The article you must read on the General Election…or is it?

I was tagged on Facebook today and told that I really should share this article from on the Liberal Democrats’ General Election campaign on this site. It was talked up by a fair few people whose judgement I respect but I have to say that when I read it, I was underwhelmed. There was much that I agreed with – the total inadequacy of our general election messaging for a start, but most of it seemed to me to be a mixture of stating the bleedin’ obvious, lazy assumptions and, to be honest, not much that we didn’t know already.

There were, of course some parts that made my blood boil. It bought heavily into the idea that we were a party of protest, for a start. For me, that is a ridiculous notion. We have always been about getting into government wherever we can, in councils, at national level and at UK level. We spent 8 years keeping Labour honest at Holyrood.

That successful coalition is mentioned in the article almost accusingly, as something we should have achieved at Westminster without any analysis of why such a comparison is a false one. For a start, the Holyrood coalition governed at a time of prosperity. There was stacks of cash around and we were able to do radical things with it. Taking over the economic reins during the worst economic crisis in 80 years is an entirely different challenge. Secondly, the electorate in Scotland largely gets the Parliament it asks for. At Westminster this is not the case. If we had a proportionate number of seats, we’d have had 140 MPs, not 57 and a much bigger voice in government. 

The other thing that sent the red mist was the phrase “while in Scotland the SNP seemed set to eclipse the Liberal Democrats” to describe our position in early 2015. Had they not been watching Scottish politics since 2007? Even without the referendum, the SNP were on the rise, but after last September’s No vote they were able to capitalise on defeat and bring about an electoral tsunami. Where the authors do not give us credit is that we actually held up a lot better than Labour for precisely the electoral strategy that they later criticise. We are in the game in most of our former seats, unlike Labour who saw their altitude inducing  majorities completely overturned and replaced by equally vertiginous SNP leads.

There was also an assumption that resources were spread too thinly and evenly over our held seats which doesn’t stack up. There were some fairly “difficult decisions” made on funding and seats were dropped when it was clear that we stood no chance.

All in all, the article is an uncomfortable read. Four months on from a catastrophic election, it doesn’t get any easier to read the statistics or the circumstances which led up to it. All the main “mistakes” are coveed. Tuition fees, obviously. Curiously Nick Clegg is blamed for not putting together a decent Pro AV campaign. It seemed that the very last thing the pro-AV campaign wanted was Clegg anywhere near it. The mistake in my view was ever agreeing to have such a referendum for a system nobody really loved in the first place. Having it in the first year after spending cuts and tuition fees was foolishness on stilts with knobs on.

There was a lot of stuff in this that we knew in uncomfortable detail already. Apart from my issues with it, I found much that was reasonable analysis and definitely worth a read. You might need a cup of tea and a box of tissues to help you through, though.

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

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99 Comments

  • John Tilley 8th Sep '15 - 8:37pm

    “….There were, of course some parts that made my blood boil. It bought heavily into the idea that we were a party of protest…”

    Well I wonder who the authors of the report had been listeninging to or reading to come up with that phrase “a party of protest” ?

    Could it have been articles in LDV? I am sure the excellent LDV Archive would reveal some examples of formerly senior figures in our party saying that before Clegg we were “merely a party of protest”.

    I seem to remember Clegg himself repeating the phrase on more than one occasion. He then went on to say that with his strategy we would do so much better because of his role in government.

    Why does your blood boil if the authors of this report have merely quoted from what people like Nick Clegg and those in his entourage said repeatedly over a period of years?

  • Paul Pettinger 8th Sep '15 - 9:09pm

    The article is not so much a criticism of the General Election, but of the last five years.

    “Taking over the economic reins during the worst economic crisis in 80 years is an entirely different challenge”
    A shame then that we should turn away from our Keynesian heritage (towards fiscal conservatism) at the very worst time

    “Curiously Nick Clegg is blamed for not putting together a decent Pro AV campaign. It seemed that the very last thing the pro-AV campaign wanted was Clegg anywhere near it. ”
    Nick Clegg put forward the chair for the Yes to AV campaign

  • David Warren 8th Sep '15 - 9:23pm

    The article was an interesting read.

    Biggest mistake was the failure to insist on a full PR system as a price for coalition.

    Cameron was so desperate to get into number 10 he would have had to agree to it.

  • Simon McGrath 8th Sep '15 - 10:01pm

    @Paul Pettinger “A shame then that we should turn away from our Keynesian heritage (towards fiscal conservatism) at the very worst time”
    We borrowed £500bn over the 5 years – diffuclt to get more Keynsian than that
    “Nick Clegg put forward the chair for the Yes to AV campaign”
    Really – evidence ?

  • I have cried more than my fair share of tears over the last few years – not least when the party I voted for waved in the hated NHS reforms, costing billions that we were told the country did not have for the disabled and the vulnerable; when the Lib Dems MPs in Cabinet banged on their desks to cheer these reforms going through; when the parliamentary Party waved in Secret Courts and the dismantling of legal aid, when the Lib Dems sat on their hands as we heard of welfare claimants takng their own lives to escape the welfare sanctions. I have done my share of crying: now time for you Lib Dems who deceived us voters to cry long time. Judging by Carons’s comments, no lessons have been learnt at all.

  • tony dawson 9th Sep '15 - 6:55am

    “There were some fairly “difficult decisions” made on funding and seats were dropped when it was clear that we stood no chance.”

    Er… the people making these ‘difficult decisions’ had no idea where we had ‘no chance’. In fact, they had no idea, period.

    “There was much that I agreed with – the total inadequacy of our general election messaging for a start, but most of it seemed to me to be a mixture of stating the bleedin’ obvious, lazy assumptions and, to be honest, not much that we didn’t know already.”

    Our election messaging was not inadequate. It was, sadly, a perfectly adequate reflection of the enduring inadequacy of the Party in Westminster. Silk purse from sow’s ear, anyone? The lazy assumptions were made by the Lib Dem Party leadership throughout the coalition years when the ‘bleeding’ obvious was that they were dragging the party deeper and deeper ‘down the pan’.

    “Curiously Nick Clegg is blamed for not putting together a decent Pro AV campaign. ”

    I do not find Nick Clegg that curious. Nick Clegg was the person who insisted on bringing forward AV proposal at the height of the unpopularity of its major proponent – himself. He was THE person responsible in the Coalition for ‘constitutional reform’ (sic). The timing and content and conduct of that AV campaign were absolutely critical to the survival of any Party led by a kamikaze leadership. However, blind to the persistent public perception of himself and the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg delegated this critical issue to people who had no experience of campaigning about anything, as well as tying their hands behind their backs by his choice of timing.

    It is obvious that the Lib Dems are not a ‘protest party’. For, if we were, we would have protested a lot louder about Nick Clegg when we could have done something about him, wouldn’t we?

  • Still baffles me why there was such suprise over the result, 7/8% in the opinion polls with 650 candidates alone pointed to the disaster that did unfold. It was just heads in the sand. BUT I suggest we finally stop lingering over all this, the world has moved on with a vengence, conference is coming up, we must NOT be seen to be a party wailing over the past and how hard done by we have been etc etc. It is the time for fresh ideas, fresh personalities, some passion and radical ideas. The first places to do this must be Scotland and the English/Welsh large conurbations where we at out most dire.

  • I am assuming that this is likely to form the basis of the BES authoritative book on the 2015 GE. I will be interested to read their section on Conservative performance. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they say that performance could have been a lot better if the fruits of the economy had been better shared during the 5 years. The fundamental fault with our behaviour in 2010 is we had nothing to say about the economy which was different from the Tories, and we accepted their fundamental analysis. We were able to put forward, with a straight face (!) the fact that it was a disaster reaching near Greek proportions, that it was “Labour’s mess”, that it could only be righted by slashing public spending and benefits for the poorest in society, and that the Keynesian element Simon McGrath correctly identifies as present, was delivered through Quantitative Easing, a mechanism that put money in the pockets of those already well off. In the process, we aided the Tories in privatisation, in recentralisation of services eg education, in major unnecessary reorganisation of the NHS, in a failure to stand up effectively to reduction of efforts to move to renewables, and away from nuclear etc. Had we, at any stage, indicated there were real red lines, we might have retained some of our earlier voters.

    Caron, you have regularly asserted your centre left credentials, and rubbished criticism from the likes of myself. The best you can do now, in your powerful position as Editor here, is to accept that there is a real job of genuine analysis with many of the facts known, as to how we move forward positively, and not die out altogether, as this article makes clear could be the result. The result of the Labour leadership election can be a turning point. If it is a Corbyn victory, the worst thing we could do is to signal “more of the same”, by painting Labour as “hard left”. We have always supported a “new politics” (yes, even Clegg!) We need to be present at the birth of the new politics, as midwife. A new politics that will be implemented, not left on the sidelines, as in 2010.

  • Clarifying one point, the term “politics of protest” as voiced by Nick Clegg, seems to have been about saying in many respects, that the old politics (and the parties thereof) had been right on many things, especially core economic ideas over the last 40 years, and that the Lib Dems, as holdouts against thatcherism had been wrong.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Sep '15 - 10:42am

    Caron Lindsay

    I was tagged on Facebook today and told that I really should share this article from on the Liberal Democrats’ General Election campaign on this site. It was talked up by a fair few people whose judgement I respect but I have to say that when I read it, I was underwhelmed.

    I agree. The article offers no useful insights, it is a mixture of the obvious and the wrong.

    The article’s suggestion that the role of Labour in the wartime coalition could be considered equivalent to the role of the Liberal Democrats in the 2010-15 coalition was, to me, particularly ridiculous. The former was seen as a necessary coming together of all major parties at a time of crisis, the latter was seen as one party voluntarily “putting in” another in a very partisan government.

    Its line “A more plausible option was to rule out any coalition with Labour” is crazy. Had this been done, it would have been a de facto merger with the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats would have been left in the position that the National Liberals were in the 1950s – a curious label for historical reasons on people who were just another form of Conservative, in just the same way that even now there are some Labour MPs who are formally “Labour and Co-operative”.

    The article repeats an argument I have heard before that the line “the Liberal Democrats were blamed for the coalition failures and not credited for the successes” is wrong because most people saw the Liberal Democrats as having no influence in the government. I see the opposite: people believed (wrongly, I think) that the Liberal Democrats COULD have had much more influence in government than they did, and therefore that they are to blame for its failures. If people genuinely believed that the Liberal Democrats were not in a position to influence the government they would not have punished them for not doing do.

  • @Adrian Sanders ” having spent nearly three decades building a broad coalition of support to defeat the Tories in a Parliamentary election and hang on – propping them up in Government was never going to prove popular ”

    This, in a nutshell, is why we are doomed as a party until we develop a strategy that isn’t about “defeating the Tories” to the exclusion of all else.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Sep '15 - 11:03am

    adrian sanders

    The conclusion on entering the Coalition that: “It seemed the public had stopped listening” was something the Leadership at the time refused to accept. The strategy was the electorate were at fault and the more Clegg they get the more likely they are to understand what we are doing. Sadly the more Clegg they saw the less they listened.

    What was very clear, and ok the article does sort of say this, is that the image set up by the “Rose Garden love-in” stayed in people’s heads, and was how they saw the Coalition afterwards no matter what else was done. It was a catastrophic mistake, as I pointed out at the time.

    The argument has been put forward that this was necessary to convince the financial markets that this was a stable government. I disagree. Instead of putting forward the image that this was a government of almost equal partners and we were so incredibly pleased with ourselves for being part of it, we should have made it quite clear: thanks to the distortions of the electoral system, it was a predominantly Conservative government, which we were supporting as it was the only government that could be put together, and we were very sorry about this, because it would not be doing things as we would want. The line should have been that this was an acceptance of the will of the people, but also that a very different balance and hence a very different government would have arisen had representation been proportional. After this, sure, a statement that we would not be seeking to bring down this government in a short time, and not unless there was clear public opposition to it and clear support for a new election to provide a viable alternative.

  • If people genuinely believed that the Liberal Democrats were not in a position to influence the government they would not have punished them for not doing do

    But the Liberal Democrats weren’t ‘punished’ in May, they were simply irrelevant in an election which was entirely about the question of whether David Cameron or Ed Miliband would be Prime Minister.

    That’s why nobody (to a first approximation) voted for them.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Sep '15 - 11:23am

    Tim13

    The fundamental fault with our behaviour in 2010 is we had nothing to say about the economy which was different from the Tories, and we accepted their fundamental analysis. We were able to put forward, with a straight face (!) the fact that it was a disaster reaching near Greek proportions, that it was “Labour’s mess”,

    Did you mean 2015 here rather than 2010? In 2010 we certainly did put forward an alternative. The article Caron references says the Liberal Democrats in 2015 were wrong to take an “equidistant” position, but that is obviously totally incorrect. The 2015 Liberal Democrat campaign was in no way equidistant, it was an abandonment of that position which had been held in previous elections. As you say (if you did mean 2015), it took the line that the Conservatives were correct in their economics (they had the “brains”) and Labour was incorrect (silly people ruled by sentimental “heart” rather than brains).

    The 2007-8 economic crash was a global thing, so it was a disgraceful untruth for the Liberal Democrat leadership and national image-makers, and disgraceful pro-Conservative partisanship, to put forward the idea that it was a purely UK thing purely due to to the then Labour government. When they did that, and based our national campaign on it, they might as well have asked Liberal Democrat activists to distribute leaflets saying “Vote Conservative”.

    In reality, long-term distinctive problems in Britain come from Conservative Party economics since 1979, and New Labour’s adoption of them, rather than the Blair/Brown government becoming some sort of doctrinaire socialists. The right-to-buy of council housing and Ponzi scheme economics based on pushing up house prices and running down of productive industry is at the heart of it. Labour had panicked and bailed out the banks when in government, but the Conservatives did not oppose that at the time. It was hardly Corbyn-style investment in public services, as the 2015 campaign seemed to be suggesting.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Sep '15 - 11:25am

    Dav

    But the Liberal Democrats weren’t ‘punished’ in May,

    So all those people jeering at us “nah nah nah nah nah, I used to vote Liberal Democrat, but never again after you put the Tories in” were just a figment of my imagination?

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    “The article offers no useful insights, it is a mixture of the obvious and the wrong”

    Surely the obvious is sometimes the hardest thing to see?

    “So all those people jeering at us “nah nah nah nah nah, I used to vote Liberal Democrat, but never again after you put the Tories in” were just a figment of my imagination?”

    They may not be a figment of your imagination, but were they really the majority? Prior to 2010 my wife had never voted in a GE (we’re no spring chickens). I actually embarked on a campaign of constant nagging (refusing to tell her who to vote for and making her read things for herself). She voted for the Lib Dems eventually, she doesn’t do “nah nah nah ….” etc but she’s now gone back to not voting (I couldn’t persuade her in 2015).

    How many people are there like her?

  • Richard Underhill 9th Sep '15 - 11:49am

    David Warren 8th Sep ’15 – 9:23pm “The article was an interesting read. Biggest mistake was the failure to insist on a full PR system as a price for coalition. Cameron was so desperate to get into number 10 he would have had to agree to it.”
    Paddy was a negotiator with Labour, but they were not in a position to deliver AV, which James Gordon Brown said at PMQ was something he “personally” supported. Ed Miliband agreed to be one of ten party leaders in an advert for AV, but in an early sign of weakness and collective indecision was unable to deliver the Labour Party.
    The mistakeswere to go for a policy which was inadequate, and one which allowed Cameron’s mentor and helper Michael Howard to quote Paddy Ashdown as being against AV. This was not denied, so is presumably both logical and true, probably in the context of Blair – Ashdown negotiations leading to other electoral reforms.
    If Caron Lindsay’s blood boils over this she should not be supplied with nuclear weapons and should vote to abolish Trident.

  • @Tim13 ” we aided the Tories in privatisation, in recentralisation of services eg education, ”

    I thought the Academy / Free Schools principle that many on here oppose was the exact opposite of centralisation?

  • @Richard Underhill “Paddy was a negotiator with Labour, but they were not in a position to deliver AV, which James Gordon Brown said at PMQ was something he “personally” supported. Ed Miliband agreed to be one of ten party leaders in an advert for AV, but in an early sign of weakness and collective indecision was unable to deliver the Labour Party.”

    Labour had AV+ in it’s manifesto in 1997 and consistently failed to deliver, despite 3 huge majorities. Is it any wonder that people might take Labour assurances on AV with a pinch of salt?

  • TCO Not really – certainly in terms of Academies, it is a way of taking the broad control of educational issues from local County, Borough etc Councils, and giving it centrally to the Dept of Education. Approval of Free Schools I believe to be done there too.

    A major part of the Lib Dem appeal has been our wish to ensure as much as is possible has local democratic input.

  • Matthew Huntbach, I did mean 2010, not 2015. I believe that the positions taken in 2015 were a logical follow-on from the fact that we as a party were unable to move on in any way from our rhetorical positions taken in 2010. I do accept that changes in the Coalition negotiations were made from our Manifesto positions, and it is the former I was referring to. Hence the support level stayed at 8% from 6 months into the Coalition. In reality, very little changed. The changes that many of us here were arguing for were not accepted, and neither was any realistic acknowledgement that we had moved too far to embrace Tory ideology (as you make clear in your post at 11.23).

  • @Tim 13 but isn’t the point of moving to Academy status or opening a free school that the level of control moves down (to the head and the board of governors) rather than up? So given as I understand it that governors are elected by school parents, that’s about as local a level of representation as you’re likely to get.

  • @David Wallace
    I think you’ve hit a big nail on the head there, I was about to write something similar. It always seemed obvious (to me anyway) that running those types of campaigns whilst claiming to believe in coalition was storing up problems for the future.

  • @Chris and @David Wallace agree +100

    I’ve made exactly the same response to Adrian Sanders on another thread – who stated he’d “built up an anti-Tory coalition over 30 years” which he lost when we “propped up the Tories” (his words).

    A lot of people think we can return to the strategy of the last 40 years and haven’t faced up to the fact that that’s a busted flush.

  • John Tilley 9th Sep '15 - 1:03pm

    Adrian Sanders speaks from his experience of decades of work and success in elections, as one of our MPs who
    even managed to put up a creditable fight in the 2015 election and achieved a result much, much better than what was achieved in some other West Cuntry constituencies.

    Whereas — TCO 9th Sep ’15 – 11:01am — whom we can reasonably assume has not been an elected MP for our party –claims we are doomed as a party until we develop a strategy that isn’t about “defeating the Tories” to the exclusion of all else.

    Nobody has ever said that “defeating the Tories” should be our aim “to the exclusion of all else.”.
    Indeed the report points to a very different strategy over the last ten years.

    A reasonable interpretatiom of the experience of recent years as set out in the academic report linked to in Caron’s article would be that there may well be a very good and urgent case for Tories excluding themselves from our party.

    People who cannot honestly sign up to the Liberal Democrat aims as set out in The Preamble to The Constitution would be much happier in a party whose objectives they do support.
    Such a move would also enable those of us who are passionate about achieving the objectives of our party to get on with the job of rebuilding the party.

  • @David Wallace
    I’m not actually a Lib Dem which may be why I thought it. The strategy seemed to become an entrenched wisdom and it can often be difficult to break away from those.

  • So all those people jeering at us “nah nah nah nah nah, I used to vote Liberal Democrat, but never again after you put the Tories in” were just a figment of my imagination?

    Oh, there were a couple of those, but nowhere near enoguh to be electorally significant.

    to the vast majority of voters, the Liberal Democrats just didn’t register as a meaningful vote. The election was about who should be Prime Minister; the Liberal Democrats had made it clear they would do a deal with either; so if you actually wanted to have an impact on the result, there was no point in voting Liberal Democrat.

    Which is why nobody did.

    If you think you were being ‘punished’, you flatter yourself by implying that people thought about the Liberal Democrats at all.

  • John Tilley 9th Sep '15 - 2:32pm

    Dav 9th Sep ’15 – 2:06pm

    “….. The election was about who should be Prime Minister…”
    No it was not. Voters in UK constituencies have no say whatsoever in who will be PM.

    “..there was no point in voting Liberal Democrat.”
    Yes there was every point — if you believed that your Liberal Democrat candidate would fight for the things Liberal Democrats believe in if elected. Which is no doubt why more than 50% of voters in Tim Farron’s constituency voted for him.

    “…Which is why nobody did.”. Patently wrong because even to get such a disastrous result as just 8 MPs somebody voted Iberal Democrat.

    The Liberal Democrat general election results under Clegg were very disappointing (2010) and disastrous (2015) but you do not add to your case by over-stating it.

  • TCO – would you like to tell us what your alternative strategy would be?

    It seems clear that in England at least in England we can focus our strategy more on taking Tory seats or more on taking Labour seats. Of the top 30 LD target seats, only 4 are held by Labour, 6 by the SNP and 20 by the Tories, so it would seem more sensible to think about winning Tory seats.

    So why did we lose all those seats to the Tories? Not in general because the Tory vote went up, but because our vote fragmented, as Adrian points out. Being closely associated with Tory policies from 2010 to 2015 clearly did not help us hold those seats.

    Meanwhile we have a Tory government and a Labour Party that is far from united. These are the circumstances that got us our best ever % votes in the 1980’s (even though we have often got more seats at the expense of the Tories when Labour has been doing well). The first thing we need right now is more % votes – if not, then the likelihood is less seats in 2020, not more. To do that we need to distance ourselves from the Tories as much as possible. That does not mean adopting Labour policies, or going back to some past time, but it is the only sensible strategy moving forwards

  • Re. academies:

    yes, a centralising policy dressed up as decentralising… If the academies had actual control of their purse strings, they would be decentralised, but they do not.

    At the moment the government is dangling big financial incentives in front of academies while squeezing local authorities to death. Hence it makes a lot of sense to be an academy and if I were a school governor I might well be in favour. But at some time in the future colder winds may blow on academy funding and they will find that Whitehall is far away, too busy and just not very sympathetic

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Sep '15 - 2:58pm

    TCO

    I’ve made exactly the same response to Adrian Sanders on another thread – who stated he’d “built up an anti-Tory coalition over 30 years” which he lost when we “propped up the Tories” (his words).

    He represented a constituency which up till his election had been seen as “safe Conservative”. The same applied for many other Liberal Democrat MPs.

    Constituencies like this were not won by echoing what the Tories said. It was a measure of how wrong the Westminster Bubble gets it when commentators and leading members of the Labour Party prior to the Corbyn boom supposed the way to win in the south and rural areas was to adopt right-wing economic policies. The reality is that many people in these places felt equally alienated from the Conservative and Labour parties, and drifted between the two, so giving the Conservatives a safe majority when combined with the smaller number who were committed Conservative supporters.

    Liberal Democrat campaigners had built up something which was capable of defeating the Tories in places the Tories had taken for granted that they would always win. It did involve the construction of a coalition of interests, which included those with small-l liberal concerns, but also poor working-class types who wanted a politics of the left, but didn’t like Labour because Labour seemed just too urban and out-of-touch with people where they lived.

    The Liberal Democrat leadership joined the Westminster Bubble commentariat in deriding this as a “protest vote”, which was wrong. It was something built carefully to represent local interests, and could hardly be just a “protest” vote when in many of these places it had often been running local government well before it won at Parliamentary level.

    It was blithely thrown away, with the Coalition being used as an excuse to do it, in the expectation that there was some far more fashionable batch of “people like us” who’d flock to the Liberal Democrats once these embarrassing non-urban types had been disposed of. The man Clegg appointed as “Director of Strategy” explains that strategy here.

  • Peter Watson 9th Sep '15 - 3:37pm

    I think that over the years Lib Dems did have a set of policies to back up being opposed to Labour in some areas and opposed to Tories in others, so it is unfair to characterise it as an opportunistic land-grab for protest votes and anti-incumbency.

    However, it seems that previously being neither Labour nor Tory was enough to define a political centre (or common ground), and coalition has forced that to be fleshed out in more detail. Everybody has a collection of opinions, some a bit left and some a bit right, that they believe average out as “centrist”, but this can mean being diametrically-opposed to each other on individual issues and that appears most apparent on this site when it comes to economic policy.

    Resolving this will not be easy. The word “liberal” is thrown around too … well, liberally! … to the extent that it loses any particular meaning (or worse, means different things to different people). The preamble is often cited, but that looks more like a destination than a route.

    From the outside, the biggest thing that seems to divide Lib Dems on this site appears to be the balance between the state and the market, and this leads to accusations of being closet Tories or closet socialists despite people agreeing with each other in many other areas and probably wanting a similar preamble-like outcome. Perhaps there can be some sort of Lib Dem Grand Unification Theory, or perhaps it needs a split into two parties (occasionally competing, occasionally collaborating). But the risk is that the party will lack a distinct vision on a fundamental issue that provides a foundation for many other policies and that it will become increasingly muddled and irrelevant.

  • @Andrew “TCO – would you like to tell us what your alternative strategy would be?”

    Yes – simple. Cease and desist from the mind-numbing mantra of “Only the Lib Dems can beat X here!” and “IT’s a two horse race!”

    Settle on an agreed Liberal policy platform.

    Go out and “sell” it to the electorate.

    Then, at least, we’d know we were getting votes FOR a Liberal programme of government, and not simply AGAINST the Tories.

  • SIMON BANKS 9th Sep '15 - 3:59pm

    I read the article, as usual with reservations, but it did not make my blood boil. I don’t agree that it “bought heavily into the idea” that we were a party of protest. It notes that coalition meant we lost our protest votes. That doesn’t say these were most of our votes. Yes, it doesn’t note how different the UK situation in 2010 was to the time of the Scottish coalition, but I’ve seen Scottish Liberal Democrats complaining, I think rightly, that the party leadership did not pay enough attention to lessons from being in government in Scotland – or in local authorities. Is Caron saying there’s nothing they could have learnt? Their point was, that while small parties in coalition often suffer, they don’t always.

  • @Andrew “At the moment the government is dangling big financial incentives in front of academies while squeezing local authorities to death. Hence it makes a lot of sense to be an academy and if I were a school governor I might well be in favour. But at some time in the future colder winds may blow on academy funding and they will find that Whitehall is far away, too busy and just not very sympathetic”

    I agree. In which case, the government should award a funding voucher to every parent so that they can ensure that this doesn’t happen (it being, after all, their money in the first place).

  • @John Tilley “People who cannot honestly sign up to the Liberal Democrat aims as set out in The Preamble to The Constitution would be much happier in a party whose objectives they do support.
    Such a move would also enable those of us who are passionate about achieving the objectives of our party to get on with the job of rebuilding the party.”

    Which “people” would those be, John? Can you enlighten us?

    Is that the preamble that states “We want to see … a competitive environment in which the state allows the market to operate freely”? Because I’m fully signed up to that. Are you?

  • Caron, you may not have liked that article, but I found it useful. (You may think we didn’t have some protest voters voting for us, but we did, and we don’t now.) It sets out clearly that it was entering the coalition that smashed our opinion poll rating and by the time of the referendum we were down to 8% and never recovered and sets out possible reasons why we couldn’t recover. It is vital that everyone in the party and all future members recognise that we handled joining the coalition badly so if in the future we are ever in a position to enter a coalition we will do it differently.

    The article is right to point out that BluKIP was a mistake and we were often sending the same messages as the Conservatives about the problems of coalitions.

    If we accept we need to convince the general public that coalitions are a good thing when we have lots of work to do. We have failed to convince the public that a majority at Westminster with only 37% of the vote is not legitimate, and two parties working together with over 50% of the vote is legitimate.

    @ Matthew Huntbach

    When the coalition was formed in 2010 we ditched our economic policy and took up the Conservative one, because we said we are the same as Greece. This must be seen as a major failure of the party. Then instead of saying we had changed the policy we accepted the George Osborne position that there had been no change. Another failure.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Sep '15 - 4:21pm

    Peter Watson

    From the outside, the biggest thing that seems to divide Lib Dems on this site appears to be the balance between the state and the market,

    This is a recent thing. Up till a few years ago, the almost universal position of party members on this issue was a pragmatic one. There simply was not this bunch of people who suddenly appeared not that long ago claiming that true liberalism means handing over everything to business with the role of the state being the minimalist one of protecting ownership rights. There was generally acceptance of the dangers of excessive state control and of excessive big business control. The phrase which summed up liberalism as practised by the Liberal Party, which was carried on (at Liberal insistence) in the Liberal Democrats was “none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” which very much looks like a deliberate attempt to spell out a belief that the principle barriers to freedom were NOT those imposed by the state.

    The simplest way to resolve the problem is for those who have been trying to import this idea that liberalism means mostly low taxes and low levels of public service into the party to go away and let it go back to where it was before they tried to take it over.

  • @Matthew Huntbach “The simplest way to resolve the problem is for those who have been trying to import this idea that liberalism means mostly low taxes and low levels of public service into the party to go away and let it go back to where it was before they tried to take it over.”

    Straw Man Alert!

    Can you point to who these mythical people are, Matthew?

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    ” “none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” which very much looks like a deliberate attempt to spell out a belief that the principle barriers to freedom were NOT those imposed by the state.”

    I don’t understand the way you’ve worded that? Should that have been ” freedom should NOT be imposed by the state.” At the moment it seems to say that a state can’t put up barriers to those freedoms.

  • Nick Collins 9th Sep '15 - 8:12pm

    “Judging by Carons’s comments, no lessons have been learnt at all.”

    I agree, Phyllis., and a lot of the comments, thus far, on this thread tend to confirm that impression. I would be interested to read what Tony Greaves might have to say about the excellent “Parliamentary Affairs” article but, alas, that is apparently not allowed to happen on this site.

  • TCO,

    So your strategy is to avoid getting elected unless we can command a majority of sincere wholehearted Liberal Democrat voters, it would seem…

    I agree that in the many many places where our support has dropped off the radar your strategy is the only one. However in all the other places where we really are “the only party that can beat X” and where it really is a “2 horse race” then experience shows that is the way to get over the line. The words above only work where we have built up substantial local support already, usually by showing we care about people more than the others…

    Of course for the last 5 years voters have decided that we were a branch of the Tory Party and hence it did not work well where X was the Tories. And it only worked where X was Labour in places like Sheffield Hallam, where the Tory vote was large.. The signs from local by-elections are that people are prepared to vote for us to defeat the Tories again now, and personally I am very happy about that…

  • Richard Underhill 9th Sep '15 - 8:46pm

    Caron Lindsay | Tue 8th September 2015 – 8:14 pm Agree. Not much new about the past. Not reliable on the future, none of them have ever been there.
    Others: Don’t bother reading it. it is long and slightly tedious.

  • @Andrew “So your strategy is to avoid getting elected unless we can command a majority of sincere wholehearted Liberal Democrat voters, it would seem…”

    Indeed it would seem. Anything has to be a better strategy than saying “Vote for us because we’re not X!”, then losing all that support when you go into coalition with X.

  • TCO As a school governor in a Community Primary School ( we relate closely to our County Council, but are a member of a small Cooperative Foundation Trust), I feel I have quite enough “control”, or influence over what goes on at our school. Our head is highly influential, and local parents are very happy. But we are also pleased to belong to something bigger than just the school – we are an active part of a wider community. Why, in a community, is it wrong that elected councillors also have a role in determining some of the wider issues around the functioning of schools!

  • TCO

    Yes, clearly it would have been much better never to have had that support! Then we would never have had the chance to go into coalition anyway!

    Many would say that having built up a large and pretty loyal support base over many years going into coalition without getting PR was a huge miscalculation. Coalition governments are a normal consequence of PR, but that does not mean that we should have been so enthusiastic for coalition in itself!

    Your strategy will ensure we never have the MPs to worry about coalition again anyway. Nice clean option, and very pure and unsullied too!

  • The big mistake was to stick with team Clegg even when it was obvious he and his most ardent were a disaster very early on. It wasn’t just the tuition fees or AV, it was a general view that the Lib Dems were exactly the same. expenses fiddling. deaf to what voters were saying and spin driven munchkins as Labour and Conservatives. Virtually the first thing that happened in office was that David Laws was forced to resign because of the expenses scandal, but because he was such a “popular” and “respected” political figure on a national and local level his return was quite literally treated as the second coming. David Laws it turned out was so popular and such a big hitter that he lost his seat !. Obviously, he’s not to blame for the collapse in the Lib Dem vote, but he was emblematic of distrust, spin and “grown up politics” according to the Gospel of the economic right.

  • @Tim 13 “Why, in a community, is it wrong that elected councillors also have a role in determining some of the wider issues around the functioning of schools!”

    We have to be realistic about local government. Paricipation in LG elections is barely above 1/3 of the electorate. Many, if not most, local councils are one-party fiefdoms. I’m not sure that that is a recipe for good governance.

  • @Andrew “Your strategy will ensure we never have the MPs to worry about coalition again anyway. Nice clean option, and very pure and unsullied too!”

    Only if you believe that Liberal politics and policies are inherently unpopular. I take a more optimistic view.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 9:45am

    Michael BG

    When the coalition was formed in 2010 we ditched our economic policy and took up the Conservative one, because we said we are the same as Greece. This must be seen as a major failure of the party. Then instead of saying we had changed the policy we accepted the George Osborne position that there had been no change. Another failure

    Who is “we”?

    When we as a party agreed to the Coalition we did not agree to change our policy. We agreed to accept the only stable government that could be formed, which was one dominated by the Conservative Party and had policies which reflected that.

    Agreeing to what democracy provides is not the same as personally agreeing to it. That is what liberal democratic politics is about: you elect a representative chamber, and that chamber develops policies which are a compromise between the ideals of those in it. Just because one has agreed to that compromise does not mean one has “ditched” one’s own ideals. Your line here is an anti-liberal line and an anti-democratic line. It is saying that any compromise is wrong, and that one must stick rigidly to the party line. Well, if that’s what you say, aren’t Labour “ditching” their policies as well by sitting in acceptance of the elected government rather than attempting to force it out by violence? In other countries, that mentality prevails, and that is why we have refugees fleeing here from those countries.

    If this message is not understood, and obviously it is not by most people, then we need to push it, because we are Liberal Democrats.

    Obviously, one flaw in this argument is that the chamber is not representative, it is disproportional, with from 2010-2015 many more Tories and many less Liberal Democrats than their share of the vote. The policies of the government it produced reflected that. But the “No” campaign in 2011 put that distortion at the heart of their case, and by two-to-one the people of this country gave it their support.

    If there were more Liberal Democrat MPs, we’d have had a more Liberal Democrat government. Of course we had the problem of a leader who seemed unable to put across that simple point.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 9:50am

    TCO

    Straw Man Alert!

    Can you point to who these mythical people are, Matthew?

    An obvious example is the former Liberal Democrat MP Jeremy Browne who wrote a whole book centred on this sort of thing, and said that it was “authentic liberalism”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 9:53am

    Chris_sh

    I don’t understand the way you’ve worded that? Should that have been ” freedom should NOT be imposed by the state.” At the moment it seems to say that a state can’t put up barriers to those freedoms.

    Where does “none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” say that? It says that these things are barriers to freedom. It can equally well be interpreted as saying the state has a duty to pull down barriers to those freedoms, and that indeed is how it has been interpreted.

  • @Matthew Huntbach is this the same Jeremy Browne who left because even David Laws didn’t agree with him?

  • Stephen Howse 10th Sep '15 - 10:32am

    RE: TCO – ‘We have to be realistic about local government. Paricipation in LG elections is barely above 1/3 of the electorate. Many, if not most, local councils are one-party fiefdoms. I’m not sure that that is a recipe for good governance.’

    It strikes me that some Lib Dems like the idea of more local authority control over things like education and housing because it means more control for *themselves*. I’m not a fan of the Education Secretary running everything herself from Whitehall, at all, but I’m not convinced local authority control is the answer either – both leave the education of children far too dependent on what politicians think, not what parents, teachers and the children themselves think. I think we need to balance competing interests and preferences, not allow local councils to override others’ for political purposes.Perhaps we ought to have local education boards, made up of a mix of parents’ representatives, businesses, politicians and teachers’ representatives.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 10:40am

    TCO

    @Matthew Huntbach is this the same Jeremy Browne who left because even David Laws didn’t agree with him?

    Well, he’s not made of straw is he?

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 10:42am

    Stephen Howse

    Perhaps we ought to have local education boards, made up of a mix of parents’ representatives, businesses, politicians and teachers’ representatives.

    If that’s what people want, that’s what they should vote for.

  • John Barrett 10th Sep '15 - 11:10am

    No tissues required, as this article was just sober reading and outlined many of the failings, over several years, by the leadership and those who were appointed to key positions in the party, eventually leading to the final disastrous election result.

    Dan Falchikov and Adrian Sanders have hit the nail on the head. Even the post election analysis delivered by Paddy and his team to the small band of remaining MP continued with self denial by saying that it all went wrong in the final weeks with the threat of a Labour/SNP coalition pushing people towards the Conservatives. While this was a factor, it was after five years years of terrible election results at every level for the party. The result was no great surprise, except to those who bought into the cult of Clegg and those around him.

    This article goes a long way towards helping us to learn from past mistakes.

    Hopefully its final conclusion is wrong and it is not too late.

  • Stephen Howse 10th Sep '15 - 11:37am

    “If that’s what people want, that’s what they should vote for.”

    This rather assumes that the be-all and end-all of providing what people want is delivered through the ballot box. There’s no party offering this anyway. I rather wish we would, instead of lapsing into lazy Labour-lite “just let councils do it (especially the ones we control)” thinking.

  • @Matthew Huntbach so the sole example of a person “who [has] been trying to import this idea that liberalism means mostly low taxes and low levels of public service into the party” is Jeremy Browne?

    There’s always been a balance between those who favour more and less state control, more and less taxation within the party. To argue that somehow this only arose within the last 10 years is fallacious.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 2:28pm

    Stephen Howse

    This rather assumes that the be-all and end-all of providing what people want is delivered through the ballot box.

    No it does not, that was not my point at all.

    There’s no party offering this anyway.

    Yes, so perhaps there should be … now that gets a bit closer to what my point actually was. That is, rather than moaning about the politicians we have, but assuming that’s how politics has to be, why not go out there and actually vote for something different?

    I rather wish we would, instead of lapsing into lazy Labour-lite “just let councils do it (especially the ones we control)” thinking.

    Well, I was accused of putting up a straw man, but I think this is very much that. The whole idea of community politics, in its original radical form, not the election campaigning form it degenerated into, was very much that it should NOT be just about letting the council do it, but rather it should be about people getting together and doing it themselves.

    You talk about “local authority control of schools”, but this is a misassumption – local authorities do not have control of schools. Local authorities have control over the distribution of resources, but almost no say on what goes on inside schools. I spent 12 year on the Education Committee of a London Borough as a councillor, but never in that time had I any say in what the borough’s schools taught and how they taught it. I would like to have done so, as I have views and experience in that and on being elected had hoped to be able to express them. I found I couldn’t – that was just not the role of councillors on a Local Education Authority. That sort of thing is done by the school heads and governors, not the LEA.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 2:35pm

    TCO

    @Matthew Huntbach so the sole example of a person “who [has] been trying to import this idea that liberalism means mostly low taxes and low levels of public service into the party” is Jeremy Browne?

    I give him as one example. When he published his book there was no universal condemnation of it here, was there? No, some of us spoke out against him, but there was also a lot of support for his claim that this was “authentic liberalism”.

    There’s always been a balance between those who favour more and less state control, more and less taxation within the party. To argue that somehow this only arose within the last 10 years is fallacious.

    All I can say was that I was active in the party at national level during the 1980s, dropped out and then spent years concentrating on being a councillor in the 1990 and first part of the 2000s, paying little attention to what was happening in the party nationally. I can assure you, that there simply was NOT this big bunch of people arguing that cutting public services and reducing tax is somehow what liberalism is all about during the time I was previously engaged with party discussions nationally, and I was shocked to find out how much the party had been infiltrated by what we back then called “Thatcherism” when I first started looking at Liberal Democrat voice less than 10 years ago.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 2:51pm

    AndrewMcC

    Many would say that having built up a large and pretty loyal support base over many years going into coalition without getting PR was a huge miscalculation.

    The problem was how were we to get it when the Tories were dead against it? How were 57 Liberal Democrat MPs to persuade 307 Conservative MPs to drop their opposition to PR?

    Now, it would be nice to think that had we stood up and said “We won’t budge until you agree with us” the people of this country would have cheered us for this stand. But would they? As the AV referendum showed, most people regard electoral reform as a boring technical issue which the Liberal Democrats support only out of self-interest. So this would very easily have been painted by both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party as the Liberal Democrats causing huge damage to the country by denying it a stable government, and all for a minor thing which nobody else cares about and the Liberal Democrats only want for selfish reasons.

    Coalition governments are a normal consequence of PR, but that does not mean that we should have been so enthusiastic for coalition in itself!

    Were we “enthusiastic”? Now, Clegg and a few of those surrounding him painted it that way, and the media picked it up as they usually do – decide for themselves what position they think the Liberal Democrats should take and then report it as if they had taken it. In my experience MOST Liberal Democrat activists were NOT enthusiastic for the coalition. They mostly accepted it as necessary due to it being the only possible stable government and how the Liberal Democrats would have been attacked had they not supported it and how we would have done so badly if there was another general election shortly after the May 2010 one. But that is not at all the same as regarding it as a super-duper wonderful thing and thinking all the policies that came out of it were brilliant and just what we wanted.

    In 2015, the media reported the Liberal Democrats as gagging for continuation of the coalition, but this was just so untrue. The almost universal position that I could see is that ordinary Liberal Democrat members could see the damage it had done to us and dreaded the prospect of us being in the same situation post 2015.

  • Stephen Howse 10th Sep '15 - 2:55pm

    “The whole idea of community politics, in its original radical form, not the election campaigning form it degenerated into, was very much that it should NOT be just about letting the council do it, but rather it should be about people getting together and doing it themselves.”

    How come so many Liberal Democrats are so reflexively anti-Free School, then? Here we have a policy that, while flawed, allows groups of people to get together and do it for themselves, and yet people within our party fall over themselves to call for the policy to be scrapped.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 4:16pm

    Stephen Howse

    How come so many Liberal Democrats are so reflexively anti-Free School, then? Here we have a policy that, while flawed, allows groups of people to get together and do it for themselves,

    In part because it solves a problem that does not exist. The assumption behind “Free Schools” is that the problem with existing schools is that councils control what they teach and how they teach it. As I said, they do not. So, public money is being thrown at a vanity project. The other issue is that while you put it as “groups of people”, on the whole it is not just groups of ordinary people, it is groups with vested interests and/or existing power and wealth. That’s like a lot of free market ideology – it’s sold as giving power to the people, but actually the scale of organisation and wealth needed to get into it means it is mostly just a shift of power away from democracy and to an unrepresentative elite, or as we can accurately call it, an aristocracy.

  • @Matthew Huntbach “I can assure you, that there simply was NOT this big bunch of people arguing that cutting public services and reducing tax is somehow what liberalism is all about during the time I was previously engaged with party discussions nationally, and I was shocked to find out how much the party had been infiltrated by what we back then called “Thatcherism” when I first started looking at Liberal Democrat voice less than 10 years ago.”

    Things change over extended periods of time shocker.

    If we reverse your argument, Lloyd-George and Churchill’s budget of 1906 should never have happened because in the 1880s Liberalism was all about Free Trade and Irish Home Rule.

  • @Matthew Huntbach “In part because it solves a problem that does not exist. The assumption behind “Free Schools” is that the problem with existing schools is that councils control what they teach and how they teach it.”

    Sorry, Matthew, but you’ve just erected another straw man.

    The problem with existing schools is that too many of them are looked at by parents who think “I don’t want to send my child there”, and there is no alternative for them because the school that they do want to send their children to is full, or they can’t afford to buy a house in the catchment area, or any number of other reasons. Sometimes they will also have a problem with what they teach and how they teach it, but they don’t know (or don’t care) that it’s set by government rather than the council (if indeed that is the case).

    So if they band together to start a school that provides the sort of education that they would want for their children, why is that a problem?

  • @ Matthew Huntbach
    “Who are “we”?”

    The party as a collective body and expressed by its leadership, not individual members like you and me.

    The party by accepting the coalition agreement accepted a compromise that meant the government did not pursue the economic policies of the Liberal Democrats as stated during the general election, but pursued those of the Conservatives. The leadership to give cover for this failure produced a myth that the UK was the same as Greece. During the coalition party conferences accept the coalitions’ narrative and did not produce an independent economic policy until the manifesto was being written.

    @TCO
    “If we reverse your argument, Lloyd-George and Churchill’s budget of 1906 should never have happened because in the 1880s Liberalism was all about Free Trade and Irish Home Rule.”

    The Liberals supported free trade in 1906 because it produced cheap bread and so gave the poor more freedom, not because free trade was a good in itself. The Liberals were never supporters of the free market in principle only if it produced the right results. This is why Gladstone passed legislation that restricted the free market in land sales and rents in Ireland.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 10:35pm

    TCO

    So if they band together to start a school that provides the sort of education that they would want for their children, why is that a problem?

    Well, people might not like their local hospital. So if they band together and demand the state gives them a few million to set up another one, why is that a problem? Or they may not like their local refuse collection service. So, they band together to set up one of their own, and the taxpayer is made to dole out a few million to pay for it. Another few million so that people who don’t like their local police force can set up one of their own. And so on.

    Fine, jolly good, no problem, yes?

    You missed my point about these “Free Schools” mostly NOT being about ordinary local people banding together to set them up, however.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 10:43pm

    Michael BG

    “Who are “we”?”

    The party as a collective body and expressed by its leadership, not individual members like you and me.

    But that’s not what the word “we” means. It means “people including me”. If you think the party is just its leaders, say “them”.

    You seem to be unable to think beyond the Leninist model of political party, in which a party consists of members who express undying loyalty to The Party Line (whatever it is this week) as set down by The Glorious Leader. I am a Liberal, I don’t agree with that sort of thing.

    OK, now part of the problem is that the national media also cannot get its head around any sort of model of politics but this Leninist one, so it always reports politics as if this is how it is. I think we need to stand up to them when we do that. I think we need a leadership that doesn’t promote it that way.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 10:47pm

    Michael BG

    The party by accepting the coalition agreement accepted a compromise that meant the government did not pursue the economic policies of the Liberal Democrats as stated during the general election, but pursued those of the Conservatives. The leadership to give cover for this failure produced a myth that the UK was the same as Greece.

    Yes, and I believe the leadership was wrong to do that, I said so, and when it persisted in doing this and other damaging things, I dropped out of active support for the party.

    However, you are confusing two separate things. One is what one personally wants, and the other is what democracy gives us. I have already said that, and pointed out the danger where your anti-democratic mentality leads. Why did you ignore that and just repeat the point?

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 10:50pm

    TCO

    Things change over extended periods of time shocker.

    Yes, and my point is that this change has damaged us, so perhaps we should accept it was going down the wrong path and reverse it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '15 - 11:03pm

    TCO

    If we reverse your argument, Lloyd-George and Churchill’s budget of 1906 should never have happened because in the 1880s Liberalism was all about Free Trade and Irish Home Rule.

    In what way did the 1905 budget stop people having the freedom to trade with each other?

    Anyway, what you write here answers the question you asked at 4.28pm yesterday. You are one of those people who you claimed then was a figment of my imagination, your words here betray that.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach

    Perhaps it would help if you recalled the context of the comments. Firstly the article we are discussing covers the failures of the Liberal Democrat party as a collective body with reference to the coalition and the 2015 general election. Secondly when Tim13 talked of “our” and “we” he was talking about the collective party of which I assume he is part of. Thirdly in reply to Tim13 you used the term “we” to mean the party of which you are a member. I was trying to explain that yes in 2010 the party put forward a different economic policy than the Tories, but with the coalition in 2010 this independent economic policy disappeared from public view and party conference discussion. I don’t understand why you had such trouble understanding what was being expressed, especially as you were using the same phraseology.

    I do not have a Leninist model of a political party. I believe there should be dissent within a political party. However the position presented by the party leadership as the policies of the party have to be recognised as that when discussing how we were seen.

    I have ignored your point about the number of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs in 2010 because I disagree with your interpretation of coalition negotiations and know there is no point in discussing this with you as you have presented your view on lots of different threads. I had enough problems convincing you were wrong about the 1983 general election.

  • @Matthew Huntbach ”

    Things change over extended periods of time shocker.

    Yes, and my point is that this change has damaged us, so perhaps we should accept”

    What damaged us was telling people “only the Lib Dems can heat the Tories here!” and then going into coalition with the Tories.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Sep '15 - 7:54am

    Michael BG

    Thirdly in reply to Tim13 you used the term “we” to mean the party of which you are a member. I was trying to explain that yes in 2010 the party put forward a different economic policy than the Tories, but with the coalition in 2010 this independent economic policy disappeared from public view and party conference discussion.

    Sure, but the words you used could so easily, and mostly are by other people, used to suggest the whole of the Liberal Democrat membership dropped what it previously believed in, or perhaps never really believed in it in the first place, and adopted Conservative economics. If our party is to survive and recover, we need to break out of that.

    My point throughout has been that accepting the compromises of a coalition does not mean one has changed one’s policies, it means doing what has to be done in a democracy. We need to get the message across that this is what liberal democracy is about – representatives coming together and formulating a position they can accept, which is going to be the midpoint of what their individual views may be. Participating in this does not mean one’s individual views have changed.

    I quite agree that the party’s 2015 general election campaign was a disaster. I had reduced my party activity to paying the membership fees a couple of years before that, as I felt the leadership was so undermining the defence I was willing to give the party in public interaction, but when the election started I was feeling a bit guilty about it and wondering if I should volunteer to do a bit of leafletting. However, as I’ve said, the leadership’s central message with the “hearts and brains” thing might as well have been “Vote Conservative”. It was SO damaging to our already damaged prospects.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Sep '15 - 8:24am

    Michael BG

    I do not have a Leninist model of a political party. I believe there should be dissent within a political party. However the position presented by the party leadership as the policies of the party have to be recognised as that when discussing how we were seen.

    The Leninist model of politics is that policy making is done inside a political party, resulting in the formulation of a rigid party line. The party then rigidly sticks to the party line, with its members abolishing their own power of thought and becoming slaves to the party, doing whatever it says. Most people in this country think that’s how political parties work.

    This then moves to elections, where it is supposed the idea is to select between competing party lines, so Parliament is reduced to a rubber stamp on the winning party line.

    I am very much opposed to this model of politics, and I think all liberals should be opposed to it. Yet it tends to be how politics is covered in this country. The AV referendum turned into the “No” side arguing that’s how it should be, with distortion of representation a good thing as it enables Parliament to be turned into that rubber stamp.

  • Stephen Howse 11th Sep '15 - 9:16am

    “You missed my point about these “Free Schools” mostly NOT being about ordinary local people banding together to set them up, however.”

    That’s a problem with the implementation, not with the idea.

    I watched the Education Secretary at the select committee earlier in the week – she said (if I recall correctly) that 17% of these free schools have an SEN focus. A concrete example of where mainstream provision can fail a group of children, and where this policy if used properly can give them the education they need. You might then say “well so what, the council/government should be setting up such a school for them” but if they’re not, I for one am pleased that parents now have an alternative means by which to acquire for their children the best education they can.

  • @Matthew Huntbach “Well, people might not like their local hospital. So if they band together and demand the state gives them a few million to set up another one, why is that a problem? Or they may not like their local refuse collection service. So, they band together to set up one of their own, and the taxpayer is made to dole out a few million to pay for it. Another few million so that people who don’t like their local police force can set up one of their own. And so on.”

    But Matthew, as you well know there is no demand for alternative hospitals or police forces, as, broadly, people are happy with the provision they have.

    This is very much NOT the case when it comes to schools – and I note you completely fail to address this point, that state school provision is demonstrably failing in far too many cases and people are voting with their feet.

    “You missed my point about these “Free Schools” mostly NOT being about ordinary local people banding together to set them up, however.”

    Ordinary local people are flocking to get into them, however.

  • @Matthew Huntbach “Anyway, what you write here answers the question you asked at 4.28pm yesterday. You are one of those people who you claimed then was a figment of my imagination, your words here betray that.”

    Given that I’ve been involved with the party since 1983 it makes me a rather strange sort of entryist.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Sep '15 - 11:20am

    Stephen Howse

    You might then say “well so what, the council/government should be setting up such a school for them” but if they’re not, I for one am pleased that parents now have an alternative means by which to acquire for their children the best education they can.

    Councils are not being given money to set up new schools, but call it a “free school” and the money suddenly becomes available. It’s the extra money that’s the real factor here, not the way it’s distributed.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Sep '15 - 12:29pm

    TCO

    This is very much NOT the case when it comes to schools – and I note you completely fail to address this point, that state school provision is demonstrably failing in far too many cases and people are voting with their feet.

    I am a university lecturer, I deal directly with the young people coming from English local authority schools, and there is plenty I am dissatisfied with in what I see. So you are completely wrong in your assumption here.

    However, the “free school” thing is missing the point. Its assumption is the notion that local authorities “run” schools in the sense of dictating to them what they should teach and how they should teach it. But this is untrue, I should know because I was a councillor on a Local Education Authority, and I had no say in that sort of thing. My wife at the same time was the Chair of governors of one of the schools under the LEA, and she, in co-operation with the head, did have the say. She never told me about any problems with the LEA dictating to her, because contrary to what the advocates of “free schools” suppose, that’s not its role.

    So, for example, if someone says an advantage of free schools is that they can teach Latin (or many other things), that’s nonsense, as there’s nothing stopping LEA school from doing just the same.

    The biggest thing affecting the outcome of schools is the pupils they take in. The reason parents are running around trying to get their children into this school and not that one is that they want them to mix mainly with children from well-educated and wealthy backgrounds. That has nothing to do with whether a school is “free” or LEA.

    It’s not that I’m opposed to freedom for schools and the right of parents to choose and popular involvement in what they do, as you seem to suppose. It’s that I think the “free schools” advocates are assuming the problem is something other than what it actually is.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Sep '15 - 12:41pm

    TCO

    What damaged us was telling people “only the Lib Dems can heat the Tories here!” and then going into coalition with the Tories

    I assume you mean “beat” rather than “heat”.

    Sure, of course I realise this, and I am fed up with people who think that just because I did not join in those jeering “nah nah nah nah nah, nasty dirty Liberal Democrats, you put in the Tories” that somehow I can’t understand why that’s an issue. I fully understand it’s the issue, which is why I think the leadership of the party was so wrong in the approach they took to the coalition of exaggerating their influence and making out it was all super-duper wonderful. That made a difficult situation much worse.

    From the start it should have been made clear that we accepted the coalition because it was the only stable government that could be formed, and that our influence would be small due to us having only one sixth of its MPs. We should have said we were not happy about this, and it came about due to the distortions of the electoral system, but we did not want to play political games and deny the country a stable government by insisting that the bigger parties must jump to our tune all the time.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Sep '15 - 12:43pm

    TCO

    Given that I’ve been involved with the party since 1983 it makes me a rather strange sort of entryist.

    Well, the party has moved more in your direction since then. Congratulations in changing the party to one which is more in line with your ideas. But where’s the votes gone?

  • I do not think the party lost so badly because we did not promise to spend more money. Most people seemed to think the party’s proposals were either irrelevant, a waste of money or pointless. Most people know that they are the ones who have to pay for public spending either directly from taxes or through more borrowing and the consequent interest payments. Subsidising things which most people could pay for themselves just creates another layer of bureaucracy and more waste of resources. The pitiful state of the refugees and other other emigrants has brought it home to many people how lucky we are to live in such a prosperous society in Western Europe. We should try to make our society more efficient by reducing or eliminating things such as monopolies, domestic violence etc so that we can help those who really need our help not featherbedding the already affluent.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Sep '15 - 12:55pm

    If one looks at the accounts that Liberal Democrat former ministers are giving about what they did under the coalition, we can see it is about what I always said it would be – they could have some success, but they were not in a position to dominate the government and change its central thrust.

    At the heart of why the Liberal Democrats are being attacked is this notion that they were in a position to demand whatever they wanted, and either the Labour Party or the Conservative Party would just jump to their tune and give it. And then it is supposed that because that didn’t happened, the Liberal Democrats had betrayed their ideals.

    Well, I’m sorry if no-one else can understand this point, but it seems to me to be obvious that the Liberal Democrats were not in this position to dictate whatever they wanted. It is a central point of my political belief that politics should be about coming to a compromise, which means accepting something which is not one’s personal ideal but which others who disagree with one’s personal ideal are happier with. I’m sorry that no-one else seems to understand this quite basic principle either, and so paints this process of reaching a compromise as “betrayal”, “giving up what you believe” and so on.

    Of course it did not help that right at the end, Nick Clegg in his final incompetent mistake joined in with those saying the SNP would be in a position to demand what they wanted and get the Labour Party to jump to their tune. Like er, duh, when we were being wrongly attacked because of this incorrect assumption that small parties “holding the balance” can get whatever they want, shouldn’t our party have been saying, “no, it doesn’t work that way”?

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Sep '15 - 1:01pm

    nvelope2003

    Most people seemed to think the party’s proposals were either irrelevant, a waste of money or pointless. Most people know that they are the ones who have to pay for public spending either directly from taxes or through more borrowing and the consequent interest payments.

    If that’s the case, wouldn’t people be cheering us on for dropping our very expensive policy of full subsidy for universities?

    No, I think the problem is that most people don’t have a budgetary sense. So people simultaneously want better and more expensive public services and lower taxes. Hardly anyone seems to understand the biggest issue in public service budgets, which is the huge growth in life expectancy, which means public spending has to rise rapidly just to keep still in terms of services provided.

    With the Coalition, most people seemed to think it would mean the best of Conservative policies and the best of Liberal Democrat policies, so both lower taxes and more and better public services such as full subsidy of universities. And they couldn’t understand why that didn’t happen, and blamed the Liberal Democrats for it not happening.

  • “But Matthew, as you well know there is no demand for alternative hospitals or police forces, as, broadly, people are happy with the provision they have.”

    But there is demand… Note the growth in private hospitals, the growth in the private security industry.

    Now currently this is all funded out of people’s own pockets, I suspect that if the government were to make monies available in the same way as they have with schools, there would be demand for alternative hospitals – particularly where the NHS hospital has been closed and A&E moved to the neighbouring town 7+ miles away…

  • @Matthew Huntbach “Well, the party has moved more in your direction since then. Congratulations in changing the party to one which is more in line with your ideas. But where’s the votes gone?”

    I don’t think the majority of the electorate are up on the finer points of the Orange Book. The cause of our electoral catastrophe was twofold: painting ourselves as anti-Tory and pledging to abolish tuition fees. Both huge mistakes in my opinion.

  • TCO If the cause of our problems was partly “painting ourselves as anti-Tory”, then surely the point that the analysis makes clear (that our poll rating hardly moved from the end of 2010 till the 2015 election) would not have been so. At the time of the formation of the Coalition we hardly looked anti-Tory, did we? Actually, as I remember, the poll rating fell in two major stages, 1 When the coalition was formed (by the way, we were already falling from the heights of Cleggmania a week or so before the election), and 2 When it was clear that our tuition fee pledge was being broken. It seems much more likely that we became unpopular because we appeared to be too pro-Tory, which, given our previous record over the years, makes sense, as many many people backed us as the most principled and effective opposition to the Tories. By the time the period of “differentiation” started, we were too far down the pro-Tory road, and no-one seriously believed our protestations, and neither did we do anything spectacular enough that may have changed minds (eg ditching Clegg, or even Laws). Our particular failure was brought about by our acceptance, by U-Turn after the election, of the Tory position on the economy – disaster, a second Greece, all Labour’s fault, overspending on public services and benefits, and their prescription – slash benefits and services, and our U – turn on VAT rise, combined with the income tax cuts benefiting richer people more than poorer. Many other policy reverses were made, none of which gave us any popularity with anyone who was liable to support us in the ballot box.

    I note our current lift in local byelection results, and attribute it to a general lack of knowledge about our current leadership. I have made the point before that we have done better at times between leaders, eg the Dunfermline byelection, and Tim has yet to make any impression on the public at all!

    I don’t doubt, TCO, that the public are “not up on the finer points of the Orange Book”, and I don’t think they need it to detect a rightward shift. It is not a subject of regret for me that I am not up on the finer points, either.

  • @Tim13 we lost roughly half of our support in the few weeks after joining the coalition and the remainder for tuition fees. I think we’re both agreed on that.

    Joining a coalition government with a party who we’d spent 40 years telling “only we can beat!” was the problem, followed by adopting an undeliverable policy then turning it into a pledge.

    As for U-Turning on the economy, I seem to recall that Vince Cable was talking about the need for considerable cuts prior to the election.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Sep '15 - 4:34pm

    TCO

    I don’t think the majority of the electorate are up on the finer points of the Orange Book. The cause of our electoral catastrophe was twofold: painting ourselves as anti-Tory and pledging to abolish tuition fees. Both huge mistakes in my opinion.

    Yes, people didn’t realise the extent to which the Orange Bookers had infiltrated the party until the Orange Bookers took the opportunity of the Coalition to make that more clear. In other words, we wouldn’t have had such an electoral catastrophe in 2015 if the Orange Bookers had taken over before then.

    No, if it had become apparent they’d taken over before 2010, it would have happened then.

  • TCO ” pledging to abolish tuition fees.”

    Just for the avoidance of misinformation: the Pledge was “to vote against any increase in tuition fees…” Not to “abolish” them.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Sep '15 - 7:20pm

    Stephen Howse

    “You missed my point about these “Free Schools” mostly NOT being about ordinary local people banding together to set them up, however.”

    That’s a problem with the implementation, not with the idea.

    Well, that same problem with implementation seems to occur in all the free market fancies.

    I remember when the Thatcher government started privatising things, and it was sold as some sort of people’s control, we would be living in a “shareholder’s democracy” and so on. Well, is it like that? Do people in this country feel they live in a society where they are in control of things through being shareholders? No, of course not. Similar, but more drastic happened with the end of communism in the old USSR, all the state-owned stuff was sold off, and the free marketeer theorists said how wonderful it was and how democratic it would be, everyone turned round, and there it was all bought up by few plutocrats.

    The scale of modern society means big corporations and vested interests dominate. We aren’t in the times when a “free market” might actually mean market stalls, when business was dominated by small local concerns. The free market fanatics love to use 19th century theories and language to build up this nostalgic ideal of it all being small scale and people-controlled, but it just isn’t. In most things, the scale required to get going is such that ordinary people don’t stand a chance even if they try. As we see with “free schools”, it’s not actually a bunch of mums and dads coming together to form one, it’s large chains with the sort of hidden obscure leadership and ownership and control that big business has, coming in and dominating.

    To sell this as if it is just mums and dads coming together is a real con. And underneath you lot know that.

  • Anyone who had anything to do with the last General Election campaign should never be allowed near one again.

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