Sir Malcolm Bruce writes.. We need to be a united campaigning force doing what we do best

February 15th 2003 - Iraq war demo in LondonI sent this to the party’s Chief Executive Tim Gordon and thought that Liberal Democrat Voice readers would be interested in it.

Dear Tim

Although I wasn’t needed in the end I was glad to have been able to be at Nick’s speech and back at HQ.
It was a bitter outcome and the tears and distress of so many of our dedicated staff and volunteers was plain to see in all its raw emotion.

I know many of them have or will have lost their jobs and we have all lost the contribution of so many highly talented and experienced colleagues.

Please pass on my understanding and gratitude. I hope they can all be encouraged to keep the faith wherever they are scattered in the belief that we will rebuild and return to strength and influence.

It has been perhaps inevitable that in the last Parliament our role in Government has dominated our offer to the world with the consequences in local and devolved elections that have now decimated our Parliamentary representation.

I hope that in the election of a new leader from our diminished band we do not have too much debate about the ideological soul of the party. We need to be a united campaigning force doing what we do best.

Now we will have to rebuild from the grass roots, starting with next year’s elections (including challenging the SNP ‘s record in Scotland and offering an aspirational and inspirational Liberal alternative).

Against the background of a Conservative majority Government and the prospect of an EU referendum that threatens our future at least as much as last year ‘s referendum there is plenty of campaigning to do and, as Nick said, more need than ever for a clear Liberal voice.

In Scotland we have to take the fight to the SNP hegemony and work out ways to promote an attractive Scottish Liberal alternative.

I understand many will need to look to their own future and get a life (I liked Stephen Gilbert’s posting of Gone Surfing on his Twitter a/c)

However I hope, wherever they go, they will keep in touch and as the Phoenix arises they will be able to rejoin the campaigns.

Thank you to each and every one.


P.S. I joined the party when we had 6 MPs tho we were beginning to gather support. We were badly set back in 1970 and again in October 1974.

Yet we persevered, took our opportunities and proved there is a market for our distinctive voice. We have to be out there.

* Malcolm Bruce was the Liberal Democrat MP for Gordon until 2015 and was Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 2014-15. He led the Scottish Party from 1988-92 and is now a member of the House of Lords.

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  • Eddie Sammon 9th May '15 - 4:52pm

    Thanks Malcolm. I’m in the camp for a pretty “non ideological” future. I say variations of this a lot, but it needs to be repeated otherwise people will start to cheerlead the free market or swap places with probably a newly ruthless Labour Party, where we shout a lot about social justice, but ultimately aren’t trusted in the highest offices.

    Best wishes and thanks for your service.

  • “inevitable that in the last Parliament our role in Government has dominated our offer to the world”

    What offer? Clegg spent half his time saying “vote for us and we might coalition with the Tories” or “vote for us and we might coalition with Labour” – if people wanted Labour they would vote for Labour, if they wanted the Tories then they would vote for the Tories – and they did!

    The more I’ve read over the past few days the more I’m convinced that the mainstream view of liberals is true.

  • Stevan Rose 9th May '15 - 6:25pm

    “It has been perhaps inevitable that in the last Parliament our role in Government has dominated our offer to the world with the consequences in local and devolved elections that have now decimated our Parliamentary representation.”

    In my area, 60% of those who voted Lib Dem for the council voted for someone else for Parliament. We even gained a council seat from Labour. The electorate want us as strong local champions putting them first. They don’t rate us running central government departments and having to compromise to do so. When you ignore what voters want they punish you.

  • Bill le Breton 9th May '15 - 8:49pm

    The truth is Malcolm that you should have stood this time to defend your seat.

    There was absolutely no chance that any new candidate had an earthly chance of winning in this election and that was obvious from May 2011.

    I bet you don’t reply, because I reckon you have written your letter and then thought it deserved wider publication. The last thing you will waste your time on is listening to the grassroots.

    Come here and defend what you have done over the last five years and tell us some good reasons why you should not have defended your seat for the Party that has given you so much.

  • Menzieshunt 9th May '15 - 9:14pm

    I agree with Caracatus. We do need some debate about the ideological soul if the party. I left the party 5 years ago because I felt betrayed by the Lib Dems joining a coalition with the Tories. The last straw was the student fees decision. I would not rejoin unless I was absolutely sure we would never ever go in with the Tories again. The Lib Dems were made the fall guys by the Tories. Time and time again Danny Alexander stood up and gave their bad news to the nation whilst they delivered any small amount of good news themselves. No wonder the nation voted against the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems were the face of bad news in a Tory coalition.

  • Julian Gibb 9th May '15 - 10:30pm

    …Malcolm ran away before the humiliation of defeat. If he really believed in the Party he would have fought his seat.
    It was a particular pleasure to watch his reaction during the campaign as reality sank in.

    A really nasty unionist who rolled out lies at every opportunity.

  • Steve Comer 10th May '15 - 1:40am

    It is extremely unfair to accuse Malcolm Bruce of ‘running away’ by not defending Gordon.

    He was born a year before WW2 ended, so would be 75 at thetime of the 2020 election. He’s served the constituents of Gordon (and the Party) for 32 years, surely he should be allowed to retire if he wants to?……Or is the incumbency factor so strong that we are going to insist that all Lib Dem MPs must keep defending their seats until they die in office?

  • Eddie Sammon 10th May '15 - 1:46am

    By the way, if Labour elect a “centrist” then Lib Dems should merge with them. People are right that there are too many parties dancing on the pinhead of the centre-ground – so merge with one of them.

    My thoughts anyway.

  • Malcolm Bruce wrote, “I hope that in the election of a new leader from our diminished band we do not have too much debate about the ideological soul of the party.” In the last leadership election I had real trouble in trying to decide which candidate was the one who believed in the same type of liberalism as I do. This time round the candidates must clearly state how they will address inequalities in society and improving freedom for the poor.

    @ Eddie Sammon
    We will never merge with the Labour Party because we are liberals and they are authoritarian.

  • There appears to be a strong sentiment — I have no idea if it is a prevailing sentiment — in Labour that the solution to their problems is to move right. If that is actually how they proceed, then they run the risk of alienating the very people who abandoned the Lib Dems for Labour (some of whom had earlier abandoned Labour for the Lib Dems after 2003). The likelihood then is that a strictly centrist Liberal Democrats will get squeezed — possibly out of existence. The challenge for the Party will then be, as during the Blair years, to come up with a distinctive raison d’être and try to appeal to a broader coalition outside the centre ground. We managed it then; I see no reason it could not be managed now.

  • If Labour, or a part of them, would care to subscribe to the principles in the Preamble, I would have no problem with them merging with us.

    Obviously that isn’t going to happen, but Labour does have its own internal strains, on a scale compared to which Lib Dem internal quarrels are a minor family dispute. It is not beyond expectation that factions could break away from them, as the SPD did.

  • “I hope that in the election of a new leader from our diminished band we do not have too much debate about the ideological soul of the party. We need to be a united campaigning force doing what we do best.”

    Without a strong debate “about the ideological soul of the party” we will not achieve “a united campaigning force”. Far too many people have the barely the slightest notion of what Liberalism stands for and represents. Without vigorous open discussion this will not improve and the idea will persist that we merely place ourselves in a non-existent space in between the less ideological wings of Labour and Conservatives. An education process needs to start with debate amongst our own members. How can the public have any idea of the principles of Liberalism,- our scepticism in regard to the powers that government at any level and any concentrations of power claim for themselves against individual rights and freedoms – , if we do not clearly understand these ideas ourselves?

  • David Evans 10th May '15 - 9:41am


    I’m sorry but if you really believe all we need to do to solve the problems of this country is to merge with a centre party, you really don’t understand the basic principles of liberalism. I suggest you start with Grimond “The purpose of liberalism is to be on the side of the governed, not the governing.” Now that’s tricky when you are in government and it is what Nick totally failed to do. Both lab and Con want to be in power for the sake of having power, keeping it and increasing it. We should want to disperse it.

  • “The purpose of liberalism is to be on the side of the governed, not the governing.”

    What a great quote, and precisely what the electorate are telling us. However Grimond’s best result was 9 seats. It does kind of rule out ever being the governing again. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing at national level.

  • Sadie Smith 10th May '15 - 3:35pm

    There must be some newish members or nonmembers in this strand. Certainly some offensive comment.
    Some of us do know at least a part of Malcolm’s work.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th May '15 - 4:15pm

    Hi David, actually I quite like Grimond. I had doubts not to long ago and started reading up on him. I think the left would be in a much better position if the movement shared more of his principles.

    I still disagree, but nevertheless, it is a real shame that the left today is partially represented by the likes of the Guardian. Not the visions or principles of previous liberals,it seems.

  • tony dawson 10th May '15 - 6:05pm

    I think that, although I do not agree with all he says here, some above are being rather unfair on Malcolm, who is probably our Denis Healey: ie the best leader we never had. He is getting on a fair bit and has a young family. Why should he have forced himself to stand again (he would, of course, have won and I believe that Salmond would not have even dared to stand against him). Malcolm Bruce has served this Party well including winning a colossally-revised Gordon constituency when all the official analysts wrote-off his chances of so-doing.

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