The best way to work out the way forward

Over the next wee while, we’ll have to reflect on what went wrong in the election and how we can avoid some of the mistakes in the future.

We know that our vote share went up more than any other party’s. Our bonkers electoral system ended up giving us one fewer seat. The Tories gained a quarter of what we did and were rewarded with tens of seats. But we thought we were going to end up with many more MPs. We should have ended up with more MPs. The narrow losses in places like Carshalton where we lost Tom Brake by 400, Sheffield Hallam, where the brilliant Laura Gordon didn’t win the seat by 700, Wimbledon where we lost by 600 and, of course, Jo’s seat where fell short by just 149 should have been avoided.

The reasons why it all went wrong are varied and we shouldn’t rush to blame it all on the Revoke policy. Remember that 6 million people signed a petition calling for exactly that just 6 months ago and even in the latter stages of the election, it was still the most popular policy amongst remainers.

We need to look at our targeting strategy, the way in which we asked activists to move around the country and the seats we asked them to move to.  We need to look at our messaging and how we appealed to Labour remainers.  I think we needed to emphasise that our manifesto was the most redistributive of the three main parties. It did more to help the poorest. I think we should have been shouting that much louder. And we had a brilliant policy to provide free childcare that was not mentioned nearly enough.

We need to look at that decision to push for an election in the first place. I was not convinced that the timing was right. I understand that the EU was less than convinced about granting another extension and that the support for the election  provided them with motivation to do so. I understand that the prospect of a People’s Vote was waning with Labour’s refusal to actually vote for it in Parliament. I understand that it looked like the Withdrawal Agreement could go through with Labour votes. But, if we had left it, would we have been any worse off than we are now? 

It looked very much like an election was the only way to stop Brexit. The New Statesman’s Stephen Bush said so at the beginning of the campaign. But we now open ourselves to charges that we enabled the situation where Boris Johnson could win a majority. Of course the reality is more complicated than that but we have seen how the mud from the coalition era has stuck. Other parties, well, ok, Labour, needs to reflect on its role in all of this.

Let’s remember as we look for the way forward that we are all colleagues, that we all believe in the same goals as set out in the Preamble to our Constitution and that we all did our best.  We all share in the disappointment of the result and need to work together to deal with the huge challenges ahead.

We need to have some honest conversations, but honesty is best achieved in an atmosphere of kindness and grace and understanding. Disappointment makes the exhaustion more crushing and the anger more consuming. There is no doubt that some of that anger is justified. But let’s try and communicate with each other with civility and empathy.

As Boris Johnson takes a scythe to human rights, there will be a need for a strong, liberal movement to stand up to him and we need to be front and centre of that.

There will be a formal review into the election. All members will have the chance to contribute. There will be a short survey going out soon to get people’s initial thoughts, and the review team will then travel the country to get more detailed feedback before coming up with their conclusions. We’ll have more information on how you can contribute to that process in due course.

But in the meantime, when we’re discussing things, remember that we’re all tired and have taken an emotional battering. This might not bring out the best in us, but let’s try and find that kindness and empathy. That is the best way to find the way forward.

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

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  • Maybe we could put some oomph into the ‘movement’ idea and push a couple of liberal causes really hard. I mean, marches, petitions, legal action – as ruthless as the EU obsessive have been. The party will flourish when liberals are motivated, and a ‘cause’ would help fuel that.

    Personally, I’d suggest electoral reform. And then a campaign to re-enter the EU.

    And, and i would say this, drop the illiberal opposition to self determination by nations within the Britishness isles.


  • “I understand that it looked like the Withdrawal Agreement could go through with Labour votes. But, if we had left it, would we have been any worse off than we are now?”

  • Nom de Plume 15th Dec '19 - 3:58pm

    The EU gave a 3 month extension for something to happen. Labour was not going to do anything, except obfuscate or ,perhaps, aid the Tories getting Johnson’s WA passed (18 Labour rebels on the first reading). There had to be a public vote before it happened, in order to give it some sort of legitimacy. The only option was GE. We fought a liberal campaign and lost. It was not possible to predict the outcome at the start. I am proud of the party.

    Jo losing her seat was an unpleasant shock, but it had nothing to do with Brexit. It is unusual for a high profile MP to lose their seat (unless very unpopular). What is happening in Scotland?

  • Barry Lofty 15th Dec '19 - 4:03pm

    A very good piece Caron, no more to say other than I hope you have caught on your sleep!!

  • Alan Stephenson 15th Dec '19 - 4:15pm

    Although I am not a Libdem voter or supporter I am genuinely sorry you are now one MP fewer than previously,I really do hope the Libdems can somehow comeback sometime with more MPs.
    I think one of the reasons you did not do better,after listening to many interviews after the results came in, was the Corbyn factor,many Labour people just could not vote for his party this time round,especially in the northern constituencies,and I live near the staunch Labour constituency of Grimsby, which went Tory after 54 years of Labour.
    They did not want to support Corbyn and his ilk and they did not think voting Libdem would really keep him out so they lent the Tories their vote.
    Perhaps in 5 years time the Libdems will come back again with a stronger showing ,I genuinely hope so,we need a stronger Libdem group in parliament

  • Excellent & much needed post. I can completely understand why, given how we’re all feeling now, but rushing to judgement & apportion blame (& worse, post about it on Facebook) isn’t helpful right now. Caron & Nick Barlow have it quite right

  • Jackmc. Yes electoral reform, the real McCoy, set in the context of a more inclusive open society may be it. We have probably passed the point when it is simply seen as a matter of self-interest. If Labour do not stop supporting first-past-the-post they may again be in government – of whatever stripe. How long does it take for the penny to drop?

  • I’d like to start by thanking everyone who worked so hard in this campaign. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help by more than a small donation. In particular, I’d like to thank Jo, and also Caron, for this site, and also the people in Cambridge, who put so many leaflets through our door.

    I hated seeing the vituperation that went, and continues to go, Jo’s way. She won my heart when, after her election as leader, she talked of being “a Scot, a Brit, and a European”. I once would have said “me too” in response, but unfortunately, as the results have shown, Theresa May was probably more accurate to call me and people like me “citizens of nowhere”.

    Having said that, however, my gut reaction to the revoke decision was “that’s a mistake”. I had the same reaction to Labour’s “free” broadband. Now, I’m a citizen of nowhere. My gut is unrepresentative, but that’s what focus groups are for. Were any used? How many people were involved in the decision? We do need leadership, but leadership needs advice.

    The problem with both of the ideas I just mentioned is that they were too good to be true. We might have won a majority in this election, but it would have been a surprise to everyone if we had. Obviously, we need to keep a distance from both Labour and the Conservatives and there are good reasons to do so, but, if our main role is to be moderation of whoever is in power then we shouldn’t be afraid to say so. Our strength is our intelligence, so don’t treat our electorate as idiots. We did well in the coalition to moderate the Conservatives, although we clearly didn’t focus-group the tuition fee decision with our supporters. We did well in the last parliament to give people the opportunity to think about what Brexit actually means. We could have done well moderating a Corbyn government had it come to it.

    I’m also sorry we didn’t respond more positively to the bravery of our Canterbury candidate. He was right.

    Finally, before the election, I made a comment on this site which read as follows:


    We need a simple message/sound-bite/slogan. “Vote Lib Dem and Revoke” is all very well, but I would suggest instead:

    “If you don’t want to be poorer, vote Lib Dem.”

    As well as using this to attack the Conservatives through the consequences of Brexit, this will allow us quietly to co-opt Conservative attacks on Labour and the economic consequences of their plans.


    I stand by that comment.

  • There’s much talk about whether we should have pushed for the election when we did, but is there anything productive to be gained from going down that road?

  • Caron, you are absolutely correct that we now need to take time to reflect on how we ran our campaign, our manifesto, it’s strengths and weaknesses, and what we think is good in other parties manifestos that we might want to pick up going forward. We also need to consider how the public see us (our image), and how we organise efficiently to make maximum impact from our resources. I do believe that our principles which are enshrined in the preamble to the constitution should run through our communications and every policy and the approaches we take. We should be less bothered about who we are targeting. If people know what we stand for they will come to us, be they liberal Tories or “new” Labour. We also have to be consistent, for inconsistency destroys trust. I do believe that moving to Revoke was a big mistake, destroyed trust (including amongst Lib Dem members) and lost us the four MPs you listed, plus damaged the chances of many others, so those responsible must face up to their decisions. Though the policy was passed by conference, many who were in attendance felt the policy was pushed through, and I am fairly certain that if the wider membership had voted it would not have passed. Anyway, the important thing now is to look forward and I am happy to contribute as an active member to any review that is organised. Let’s make this an open approach and not one that is controlled and directed only by a small cadre of people in the centre.

  • I was also one of the 6 million signers. As I remember it, it was specifically at that time aimed at the likely position then that we would be in a either/or situation of No deal Brexit v Revoke. I am not quite sure how Geoffrey Payne believed there would be a confirmatory referendum at that point – that was what we were worried about being lost from the equation!

    Of course the Party should not have encouraged an election, we should have stuck to our guns. It was difficult, I acknowledge, to have anticipated the ERG, and elements of Labour, voting for the Johnson deal when they were unprepared to vote for the final May deal. It seemed to be so inimical a) to the DUP cause, and b) to Northern Ireland in general.

    Overall, we and others failed to take on properly the argument about “it was the democratic will of the people”. Those were the people that beat us on Thursday – effectively our own side. Had we even won back half those who voted Remain in 2016 and gone along with that argument, we would have been home and dry for a 2nd (3rd?) referendum. And into the bargain gone a long way to making a better case for Remain.

    But we have to meet the argument that looking more for Tory “Remain” votes than for regaining our traditional votes was not going to be a winning strategy, and reminded people of the Coalition too much.

  • I’m a lifelong Liberal/LibDem voter, but only occasional visitor to LDV. The posts in this and other threads are very interesting and thoughtful. Hopefully, they’ll be read and receive due consideration by those with influence at the top of the party.
    I’ve the following observations (some picking up on what others have already said) now that that the election dust is settling:
    1) The increase in the LDV vote share was a whopping 57% yet yielded one fewer seat. To what extent was this a statistical quirk with several “near misses” and to what extent an inefficient targeting of seats?
    2) The Tories share rose by just 1.2%. This was in spite of their 2017 election campaign being widely derided as feeble; a new leader replacing May; a clear, popular policy (Get Brexit Done – which even many Remainers would be drawn to); a highly unpopular leader of the Official Opposition; Labour’s scarcely credible spending programme; and a negligible net change in the UKIP/Brexit vote share. In such circumstances, a rise of 1.2% might be regarded as derisory, rather than a huge triumph, begging the question as to whether a glass ceiling has been reached.
    3) It’s pretty clear that party loyalties are far from what they once they were with much greater fluidity of voting patterns, providing the LDs with opportunities in future.
    4) Second-guessing the political landscape a few years hence is a fool’s game and I can’t help but keep MacMillan’s “events” maxim from many years ago at the back of my mind. That said, unless Labour implodes, there would seem to be dozens of seats with “low lying fruit” dangling before them at the next election.
    5) I believe the LDs talked too much too about values (the core support already knows what they are) during the election at the expense of policy. As an example, the “inclusive, open, tolerant” line was maybe pushed too much rather than what damage Brexit would do to the economy and hence public services on which everyone depends. In other words, don’t be afraid to appeal to electors’ naked self-interest where appropriate.

    My original post was deemed too long so more to follow….

  • Sorry to loose Jo Swinson, she campaigned with passion & vigour. However, the lack of support in the media was a major obstacle to the campaign. The BBC appears to have abandoned its neutral stance; preferring to promote the Lab-Con duopoly. The BBC may not be has influential as previous, but this bias must be challenged.

  • I second all of this, particularly the need to be kind to each other in how we speak, and the need to look closely at our targeting strategy.
    For example, look at south west London. I don’t understand how we can win such massive mega-majorities in Richmond, Twickenham and Kingston when less than two miles away we were losing both Carshalton and Wimbledon by a few hundred. I know it’s easy with hindsight, but I simply can’t believe our people on the ground in that area couldn’t see in the final week – or perhaps even mid-way through polling day – that those three seats were safely won and that the other two were on a knife-edge. Surely it’s always better to win more seats than to build up super-majorities?? I don’t want to believe anyone made the opposite decision to that, but I do want a very thorough investigation of who made the resourcing decisions in that area in the last few days, and why.
    Ditto Sheffield Hallam. With all the advantages we had there: the O’Mara disgrace, the long run-in, an excellent candidate, good local issues like Tree-gate, the fact we were basically fighting a pre- by election campaign there for months, and the fact that Labour’s vote tanked everywhere else…. how the hell did we manage to let Labour win??
    I have other reflections that I will keep for the private survey, but it does seem to me that our resource-allocation was either badly set or badly managed, or both.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Dec '19 - 5:44pm

    Look at the front cover of Private Eye (free in all good newsagents).
    It shows a queue of people entering a polling station,
    each with a clothes peg on his or her nose.
    It does not show their grandparents revolving in their graves.

  • John Hughes 15th Dec '19 - 5:46pm

    Thank you Caron. I’m glad that there will be a comprehensive review of the election – for me the broader the better. The Lib Dems have now underperformed in four successive general elections, and I would like consideration to be given to whether there were common factors from which we need to learn lessons

  • “Personally, I’d suggest electoral reform. And then a campaign to re-enter the EU.”

    I do not think the party campaigning for rejoining the EU would be a good idea at all, especially in this election cycle, in fact I think it would be an absolute disaster for the party.
    Brexit is going to happen and it will take a couple of years for any trade deals to be finalised and then a couple more to see the benefits / effects the trade deal has had on the UK.
    Were the Liberal Democrats to put rejoining the EU at the front an centre of their policies and campaign before any of this is known it will turn people off from the party before any hopes of recovery can gain any traction.
    The party now needs to concentrate on developing some core policies which will grab peoples attention, policies that people really care about, social housing, social care, welfare, NHS, training and retaining more NHS medical staff etc.
    If you continue to make everything about the EU and immediately start making it the Liberal Democrats priority to rejoin the EU people will switch off and not listen to what else the party has to say about other policy areas.
    This is essential for the Liberal Democrats, the work needs to begin now, Johnson has a huge majority, it is going to take the next election to “reduce” his majority and the following to hopefully kick the tories out of power. That will not happen if the Liberal Democrats continue to make everything about the EU imo

  • Terry Blackwood 15th Dec '19 - 6:55pm

    We should accept that Brexit is off the agenda. Keep rejoining the EU after another referendum in the manifesto but use the opportunity to talk about something else. We need to move the focus to quality of life and the climate crises and the promote the idea that gdp is not the target we should be focusing on. Quality of life has to be top of our agenda it was in the manifesto but did we even talk about it at all? We need to talk hope and not complain about votes that don’t go our way, we need to show their is a grown up alternative to what the Tories will impose and allow the Labour party fights it’s internal battles. Brexit is gone let’s hold it’s advocates to account but let’s not spend 5 years fighting a war we’ve already lost.

  • ……………………………..It looked very much like an election was the only way to stop Brexit. The New Statesman’s Stephen Bush said so at the beginning of the campaign. But we now open ourselves to charges that we enabled the situation where Boris Johnson could win a majority. Of course the reality is more complicated than that but we have seen how the mud from the coalition era has stuck. Other parties, well, ok, Labour, needs to reflect on its role in all of this……………….

    The facxt that Boris Johnson was denading an election before Christmas might have been a clue that it was not the best idea for this party. The SNP ‘played a blinder’ as a Johnson/Brexit election was a win/win for them (Brexit meant their ‘second independence referendum’ was strengthened and a hung parliament would allow them massive bargaining power, again for their independence vote)

    It wasn’t Labour who broke the “No Election” coalition; it was this party. Labour had no option but to support the call once that had happened.

  • I agree with Jackmc that the LibDems need a movement/direction, and with Matt and other commenters that Electoral Reform and rejoining the EU are not it.

    Others have observed the need for the Lib Dems to build a core vote. I’m convinced that’s true. But to do it requires a clear and consistent-through-electoral-cycles message on the political direction the party wants to take the country and the speed it wants to move. Something between the (still poorly articulated in my view) “what it means to be a liberal” and “what transactional stuff are we promising this time round.”

    For example, the Tories bridge the gap by implicitly promising their voters to reduce the size of central government, be strong on defence and hawkish on criminal justice. Even if those things never appeared in a manifesto, nobody would be surprised if a Tory government did them. Ditto Labour and boosting NHS funding and (after a Blair-led hiatus) regulating or nationalising industry.

    Lib Dems used to have a consistent calling card about being pro-European, backing civil liberties and supporting universal — as opposed to means-tested — services. I don’t think that calling card is strong.

    I voted Lib Dem, and I’m pretty sure they had the best manifesto. But, electing a party is more about judging how it’s members will vote when the unexpected happens — will they jump the same way I would? That’s actually the correct question to ask when selecting an MP in a representative democracy, in my view. And the Lib Dems in recent years have not had a strong “meta-story” into which that policy fits.

    Brexit is gone. Electoral reform (while necessary) just sounds like “give us more power to do, um, stuff.” No clear, domestically-focused meta-story; no revival.

  • JohnG – join us. If you are a lifelong Liberal/LD voter, why are you not a member? Same goes for anyone else reading this who is a LD voter/supporter but not a member. Join us today. We need you. And you can have your say in our election review and also vote for our new leader.

  • I see Layla Moran has launched what looks like a leadership trial balloon in the Independent, basically calling for us to co-operate more with Labour and others.

  • Joseph Bourke 16th Dec '19 - 1:42am

    For decades, British politics was defined in class terms, with Labour the natural party of working-class voters, Conservatives generally banking on the support of more affluent voters and Libdems straddling that divide. Now, the Conservatives’ support is growing in poorer areas outside the affluent southeast. In parts of the country once dominated by heavy industry, the links between workers, unions and the Labour Party have grown weaker. Memories of the miners’ strike have faded in communities that not so long ago seemed inoculated against voting Tory. Labour, meanwhile, is dominant in the inner-cities, solidifying its base in built-up areas. The suburbs and commuter towns that were once safely Tory are becoming younger more ethnically diverse and are fertile ground for LibDems.
    The average Labour voter is getting younger and better off and is more likely to have a University degree and more likely to be from am ethic minority than a Tory voter. For Conservatives, the party’s base is trending older and whiter, compared with national demographics, and is less likely than the rest of the electorate to have a degree.
    We cannot ignore these shifts in the political tectonic plates as we work out the way forward for Libdems.

  • There is a mistaken believe the Tories are the party of the small state, they used to be but now they are the party of the magic money tree. Their new MP’s are demanding treats for their voters, hardly surprising as the defining principle is gaining power and they will do that NO matter what principle or ally they have to throw under a bus ( as the DUP found out). The problem they have is the country voted to be poorer and more isolated, paying for the treats may not be possible in which case expect them to get nastier.

  • Roger Billins 16th Dec '19 - 7:32am

    May I urge everyone to read John Harris’ article in the Guardian today. It is aimed at Labour but it applies equally to us. We need to re-find our radical, community politics based roots which appear to have been lost.

  • A few thoughts from a member since 2014.

    – Targeting. Did we focus to much on trying to get the defectors from other parties elected? Ie surely better (yes, with hindsight), to have put more effort into the seats we knew would be close rather than Finchley, London&Westminster, Totnes etc?

    – The Southwest. We need to find a way to get back to winning 8-10 seats here. Only winning Bath is hopeless. If this takes a big offer to Labour to give them a free run in a few seats elsewhere, so be it? And hopefully once Brexit has happened, our (otherwise laudable) position on the EU won’t be such a problem in the southwest?

    – Labour more generally. If we continue splitting the affluent/educated vote with them, we are doomed to Tory rule pretty much forever. Once they elect a new leader – hopefully a pragmatist, whether left or centre-left – we need as Layla Moran says a sensible conversation. If they can accept us winning 30-40 seats that would only otherwise go Tory, we ought to be able to give them a free run at seats that are straight Tory/Labour fights (eg Ipswich, Dover…).

    – Much as I would love to see PR brought in, it simply isn’t a popular issue. I would rather we fo us on:

    1. Close alignment to the EU (NOT immediate re-joining)
    2. The manifesto policies to genuinely help the poorest
    3. Climate.
    4. Childcare.

    That’s plenty!

  • Roger Billins 16th Dec ’19 – 7:32am……………..May I urge everyone to read John Harris’ article in the Guardian today. It is aimed at Labour but it applies equally to us. We need to re-find our radical, community politics based roots which appear to have been lost……….

    I read it and was not impressed. It ignores the fact that this election was won, and lost, on “Get Brexit Done”. Almost every ex-Labour voter interviewed post election stated that it was ‘Brexit’ that got their vote; pretending otherwise is just self-delusional.
    Had Labour accepted, in 2016, the fact that it was THEIR constituencies that voted most heavily for ‘Leave’, they would have kept their ‘Northern Wall’. there would have been no 2017 election. Johnson would never have been PM and the UK would’ve left the EU last March.
    As a ‘Remainer’ I still believe that the UK would have been better off ‘In’ but accepting the referendum result would’ve prevented the absolute polarisation of the UK and kept the ‘rabid right’ (led by Johnson, Gove, Patel, etc.) out of No.10.

    I live in an area that voted overwhelmingly ‘Leave’ and I have seen (from bitter experience) that reasoned arguments about the advantages of ‘Remaining’ are wasted; most ‘Leaver’ I meet just ‘KNOW’ that ‘sovereignty and taking back control’ are what matters’.

    When, as I believe, the day to day problems brought on by ‘leaving’ and Tory ideology start to bite those areas worst hit will be those who believed most strongly in the Brexit dream. Failing services and rising prices will gain votes far quicker than ‘told you so’ arguments.
    The opposition have lost the ‘Brexit’ battle let us hope that we can win the war for the values that we have in common; social care, the NHS, affordable housing, child poverty, etc., etc.

  • Can we do better at defining what we mean by ‘close EU alignment’? It seems to be a common desire but I dont immediately see why.

    The EU is not popular in itself (even amongst remainers). We would do better to explain how close co-operation with the EU is good, and ‘why’ we want to align and ‘what’ we want to align with – eg environmental issues, scientific collaboration, individual freedoms, financial regulation etc. There is a big problem though that the EU need not have our interests at heart anymore, so do we really want to align to things that hinder us?

    Close ‘cooperation’ might be a better pitch than ‘alignment’.

  • Labour devoted a good deal of resources to making sure that Tory MPs were Elected in Seats where The Libdems were the main challenger. The Real Electoral Alliance is between The Tories & Labour, they need each other & they both loathe Us.
    This is not new.
    We must build an Alliance with Parties that we have something in common with, principally The Greens (outside Scotland) & Plaid Cymru in Wales.

  • @Joseph Burke

    Thank you for this interesting information about the political plates. Can I ask whether you think that solid Labour seats in the inner cities are worth investing in, in any way? If I look at the Labour stronghold seats in the inner city areas near me, I despair and I know many that live there who despair. I believe strongly that Lib Dem Community activism and policies could make a dramatic difference, but how can we begin to get our voice heard?

  • Paul Barker 16th Dec ’19 – 11:41am…………

    Which Labour policies did you have no commonality with; the NHS, social care, council housing, child poverty, etc.
    Sadly, like many in this party you see Labour, rather than the Tories, as the enemy. As for an alliance with “the Greens (outside Scotland) & Plaid Cymru in Wales”….That should keep this party at around 11 seats…

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