Sweet 16: Happy Birthday to LDV

Sixteen years ago today, a new website appeared on the scene. Liberal Democrat Voice’s first piece suggested Simon Hughes was “certain” to be challenged for the Party Presidency.

Word reaches the Voice that weeks before the position had been advertised in Lib Dem News, party officials in Cowley Street received a call requesting a copy of the nomination papers for party President – the caller was not acting on behalf of Simon Hughes.

Word also reaches us that one potential candidate is positioning himself to blitz Autumn Conference with an army of supporters bearing nomination papers, to seize the momentum.

A Presidential contest is no bad thing – though there is an argument that there are better ways to spend the money. The Voice has been told that a proposal is being put to the Federal Executive to double the campaign expenditure limit – to  £5000 per candidate.

Since then, we have been there in excellent, good, bad and absolutely bloody awful times. We’ve published 34033 posts and 491588 comments.

The make-up of the team has changed a lot over the years, but it has always put a huge amount of time and effort into bringing you a flavour of liberal ideas and news about what’s going on in the party. I am particularly grateful to the current team, Mark, Mary, Andy, Charley as creative, imaginative and eloquent day editors, Tom Arms our insightful foreign affairs editor and Ryan and Alex who keep the site running and bills paid. I’ve not been well this past wee while and they have been brilliant at keeping the site going.

Thank you, too, for reading and contributing to the site. If you haven’t written for us before, check out our guidelines for writers here.

Here’s a highlight from each year to mark our Sweet 16.

2007

Remember the days when The Almighty Vince used to eviscerate Gordon Brown. There was Stalin to Mr Bean and then this delight of a question:

When the Prime Minister tucks into his Brussels sprouts on his one day off at Christmas, which of the various disasters of the last six months will haunt him most: his indecision over the election, his inaction over Northern Rock, or the gross incompetence of the loss of 25 million people’s personal data?

2008

Riso Monkey gives us an insight into the life of a Lib Dem organiser. Plus ca change…

11:30am
Phone is cut off, owing to non-payment of bills. It’s no-one’s fault, it’s just the arcane rules of the local party’s account, which only allows cheques to be made out at a conclave of all the Exec on a moonless night on [DELETED], in the blood of a virgin goat. It does mean that no-one can misuse funds, or indeed use them for that matter. I contact BT on my mobile and coax them into giving us a week’s extension.

12 noon
Lunch. My unsatisfying Tesco sandwich is interrupted by a phone call on our reconnected line from the Councillor whose Focus we’re doing. Apparently they want to change ‘I insist’ to the less controversial ‘I think we should insist’. I tell them we’ve already gone to print. They ask how many we’ve done. In my mind’s eye, I consign another ream of paper to the Great Recycling Bin in the sky.

2009

Helen Duffett reminds us how completely crap Labour were at civil liberties. Those were the days when ordering a vegetarian airline meal could put you under suspicion of being a terrorist:

So far-fetched have been recent grounds for arrest, or for flagging yourself up as a terrorist suspect, that people keep asking me if Lib Dem Voice is running a series of hoax posts. (We’ve had lingering near street ironworksordering vegetarian airline mealshanding in lost propertyscaring ducksputting your bin out on the wrong daylooking at things and – easily the most heinous, in my opinion – going equipped with balloons.)

I thought I was joking (albeit darkly) when I said on LibDig that people might one day be singled out for their taste in music, but even that now appears to have happened. Home Office Watch features the terrifying ordeal of a jazz musician arrested by anti-terror police who had taken his soundproofed studio, replete with wires, as a sign of bomb-making.

2010

After an election campaign which saw us briefly at 30% in the polls, along came the Coalition. Iain Roberts assessed the risks:

Is it risky? Hell, yes.

Labour activists, and some Lib Dems too, are already laying into the party for abandoning the tribal politics where a party governs alone or not at all. Many say the Lib Dems will lose votes and seats – it’s quite possible they’re right, but time will tell.

But look at the prize.

A government heavily influenced by liberal values and instincts – something we’ve not had for over three decades.

A government that, if it goes according to plan, will see those on low and middle incomes paying less tax, will give children a better chance in our schools and will reform our broken political system with fixed term parliaments, a referendum on voting reform, and reform of the House of Lords.

A government opposed to ID cards and many of Labour’s authoritarian measures (though there are some we’ll have to work on to persuade the Tories, I’m sure – the fate of the DEBill is still unclear).

When we leave aside our tribal political instincts (hard as that is, I’ll admit), this coalition deal is clearly better for the country than the alternatives and offers the best chance in generations of the Lib Dems really making a difference.

It won’t be easy, and there will be problems to overcome and tough decisions to make. But at the very least it deserves to be given a chance.

2011’s local and national election results gave the first sign we were going to be punished. Stephen Tall summed it all up:

We knew when we entered the Coalition, there would be tough days ahead. But it’s easy to say these things, quite another to live through them. For a party that has grown used to having its own heartland vote in the ‘celtic fringes’ of Scotland and Wales, and enjoying favourable local election results in many parts of England, today’s reverses are bitingly painful.

The pain is accentuated by knowing there’s no simple get-out-of-jail card. Our latest survey shows party members still overwhelmingly back the Lib Dem / Conservative Coalition; to back out of it now would be highly unlikely to help the party, either in the short- or long-term. Those few who reckon replacing Nick Clegg would somehow be the answer are, I think, utterly deluded.

There is no quick fix. There may be no fix at all. All we can do is re-commit ourselves — at all levels in the party — to working harder still to deliver Lib Dem policies in government, and communicate them effectively. The rest is up to the voters.

2012

London 2012 was one of the highlights of the year and our Mary Reid was a gamesmaker at the Paralympics. How did the Games manage their tens of thousands of volunteers and what could we learn from that?

So how did LOCOG persuade me and 70,000 other people to travel to London from all over the country on six separate occasions for training and collecting uniforms, then to stay for anything between eight and thirty days with friends, in hotels or at campsites in London, all the time working exhaustingly long days (in my case starting work at 5.45am), and all at our own expense?

The answers to those questions could be very useful to the Liberal Democrats. Because this was volunteer management at its very best, and we as a party need to get much better at enthusing and working with our own volunteers, whether they are candidates, activists, deliverers or donors.

2013

There were many painful moments for the party during the coalition. NHS and social security changes were difficult, and when the party got things wrong on civil liberties, such as enabling the government to hide evidence from people suing it, it was very uncomfortable indeed, as I wrote:

There is no getting away from the fact that there is a huge gap between what all but 7 MPs (and a few absentees) did last night and what most activists wanted them to do. These sorts of events are inevitable in a coalition, but we need to be very careful that a falling out doesn’t turn into a massive disconnect between grassroots and leadership. That would be disastrous for a party that depends more than any other on its activists. For a start, they need to imagine what would have happened if hundreds of people hadn’t put their lives on hold and gone to Eastleigh, phonebanked and donated money. Would we still have won? I think not.

I anticipated that there would be difficulties along this  road way back in 2010 when the Coalition was first formed and I gave ministers some friendly advice. It would do them no harm to read it. They have a bit of making up to do at the moment and they need to tell a despairing party how we can regain our civil liberties credentials after last night.

2014

A disastrous European election saw us lose all but one of our MEPs. The party was in open revolt and there were calls for Nick Clegg to resign as leader. It got a bit torrid on here. So I thought it was time for some light and ideas:

I’ve gone through so many emotions from grief, to worry and anger to immense pride at the incredible dignity of our defeated MEPs and councillors with some little tiny bits of delight at being the teeniest, weensiest part of victory in places like Abi Bell’s ward in Hull and Lucy Care’s in Derby. I’d done a bit of phoning for both of them and it was great to see them prevail against a Labour onslaught.

If I’ve learned anything in my 3 decades, it’s that this party is at its best under fire.  Working together, we are one of the most radical, creative, innovative, generally fabulous organisations I’ve come across. Given that choice isn’t part of this equation, we will pick ourselves up and get marching towards that gunfire again because it’s what we do.

I’m getting a sense from the contents of the LDV mailbag and elsewhere that people really want to stop talking about leadership elections and start to talk about the many practical things that we can do in order to ensure the best possible result next year.

We have loads to think about as a party so today is going to be about light and ideas for the future. How do we meet the competing needs to retain our Westminster seats and rebuild our local government base? How do we hold the fortress but rebuild the citadels?

2015

The General Election was horrible. We were down to just 8 MPs, beaten in our heartlands. I was humbled when two days later, Charles Kennedy gave us his thoughts for the future. Who would have thought that that result would not be the worst thing to happen to the Liberal Democrats in 2015. Just a few weeks later, Charles died suddenly.

I am very fond of political history. If nothing else, we can all reflect on and perhaps tell our grandchildren that we were there on “The night of long sgian dubhs!”

I would very much like to thank my home team. They have been so energetic, dedicated and selfless to the task. Indeed, with them, I would like to thank the very many over the years who have made possible the previous seven successful general election campaigns locally.

I spare a thought for, and this is true of so many constituencies, for members of staff. It is one thing for elected representatives to find themselves at the mercy of the electorate; it is quite something else for the other loyal and skilled people who, sadly, will in due course be searching for employment. I wish them well and stand ready to help. I am sure that their professionalism will stand them in good stead…

On the national picture, I am indeed sorry to learn of Nick’s decision but respect entirely his characteristic sense of personal, political and party principle.

The eligible candidates must reflect with care and collectively before we rush into the best way forward – out of this political debris we must build with thought and care.

Nick, I do hope, will be able to contribute with gusto to the great European debate which is now looming.

It is one, as a Liberal Democrat, in which I wish to be actively engaged myself.

The next few years in politics will come down to a tale of two Unions – the UK and the EU. Despite all the difficult challenges ahead the Liberal Democrat voice must and will be heard.

We did so over Iraq; we can do so again. Let us relish the prospect.

2016

And things started to get better.  In Scotland, we honestly thought we were facing wipeout but we held all our seats:

If you had told me six months ago that we would retain 5 seats in the Scottish Parliament and win mainland constituency seats from the SNP, I’d have laughed in your face. It didn’t seem possible when polls were giving us 3% and 4% in the polls. It’s a testament to the bright, bold and ambitious campaign Willie Rennie has run.

2017

A snap election, and a new leader in the offing. I normally don’t like coronations, but I was relaxed about Vince being the only candidate:

However, there is one thing worse than a coronation. That would be if some unfortunate MP were dragooned into fighting just for the sake of it. Travelling the length of the country being grilled by us lot as only we know how is not something that should be inflicted on someone whose heart isn’t in it.

And it’s not as if Vince hasn’t been tested in the white heat of coalition for five years. We need to remember that this was a guy who was stung by the Telegraph and was found to be a proper liberal that we could all be proud of.  He’s been acting leader before. We know what he can do. Remember, this is the guy who came up with “Stalin to Mr Bean.

This guy is pure class. He’s credible, clever and capable. He’ll be a good leader.

Before his head gets too big, I also know that he’s going to annoy the hell out all of us at some point. That’s an inevitability of being the leader of a party that, as Willie Rennie said when he took over as Scottish leader, doesn’t want to be led. Even Tim managed to annoy me from time to time and he was probably my favourite of all of them.

2018

Little Gabriel Hames made history on 13 September. He was the first baby to be taken onto the floor by his mother Jo Swinson. His big brother Andrew had been taken through the voting lobby by his Dad Duncan Hames four years earlier. Sadly, as we’re retreating to a much more hostile past, babies are no longer allowed.

Jo’s speech on that day in 2018 was heartfelt and memorable:

It was one of the most real and honest speeches I’ve ever heard. Jo talked about her fury when Tory Chairman Brandon Lewis broke their pairing arrangement in July to vote in a key Brexit vote.

She also spoke about some of the appalling comments she got on Twitter after that, including the criticism that she had gone to the Trump demo for 45 minutes but couldn’t manage to vote in Parliament, something which would have meant hanging around for 5 hours.

Jo talked about the intricacies of establishing breastfeeding and how you need to concentrate on it during the early days. Her voice cracked with emotion as she talked about the difficulties she had establishing breastfeeding with her first son. I actually cried too as I remembered what it was like to be syringing expressed milk into my baby, 19 years on. She got there, though, with all the support that she needed.

She was also open about the realities of expressing milk several times a day. I think it’s fantastic that she posted a picture of her breast pump on Instagram the other day.

She talked about the need to have proper breastfeeding and expressing facilities for all nursing babies who work on the Parliamentary estate, recognising it was easier for her as she had her own office and control over her diary.

2019

What a year that was. From glory in the European elections to having a parliamentary party in the 20s to heartbreak in the General Election when we lost our leader and were horrified by a Tory majority which has since destroyed our economy, and has taken a hatchet to our social contract and our sense of community.

Vince stepped down after the European elections and we did daily Ed’s Day and Jo’s Day coverage of the campaign.

However, I’m choosing Mark Valladares’  history of the party presidency as the post is again up for election next year.

2020

It was the worst of times. The year started badly as we left the EU. Giles Goodall wrote about a day of ignominy

I still consider the EU to be the most successful peace project in history, more vital now than ever before. I am proud to continue to work for that today, despite my loss of citizenship.

The sun was not shining this morning, but the birds were singing, and the first buds of spring are on the trees.

Britain’s European roots will not fade or die because of Brexit. Our European culture, history, and geography remain incontrovertible facts, which have stood the test of time. That reality persists, and its logic will one day return.

2021

Who would have thought we would have not one but TWO by-election victories?  So we have to have two posts from this year.

First, Sarah Green won Chesham and Amersham in the Summer and then Helen Morgan won North Shropshire of all places just before Christmas.

2022

To bring us up to date, here’s our third by-election win, Richard Foord winning Tiverton and Honiton in June this year. 

I hope you have enjoyed a bit of nostalgia and will raise a glass with us to the next 16 years. Maybe by 2038 we will have overcome the horrible, regressive nationalistic tide and there will be a liberal government healing the divides. We can but hope.

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

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5 Comments

  • Congratulations on sweet 16. The end of the awkward teenage years is in sight with all the awkwardness of early adulthood and real responsibility hurtling down the line.

    Can I echo the thanks to all editors writers and commentators? I’m less active than I was (both online and offline) but still read threads that catch my eye and enjoy challenging perspectives, and even, from time to time, something that reads straight out of my own thoughts but better expressed.

  • Terrific post, Caron! Thanks for the mention, and I’m very privileged to have been part of such a wonderful team for many years.

  • Happy Birthday guys. I don’t think its properly understood that you do this site completely unpaid, and that’s on top of all the other work you all individually do for the cause. So thanks for giving us a place to vent.

  • Ruth Bright 29th Aug '22 - 2:14pm

    Happy Birthday Caron and colleagues. Special congratulations for all your work in trying times
    – the pandemic, the coalition, the 2015 election (in that order I think). It is not easy for you to be a unifying force and provoke discussion at the same time. A strange gig but you do it really well.

  • I become completely disillusioned with politics after the Lib Dems decided to back the Tories in 2010 and it is only Putin’s invasion of Ukraine that has made me fully realise how fortunate we are to have the freedoms we all enjoy. I did vote in the independence referendum and the brexit referendum but only voted in an election for the first time since 2010 at the council elections in May. I still don’t trust any party fully but I realise that the alternative to democracy is even worse. I am reassured by Ed completely ruling out another coalition with the Tories and now more hopeful that better times lie ahead.

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