Stoke and Copeland results show how far Lib Dems have come in two years

If the Stoke and Copeland by-elections had happened at any point in the last Parliament, the Liberal Democrats would have been squeezed until our pips squeaked. We’d certainly have lost our deposit as we did in both seats in the 2015 General Election in both seats.

The results showed how far we have come. Our vote more than doubled in both seats and we did well to avoid a squeeze into oblivion. In Copeland we pushed UKIP into fourth as that party’s voters clearly felt comfortable enough voting for Theresa May’s Brexit Britain Party.

In Stoke, you have to wonder how much of Labour’s vote was actually people who wanted to vote Lib Dem holding their nose and voting Labour to keep the even nastier prospect of the torture-supporting, ultra right Paul Nuttall winning. For us to get almost 10% in those circumstances was a very healthy result indeed.

In both campaigns we had outstanding candidates in Rebecca Hanson and Dr Zulfiqar Ali. They would both enhance our parliamentary team and we need to make sure that we get them into Westminster one day.

There’s no denying that the results are depressing in some ways, though. Both contests were won by pro Drive-Us-Of-The-Edge-Of-The-Cliff Brexit parties. Even after a torrid campaign in which there was controversy about his address, he was found to have made false claims on his website and which was basically a disaster for UKIP, they still attracted 24% of the vote. That their vote swapped so easily to the Conservatives in Copeland also shows how interchangeable the two have become.

These were always going to be challenging seats for us but we embraced the challenge, ran positive campaigns and can be very proud of what we achieved.

Party President Sal Brinton spent the night in Stoke and had this to say:

The Potteries decided there was no need to have UKIP’s official leader in parliament when UKIP’s unofficial leader is already in Number 10, pursuing a hard Brexit.

We would have done even better but for many voters, drawn to the Lib Dems, who felt they just couldn’t risk being represented by a UKIP MP, so reluctantly backed Labour. Paul Nuttall called this seat Brexit Central but it turned out to be the end of the line for UKIP.

There is also little comfort for Labour, whose vote share has more than halved here in less than two decades. This is on top of an incredibly tough night for them in Copeland. It shows that if we are to turn out this divided and uncaring Conservative Brexit government, the Liberal Democrats will be the ones making the progressive case to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.

Since May the Liberal Democrats have made 30 council gains across the country, ten times more than any other party. They have won a famous parliamentary by-election in Richmond Park and their membership has almost doubled since the general election. Recently the party has won council by elections in Leave areas such as Sunderland and Rotherham, and two more tonight.

We started from a low base here but our vote is picking up and this is yet another sign that the Lib Dem fight-back is on.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Peter Watson 24th Feb '17 - 8:17am

    These results in byelections in which the Lib Dems could mobilise activists from across the country, while an improvement over the General Election of 2015, are still the next lowest vote share achieved by the party and its predecessors in the history of each seat.

    It is the Conservatives that are smiling this morning with their majority restored by a victory in Copeland (the margin of which was slightly less than the Lib Dem vote) and an increased vote share in Stoke. Is this an endorsement of their approach to Brexit in the way that Richmond Park was presented by the Lib Dems?

    Perhaps this is “another sign that the Lib Dem fight-back is on”, but it suggests there is a long way still to go and the party should consider if there are any important lessons to be carried forward into national election campaigns when it won’t be feasible to import as many activists into a single seat (or in this case split between two). And what will the party do if Labour do replace their unpopular leader?

  • Of course there is still a long way to go – what’s new? We are clawing our way back from near extinction – what’s new? Have we got the guts, commitment, vision and above all mutual trust to ensure that where we are in 3 years, 6 years, 9 years will be very different from May 2015 or February 2017.

  • Peter Watson 24th Feb '17 - 8:47am

    Slight correction: In Copeland the Liberals had a lower vote share in 1979 when the constituency was called Whitehaven and did not stand a candidate for 40 years in the middle of the 20th century.

  • Peter Watson 24th Feb '17 - 8:51am

    @Geoff Reid “Have we got the guts, commitment, vision and above all mutual trust”
    i don’t doubt the first two, but blocking Brexit aside, what is the vision?
    If the vision is “a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”, then blocking Brexit aside, what is the strategy? Where’s the beef?

  • The Stoke by election and indeed Copeland took all parties by surprise with the sudden resignations. Very difficult to really gain any momentum in such circumstances. However we do have the very real possibility of 2 more by elections in the north west if but honestly when we get 2 Labour mayor’s in Manchester and Liverpool. Can I ask is there any forward planning going on for these two constituencies? Is this kind of thing left to the region or the national party? Or do we just wait and see what happens? Oh and well done to the candidates in Stoke and Copeland.

  • Bill le Breton 24th Feb '17 - 9:04am

    Many thanks to the candidates and teams for their dedication in these two by-elections.

    The real story however is encapsulated in two tweets: this from the highly experienced Jonathan Calder, “Stoke is Labour’s Eastleigh – They won because the Tories and Ukip split the vote; main challenger fielded a dud candidate”; and this from Sundar Katwala, “A lot of attention to Ukip threat to Labour in the north. Much less to Cons threat to Labour in the north, which looks a bigger danger”.

  • I agree with Nick (Tyrone) in his blogpost on the learnings from last night

    …4. The Lib Dems have a long way yet to climb

    The Liberal Democrats were not realistically expected to win either of the two by-elections yesterday. Still, I think the results are an apt demonstration that a). winning a significant amount of votes in Westminster level elections in places where a majority voted to Leave is probably unrealistic for the Lib Dems any time in the near future and b). at present, the Lib Dems are not taking a significant chunk of Remain voters away from Labour in former Labour English heartlands. All of that is okay – the Lib Dems have a long term strategy around Brexit that will take years to pay off. I think, however, that serious thought needs to go into the targeting of seats in 2020, taking the current strategy into consideration. Those Cornwall seats look that much less winnable after yesterday.

  • Little Jackie Paper 24th Feb '17 - 9:32am

    Does anyone know whether leaving the EU a big campaign issue in either seat? – serious question, I don’t know.

    Just if we are going to be taking relations with the EU as the biggest game in town I’d be interested to know how far the various parties campaigned on it. Presumably for UKIP it was a big issue, but how far did the others bang the drum?

    As ever we probably shouldn’t read too much into by-elections.

  • Christopher Haigh 24th Feb '17 - 9:42am

    Well done to all concerned. We have now re-established base support for liberal democracy in Stoke and Copeland.

  • Meanwhile behind the scene we again do very well in most local by elections, I suspect the May locals, (County elections in the main), are going to go very well for us, we will be the main headline grabber and UKIP especially will just fall away. We should be setting ourselves to regain the 120 or so we lost last time with at least another 100 gains on top.

  • Just heard we won from Labour the two Westhoughton (Bolton area), wards yesterday on the Town Council, now have 5 councillors there. More signs of the recovery, Westhoughton used to be a good area for us until the coalition, I recall a large group of councillors there in the early 80’s. Next step will be the area Bolton Council wards. Keep it rolling.

  • David wrote:

    “Those Cornwall seats look that much less winnable after yesterday.”

    A very dangerous comment to make.

    Cornwall is nothing like Stoke or Copeland. Cornwall (all of Cornwall) has a long history of strong Lib Dem support. The Leave majority in Cornwall is lower than in Stoke and Copeland, and is probably only significant in Falmouth/Cambourne/Redruth. On top of that, the Lib Dems actually won a council seat from the Tories in sight of Cornwall yesterday.

    Kettering is a Leave area, and so is Westhoughton. That did not stop Lib Dems winning in those places yesterday.

  • Heard a comment on Question Time last night. That labour had 500 bodies pounding the streets in Stoke and UKIP had 300. How does that compare with LibDems and is this difference? Do we need to get more people knocking on doors?

  • Firstly, congratulations and thank-you to all those directly invovled with the campaigns. In seats in which we could have been squeezed, to resist and increase is to be very much welcomd.

    Think the comments above strike the right balance. We have clearly moved on from 2015 and still have a long, long way to climb but there is a real, demonstrable determination to get out there and campaign.

    To my mind, what we need to do now is to focus on issues beyond Brexit. Yes, everything is impacted by Brexit – and yes, we will rightly continue to talk about it – but when I’m on the doorstep I sense people’s focus is returning to issues such as social care, jobs etc. To their absolute credit, the Stoke and Copeland teams did focus on such issues, but as a national cut-through I only really here us talking about Brexit at a time when the country’s focus is widening post-2016.

    We should start to those those issues fornt and centre, with an underlying argument that Breixt will likely make the situation worse not better, which will help build the case for a Ref on the final deal in 2019.

  • Bill le Breton 24th Feb '17 - 11:23am

    ATF – I do so agree with you – especially as there are new and exciting ways of reaching out to people and involving them in campaigns.

    The 1989 experience is still pertinent. We polled 5% in the Euros. We at ALDC called a crisis meeting of staff and decided to put together a large bundle of campaigns. We invited those we regarded as good campaigners across the country to come for a weekend at the Hebden Bridge residential centre. These included some real stars from the Whips office and among MPs’ staff, which surprised a few of us.

    By the end of the weekend we had written and art-worked (hey this was pre-pagemaker of course) around 20 campaigns. These were printed up and sold, especially at the following Brighton September conference.

    It was interesting that some very new areas were explored. Of course now there would be innovation not just in ‘subjects’ but in technology. It was also interesting which of the 20 ‘took off’ – and we were able to reinforce these with Parliamentary and Local authority action in integrated campaigns.

    Surely it is critical to introduce our vast number of new members to this kind of campaigning.

    These ‘People First’ campaigns, as they were packaged up, were and can be again an integrating force in building strong communities (and not just geographical ones).

  • @Bill le Breton

    Sounds like a very good idea to me – especially when we consider the County Councils are just round the corner. Our strong Remain indentity is making people look at us again, but it will take more to bring them over to us. A strong set of issues that can present a cohesive, Liberal/progressive message may well do so.

  • Apologies – posted on the wrong thread – more relevant here:

    If you want to encourage more people to engage with politics, than you have to address their concerns, provide a vision for the country that is realistic and makes sense, communicate it clearly and consistently by multiple channels, be clear on what your values are and how they translate into proposals and policies that people can understand on their level and recognise as true and just.

    No party has an inspirational message that is joined up makes sense to the man/women in the street, brings the country together and gives the general populous a reason to be proud at the moment.

  • Sue Sutherland 24th Feb '17 - 1:10pm

    So we didn’t get a miracle result in Stoke or Copeland but we did in two local by elections where we appear to have won from nowhere. The Parliamentary campaigns have set us up well for further action in these constituencies and others and our share of the vote went up so we are making solid progress. Realistically we could have expected voters to turn their backs on us after 2015 but they haven’t and they seem willing to support us locally even in Leave areas so we must build on that now because it’s primarily where we get our campaigners from. We can’t win seats in a General Election without a strong local team.
    As Mike S says we also can’t win seats in a General Election without a strong message and being pro EU isn’t enough, though it is giving us an individual identity at present. I strongly believe that we must offer reform and hope to those who voted Brexit and UKIP. Tim has begun to do this by focusing on housing social services and health but we have to have courage to provide the means by which we finance this.
    We know that the very rich have benefited from the existing economic systems and that they blamed the EU for everything in the media they control. Now we have to tell the people and offer them an alternative.
    Brexit isn’t going away any time soon and Theresa May will carry on imitating UKIP after these two results. We’ve made an excellent start to our recovery so now let’s consolidate for a bit, campaigning as Bill leBreton suggests and hopefully making gains locally while working on a different approach to sorting out the country’s very real problems.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Feb '17 - 1:15pm

    Congratulations to two fine candidates who campaigned so tirelessly , and to the teams behind and involved with them.

    The results are good news in that UKIP are not advancing they are going backwards.

    They are good news in the ways Caron says here in that our party are advancing not going backwards.

    However where Caron though is not correct is in equating the lack of any effective opposition from Jeremy Corby and Labour being just like the Tories on Brexit. The new mp for Stoke whatever his flaws , is a Remainer , and a moderate in the stance of the party ideology, as is the decent Copeland Labour candidate.

    We are in the 1980s , Foot, Thatcher , Steel.

    And look where that went with the first two way better than their equivalent today, and the latter, who , unlike his equivalent today had the excitement of a new party and a colleague of substance in Roy Jenkins!

    We face donkey’s years of Tory government unless we parties of opposition, move to the mainstream on issues we are not always, and that means us as well as and especially, Labour.

  • @David Becket
    So so true and well articulated.
    We need to get into the mainstream if we want to attract mainstream voters in numbers – pure and simple
    Your examples are spot on I believe

  • Simon Freeman 24th Feb '17 - 2:07pm

    Neither of the parliamentary seats are ones with a history of Lib Dem voting so increases in the vote are at least a small step in the right direction. Lab/LibDem waverers voters in Stoke may very well have gone to Labour as the best placed candidate to stop UKIP.

    For the next few months the priority has to be County Council elections for the LibDems and an attempt to recover a chunk of their local government base. The party needs to show thinking on.

    1. The NHS. Extra 1p on Invome Tax is a good idea, but just how much does that raise/
    2. Student fees. How much would bringing back the 50p tax rate raise towards helping young people with their catastrophic levels of debt.
    3.The Environment-some good thinking from the Birmingham Mayor Candidate and Tim Farron. We do need to push renewable energy faster, oppose fracking, boost recycling, improve public transport.
    4. Housing-more support for social housing rather than private landlords.
    5. A proper plan to deal with tax avoidance and tax evasion. How much could be raised to reduce local government cuts?
    6.Plan to reform the undemocratic House of Lords.
    7.Is there an alternative to spending billions on Trident Replacement which would leave money to enhance conventional defences and maybe more money for some of the above?

  • Corbyn will probably be gone before 2020 – either on grounds of age or the Unions will get him out because they want to win..

    Are we willing to contemplate a Prime Minister Dan Jarvis Labour, SNP and Lib Dem Coalition at Westminster ? If not, it looks like the rest of my life will be under a Tory Government continuing in a smug way to tweak PIP and other assorted nasties.

    It would also help if we had some radical policies that addressed the condition of the nation (s).

  • David Becket is right to say

    “We have a raft of these” (irrelevant – my summary!) “policies that come to conference every year. Until we connect with the electorate (and ditch stupid slogans) we will get nowhere. The challenges today are poor badly paid employment, inequality between the rich and poor, health and social care, lack of compassion, lack of opportunities for the young, housing. Coming up fast are education and global warming. Brexit is an issue but at the moment the public is prepared to let May have a go. If it goes pear shaped then they will start to listen to us, however we must also attack the other issues, particularly employment conditions and inequality. Even on health we are missing the opportunity. “

  • nvelope2003 24th Feb '17 - 3:18pm

    After Copeland no doubt there will be talk of an early General Election but if that were to take place then the following election would be in 2022, 3 years after we leave the EU when things might not be rosy, whereas an election in 2020 would be whilst the Government was bathing in the glow of having actually achieved Brexit and things could still be ok. Also the Prime Minister no doubt thinks that the longer Corbyn remains leader of the Labour Party the more damage he will do thus making it easier to win in 2020 even if things are starting to go wrong.

  • Little Jackie Paper 24th Feb '17 - 3:23pm

    nvelope2003 – ‘After Copeland no doubt there will be talk of an early General Election’

    Not likely – Fixed Term Parliament Act.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Feb '17 - 3:28pm

    David Raw

    You, David, and me, disagree on many things and agree on many more. I, as an ex, all be it many years ago, Labour moderate who was too social democrat for old Labour and too liberal foe New Labour, feel very strongly regarding what you have said , both for and against.

    Nothing other than the unlikely event of a very definite visitation from the Lord and I d not mean Greaves, in the person of a very convincing shape , in the form of for example Sir Alec Guinness would get me to support a coalition with the SNP ! You know me on British , English , uk patriotism, any of the above but not nationalism breaking up or even uniting in any way with those who ‘re wanting the uk break up.

    However, I would have actively fought to ally us with a Dan Jarvis led Labour party and it was what I wanted in the post 2015 election not thinking Corbyn would win !I actively support any measures to advance open minded approaches. If we ,as a party or those of us in it , and I have some ideas, could enlist Dan Jarvis, it is , from my patriotic social democratically grounded Liberal Democrat stance , a project I would get involved with , even soon !

  • Ian Patterson 24th Feb '17 - 4:16pm

    Despite not winning in either Copeland or Stoke, we can comfort ourselves that Labour now in very much a worse position than they were yesterday. The level of vitriol on labourlist is astonishing.

  • It was a disaster for the LibDems in Stoke. Turnout was very low and the Brexit vote was split 3 ways between Lab, Tory and UKIP. LibDems still came 4th. Barely 2000 votes is not good enough.

    The Stoke election was there for the taking, yet Remain voters did not come out even though they very easily could have smashed through if they did turn out.

    Maybe it was a good ask and I have no doubt that the LibDem candidate had all the best intentions and was heavily qualified BUT he was totally uninspiring and spoke with a heavy accent which I personally found difficult to follow. No offence, but it would have turned off a lot of people or at least wouldn’t have inspired them to come out and vote. That’s my take and nothing personal, since I am Asian and Muslim myself. There’s nothing more I would have liked than have him win this seat but he wasn’t the candidate for this seat or any other.

  • I’ll offer up a campaign (feel free to shoot me down). No building on green belt land unless a clear case can be made that brown-belt land available locally is unsuitable. By unsuitable I don’t mean it costs less to use greenbelt.

  • Bilal,

    Could a telegenic Tony or Davina Blair/Cameron clone have done better, possibly but i prefer candidates with depth and commitments; I’m rather hoping the electorate are coming round to my views, the damage done by the clones is all to evident as we look around our society.

    I’m happy to support a party putting forward candidates with commitment and depth, I’d be gone if they tried to impose the clones.

  • Peter Watson 24th Feb '17 - 6:52pm

    @David Becket “What have we to excite them nationally, not a lot.”
    @Simon Freeman “The party needs to show thinking on …”
    @Lorenzo Cherin (another thread where he commented about the relatively unimportant conference topics)
    I agree that the party is not discussing much in detail apart from Brexit, but I suspect that this is part of a deliberate strategy to attract voters and members who are united by opposition to Brexit but may hold a range of different and opposing views in other policy areas. Openly discussing the issues you raise is important (nay, vital), but it risks exposing fault lines between the new supporters and scaring some away. From the outside it feels like it suits the leadership to be warm and fuzzy with no clear sense of direction, but it is frustrating as I cannot tell if the party is one I could return to.

  • @Dan Falchikov: If you really think that LDV was uncritical during the coalition years, then you haven’t read very much of it. We carried very critical articles from all sorts of people and I wrote much that was critical of welfare reform, immigration, asylum policy and civil liberties to name but a few big issues.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Feb '17 - 8:53pm

    Bill le Breton: “there are new and exciting ways of reaching out to people and involving them in campaigns” Indeed. During the referendum the Leave campaign offered a huge prize to whoever could forecast the results of all the euro football games, which would have included England-Iceland and host nation France versus Iceland. The odds against success were enormous compared with winning the lottery (Tim Shipman – All Out War). In the process they collected huge numbers of mobile ‘phone numbers from people who are otherwise hard to reach, by sending them a text reminding them of polling day and of the Leave case.
    A promise of this kind should be backed up by evidence of sufficient funds, which may have existed, but which should be demonstrated to the Electoral Commission by law.

  • nick cotter 24th Feb '17 - 8:57pm

    I am a fairly avid reader of LDV. I have to say that in my view the Lib Dem leadership was given a pretty easy ride during the coalition years. Quite frankly it did not take a political genius to see that the party was heading for an electoral drubbing in 2015. I have never I confess been a fan of Nick Clegg but EVEN if he had been replaced as leader 12-18 months before the G/E in my view the party would still have done very badly indeed. I left the party post the coalition, but rejoined just after the rout once Mr Clegg stood down. I think LDV for far too long took the view that “it will be alright on the night” it was never EVER going to be, but I rather hoped that the party would have held on to some 20 – 25 seats. The reality now is that the ONLY way is UP….but it is going to be a long, long haul, but being a Liberal it was ever thus ….and originally I joined the party in my Manchester Uni days in ’84 so I know as well as the next member that there is no such thing as a “safe Liberal seat” and I comment as the son of former Lib Dem MP for Weston-Super-Mare who spent 7 or 8 years knocking on Every door in that constituency to get Elected (’97) …..and then hold the seat for two terms (the last Liberal MP had been elected some 70 + years earlier) …….I am a no.1 Tim fan by the way ….. Nick Cotter

  • nvelope2003 24th Feb '17 - 9:44pm

    Little Jackie Paper: If they wanted an early election they would try to repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act or use its provisions to engineer an election, but they probably will not. What would be the point ?

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Feb '17 - 9:47pm

    People should focus on what’s popular and sustainable. It’s not mainly the coalition’s fault that the Lib Dem vote is polarising – it’s part of the new radical policy strategy.

    Support for radical policies needs to be built up before they are put into a manifesto. E.g. call for the end of the Monarchy but don’t put it in a manifesto yet. I know it’s not exactly a top voter concern, but an example of how radicalism can co-exist with pragmatism.

  • Tony Dawson 24th Feb '17 - 9:52pm

    Nick Cotter is right (I joined the Liberals at Man Uni some 12 years before he did) and unfortunately Caron’s headline and much of her analysis are not soundly-based. The teams and candidates in both these seats did well to achieve what they did but this says precisely nothing about the prospects of the Party next week, next moth or next year. Basically, no result below about 17 per cent generally has any significance whatosever. In these two by-elections, the Lib Dems gained a fair chunk of a niche market. This would be highly useful in a proportional representation system. Under a FPTP system this does not rate a bag of beans. The only significant event in these by-elections was Paul Nuttal showing himself up well-and-properly in Stoke (which will handicap UKIP for some time to come) and the Tories pushing Labour back in Copeland.

  • Caron, LDV wasn’t totally uncritical during the coalition, but it helped us sleepwalk to disaster. Occasional crossness, e.g. yourself over Secret Courts, followed by a quick ‘all is forgiven Nick’ and then a reversion to ‘Stop criticising Nick, it frightens the rest’ with a never ending stream of puff pieces to offset the occasional “We are collapsing” article. Posts critical of Nick, or even worse critical of LDV, deleted from the threads.

    What is there not to like?

  • Terence Weldon 24th Feb '17 - 11:15pm

    I’m seeing a lot of downbeat commentary here tonight – not surprising, as Stoke and Copeland were certainly not exciting results. Nevertheless, in focusing just on these two, I think we’re missing something.
    Consider the contrast with the exuberance after Richmond Park, and also Witney before that – that excitement was also exaggerated. Every by-election is a special case: these two were by any standards tough asks for us (especially after More United backed Snell, but then they backed us in Richmond).

    I’ve taken a longer view, and considered all nine by-elections since 2015 (excluding Batley, with its exceptional circumstances). By my calculations, our aggregate vote is 57% up on the total in those nine seats. No other party has come even close to increasing their total ballots cast. In terms of vote share, our aggregate share for those nine seats went from 6.7% in 2015 GE, to 16.6% in the by-elections.

    That’s on top of the spectacular success at local level – four seats gained last night (in South Hams, in Kettering, and two in Bolton) in wards not even contested last time around, continuing what is becoming a regular weekly pattern.

    Yes, the parliamentary gains look good because they’re off a risibly low base.Yes, there’s still a long, long way to go. But that’s because we’re starting from where we are: we can’t do otherwise.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Feb '17 - 11:26pm


    My support ,and kinship, for and with you, would evaporate speedily ,if we are to be taking anti-monarchy stances anywhere other than ot the dustbin of history, where , unlike our great diplomat in chief who is our constitutional monarch, such unpopular ideas, belong, in a country where our royal family , secured by the next generation of fighting young men, and their betrothed, is a national treasure !

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Feb '17 - 12:09am

    Lol, thanks Lorenzo. We should discuss it another time! Maybe send an article pitch to LDV.

    Anyway, back to the topic…

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th Feb '17 - 12:46am


    There you prove why I shall ever think you are one of my favourite people on this or any other site we might find each other, only you could be on the receiving end of me in a rant , albeit one expressed in fun , and thank me !

  • Eddie
    With the election of Trump, English republicanism is going to take a back seat for awhile. There is reform of church state relations i.e. disestablishment of the Church of England but bread and butter issues are more important for the man and woman on the street. A return to full employment would resonant among young voters.

  • We all have our niche interests, which can become all consuming passions. Sometimes we have to take a step back and realise they mean little or nothing to the majority of people. I would advise the Lib Dem leadership to follow the kiss stragey of anti hard Brexit, more resources for education, health, law enforcement and a progressive tax policy. Other policies while important will not have the same impact.

    P.S Kiss stands for keep it simple stupid

  • Peter Watson 25th Feb '17 - 1:23pm

    @frankie “the kiss stragey of … more resources for education, health, law enforcement and a progressive tax policy”
    Those are certainly high priority policy areas, but the devil is in the detail. By itself, this sounds like a recipe for uncontroversial motherhood and apple pie statements that no other party would disagree with. At worst it could be a credibility-challenging uncosted wishlist.
    Exactly how should those resources be raised? The usual politicians’ vague promises of increased efficiency or reduced tax avoidance? Coalition style by increasing VAT? Or by reversing coalition positions, increasing the top rate of income tax, remove tax allowance for married couples, freezing or reducing the tax threshold? Something novel like a wealth tax? Something controversial like scrapping Trident and its replacement?
    And then how should these resources be distributed to best improve education, health, etc. More privatisation and free market solutions? Grammar schools? More free schools? Extend that approach with free hospitals, free police forces, etc.? NHS treatment loans like those for tuition fees? Can we have everything? if not, which take priority?
    Those are the sort of questions I would like to see the Lib Dem leadership ask and the party to answer (though hopefully not with some of the examples I gave!).

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Feb '17 - 3:19pm

    Peter Watson

    Exactly how should those resources be raised? The usual politicians’ vague promises of increased efficiency or reduced tax avoidance?

    Indeed. We are now in the fourth decade of political denial of this. The idea that there are magic hand-waving solutions to this surely ought to be over by now. If there were magic ways to provide better education and health care without having to raise more money to pay for it, would we not have seen private education and private health care doing just that? After all, they are free market products, and we are told that free market competition drives prices down. I think you will find that the cost of private health care and private education have risen markedly over the decades when we have been told it isn’t necessary to raise more taxes to pay for the public equivalent.

    We are now in a disastrous downward spiral, where continuing government insistence otherwise – but leave it to the people running the things as to how to deal with it without having the money to pay for it – results in short-term cuts being made which have long-term higher costs.

    A part of Brexit seems to have been a last-gasp attempt to pretend there was another magic solution: pull out of the EU. All our problems in this country are down to the costs of the EU, to the restrictions it places on us?


    Let us make it clear – anyone who votes Conservative or UKIP is accepting this, and thus must face the consequences when it doesn’t work, and we are in a worse mess than we are now.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th Feb '17 - 3:26pm

    Mathew Huntbach

    Many times we have disagreed , many agreed. One area you are particularly eloquent and your view, like mine on the topic. comes from experience,is faith schools. I have tried to say many times on here why I think opening up that by the secularist activists is a pointless debate not needed , as this is something that belongs to the choices and needs of individual pupils , their parents and communities, and should not be imposed by anti-religious ideology.

    I would welcome your mentioning it and input on this with the issue arising at conference.

  • nvelope2003 25th Feb '17 - 3:33pm

    It is always assumed that the reason why the Liberal Democrats suffered such heavy losses at the 2015 election was their failure to be radical enough and stand up to Conservative policy changes. It might then have been expected that the Labour party would have benefited and they and the Greens did improve their share of the vote slightly, although in the case of the Greens this was mostly due to standing more candidates, but the principal beneficiary was overwhelmingly UKIP, a party of the right.

    This seems to indicate that the majority of the electorate did not want radical or even moderately progressive policies and there is very little sign that they do now as the main shift has been further to the right and the erosion of support for the Labour and Green parties to what is seen as more moderate parties such as the Liberal Democrats, if the results of by elections mean anything. Those Copeland former Labour voters who were interviewed by the BBC made it clear they were voting Conservative in future as Labour was seen as doing nothing for ordinary people but pandering to their well rewarded middle class supporters in the charity and public sector. If any planned to vote Liberal Democrat they did not mention it, although obviously some may have done so.

    Proposing to abolish the only popular part of the constitution is unlikely to attract many votes but would certainly lose some. The problem with the so called progressive parties is that they are addressing the problems of the past not those of the present as is plain from some of the posts on this site.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Feb '17 - 3:44pm

    Simon Freeman

    The party needs to show thinking on.

    2. Student fees. How much would bringing back the 50p tax rate raise towards helping young people with their catastrophic levels of debt.

    Indeed. Exactly how much tax would need to be raised to pay for full subsidy of universities ought to have been at the forefront of political discussion on this. But it wasn’t. Instead, just vague hand-waving pledges – and then the awful reality: if you are the junior partner in a coalition dominated by a party whose main pledge is not to increase taxes, just what are you to do when you have made pledges that would involve increasing taxes? If you have not actually made clear that those pledges involve increasing taxes, it’s rather harder to excuse not meeting them when your coalition partner won’t budge to allow it.

    The innumerate nature of political discussion seemed to result in a lot of people supposing the coalition would combine LibDem levels of government services with Conservative levels of taxes.

    The reality is that the UK university system was saved by the LibDems backing down on tuition fees. I know: as a university lecturer, all the talk where I work is about the massive expansion we are going to have. The cost of the LibDems sticking to their pledge would have been massive cuts to pay for it.

    So, the clever ruse – get the Tories to agree to a loans system, and it would all be ok because actually what is paid back in paying of the loans is only what the actual extra taxation would be otherwise. Which really is the case. But a bit too clever, because no-one got the point.

    Well, anyone who carries on voting Tory or UKIP needs to be aware that what happened with universities will need to happen with some other big government service next in order to enable them to keep their pledges to keep taxes down.

    If you need hospital treatment, pay for it with a loan? Oh, like tuition fees, it’ll be all fair, loans available to all, and you only have to pay it back when you have the income to do so. Nice idea? I can’t see any other way to keep the NHS going if you won’t accept that what it really needs is big tax rises.

  • nvelope2003 25th Feb '17 - 3:49pm

    According to the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, a former head teacher, the education system is more than adequately funded as many schools have large surpluses and pay for teachers keeps rising to use up the money. Maybe the money is not being evenly distributed.

    The cost of private provision of education and health care keeps rising because so many people want it and can afford to pay for it. People who previously would never have been able to consider it such as teachers in the state system, police officers. nurses and very small business owners use the private sector for health care and educating their children, in addition to wealthy foreigners. Of course some who were previously well rewarded such as the clergy or civil servants have fallen down the ladder and have to use the state systems and naturally they complain about the cost of private provision.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Feb '17 - 3:59pm

    Lorenzo Cherin

    On faith schools, the majority of them in England are Catholic schools.

    One might note that if what the secularists say about them was true, this country would be full of young bigoted Catholic extremists, causing problems to everyone else by fighting for their religion and being ignorant and intolerant of everyone else.

    Where are these people?

  • @Peter Watson

    I’m afraid to say most voters don’t care about the details. They like the broader picture as i said a KISS stagy works, getting bogged down in the minutiae doesn’t. As to following the yellow booker approach been there seen them try that, it doesn’t work (even the Tories are pulling back from that). As to the overall stagy I’d ally the extra resources to pushing down decision making to a local level; never been a fan of Whitehall knows best.

  • @Dan Falchikov

    I suspect like myself you could see the folly of the coalition approach. I don’t think it could have ever worked but the we are a team and the best of friends approach was staggeringly naive and doomed the Lib Dems. However if you didn’t believe that the coalition could work and thought loyalty while being a critical friend was the best approach then you can see why Lib Dem Voice was as it was. I know it was deeply frustrating at times, I tried to raise the alarm (as did you) and at one stage got placed in deep moderation, eventually I more or less gave up (I suspect you didn’t). However even having said all that at no time did they ban my thoughts, they just didn’t resonate with the loyalists and onwards sped the SS LibDem to the inevitable rocks.

    I can’t fault the dedication of the people who run this site and their loyalty to the party is certainly greater than mine. I can fault their decision not to heed the alarm bells, but I suspect they saw good things being achieved and hoped the electorate would as well. Unfortunately for them they failed to see that any good was being assigned to the Tories and all the bad to the Lib Dems.

    The question I would ask of them is

    “Would you go into coalition with the Tories again? ”

    and if the answer is yes

    “Would you try to be their friends or treat them as the devil who needed his ears boxing with a spoon on a regular basis”

    I would hope the answer would not be “lets be friends”.

  • David Evans 25th Feb '17 - 6:14pm

    Indeed we could speculate that Jeremy Corbyn’s ratings might fall if he became PM. The problem is that Nick did become DPM and we all know what happened to Liberal Democracy as a result. We are now back to where we were in the 1960s.

  • Peter Watson 25th Feb '17 - 6:31pm

    @frankie “I’m afraid to say most voters don’t care about the details.”
    But I believe they do need a sense of the priorities and the direction of travel of the parties. Scrapping or renewing Trident, scrapping or expanding free schools, opening up a free market in the NHS, etc. are more than just details. These days, so much Lib Dem energy seems to be expended on opposing change without offering alternatives to the status quo.

    We have plenty of political parties saying they want to improve education, the NHS, social care, transport, energy, defence, the environment, refugees, etc., and warm words from the Lib Dems add nothing to this mix. I think that voters have some understanding of whereabouts Labour (both wings!), the Conservatives, the Greens and UKIP are in this jungle of policies and priorities, but the position of Lib Dems is not at all clear to me.

    Anti-Brexit does give Lib Dems a unique selling point outside Scotland so I can see the appeal of not frightening voters at the moment, but as Brexit becomes real or if it is blocked, the party will have to talk in more detail about its other priorities for the UK, whether inside or outside the EU, or it risks looking irrelevant. This is when I think the divide between social and economic liberalism could fracture the apparent unity within the party.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th Feb '17 - 6:39pm

    Mathew Huntbach

    Well said . I went to nothing but Catholic schools , my secondary school Salesian, and had one year of my four at university studying philosophy at one of the great institutions for this, an example of where public and private as separate is not the case , but can and should combine for the right reasons, Heythrop College, run by Jesuits, part of London University, all very good at worst , excellent at best!

    Do write more on this as having long ago read your passionate defence of such schools, we do not need pointless gesticulation in motions at conference !

  • @Peter Watson

    The question the UK electorate need to be asked is do you want to pay for a functioning welfare state. If the answer is no don’t complain when you don’t have one. Politicians of all stripes pretend you can have one without paying for it. I’d suggest the Lib Dems policy should be to ask the question and when you have the answer deal with it.

  • Peter Watson 25th Feb '17 - 6:41pm

    @frankie “I would hope the answer would not be “lets be friends”.”
    I totally agree.
    It was bitterly disappointing for me, having voted for many years for a party which wanted electoral reform with consequently more coalition government and a larger role for a centrist party/partner, to then see that party appear so badly prepared for it when the opportunity arose. The most powerful weapon wielded against AV and other electoral reform was to point at the Lib Dems in coalition and ask voters if they really wanted more of that.
    Coalition, yes. But not like that.

  • Katharine Pindar 25th Feb '17 - 6:55pm

    Our Copeland campaign was exhilarating and very well run, thanks to the vibrancy of our candidate Rebecca Hanson and the expert guidance of our agent Andrew Sangar from Sheffield, plus everyone’s hard work. We are energised and well-informed about campaigning now, geared up to fight the May county elections, delighted to have someone of Rebecca’s quality and experience continuing to help the well-established Cumbrian team.

    That is how it seems to me; but reflecting on why we did not do even better, I suggest two main reasons. First, as many are saying, this is the time of Theresa May’s ascendancy and maximum power. Though I still believe that we have already seen ‘the end of her beginning’ and that her decline will not be far off, at present her Tory candidates can bask in reflected glory, and so Rebecca’s opponent here did.

    Secondly, we have not had the strong organisation and activity in the constituency that we need to have as a basis for winning it. There are splendid workers here who have served for many years, long before I myself returned to Cumbria, but we do not yet have county councillors from this constituency, or selected candidates who would have been able to organise the Focuses and campaigns on local issues that are needed. We haven’t done much in our largest town, Whitehaven, owing to lack of people.

    Hopefully now we can call on more of our growing membership to do more, and can work as our magnificent helpers from outside (thank you all for contributing so much) have shown us. But even if we had had a hundred Lib Dems out there delivering, instead of the maybe two dozen we could field at once, and even if the 900 or so Facebook followers could have done still more phoning and giving, I don’t think much more could have been achieved in this by~election. From now on, though, we can build from this base. I have personally many inspiring memories to draw on, including how much I enjoyed meeting and working with helpers who flocked in from all over the country.

    But now it is high time I was off to Rebecca’s party!

  • Peter Watson 25th Feb '17 - 6:59pm

    @frankie “The question the UK electorate need to be asked is do you want to pay for a functioning welfare state.”
    With a referendum perhaps? 😉
    Surely political parties should be taking a lead so we know what we are voting for. Will Lib Dems pay for a functioning welfare state by scrapping Trident, or by leaving the EU (perhaps not!), by raising tax, cutting other government expenditure, etc. Will they call for means testing, insurance schemes, income-contingent loan repayment, or a basic minimum entitlement which the better-off can top up? Will they tell me that efficiencies and savings will be delivered by a competitive free market full of private providers or by more centralised management?
    Ultimately, why should I choose Lib Dems over Labour, Conservatives, SNP, or even over political indifference and apathy?

  • @Peter Watson

    Political parties have been dragging the voters all over the place for years. perhaps if they listened more and dragged less we would be in a better place. If you don’t know the situation your facing how are you going to lead anyone anywhere. You don’t have to follow the answer you get but without knowing what it is how can you attempt to change it.

    The refrain of more and more people isn’t we have too few policies, it is politicians don’t listen (normally with a few Anglo Saxon words between polticians dont [email protected][email protected] listen).

  • Simon Banks 25th Feb '17 - 9:33pm

    In partial reply to Peter Watson (the detailed policy questions he asks are matters for the manifesto or for asking the relevant spokespeople, except where policy has been passed at Conference since the general election), when Labour had a popular leader (in 1997 and 2001) we had two very good results at general elections. The key to this was the unpopularity of the Tories – and there’s plenty of chance that’ll happen as the impact of Hard Brexit becomes clear. As for the results compared to general election results, in by-elections it’s easier for people to concentrate on who can actually win in that constituency. In general elections many voters can’t distinguish between who has a chance to win locally and what’s happening nationally. That hurts us in the Cheltenhams and York Outers and helps us in the Stoke-on-Trents and Copelands if we’re doing well nationally.

    I think the Copeland result in particular was very creditable as we were clearly concentrating more on Stoke-on-Trent. To beat UKIP in a constituency where they might be expected to do well, and despite obviously being a footnote to a Tory – Labour fight, was excellent. In Stoke obviously the fight was seen in terms of Labour versus UKIP and many people well-inclined to us no doubt held their noses and voted Labour to beat UKIP while some people who feel ignored (“protest voters” can be a misleading description) no doubt voted UKIP. I do recall, though, us being told we could win in Stoke. The result achieved by a very good candidate suggests otherwise this time round.

  • @Martin,

    Listening doesn’t mean going along with people. You can listen and then put forward an argument about why you disagree. The Lib Dems to be fair on Brexit are and being howled at by the Brexiteers “follow us, follow the will of the people” they chant and while listening the Lib Dems are not following. Using the example of Brexit if it goes badly wrong were will the parties stand at the end

    The Tories ” ‘but we did it for you, it is what you asked for”
    The Labour party ” ‘but we did it for you, it is what you asked for”
    The Lib Dems “We listened but warned you it would go badly”

    Now I might be naive but I’d have more faith in the party that warned me than the parties that just tagged along because doing otherwise was O so hard.

    Listening isn’t going along with what people say its the precursor to having a conversation. The conversation may change your views and policies or it might lead you to trying to change the opinion of the public. What listening isn’t is focus groups and jumping on the next band wagon, unless your the sort of politician we have had too many of over the years.

  • Peter Watson 26th Feb '17 - 11:42am

    @frankie “The conversation may change your views and policies or it might lead you to trying to change the opinion of the public.”
    But what I am trying to discern are the views and policies of the Lib Dems as their starting point in that conversation. And short of a referendum on every issue, how will you hear and quantify what the public are saying?
    To use an analogy, if I am going out for a meal, I want some idea of the type of food, its quality and its price before I choose a restaurant. It looks like the Lib Dems are hiding the menu, and I don’t know whether it’s a cheap vegan sandwich bar or an expensive red-blooded steakhouse. I just know that it wants to sell me something from the EU!

  • @peter Watson

    The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

    That’s the starting point, as the the eatablity of the meal well we will have to wait and see.

  • Bill le Breton 26th Feb '17 - 12:24pm

    Peter, surely the reason why it is impossible to answer your question, ‘some idea of the type of food, its quality’ etc is because the Party is ambivalent about the destination and dare not commit itself to alternatives.

    It’s passion is still to remain a member of the EU and to endeavour to influence its direction in, say, the 2020s from within.

    This necessitates another chance to reverse the decision to leave. So the conversation starts and ends with another referendum when the deal is known.

    But every now and then it feels that someone should talk about EEA non EU. But this isn’t ‘virtuous’ enough for true from EU-ropeans.

    In many ways this is an echo of the campaign itself. There were ever only two destinations campaigned for ‘out’ and ‘in’. Even the Treasury report No 2 had excised from it any reference to EEA non EU even though the graphs betrayed that in earlier drafts there had been an analysis of the EEA non EU option.

    So, to use your metaphor we are ‘out’ of the conversation on the other types restaurants available.

  • Peter Watson 26th Feb '17 - 1:52pm

    The problem with the preamble is that it is a destination (an end-point rather than a “starting point”) and not a route map. How will the Lib Dems get me there?
    And does the preamble really distinguish Lib Dems from other parties? Which party would ever say (out loud!), “We exist to build and safeguard an unfair, non-free and exclusive society, in which we seek to neglect the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which everyone else shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”

    As the saying goes, fine words doth butter no parsnips. I can see how the preamble could be used as a basis to reject some policies, but as for comparing policies … I like the idea of a preamble scorecard but don’t know if it is practicable. What about the trade-offs, e.g. if parents want the choice of grammar schools for their children but Lib Dems know they don’t work, what do they offer voters?

    How do the Lib Dems want to deliver the society that they envision? How would it differ from the route offered by Labour, the Conservatives, the SNP, the Greens, UKIP, etc.?

    What you seem to be offering is “Trust us to do the right thing, we’re nice people”, a party of all things to all people as long as it is in Opposition but which is doomed to disappoint half of its electorate if returned to government and forced to make decisions.

  • Peter Watson 26th Feb '17 - 1:59pm

    @Bill le Breton “surely the reason why it is impossible to answer your question, ‘some idea of the type of food, its quality’ etc is because the Party is ambivalent about the destination and dare not commit itself to alternatives.”
    That is exactly what I fear.
    I have been trying to coax out some clues, even if it is only someone frightening me by telling me that Tim Farron says “We are the free market, free trade pro-business party now.” so Lib Dems will solve all the problems in the NHS, education, and everywhere else by encouraging private businesses to compete in free markets.
    For the time being, only a continental breakfast is on the menu. Perhaps new kitchen staff are needed, or just a cookbook for the chef.

  • @ Peter
    “The problem with the preamble is that it is a destination (an end-point rather than a “starting point”) and not a route map. How will the Lib Dems get me there?

    Question for all Lib Dem’s:
    When was the last time the party had a route with a set of clear signposts that went from A to B rather than a set that kept bringing you back to the start again (one signpost does not a route make). What did the route look like?
    @ Bill
    “……..the Party is ambivalent about the destination and dare not commit itself to alternatives.”
    When was the last time the party had a starter, main course dessert and cheese board which complemented each other along with a set of matching wines?

  • And now Manchester Gorton.

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Feb '17 - 1:02am

    Peter and Mike, I love the way you both keep on demanding detailed answers to what Lib Dems offer practically, to fulfill our Preamble ideals and suggest policies which would benefit the nation. It’s true that fighting a ‘hard Brexit’ and an apparent rolling succession of by-elections as well as local elections must be occupying colleagues’ minds and capacity for work and action a great deal. But, Peter, did you ever do as I suggested to you and look up existing party policies? As I suggested to you, there are many which have been thoroughly researched and carefully worked out, and are distinctive.

    I cite again as an example the policy passed at the Brighton Federal Conference last September on social security, F31 Mending the Safety Net. It is distinctively ours, for instance in its section on developing support for children – including introducing a Second Earner’s Work Allowance, and seeking to increase the child element of Universal Credit by £5 a week for the first child in a family, with provision for funding such improvements by abolishing the marriage tax allowance and removing winter fuel allowances and free TV licences from wealthier Pensioners. That’s just a fragment of the policy passed at Brighton, one of many policies patiently worked out by Lib Dems. What about the advanced policies on the environment, to give another example, which Ed Davey as Secretary of State in the Coalition got passed, and which the present Government has failed to keep up? Ed came to Copeland to talk to members about that in the by-election campaign. There is so much that we have to offer the country, and we need to keep saying that and explaining it, beginning at local level where we can be and should be heard.

  • Neil Sandison 28th Feb '17 - 10:29am

    Our next big test comes in the nation poll for Shire and Metro Mayors .Local government has been bled dry by the tories with services boarding upon the unsafe .
    I hope the national party starts speaking out for the residents of Great Britain who face very significant rises in councilk tax ,charges ,and cuts in service .With the tories you can expect higher household costs and less services.

  • Peter Watson 28th Feb '17 - 1:25pm

    @Katharine Pindar “Peter, did you ever do as I suggested to you and look up existing party policies?”
    Some, thanks, but it’s not as straightforward as reading a manifesto! It would probably be interesting for a series of articles on this site to highlight policies which have changed since the 2015 Election.
    Opposition to fracking would be one such policy.
    Another in which I am very interested is grammar schools. Previous policy seems to have been an inconsistent approach of grammar schools being good where they are and bad where they aren’t. The Autumn 2016 conference unambiguously “calls on the government to abandon the selection by ability and social separation of young people, into different schools.” So now, in the local elections in May, Lib Dem candidates can tell voters in Kent and elsewhere that the party would like to get rid of their grammar schools. I wholeheartedly approve.

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