UPDATED: Senior Liberal Democrats call for “bold and distinctive offer to voters”

Thirty Liberal Democrats, including the chiefs of staff to two of the three most recent leaders, a former policy director, a former MP, two peers, members of federal committees, councillors and current and former candidates have called for the party to be bolder in the run-up to the General Election.

In a letter to the Guardian, they said:

There is a massive opportunity for a liberal alternative based on internationalism, environmental awareness and modernising Britain. But we believe the Liberal Democrats are swerving this opportunity, not seizing it.

It is crucial that we are brave and honest about the challenges a new government will face, with distinctive positions the Tories would never take and Labour dares not adopt.

They argue that rejoining the single market, creating a “dividend” that would revive our public services, should be part of what we offer.

Citing the way Paddy Ashdown set out a clear alternative to both parties, they continue:

We have bolder policies than Labour on the environment, fair votes and human rights, but we are not communicating them. At a general election, echoing Labour’s general antipathy to the Tories through local campaigns is part of the battle but insufficient on its own.

Only a statement of confident liberalism – on Europe, the environment, political reform and public services – will show people that the Lib Dems are a national force worth supporting. We do well when we have a principled message that cuts through, such as our current one on Gaza.

In the accompanying story,  former Policy Director and Federal Policy Committee Vice Chair Duncan Brack is quoted:

We’re not criticising the target seats strategy, but focusing on target seats alone is not enough,” said Duncan Brack, a member of the party’s federal policy committee who was an adviser to Chris Huhne in the coalition government.

“We need to stand for something inspiring. Otherwise, why should people join the Lib Dems, pay money into campaign war chests, go delivering and canvassing? And why should anti-Tory voters vote for us as opposed to another opposition party if it’s not clear what we stand for?”

The Party’s response shows that it is capable of delivering a robust message:

It would be a comforting luxury to act as the most democratic thinktank in British politics and navel-gaze amongst ourselves. But after this Conservative government has wrecked our economy, broken our NHS and damaged Britain’s reputation on the international stage – the focus of this party is to defeat as many Conservatives as we can at the next election, and get them out of power.

In response, Chris Bowers told us:

Our letter was a constructive initiative for the party to develop a parallel dimension to our target seats strategy, which can help our target seats. The instant reaction, as quoted in the Guardian article about the letter, misses our main point, and highlights the blind spot the current leadership appears to have about listening to its members: the very people who will need to put in the hard yards to win our target seats.

The named signatories are Duncan Brack,  regular LDV contributor and former candidate and Councillor Chris Bowers, Vince Cable’s former chief of staff Alex Davies, Tim Farron’s former chief of staff, Ben Rich,  Baroness Sarah Ludford and PPC Edward Lucas and William Hobhouse.

All of the thirty signatories are completely committed to getting rid of the Conservatives at the General Election, but they think we will do better if we adopt a more engaging approach. (UPDATE: The full list of signatories is at the bottom of this post.)

Other signatories who have outed themselves include FPC member Sally Burnell, Lib Dem European Group’s Nick Hopkinson, Federal committee member Mark Johnston and Cllr Eleanor Rylance who said on Twitter:

I firmly believe we @LibDems should not keep our radicalism under wraps- we are the party that Paddy Ashdown chose as his political home. That’s why I was pleased to counter-sign this letter to our leaders to be more upfront with our distinct ideas.

On the other hand, the leadership and campaign managers would argue that they have been developing their messages in our target seats for the past four years and they know that they are working on the ground and don’t want to fix something that they think is working to deliver the bums on green seats we need after the election.

I have not signed the letter, but it is not a million miles away from what I wrote on Sunday, just with less Doctor Who.

The question is whether the peace time messages will deliver in the white hot heat of a change election. What we say needs to motivate and recruit people to  our cause and bring in the progressive voters we need to vote tactically – as well as not scare off soft Tories. We need to cover all the bases.

Nobody wants to wake up on the day after the General Election to find out it’s been a 1992 rather than a 1997 and the Conservatives are still in power. The anxiety to get this right is very clear. The consequences of getting it wrong are too hideous to contemplate.

Update: Ben Rich, who is also Chief Executive of think tank Radix has written a piece about the letter on the Radix website. He rather takes exception to the party’s response:

As the Chief Executive of a real think tank, I have no desire for the party to park its tanks on my lawn.  Unless, however, the Liberal Democrats are prepared to offer a clear, alternative vision for the future of Britain, not just to that of the Conservatives but also of the Labour party, it is hard to see how they can hope to become once again a powerful and impactful political voice.

He argues that our current strategy is flawed because it doesn’t do enough to attract progressive voters:

Not only does it risk the Labour party coming from behind to take out the Liberal Democrats in many of those seats to which the party returned to second place in 2019, but it further risks handing such seats to the Conservatives by splitting the opposition vote.  Not being the Conservatives is not enough.

UPDATE 30 November 2023

The full list of signatories is as follows:

Jon Ball – councillor, vice-chair Federal Conference Committee
Chris Bowers – ex-councillor, 4 times parliamentary candidate, Liberal writer
Duncan Brack – member of Federal Policy Committee, former Policy Director, ex-Special adviser
Belinda Brooks-Gordon – professor at Birkbeck Univ, member of Federal Policy Committee
Sally Burnell – member of Federal Policy Committee
George Cunningham – member of Federal International Relations Committee
Alex Davies – ex-chief of staff to Vince Cable when party leader
Elizabeth Drury – consultant on EU affairs
Paul Fox – former member of Federal Finance Committee, 2 times parliamentary candidate
David Grace – former deputy-chair of The European Movement
Gavin Grant – current and former adviser to several Lib Dem leaders
William Hobhouse – descendant of LT Hobhouse (early British social liberal)
Nick Hopkinson – writer and international advocate, ex-chair Lib Dem European Group
David Howarth – former MP and council leader, university professor
Julian Huppert – former MP, university academic
Mark Johnston – member of Federal Policy Committee
Gordon Lishman – councillor, 7 times parliamentary candidate, Liberal writer
Maggie Lishman – councillor, former deputy leader of borough council
Edward Lucas – PPC for Cities of London & Westminster
Sarah Ludford – former MEP and Lib Dem peer
Keith Melton – Green Liberal Democrats, member of Federal Policy Committee
Rob Parsons – local party chair
Ben Rich – member of Federal Policy Committee, ex-chief of staff to Tim Farron when leader
Luke Richards – member of Federal Policy Committee
Eleanor Rylance – councillor, chair of district council
John Shreeve – member of Federal Policy Committee
John Smithson – former editor of Radical bulletin
Dick Taverne – former Labour & Democratic Labour MP, Lib Dem peer
Simon Taylor – local party chair
Jane Vaus – Green Liberal Democrats, the Green Book podcast

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

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90 Comments

  • Alex Davies 29th Nov '23 - 2:20pm

    Thanks Caron.

    On the airwaves – where most voters consume election campaigns – there is no ‘two horse race’ with the Conservatives. Rather Ed Davey has to be heard above both Sunak and Starmer.

    It cannot be right to pit an objective of winning Conservative seats against the ‘luxury’ of a clear national message. Our successful constituency election campaigns in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010 all stood on the shoulders of strong and distinctive leadership on the issues of the day.

  • Eleanor Rylance 29th Nov '23 - 2:21pm

    I was very happy to be able to sign this letter. We are a smaller party in a system that favours two huge behemoths- we cannot afford to be shy about our radicalism. We *are* different from the two big parties and we shouldn’t apologise about that.

    Courage is what’s needed- enough courage of our convictions to stand up not only to our opponents but also to challenge our friends.

  • Mark Johnston 29th Nov '23 - 2:21pm

    “Wake up and smell the coffee”, said Ed Davey three year ago. When will he heed his own advice?

  • Neville Farmer 29th Nov '23 - 3:04pm

    Many in the party have been crying out for years for the Liberal Democrats to stand up for the substantial Radical Centre that is unrepresentative by either side of the 2 party hegemony. As left and right drift further from the centre there is a gaping chasm open for an outward facing party of vision, compassion, tolerance and radical thinking.

  • Martin Gray 29th Nov '23 - 4:17pm

    Since the disaster of the 15GE we’ve been hovering around the low/mid teens in the polls – and we know all too well what that delivers at a GE under fptp, with a campaign the media focuses and frames as a binary choice..
    With that , we’d need a leader with the gravitas to deliver a radical manifesto in the media – any suggestions ?

  • Mick Taylor 29th Nov '23 - 4:40pm

    @NevilleFarmer. There is no such thing as the radical centre. In politics, the centre is not fixed and every time politics moves to the right or the left, the centre changes. Do you want a party that has to change its position every time politics shifts right or left?
    In Jo Grimond’s day he talked of a party of the non-socialist left, a Liberal Party. As a party member of nearly 60 year’s standing, I agree with many on this thread who want to see radical policies that focus on our stated goals of liberty and community., a party that is clear in its opposition to the current Conservative government and is sceptical of what Labour has to offer. And, yes, our offer must include the single market and ideally the customs union.
    We must not shy off offending some people, when faced with difficult issues like immigration, but if we don’t tell the truth, who will.

  • @Martin – I agree, it would be good to have the full list of signatories; and to thank them.

    I am sure that there are many that used to read LDV, and used to be inspired and work long hours for the party, that would have gladly signed as well.

    Had this clarity of Liberal Democrat vision been embraced rather squashed by HQ, I am sure it would have led to far more hours, days and weeks of effort being given to the seats that are being targeted (than the current Leadership will ever manage to inspire).

  • Anthony Acton 29th Nov '23 - 5:16pm

    If the party’s raison d’etre is to get Conservatives out, then by the same logic in my constituency I must vote Labour. Please, LD leadership, give me a reason to vote for you instead.

  • Richard Allanach 29th Nov '23 - 5:28pm

    I seem to recall that in the East Devon by-election the tories put out a leaflet highlighting some radical Liberal Democrat policies such as rejoining the EU, legalising drugs and putting up taxes on petrol. This didn’t seem to depress the vote for Richard Foord. That young Mark Pack is always saying you should test your email messages on a sample first. Perhaps at the next by-election the Liberal Democrats should try a hard hitting policy campaign and see if this has a beneficial effect.

  • David Allen 29th Nov '23 - 5:35pm

    “It would be a comforting luxury to act as the most democratic thinktank in British politics and navel-gaze amongst ourselves.”

    Pompous, overbearing, rude, dismissive – and a totally inadequate response to a long overdue initiative.

    Starmer and Reeves may (or may not) be right to believe that the slogans “Don’t Frighten The Horses”, and “Continuity Sunak, But Not Quite as Posh” will be good enough to win the grudging support of voters and gain power, But why should the Lib Dems play Little Sir Echo to Labour? That won’t win hearts, minds, or votes.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 29th Nov '23 - 6:35pm

    I am pleased to see this. It is well written, not attacking the party or Ed Davey, strikes the right level, and from those that I know of signatories I have seen, well respected party members.
    I just hope that it has impact, it deserves to. If it had been signed by party activists it would have a lot of signatures.
    Does anyone know how to see the 23 “others”?
    I’d have put climate change in block capitals and added PR.
    We have policies, that have been through policy processes and agreed, but we are not talking about them.

  • Stephen Yolland 29th Nov '23 - 6:54pm

    I think the response from the leadership reveals that this letter hit its mark, and has merit. The response was needlessly rude and combative, given the courteous nature of the letter in the Guardian. Our party has a history of smart thinking. A “penny on income tax for education” was just one such clever and meaningful example,

    We are obsessed with saying nothing that could possibly upset “soft Tories” in target seats, completely ignoring the fact that many of those Tories seem perfectly content to travel all the way to Labour without casting so much as a sideways glance to us as they pass by.

    If we fail to stand for ANYTHING radical and newsworthy we will actually miss a large percentage of those target seats by handfuls of votes, hiding our light under a bushel for fear of upsetting right wingers who won’t vote for us whether we say something or say nothing.

    We need to move away from soggy managerialism and back to imaginative and worthwhile policies that capture the imagination of the electorate and are newsworthy enough to get noticed. This is not “navel gazing”, it is what our party is FOR.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 29th Nov '23 - 9:39pm

    Part of the party response says “the focus of this party is to defeat as many Conservatives as we can at the next election, and get them out of power.”
    NO that is not our focus, our focus is to stand up for Liberal Democracy, preach it and campaign for it. That is why I am a member and have been for nearly 50 years. It is what motivates me. If we do not as a party motivate and inspire our members just who is going to go out on the streets in the blue wall seats (or phone for them)?
    What is the point of even being in the party in vast swathes of the country where we are not in a target seats, and not in traveling distance.
    I will want to help, on the phone, in the GE, but my reason is not to make sure someone I don’t agree with who doesn’t get elected, but that we get Liberal Democrats elected, and that we stand firm on our ideals, values and policies.

  • Cllr Robert Brown 29th Nov '23 - 10:05pm

    Perhaps the key question is the doorstep one – why should people vote Liberal Democrat? What are the core things in our narrative or policy that make a difference/ that people identify us with and which make them want to vote for us?

    Why on earth are we languishing in the opinion polls when we have a truly dreadful government and an uninspiring Opposition that appears to have no fixed principles? Surely that itself is a devastating verdict on our current strategy?

    Surely it is not too difficult for our whizz kid strategists to build a Liberal Democrat narrative that provides a more appealing, inspirational, hopeful – and Liberal – vision for the United Kingdom than that of Sunak and Starmer? Or even worse of Suella Braverman

  • Peter Watson 29th Nov '23 - 10:31pm

    From the outside, my reaction to this letter and the comments above is “about bloomin’ time, too!”
    Ben Rich’s “Not being the Conservatives is not enough” encapsulates my whinging over the last few years, so I watch with interest to see if the party can win back my vote (however redundant it might be in a safe Tory seat like Eddisbury). At the moment, being offered three small-c conservative parties, I’m torn between instead voting Green or spoiling my ballot paper (I don’t like idea of not going out to vote!).

  • Anonymous Organiser 29th Nov '23 - 11:17pm

    I am posting anonymously for obvious reasons, but I agree wholeheartedly with the letter. As an organiser in one of our target seats I know how hard it is to motivate volunteers to deliver leaflets, do clerical work and go out canvassing all year round when the party isn’t offering them much inspiration.

    The Davey/Pack model of saying nothing to win target seats is making our job harder, not easier. Their response, along with other occurrences in the past year (most publicly, a high profile loss on a policy that was pre-briefed to the media at conference), has shown the same kind of insularity that was criticised under the Swinson leadership and which the Thornhill Report concluded resulted in the disastrous 2019 campaign. It is not to late for the leadership to abandon their bunker mentality.

  • It is disquieting that many of the people who signed this letter are insiders. They have written a letter to the Guardian rather than to the people in the party who make the decisions about our messaging. Should I assume that they, like me, don’t know who makes these decisions?

    We also need to include in our ‘confident liberalism’ our policies to end deep poverty in the decade and our target of building 380,000 new homes a year. We need to have a commitment to increase day to day government spending above inflation. In 2019 we set out nearly £63 billion of extra government current spending. We need to set a similar commitment and set out where we will raise the money. We should not be as timid as the Labour Party.

  • Katharine Pindar 30th Nov '23 - 1:12am

    Great to have had this letter published, expressing what so many of us have been thinking, and commenting here – our party needs bold messaging now to express our radical and distinctive character to the country, and give voters everywhere the sense that it will be worth voting for us in the forthcoming General Election. We need the party leadership to take this on board, cease the counter-productive timidity and plan the national campaign accordingly.
    The boldest policies we have include our unique plan to end deep poverty and the need for food banks within ten years, passed at York, and the plan to build 380,000 new homes a year, passed at Bournemouth. The party membership spoke at those Federal Conferences, and the leadership should follow their wishes. As Michael BG suggests above, we should commit to appropriate spending, as we have done for our previous manifestos, and can be working out the costings this winter.

  • Martin Pierce 30th Nov '23 - 8:14am

    Thank goodness! I had reached the point of thinking I might be the only person thinking this. Shying away from anything distinctive on the EU is particularly depressing – not even the Customs Union is being contemplated. On Ed himself, one poster says he was ‘dismissive’ of policy, which is surprising because when I was on FPC in the 90s he was the Committee’s principal advisor (Policy Director?) and reassuringly wonkish, knowledgeable and enthusiastic about all aspects of policy. I remember being particularly impressed he knew exactly which pages to turn to in the book-sized Commission for Social Justice report

  • Graham Jeffs 30th Nov '23 - 8:40am

    What a damning verdict these comments are on party strategy!

    Not before time!

    And as I have commented before, often our organisation is the wrong way up………we need to have constituency parties not local council parties. The former have an interest in building the latter. I can assure you that it certainly doesn’t work the other way around.

  • Rif Winfield 30th Nov '23 - 8:43am

    Mick Taylor’s comment is exactly the correct stance. In the former Liberal Party, we campaigned for radical non-Socialist left-of-centre ideals, a position which I spent my life campaigning for. As Jo Grimond said (and attracted those like myself arguing for a progressive but non-Marxist future, arguing against the Hegelianism of Labour as much as the regressive elitism of the Tories, and standing up for the rights of every individual human being in a caring society), those who stand in the middle of the road end up by being run over. Which is exactly the danger that the Liberal Democrats leadership’s present complacency is facing. Forward towards the sound of gunfire!”

  • The crucial question is what sort of change are offering. Unless we are bold in spelling that out, others offering a “things have to be different and can be different” message will exploit the vacuum, primarily Reform UK and the rest of the authoritarian right, some of whom are cuckoos in the Conservative nest. Failing to get a stronger presence in the House of Commons would be terrible but failing the country by helping to open the door to yet more lurches to the extreme right should be unthinkable.

  • John Shreeve 30th Nov '23 - 9:34am

    I am one of the signatories and a member of the FPC. If like me you live in an area where the Liberal Democrats have no presence, when asked if they might consider voting Lib Dem, members of the general public can really only gauge that choice based on our national profile. Universally the response to the question is ‘what’s the point of the lib dems?’ indeed the central issue that stops us moving forward is lack of boots on the ground. When 90% of our own members fail to engage, and when one talks to them the central issue for almost all is that they have no idea why their lib dems, they just know they’re not Tories or Labour inclined. To then base our approach on ABC is to only offer a transitory home to the disaffected. Why would we all walk the streets and spend hours trying to attract support to simply give it away when the wind changes direction? Liberalism needs a crisper definition but the fragility of democracy as it is abused under FPTP is enough for us to work with. Please can we do so.

  • Gordon Lishman 30th Nov '23 - 9:44am

    Maggie and I both signed the letter.
    I have no doubt that it reflects the view of the Social Liberal Forum Council and most of our members and indeed most st of the activists who do the Party’s work.

    The leadership response is heavy-handed, deaf, and caricatures the original letter instead of engaging with the substance.

  • This GE is all about getting rid of the Tories ; that’s what Ed is lining us up for. We don’t – maybe never Will get the same media coverage, so we make our own with hard work week/in and week/out. Again Ed is leading the way. Anyone who says we’re not distinctive go look at the stance of the BIG international issue of the day – Haza, where the Lib Dem team daily call for a just ceasefire. So different to Lab/Cons; same with immigration and Overseas Aid. Until now I’’be seen us all pulling in one direction on Twitter (activists working so hard every day) and other social media. Lastly despite what these people say I am proud of the distinctive voice and political position Ed and all of us use to stand up for people coming here, those who need looking after and taking on useless water companies. Ed and tge Parliamentary team are doing a good job!

  • Chris Bowers 30th Nov '23 - 10:18am

    Referring to Michael BG’s first paragraph, those of us who initiated the letter have been saying these things internally for at least two years, yet we are never listened to. If there had been engagement, the letter would never have happened. We had hoped something would move after the overflowing fringe meeting at conference in September where John Curtice said we should be doing much better and we needed three or four clear policies voters could associate us with. Yet still nothing moved. So writing to the Guardian was a route of last resort, and the responses in this thread show what a strong seam of frustration we have exposed.

  • Absolutely spot-on and must do. If accomplished, my vote will return to the party!

  • Roger Billins 30th Nov '23 - 11:34am

    As an activist for this party and its predecessor since 1975 including a stint on Camden Council and GE candidate in Brent South, I wholeheartedly agree with the letter. We always do best when we have a clear message-1983, 1997, 2005 spring to mind. The biggest issue that unites people on the centre left, left and a whole lot of Tory voters is climate change. With Sir KS rowing back on his promises in relation to climate change, we have a golden opportunity to be the party, other than the Greens, majoring on what is the big issue.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 30th Nov '23 - 11:41am

    This is really niggling away in my brain, apologies for posting again mods, but “Part of the party response says “the focus of this party is to defeat as many Conservatives as we can at the next election, and get them out of power.”
    If you live in a Red Wall seat, particularly if it is marginal, there is a simple way of defeating our dreadful Conservative MP, and that is to vote labour. I am sure that 90% of local Lib Dems did last election. The next GE? We are now a derelict constituency, what motivation is there for our members? most of who joined post 2015 and re Brexit.

  • Nigel Quinton 30th Nov '23 - 11:47am

    Hurrah for the signatories – saying what the majority of activists within the party have been saying.

    There is so much we can say that is distinctively LibDem – and which chimes on the doorstep.

    We really would insulate Britain, we would (progressively) stop oil by investing in the future alternatives, we would put nature first, we would admit that politics is broken and start to fix it, we would invest in public health and deliver fully on parity of esteem for mental health, we would restore funding of public services (especially social care) and devolve more to local councils, we would stop vested interests controlling government policy on environmental regulations, and we would work to rejoin the single market and eventually the EU to reverse the mind-numbingly stupid Tory Brexit.

    But how many people know any of this?

  • Spencer Hagard 30th Nov '23 - 12:18pm

    Thank you to the letter writers for the grace and clarity of your critical statement to Guardian readers, to Caron for promoting LDV debate, and to LDV posters for many interesting responses, which are overwhelmingly positive.
    But where’s the debate? Are there no activists keen to speak up for our party’s current national-level timidity? No campaigners in marginal seats willing to promote their attraction to pale beige politics? No “leading lights” prepared to hit back with persuasive arguments in favour of blandness?
    I hope the letter writers have a strategy to overcome being ignored, directed to engaging the party – and as many outside the party as possible – in a movement for radical social liberal change.
    The need is desperate and urgent.

  • Matt (Bristol) 30th Nov '23 - 12:28pm

    One of many problems the Lib Dems have — irrespective of economics — is that there is a gap in the market – being suppressed by FPTP under our dysfunctional system – for a democratic consensualist, incrementalist, centrist, localist soft-social-conservative party, not unlike the Christian Democrats (or at least like they used to be in many EU countries).

    These are clothes Lib Dem candidates and activists wear, or allow themselves to be fitted for by the public – consciously or not, cyncically or not – but its not compatible with either a strident anti-Tory strategy or a ‘radical’ ‘progressive’ strategy.

    It’s a hypothetical party the Lib Dems in principle would create the space for if their voting reform proposals went through, but it would be a close competitor and fierce rival and many LD activists would in fact hate it with a passion as they would distrust it as an obstruction to various other policies they dearly desire (some of which I personally don’t desire at all). It is probably the party many voters think they’re getting when they vote LD.

    The LD leadership response to this is a longstanding tacit policy of constructive ambiguity, covered by pragmatic nimbyism on a situational basis.

  • Matt (Bristol) 30th Nov '23 - 12:33pm

    Economically, I’m in favour of a more proactively centre-left set of policies, dedicated to rebuilding the state (although not in a centralised authoritarian way). Where I differ with frequent Lib Dem calls to ‘radicalism’ is on social matters and I suspect there is some mild sleight of hand on behalf of the signatories in conflating economic and social policy here.

  • Cllr James Moore 30th Nov '23 - 12:49pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed in this letter. The response from the Leader’s Office was dismissive and rude. If you want to mobilise and enthuse your key party members and activists it is not a good idea to insult them – especially before a general election. These individuals have given decades of work and loyal support to the party.

    Liberal parties succeed by promoting strong and distinctive Liberal positions – not by copying and allying to whichever party happens to be ahead in the opinion polls. I thought we had learned that during 2010-2015.

  • This thread has rightly concentrated on the “strong seam of frustration” which the Guardian letter has exposed. What it hasn’t yet done is to start a dialogue. That is the fault of the leadership group, who have not engaged. Nevertheless, they are not completely wrong. So, here I shall play devil’s advocate, and try to say the things they ought to have been saying!

    All politicians to the left of Dominic Grieve are at risk of letting their ideals and enthusiasms carry them away. Corbyn showed us what happens when you promise the earth and the voters just don’t believe you. Lib Dems are by no means immune from parallel over-optimism. There is also the risk of unnecessarily repelling voters by being tin-eared to what may be their valid concerns. Enthusing about high taxes or unrestricted immigration, for example, would not help win votes.

    The Guardian letter makes a great start by picking the EU single market as a lead campaign issue, as that can rightly be presented as vital for economic recovery, jobs, and making the money we want to spend. It perhaps then wavers a little by listing too many parallel campaigning points – though equally, a one-trick-pony emphasis on the EU alone would not be a recipe for success. Campaign priorities are needed. Rescuing the NHS, and really tackling climate change, would be my suggested top priorities.

    Can the Lib Dem leadership come out of its bunker and engage in a real debate?

  • James Fowler 30th Nov '23 - 2:48pm

    The letter and this discussion re-visit a dilemma that has been present ever since the first Liberal revival in the late 1950s.

    Simply, should the Party be a non-threatening catch-all for centralist, non-conformist and disgruntled voters or espouse a distinct liberalism? The question has never directly been answered, not least because the clear liberalisms, social and classical, have been largely occupied by Labour and the Conservatives respectively. Winning one of them back would have required consistent and sometimes unpopular messaging over several decades.

    But the ‘plague on your houses’ line has been too tempting – it’s the key to winning by-elections. The oddly festive, subversive intensity of a good by-election where traditional authority gets upset (for a day) is the cultural DNA of our Party, and we’ve been brought back from the dead several times by this form of electoral CPR. Winning them means being many things to many people and staying safely well away from the Kryptonite of government.

    Finally, I think that the letter writers are frustrated because the Party lacks a GREAT MORAL CAUSE at present. Brexit filled the gap for a while, but the Iraq War was probably the best one in recent times. Ed Davey is a fantastic leader for our Party, but he has given us little or nothing to be RIGHTEOUS about. So, his challenge is to find his version of the Bulgarian Horrors and we’ll all be in Midlothian in no time.

  • I like many other members get annoyed hearing about the “Triple Lock” without any mention being given to it being our idea, a key part of our 2010 manifesto and then agreed by the Conservatives in the Coalition agreement.
    Now papers are reporting that it is unlikely to last beyond 2024. Here is one immediate golden opportunity to champion it as a distinctive policy and challenge the Tories hold on the over 70’s and Labour Party’s wishy washy stance on such matters..

  • David Blake 30th Nov '23 - 3:22pm

    One of our major problems is that whatever we say, we don’t get the coverage which we think we should get in the media. A good example of this is the BBC programme Politics Live, where our last panel member was Layla Moran on 2 November. Apart from special programmes for the Autumn Statement, there are 16 programmes currently available for viewing on the BBC website. All of these programmes (100%) had a Conservative member of the panel. 94% had a Labour panel member. 88% had a journalist or commentator from the Right. 88% had a journalist or commentator from the Left. The Liberal Democrats, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and Reform each appeared in just 6% of the programmes – 1 each! Reform was in 6% of the programmes, but one of the Right wing journalists has links with Reform, so their percentage could be said to be higher than ours. Surprisingly, the SNP hasn’t appeared in a single programme. We need to increase pressure on the BBC to include us in more programmes. Every time we’re ignored we need to flood them with complaints. It seems to me that they absolutely hate us or maybe they just don’t remember that we exist – despite the by-election wins, the good local election results and our presence in the Lords and the Commons.

  • Chris Moore 30th Nov '23 - 3:43pm

    I’d like to draw attention to a lack of clarity at the heart of the criticisms levelled at leadership.

    There seems to be an unquestioned assumption that distinctive policies that motivate activists will also win us more support from the electorate.

    That is not at all certain: at the last general election there was enthusiastic support for Remain Alliance and Revoke from many activists, including, I believe, some of the signatories of the letter. Revoke and Remain Alliance drew in many new pro-Remain members and won us lots of new funding, yet were a predictable disappointment at a Westminster electoral level.

    If you want “distinctive” policies, why are none suggested in your letter?

    Inevitably, in remarks below the line here, we have rejoining the SM mentioned as an example. The majority of members would favour that, yet it comes far down the list of priorities of ELECTORS.

    We should also not deny progress made over the last four years: we have large numbers of new councillors and our poll ratings have improved into the low teens from single figures.

    This is partly because the leadership has got the party focused on bread and butter issues. These may well bore activists, but are what move votes.

  • “the focus of this party is to defeat as many Conservatives as we can at the next election, and get them out of power.”

    So living in a seat where my MP is the appalling Andrea Jenkyns this looks like an endorsement/encouragement of Lib Dem supporters (which I still loosely am, though the party now is very different from the 92-2010 version) to vote Labour.

    Indeed that would hold across all of West Yorkshire where I think the party now has fewer councillors than it did after the supposed nadir of the elections in 2015.

    “Citing the way Paddy Ashdown set out a clear alternative to both parties, ”

    This is pretty rose-tinted remembrance of things past!

    “On the other hand, the leadership and campaign managers would argue that they have been developing their messages in our target seats for the past four years…”

    Two words. Ryan. Coetzee.

  • Nick Hopkinson 30th Nov '23 - 4:49pm

    It appears the party leadership is determined to win its 30 or so target seats at any cost. Personally I can’t believe that a little more distinctive linking of the cost of living crisis, the NHS crisis, supply chain shortages, protecting the environment and stimulating economic growth to closer relations with the EU would jeopardise winning those seats, and gaining another 10 or so more.

  • Jonathan Greenhow 30th Nov '23 - 5:01pm

    Thank you many contributors especially Nigel Quinton. I was wondering where the party was and not feeling motivated to do anything at the next election.

  • George Cunningham 30th Nov '23 - 5:20pm

    Is fighting a by-election the same as fighting a general election? Are we seen nowadays by the electorate as a national party or one fragmented into only caring about a few local seats dotted around the country? Surely we must be seen to be a national party talking about the big themes, even if modest and careful about what we can achieve. And we already those great Lib Dem policies but need to elucidate them properly. That’s why I co-signed the letter too. This is a friendly letter and very much supportive of Ed Davey whom I admire very much, especially for his decency and honesty. Let’s keep at those target seats but not be so obsessed by them that we lose sight of opportunities presented by promoting the bigger picture.

  • “The focus of this party is to defeat as many Conservatives as we can at the next election and get them out of power.

    Oh dear! Big strategic fail right there. Good strategy starts by asking what the customer (in this case, voter) wants and continues by working out how to deliver it. Those answers are difficult to discover because existing habits of thought and assumptions work against seeing them. On the other hand, once discovered they become obvious and, though radical, sensible, and popular.

    When the question is ‘How do WE do better?’ or ‘How do WE beat the opposition?’, the focus is not on the voters. Lacking strategic substance, answers will tend towards better presentation and tactical manoeuvring – as we have seen ad nauseam.

    So, how can a political party find answers? I believe the only way is to support ongoing, vigorous, and unscripted internal debate until one faction wins out and leads to electoral success based on ideas and principles. It was before my time, but it sounds like the culture of the old Liberal Party as described by older members.

    The LibDems difficulty is that, as noted by Chris Bowers’s, “[It] highlights the blind spot the current leadership appears to have about listening to its members…”

    The party urgently needs to rethink how it can promote more and better real internal debate and tap into the knowledge of its members and supporters.

  • Luke Richards 30th Nov '23 - 8:14pm

    I’m just here to add that I was a signatory to this letter and I’m heartened to see all the positivity to it here. I think it shows that what we’ve articulated in this letter is not just the opinion of a minority. Thank you to all for the support. When one sticks one’s neck out, it’s reassuring to know others support it.

  • Leekliberal 30th Nov '23 - 8:20pm

    At Last!….. this vital debate about the continuing failure of our leadership to clearly and concisely define what we stand for and to inspire us to get out and campaign, has escaped from our blogsite and is directly challenging the cabal around Ed Davey. My thanks to Caron and other contributors for this. Please keep up the pressure on them! I am a longstanding activist in a non-target seat where our main aim is to retain our deposit and work to build up our local target wards as well as helping in a nearby target seat. This task is not helped by our sad poll rating of around ten percent, attributable to the complacency of our leadership, so powerfully outlined by previous contributors.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 30th Nov '23 - 8:26pm

    Those of you asked for the full list of signatoreis, your wish has been granted. I’ve also incorporated this into the main post.

    Jon Ball – councillor, vice-chair Federal Conference Committee
    Chris Bowers – ex-councillor, 4 times parliamentary candidate, Liberal writer
    Duncan Brack – member of Federal Policy Committee, former Policy Director, ex-Spad
    Belinda Brooks-Gordon – professor at Birkbeck Univ, member of Federal Policy Committee
    Sally Burnell – member of Federal Policy Committee
    George Cunningham – member of Federal International Relations Committee
    Alex Davies – ex-chief of staff to Vince Cable when party leader
    Elizabeth Drury – consultant on EU affairs
    Paul Fox – former member of Federal Finance Committee, 2 times parliamentary candidate
    David Grace – former deputy-chair of The European Movement
    Gavin Grant – current and former adviser to several Lib Dem leaders
    William Hobhouse – descendant of LT Hobhouse (early British social liberal)
    Nick Hopkinson – writer and international advocate, ex-chair Lib Dem European Group
    David Howarth – former MP and council leader, university professor
    Julian Huppert – former MP, university academic
    Mark Johnston – member of Federal Policy Committee
    Gordon Lishman – councillor, 7 times parliamentary candidate, Liberal writer
    Maggie Lishman – councillor, former deputy leader of borough council
    Edward Lucas – PPC for Cities of London & Westminster
    Sarah Ludford – former MEP and Lib Dem peer
    Keith Melton – Green Liberal Democrats, member of Federal Policy Committee
    Rob Parsons – local party chair
    Ben Rich – member of Federal Policy Committee, ex-chief of staff to Tim Farron when leader
    Luke Richards – member of Federal Policy Committee
    Eleanor Rylance – councillor, chair of district council
    John Shreeve – member of Federal Policy Committee
    John Smithson – former editor of Radical bulletin
    Dick Taverne – former Labour & Democratic Labour MP, Lib Dem peer
    Simon Taylor – local party chair
    Jane Vaus – Green Liberal Democrats, the Green Book podcast

  • Katharine Pindar 30th Nov '23 - 9:55pm

    So, what next? Will the 30 committed activists please now individually (or perhaps in small groups, such as the nine FPC members) put the case they have presented for a ‘bold and distinctive’ move forward to our leaders. I think that means to our Leader, the Federal Board, the Pre-Manifesto group headed by Lord Newby, to the party spokespeople, and to the campaign director, press office and their staff – which perhaps our President Mark Pack can undertake. Please will the knowledgeable amend this tactic if necessary.
    I foresee, however, that ‘the leadership’ may reply that this new campaign has too many objectives at present. What will the voters respond to? Yes, those minded to vote for us will care about closer relations with the EU and environment protection. But what are the three KEY objectives Professor John Curtice suggested we need to have? James Fowler, we do have a GREAT MORAL CAUSE to pursue if we will boldly proclaim it, and it will impinge on the dire standard of living and the failing health and social care requirements that we all see. It is the resolution to TACKLE POVERTY in this country once and for all – required by our Constitution, and given teeth by our York Spring Conference. And yes, we can pay for it. This should be one of our three objectives – at last, and it is high time for it.

  • Nonconformistradical 30th Nov '23 - 11:59pm

    “And yes, we can pay for it”
    And there are some ideas here to start with from Dame Margaret Hodge
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/nov/30/britain-margaret-hodge-commons-tories-economy-labour
    “Unreported in the debates in the Commons this week that followed the autumn statement, Margaret Hodge, scourge of tax avoiders and evaders, delivered a pithy list that looks like Labour’s salvation…….”

    “But where her scalpel slices away the richest meat is in tax reliefs – 1,180 of them, many intended to achieve some policy outcome. “We have no idea how much those tax reliefs cost or whether they are effective,” she said, though “100 reliefs have been costed at an estimated £195bn … With little data and scant scrutiny … we are sitting on a time bomb.””

  • Luke Richards 1st Dec '23 - 7:01am

    @Katharine Pindar I’d like to reassure you that we do and are making our case for this vision wherever we can. Those of us among the signatories who are on FPC regularly raise matters like this in meetings. I most likely wouldn’t have signed something like this if the aims were not something I’d already been pushing for where I could.

  • Chris Moore 1st Dec '23 - 7:23am

    Could you also confirm that your initiative is not merely going to be a return to the comfort zone of campaigning for “distinctive” policies that switch on LD activists, but turn off the electorate?

    PR and SM are the obvious examples.

    I regard claims that the leadership are “complacent” as well wide of the mark. Whether activists like it or not, the leadership has rightly steered us away from our own hobby horses towards every day issues that concern the electorate.

    Could I suggest you actually build on the fine work Ed and others have been doing in the areas of caring and health? I note that the populist policy regarding waiting times for GPs was met with disapproval by many party purists on here.

    Finally, we’ve had a very successful cycle of local elections with over a thousand new seats won and record numbers of council control. It would actually make your case more credible if you could bring yourself to acknowledge this manifest and serious progress.

  • Cllr Richard Scott 1st Dec '23 - 8:48am

    I wholly endorse the statements made in the letter to the Guardian and am deeply disappointed by the response from the Party leadership. If I had had the opportunity to co-sign the letter, then I would have gladly done so.

    We are making serious mistakes in relying uncritically in opinion polls that report back voter symptoms (cost of living, NHS etc) and then failing to think through to root causes to develop radical, relevant and distinctive policies that will inspire voters.

    Friends and local residents regularly ask me “what do the LibDems stand for?” and “what are your distinctive policies?” I struggle to answer because I no longer understand the answers to these questions beyond “we are not the Tories” and “we are the only party round here that can beat the Tories”.

    We need to go into the rapidly-approaching 2024 General Election with an inspiring, differentiated manifesto, not some Labour-lite mish-mash. This manifesto should include an explicit commitment to Rejoin the EU at the nearest opportunity, starting with the Single Market and Customs Union in the next Parliament.

  • Ruth Bright 1st Dec '23 - 8:54am

    Some impressive names on this list, but also a few who kept stum when the coalition began its work by abolishing the Education Maintenance Allowance and abolishing the Health in Pregnancy Grant.

    Easy to be brave and put your head above the parapet now.

  • I’m relieved to hear that there are many other Lib Dem members out there who share my view that we need to be bolder on policy. We need clear differentiation to cut through especially bearing in mind the mainstream media will give us limited coverage vs the two main parties. Plus, as Liberals we need to back our beliefs and do what we think is right. The current bland strategy to win the 30 target seats is both complacent and dangerous. The Tories know they have lost the Red Wall so they will be looking for policy to win over voters in our target seats (eg I suspect changes to IHT are not totally dead); and they will be focusing campaign spend in these areas. I agree we can win over Labour voters by asking them to vote tactically to remove the Tories but we need something for rational soft Tory voters; and I sense a proper plan for growth would be compelling. And key to this growth plan has to be rejoining the single market. My understanding is we’re flatlining in the polls at c11%. This is a damning indictment of our policy and comms strategy bearing in mind current perceptions of this Tory govt.

  • Barry Lofty 1st Dec '23 - 10:40am

    Although I do not profess to have an in depth knowledge about the finer details of electioneering, might I suggest that the cost of living, the health service in all areas, the economy and the costly affect of the disastrous Brexit vote are very high on the priorities that need urgent attention and the disgraceful behaviour of the Conservative government over so many years. I think voters will probably vote for a Labour government just to be rid of the present incumbents and just hope for the best. Perhaps not a very refined view of the present situation but I hope Lib Dems can define a winning formula and make some progress in the forthcoming General Election.

  • It is a mistake to read too much into byelections and local election results as these can bring complacency. We did well in the Locals in 2017 before the GE debacle. We held Eastleigh in 2013 won Richmond Pk 2017, Brecon and Radnor in 2019 this then unraveled in the following GE. Performance in the air war is the best predictor of success in the ground war.

  • Ruth Bright 1st Dec '23 - 11:23am

    Bewildered by the Hobhouse reference, since when did social Liberals depend on inherited status!!

  • Chris Moore 1st Dec '23 - 11:39am

    Hello Martin,

    I strongly agree with you about our overall liberal direction of travel. The party has a profound intellectual and historical heritage in creation of the welfare state. And that should be our policy focus.

    I also agree Ed could do more to make explicit the liberal basis for the welfare state.

    Yes, if you take a poll of the general populace, support for PR and SM will be higher than our current opinion polls ratings. Indeed, if you take just about ANY policy, support for it will be higher than our current poll ratings!!! Indeed will be higher than our poll ratings at the peak of Cleggmania!! So not a great argument that one.

    Also as you know, when voters are asked to rank policies according to their priorities, PR and SM come well down the list. They are simply not vote winners. They get LD members excited, but not the electorate.

    As for minority rights, the tiny minority of LD activists have every right to put forward their ideas. No one has said they shouldn’t.

    Finally, why is it that none of the signatories to this letter can bring themselves to acknowledge the very significant progress at local council level over the last four years? When it comes to actual elections, we’ve been doing pretty well. Why not say so?

  • Chris Moore 1st Dec '23 - 11:58am

    Could I politely suggest that the reason the signatories are totally over-looking our considerable advance at local level is because a fair acknowledgement would seriously weaken their case that the leadership are going in the wrong direction?

  • David Allen 1st Dec '23 - 12:39pm

    Chris Moore: “Could you also confirm that your initiative is not merely going to be a return to the comfort zone of campaigning for “distinctive” policies that switch on LD activists, but turn off the electorate? PR and SM are the obvious examples.”

    PR, yes. A PR campaign now would be telling the voters “With poverty ballooning, public services in tatters, and the planet on fire, what we Lib Dems really want first and foremost is to get more of our own bums on seats in Parliament.”

    SM, no. Brexit has wrecked our economy, driven up taxes, driven up immigration, cost us jobs, and made a decent NHS unaffordable. Reversing Brexit isn’t something that can just be postponed until some future politician eventually summons up the nerve. Slogan – “We can’t afford Brexit!”

  • Rob Parsons 1st Dec '23 - 1:07pm

    Chris Moore 1st Dec ’23 – 11:58am Could I politely suggest that you are completely wrong about that. I’m pretty sure I can speak for all the signatories when I say that we are all aware of and very happy about recent successes. But there is only so much you can put into a letter with a very tight word limit. And success in local and by-elections does not translate seamlessly into general elections.

    We do not want to bang on about PR to the exclusion of other issues, but it is part of a package – as the letter says – “Europe, the environment, political reform and public services”. It is, in my view, an essential step in reforming the rotten politics that has brought the country to this state. Without reforming our politics to remove the dead hands of safe seats, we will never manage the economic and social transformations that this country so desperately needs. We should be selling it as hard as we sell our views on public services – they go together.

  • Leekliberal 1st Dec '23 - 1:12pm

    @ChrisMoore – I doubt that anyone on our blog is less than impressed with the achievements of our targeting strategy, but the question for you is ‘why, if it isn’t that our leadership need raise their game on the issues we are concerned about, are we still marooned on a miserable ten percent in the opinion polls?’ John Curtice said we should be doing much better and we needed three or four clear policies voters could associate us with. Is he wrong? Sadly, the dismissive response to our approach to the leadership suggests that nothing will change!

  • I guess I’m in a minority here but I don’t see re-joining SM as either radical or desirable. It looks to me more like a nostalgic wish to restore how the UK was a few years ago. I really wish that on European matters, more LibDem members would stop looking back to the past :-(. Re-joining the SM is NOT going to suddenly free up £hundreds of billions to do all the things the letter claims. What it will do is force businesses who have already endured the disruption of adapting to our new trading environment outside the EU to endure a second round of disruptive change.

    More significantly, SM requires bringing back freedom of movement – with all the implications for further increasing net migration and adding to the pressure on infrastructure and housing: That is not going to go down well with the electorate! And I can’t help noticing that the link between SM and FOM is not acknowledged in the open letter, and is also very rarely acknowledged by SM advocates (Why the silence? Do people really imagine we could sneak FOM back without mentioning it to voters?)

    I feel very sympathetic to calls for a radical liberal vision, but single market is not it, and I to my mind, the open letter sadly spoils its case by apparently equating a liberal vision with the SM.

  • Matt (Bristol) 1st Dec '23 - 2:27pm

    Ruth Bright — I suspect ‘husband of a Lib Dem MP’ wasn’t something that could be stated out loud.

  • David Evans 1st Dec '23 - 2:50pm

    Surely, our key objective can only be one thing – to get as many good Lib Dem MPs elected as possible.

    So which seats are most winnable? Conservative ones.

    Why? Because all those voters who have voted Conservative in the past know that for over 10 years the Conservatives have failed to deal with almost every important issue they have been faced with. They are reasonable people totally disillusioned with the Conservatives’ lies and incompetence. They will switch.

    What issues are they most disillusioned about?
    Human Rights and Liberty – No. They view the UK correctly as one of the most liberal countries in the world. Protection is necessary, but what is wrong with it?

    Fair votes and Electoral Reform – No. There are real problems out there that need to be solved quickly and tinkering with the voting system is nowhere near top of their list.

    The environment – Yes, very important. But won’t be solved by throwing money at it.

    Europe – Vital. They know the Conservatives lied throughout the entire campaign. They know Brexit is a total mess but Rejoin will be very difficult because the Conservatives have trashed our relationship. They also know we are pro Europe and Starmer is not. Except for those who are Brexfixated, they want a solution based on “Working with our European friends” in every way possible.

    Ultimately they want a government founded on honesty and competence, which we have. Why would anyone want to build a campaign on anything else?

  • David Franks 1st Dec '23 - 3:19pm

    Many thanks to those who signed the letter to the Guardian. Most of my colleagues in the Luton party have been saying much the same for ages. We are not encouraged by the decision on the content of the Channel 4 Party Political slot on Thursday. Who decided that the most important issue facing the UK right now is ……Scottish Tourism? Daisy Cooper where are you when we need you so much?

  • Back in 2019, the freepost offered to non-target seats mentioned nothing about the achievements by Lib Dems in government. Olly Grender (HQ Campaigns) said that it wasn’t what focus groups asked for. Fortunately, the freepost software was available, so we included:

    “Would not have happened without Lib Dems in government:
    Starting rate for paying income tax raised. David Cameron said it could not be afforded.
    £? billion per annum of tax avoidance by individuals and corporations

    Would have happened with a Tory majority government:
    The 45% income tax rate cut to 40%
    Inheritance tax threshold raised to £1million
    Continuance of turning a blind eye to tax avoidance

    Will happen with Liberal Democrats in government:
    Action will be taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

    Will happen with a Tory majority government:
    Action will not be taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
    David Cameron is on record saying “Let’s cut the green crap” – before the floods in 2014!”

    We seemed to get an above-average percentage in the following election.

  • The anti- Brexit strategy was always a 2 election job. 2019 was half time if you like and 2024 should be when we finish the job. However since then the party has lost 1/4 of its voters which for an opposition party facing a deeply unpopular govt would normally lead to a change of leader.

  • Chris Moore 1st Dec '23 - 7:06pm

    Hi Leekliberal,

    Yes, but we already have popular policies. We have been focusing on issues that interest the electorate for some time. And there have been very significant advances at local level. And a modest improvement at national level.

    I fear that what many of the authors of the letter want is to revert to those “distinctive” policies that activists love, but the electorate are indifferent to.

    This will not improve our standing in the polls.

    It’s noticeable that not a single “distinctive” policy is offered up for our delectation, apart from SM. Only generalisations.

  • Rob Parsons 1st Dec '23 - 9:04pm

    @Simon R 1st Dec ’23 – 1:52pm with regard to the single market, nobody here is being nostalgic. The old days are gone and they’re not coming back – we all know that. And nobody is saying there will suddenly be billions of pounds to spend all at once. We know that this will be a long process of gradual accumulation. But we’re looking forward – looking forward to opening up our biggest and closest market again, and from that opening prosperity will flow – slowly at first of course, everybody recognises that. And you exaggerate the cost to business. Any business that is at all engaged with the EU already adheres to their standards – they have to, for commercial reasons, no matter how much our maniacal government wishes them to diverge. The only disruption to them will be being able to dump all the red tape the Brexiters foisted on them.

    FOM is a more complicated topic, of course, because it has been weaponised by the right wing, But sometimes you just have to take the fight to the enemy. We could start by pointing out the facts – immigration was a sight lower back in the days when we were in the single market and had FOM.

  • Chris Bowers,

    Thank you for responding to my previous comment. It is disheartening to know that those who initiated the letter have been saying things internally for at least two years. I emailed Mark Pack to ask him if the Federal Board had discussed John Curtice’s findings or when they planned to discuss them, but he didn’t answer the question in his reply. It is very disheartening that you see the letter as a last resort.

    Have the seven non-Parliamentarian members of the Federal Communications and Elections Committee been contacted to raise this issue with that committee? Maybe I should email another one of them.

    Spencer Haggard,

    Indeed, it is disappointing that none of the fourteen voting members of the Federal Communications and Elections Committee have commented in this thread.

    David Allen,

    I was disappointed that the letter refers to ‘a single-market dividend’, which they imply will pay for some of our policies. The UK could not join the single market quickly so any dividend would come near the end of the next Parliament not near the start to fund some of our policies. We need to set out our tax policies to fund what we want to achieve.

    Theakes,

    I agree we should talk about our policy of keeping the “Triple Lock”.

  • Chris Moore,

    Perhaps those who dislike our new NHS policy to ‘give everyone the right to see their GP within seven days, or within 24 hours if they urgently need to’ believe that it can’t be achieved in five years as it takes over seven years to train and qualify to be a GP.

    Lord Dick Newby said at the John Curtice fringe meeting that the five themes in the pre-manifesto were their attempt at setting out what a liberal society looks like.

    David Evans

    Why would anyone want to build a campaign on anything else (honesty and competence)?

    Growing the economy, greening the economy, fixing public services (including the NHS and fixing local government finance) and ending deep poverty are things I would like us to include in our campaigning.

  • Leekliberal 2nd Dec '23 - 1:10pm

    And this is what ‘Radical Bulletin’ in ‘The Liberator’ made of this shenanigans!

    ‘HOW NOT TO DO IT It’s never a sign of strength when a party leader blows a gasket and reacts with rudeness to criticism, and especially not, as in the case of Ed Davey, when that criticism about the party’s timidity and lack of profile came – just as Liberator went to press – from 30 well-known party figures in a letter to the Guardian [https:// http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2023/nov/29/asliberal-democrats-we-must-set-out-a-bold-anddistinctive-offer-to-voters%5D Signatories ranged from Liberator’s David Grace and Social Liberal Forum council members to less usual suspects such as Gavin Grant – normally a pillar of the party establishment – and Ed Lucas, PPS for City of London and Westminster South. Davey’s spokesperson responded: “It would be a comforting luxury to act as the most democratic thinktank in British politics and navel-gaze amongst ourselves.” Davey then sacked Baroness Ludford as Lords Europe spokesperson for signing the letter and neglected to immediately replace her.’

    I am shocked and saddened at the sacking of Baroness Ludford and am now clear that our leadership ‘knows best” and their vision does not extend beyond their tunnel!

  • I am shocked by all this noise. No-one seems to be actively looking ahead and working towards the General Election c.2029, when I refuse to be so pessimistic as to suppose that we shall yet again be confronted by FPTP. Anyone who doesn’t want anything so dreary as either another Conservative government or a Labour one will be looking elsewhere.– and seeing what?

    Lib Dem or Green.
    I believe that what our kingdom needs — without yet realising it — is a new party comprising two well established but currently ineffectual parties free of the Left v Right staleness: a union of the LDs and the Greens.

    I suggest we should invite the Greens to join us in a challenge against the “Yet Again”
    credo. If we stand down from one third of the seats we plan (!) to win, undertaking to vote Green there, will they clinch the deal by reciprocating to vote LD? Surely both parties would do better than currently seems likely?

    And lets focus on the under thirties? And working for a sensible version of PR.

  • Michael Kilpatrick Michael Kilpatrick 2nd Dec '23 - 6:49pm

    I note the prominence given to internationalism, environmental awareness and modernising Britain. Those might be viewed as abstract geekery, remote from people’s direct needs, and I think many in the party have pushed against developing meaty or more radical policy in those and similar areas for that reason or because they think playing safe and boring is better.

    Modernising is a vital steps towards “levelling up” – seriously tackling both poor government and grotesque disparities across the Kingdom. We have developed some policies for radically restructuring and decentralising the UK but don’t seem to want to sell it or its by-products. Yet those by-products are very real and direct. We failed to properly develop policy on Universal Basic Income because, it seems, the Working Group were prohibited from discussing income tax rates as part of it, instead limited to the thresholds. A ridiculous stitch-up purposedly designed to avoid being radical or joined-up? Obviously a Real UBI would be accompanied by significant taxation changes. We’ve failed to develop comprehensive policies on land tax as opposed to property tax, too. A penny in tax for the NHS? Boring, pointless noise.

    We could be far bolder in Internationalism. Looking around the world, one can see it needs pushy and progressive nations to actually /act/. Likewise with environmentalism. No doubt we could say as much about those two fields as about modernising the UK.

    I do find it all rather depressing and boring. And I don’t even need to mention the EU/Single Market question…

  • Michael Kilpatrick,

    There were two consultation papers on UBI which included how the £30 billion needed on top of abolishing the Income Tax Personal Allowance and the National Insurance Threshold could be funded. It suggested four tax changes. At our conference in York in the spring we had a choice between a UBI and Guaranteed Basic Income both of which would need about £30 billion of increased government revenue. Conference decided on the Guaranteed Basic Income.

    We have a policy on taxing land – the Commercial Land Levy passed in 2018.

  • Peter Hirst 4th Dec '23 - 2:19pm

    I do feel the electorate could be confused as to what the Lib Dems offers apart from on specific local issues that might cause them to vote for us in the coming General Election in seats where we are the obvious Party to replace either of the other main ones.

  • Dennis Wake 4th Dec '23 - 5:39pm

    Sir Edward Davey seems to be expecting that the Conservative vote will collapse at the next election leaving a few Conservative MPs divided between the hard right ideologues and the more moderate traditional Conservatives who might join an alliance with the Liberal Democrats based on support for re joining the EU. However this is unlikely to happen as most Conservatives vote for the party because their ancestors have voted that way for generations and are not governed by political leanings. I have spoken to a number of them and they say they will not vote Conservative next time but will abstain because they do not like the way things are going and seem to want to go back to the way things were done before 2016.

  • Chris Moore 5th Dec '23 - 7:15am

    Hi Michael BG, yes, I know the promise of a time limit to see a GP is difficult to achieve within a Parliament.

    Still, as you’re perfectly aware many of our doctors are immigrants. So the 7 year training period for doctors is not a deal breaker.

    And this is a policy which I believe WOULD be very popular with voters and immediately relevant to their concerns.

    It’s a good example of what is needed.

    Unlike the usual LD gruel of PR, SM and the hopelessly unrealistic UBI.

    Martin: There’s a difference of opinion with known figures within the party on either side. So an argument from authority won’t wash (in either direction). In general, I don’t accept such arguments, in any case.

    I too am dismayed at leadership’s reaction, particularly given how nebulous the original letter was.

    What I want to see is some striking easily comprehensible and potentially popular ideas put forward.

  • Dennis Wake 5th Dec '23 - 10:53am

    Chris Moore, You might have to change the leader if you want any other changes.

  • David Allen 5th Dec '23 - 11:32am

    Everybody agrees that it is crucial to be “bold” and “distinctive”. Each side castigates the other for failing to achieve these aims. But what do they really mean by “bold” and “distinctive”?

    Corbyn was bold and distinctive. Is that what is wanted?

    There are many clever half-ready ideas, such as UBI and land tax reform, floating around. Should Lib Dems make these into big headline promises, and put up with all the pundits telling voters why they won’t work?

    On the other hand…

    Mark Pack says “We are the only party committed to …combating climate change.” Eh? What simple, “bold” commitment have Lib Dems put across to the voters to justify that claim? Aren’t the Greens a nose ahead here? Even Starmer’s £30bn is relatively bold and distinctive.

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2023/dec/03/the-lib-dems-have-a-bold-plan-and-it-is-already-working

    To produce bold, distinctive AND effective headline policy promises you need to:

    1. Identify a few key issues which voters care about and which government should realistically address

    2. Find one-line key commitments which aren’t anodyne, clearly mean something, can be achieved, but won’t be too easy.

    3. Announce, rinse and repeat, ad nauseam. Then some voters will notice.

    4. Watch your backs. Don’t say high tax is good. Do say that desperate Tory efforts to cut tax have wrecked our economy.

    It’s not rocket science. Sure, the Bowers et al letter doesn’t in itself provide it. But its authors know it is necessary. The leadership group don’t.

  • Nigel Quinton 5th Dec '23 - 6:40pm

    @Jonathan Greenhow – thank you.

    @Roger Lake – I have been saying for years that Green and LibDem should combine. There is so little national policy that divides us, mostly at local level all hat divides us are personalities and petty squabbles. Both parties recognise that the biggest issue facing humanity is climate change, from which so much follows as night follows day. At a constituency social a few years ago I suggested this to Mark Pack – I think his response was to say they wouldn’t want us. Realistically it ain’t going to happen, and nor will electoral pacts with the Greens move the dial sufficiently. So we are left with a situation where the only way we can hope to make progress is for Labour to come apart to the extent they need us. Is that what the leadership is banking on?

    We have to start doing what David Allen suggests. And quickly. Is Ed up for it?

  • Michael Kilpatrick Michael Kilpatrick 11th Dec '23 - 11:28am

    Michael BG: “We have a policy on taxing land – the Commercial Land Levy passed in 2018.”

    That’s not a policy on Land Value Tax. That’s about a quarter of a policy on Land Value Tax. It’s a policy only on replacing business rates. About as half-baked as the result of the UBI debate.

  • Michael Kilpatrick,

    The Commercial Land Levy is a Land Value Tax on commercial land. At Bournemouth we decided to extend it to land that has planning permission. I am happy that it doesn’t cover homes. We have a separate policy on Council Tax. However, I would like us to have a second stage reform of taxing homes at one percentage in each council area, rather than the lower valued homes paying a higher percentage than the higher valued homes.

    And as you know I am content with our GBI policy to end deep poverty within the decade.

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