Tag Archives: political strategy

The next coalition?

Does soul-searching over the 2010–15 coalition leave Liberal Democrats in danger of failing to take the credit for our real achievements in government and undermining our relevance by being reluctant to try again?

Even before the arrival of Covid19 we were in turbulent times. British politics since the referendum has been highly dysfunctional.

In the 2019 General Election, my sense was that the Tories and Labour had lurched to extremes. On the doorstep I found even Remain supporters switching from us to the Tories for fear of a Corbyn-led government. Labour seemed to have prioritised ideological purity over electability, which was the place from which they were attacking us over the coalition.

Under normal circumstances, their choosing, in Keir Starmer, a leader who would be a credible Prime Minister would change everything and point to a revival of their fortunes and ours. As it is, the proposed changes to constituency boundaries are likely to favour the Tories. If the country is to move away from having an anti-European, authoritarian and incompetent government, we will need to work with Labour — which has to include the possibility of coalition.

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The coalition and the leadership contest

The legacy of the coalition seems to be a big part of the debate around our leadership election. Those arguing the most important thing is that we move on from the coalition will tend to favour one of the two candidates not around during the coalition. And visa-versa. I assume contributors to Lib Dem Voice are not allowed to write direct endorsements of their preferred candidate, but they can signal their preferences by proxy in this way.

So, in that vein, here are my thoughts on what factors we should consider when choosing our next leader. You will note that many …

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Has Dominic Cummings pulled a fast one?

I want to describe his trip to Durham during the lockdown as somewhere between “grossly irresponsible” and “utterly foolish”. But it is a little too easy to write him off.

This is the man who took a pile of grievances about things that had little to do with the European Union and coalesced them into a vote for Brexit — even though this will make life worse for most of those who voted for it.

This is the man who (apparently) took last year’s parliamentary stalement and Boris Johnson’s illegal prorogation of Parliament and enabled the Tories to win a handsome majority …

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Our Government is a Stage Magician

Onstage, the magician does not perform an act of magic (spoilers I know) but of distractions. Whilst the rabbit is being yanked from a top hat, the spotlight focused firmly upon its fluffy ears, the magician performs his deceit elsewhere. The Johnson administration has been doing this since it first stepped into Number 10, albeit without the rabbit (though I am sure Mr Rees-Mogg can provide a top hat).

The first smokescreens appeared before and during the 2019 General Election campaign. The inflammatory entitlement of bills as ‘surrender acts’ and CCHQ twitter posing as an independent fact checker meant nothing to crucial swing voters, but attracted uproar from political commentators and activists, distracting from meaningful issues. It was at this same time that the Conservative manifesto was published, detailing economic policies unlikely to please northern Labour voters the Conservatives were gunning for. However, the furore surrounding the aforementioned ‘nothing’ issues overshadowed scrutiny of the manifesto. The rabbit reared its head and hooked the audience, the magic worked. Johnson won.

Next, it was time for a reshuffle, and with it another conjuror’s trick. Despite padding-out support within cabinet, he accidentally booted his Chancellor. With David’s departure, audiences of microphones turned to the Prime Minister. The spotlight then fine-tuned its focus on government, when accusations of bullying and unfair dismissal were levelled at the Home Secretary. Yet, when media scrutiny was firmly locked onto the new cabinet, Johnson bamboozled again. Despite having gotten engaged three months previous, Johnson first officially announced his engagement to Carrie Symonds, enveloping the attention himself. On the 1st March, a day after the most senior Home Office civil servant accused Priti Patel of bullying and just a week after the Chancellor’s resignation, the front pages of The Times, Mail, Express, Sun and Telegraph were covered in lovers’ portraits of the happy couple. The announcement’s timing drowned mentions of Patel’s behaviour, keeping Johnson buoyant in the polls.

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Sticking down the Overton window

Government and public opinion have for most of the last few decades described deep societal injustices as a matter of inevitability and described government action – or inaction – as the morally right thing for government do to.

We’ve been told, and most largely believed as a general public, that it’s inevitable that the economic cycle will see huge numbers of people out of work, huge numbers of people experiencing the worst forms of homelessness as inevitable, inevitable that some of the most deprived and marginalised will live with in poorer health, with less housing and income security and less opportunity.

We’ve …

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Ode to something less than Joy

There was a time, not so long ago, that any news interview conducted outside the Westminster Parliament would be punctuated by a loud and long cry, “Stoooopppp Breeeexiiiit”.

Brexit was not stopped. December 2019 saw a Tory government returned to power, transformed from a handcuffed minority to a stomping majority. The Liberal Democrats did not benefit in any huge way from the Stop Brexit stance, lost one seat overall, and a certain person did not stand before us as the next Prime Minister.

We could focus on a post-mortem – all the events that led to that outcome – refining …

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Rising above politics as usual

The decision to not rush the leadership election has allowed a welcome space for a discussion on the strategy and philosophy of being a Liberal Democrat in 2020. I am a new member having joined just last month. I do not pretend that my views carry any more weight than any other member, and probably less than those who have worked so hard for the party. Nonetheless, the opportunity to contribute ideas to the direction the party should now take was part of the reason I joined.

Post-Brexit we have a clean slate. The challenge is to apply the timeless principles …

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Brexit – it’s time to accept that we’ve lost. There’s a new battle to fight…

I’m a pro-European. I’ve been involved in European politics as an active ALDE Party member for some years now. And it grieves me to say this but… we’ve lost. Complain about the voting system, about the lies, the sheer injustice of the thing, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Conservatives got their majority and will end the debate about our membership of the European Union in seven weeks. They’ve got a mandate, like the one we would have claimed had we won.

I’ve received a number of invitations to join a group seeking to campaign to rejoin the European Union, and there may be a case to be made for that in the years ahead. But looking backwards gives you neckache, and liberals have a new task ahead, to make the case for liberal values and persuade the British public that our outward looking, inclusive stance isn’t just good in itself, but can actually being benefits to those who have felt failed by the political system.

And yes, that means making the case for a stronger, more secure relationship with our neighbours, holding the Conservatives to account when their choices are bad for our country, its people and the economy. It means having a vision for how that relationship will look, and a willingness to argue for it. What are the benefits to voters in Sunderland, or Lowestoft, or Truro, of a closer trading relationship with Europe? And what are the concessions we might have to make?

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The way forward: We need a pause to properly respond

We’re all hurting today. The election result might not have been completely terrible – our vote share went up! – but it’s not been a good campaign for us, the results are far below what we wanted or expected, we’ve lost our leader, and we’re now going to be leaving the EU in just seven weeks’ time.

The easy response would be for us to dust ourselves down, elect a new leader as quickly as possible and dive straight back into the fight, but I think that would be a mistake. Last night was a massive moment for us as a …

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So what happens after the next general election?

Even now with just weeks before the next general election it is impossible to know where we will be with Brexit. For the sake of simplicity, I would like to put Brexit to one side for now. The Tories might find a way to implement hard Brexit by the 31st October and before the next General Election, we shall see. Discuss it elsewhere. There are plenty of other considerations we need to think about.

I can see 3 plausible scenarios for the next general election;

  1. The Tories squeeze the Brexit Party vote and get an overall majority, or;
  2. We have a hang Parliament

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Time for a Broad AllIance to take power?

“We must be more than a political party or we will cease to be one,” said the great writer G. K. Chesterton, when he was a Liberal. “Time and again historic victory has come to a little party with big ideas: but can anyone conceive anything with a mark of death more on its brow than a little party with little ideas,”

I am writing about the man at the moment and I believe he was right, and especially perhaps in the first of the two sentences.

Nor are we such a little party these days, but the ideas we …

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The Liberal Democrats are back and the electoral opportunity is huge

I’m not a Lib Dem. I’m Labour and I hope that in voting as I did I will help the Labour Party see sense and do the right thing for the country.

This was Alistair Campbell tweeting about his support for our party on Sunday night, following the European election results.

In some ways history is repeating itself. Through his work in convincing the Blair government to go to war in Iraq, Campbell was also partly responsible for the last great surge of support from Labour to the Liberal Democrats. What we learnt from that episode in our history is that …

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Is it time for Theresa May to admit that Brexit is impossible and retract the Article 50 notice?

If Brexit goes ahead in any form, it would need exceptionally-good government to address all the resulting challenges. The parliamentary chaos of recent weeks has shown a government a long way from this. Is it time to admit that Brexit can’t be delivered?

Theresa May has given it her best shot. It is hard to see anything else she could have done to make Brexit work. The game-changer of the last few weeks has been the sheer level of parliamentary dysfunction. It’s now clear that Brexit can’t happen on 29 March because of the sheer volume of legislation to be …

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TIG’s not it

When you are an active member of a political party, the amount of the infrastructure of your life that is embedded in it is colossal. My husband knows that we have a bird of liberty as well as a spaniel determinedly pushing its way between us when we try to grab some time together.

Our lives revolve round election cycles and meetings and protest marches. And this blog.

Most of my best friends are in the Liberal Democrats. To be honest, I think they would still be my best friends wherever our lives took us, but, still, I share stuff with them that if we were in different parties I wouldn’t be able to any more.

Making the decision to leave is difficult and painful and not at all easily taken.

So when I see people leaving the Labour Party when they have finally reached the end of their rope with Jeremy Corbyn, I know how hard it must have been for them. I respect them for having the courage to do so.

I like some of them a lot on a personal level and I have no problem with working with them on the areas where we share common aims.

However, I am underwhelmed by their statement of values on their website. Some of them are fine – just a bit motherhood and apple pie.However, parts of it made me cringe:

…the first duty of government must be to defend its people and do whatever it takes to safeguard Britain’s national security.

It’s a bit hawkish. I get that they are trying to get away from the spectre of Corbyn, but the first thing above all else, when 3 million of our citizens are about to have their rights massively downgraded and people have trouble putting food on the table? Really?

There are also some real deserving/undeserving poor undertones to it – and an echo of that awful phrase “hard working families.”

I think the thing that bothered me most, though, was:

We believe that our parliamentary democracy in which our elected representatives deliberate, decide and provide leadership, held accountable by their whole electorate is the best system of representing the views of the British people.

I get that they are restating the obvious that democracy is a good thing, but you can’t say that politics is broken and then say that our way of doing it is best. How much more powerful would it have been if they had said, as we do, that our political institutions need redesigning and rebuilding so that people get the Parliament that they ask for. If they did, the country would not be in its current disastrous pickle.

I lived through the birth of the SDP 40 years ago and it genuinely felt exciting. They used phrases like “breaking the mould” and talked about pursuing a reforming agenda in every area of life. This doesn’t have that coherent approach. It’s like TIG’s members can agree what they’re against – the various circles of Hell in Corbyn’s Labour – but writing a coherent vision statement has not come easy. In some ways their statement is more cry of pain than beacon lighting our path.

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First impressions from my first party conference – by a Lib Dem who voted Leave

I joined the Liberal Democrats in April 2017. This was my first party conference. I also voted Leave in the EU the referendum. Should I be in this party? Absolutely.

Europe

I sensed that many members didn’t truly understand Leave voters. Nick Clegg seemed a bit more in tune: “why wouldn’t you vote Leave after all you were promised by the Brexiteers?”. Remain is one thing that undoubtedly keeps the party unified. But Remain in what? Jean-Claude Juncker’s vision of a more federalised EU with power centralised? Seems profoundly un-Lib Dem to me.

Nick Clegg convinced me on Remain when he talked about “concentric circles of membership” with the UK sitting on an outer layer, and that is the rub of it. It is not a credible position to just articulate “Remain.” The Lib Dems have to put forward a simple vision for what type of EU we advocate remaining in and how we will make it happen. Nick’s vision or something else that the UK population will buy into? That is how you can convince Leave voters.

The party of the centre

I understand liberalism – it’s why I joined the party, but I still wasn’t sure by the end of the conference, where the ‘centre’ actually is. One member gave Jo Swinson and Norman Lamb a good ear bashing during a session on how to revitalise the centre ground: “why have we gone through 6 conferences, 2 general elections, 1 referendum, and the party still doesn’t have a clear vision on this?”. To own the centre ground you have to be the party that defines it to the public, otherwise you are just emulating others and playing catch-up; to win the game it helps to set the rules.

We need to articulate what the Lib Dem USP is for the ordinary person, defined in a way that is easily consumable and clearly differentiated. At the moment I’m still not sure, and I can’t explain to my wife the unique difference between us and centrist leaning Conservatives / Labourites. Norman Lamb gave us a great starting point when he talked about the business of government being “how to create prosperity and how to share it”. This is the question to which we need some radical answers that differentiate us.

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Opinion: Liberals must learn the lessons of Thatcher

It is a truth often acknowledged that Tony Blair and David Cameron, in moving their respective parties to the centre ground, left a gruelling obstacle on the road to a truly Liberal Britain.
But it’s not from those leaders that the next generation of Liberal Democrat’s must learn, rather it is from a leader who would regard liberalism as a dirty word, and many Liberal outcomes as inimical to her view of society, Margaret Thatcher.

The lesson for Lib Dems is that Thatcher understood that the less well off are just as aspirational as those born to wealth. The Tory method …

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