The choice for Lib Dems – embrace radicalism or die

I’m not going to mince my words or toe the centre-line in my summary of the Liberal Democrats’ election result for reasons that will become clearer the further you read.

Our result on the 8th June was embarrassing, demoralising, and worst of all, irrelevant. 7.4% of the vote was all that our party could accrue; 40,000 votes fewer than our 2015 performance which we naively thought was our floor. When the country was crying out for a party of the centre with both Labour and the Conservatives lurching to the extremes, we didn’t answer the call.

Whilst our swelling membership and activist base can feel rightly proud of their efforts in the campaign which saw an increase in Lib Dem MPs, they should also feel aggrieved at the lack of support our national message gave to them.

As a party we have failed to broaden our support, something that would have seen unthinkable in the wake of the 2015 election or even just a few weeks ago. We must address why we are primarily appealing to the white middle-classes and not other groups. As per Lord Ashcroft’s exit poll, just 6% of BME voters lent their support to the Liberal Democrats in this election, compared to 9% of white voters.

We cannot be content with this, knowing as well as we all do that liberalism is an ideology that seeks to unashamedly champion the causes of marginalised groups – not perturb them, like the data suggests. The figures are similarly bleak for those in the C2DE social class group who are half as likely to vote Liberal Democrats as the AB group – we must begin to reach out to those social classes too.

However, whilst Ashcroft’s polling is full of problematic figures for the Lib Dems, our failure to win more than 18% of self-described ‘Brexit resisters’ is the most humiliating.

In what was supposed to be the Brexit election, you would feel it reasonable to assume that the most unabashed pro-EU party would gain votes nationally, or at least from those who cannot reconcile themselves to the idea of Brexit – but we didn’t. Among that very group, we came second – 39 points behind pro-Brexit Labour. 39 points.

And what is the cause of these problems? Lack of clarity of position? Partly. Lack of invigorating leadership? Somewhat. But the real issue is that our party has been plagued with wet lettuce centrism.

For a party who nobody is expecting to form a government in the immediate future, we are far too concerned with being sensible and moderate. Of course, centrism is a perfectly fine position to take but what we fail to understand is that whilst we applaud our restraint as reasonable and fair, those outside the party see it as weak and ‘wishy washy’.

Take Brexit as an example – why, as a pro-EU party did we not say, if we win a majority in Parliament then we will cancel Brexit – it’s not undemocratic, and it’s more exciting to resisters of Brexit than another mudslinging referendum, this time solely on trading arrangements.

Then there’s our policy on cannabis legalisation – the only party policy according to Britain Thinks that made a significant impression on the public – it was even the fifth most memorable policy of the campaign from any party. It is one we should have been milking for all it was worth.

Yet, when we did mention it in the media, we weren’t flying the bright yellow flag and fighting the good fight of returning bodily autonomy from government to individuals. Instead, were harping on about the mundane regulation detail and pontificated tax revenues it would produce. Are you starting to see my point?

Liberalism, as an ideology, is as popular around the world than it has ever been – more so in fact. But on our own shores, the liberal banner is drifting aimlessly in the breeze. Liberalism only wins when it is loud, brash and radical.

Justin Trudeau used charisma and eloquence to offer Canada a radically liberal refuge, Emmanuel Macron used his poise and desire to trump xenophobic isolationism with open liberal internationalism, and although we disagree on many things, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party used passion to ignite their own relative electoral success last week.

The return of radicalism to our party is long overdue. We have to embrace our liberal traditions of fighting for personal freedoms, open borders and fair, free-market solutions. We have to throw all of our weight behind cannabis legalisation, the Negative Income Tax, proportional representation, legalising sex work, ending the MSM blood ban, introducing blind job applications, the Land Value Tax, opposing Brexit – and all the other wonderfully radical things we stand for.

It is high time we stopped getting ourselves in a muddle by trying to be everything to everyone and ending up being nothing to no one. No longer should people be able to say that the Liberal Democrats are fence-sitters, by-standers, irrelevant. We have to change and do so now. The choice for our party is clear – embrace radicalism or face extinction.

* Chris Whiting is a 22 year old freelance journalist from Leicester. Passionate about radical liberalism, LGBT+ rights and his cat.

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  • Mark Nicholson 16th Jun '17 - 9:06am

    A strong article which needs serious thought, which of our MP’s represents this viewpoint?

  • There seems to be a strong desire on the part of our leadership to be liked by people who would never vote for us. To gain this acceptance they have thrown voters, councillors and eventually MP’s under the bus. Note to them it doesn’t matter if they like you, in fact I’d rather they didn’t, represent the common man not the establishment.

  • The article is well intentioned but misses the point about what a radical policy should be.

    The biggest issues facing the UK isn’t pot or prostitutes, it’s inequality and public services of all kinds. Austerity has hammered the ability of public services such as the NHS, social services, the police, the ambulance services and the fire brigade to maintain the civilised structure of our society. This has been not just in number, but in limiting public sector pay to a 1% cap (inflation is almost 3%). The cap issue unfortunately has Liberal Democrat finger marks all over it (Alexander D.) and was a major factor in the decline in what was a natural pool of support.

    Most of the issues Chris raises could be dealt with as private members bills. We need to be looking at the daily bread and butter matters of the economy and maintaining a civilised society. As someone involved with a food bank, I can also say the whole welfare system creeks with unfairness and the delays involved with privatising the vetting system.

    Corbyn seemed to get all that – the question is, do the Lib Dems ?

  • Scott Summers 16th Jun '17 - 9:40am

    This election wasn’t just about Brexit. In fact, I thought Brexit played a very small part. I think the vast majority of people, regardless of which way they voted in the referendum, have accepted Brexit is an inevitability. Our policy of another referendum, whilst good in intent, did not resonate with the electorate, just as the SNP found out in Scotland. The question on a voters mind is “why vote Liberal, when I can vote Labour?” We are not distinctive from the two main parties.

    I disagree that we need to become radical or face extinction. We are not a single-issue party like UKIP. Our problem is simply size and resources. We simply cannot put in the amount of work it requires to campaign properly in enough seats. Even in seats we deem to be out of reach, we need to run a proper campaign. Even doubling our share of the votes in a losing effort will get us more attention nationally, and set up a stronger push in the future. Unfortunately, how many seats saw little to no campaigning?

  • I agree David Raw.

    We must promise to repeal the unpopular Health and Social Care Act 2012, and can go further than Corbyn by abolishing NHS internal market introduced by Thatcher and Co.

    We must replace tuition fee by raising income tax on all bands like we do with NHS. 1% rise for basic rate, 1-2% on higher rate, and 2-5% on top rate (above £150k).

    We must renationalize natural monopolies like water and railway.

  • Bring natural monopolies back into public ownership. Abolish NHS internal market and fund the NHS properly. Bring student loans back into government control and at a bare minimum set the interest rate on them to the rate of government guilts, currently less than 2%. Reform the voting system and launch commissions on the reform of the justice system, social care and education. If this makes the establishment queasy, well it won’t be a total waste.

  • David Raw has a point: Of course those issues which underline our position as Liberals, cannabis et al are ones we should pursue but if you and your partner are working every day to make ends meet, you are entitled to believe there is a party which understands that and will seek in a planned affordable way to ease that burden.I am not talking about the jobless, homeless, god knows(if that is ok to say in this Liberal Party)they need all the support they can get. I am talking about the millions who currently see no release from the daily grind and feel that someone needs to speak up for them Labour persuaded them that they cared but their manifesto was like Alice in Wonderland.And there actions in opposition doesnt impress. Leaving the single market is one glaring example.What people want to see is that their efforts bring about a fairer society and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.The requirements for affordable rented accomodation is obvious but I see that nowhere in our utterances, Infrastructure projects which assist road,rail need to be prioritised and not become victims of austerity.The answer lies initially at the local level where Councils have business plans
    which meet their responsibilities in a thought out rational way prioritising what is required in local communities and ensuring they lobby for the monies to achieve it. I can understand some people with Councils that have a penchant for foreign trips and vanity projects will throw their hands up but they should be bought back to basics by local auditors(remember them) In other words money well spent can provide the public services people want and need. As a Council Leader some years ago we did all that and were able to provide higher levels of public facilities and made our area a better place with a high rating from our residents, we became an Unitary and all that disappeared but the Tory and Labour parties revelled in the fact it saved money. At what cost to the people can only be seen today some years after that event. Yes lets speak up and be unapologetic for shouting that enough is enough and we want change

  • There have been numerous calls, on this site, over the last week, to seek change. A search to find a new meaning for the party that can be communicated with enthusiasm. The traditional center ground was hollowed out and it seems incredible that nobody found a way to fill it. But, I think we need to be careful not to knee jerk this. Far from being despondent there is a great opportunity here to fill that center ground . This was one of the most complex elections to analyse in modern times and it does need some careful analysis. I hope the party will conduct a root and branch autopsy on the campaign and produce an in depth report. In general I think we b*llsed up but whether that could have been avoided given the sequence of events I don’t know. The Labour manifesto threw a spanner into the works of both the Tories and ourselves and the response was inadequate. Cannabis should never have been a central plank policy. Too controversial. Airy fairy liberal or a turn off. That is not my projection but reaction on the doorstep. Did anybody out there get a different experience? Don’t write Liberalism off. This may be a dark hour but there could also be bright dawn on the horizon.

  • Steve Coltman 16th Jun '17 - 10:06am

    We got the vote we targeted. A few years back Mark Pack circulated the results of a quite sophisticated IPSOS-Mori Poll of attitudes to the EU. In short, two thirds of the UK electorate were critical of the EU (not necessarily critical enough to actually leave though). 12% were happy with the status quo and only about 10% actually wanted more Europe. It also showed that the issue cut right across party lines. More Lib Dem voters supported Cameron’s attempt to re-negotiate our membership of the EU than supported Nick Clegg’s more positive approach. Ditto Labour. By running such a pro-Brexit campaign we alienated as many as we attracted. Also, we and the Tories missed one important point. Brexit was not the be -all and end-all for many voters. Lots of people are sick of austerity and hearing of the NHS in crisis and only Corbyn offered any relief.

  • frankie – I also prefer student debts to be converted into public debts. Forgive me if I am too optimistic but I believe that a combination of abolishing NHS internal market and repealing Health and Social Care Act will double our votes.

  • Rosemary Reynolds 16th Jun '17 - 10:09am

    Interesting – I was disappointed that Lib Dems did not take a radical stance on Brexit. I wanted them to say to the 48% that the referendum was not democratic, based on false information from a small bunch of ultra brevet Tory zealots and UKIP whipping up public on immigration, and that the margin voting for leave was too small to be acted upon. I wanted them to put forward some information/evidence as to why it was bad to leave, what it meant for the country. As a new member I felt rather let down that they did not take a strong stance – voters were probably lost because of it. I felt frustrated thinking I was joining a party who would fight!!! I joined out of frustration with Labour and resentment of right-wing Tories, I wanted centrist party but one that would fight for what they feel is right. Having said that I feel on the drug cannabis policy, it was aired and received attention for wrong reasons; many of the population seemed concerned. There has been so much support for mental health of late, trying to reduce stigma, and there are the LDs promoting something that can exacerbate and possibly even cause mental problems in some individuals. More research has to be done but until proven it does not lead to schizophrenia or at least severe depression in individuals with latent tendencies then it was not a good policy to espouse.

  • P.J. – Cannabis legalization must be retained, but it must be put below NHS, schools and infrastructures and it must be campaigned in young-dominated constituencies.

    But abolishing snooper charter must be put in line with public services and infrastructures.

    Also, I have repeatedly talked about export-oriented policies to achieve trade balance and current account balance.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 16th Jun '17 - 10:12am

    I would like to praise Chris for proudly coming forward and suggesting a genuinely progressive and social liberal approach.

    Lacklustre sums up for me the current and past approaches that have thwarted our Party being, offering and implementing the tenets of ‘Fairness, Equality & Justice’ at a level and opportunity for these are the things that that light the flames of hope for people.

    If we ‘walked the talk’ was Chris suggests and many of us in the Party desire, I believe that we would become a Party of relevance for far more people.

    With only twelve Members of Parliament what have we got to lose by really becoming the Party that many of us thought we were joining?

  • David Becket 16th Jun '17 - 10:21am

    The candidates for leadership need to be pressed on their radical views, and asked how they are going to lance the Tuition Fee boil.

  • Rosemary,
    The problem is there never was a fixed 48% anymore than there was a fixed 52%. Membership of the EU was a side issue for a lot of voters from all the parties. I voted Leave. but it was not big central issue for me in the general election. The problem with the Lib Dem campaign is that it focused too much on the EU to the point were it risked only attracting a protest vote.

  • James Morshead 16th Jun '17 - 10:50am

    Excellent post Chris, exactly what’s needed. David Raw – good points, but Chris’ approach is necessary to lay out WHY policies like you’ve listed matter to us. We need that kind of integrity restored in voters eyes, especially the young and marginalised. You want internationalism, electoral reform, rolling back authoritarianism – Labour can’t help you, we can.

    If we go on as we have, we’ll pick up a few votes in official targets but continue dropping them everywhere else, dropping out of the national level conversation, losing more second places, and losing any chance of breaking up the 2-party state.

  • David Evershed 16th Jun '17 - 11:18am

    Corbyn’s Labour party have already occupied the territory of radical social liberalism.

    The Conservatives however seem to have abandoned economic liberalism so there is an opportunity for the Lib Dems to differentiate themselves from Conservative and Labour by presenting themselves as radical about both social liberalism and economic liberalism.

  • Chris Sargeantson 16th Jun '17 - 11:26am

    I agree with this article, but I’m somewhat concerned that a number of comments here seem to think a lurch to the left is radicalism.

    There is simply nothing radical about “tax more and use the money for progressive purposes.” While it certainly may be admirable, it is not radical – it does not redress fundamental problems that lead to the issues faced by society today.

    Things like repealing the Health and Social Care Act are anything but radical – we must build on the foundation for localism in the NHS, not simply dismiss the parts that we disagree with. There is nothing radical about simply repealing something and placing the entire NHS under bureaucratic centralised control – there’s certainly nothing liberal about it.

    We should be advocating a huge change of our archaic tax and benefit system – simplification via NIT and LVT, allowing people more understanding and – thus – power over decision makings.

    Left-leaning reactionaryism is as distasteful as right-wing reactionaryism.

  • I think we should be looking at ‘radical’ policies in conjunction with how/where the global position is moving. The effects of technological advances over the next decade are where we should be positioning ourselves.

    The issue of Universal Basic Income is one such area. Although some countries; Norway, Canada etc, have started small pilot programmes, now Hawaii is seriously considering the policy:

    With the advances in AI technology there is going to be a profound impact on areas of employment very probably within the next decade. Advances in self-driving/autonomous vehicles is well in play. The use of drone deliveries is underway. Such advances are going to see the elimination of millions of jobs across the globe and in this country. Yes, some jobs will be created to monitor/maintain the infrastructure and technology associated with these, but there is going to be more and more people who will be surplus to requirement. With companies not having to pay for a ‘manual’ workforce there is going to be the need for realistic, if difficult discussions on how people live which cannot just fall under the remit of ‘Government’ responsibility.

    As a party we should be forward thinking; looking at and formulating policies around UBI in conjunction with business as a stakeholder. I know many will take the view that such things are ‘in the future’, but the problem is the future is here and unless the planning, groundwork and formulation of policy is not started, 10 years from now whichever party is the Government of the day will be reactionary which as we know invariably leads to poor decisions. Progressive and radical thinking now, will I believe alleviate many of the issues that are already on the horizon IMHO.

  • Frances Alexander 16th Jun '17 - 11:47am

    An excellent article, Chris, please don’t give us up in desperation! Bring your passion to the next conference and generate a feeling of hope and possibility. I have so longed for a Macron or a Trudeau! Or Charles Kennedy – someone who could articulate our ideas! But also with the plan to make it happen! Rosemary Reynolds – good to see another woman replying on these columns! Remember that the best decisions are made when there are (at least) 40% men and 40% women in a team!
    The Liberal Democrat vision as articulated in the constitution of the party is what we are about, (if not, discuss with other members are propose changes! Current policies take forward that vision of the Liberal society. It is the civilised way forward for our country and the world.

  • David Evershed
    Don’t kid yourself! No party will get away now with presenting “economic liberalism” – that path is exhausted. We would be even more badly beaten if we did such a thing. Even Theresa May got that when she presented her (and it does seem to have been HER) manifesto. The problem for the Tories was that they may have identified salient approaches, but they only paid lip service.

  • I’m sorry Chris, but if you really thought that it was unthinkable in the wake of the 2015 election or even just a few weeks ago that we would not progress, you don’t realise what a disaster those five years in coalition were for the future of Liberal Democracy.

    We went into 2010 on a message of “An end to broken promises” and even had a PPB with Nick walking along the Embankment with pieces of paper representing the other parties’ broken promises blowing past him. Then almost the first thing he did was break the biggest promise he made. That loss of trust will take many years if not decades to overcome.

    However, we are where we are. What will determine if our values and principles survive sand succeed will be whether we all knuckle down and work for them or not. What we have to do is find ways to make Liberalism relevant to the vast majority of people in this country and then persuade them to trust us again to deliver them.

  • Apologies for re-posting the below (with amendments), I think it’s more appropriate here than in response to Tony Greaves’ article (moderators: please feel free to delete that post).

    Interesting reading. I feel there’s a risk of being a quirky party of the margins in adopting some of the approaches you propose. Fairly or not, some of the issues identified are ‘luxury’ items, not the fundamentals that really animate most people (David Raw explains this better than I’m managing).

    I’m no expert, believe me (probably not too difficult), but it seems to me that where the Lib Dems are up against Labour, they’re doomed. Cambridge, Bermondsey, Sheffield Hallam, Leeds NW… I’m pretty sure we’re not going to see a resurgence in any of these places unless Labour has a nightmare. Possible, of course, but it’s more likely the Tories will struggle.

    So the Lib Dems are, in the current political climate, competing against Conservatives and/or Nationalists where Labour are weak. A reasonable next election might see a bit of a comeback in SW England, more seats in Scotland (though will the Tories continue to thrive? we’d better hope not), steady progress in London and the SE.

    In other words, nowhere to be seen in the English north and midlands and arguably appealing only to those who find Labour a bit too scarily left-wing and urban. Not a promising basis for renewal.

    I don’t have detailed answers, but I’d like to see the party properly drop this idea that we represent the political centre. I think traditional left/right divisions are weaker than they’ve ever been and there’s not much appetite for being a moderate or a centrist: it just sounds a bit wet and passionless. So let’s go for playing up liberalism and what it means in a humane, personal context (more social, less economic, I’d argue).

    Also, the party needs to stop appearing to be obsessed with Brexit above all else. It’s not a vote-winner. Pragmatically pro-European and internationalist, and respectful towards those who think differently.

    Will any of the above win votes? I have no idea. But I think it would make me feel a bit more passionate and proud of the party. We might still struggle but at least what we stand for might be clearer, and then it’s a case of winning arguments rather than still trying to make people understand why we even exist.

  • David Evershed 16th Jun '17 - 1:05pm

    ” Remember that the best decisions are made when there are (at least) 40% men and 40% women in a team!”

    I think you have found the answer to the underperformance of the men’s England football team.

  • paul barker 16th Jun '17 - 1:30pm

    I agree with the general drift of the article but its way too pessimistic. The Election came at the worst possible time for us & under the worst possible conditions. I was predicting that we would get 5 MPs but I was seriously worried that it would be 2 or 3. 12 MPs was a great result & partly due to very strict targeting. That meant that many areas got a paper campaign.
    Yes our vote share was down slightly, in an Election that was widely treated as a sort of giant Byelection, with May & Corbyn the only candidates. We could expect to hang on at best & we did, when many thought we would be wiped out.
    The fundamentals of British Politics are still there, underneath. The Voters dont want to think about Brexit but they will be forced to. Tories & Labour are split from top to bottom while we are united. Peak SNP has passed & so will Peak Labour & Peak Tory.

  • Dave Orbison 16th Jun '17 - 1:31pm

    Chris Whiting “When the country was crying out for a party of the centre with both Labour and the Conservatives lurching to the extremes, we didn’t answer the call.”

    42% voted for the Tories and over 40% for Labour. Where is the objective evidence to support this assertion? You yourself highlight the woeful LibDem result, in some ways worse than 2015. Both LibDem campaigns in 2015 and 2017 were based on no deals with Tories or Labour. Tim Farron regularly dismissed May and Corbyn and so gave the impression of being mainly equidistant. Why can either the Tories or Labour be labelled as ‘extreme’ when 40% of voters went with either side?

    I don’t think most voters ask themselves ‘Am I left, centre of right?’ they vote according to the manifesto, performance of the party in the election and track record. On all accounts the LibDems were found wanting. It really is a simple as that.

  • Simon Carswell 16th Jun '17 - 1:39pm

    It seems clear – including from comments on here – that if people have been viewing Brexit and austerity as distinct, separate matters, we have failed utterly to highlight the link between EU membership and prosperity. And because of this Labour have been able to get away with an anti-austerity, pro-Brexit agenda that completely ignores the impact that leaving the EU – or at least the single market – will have on this country. We should have connected the two more clearly: stay in the EU = more money for public services, and the LibDems will make sure that’s where it goes.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jun '17 - 1:40pm

    David Raw

    The article is well intentioned but misses the point about what a radical policy should be.

    Indeed. I believe the problem is that the public saw the party just as Chris Whiting wants it to be seen. And rejected it on that basis.

    For most people the issues Chris Whiting raises are fringe issues. If we put across the image that they are all we are interested in, that also puts across the message that we aren’t interested in the more boring but bread-and-butter issues that ordinary people have: how they are going to get enough money to live a good life, be properly housed, have health and social care when they need it and so on. If you are so privileged and wealthy that you have no worries about those sort of things, then, yes, you might put all your attention onto those fringe issues – although probably you would also want to defend the economic system that gives you that freedom while denying it to poorer people.

    So, that is just how our party is seen now: the party of a privileged wealthy intellectual elite. And most people reject it because they think a party like that will not stand up for them and will not even know how to stand up for them.

  • Sue Sutherland 16th Jun '17 - 2:10pm

    Labour had a good slogan “For the many not the few” and their manifesto expressed that slogan in policies whereas we had a series of disjointed policies. The idea that several of their leaders and activists are Marxist and authoritarian didn’t seem to occur to most people.

  • Take a policy and how can you make it relevant to the many not the few. I’d suggest legalisation of pot as an example, how can that be made to appeal to the many.

    Well you could say

    1. It takes it out of the control of the criminals
    2. Police enforcing this law can be redeployed to crack down on other crime that effects society.
    3. The money raised will be given to the NHS and the police to help to fill the holes left by austerity.
    4. Jobs will be created and taxes paid for those selling it, under strict local control.
    5. Anyone abusing it (drug driving etc) will be cracked down on with no mercy.

  • Joseph Bourke 16th Jun '17 - 2:30pm

    I would echo Matthew Huntbach’s comment about what is important ….bread-and-butter issues that ordinary people have: how they are going to get enough money to live a good life, be properly housed, have health and social care when they need it and so on.

    Also, Chris Sargeantson makes a key point “We should be advocating a huge change of our archaic tax and benefit system – simplification via NIT and LVT, allowing people more understanding and – thus – power over decision makings. Left-leaning reactionaryism is as distasteful as right-wing reactionaryism.”

    Shaun Young also points to an emerging issue that we must address sooner than later –
    “As a party we should be forward thinking; looking at and formulating policies around UBI in conjunction with business as a stakeholder. I know many will take the view that such things are ‘in the future’, but the problem is the future is here and unless the planning, groundwork and formulation of policy is not started, 10 years from now whichever party is the Government of the day will be reactionary which as we know invariably leads to poor decisions.”

  • Rosemary Reynolds 16th Jun '17 - 2:34pm

    Glen – the EU would not have been a side issue in election if Lib Dems had spoken up radically about Remaining. Many remainers hoped they would, when they didn’t they chose between labour and tory. Many of us were sick of the Tory elite trying to say it had all been a democratic referendum to silence us when in fact it should have been shown as the disgrace it was.

  • David Hopps 16th Jun '17 - 3:08pm

    I agree with Chris that we do need radical centrist policies, but more importantly I believe David Raw is right when he warns that we have to recognise that inequality is a major issue in the country. As others have warned, to talk about cannabis not inequality (however evidence-based our cannabis policy might have been) did make us seem to many like a party of urban, middle-class intellectuals.

  • Jonathan Pile 16th Jun '17 - 3:25pm

    Interesting article Chris – we need a mix of both exciting radical with solid moderate. We are experiencing revolutionary politics from the Brexit Madcap Tories which are trying to change everything, to revolutionary Corbynistas of the left. On Brexit, I agree we need to be the party of the 48% and now Brexit is dying, we need a harder line to show the best deal is the status quo, which is uber moderation. Perhaps we need to follow Macron and extoll the new coming Europe. On the toxicity of tuition fees , we really ought to grasp the nettle and finally say sorry,not for making the promise but breaking it. Corbyn is right to want to scrap fees, Education was our USP and can be again. Free Higher Education funded by a graduate tax for higher rate income tax payers (exemptions for those who didn’t go to university) & wiping the burden of student debt entirely (put on national debt) only then will the parents and students who were blighted by 2010-2017 forgive the party. Finally we need to return to community politics & listen to the communities victimised by bad big government, bad big corporations and bad big ideas like HS2. Tim was hounded out just like Charles was, and this must stop. Our next leader should not be talking about coalitions with the Conservatives or talking about helping them with a softer brexit

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jun '17 - 4:03pm


    Take a policy and how can you make it relevant to the many not the few. I’d suggest legalisation of pot as an example, how can that be made to appeal to the many.

    Sure. But how many people are going to think that is such an important policy that they’ll vote for a party that puts all its emphasis on that, rather than on basic issues of wealth and public services? What constituencies are there where more people would base their vote on that issue than on any other?

    If we had a proportional representation system, a party that put all its emphasis on certain liberal issues that attract an excite a small number of people but are considered fringe issues to most others probably could do well, maybe winning a consistent 5% or so on of enthusiastic supporters, and in good times a few more who might go for it as a sort of protest vote.

    But we don’t have such a system. We have a system where the only way to win a seat is to get more votes than any other party in a single constituency. Those of us with long experience of campaigning under that system know very well that there may be issues that we regard as important, but if we go on and on about them and not about the issues that most ordinary people think of as the most important, we won’t get anywhere near winning.

    That includes Brexit. However much we may have thought it important, I think most of the general public did not see it as a key issue, and probably more of those who voted Remain weren’t so bothered about it than those who voted Leave. So by making it seem as if that was all we cared about in the last election, we threw away our chances of getting anywhere.

  • Radicalism does not = shifting leftwards or giving up a reputation for being sensible. It means coming up with Policies that shake up the status quo. so how about some really radical policies. Here’s one to get started.

    – impose a tax on shipping, that takes into account total c02 of transport used to ship goods about.

    The net effect would be to push up the cost of goods coming from places like China and encourage greener ships.

    We should also pledge to build an economy on what we makes (goods or services) not what we retail in shops. An immediate commitment to launch the most advanced container ships on the Clyde would create jobs and help save the planet.

  • Joseph Bourke 16th Jun '17 - 6:30pm


    how would you collect tax from foreign registered shipping. It would have to be an import tariff and countries like China would reciprocate with tariffs on British goods exported there. Liberalism was built on the principle of free trade and breaking down barriers to free trade.

    Listen to Matthew Huntbach and focus on the basic issues of wealth and public services.

  • Chris Wilson 16th Jun '17 - 8:24pm

    A few comments here have stated Brexit was seen as a fringe issue. The thing is we know it isn’t. The improvements in education, health and housing promised by Labour and similarly by ourselves are just not possible if we exit the single market. Which makes Brexit about health and about schools and about housing. I heard very little of the party saying this and even less emphasising that Labour could not come good with their promises due to their vague and generally hard Brexit policy. We do need to be more passionate, direct and certain with what we believe. We worried too much about losing votes from leave voters instead of being forthright and honest about what we believe and know is right.

  • Is radical Lib Dem speak for stupid?

  • Has anyone considered the possibility of co leaders?
    Watch this 3 minute clip – food for thought?

  • @Scott Summers
    “Our problem is simply size and resources”.

    The main problem it seems to me is a power struggle – a metronome or pendulum if you like swinging backwards and forwards, which means that it is almost impossible for the party to communicate to the electorate, (most of whom are not political junkies), why they should vote for it or what values it stands for.

    Size and resources, (like market conditions), are always given as the 3 excuses for an organisation not succeeding.
    They come into play only when the organisation is clear to its customers as to why it exists and why they should care.
    Flip flopping and opportunistic lurching form left to right and back again will not allow the public to discover the true values the party stands for.

    For the value based party, that is the primary issue. Everything else is secondary.

  • Joseph Bourke – After seeing British steel industry nearly languished due to Chinese dumping, I think we need anti-dumping tariff on Chinese steel. I support the EU’s decision and I thought that we could have backed their anti-dumping to gain support in Wales.

  • Mattthew Huntbach – we could have actually outclassed Corbyn in offering free stuff by providing a better tax plan. Here are several examples:

    – Repeal the Health and Social Care Act AND abolish NHS internal market, and then devolve it.

    – A graduate income tax to abolish tuition fee and convert current student debt into public debt.

    – I am thinking of free vocational training. Or better, students who engage in vocational training must receive salaries like Germany.

    – Renationalize water and rail.

    – Extend the £100 per month startup allowance from 6 months to a full year.

    – Double the investment spending from £100 billion to £200 billion, with £50 billion being spent on automation technology (I mean, an Automation Fund). Investing an additional £1.2bn in automation has the potential to add as much as £60.5bn to the UK economy over the next decade; this represents a return on investment of £49 in economic output for the every £1 invested in manufacturing automation. An automation fund will make both Corbyn and May being hopelessly outclassed by us.

    – REDUCE WORKING HOUR TO 6 HRS PER DAY WITHOUT LOWERING WAGE (Automation Fund will help businesses to replace working hour losses by investing in automation).

    – Expanding the capitalization of British Business Bank (BBB) from £700m (really, only 700m, what a joke?) to at least £20 billion. Give the Bank the full ability to raise funds in capital markets by issuing state-backed bonds. The total assets of BBB must exceed £400 billion.

    – As I consistently said, export-oriented policies and regional supply chain development to improve balance of trade and hence the current account. The former aims to boost exports, the latter (a glorious name of “import-substitution) will reduce import (because it will help British firms to produce components that currently have to be imported).

    Corbyn who?

  • Bill le Breton 17th Jun '17 - 6:22am

    David Hopps, hope you are still looking at this topic. Very much agree with you. Have you been reading Branco Milanovic? Here he is in the Guardian in May this year on “The higher the inequality, the more likely we are to move away from democracy”

    ” In every political system, even a democracy, the rich tend to hold more political power. The danger is that this political power will be used to promote policies that further cement the economic power of the rich. The higher the inequality, the more likely we are to move away from democracy toward plutocracy.”

  • Graham Evans 17th Jun '17 - 6:56am

    Whatever the best approach to improving public services, whether it be the NHS, social welfare, the benefits system or tuition fees, much of it will still come down to money. Unfortunately the evidence is that the majority of the electorate simply are not willing to pay significantly more in taxes. The Labour Party recognised this by continually claiming that under their tax and spend proposals 95% of tax payers would not have to pay anymore in tax. This is why their expenditure proposals ultimately would not achieve their claims and why there would be continued cuts to benefits for many people. There may well be advantages to alternative forms of taxation such as LVT but that is for the geeks and will not resonate as an election issue. Until the left and centre left can come up with a solution to this problem, which the electorate is willing to embrace, they will always be on the back foot in bringing about radical change to our society. I certainly don’t have many answers, though perhaps more hypothecated taxes, such as a health and social care tax, might be one of a number of possible solutions, but until we address the problem talk of abolishing the NHS or even a graduate tax are mere displacement activities.

  • Graham Evans 17th Jun '17 - 6:59am

    Sorry, I should have said in my last sentence “talk of abolishing the NHS internal market or reversing privatisation”

  • Could not agree more with this article. Two issues we need to get behind
    1. Get rid of Trident
    2. Legalise all drugs not just cannabis
    Read Good Cop Bad War by Neil Woods and you will not disagree with me

  • It’s quite simple really. Labour stuffed us out of sight on “radicalism”, on an alternative to austerity, on identification with ordinary people, on personality. In response, we have a long laundry list of detailed specific issues we might have campaigned upon (Chris Whiting and others). Let’s be honest, no such detailed manifesto would really have gained any traction in an election campaign. Corbyn did it all on a mixture of mood music and big (unaffordable?) promises.

    David Raw got closer by identifying anti-austerity as a key message. But as he admitted in his post, the party which put Danny Alexander into government until two years ago was never going to be able to compete with Corbyn on equal terms.

    Someone mentioned Macron. We also have to remember the causes of Macron. Five years ago Hollande won an election on a prospectus much like Corbyn’s. It didn’t work. It was only when the French had found out the hard way what’s wrong with promising the earth that they were ready to turn to a Macron.

    So it is that democratic politics lurches from one extreme to another, and gaining space in the centre is desperately difficult. I won’t offer any answers, because I don’t think there are any easy answers, and that part of our problem is to kid ourselves that there are!

  • We need to wake up to how truly awful our result was, so a bit of history. In 1950 we fought the election on a broad front (478 seats) and lost our deposit in all but 159 of them. “And the Liberal lost his deposit” became part of the culture. The deposit then was 12.5% of the votes cast. This year we fought 629 seats, and polled more than 12.5% in only 85 of them. This is the legacy of the Coalition: we went into the 2010 election with 62 MPs, but in vast areas of the country in 2017 we had the sort of level of support associated with joke candidates in the past.

  • Chris has prioritised a return to style and content we used to be good at – as a radical campaigning party. Tim has come close but was up against a master campaigner called Corbyn who has a particular style which also makes content fluid. Corbyn is more calculating than people imagine; May is a simple dogmatic soul who is bound to fail. Everybody working in this GE saw the squeeze coming from the big beasts – Tory and Labour – as Labour closed the gap in the polls. I mention polls because in most areas they show voters how to vote tactically. Unless we live in a strong Lib Dem area, it is almost impossible to garner a strong result let alone a win. People are not daft enough to battle to raise LDs from 7% – even the campaigners move to help a possible win. So, our vote went down in most areas because voters cannot be expected to ignore the bigger battle going on “above their heads” as it were.

    We became the biggest of the national parties, though tiny compared with L & T, and Greens made no progress at all due to the system we are working in – FPTP. Lib Dems gaining 12 seats out of around 20 good possibles was not amazing but better than going down to Paul Barker’s 5 – which really would have been a return to Jo Grimond years, during which we doubled our seats and used the fabulous Young Liberals to gain attention in campaigns. And there’s the clue to style and content. We must be bold and let the young tail wag the old dog with a few great slogan messages on which we can hang all the smaller issues which arise and grab a following by various sectors of the electorate. For example, don’t put cannabis as a central message as it will upset the old dog – but anti-austerity is the current leading message which most will support. Be pragmatic, change the focus with the times. There will be by-elections during the real Brexit years. Even another General Election. We are ready to campaign with the strongest style and content we have.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks – Libdems are not going to outcompete Labour in anti-austerity message, especially with a bunch of Orange Bookers as leaders. There will be a return to 2010-2015.

  • A genuine industrial and manufacturing strategy, combined with export-oriented policies and doubling R&D spending as a percentage of GDp are a third way for us. To sum up, industrial policy deserves a separate chapter in our next manifesto. Another part of this third way is an Automation Fund to invest in automated industrial technology, and the amount should be about £50 billion. The return on investment in automation in manufacturing can be found on Barclays website.

  • Bruce Milton 17th Jun '17 - 4:47pm

    I agree we need to be more obvious and proud of our vision.
    For instance;
    Brexit means which Brexit?
    Off a cliff edge – WTO rules etc?
    Hard Brexit – Is this not the same as cliff edge?
    Soft Brexit – Is this just in the EU but we have no influence on decisions
    Remain – Return and build relations, influence decisions, lead the EU on British values and put the Great back in front of Britain.

    Safer together, Healthier together, Educated better together, Wealthier together.

    Come on LibDems its time to challenge the cowardly MPs who believe in the EU but are fearful of leading an electorate.

  • David Rosen 17th Jun '17 - 5:49pm

    At the risk of asking a stupid question…

    …has anyone actually asked the membership in a blind, anonymous survey how many are in favour of:

    a) scrapping Article 50
    b) a second referendum
    c) remain
    d) leave
    e) are you a LibDem for reasons other than Brexit

  • Tony Vickers 17th Jun '17 - 6:45pm

    We need to keep making the link between BREXIT and Austerity. The latter is inevitably going to be made worse for the next 2 to 3 elections by even a ‘soft’ BREXIT. But what matters to ten times as many voters as care madly (like me) about the IDEA of the EU are: poor / expensive housing; inflation; cuts to NHS and education, etc etc “bread and butter” stuff.
    Almost none of what really matters to what should be our core vote has anything to do with the EU! It is the British political system which needs reform, not the European one. We Lib Dems have all the right policies but we just don’t focus on / promote in relevant ways the ones that matter to ordinary folk.
    As Philip Hammond said “People did not vote LEAVE to become poorer”. So lets keep telling our people – in FOCUSes and letters to the media – that leaving the EU is bound to make us poorer. It will very soon become clear that we’ve been right all along.
    So no, Chris Whiting we do not need to be more ‘radical’ in our policies but we do need people like you – budding journalists – to present those policies better.

  • John Littler 17th Jun '17 - 9:30pm

    Offering to end brexit without another ref would have lost support in about half the country.

    The LibDems need a stronger economic policy. I suggest a combination of the Scandi/German models with industrial and regional support, more infrastructure, training, R&D support, exporter support, support to firms to retain and re-train staff over a recession ( as Germany ), financial support and some greater flexibilities and support for start ups, even re-starting the old Enterprise Allowance to get people off benefits and starting micro enterprises. It is closer to the McDonnell offering but there is loads of scope to differentiate it and it is exactly what is needed in a lot of de-industrialised areas in Central belt Scotland, S.Wales, Midlands & North England.

    Proper regional and industrial policy, tying in education and the foreign and environmental departments, could build an industrial renaissance and take back industries lost to China and Easter Europe as automation cuts cost the differentials. It would tackle the UK’s under skilling, under investment, low productivity and wages, the differences between regions and societal groups and would cut the balance of payments deficit. It has to be done and the Tories won’t do it.

  • John Litter – As I have repeatedly said, we need a separate chapter for an industrial policy for the next manifesto. Our economic policy is already slightly better than others, but a clear industrial policy will completely make us different.

    Next time, we should try to mention “industries”, “manufacturing”, “reindustrialization”, “retraining”… in our manifesto.

  • John Littler 18th Jun '17 - 2:22pm

    Agreed Thomas, I looked at the LibDem manifesto and there was some mentions of investment, training, R&D and Science, but not in a prominent or comprehensive form.
    The country desperately needs a new regional and industrial renaissance after Thatcher’s destruction and New Labour did less than nothing, allowing Rover to go to the wall and flogged to the Chinese, with no help to maintain it as continental governments have been doing for years.

    When the European car industry was over large, it was mainly the UK that allowed itself to take most of the hit and to become the biggest importer, worsening the balance of payments.

    It is not accident that industrial areas are manly covered by Labour, rather than LibDems, since the LibDems have been less proactive in this area, except for Vince, whose achievements in coalition, such as retaining Vauxhall and preventing it going to Bremen, were kept in secret.

  • fine with a dash of fairness at least of opportunity.

  • and what about some enthusiasm for protecting the planet?

  • I think we need to go back to May 2015 and Nick Clegg’s resignation speech which remains one of the best, if not the best, speeches I have heard by any British politician during my lifetime. That was a speech that appealed to the heart and our emotions. It as a speech that clothed the identity of what it is to be British within the open, tolerant and liberal hearts of this party. It was fantastic. But I fear, like every other moment from that terrible night, too many of us have forgotten about it.

    But engage on an emotional level we must. When it comes to the biggest issue of them all we must build that emotional argument. On Brexit we continue to tie ourselves up in arguments that are overly technocratic and very economic sounding as opposed to projecting a very patriotic platform upon why we want Britain to stay in the EU and divert this country away from a disastrous Brexit. The fact of the matter is, no one in the Lib Dems today or the Remain side from last year projected an argument that went beyond the language of technocracy and when it did put out a patriotic argument it was a European patriot argument, a flimsy concept if there ever was one and one that would never be entertained by those who hold their British identity dear to their heart. Rather, it remains the challenge of the Lib Dems and every passionate Remain voter to show that it’s support the UK’s place in the EU is one founded firmly in a passionate and deep patriotism, the patriotism that fuels our liberal beliefs and values.

  • @Peter
    “But engage on an emotional level we must. When it comes to the biggest issue of them all we must build that emotional argument. On Brexit we continue to tie ourselves up in arguments that are overly technocratic and very economic sounding……..”

    Peter your piece above raises some important points.
    I fear that hardly anyone will still be reading this thread though.
    Don’t give up trying to get your point across though. It is so key to speak the language of your audience to get their attention

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Jun '17 - 7:19am

    Tony Robertson 19th Jun ’17 – 8:10pm

  • Interesting perspective that reflects many of my opinions and I’ve been a member of the UK most liberal party since 1967.

  • Simon Banks 15th Sep '17 - 7:19pm

    As so often, I want “centrism” defined – in the centre of what, on what issues? Or is it the rather strange belief that the middle position must be right?

    As others have said, we need to be clearer about what the key issues are, on which trying to seem moderate above all else is irresponsible and there is a need for courage and radicalism. It would be useful to seek five or six genuinely radical policies to highlight, which were also genuinely Liberal. My list would certainly include environmental and devolutionary policies: we seem almost to have forgotten we are a party of power to the people and once-radical devolution.

    I don’t believe we had a problem of a lack of invigorating leadership at all. I can’t imagine a leader more invigorating than Tim. Problem was, he got tangled up in questions about his personal moral beliefs, plus the media gave him very little chance to show his warmth and passion beyond the party activists.

    Surely, though, we’ve started since 2015 to move away from the neither one thing nor the other professional centrism Chris describes, though we still seem to be scared stiff of being radical on Trident.

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