It is unfortunate that the words ‘Liberal’, and even ‘liberal’, have several different connotations. You might be better using the term ‘Classical Liberalism’ which is a political tradition and a branch of liberalism that advocates free markets and laissez-faire economics.

    The latter is a better description of what you’re objecting to than ‘liberal economics’. Also it is the economics of the 19th and early 20th century when the adoption of a gold standard was the norm. It might have made sense then but it isn’t applicable to an economy using a freely floating fiat currency.

    So the term neo-liberalism, which literally mean new liberalism but should be interpreted as a new Classical Liberalism, is an attempt to misapply an older economics to our present fiat money based economic system. However, the Tories, at least the educated ones, know that as well as anyone. So when they are faced with a crisis as they were after the 2008 GFC and during the 2020 Pandemic they jettison their own theories and rules in an instant.

    In other words, it’s not allowable to generate a few tens of billions of ££ to save the NHS from collapse, but it’s perfectly in order to ignore the rules when it comes to spending hundreds of billions to save the capitalist system itself.

  • Peter Martin,

    There are two main strands of modern liberalism – social liberalism and economic liberalism. Social Liberalism believes that the state has to be active and that it has a huge role in managing the economy to ensure most people have a job; that economic inequalities are reduced; and the economy grows as well as providing strong social and welfare support. It expects governments to be active in most aspects of society to provide a near equal level of liberty to all citizens.

    Economic Liberalism does not see the state as having such a large role in every aspect of life. It doesn’t support Keynesian economics, but believes that a smaller state and the market economy can provide liberty. It supports lower taxes, a restrained fiscal policy (a low level of deficit), the idea of balancing the budget and repaying back the some of the national debt. As James Fowler states the FDP, the VVD and the ACT are economic liberal parties. They are not social liberals but are socially liberal. The D66 are social liberals

    There are also many areas where Social Liberals and Economic Liberals agree on.

  • John McHugo 28th Feb '23 - 8:19am

    If we are looking for a compelling narrative, how about being bold and suggesting the Windsor Framework should be extended to cover the whole of the UK?

  • Roger Cracknell 9th Mar '23 - 12:49am

    The LibDem position of “now isn’t the time to make the case for rejoining the EU” is what lead to my membership coming to an end 🙁

    I joined Volt instead and also support the Rejoin EU Party, both of whom clearly believe that’s “there’s no time like the present”…

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