Report into the 2015 General Election

General Election Review coverIn the aftermath of the May 2015 election, the FE tasked the Campaigns and Communications Committee with conducting a review. Today we are publishing our report and you can read it here.

Made up of myself, Sal Brinton, Candy Piercy, Martin Tod, Neil Fawcett, Tim Razzall, Jo Foster, and David Green, the review group received feedback from over 7500 party members.

In addition we conducted interviews with a wide range of people from MPs and former MPs to senior staff, PPCs, field organisers, agents and members of the House of Lords.

The size of the response was overwhelming, and despite the difficult subject matter, we witnessed a huge amount of optimism, hope, and belief in the capacity of the Party to sustain and rebuild itself in the months and years to come.

The responses we received covered a range of issues and we have identified trends and dealt with them with specific recommendations. You will see also that we did not limit ourselves to the mechanics of the election itself, but have included the impact of the period since 2010 as this was a significant element of the feedback we received.

It has been an exhaustive process, and as Chair I am thankful to everybody who has donated their time, skills, and expertise in order that this should be as deservingly rigorous a process as the subject matter required. This is particularly true of the HQ staff support provided to us in the form of Rachael Clarke who stood with us through thick and thin even as her job responsibilities changed considerably.

I am pleased to say that the Federal Executive has accepted all of our recommendations. The challenge now is to enact them with the staff and financial resource we have available. This is the CCC’s next task.

* James Gurling is a member of the Federal Board and was brother-in-law to Charles Kenendy.

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  • Paul Harding 19th Feb '16 - 11:15am

    Very pleasing to see this report finally published.

    From personal point of view it’s pleasing to see the recommendations around staffing (pages 18-19). It really is sad that it’s taken until 2015/16 to recommend that staff have a ‘proper career structure’ and are thanked for their work.

    I do hope these recommendations will actually be implemented and not just left sitting on a shelf until 2021 when it’ll be too late.

    Paul Harding
    Constituency Staffer 2006-2012.

  • Candy Piercy 19th Feb '16 - 11:22am

    Paul, thanks for your comments. We are determined as both CCC and FE that our next task is to drive the implementation of these recommendations.

  • The party had a leader that the voters didn’t trust and had supported the Tories on tuition fees, secret courts and the bedroom tax etc. If the party still supports those type of policies there is nothing in the reports recommendations that will help you.

  • Oddly, malc, all of those things are addressed head-on in the report…

  • John Grout – I must have missed it, what is the new policy on Tuition Fees?

  • This is a review into what went wrong, not a policy document.

  • Ashley Lumsden 19th Feb '16 - 12:05pm

    My first reading of this report is that it is straightforward, honest and helpful.

    While I know that some people might want more naming and shaming I think it hits the right balance of pointing out mistakes without trying to pin it on one or two people. After all, many people had to work with ideas that they hadn’t themselves promoted or supported.

    But more importantly there are lots of recommendations which need thinking through carefully. Some could have some significant implications for the way we organise ourselves and make decisions.

  • Dave Orbison 19th Feb '16 - 12:26pm

    “Disjunction” ???? Ah now as I reach for the politicians’ thesaurus how about… “economical with the truth” or “misrepresented” or perhaps , getting warmer, “misled” or finally and truthfully just say it as it was “lied”.

    Persisting with the ‘media and the electorate were confused’ or didn’t understand will do the LIbDems no good whatsoever. But by all means carry on patronising the electorate just so long as you never expect ‘trust’ to be seen as a credible part of any future manifesto.

  • It states that the party’s positioning on key issues was misguided, and that this was compounded by the fact that while the leadership was (mistakenly) assuming that the 2010 manifesto front page commitments were the main benchmarks, the public and media saw the tuition fees pledge as more emblematic. I don’t think the report equivocates on that front. I’d certainly say ‘disjunction’ was a perfectly fair way of describing that. Calling it a lie is just as big a misrepresentation as suggesting the controversy was a result of media or public confusion.

    But of course it’s much more satisfying to call it a lie regardless.

  • The seeds of the tuition fees problem were sown well before the 2010 election. I suggest we still need a proper post-mortem into that.

    It wasn’t just a policy, it was something that needed a strategic decision making about it; one that anticipated being in coalition and facing a massive deficit.

  • To summarise my position: I think the report should have been slightly more blunt about poor Westminster leadership and direction, but I accept that in the context of a review, pointing a finger is best left to inference rather than stating it directly.

    What will FE do to ensure that we enact on these commitments, and in particular to embed the coalition lessons so deeply in party structure that we do not forget them the next time we enter coalition, which could be many decades from now?

  • Dave Orbison 19th Feb '16 - 1:12pm

    John “calling it a lie”. Instead of asking some of the 7500 or so remaining members how about asking the many tens, hundreds of thousands of ex LibDem voters on where they stand. Did they feel that the LibDems lied on ‘student fees’? It beggars belief that after all that has transpired some LibDems are still falling over themselves coming up with a formulaic phrase to avoid what took place. Nick Clegg used ‘trust’ as the central plank of his 2010 election appeal. The report is hopelessly flawed. The elephant in the room, as is starts with the premise that going into coalition was exactly the right thing to do. A more objective assessment, at the very least, should have considered if that was really the case.

    But no, it was the fault of the public and media who were stupid, the messages were confused, the slogans were mixed up, we suffered from bad morale (why one might ask?), even Ed Milliband was weak!

    Goodness, you name it and this report seems to blame anything and anyone but the one thing the it does not do, and the LibDem establishment refuse to consider, is to call into question whether or not going into the Coalition was the right thing to do after all. Keeping telling yourselves it was but in the real world, no one is listening.

  • The one thing the report doesn’t do is say that it’s the fault of the public for being stupid.

    And the figure isn’t 7,500, it’s 65,000 – 20,000 of whom joined in the last nine months or so.

  • Going into the Coalition was the right thing to do. But the first two years of it were extremely badly managed from a party point of view. The tuition fees issue being the extreme example. However, this had been debated millions of times and the important issue is that we learn from it. I start from a basic premise that a report that Neil Fawcett seems to be happy with is likely to be at least OK. It will never satisfy the trolls on here but it’s a starting point that needs to be implemented properly.

  • Given that this is a web site for Liberal Democrat supporters, why are there so many self-declared non-supporters commenting in an internal party matter. I welcome debate with these people, but this is not the web site for it.

  • Dave Orbison 19th Feb '16 - 1:37pm

    John – corrections. The report refers to views from 7500 LibDem members and that is what I refer to. I did not say that was all LibDems members. Also the report refers to the media and public not understanding how coalitions work. That in my book is incredibly patronising and self righteous and is akin to saying we were stupid. But are these really the main issues here? If still playing with words rather than accepting the reality confronting the LibDems about the Coailtion but then I am just one ex LibDem voter.

  • Fair enough. Re: coalitions, it’s true that they are pretty alien to UK political culture, in contrast to most other European countries, and that the dynamics involved are therefore alien too. I don’t think pointing that out is patronising – and in any case, the report clearly and repeatedly lays the blame at the party’s cack-handed approach to the problem, rather than leaving it at the problem’s existence in the first place. Denying its existence as a factor would be a gross disservice, in any case.

    I’m not sure what you mean by playing with words. I think the issue here is that perceptions of the “reality” of the Coalition are entirely subjective.

  • Peter Watson 19th Feb '16 - 2:25pm

    Skimming the report, it seems to make a number of important points. It highlights the ‘broken promise’ of tuition fees and the way the party appeared “content to be willing appendages” to the Conservatives. But … none of these things should be a surprise to anyone.
    I first came to this site after the 2010 election, looking for (but not finding) reasons to continue to support the party. In all of that time, many people have made exactly the same points that are being made in the report. This is not about the benefit of hindsight or some dazzling revelation after May 2015. More worryingly, some on this site argued against these points or were dismissive of those making them, and senior Lib Dems ignored them. How can we be sure that these people will learn the lessons now?

  • Candy Piercy 19th Feb '16 - 2:43pm

    Peter Watson, writing the report was only the first part of our task. The second part is to make sure our recommendations are implemented. The CCC and the FE will work together on that.
    We talking in depth to many Lib Dems at all levels of the Party. Our report reflects the main thrust of their views and experiences.
    I hope this resulting report will help us convince people like you that we understand where we got things wrong and how we need to get them right in the future. Ten we need to act on these positive intentions.
    And then I hope you, and many thousands like you, will find reasons to support the Lib Dems again in the future.

  • I’ve read the full report, and it hits most of the nails squarely on the head. It’s especially good that it recognises the total strategic failure of attempting to make the idea of coalition palatable, rather than working to ensure our party’s independence and influence within government was both protected and promoted. The irony of this approach was that it poisoned the well both for cross-party cooperation and for our electoral prospects, especially once the inevitable major policy compromises began to be made.

    The point made frequently by many senior Lib Dems in 2010 was that going into government was a difficult choice made partly (or mostly) out of the desire to do the right thing by the country; continuing to neglect our party’s health after that decision was made bordered on the masochistic.

    I hope for the sake of both our party and the country that many of the recommendations in the report will be implemented swiftly.

  • The polls indicate the LibDems will get wiped out in Wales in the May Assembly elections, but might hang on to a few seats in Scotland. The overwhelming reason will be lack of trust and I can’t see anything in the report that will help you. Nobody knows what you stand for, do you still support the bedroom tax or secret courts? The voters just don’t know.

  • Nigel Quinton 19th Feb '16 - 3:19pm

    malc, as far as I am aware the LibDems have never supported secret courts or the bedroom tax. The LibDems were part of a coalition government and as part of that had to support some policies that were not their own. Actually rather a lot of them. That is because they had 57 MPs versus the Tories 300 odd. That is democracy, or at least our lop-sided version of it.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Feb '16 - 3:27pm

    I’ve read the executive summary twice and unfortunately I don’t rate it. It is similar to the 2014 Euro election review. There needs to be an external review of the party, not just asking a load of activists what they didn’t like.

    It’s not a hard-headed review of why people didn’t vote Liberal Democrat because half of it is just myths written down such as “the party was too close to the Tories” or words to that effect.

    There isn’t a single word about the manifesto in the Executive Summary. It talks about policies, but simply complains that “the core vote didn’t like them” or “The Tories stole them”.

    Is the aim of the Lib Dems to always be a significant minority or to produce a Prime Minister? If the aim is to remain a significant minority then the review is good, but if it wants to do the really hard work of building a party with nationwide support then the executive summary barely scratches the surface on the areas that the party isn’t trusted on: namely things like immigration and standing up for the average British citizen. Regards

  • Nigel Quinton

    I think you are illustrating the very attitude that saw the Party almost wiped out in 2015. Politics is much more complex than you are painting and quite frankly, unless you want the Party to be completely annihilated, you need a better narrative than that. That one didn’t work in 2015 and it won’t work in any other year either. All you will succeed in increasing will be people’s contempt for the Lib Dems. Do you really want that??

  • @Eddie Sammon – there is no such thing as “the average British citizen”. The most you can say about the electorate is that there are distinct groups of voters to whom different parties appeal to a greater or lesser extent. What the Lib Dems failed spectacularly to do between 2010-2015 (and arguably before that, given our loss of seats in 2010) was concentrate our fire on the voter groups that most align with our principles and our policies. David Howarth and Mark Pack have written extensively on the subject, and David’s research on voter behaviour is the best and most evidence-based I have seen.

    The report actually chimes very well with David and Mark’s analysis. I would recommend reading the whole thing rather than just the executive summary.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Feb '16 - 3:50pm

    Hi Tom, maybe I was a bit harsh, but if the party adopts Mark Pack’s strategy I won’t be voting for it. It’s not a threat, it’s a statement of near fact.

    There is such thing as the average British citizen when you poll the country on immigration. The average British citizen is not libertarian about immigration and if the party wants to box itself in to only focusing on these voters who it thinks are morally superior or whose vested interests it wants to appease then it will just be boring because the next decades of Liberal Democrat history will just look like the previous ones – some influential MPs, but not who the country looks to for proper government.

  • A Social Liberal 19th Feb '16 - 3:53pm

    Is it true there are two reports – one circulated and another which is effectively for MPs and ‘eyes only’? That MPs had to go into a locked room to read and could only take a pencil and paper with them to make notes?

  • Tony Greaves 19th Feb '16 - 4:06pm

    I have not yet seen or read this report so I am not going to comment on reports of what it says! However I just want to point out that the Liberal Democrats are a democratic party so it must not be assumed by anyone that just because something is recommended in this report it should automatically happen. It should be put to the democratic processes of the party and fully discussed first.


  • It would be helpful if a proper digital version of the report is published, rather than a simple facsimile document.

    However, from my quick reading, the report says very little and probably zero about some rather important considerations, namely:

    1. Termination of the coalition agreement
    2. The absence of a new coalition agreement
    3. The LibDem party’s reaction to being in power and coalition

    To my mind, as has been said previously, a big factor in the election was the lack of a “more coalition” box on the ballot paper. Yes, the LibDems exited coalition too early, yes the initial agreement was for only one term, but they should of negotiated a new agreement, given their prior belief in coalition/minority government. This would of permitted existing seats to effectively only have a single candidate from a coalition party, massively increasing the chances of the LibDems returning 57+ MP’s.

  • The arguments here about tuition fees overlook the clear polling evidence that our support, as evidences by the opinion polls, had already collapsed on entry to the coalition before the tuition fees debacle gave people an excuse to confirm a decision to desert us they had made long before. Until we understand better what gets us support we will struggle to regain it on the 1997-2010 scale

  • Bruce Hosie 19th Feb '16 - 5:47pm

    I have not read the report as yet so can’t comment on it but I suspect that it will miss the point in some areas. I joined the party after the GE and so far have been disappointed by how many heads remain buried in the sand.

    No the tuition fees issue has been debated and will not go away anytime soon, possibly never given the perception of you can’t trust the liberals. However, the party was played all through government and should have walked away very early on. The party suffered from terrible leadership , rap Clegg and Alexander who even today are perceived by many as being more Tory than the Tories.

    The party has to get back to its core policies and to get the rest of the old brigade gone, unless there is major change I fear for the future of the party as right now it’s toxic.

  • Colin Rosenstiel – I don’t recall support in the polls collapsing before the tuition fee farce. There was a drop when the coalition was formed, but nothing compared to the drop when the party leadership voted to triple tuition fees. Ask the ex MP for Withington Manchester if he understands where his support in 2010 came from. After being an excellent MP and holding the seat – with a large student population – for 10 years, he lost in 2015 by 15,000 votes. He was dead and buried the moment Clegg voted to triple the fees.

  • Dave Orbison 19th Feb '16 - 6:31pm

    Perhaps a dose of reality is needed. Check Twitter reaction to the report or dismiss them too?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th Feb '16 - 7:07pm

    @A Social Liberal. That is absolutely not true.

  • Bill le Breton 19th Feb '16 - 9:17pm

    I agree with Mike Bird’s pithy summation, “Everything went wrong, no-one to blame.”

    I was part of the 97 GE team. As a campaign the 97 campaign wasn’t as trouble free as the result might indicate, but the necessary changes were put in place for the next GE campaign. Never again would the leader choose the ‘Chair of the general Election Campaign’. That would automatically be the Chair of the Campaigns and Communications Committee (CCC) elected by the FE and the nucleus of the campaign team would be the membership of the CCC. This did away with the Leader bringing someone into run a separate organisation and overriding the full time paid staff of the Party and preventing this being a person who might not be well entrenched in the Party. A second factor was that the Party’s Director of Campaigns would be the top campaign adviser for the election and would not have to make way for an ‘amateur’ for the GE campaign.

    I was a member of the 2001 GE Team and of the CCC where this system was first used and worked well.I imagine it was also the way that the 2005 campaign worked, as the key personnel were the same individuals.

    Of course this approach was not followed in 2010 with Starkey being parachuted in and this way of doing things seems to be one of the major criticisms contained in the 2015 review report.

    Why were the lessons and reforms based on election campaigns prior to 2001 jettisoned ? For who decided to do this is ultimately to blame for the poor campaign in 2010 and 2015.

    The people responsible must have been people who had been effectively excluded from major influence in 2001 and 2005 because they were ‘too busy’ to be full time on the job + those who believed that 2001 and 2005 had been poor campaigns and necessary scapegoats for a proposed change in campaigning and policy.

    These people were ruthless in their pursuit of their ideas (not in itself a bad thing provided they were right in their analysis, which results in 2010 and 2015 tell us they weren’t).

  • Only had time to glance through today – but it seems there’s lots of good stuff in there an there’s finally some honesty around tuition fees and poor messaging. Will go through more carefully over the weekend, but this looks like a helpful document at first sight.

  • I’ve been a member for 16 years and a voter since 1987. I was never comfortable with getting into bed with the Tories – in a way I would not with Labour. Inevitably the leadership then came over all starry eyed about being in bed with Cameron and despite having a constituency that was strongly founded in University seats unbelievably betrayed a quarter of its core vote. Why on earth would ANY Lib Dem vote for an increase in tuition fees, against the marquee policy of the previous election campaign. After that we allowed Osborne to trample all over public servants – another key constituency. And even then the leadership were arrogant enough to think – in the face of all polling evidence – that the voters would come flocking back. If we’d not joined the coalition we’d probably have at least 70 MP’s now. What did we achieve in sacrificing 60 of them?

  • How many of the new members did you consult? Clearly these individuals were not only disgusted with the outcome but still shared a belief in our Party, regardless of our destruction.

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th Feb '16 - 9:03am

    Peter Watson 19th Feb ’16 – 2:25pm
    Well said Peter.

    As a party we appear not to be able to face up to the fact that it was also the domination by particular branch of liberal thought which philosophically and organisationally drove much of went wrong during the coalition period.

    We often appeared to be a playing to a subtext that there were millions of soft Tory suppoters eager to vote for us if only we could prove that, in government, we too could take the ‘tough’ economic decisions.

  • John Barrett 20th Feb '16 - 11:42am

    As there are now two discussions on the report I thought I would share my comments from the other one here.

    Sorry for those who might read it twice.

    There has been also little or no understanding in the report, or anywhere else, of the disastrous effect the quad and the decisions it made had on the party.

    The two most important people in the Treasury; Danny and George Osborne, having been appointed to the top of the most important government department in the middle of a global economic crisis, not because of their experience or skills, but because they were best friends of their party leaders was not a good start.

    Then for the same two to join their respective leaders in the quad, was not going to lead to any hard bargaining on either side. Their loyalty to Clegg and Cameron was the reason they were there in the first place.

    Neither had the depth of economic experience or the correct background or track record of success for the jobs they ended up doing in the Treasury and both were simply rewarded for loyalty and support for their men when they became party leaders. This was no surprise, as it has happened in previous governments and will no doubt happen again.

    Why it created such havoc for the Liberal Democrats was that our half of the quad effectively decided major matters of policy on behalf of the entire party.

    So, when Nick did not get his way with the party over Tuition Fees in the election campaign, he could easily change that through the quad. Instead of convincing the party, he only needed Danny to agree.

    The fact that all this and more is missing from the report is just one of its weaknesses.

  • John Barrett 20th Feb '16 - 11:48am

    I appreciate my last comment was not actually part of the election campaign, but it explains why what was agreed in the campaign was changed later on.

    If we are to learn lessons for the future, we need to understand why campaign policies and decisions were then undermined.

  • I feel that the report could have highlighted the cynical efforts of the Tories throwing vast sums of money at Lib Dem seats rather than targetting Labour – we lost half our seats to them, whilst the report could have highlighted that Lib Dems put up a much better fight than Labour in trying to hold our Scottish seats. We never stressed enough that the tuition fees issue permitted income tax rates to rise, that all our MPs not in government positions abstained or voted against the fee rises. We should have pointed out that fees would not be repaid until one earned £21k pa (up from £15k pa), and that after our income tax thresh-holds rose only those earning £67k pa or more would be worse off.

  • As far as I can see, this report says nothing about the Special Birmingham Conference, where party members gave their reaction to the concept of coalition. This has been consistently misrepresented – party members submitted several amendments, especially on the subject of tuition fees. There were other amendments which were excluded by the Conference Committee. Easily given verbal assurances were tossed to the party over these serious matters raised by members. These assurances were totally ignored by the leader and various Lib Dem ministers, and started to create the situation where people lost faith in the leadership, left the party etc leading to the much weakened party we have now described in the report. To wash over these failings is to risk something similar happening again (not for 30 or 40 years at least, though!) It is also to let those culpable off lightly. I am afraid, Caron, that will no doubt include senior staff as well as parliamentarians, and probably some Federal committee members too.

  • Where is the word trust in this report – Absolutely Nowhere!

    The vast majority of the UK population no longer trust the Liberal Democrats. That is the problem so many of us refuse to face up to. I wonder if it was in any of the earlier drafts of the report, and if so, on whose urging it was removed.

  • Apologies for the above post. Who made the decision to only being producing it in an image format, so you can’t search for text strings etc? Totally absurd, unless you just want to make it more difficult for people to critique it.

  • David Evans 20th Feb '16 - 2:08pm

    So loss of trust in the party was actually mentioned just once in the entire report (plus once where trust in “Elections and Field Department ” was mentioned).

    That compares with five times for ‘Stronger Economy Fairer Society’ and numerous mentions of excuses (sorry difficulties) such as
    “It was always going to be difficult for Nick Clegg”
    “Entering government … was always going to prove difficult”
    “This lack of a fundraising culture was difficult to overcome”

    And the final denial of reality “the Great British electorate is a difficult force to predict.” For goodness sake, We all knew we were in for a toasting unless we changed, as early as May 2011. It was the leadership’s unwillingness to even consider it that led to our annihilation.

    I’m afraid this report does next to nothing to help the party learn any lessons, and certainly not any important ones like what the parliamentary party how to avoid losing our remaining eight MPs in 2020. While the people involved in the process were clearly very clever, whoever managed to get the wording of the final version through, deserves the Booker Prize for best work of fiction.

  • I agree with the comments of Dave Orbison above. Would it have been as, if not more, pertinent to consult those ex voters and party members why they jumped ship – myself included. It’s like asking a jilted husband ‘why did your wife leave?’ Without bothering to ask the wife herself.

    I consistently said on these pages that the problem was not that the public didn’t understand the party or the nature of coalition. We did understand but we just didn’t agree. For me personally the turning point was not tuition fees but the 180 degree Nick Clegg made days after the election. After campaigning on a dual ticket of ‘new politics’ and anti austerity he then completely and utterly changed his mind about the need for austerity within days of the election. This was not compromise this was betrayal. To compound matters he then insulted all those who disagreed for either not understanding politics or not being mature enough to put ‘national interest’ first. I can only speak for myself; I did understand and did not believe this was in the national interest. It was not compromise he willfully embraced this position even going so far as to suggest those who didn’t agree were no longer welcome. This was the opposite of his promised new Politics. The Tuition Fees policy was such a problem because it was the very manifestation of this about turn.

  • I expect it is now of very very little interest indeed but throughout the last parliament I was dismissed by many on these pages as a Labour troll for not revealing my name. My name is Simon Hunt. I’m not a Labour troll. I worked for years in the offices of Simon Hughes and the Lib Dem GLA group. I used a pseudonym for fear of causing embarrassment to Simon Hughes; a man who I politically and personally hugely respect.

  • I agree with Muxloe.

  • Chris Rennard 20th Feb '16 - 5:31pm

    I have yet to read the full report as published, but it is clear from the media and social coverage that James Gurling and all his colleagues, deserve credit for much hard work and good analysis. The headlines that I have seen so far suggest that their analysis chimes strongly with my own submission to them, and that of very many others who felt that much of the messaging in our campaign was weak and ineffective, and even counterproductive.

    Successful campaigns, above all, need effective messages and effective messengers. We had neither in 2015. What I hope to see in the report is some account as to why so many people in the party knew that this was case before the election, but nothing changed. Bill Le Breton makes some interesting comments about campaign structures. I was of course the campaign director that he refers to for the 2005 and 2010 General Elections (working with Tim Razzall as CCC Chair) and I directed the target seat campaign in 1997 (working with Richard Holme as General Election Chair). In these three campaigns (in which we tripled our number of MPs from 20 in 1992 to 62 by 2005), there were some very involved discussions between us and the Leaders (Paddy & Charles) about the messaging issues. But guided in part by good market research, we had very effective messages by the formal launch of those campaigns so that our national campaigns (“air war”) effectively supported our candidates campaigns (“ground war”).

    Learning lessons therefore must be about the proper use of market research (particularly in elections when we don’t have PR), understanding how we previously made our advances under First Past the Post, and how there can be informed debate within the party and its leadership about how to present our case in future.

  • Paul in Wokingham 20th Feb '16 - 6:10pm

    Thank you to those who worked on this report. It is a fair reflection of views I have frequently seen expressed – both before and after the election – except of course that it pointedly does not apportion responsibility for the election debacle.

    To take one example from the report: we are told that it was known by the leadership that the “stronger economy fairer society” slogan failed the acid test of being distinctively Liberal Democrat, and yet we persisted with it regardless. That in spite of the countless negative references to it on this forum over a considerable period of time. But it seems that nobody has responsibility for this critical failure in strategy.

    We are told that lessons have been learned and processes will be improved. The pity of it is that the party has been set back so far that its long-term future is a matter of doubt and such process improvement may ultimately achieve nothing.

  • David Evershed 20th Feb '16 - 6:15pm

    @A Social Liberal

    …….. refers to MPs only being allowed to see the Lib Dem election report in a locked room and only allowed pencil and paper to make notes. Caron Lindsay says this is not correct.

    I wonder if A Social Liberal is mistakenly thinking of the draft EU TTIP paper which the EU Commission is reluctant to share publicly but allowing access to MEPs under the above conditions.

  • Laurence Cox 20th Feb '16 - 6:18pm

    My comment is peripheral to why we lost the 2015 election so badly, as I don’t have anything to add that others have not already said, but is about another related area of dysfunction in the Party, the way that it makes use of its volunteers. In all local parties we need people to carry out mainly administrative roles like Secretary and Treasurer as well as more public-facing roles like candidates. The role of Organiser/Agent can require both skill sets. Now I think that we would agree that we are all better in some roles than others and that the best way to serve the Party is to undertake the roles that we are most suited to.

    Similarly, we need people who can carry out these roles at higher levels, regionally and nationally. The higher we go in the Party the more likely these roles are to be carried out by professional staff rather than volunteers, but I think we have lost sight of the advantages that volunteers can bring in supporting the reduced number of professional staff that the Party can afford. This was true even after 2010, when we lost Short money.

    Back in 2008, after retiring from the Civil Service, I approached Ben Stoneham, who I already knew, and after a chat with him ended up vounteering regularly in the Membership Department at Cowley Street and for about a year at Great George Street. After 2012 the calls for me to come in diminished quickly in the wake of a staff reshuffle which moved the manager I had been working for, while subsequent offers I made were ignored.

    Another example of where the Party fails to make use of expertise within the Party is in policy-making. I think we would all agree that it is essential for Party policy to be evidence-based and not just cooked up on somone’s whim. However looking at the next Spring Conference agenda, I can see a motion which I know was never passed to the relevant SAO for comment by FCC. Unless FCC considers itself to be the fount of all knowledge why does it not informally consult on motions, and specifically those that have not been through a formal consultation process already. It does no-one any service for the Party to pass motions which lack supporting evidence, because even if they do not end up in a manifesto, they are still Party policy and will be used against us by our political opponents.

  • David Evershed 20th Feb '16 - 6:23pm

    The responsibility for Lib Dems poor performance in 2015 rests with those who prior to the 2010 election insisted on the wildly unrealistic policy to eliminate tuition fees (over time) and required MPs to publicly pledge to vote that way.

    Once Lib Dems were in government voters saw how blatantly we had made a spending pledge to win votes which was wildly unrealistic and not deliverable.

    Whilst all parties do this, they don’t do it so blatantly. Hence the voters rightly punished the Lib Dems at the 2015 election. It will take very many years for the memory to fade in the minds of the electorate. The only solution is time passing.

  • Paul Walter 20th Feb ’16 – 4:39pm
    “Not sure what you mean David. The link above, where it says “here”, goes to the pdf document of the report, which is fully searchable etc.

    No Paul, open the document in any PDF reader: Chrome, Adobe Acrobat, Foxit Reader etc. and try and do either a text search (for the word Review’ for example) and see how many times it is found (zero) or a text cut-and-paste…

    ‘Rachael’ has clearly used the incorrect settings in MS Word 2010. By the way, you may wish to review her default page size: 8.5 x 11.0 inch is US Letter not A4, so will cause people in the UK problems if they try and print it out on A4 paper.

  • @David Evershed – no it doesn’t. The pledge was very cheap – certainly considerably less than both the scrapping of the fuel duty escalator and the cutting of corporation tax included in the same budget.

    No-one who claims it is a “wildly unrealistic” hugely expensive policy is able to explain why a pledge not to increase fees was so costly (which is all that the pledge promised). Most estimates (including the government’s own estimates) suggest it was pretty cheap. [Maybe you can find or calculate a different set of figures. I look forward to seeing them].

    It was a political choice – and an extraordinarily bad political choice. Compounded by the decision by Lib Dem ministers and a few others to vote for it – rather than abstain (which was the option offered in the coalition agreement).

    Supposedly even, George Osborne offered the Liberal Democrats the option of keeping the pledge – which would make the decision to go ahead even more stupid.

  • David Evershed 21st Feb '16 - 12:45am

    Martin Tod

    The Lib Dem Manifesto said

    “Scrap university tuition fees for undergraduates by 2016.”

    NOT to stop fees increasibng further. Hence the policy was wildly unaffordable.

  • David – it was not the largest spending commitment in the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto. It wasn’t even the second largest. And those costings were pretty much the same as those in the Browne Report and were not challenged by the IFS (I’m not aware of anyone credible who disputes those costings).

    For the record the two larger spending commitments in the 2010 manifesto were both implemented in full by 2015.

  • Word of a warning to those still glamourising the coalition:
    This morning poll on the coming Irish General election (apologies for the poor gaelic):-,
    Fienna Gael 27
    Fiennna Feil 23
    Sein Fein 19
    Labour 6
    Greens 2
    Others 20%+

    Recall labour and Greens were recent coalition junior partners. A fat lot of good it has done them, both are now at rock bottom, Labour at almost zero in some working class Dublin seats! We should heed this morning and stop championing what we think we achieved and focus on going alone with distinctive policies, for at least a decade or two.

  • Dave Orbison 21st Feb '16 - 4:04pm

    Muxloe you make many points with which I agree not least the ‘national interest’. I had voted for the LibDems in 2010 because I thought their manifesto was the most progressive, certainly more so than Labour. I too felt the immediate sense of betrayal at the Coalition. I found Clegg and Co’s justification for the Coalition by wrapping themselves in the cloak of ‘national interest’ to be immensely self-serving and patronising. I have seen little evidence of anything the Tories did that has served the national interest well. Make no mistake the LibDems enable these Tories to serve a full five year term.

    I too, have been attacked on LDV for ‘being a Labour troll’. My point is simply if current LibDem members seek only to engage with themselves then self-evidently the party will never recover. Attacking those of us who once voted LibDem for having the temerity of criticising the leadership of the party, when this same leadership has led the party into the political wilderness, seems short-sighted and not in accord with the Preamble.

  • What a waste of time – any report on a subject like this which seeks to avoid blaming anyone for anything (or holding people responsible for their actions) is rather pointless.

    The convoluted avoidance of being truthful about what went on is depressing – the pretence of a warts and all portrait when in fact it is buckets of white-wash means that the lessons won’t be learnt. It is straight-out of the handbook of bad management. That James Gurley with a track record of failure and ignored and inadequate previous reports is still doing the same thing is indication that nothing has changed.

    The examples of what are basically lies, distortions and inaccuracies in the report are too numerous to mention.

  • Dave Orbison ” Make no mistake the LibDems enable these Tories to serve a full five year term.”

    I would go further. I would actually say they detoxified ” The Nasty Party” to such an extent as to make it electible in 2015 – a Party which previously could not even win outright against the hugely unpopular Gordon Brown after the worst recession in living memory.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordo 21st Feb '16 - 6:42pm

    Like others I also feel that the report is straightforward and helpful. There are at least 3 areas that I feel need further analysis:

    1. If decisions such as tuition fees are analysed then so too should be the decision around the allocation of ministerial departments. It would help to have an understanding why was a cross-cutting approach was taken with staff spread so thinly in every department instead of taking ownership of departments related to our core values and manifesto promises.

    2. There is barely a (any?) mention of the electoral wipe out at the Euro elections in 2014 or the electoral strategy (to focus on a core vote only, and only send literature to it) ignoring much of the population, which was a strange one.

    3. With the best will in the world, there remains the need for an external review. If we do not have one we will have learned little from the experience of, and extensive advice given by, sister parties such as D66.

    I hope James and the review team can address the first two issues, they’ve done a good job so far on an internal review. Then the Party should invite in an external team.

  • Paul in Wokingham
    I believe there were NO negative comments in the report on the basically counterproductive Stronger Economy, Fairer Society message. The remarks there allude to its replacement for a period by other slogans, blaming that for the “confused messaging”. It would be interesting, but I have a hunch that that slogan sounded too much like an attempt to justify our economic “climbing into bed” with the Tories, which in many people’s opinion the key reason for our trashing. Until we stop stifling that message we continue to praise our leadership, and perpetuate our unwillingness to learn that key lesson. Face it, the slogan, and the policy that lay behind it were desperately unpopular with our constituency of voters and potential voters.

  • David Evans 22nd Feb '16 - 8:56am

    Sadly, although accurate in many ways this report will be just like so many of its predecessors and so will be totally ignored. Every mistake was a mistake made by the party. No-one was responsible, no-one made bad decisions and no-one did anything wrong. Hence, no-one will change their behaviour nor will new people in high positions consider what they want to do in the light of this disaster. Ultimately it was those at the top who got us into this mess; and sadly far too few of those around them tried to do anything at all about it, even when the disaster was plain for all to see. Ultimately loyalty to a failing strategy was considered more important than loyalty to the party, its values and the people who supported and depended on it. Lessons will not be learned, they will simply be talked about.

    As a result, in future those near the top will continue to do whatever they personally want to do, irrespective of past pronouncements, and effectively ignore the wisdom of the wider party even when such an approach is clearly producing disastrous results. Dodgy polls will be produced to head off criticism; votes in conference will be ignored; having a leadership with a different agenda from the party will re-emerge; a leadership that then uses its position to deliberately go against the party’s wishes; which considers being in power as an excuse for doing whatever it wants; talking down to members who disagree by the use of slogans like “grown up government”; being more loyal to the Conservatives than the party and its values; giving early to the Conservatives and then being surprised they didn’t give back later; having no exit strategy; a leadership with total power and patronage over handing out lordships (not that there will be many of those in future) enabling it to reward its loyalists; ignoring those with experience of coalition in local government; having a very tight inner circle which is all that is ever listened to and sadly having hardly any senior members prepared to say enough is enough – all will continue.

    We have a huge job to even start to turn things around before May 2020 will be upon us. Sadly this report will just be like so many before it, accurate and carefully crafted but largely ignored and by-passed. Truly the road to hell is still paved with good intentions.

  • Less loyalty to a “failed strategy” than loyalty (or compliance?) to well known individuals in the party, unfortunately, David Evans. Having Paddy Ashdown, in particular, as campaign leader, was a two-edged sword – immensely dynamic, experienced, and with a histtory of leading the party into the sunny uplands of politics (although that perhaps more to do with Tory failure and disarray!) – but his style and persona do not encourage criticism. Effective criticism, of course, was just what was needed, and his presence, as I say, in particular, insulated others in the leadership from removal / radical change of strategy.

    But, of course, the damage was done by that time. Does anyone on here share my view that the party was let down badly by how the leadership, the Conference Committee etc handled the Birmingham special Conference in 2010? The limited nature of amendments allowed for debate, the ignoring of those amendments passed, and the continual claim by the leadership that that Conference showed total support for the leadership’s line. It didn’t. It remains my view that had the negotiators for the Lib Dems made a harder case, as they should, instead of that over – influenced by Orange Book ideas and a sudden conversion to a belief that the UK economy was liable to freefall, the Tories would not have accepted coalition, and would have gone ahead as a minority.

    I was constantly told at the time that this would have been trumped by the Tories calling an early election and hammering all opposition. Well that has happened anyway.

  • David Evans 22nd Feb '16 - 1:22pm

    My beef with the Special Conference was that it was all decided in advance. Cameron had been to the palace on the Tuesday iirc and it had been announced on the same day. Come the Saturday afterwards and there was no way Conference could turn it down or say go back and get better without us being portrayed as being afraid of power.

    We were bounced into it (even if hubris led most people to do it willingly at the time).

  • Yup, David. I am sure others felt the same.

  • Paul In Wokingham 23rd Feb '16 - 7:01am

    @Tim13: The comment I am referring to is this (which I am having to manually type because this document appears to be uneditable, unsearchable and unprintable).

    “From 2012, the party focused on the ‘Stronger Economy, Fairer Society’ strapline. Our own research showed that this was a generic message over which we lacked ownership… Voters liked the sentiment bit simply didn’t associate it with the Liberal Democrats… activists remained unconvinced by the message, which they felt was generic and failed to enunciate the fundamental value of the Liberal Democrats… Nonetheless we remained successfully on message up until the short campaign”.

    So for 3 years we used a slogan that was known to be ineffective, but nothing was done to change it even as the party continued its slow decline in the polls. But I agree with the thrust of your comments and those of David Evans. Nobody seems to “own” responsibility for anything. The near-death experience of the Liberal Democrats appears to be due to external agencies and due to circumstances that no-one could have foreseen.

  • Paul in Wokingham – yes, sorry, that comment, and the subsequent “we remained successfully on message” really says it all, doesn’t it! I think there have been various comedians doing political satire, both stand-up and in print, who have messed around transposing bits of slogans to test audience reaction. Stronger Economy, Fairer Society sounds like one of those!

  • John Barrett 23rd Feb '16 - 10:29am

    David Evans is spot on.

    Sadly, the result of what he has said will be seen in another set of poor election results this May, which will no doubt be followed by a positive spin from Tim, Willie etc. and polling which will only be released if it indicates that all is well – or at least not so bad.

    Then a Euro-Referendum in which what we say will be ignored by most normal people, except those in the party who will claim that a good result for remaining in really indicates that lots more people out there agree with us, than actually vote for us.

    Five years of disastrous election results at every single level should have made it clear long before now that there is something much more fundamentally wrong in the party than this report indicates.

  • I read the Election Report carefully and thought about it over the weekend. I’m sure it was done honestly and in good faith, but I’m afraid it comes across as a lot of tinkering about organisation and polling. The brutal fact is that the party needs a clear policy identity to mark it out as different from the other available choices. Last May it just didn’t have that.

    Frankly, apart from a woolly wringing of hands and a repeated moan about “Labour’s economic legacy” there was nothing to distinguish Liberal Democrats from the Tories. It wasn’t that Mr Clegg (and his co-thinkers) lacked sincerity – unfortunately, with few exceptions they didn’t have anything different or interesting to say – other than “me too” in muted tones. They also built up a legacy of mistrust which will take years to live down.

    It’s Tim Farron’s task to remedy that. I wish him well but it needs huge stamina, determination and, most important, a policy culture change to overcome the legacy of the last five years.

    To paraphrase Jo Grimond (who faced a similar start from nothing) “The Liberal Party is a radical party. It is a party of reform .” If it’s not seen as that then it’s nothing – and there is just no point.

  • Denis Mollison 23rd Feb '16 - 2:15pm

    David Raw –
    Exactly. I particularly disliked the repeated references to “low morale”, without admitting why we had low morale! Namely, because the party we believed in had overnight turned into Tory-lite. And as has been pointed out already in these comments, those elements that made Tory-lite softer than normal Tory (e.g. the “green crap”) only lent sheep’s clothing to the Toriy wolf, thus making possible the five years of unconstrained savagery they are now embarked on.

  • It was more than a wolf, Denis. It was a tiger…. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if you get eaten up when you take a ride on its back.

    PS enjoyed the Haddington do. Let’s have more such.

  • I was hoping that someone would study and explain the differences between seats that we held and those that we lost. Why Carshalton but not Sutton? Why Southport but not Stockport? Why Leeds but not Manchester?

  • Were the Liberal Democrats allowed to look over the books (government finances) before the 2010 election?

  • Trevor Stables 24th Feb '16 - 5:41pm

    Fair report but avoids the real narrative that that our supporters need, firstly a few lessons learnt. I supported the Coalition right to the bitter end but am left cold at the damage that it has done to us.
    1. Never touch the Tories again, they are poisonous as indeed they were in1931.
    Our Supporters need an apology and an admission where we got it wrong, we should have been much more tactical, hard headed and Political.

    2.We made some wrong choices, tuition fees, fracking, NHS, Bedroom Tax just to name a few. An Apology would go some way to atonement.

    3. Never another Coalition without a commitment to immediate legislation for STV and Election of the Lords.

    We all know we face a hard slog back to where we were 30 years ago. We are making the right steps but we do need to look harder as to why Policy went astray.

  • David Allen 25th Feb '16 - 5:43pm

    This was a report by committee. It therefore contained a balance between clear thinking and denialism. Therefore, all sides can point to something they like. Job done.

    Sadly however, the clear thinkers merely point out how and why we should cry over spilt milk. The denialists, by contrast, provide some readily implementable guidance for our future. Steady as she goes, it will all come right, once those rather stupid voters out there come to realise what our virtues are.

    Labour’s election inquest was widely derided as a whitewash, but it didn’t actually manage to shy away from the blooming obvious point that Labour’s leader was a liability. A name was named. Our election inquest failed to reach the same dizzy heights of fearless honesty.

  • paul barker 28th Feb '16 - 9:34pm

    I found reading the report both depressing & invigorating. The reccomendations are excellent & very ambitious, given the depleted state of our finances.
    I was dissapointed that some of the commenters seemed to want to re-fight every battle since 2009, we need to be looking at where we are now. British politics is in a weird place, with both Tories & Labour seemingly determined on civil war & The SNP building a one-party state. No-one knows whats going to happen in the next 3 months & this Parliament has another 4 years to run after that, lets keep our eyes & minds open.

  • I don’t think you should count on another 4 years, Paul Barker! Remember the Major years, and the splits. Post referendum, it could be even worse, with no Govt majority for anything!

  • Peter Rainford 2nd Mar '16 - 3:13pm

    Sometimes the political landscape is such as to make things extremely difficult, however good the campaign. 2015 was clearly such a case, but unfortunately the campaign was the polar opposite of good.
    I agree with the comments of Bill Le Breton and Chris Rennard, and rather than rehashing the tuition fees, coalition debate ad infinitum, we should focus on the content and packaging of the campaign itself
    I write as a Liberal / Lib Dem member from 1978-2011 and as an active campaigner in every GE in that period including playing key roles helping win Liverpool Mosley Hill 1983 and Southport 2001 & 2005. We seemed to forget in 2015 that we operate in a first past the post system and our messages seemed more geared to a PR system. In first past the post the only rewards for driving occupying the middle of the road are to be mowed down! As we were
    Time to find campaign messages and campaigners (like Rennard and Le Breton) who have a track record of success in the real world

  • Stephen Hesketh 3rd Mar '16 - 9:21pm

    Trevor Stables 24th Feb ’16 – 5:41pm

    I agree with so many of the comments here but if I had to choose just one post it would be Trevor’s as above.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Oct '16 - 11:49am

    Since then we missed the general election in the Isle of Man on 22/9/2016, a shortage of candidates, a shortage of leadership, a shortage of funds, low taxes and a reluctance to increase them.

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