Prioritising soft Conservative voters will always lead to failure

I strongly agree with Nick Barlow’s call yesterday for the Party to do some serious introspection. We failed to properly do so after 2014 and 2015 and we won’t proceed on firm foundations until we do.

One reason the 2019 General Election campaign was so disastrous for us was because Labour leaning remainers went back to supporting Labour in droves. Other parties attempt to squeeze us at every Election, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. But what should deeply concern us is the degree to which Labour’s squeeze took effect and what we did to help make this happen.

The centre ground of remainers, like most culturally liberal voters, is towards the centre left. Attempts to realign us as economically right wing during the 2010-15 coalition meant we alienated many potential voters (and there has been little or no atonement for that by the three post coalition leaders). It is amongst these potential voters that we tend to carry most reputational baggage and whose support should have been least taken for granted.

During this Election campaign we instead focused on a different part of the electorate: Conservative leaning remainers and, in so doing, helped spook Labour leaning remainers about our priorities and intentions. This was a terrible mistake. Fetishizing soft Cons was an often-repeated error during 2010-15 and our failure to properly examine things that went wrong then is still costing us today.

Over the last few months, it has been frequently been said that to defeat the Conservatives we need to take votes off them. It is a trope repeated so often that is has almost become received wisdom in the Party. It is true that outside of Scotland the vast majority of our target seats are Lib Con battlegrounds. But this rationale makes a fundamental error: it fails to appreciate how we usually win under first past the post, and fails to understand the orientation of most of the natural supporter base we could represent.

We do not operate under a proportional voting system. If we did then there would be a direct relationship between us taking votes off the Cons and them losing seats. Under first past the post, in contrast, our challenge is to achieve first places and, in most of our target seats, to win more votes than the Conservatives.

Experience shows this is usually best achieved by winning over some soft Cons, but amassing a coalition of voters that includes more progressives. This is what happened in most held seats between 1997 and 2010, and has still been achieved in places like St Albans and Oxford West & Abingdon. However, this coalition of voters can all too easily fragment when we prioritise our appeal for soft Cons, as occurred in 2015 and far too readily during the 2019 campaign.

In a Brexit Election, where we were seeking to be the main party for remainers, we should have similarly positioned ourselves in the progressive centre ground of liberal and remain opinion. In the period since the Election was called however, the Party decided to go off-piste and prioritise messages suited to Conservative remainers, helping precipitate the big overall Lib Dem to Labour swing that occurred over that time. During the summer, Labour had effectively joined the remain bloc of parties through its support for a confirmatory vote. As former Lib Dem blogger of year James Graham described it, during the campaign the Party came across ‘as opposed to Labour as it is to Brexit’. This positioning made no sense and ended up alienating more voters and ultimately lost us many more first places.

The extent to which our fetishization of Conservative leaning voters inhibited our thinking was demonstrated in the Cities of London of Westminster, where I live and campaigned. The seat has more Conservative leaning remainers than almost any other in the country yet, as is the case across the country as whole, there are still more Labour leaning than Con leaning remainers here. This didn’t stop us however putting out national literature specially designed for Conservative remainers as general rather than targeted literature, despite the messages being ill-suited for the larger number of anti-Conservative voters we needed to rely on to win the seat.

In so far as we have let down the remain cause is a debate for another day. The remain community however did us lots of favours in the run up to Election to help ensure we didn’t get aggressively squeezed by promoting tactical voting in our target seats and helping forge the Unite to Remain pact. Con leaning remainers have though recently become a rich source of funding for the Party, so it may be that this had influence on our messaging. But pandering to the preferences of such people, as we did for much of the 2019 campaign, cannot magic majorities in seats out of thin air. Con remainers are too spread out to base an electoral strategy around and even where they are concentrated in a few local areas like mine, they are still outnumbered by other remainers.

Our prioritisation of soft Conservatives and the extent to which we focus on these voters should now prompt some deep questions. It has big implications for our identity and political strategy: how should we best position ourselves to win seats under FPTP, and which kind of voters do we exist to represent? The answer cannot be to repeat what we have just done.

* Paul Pettinger is a member in Westminster Borough and sits on the Council of the Social Liberal Forum.

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  • David Sheppard 14th Dec '19 - 1:11pm

    I agree with this too. However the main cause of our difficulty was the unnecessary revoke position the second biggest mistake ever made by this party after the tuition fees fiasco. As soon as that was announced we were doomed to failure who on earth was responsible for that? I cannot believe it was just the leaders decision who are these people and what gave them the right to change our clear peoples vote position?

  • Christine Headley 14th Dec '19 - 1:26pm

    Revoke was debated at the 2019 autumn conference. I voted against, but the majority went with it. As a recent conference vote, it would have been hard for the Federal Policy Committee to leave it out of the manifesto. I imagined that the leadership wanted it, but I may have been wrong. I can’t remember who spoke in its favour.

  • The data from our election counts suggests that Remain Conservatives did break for us, and that that effort was successful. However, it was neutered by large numbers of Labour Leavers switching directly to the Conservatives, which we found difficult to see and was difficult for us to prevent. This is why we came close in places like South Cambs and Winchester without winning.

    My own view is that the messaging was the problem, not necessarily the policies or principles we were trying to convey. As ever, how things actually are matters far less in politics than how they look, and we didn’t get a good handle on that this time around.

  • Jeremy Corbyn and his Marxist policies are hugely unpopular, as demonstrated by labour’s disastrous result. I’m afraid this ludicrous notion that we’d somehow have done better by dishing up to him is simply an attempt by the SLF to lead us down a far-left path that will be doomed to failure.

  • Mike MacSween 14th Dec '19 - 1:36pm

    “Experience shows this is usually best achieved by winning over some soft Cons, but amassing a coalition of voters that includes more progressives.”


  • Mike MacSween 14th Dec '19 - 1:45pm

    “As a recent conference vote, it would have been hard for the Federal Policy Committee to leave it out of the manifesto.”

    Well, in the spring 2017 conference a vote was taken on faith schools. The motion was passed and then completely ignored in the (95 page) manifesto published only a few weeks later. That told me a lot about the Lib Dem party machine. And the conclusion I came to was that, like most corrupt organisations, the Lib Dem party machine is quite prepared to ignore the opinions of its members, when the “leadership” thinks it knows better.

  • Phil Beesley 14th Dec '19 - 1:47pm

    Who is a “soft Conservative” voter? I can come up with three definitions and I presume that there are more.
    1) Socially conservative but may have a background which teaches non-judgementalism and understands poverty.
    2) Economically conservative, socially liberal; unless your tax advisor (you don’t have one?) recommends that you vote Conservative, your economic conservatism is probably misguided.
    3) Anti-Labour conservative, somebody who doesn’t like being told how to do things unless there is a good reason, somebody who does things that are right because that is how they feel.

    (Anti-Labourism took on a different, stronger tone at this election because Corbyn is a different sort of Labour leader; leaders in my lifetime and family gossip start with Wilson, so my comprehension is for 50 years.)

    Two out of my three soft Conservatives are natural liberal voters; they are the people who voted Liberal or Liberal Democrat in the south west of England or in Scotland or Yorkshire when the party had MPs. One out of my three will vote Lib Dem when conscience takes control at the ballot box.

    Note also that the trigger for each of my soft Conservatives is different. Liberalisation of drugs is a quick win for the economically conservative, socially liberal but I can still have a sensible argument with the social conservative.

  • Andy Briggs 14th Dec '19 - 1:49pm

    We built up support in many seats across southern England based on soft-Tory voters, and there are now dozens of seats where we secured a good second place and have a chance to win next time. Yes it was a great shame we did not get quite over the line in these places but it seems mad to turn our back on the strategy now.

  • Both John Grout and John Smith talk complete sense. Our positioning was spot on and we have no future as a Corbynite party.

  • We had two statist authoritarian parties contesting the last election. Only our party offered a home for internationalist social and economic liberals.

    That is where the opposition to Johnson will come from. The Labour Party is about to split in an ugly civil war,band the last thing we should be doing is lining ourselves up to become collateral damage in their fratricide.

  • Agree with one thing and disagree with another. I agree the national mailings were not inspiring – I saw a lot of the national mailings in South Cambridgeshire – endless repetition of stop Brexit, we are the only one who can beat the conservatives, we are not doing a deal with Boris or Jeremy – but beyond that nothing fresh and positive about the Liberal Democrats. Sending three or four letters to say exactly the same thing does not reinforce environmental credentials. However I disagree that we pandered to soft Conservatives – apart from producing a manifesto and costings which the IFS considered credible – what did we do to pander to soft tories? The answer cannot be to promise the earth and say that apart from a handful of the super-rich no one will have to pay for it.

  • Lawrence Fullick 14th Dec '19 - 2:39pm

    Mike MacSween
    There are times when a policy passed by Conferenve is a vote loser among parts of the population and is best not mentioned in an election manifesto.

  • Peter Davies 14th Dec '19 - 2:39pm

    For most left leaning remain voters the only argument that mattered was who was best placed to beat the Tories. Where we could credibly claim that was us, we did reasonably well at picking up that support. Most of the votes we lost over the course of the campaign were lost to Labour deploying exactly the same argument.

    The Tory remainer votes we picked up had not spotted our national campaign veering right. They probably hadn’t spotted our national campaign at all. They were generally content with our manifesto policies giving them a slightly smaller slice of the larger cake available if we remained. Those we didn’t pick up had noticed that our only route to remain was via a Labour minority government and thought that would be worse than Brexit.

  • Innocent Bystander 14th Dec '19 - 3:10pm

    I am a member of the generation on its way out and I now realise that I won’t see the sensible centre party I have dreamt of. The above piece is the social liberal wing asserting its preeminence over the economic wing.
    My own view is that the soul of this party is on the left of UK politics and did well when New Labour left space there. When Old Labour held sway, before that period, LibDems did badly and since Corbynism, has done badly again. We will see if New Labour II emerges and a left side vacancy appears again.
    However, as Blair showed, the territory for a new movement is centre right not centre left. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth here but I was impressed by how many votes LibDems got in their second to a Tory seats. Some seemed very close.
    But the LibDem membership will never concede that and will eternally strive to be a Labour Mini-Me while the Tories trample over everything for decades to come.
    BTW “Investment Economics” is code for massively expensive, vanity projects, dreamt up by, and for the benefit of, the contractor community and will enrich innumerable consultants, advisors and lawyers whilst bringing no actual benefits at all.

  • I think this is the big problem for the Lib Dems, and I don’t have any idea what the answer is.

    In this election, in England at least, Labour (very loosely) got the far-left, the younger/cities working classes, the “academia” vote. The Conservatives got most other groups of voters. The Lib Dems picked up a small amount of everyone, often due to seat-specific factors.

    Swapping voters with Labour is all very well but in the end leaves both parties in permanent opposition because even if you merged with Labour (ha ha) and all previous voters stuck with the combined party, the Conservatives would still have won this week.

    So to win an election – or at least get back to a state where the Lib Dems can be an important partner in coalition or a kingmaker in C&S or a restraining factor on a minority government – you need to get some of the voters the Conservatives currently have. But that means being a centre right party – the “Yellow Tories” of the election slur – that most of the party doesn’t want to be.

  • Phil Beesley 14th Dec '19 - 3:37pm

    @Peter Davies: “For most left leaning remain voters the only argument that mattered was who was best placed to beat the Tories.”

    That presumes a transactional perspective on voting. I have never been in a situation where I could have voted tactically (five constituencies over a long time).

    Brexit was presumed to be a transaction: vote for the flying carpet delivered next year, collect your flying carpet, go flying. Deals don’t work like that; the backlog for Brexit flying carpets implies a delivery date of 2025 with some EU cruft on the hem.

    It is very difficult for Lib Dems to explain that there will never be a flying carpet; and when somebody throws a rug into the wind, taken off in a gust, we have flying carpets, but not the one described.

    “The Tory remainer votes we picked up had not spotted our national campaign veering right.”

    The veer to the right was so subtle that I did not observe or care about it.

    (I intended this post to be about transactions. Liberals are useless as transactions. All of the Lib Dem people who negotiated the Conservative Party managing Lib Dems are silent.)

  • “My own view is that the soul of this party is on the left of UK politics and did well when New Labour left space there. When Old Labour held sway, before that period, LibDems did badly and since Corbynism, has done badly again. We will see if New Labour II emerges and a left side vacancy appears again.”

    Define ‘doing well’ ? We did well when we got into government. That wasnt from being left of labour.

  • Mike MacSween 14th Dec '19 - 4:16pm

    Lawrence Fullick 14th Dec ’19 – 2:39pm
    “Mike MacSween
    There are times when a policy passed by Conferenve is a vote loser among parts of the population and is best not mentioned in an election manifesto.”

    One thing that is important to me is a party that is committed to secularism and an end to religious privilege. The motion passed at York supported that. The party either has principles it is prepared to declare, and stick by, or it hasn’t.

    So are you saying the party bosses should just ignore that vote? To get elected? Presumably to ignore it, again? That the party bosses are happy to ignore the principles that its members voted for in order to get some MPs on a salary? So salaried party bosses will ignore paying party members so that other party members can get an MPs salary.

    Wow, the Lib Dems are even more corrupt than I thought.

  • Phil Beesley 14th Dec '19 - 4:17pm

    Innocent Bystander 14th Dec ’19 – 3:10pm:
    “BTW “Investment Economics” is code for massively expensive, vanity projects, dreamt up by, and for the benefit of, the contractor community and will enrich innumerable consultants, advisors and lawyers whilst bringing no actual benefits at all.”

    This should be written in the advisory notes for every electoral candidate.

  • I think as a party we misunderstood Brexit and Europe. We tried shouting at the keavers and drove them into the waiting arms of the tories. So what do we need. We need to be different in some areas such as federalism, here we need to be realistic and say a federal UK with greater freedom for Scotland and Wales with a separate English Parliament and the Parliament to act as a senate and Congress aka America, a referendum with that, full independence and remain as you are on the table. Maybe a ranking system so people can opt for which one they want.
    The second is tax. To encourage work how aboit all over time to be tax free. The fear if overtime hitting benefits should be removed. Also pensions, why are second pensions taxed. It is is ridiculous that the government sets this as a second income. If you make it tax free you encourage more savings and kess reliance on the state.
    Just a few suggestions… We can be liberal, left and also appeal to the softer core of Conservative voters.

  • I don’t think the Lib Dems were attracting soft Conservatives. I think the success was in seats where people opposed to the Conservative Party are reluctant to vote labour. There is a vast difference between that and “soft Conservatives”. Pre Coalition the Lib Dems were attracting a disproportionate number of disabled people, students, public sector workers and people on low incomes. Most people vote for policies, not ideologies and mostly it is driven by personal circumstances with a side order of peer pressure.

  • You lost me at: “fails to understand the orientation of most of the natural supporter base we could represent”…for it seems to me that if we had a significant natural supporter base of one form or another then most of this conversation would be completely unnecessary.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Dec '19 - 5:26pm

    Andy Briggs

    We built up support in many seats across southern England based on soft-Tory voters, and there are now dozens of seats where we secured a good second place and have a chance to win next time.

    This is completely and utterly wrong. Our party has been wrecked, and we have lost most of the support we used to get from southern working class people, who used to be our key supporters that won us seats, thanks to those who supposed this and so pushed our party closer to the Conservatives. I remember Nick Clegg actually saying just after the Coalition was formed that if we became more like the Conservatives in our economic policy, we’d win millions more votes from people who would then see us as a good and sensible party.

    We didn’t, did we?

    Glenn has it absolutely right. Our strength in southern England came from being seen as the best opposition to the Conservatives there, not as a party that was close to the Conservatives in terms of policy.

    I grew up in a working class family in southern England, and I know from that why we used to win their vote and why we have now lost them. The issue was more that the Labour Party there was weak, its membership was largely elite types, and Labour tended to give the impression that it only really cared for northern and urban types.

    As a result, working class people there, who actually wanted quite left-wing politics in terms of economics, tended to think there wasn’t much difference between the Conservatives and Labour and so if they voted at all, voted randomly for one or the other. But when the Liberals developed there and put in work to get their votes, they got them – and were more likely to do so if they came across as clearly opponents to what the Conservatives stand for in terms of the rich getting richer and the poor poorer.

  • Sue Sutherland 14th Dec '19 - 5:33pm

    Can I suggest that people take the time to look at the Ashcroft poll quoted in the comments on the tactical voting article here?
    There are several interesting breakdowns of who voted for which party and what their priorities are. I was also interested in the analysis of which person our voters thought would make the best PM. 26% thought Corbyn, 19% thought Johnson and 55% were don’t know. There was no option to choose Jo.
    I think this shows our support is marginally more left of centre than right of centre, but that we are able to appeal to both sides. This may have been the result of our anti Brexit stance but from my own experience in the past this rings true. In another analysis it is glaringly obvious that Brexit was the highest priority for Leave voters and that the Tories benefitted hugely from this.
    I believe there is no point in carrying on our internal battle about appealing to the right or to the left. It’s obvious to us that we need a strong economy to be able to offer support to those who need it, to enable them to be and have the best that’s possible. If you look at the Ashcroft analysis that was one of the top priorities of those who voted for us.
    If we choose our policies in terms of attracting the left or right we become defined by those two opposites rather than breaking through to offer a vision of a truly Lib Dem society and we will need this vision in the next election as will those who have changed their vote from Labour to Tory this time because of their devotion to Brexit.
    By the next election the country should have a good idea of whether Brexit is a success or not. It should also have a good idea of whether Boris & Co have converted to one nation Conservatives. I doubt it myself. IMHO anyone who served as a Tory MP under Thatcher by definition isn’t a one nation Tory, even though some have described themselves as that recently. Meanwhile Labour will be going through an existential crisis which may well result in two different parties.
    In these circumstances the increase in our vote share and the number of constituency second places we have may well become significant. In the meantime let’s carry on thinking about a Lib Dem society and try to make our peace with the vast numbers of voters who voted Leave.

  • Innocent Bystander 14th Dec '19 - 5:41pm

    Dan M
    My view is that the LibDems grew steadily through the years of New Labour and the decline actually began before the 2015 collapse as Blairite Labour was forced leftwards.
    I just don’t see any centre left party taking power in the UK and a Blairite moderate right / centre grouping is where the people want to be.

  • I think prioritising soft Labour or Conservative voters will always lead to failure. We need to prioritise people who are unhappy with both parties. We need first to persuade a large group of voters to voter for us. It is no good appealing to Socialists who wish to have the largest 200 companies in the UK nationalised, nor to those who believe in a small state where everyone should be free to succeed or fail on their own and the state should only provide free education for children, police, prisons and national defence.

    Once we have secured second place we need to persuade those voting for the third party that it is not only safe to vote for us, but we would be a better alternative than the party in first place. As an anti-Conservative party most of our target seats are where we are second to Conservatives, therefore I agree with Paul Pettinger, that it is no good coming over during campaign nationally as an anti-Labour party.

    The unpopularity of Corbyn was an issue for Conservative voters, but I haven’t seen any evidence that in Labour Leave seats this was a factor for their loss. (Kensington is a Conservative seat and maybe in 2017 Labour gained normal Conservative Leave voters to win it and these transferred to us in 2019.) As Labour lost lots of their Leave seats it seems more likely that the issue was Leave rather than Corbyn even if on the doorsteps voters said it was Corbyn rather than Leave.

    Many of us thought the battle between economic liberals and social liberals had been won by the social liberals, but as Steve Trevethan points out we come over as ‘austerity-lite’ rather than a party which rejects austerity and all its work and wants to repair the damage done by austerity.

    It should be clear to our members that there is no role in British politics for a European liberal party which is economic liberal and socially liberal. The question is, how we ensure that all power bases in the party recognise this.

  • Phil Beesley 14th Dec '19 - 6:22pm

    @Steve Trevethan: “Perhaps one essence of Investment Economics is that the theory and practice of finance-economics result in each succeeding generation being better off than the preceding one?”

    No. Trickle down theory is nonsense. People become wealthy enough to buy cooked tortillas rather than a raw potato.

  • I don’t understand the talk about disastrous campaign, when Lib Dems increased their vote more than any other party, adding more than.50% to the previous result. Maybe the expectations were too high?

    Of course the allocation of the votes by constituency was tragic, but that tells more about an unsuccessful allocation of the resources than about a disastrous campaign per se.

  • Mary Regnier-Wilson 14th Dec '19 - 9:39pm

    I wonder how many of those commenting are basing there comments on actual evidence or just what they feel happened. Cos you know, we are Lib Dems, we are meant to do evidence-based decisions. John Grout is absolutely right and I have numbers to prove it. In South Cambs, where we came so close, we didn’t fail to attract Tory remainers. We didn’t fail to attract labour remainers. Our campaign lost because labour leave voters, people that we had no hope of attracting in this election without considerably changing our core values and policies, switched directly from labour to the Tories.

    The national campaign didn’t help much. By spending so much time with our much wanted media cut through telling people why Corbyn was so terrible, we simply softened up labour leave voters to switch their vote, and it was very unlikely they would switch to us in a general election. I can attract those people at district or county level by talking about potholes but that doesn’t work when the national media story is all about Brexit and we are on the opposite side to them.

    I wouldn’t presume to provide solutions yet when none of us have had time to fully analyse results (and if you have had the time and energy to do that wtf weren’t you working harder last week). I have known for a while that we were going to lose in many seats because they hadn’t built up the campaigning capacity to deliver a campaign of the size needed to win a GE and would encourage each and every one of you to stop bellyaching about what went wrong for now and start putting yourself in a practical position to execute a campaign with decent strategies in the future by ensuring you’ve spoken to every single one of your local members and petition signers and got them involved in fighting for Liberal Democracy

  • Nonconformistradical 14th Dec '19 - 10:21pm

    @Jon V
    “You ultimately need PR, and working with the next Labour government, whoever that is led by, is your best hope of getting it. That means that even if Labour refuse to work with you as mentioned above, you need to stand aside to help them win on a coalition basis, then take steps to implement PR. ”

    So, by magic, Labour, if having refused to work with us, suddenly favours PR? There is a Labour organisation favouring PR but they aren’t running the Labour party as far as I know.

    If by chance Labour got in power under FPTP why would they magically be prepared to implement PR? No chance whatsoever!

  • Yousuf Farah 14th Dec '19 - 10:47pm

    So the author of this article would have the party become a Labour mini-me movement? The reality is that we are much more likely to attract soft conservatives than people who regularly vote Labour, who consider us to be shy or yellow Tories.

  • Dave Chapman 14th Dec '19 - 11:48pm

    It’s the old joke. ‘If I wanted to go there, I wouldn’t start from here’.

    But the LibDems are ‘here’, and have to recognise it. There’s no point magically pretending you’re at a different set-off point.

    As a voter, I don’t support you. It’s unlikely in the limited number of elections ahead in my life I’d ever place a vote in your favour. I don’t support your policies, I don’t support your world view or geographic regional view. As it happens, I don’t believe you even want to win an election with a majority. Looking back nearly fifty years on my voting life, your policies have barely changed in the past thirty.

    Post-elections, it seems there is a default LD blame game, proceeding from ‘FPTP. to ‘the Meeja’ to ‘Coalition’ ending with ‘we didn’t get our message across’. But never, never, never ‘we got it wrong’. Why would I care? You aren’t going to get my vote, not least because you don’t want it.

    Seriously. As a party, as an organisation, as a movement – are you going to be happy to lose elections for the next fifty years (you will) or are you prepared to face uncomfortable facts about your own existential state? Only the membership can answer that – as a voter who had an alternative for voting for a serial buffoon and liar; or a supporter of terrorists and a person prepared to overlook institutionalised antisemetism, give me a reason to vote for you. Don’t hide behind tropes I’ve been rejecting for decades, get real.

    ’24 hours to save the NHS’, ‘Europe’, ‘PR’ – if you haven’t noticed, these have been repeatedly rejected by the electorate you want to adopt. It hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work in the future. Stop wasting breath and effort.

    Do you want to form a majority government or not? On basis of observation, I don’t think you do. I think you’re comfortable with failure. (And don’t waste my time with ‘we increased the number of constituencies we came second or third in – You became more successful losers? Listen to yourselves.)

    If you’re happy to continue to lose with your traditional policies, by all means do so. It’s not my subscription money. But please do it without boring the wider electorate. No matter ‘how well your policies are received on the doorstep’ it doesn’t exactly translate into electoral success, does it?

    And, to labour the point, don’t bother blaming FPTP. It’s a coward’s game.

  • Michael Sammon 15th Dec '19 - 3:11am

    We never got into government when we were more left wing and Labours shift to the left was always going to squeeze us in that department. There is no other party for social and economic liberals and pragmatic centrists. The remain community don’t care for the future of the lib dems and don’t even understand that you can’t just stand down in any seat and expect to take it back whenever we like, it destroys our core vote. The idea that we can now be the party of the left is a non starter.

  • Stephen Hesketh 15th Dec '19 - 8:05am

    We are predominantly a party of Social Liberals; even if it would work, it would clearly be dishonest – to ourselves and to the electorate – to prioritise this group over our natural political constituency and kin. Finally it is an approach previously tried and tested – with disastrous consequences we continue to live with between 5 and 10 years later. Evidence-based policy anyone?

  • Oh dear, it looks like we are getting back to the stifling consensus that was killing politics in the early noughties. With three rightwing parties, with exactly the same policies, calling each other names. While the electorate walked away in disgust.

    I know you will say leftwing policies are discredited by Corbyn’s defeat but that misreads the situation. The polling shows the policies were popular, it was Corbyn the voters didn’t like.

    If you think you will succeed by becoming the yellow Tories, you are making a profound error. Still your party, your choice.

  • The argument about our relationship with the European Union was really about a non-existent European Union. The discussion focussed on an anti-democratic European Union where our laws are decided by an unelected group of bureaucrats in Brussels.
    The real European Union – the one which is the only democratic international organisation of countries was not mentioned.
    The discussion taken centred on something called Brexit. This was taken up enthusiastically by our party – hence the bollocks to Brexit nonsense. Then came Revoke –
    I have no idea what that would have meant operationally, if anything. The frequent emails that I received asking for money never told me.
    In the elections I have contested I have never mentioned my opponents. I always reasoned that they should use their own money to get publicity – not my party’s money.
    I cannot criticise the approach of my party to this because I do not understand what its approach is.

  • “So, by magic, Labour, if having refused to work with us, suddenly favours PR? There is a Labour organisation favouring PR but they aren’t running the Labour party as far as I know.

    If by chance Labour got in power under FPTP why would they magically be prepared to implement PR? No chance whatsoever”

    That isn’t what the poster is saying, they are saying that you should do the electoral maths and aim for minority Labour government; by standing aside in seats that will helped achieve that.

    Then you make PR the condition for joining a coalition. First bill of new government, no referendum, just straight reform. It is what Clegg should have done when he had Cameron over a barrel. If he had, you would already have PR.

  • Innocent Bystander 15th Dec '19 - 10:40am

    I was just looking back at the first election I went to in the 60’s.
    The Libs were led by a “Jo” and had 12 seats. For the one at which I just voted the party was led by “Jo” and had 13 seats.
    That’s a lot of time and shoe leather for quite limited progress. Even though the party is a small, third political entity, that does not make it “centrist”.
    The soul of this party is strongly on the left and will for ever be overshadowed by Labour.
    The actual political centre is far to the right of where this party’s activists are prepared to go and my guess is it will still be this size in another 50 years.

  • Dave Chapman,

    You question our policies and then ask us to convince you to vote for us. Therefore I will not state our existing polices. Instead I will set out what they should be.

    We will:

    Reform the benefits system so no one either in work or out of work will live in poverty in the UK after ten years;
    Restore the cuts to legal aid;
    Increase the number of social homes for rent which are built gradually with the aim of building 167,000 new social homes in the fourteenth year (a total of 1.635 million new social homes);
    Increase the National Minimum Wage to 70% of average earnings within seven years and set regional wage rates for those regions with above average earnings (i.e. London and the south east England);
    Aim to grow the economy by as close to 3% as possible;
    Increase investment in the poorest regions of the UK;
    Ensure that unemployed people have free access to training and/or work experience that suits them and the jobs market locally to them;
    Increase the amount spend on education per child above that of 2010;
    Increase spending on the NHS and particularly on mental health so someone referred by a GP will see a mental health doctor within three months (with the aim to reduce this further);
    Increase taxation on land values.

    The aim of a Liberal Democrat government would be to ensure everyone who wanted a home for their own had one, everyone who wanted a job had one, that no one lives in poverty, everyone is treated equally and we have a society which activity assists people (where needed) to fulfil their full potential.

    Would you vote for party with such a manifesto?

  • Yousuf Farah 15th Dec '19 - 5:33pm

    @Michael BG
    Well said Michael. I agree with every word. Our policies and commitment to Liberalism should define us, instead of being bogged down by how hard we should polish Labour’s shoes and grovel before them. Labour are now in the early stages of huge civil war, between the Corbynistas and the Blairites, this is another clear sign that Labour are in decline. We should work towards what they really fear, and that is taking this opportunity to rebuild and supplant them.

  • Nonconformistradical 15th Dec '19 - 5:38pm

    @Michael BG
    “Increase the National Minimum Wage to 70% of average earnings within seven years”

    What sort of ‘average’ are you implying? Median or mean?

  • Richard Underhill 15th Dec '19 - 6:04pm

    Nonconformistradical 15th Dec ’19 – 5:38pm
    “What sort of ‘average’ are you implying? Median or mean?”
    There are more than two types of average
    (just as there are more than two political parties)
    Have you forgotten, or ignored, geometric?

  • @Mary Regnier-Wilson (14th Dec, 9:39pm).
    Brilliant comment. I agree with every word. Everyone should read this and take it on board.

  • Nonconformistradical 15th Dec '19 - 6:24pm

    @Richard Underhill
    I don’t dispute there are more than 2 types of average but I suggest those with which more people have a chance of being familiar are mean and possibly median – so I confined the likely possibilities to those.

    But the point you make merely reinforces the need to be clear about which one is in use.

  • David Evans 15th Dec '19 - 7:12pm

    Patrick – the Campaign started on 31st October 2019 when we were at about 15%, already down from 20% a month earlier. However we ended up on 11.6%, losing our leader. We didn’t increase our vote in the campaign, it collapsed because the campaign once again was poor. From “Britain’s next Prime Minister” at the start to Revoke and on to the car crash that was the Women’s Hour ‘Gender Self Identification’ fiasco.

    The fact we almost increased our vote share by 50% from 2017 was due to the hard work on a People’s vote and the efforts of our council candidates and EU campaign this May. But the campaign itself squandered much of it.

  • Yousuf Farah,

    Thank you for your support which I found surprising considering what I have read of your recent comments, which implied you wanted us to be more centre-right than left.


    I should have known better and written ‘median’ not ‘average’.

    Also when I wrote ‘regional wage rates’ I missed out ‘minimum’ – set regional minimum wage rates for those regions …”

  • Julian Tisi 16th Dec '19 - 1:37pm

    Beyond Brexit, our party has a clear USP in being BOTH socially liberal and economically responsible. I was very proud of the fact that in this election we were seen as doing the most for the very poorest by the Joseph Rowntree foundation and at the same time we were seen as the most fiscally responsible by the IFS. I don’t want our party to lose this USP as it’s a strong mix. Also arguably two sides of the same coin: you can’t have a fairer society without a strong economy underpinning it.

    In Windsor this was a strong message and we swept up not just votes but activists too from former Conservatives. We would have gained many more had it not been for:
    a) our disastrous Revoke policy, alienating just about every pro-Leave voter and many Remain voters too who thought it hugely undemocratic
    b) fear of Corbyn. Despite us rightly keeping our distance from him, “Vote Lib Dem, get Corbyn” was one of the main Tory attack lines.

  • James Fowler 16th Dec '19 - 4:49pm

    I disagree with the Paul’s post. I have three points:

    1. Pragmatism. The vast majority of our plausible targets are Conservatives. One vote moved from directly the Conservatives to us is worth two taken from other parties. Let’s not forget our defence! All the seven English MPs face the Tories. The maths are the same.

    2. Principals. At its innermost heart liberalism celebrates the rational individual. That makes us the best of enemies with the Conservatives. The working class social solidarity that created and sustain(ed?) the Labour Party can only be outflanked by appeals to nationalism – as we have just witnessed. Liberals are never credible nationalists and pointless substitute socialists.

    3. Coherence. A position of social and economic liberalism is logically coherent and as such very powerful. It may not always be a popular position, but when have unpopular positions (constitution, cannabis) bothered us? Chasing every vote is hugely attractive, but 57 by-elections doesn’t cut it in government as we found out after 2010. Let’s focus on what our ideology equips us to do best: Corner the Conservatives into being the Party of the land while we’re the Party of capital and entrepreneurship. Leave labour to Labour.

  • We needed to decide when the election was called whether to campaign on remain or other factors. As others have said once we moved off Brexit, we risked alienating some remain voters. We need to be clearer in future how centralised the campaign is going to be and how we can maximise our vote and seats – not easy decisions. If each constituency received a confidential briefing paper, we might have a better chance of involving more members to implement the strategy.

  • I agree with most of the arguments in the article. We do need to be clearly left of centre and progressive if the Party is to move on. That way we will attract the votes needed in those marginal Constituencies and begin to build a strong Party. The Party MUST be stronger on issues of Health and Housing to help emphasise that we believe in Social Justice. We should also continue to emphasise our commitment to Civil Liberties through defence of the Human Rights Act…

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