That LibDemVoice survey on the party presidency (which, ahem, called it wrong): 8 thoughts from me

What happened there, then? I refer to the LibDemVoice survey of party members reported here on Wednesday which showed Daisy Cooper with a clear lead over Sal Brinton in the contest for party president; when actual votes were counted the result was reversed. Is this moment to the LDV surveys what the 1992 election was to the pollsters? In haste, here are a few initial thoughts from me…

1. The sample itself is drawn from the 1,500+ current Lib Dems signed up to our members-only forum. This is therefore self-selecting; as is who chooses to respond. It isn’t the random sampling adjusted to be demographically representative that professional pollsters would use. But, then, nor do we claim it to be: each and every survey post makes clear where our sample is drawn from and states “we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole”.

2. We have very few occasions to test the LibDemVoice survey sample against actual votes or elections. There have been only three previous examples: the 2008 and 2010 elections for party president, and the 2010 special conference to approve the formation of the Coalition. In each of these, the survey results accurately predicted the winner (if not always the margin). But past success is, as we can see, no guarantee of future performance!

3. The reliability or otherwise of the surveys has often been contested, though. Mark Pack produced a handy FAQs here, while, from an external perspective, YouGov’s Anthony Wells offered a fair assessment of their strengths and weaknesses here.

4. Here’s a quote from Anthony’s verdict that bears repeating today: “I do also worry about whether polls that are essentially recruited through online party-political websites or supporter networks get too many activists and not enough of the armchair members, or less political party members … All that said, while they aren’t perfect and Mark and Stephen never claim they are, I think they are a decent good straw in the wind and worth paying attention to, especially given the verification of whether respondents are party members.” Which I think remains fair comment.

5. We know and publicly state the LibDemVoice sample of party members is skewed towards activists (and male activists at that). This hasn’t mattered in the past (see point 2). Clearly it did this time – as I highlighted might be the case in my heavily caveatted write-up of the results. Actually I was relieved to re-read my post again last night. Why? Because I wouldn’t change a word of it with hindsight: “our results below need to be taken with a pinch of salt … in an internal election where personality is a key factor I can’t be confident that our surveys are necessarily reliable measures … Congratulations to [Daisy] on this strong showing. However, I stress the caveat already inserted that our surveys are skewed towards activist members who may well not be representative of the wider ‘armchair’ membership.”

6. I’ve had a quick dig into the results. There’s nothing obviously different about the data compared to previous surveys. Men out-number women 4:1, which is nothing like the party membership mix but is (unfortunately) standard in our surveys. We do much better on the mix of ages (55% over 50, 45% under) and geographies (though we’re under-weight in the south-west). However, one stat may be key: almost half those who respond are conference representatives (and of course the other half are keen enough party members to have registered with our members-only forum).

7. My best guess of what happened, then, is that the survey reasonably accurately estimated Daisy’s support among party activists. However, the sample was clearly under-weight in non-activist (‘armchair’ members) and on this occasion that made a big difference. Especially relevant to this, I suspect, was the impact of high-profile endorsements for Sal Brinton from Paddy Ashdown and Shirley Williams, probably the two most popular and influential figures in the party, in the leaflets / emails sent to all members. Given none of the three candidates was a household name current MP, the recommendation of those two will likely have made a major impact on those members least likely to complete an LDV survey.

8. Because the survey got this one wrong, does that mean there’s no purpose to LDV’s surveys in the future? Well, I’m biased clearly — so feel free to ignore / dispute my views on this! — but I don’t think so. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned (there are, but that’s for another post, another day). But here are three reasons I think the surveys continue to be a worthwhile part of what this site does.

  • First, because previous surveys have produced accurate (or, at any rate, accurate enough) results. Just as past success doesn’t guarantee future success, neither does one failure mean all future surveys are flawed either.
  • Secondly, even if the survey results aren’t necessarily representative of the wider Lib Dem membership, I think they are reasonably representative of activist members. The fact that up to 400 conference representatives complete each survey — not far short of the number who take part in key policy votes at the party conferences — says something.
  • Thirdly, if LibDemVoice doesn’t survey party members about current issues who, independently of the party, can or will? They may be imperfect, but absent anything better they do give more than 1,500 of us the chance to make our voices heard on a range of issues on a regular basis.
  • Just make sure you keep that pinch of salt handy…

    * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    37 Comments

    • Stephen
      Your point 3 starts — “…The reliability or otherwise of the surveys has often been contested..”

      Each month your survey is a survey of a self-selecting few hundred LDV readers.
      It is perfectly reliable as that.
      But it is not reliable as a scientific representation of what all the members of the Liberal Democrats think.
      Your repeated mistake, month after month, is to headline the results as “This is what Liberal Democrat members think”.

      It is OK to say nobody is doing anything better.
      But it is NOT at all OK to say “Because nobody is doing anything better this must be right”.

    • Given that the LDV surveys skew towards male, and given that there was no clear awesome candidate and no clear awful candidate, I wonder if the difference in results can be explained as follows:

      1, armchair voters voted for the establishment candidate
      2, thrusting young men in the LDV sample voted for the prettiest candidate

      (FWIW I know of two people who voted Daisy because all the candidates were much of a muchness so we might as well have the prettiest one, and one who voted for Sal because they were all much of a muchness but Sal had the Doctor Who connection. I feel there was much similar toss-of-a-coin decision making).

    • Lorna Dupre 30th Nov '14 - 5:51pm

      I’m surprised anyone is surprised, frankly. I wasn’t in anyone’s camp, although I did vote (and that voting intention goes with me to my grave) – but I never believed the LDV poll and the way it rated Daisy’s chances. I always expected Sal to win and believed that the self-selecting nature of LDV survey participation was misrepresenting what was happening on the ground. I took part in that pre-announcement poll someone put up on Facebook a couple of hours before the result was declared, and voted that I believed Sal was going to win. Credit to Daisy for a great result against two very established and respected competitors, though – she ran an excellent campaign.

    • Alex Sabine 30th Nov '14 - 6:12pm

      What’s that saying? When you’re explaining, you’re losing! Seriously, though (and speaking as a non-member), I appreciate the diligence with which you carry out these surveys, explain your methodology and acknowledge the inevitable limitations.

    • Jonathan Davies 30th Nov '14 - 6:56pm

      Members had the option of voting by returning their ballot paper or on-line, and a breakdown has been published of the results by each channel:

      Online (26.3%) paper (73.7%):

      Online Paper Total
      Sal Brinton 1,864 (42%) 6,001 (48%) 7,865 (47%)
      Daisy Cooper 1,678 (38%) 2,852 (23%) 4,530 (27%)
      Liz Lynne 873 (20%) 3,516 (28%) 4,389 (26%)

      So in the votes Daisy did significantly better, and closer to the LDV poll.

      This does suggest that the on line community is not representative of opinion as a whole.

    • Jonathan Pile 1st Dec '14 - 6:17am

      All good points. Clearly LDV online polls are significantly unreliable on lots of issues and this is a spectacular example. The lib dem voice is not a single voice and there is a broad sweep of opinion . Many of us who are felt to hold an opinion which differs from the majority LDV opinion actually know we are more in tune with lib dem voter views than a narrow band of male 50+ online activists although I fall into this category myself. On issues like HS2, Nick Clegg etc I know our views are underrepresented by LDV polls. for what it’s worth I voted for daisy and was disappointed because I thought what she was saying on one member one vote chimed with lib dem fightback’s call for a reconnection with members and voters . I also voted because she might do a better job reconnecting with the 16-40 demographic.

    • Peter Watson 1st Dec '14 - 7:56am

      I do not know much about Daisy Cooper or Sal Brinton but wonder if the apparent mismatch between Lib Dem members and LDV Lib Dem members mean that other LDV surveys (such as https://www.libdemvoice.org/exclusive-survey-results-what-lib-dem-members-think-of-the-coalition-so-far-43554.html) might significantly understate or overstate support for the leadership and the record in coalition.
      Would one of those candidates have been seen as more pro-Clegg than the other? Or could it simply be that age (as a surrogate for experience) and a title would appeal more to the “armchair members” who also knew little about the candidates?

    • Denis Loretto 1st Dec '14 - 8:43am

      Could it be that the plethora of anti-Nick Clegg posting on LDV is not entirely representative of members’ thinking?

    • peter tyzack 1st Dec '14 - 9:00am

      ALL surveys and Polls are limited to the sample of participants and to the construct of the questions. All commercial ones, despite any regulatory controls that there may be claimed to be, are designed to provide the outcome that their sponsor wishes, ie to feed their pre-existing agenda.
      I didn’t see the point in this LDV poll, given that the publication of the result was only days away.. .. I am bemused that, Stephen, you should want to spend precious time writing about it.

    • Maria Pretzler 1st Dec '14 - 10:16am

      I think that the main reason for the bigger difference this time, compared to the last contested Presidential election, is the increased importance of online campaigning in this particular election, and its limited reach which, I think, many of us online activists overestimated considerably.

      A day before the results came out, I expressed doubt that Daisy’s dominant position among members who are active online actually reflected a wider reality, and it seems that this was an accurate assessment.

      As the newcomer candidate, Daisy had to rely on online campaigning to get her message out, and did so brilliantly. I know she actually made an effort to get to many local parties in person, particularly where there was a campaign going on, but still, it was always going to be difficult to reach a significant number of members who are not active online – and I include in this all people who, though using the internet, do not use it for extensive online communication, especially on social media. I think people who have lots of conversations online often forget how small and, in a way, unrepresentative they and their online pals actually are, not least in terms of the nature of the information they have access to.

      In an election where ballot papers were actually still sent out by post, the large number of people who aren’t active on social media were always a factor, and there, of course, even the most brilliant online campaigning would make little impact.

      The comparison of votes cast for Daisy and Sal respectively online and on paper says it all!

      I do wonder what this may tell us about OMOV committee elections, as we will have them in future – particularly about the chances of newcomer candidates in such elections.

    • Why bother with a poll anyway? What was the point? Have we not all got better things to do?

    • Tony Rowan-Wicks 1st Dec '14 - 11:28am

      The voting is simply the difference between those LDs who live in some ‘heartland’ or a strong LD constituency [where members think about LD issues regularly] and those who live in the country as a whole, probably not regularly talking about policies [and more likely to follow media reports and/or celebrities]. There are clearly different ‘constituencies’ and I don’t think we should be surprised by the different results of polling.

      As I said yesterday, I believe the presidential team needs a wide base to reach out to all members. So in congratulating Sal, I hope the other two women will be able to assist her in this difficult year in which all strengths need to be used. Best wishes to all three and those who join them in holding our party together and moving forward as one.

    • SIMON BANKS 1st Dec '14 - 11:36am

      If the big difference between the survey result and the actual election result shows a marked difference between the views of activists (or at least, those activists exercised about national issues and often online) and the views of the membership in general, it’s interesting and should concern Sal Brinton a little. Much the same goes for other LDV surveys that seem to reflect something different from the views of members as a whole or indeed Lib Dem voters as a whole.

      On the other hand, it could all have been a devious and well-organised plot by the Brintonists: stop Liz Lynne winning by all supporting Daisy Cooper in the LDV poll, so putting Liz in third place, so encouraging voters who’ve forgotten how STV works to vote for Daisy to stop Sal, and then Sal will beat Daisy in the final. On further consideration, since when has a Liberal Democrat plot been well-organised?

    • Peter Watson 1st Dec '14 - 12:28pm

      @Denis Loretto “Could it be that the plethora of anti-Nick Clegg posting on LDV is not entirely representative of members’ thinking?”
      With a reported 1500 members signed up to LDV, half of whom are active enough to respond to LDV surveys, it amazes me that the site is not swamped with their messages of support for the party’s actions and its leadership. Could it be that the anti-Clegg posting is representative of members’ thinking? Or perhaps more worrying for the party, could it be representative of the thinking of non-members whose votes the party needs?

    • Nick Collins 1st Dec '14 - 1:32pm

      @Denis Loretto “Could it be that the plethora of anti-Nick Clegg posting on LDV is not entirely representative of members’ thinking?”

      Or could it be that those posting on LDV are representative of activists, many of whom have now seen through Nick Clegg, as opposed to armchair members, many of whom have yet to do so?

    • David Allen 1st Dec '14 - 1:58pm

      16089 people voted in the actual election

      747 people voted in the LDV poll. Clearly these proved to be an unrepresentative sample.

      How many people regularly post on LDV either to support Clegg or to oppose him? Less than a hundred, surely. These are probably another unrepresentative sample. I suspect it under-weights the depth of feeling about Clegg amongst members an ex-members, but that’s just one subjective view.

      A blog isn’t good at weighing votes. What it’s good at is exploring arguments. That may also be a reason why most of the arguments go against Clegg.

    • matt (Bristol) 1st Dec '14 - 2:30pm

      Feel strongly that the polls should be headlined ‘LDV foum members think …’ which has a higher chance of being true as a statement than ‘LibDem members think …’

      It’s not completely wrong to take the polling as suggestive of how members MAY think, however.

      I don’t think it can be claimed that the vote for Sal Brinton is a vote ‘for’ Nick Clegg, as some seem to be implying. This was not an election fought on factional lines. This was about who was the best person to be the voice of the members and mobilise the activist base. I admit freely that I sceptical about voting for Sal Brinton as someone who is seen as ‘close’ to the leadership, but I could always see the advantage of having a partypresident who is a parliamentarian. I voted Daisy Cooper 1, Sal Brinton 2, and Liz Lynne 3.

      I also freely admit that if Liz Lynne had not been a past life the MP for Rochdale and thereby offering the media a ‘free hit’ with regard to investigations about past wrongdoing in that council and area, I could have voted for her as 1 or 2 choice with more enthusiasm. I doubt I was alone in this. Again, I might have voted for Linda Jack if she had stood.

      Either way, I hop the party finds ways to use all these people, and that specifically Liz Lynne’s ‘Experience network’ idea is not lost.

    • Matthew Huntbach 1st Dec '14 - 4:05pm

      Nick Collins

      Or could it be that those posting on LDV are representative of activists, many of whom have now seen through Nick Clegg, as opposed to armchair members, many of whom have yet to do so?

      Well, I’m one of those who posts anti-Clegg messages, and so far as I can see, there’s just a few of us who are actually party members or have a history of being members. There’ s quite a few others who seem to come here just to post attacks, but don’t seem to have any sort of past or continuing attachment to the party.

      It still seems to me that LDV is over-dominated by people who are Clegg fans and who are economic right-wingers. I post here because I think those positions need arguing against. I try always to make my criticism constructive – to say why I think Clegg has got it wrong, and what he should have done to have got it right.When it comes to destructive “nah nah nah nah nah” criticism from those who seem to come here just to do that, I’m as critical of them as anyone, indeed more so. I think I probably do a better job of arguing them down than the Cleggies do.

    • Matthew Huntbach 1st Dec '14 - 4:14pm

      Seems to me there was something of a “Cleggmania” situation with Daisy Cooper. Started off looking good as a “new face”, but as time went on people felt she was lacking in experience, and her lines seemed rather shallow.

      I’m sorry no-one had the guts to stand as an outright anti-Clegg candidate. That would have made this a much more worthwhile and interesting election, As always seems to be the case in internal party elections, the candidates speak in code and one has to look quite closely to try and work out just where they stand on all the contentious issues. Looking at what they say on a shallow basis they all sound much the same, all trying to look very worthy, and it’s just so BORING! I get really fed up with that.

    • Stephen Tall 30th Nov ’14 – 6:51pm
      @JohnTilley – You write “But it is NOT at all OK to say “Because nobody is doing anything better this must be right”.” Could you point me to an instance of me (or anyone else on LDV) saying that?

      Yes I could. Follow the link to Anthony Wells in youroint 3.
      In addition, on the basis that actions speak louder than words, I could point to your continued use of LDV headlines stating that a percentage of Liberal Democrats believe something, support something etc etc.
      In the tiny “small print” you qualify that to say that your surveys are not necessarily representative. But you do that knowing full well that when the mainstream media pick up on a story based on an LDV survey they will only quote the headline.
      So whatever you say in your small print, they will say ” 82% of Liberal Democrats believe Elvis is alive and well and living on a double-decker bus on the moon”.

    • I believe age played a part in this process, the ONLINE survey by LDV would probably be completed more by younger members, in turn probably more likely to support a younger candidate, Daisy.

    • martin hunt 1st Dec '14 - 6:10pm

      As a mail activist, but not as much as I used to be, this is the first time it seems people are trying to make me feel guilty for taking party in a survey. Apparently the result was skewed because most of the female or armchair members didn’t bother. Well more fool them Stephen, it’s their loss for not taking an interest, not mine! Carry on mate.

    • Mark Valladares 1st Dec '14 - 8:08pm

      There are some interesting comments in this thread, some of which appear to make assertions that reflect their personal biases rather than actuality. So, when Jonathan Pile states, “Clearly LDV online polls are significantly unreliable on lots of issues…”, that might be interpreted as, “I believe that Nick Clegg must go and LDV readers don’t agree, therefore they must be unrepresentative…” (sorry, Jonathan, but that is rather what you’re asserting), I have to push back just a little.

      It is very hard to tell, with any real confidence, whether those Party members who read Liberal Democrat Voice and partake in its surveys truly reflect Party opinion as, for the most part, we have no other measure of what Party members think.

      Is LDV full of “Clegg fans who are economic right-wingers”, as Matthew Huntbach puts it? I like and respect Matthew a lot, but he will acknowledge that the number of people who are active on this site are a mere fraction of the number of people who fill in the survey regularly, especially given that some of our frequent commentors aren’t actually Liberal Democrat members. I know that a number of members of the LDV team, past and present, are either social liberals (Caron and Mary) or not particularly linked to any of the philosophical ginger groups within the Party.

      I would suspect that LDV readers are probably disproportionately young, male and white, but given that both myself and my wife both take the survey, and who between us could only tick two of those three boxes (one each, for anyone who’s interested), even that can’t be asserted with confidence unless someone chooses to analyse those who take part.

    • Matthew Huntbach 1st Dec '14 - 8:54pm

      Mark Valladares

      Is LDV full of “Clegg fans who are economic right-wingers”, as Matthew Huntbach puts it? I like and respect Matthew a lot, but he will acknowledge that the number of people who are active on this site are a mere fraction of the number of people who fill in the survey regularly

      I wrote “seems to me”, as an acceptance that how one views these things tends to depend on one’s own viewpoint.So, sure, I accept from my position I’m more likely to see it that way than someone who is supportive of the leadership would be. I was replying after a few comments which were suggesting the opposite – that LDV contributors are biased in favour of members who are critical of the leadership. I find it VERY hard to see how comments like that could be justified. There’s a few people, myself included, who will usually pop up and say something critical about the leadership when appropriate, but the fact that it’s usually the same few people indicates very much that LDV is NOT dominated by people who take that position. Obviously, there are critics of the party and its leadership who seem to come here regularly just because they get a kick out of attacking us and not because they are members or have anything constructive to contribute, but that’s not the same at all as LDV being dominated by anti-Clegg members of the party.

      From my own experience of members of the party, LDV surveys seem to come out rather to the economic right of party members as a whole. However, maybe there are some big bunches of economic right-wingers in the party that I’m not aware of because they’re members in places I don’t have any links with. Or maybe there’s a big bunch of economic right-wingers who are members of the party but never mix with anyone else face-to-face, so one never meets them.

    • Mark Valladares 1st Dec '14 - 9:48pm

      @ Matthew,

      I agree, the suggestion that LDV is dominated by critics of the leadership is whistling in the wind. Those arguing that may confuse frequency with prevalence, I guess, or may not like such open dissent in a public forum. In truth, I find those claiming that everything is perfect in a perfect world just as frustrating as those who have nothing positive to offer – the truth is somewhere in between if one is being objective.

      Our mutual experiences of the Party may well be different – there is little that links Mid Suffolk (traditionally small-c conservative) with Lewisham (rather more left-wing) and our members will have differing views of the world. My local colleagues take little interest in the workings of the Party beyond Suffolk, and see themselves more as community activists who happen to be liberal. My previous life as a member in inner London led me to mix with people far more ideological and policy oriented than I do now.

      Perhaps the anecdotal evidence that people are more likely to publicly criticise someone than to praise them is a factor- I don’t know. But I tend to find that harbouring a little doubt and scepticism in the face of other’s certainty is a good strategy…

    • When I did it the names flipped but I had already pressed next so I couldn’t go back to change it. So maybe a technical issue.

    • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Dec '14 - 10:29am

      @ Mark Valladares

      I’m now a member of Greenwich local party, rather than Lewisham, and don’t have much contact with Lewisham members now I’ve stopped doing the Focus round in my old ward there. Although they are neighbouring the difference between the two is quite big. Lewisham had a big boost and pushed the Tories out of the way to become the main opposition to Labour, while Greenwich remained a place where the LibDems were a squeezed-out third place. However, it looks like Lewisham has now been pushed back to where Greenwich never got out of, thanks to ….

      I haven’t found the mixture of people who are mainly interested in being local activists and people whose focus is on national party affairs to be as firm a London/provincial thing as you suggest. During the 12 years I was a councillor in Lewisham I myself paid little attention to what was happening in the party nationally, and I wasn’t particularly active in the party in the 6 years between merger and becoming a councillor. I only really started paying attention and contributed to LDV at the time of the leadership election, as I couldn’t understand then why this little known, inexperienced in party terms and unimpressive MP called Nick Clegg was being pushed in almost all spheres as “obviously the best person to be the next leader”, and I wanted to find out why. But I never did find out and I still don’t understand.

      I was shocked, and I mean that, deeply shocked, when I found just how the party seemed to have changed from 1988 when I was an anti-merger Young Liberal to 2007 when I started looking at LDV. Although I was always somewhat to the left I had never felt uncomfortable in the party, but coming back to LDV I seemed to find myself among people who just didn’t see the world as I did, didn’t understand the things that had motivated me, and had the sort of politics I joined the Liberal Party to oppose i.e. believers in what we used to call “Thatcherite” economics. What was once mainstream in the party seemed to have become fringe. The sort of SDP view of the world that we used to think of as the party’s “right wing” in those days now seemed to be considered its “left”. People I used to view as my opponent in party debate now seemed to be my allies against this alien right-wing economic force that had grown from nowhere. Weirdest of all, I found that it was all being written up as if this alien force was what I was supposed to have been about as a Liberal back in 1988, whereas the policies I supported back then against the Owenite push to the economic right were being written up as “SDP”.

      However, this also wasn’t much in tune with how I actually experienced the party as an ordinary member and working with other ordinary members, which is why I came to think that perhaps LDV wasn’t representative of the party as a whole and had a bias towards the economic right.Now, though I find people suggesting that LDV is biased the other way round. If that’s so, well, I’m lost, the Liberal Democrats are no longer a party I could have any sympathy with. I hope it is not.

      In my experience, most members of the party are mainly interested in being local activists, tend to be a bit naive about national issues, and so tend just to accept what the national leadership pushes down to them. That is why the notion of there being a deliberate right-wing coup organised from the top down makes sense to me. I sort of suspected it from the start, but didn’t want to believe it. Sad to say, because most member of our party dislike the idea of factionalism, they’ve not wanted to get involved in any sort of organised fightback against this. Instead they carry on, and if they don’t like what’s happening just quietly drop out. Or drop out when national politics means local support for the party plummets.

      It’s also NOT my experience that Liberal Democrats in supposedly true blue Tory parts of the world are very much more right-wing than Liberal Democrats in inner city areas. I grew up in Sussex, and my immediate family live in various parts of Sussex – not just Brighton and Hove, but also the supposedly still true blue places to the north and west of it. People from outside would be surprised to know how much ordinary people in those places are NOT right-wing Tory in their way of thinking. In fact there’s a big unmet demand for a party of the left that speaks for them and with them in a way that Labour has failed to do. The Tories win in a lot of these places more by default than because of conviction of most local people. I joined the Liberal Party in the first place because I felt it could be that party of the left speaking up for ordinary people in the south who had no voice.Sad to say, no-one except UKIP now seems interested in such people, and UKIP are cruelly deceiving them.

    • Steve Comer 2nd Dec '14 - 11:02am

      Very well said Matthew.
      I was very concerned about the way the Thatcherite view of the world seemed to be being actively promoted in the party just at the time it was being widely discredited by the banking crisis!

      My reason for joining the Young Liberals and the Liberal party was also to be in a ” party of the left speaking up for ordinary people” which begs the question of “why not join the Labour party? Well for me the Labour Party was always socially conservative, authoritarian and over obsessed with economics. Labour seemed weak on civil liberties, too controlling and too wedded to the centralised state. We saw all these negative aspect very clearly during their time in Government?

      The two questions the UK Liberal Democrat Leadership collectively needs to answer is:
      1) We’re those of us who were in the Liberal Party or the SDP wrong to oppose Thatcher’s economic policies in the 1980s?
      2) In the era of economic crisis in Europe what is our distinctive offer to the electorate next year that will differentiate us from the Labour, Tory and Green parties?

    • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Dec '14 - 12:37pm

      @ Steve Comer

      Well, my reasons for not joining the Labour Party were partly yours, but there were others as well.

      Growing up as a working-class southerner, the Labour Party never seemed to have any interest in us. It seemed to be a party of the north and inner city places. I had a very strong feeling that Labour had abandoned us, had a cozy deal with the Tories to keep the FPTP electoral system which gave Labour plenty of safe seats in the north, while giving the false impression that everyone in the south was a Tory because all the MPs in the south were Tories. I felt there was literally no-one as the voice of the particular problems of being poor and living in the south, no-one to point out that with low wages and high house prices, if you were poor in the south you really were very poor. Oh no, according to the Labour-Tory FPTP deal. people like us didn’t exist.

      I suspect that how I felt then is now how working class people everywhere feel, north as well as south, with Labour getting more of an image of being a metropolitan elite party, and the Liberal Democrats also seeming to want to squeeze into that patch.

      I’ve also found the arrogance and lack of democratic feeling in the Labour Party also a big barrier towards wanting any involvement with them. I’m a strong believer in multi-party politics, and think the idea that there should just be a single party of the left to be dangerous. Labour is all about being the single party of the left, and it has always expressed contempt for anyone who is of the left but won’t join them. Worse than that, there is still that old Marxist-Leninist idea that the Labour Party is THE ordained voice of the working class, and as such is infallible, it doesn’t even really need to consult or win over the working class, because by ordinance it IS the party of the working class so speaks for them naturally and has their vote by right. Along with this goes the idea that it doesn’t matter how it gains power, so long as it does gain power, and that power means discussion takes place within itself with the official democratic mechanisms of the state just there to rubber stamp the party line. This is what I saw of Labour when I moved from Sussex to inner London and found myself a councillor in THE “flagship New Labour” council. New Labour may have abandoned anything to do with Marxism in terms of its policies, but in terms of its view of the role of party, it was still very strongly influenced by it.

      That’s why, though I very much dislike what the coalition is doing, I accept and defend it on the grounds that this is how politics SHOULD be – policies worked out in the elected democratic assembly. As I keep arguing, what is coming out of the coalition is what one would expect from a government which is five-sixths Conservative and one-sixth Liberal Democrat. Anyone who doesn’t like that should oppose the distortional electoral system which gave us that balance. But Labour, or at least all those Labour people who said anything about it then, strongly argued FOR those distortions in the 2011 referendum. That is why I regard Labour as the true proppers-up of the Tories, so no matter how dissatisfied I am with the Liberal Democrats, I could not join them.

    • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Dec '14 - 12:48pm

      Steve Comer

      Were those of us who were in the Liberal Party or the SDP wrong to oppose Thatcher’s economic policies in the 1980s?

      I would say “NO”, and even more so, time has now proved us right. We are now experiencing the long-term disastrous effects of those policies that critics such as myself predicted we would have. One of my biggest lines in the 1980s was to point out the contradiction between Thatcher’s image as the “Iron Lady” standing up to protect our country against the reality of her policies opening it for foreign powers to walk in and buy it up – as they have, with so much of our utilities and infrastructure privatised and bought up by the government of other countries or funds controlled by them, and with land in London and the south in particular now being bought up by the global super-rich as an investment.

      The running down of industry, and supposition we could all get by with dog-eat-dog competition selling each other houses and bits of paper has led to the sorry state of the country. A few at the top do well out of it, most do badly, even when the economy is supposedly getting better, it doesn’t “trickle down”. Thatcherism had the image of being about reward for hard work, but it was actually about the opposite: the idea that getting rich involved wheeler-dealing and owning things, the old Tory idea that money made through ownership was so much better and more noble than dirty money made by work.

      What we needed in 2010 was the clear message that Thatcherism has failed long-term, and that the mess Labour left the country in was due to it accepting and carrying on with Thatcherite economics. Instead, we’ve gone along with the Tory idea that it was all due to some sort of “socialist” aspect of Labour, so needs cleaning up by moving to even more extreme Thatcherism.

    • David Evershed 3rd Dec '14 - 3:48pm

      Re Mathew Huntbach

      A basis of Lib Dem thinking inherited from Liberal Party thinking is that open, fair, free market competition is good for the economy, wealth creation AND for poor people.

      This is because protectionism only benefits the vested interest of incumbent businesses (private or nationalised) as it prevents competition (eg from abroad) and leads to over costly goods for consumers and fellow businesses alike. Ultimately such protectionist economies suffer from low productivity and a decline in living standards.

      For example, the Common Agriculture Policy protects European landowners from the competition of more efficient food producers outside the EU, thereby benefiting landowners at the expense of the population as a whole.

      A centrally controlled (socialist ) economy is contrary to inherited Liberal thinking. In practice there will be a need for some intervention in markets where they are not fair. However, such interventions are best not made by politicians (with vested interests) but made by an independent Competition Commission.

    • Steve Comer 2nd Dec ’14 – 11:02am
      ” My reason for joining the Young Liberals and the Liberal party was also to be in a ” party of the left speaking up for ordinary people” which begs the question of “why not join the Labour party?
      Well for me the Labour Party was always socially conservative, authoritarian and over obsessed with economics. ”

      Well said, Steve Comer. That is why I joined. I expect you speak for several generations of Liberals and Liberal Democrats who joined the party between 1925 and 2005.

      I have a lot of smpathy with those who identify our problems as starting with the capture of the top of the party by the small and untypical “Thatcherites for Gay Marriage” tendency.

    • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Dec '14 - 5:38pm

      David Evershed

      A centrally controlled (socialist ) economy is contrary to inherited Liberal thinking.

      We have a centrally controlled economy. It is controlled by a tiny group in and around the City of London.

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