The Election Review reviewed

I found myself unexpectedly disappointed by the General Election Review.

Given the presence of a number of respected and experienced colleagues, I anticipated an analysis that spoke to the acute disappointment with the national campaign felt by the hundreds of barely functioning constituency associations which had struggled to raise the cash deposit and in many cases had just managed to pay for the one Freepost leaflet, but there was no solace in its winsome words. Couched in elegant prose one has to read between the lines to discern any critical comment.

Anyone would think that the party had fallen slightly short of its expected performance as opposed to botching the best electoral chance it had for decades as the only party fully supporting a European stance that was riding high in the pre-election polls. This was my seventeenth general election and in terms of missed opportunities it was the worst HQ election campaign – particularly, as I read, HQ could not, for once, plead poverty.

The party is in a parlous state. A majority of constituencies are “derelict” in the sense of not being self-starters and only being capable of presenting paper candidates at local elections. Leeds may not be typical but as England’s third city it should be noted that only one of its eight seats has a functioning constituency party – and having finished in third place despite being a “target” seat, I now fear for that one’s future. We have councillors in only three of the thirty-three wards – and this in a city which we ran as the dominant party in coalition from 2004 to 2011. There is no citywide Liberal Democrat body and no candidate panelling. And without an end to the increasingly disastrous twenty-five years targeting policy and a deliberate two year revival strategy, seat by seat, nothing will change. But there is nothing in this Review and its recommendations that appears to recognise this situation let alone address it.

Specifically the Review:

[a] speaks in vague terms about targeting problems but does not address its failure;

[b] states baldly that Nick Harvey departed as Chief Executive at the beginning of the campaign but bizarrely fails to state why that happened; it is an important question;

[c] mentions that ALDC over-reached itself but fails to make the key point that, as a consequence, a number of constituencies did not receive the Freepost leaflet in time for it to meet the Royal Mail deadline; this was disastrous;

[d] commends the party’s central fundraising success but fails to ask why HQ continued to send out almost daily appeals to the national membership list; this was an abuse of its control of that list and cut out local fundraising efforts, with members saying that they had sent money to HQ;

[e] makes reference to the need to integrate vision with action but makes no recommendation as to how this can happen or, indeed, how the “vision” can be formulated and promoted;

[f] mentions that the component parts of the central campaign, leader’s office, HQ staff and election campaign team were, in effect, in different compartments but does address why no-one got hold of this lethal fact very early on; since Nick Clegg became leader there has been too great an emphasis on having able younger people in these teams, which is fine but at least a modicum of very experienced individuals are needed at the central end; anyone with experience of the constituencies and of electoral behaviour would not have put Sam Gyimah and Chuka Umunna into Kensington and Cities of London and Westminster respectively.

[g] is written as if we have a party that functions politically and is a major player whereas it does not do so and was – and is – largely ignored.

These comments must suffice for LDV. To survive in any meaningful political and electoral presence, the party has to formulate, adopt and to promote a process towards an up-to-date statement of philosophy and values in today’s vastly different circumstances to the last effort in 2002. Then it has to apply itself to carrying through a revival strategy, constituency by constituency, over the next three years. The party has had almost an obsession in devising a detailed organisational structure at every level, it is, alas, a castle in the air and largely irrelevant to the political depths the party is in.


* Michael Meadowcroft joined the Liberal Party in 1958. He has served at every level of the party organisation. He was a Leeds City Councillor, West Yorkshire Met County Councillor and MP for Leeds West, 1983-87. For 25 years he led or was part of electoral missions to 35 new democracies on four continents.

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  • As usual a huge amount of common sense from Michael meadowcroft. I would like to see him give time in another piece to what he sees as the way forward constituency by constituency.

  • James Belchamber 22nd May '20 - 12:50pm

    I agree with much of this, and I believe the worst instincts of the party hierarchy over the past few years has been a tendency develop command-and-control structures in the party – which ultimately leads to a thought monoculture.

    We need the party membership to formulate polish a clear, over-arching vision for the country – the whole of the party membership, that is. We then need to free all 632 constituencies to work out their own path to winning in alignment with that vision.

    Ultimately one of the things the report fails to identify is that “campaigning excellence” has been lost not because we forgot how to campaign well, but because the lessons we learned in the 80s and 90s about campaigning well are becoming less and less relevant to today’s political landscape. We must respect them, but we must evolve them.

    Evolving campaigning excellence will require a true diversity of theory and application, and a culture that allows people to share and build on each others’ successes, as well as learning from their failures.

    Ultimately, no pamphlet or training session will deliver this – instead, we need the freedom to experiment, test, and fail our way to success.

  • Peter Chapman 22nd May '20 - 1:04pm

    The review was bland and failed to be specific.The party has failed to progress since 2010 and in most constituencies has gone backward…where we have had local election success it is still aging activists from the 80, and 90’s doing and refining what they have always done campaigning wise.Since Chris rennard left the central party seems to have been a mutual admiration society who have contributed nothing of any substance to the way forward……I fearful our party s future

  • There was a party leader (Charles Kennedy) who had the ‘human touch’., liked and respected. His alcohol problem indicated him as a human with faults a bit like all of us. Another leader who can also ‘come across’ is needed.
    Local Constituencies should have more freedom to experiment in their areas as they are the ones that can ,thru research, identify the problems of their area work towards,with support to build up their region. All areas can pool their findings to influence national policies.Political situations change rapidly. Reviews should be done say every 5 years to allow the party to stay relevant to politics of the time

  • Assuming they didn’t want to fight their old seats, Chuka Umunna could have gone up against Boris Johnson in Uxbridge with Sam Gyimah staying in Surrey, possibly fighting MIchael Gove. And Luciana Berger should have fought Jeremy Corbyn in Islington North, focussing on anti-semitism.

  • Tony Greaves 22nd May '20 - 5:24pm

    A lot of good sense here. There is now a strong wind behind the “implement the review in every detail” reaction, led in some cases by people with lesser ability to think for themselves and certain place-holders on national committees. Surely in a democratic party we should now be engaging in a major debate on what is right in the review and what (pace MM) is missing.

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd May '20 - 5:40pm

    It’s good that you point out the parlous state of our party, Michael. but the review does show not only the dire leadership of the election campaign but also the continuing need of hard work on the ground. There may indeed have been and was poor communication from the centre to the local parties, but ‘derelict’ constituencies like my own haven’t concentrated enough on fighting local elections as well as Brexit. And the review is very specific and definite about what must be done now, at all levels, to remedy the dire situation, which I hope will be seriously followed.

    One thing I do disagree with you on – it was not up to Baroness Thornhill and her team to advise on ‘formulation and promotion’ of the ‘vision’ we need. What is this vision? It is the result of working out by members of what we tell the voters about what we have to offer them now. Not a restatement of our philosophy and values, which have been quite well articulated and understood already if not always acted on, but a clear statement of what we want to do for and with them, which we will now campaign to achieve. We can ask the leadership candidates to endorse the vision, and lead us in its accomplishment.

  • The report seemed eager to spread the blame widely and as a result, thinly. The remedial actions are consequently of the same profile. I suspect that it gives many party officials a great deal of improvements to implement, but I think it failed to identify the principal reasons for the plummeting performance and the critical changes that must be made to reverse the party’s fortunes, assuming that is possible.
    Some people here do not wish to see change. They prefer to blame the electoral system, the electorate, the lies of the Tories, the stupidity of the public, Labour’s, flip flop policies, Nigel Farage, the coalition, the list is endless. Others are very critical of the party leadership and management and seem to think that the problems are self-inflicted, but they hesitate to be very specific or to make clear recommendations.
    I do not wish to take either side in these observations but here are some thoughts. The party is at rock bottom and is currently irrelevant. If Starmer raises the popularity of the Labour Party, then this Party could shrivel to a liberal club for diehard supporters.
    There is just room in this comment to make one more point. The political landscape has just changed enormously because of Brexit, Covid, Starmer and the future economic crisis.

  • David Evans 22nd May '20 - 7:04pm

    Michael is close to being absolutely right on everything he says. The review team, though made up of impeccable Liberals and Liberal Democrats was so un-diverse in areas that mattered, it was almost unbelievable. What else can you say of a team of fifteen made up of four Chief Execs, Three Directors, Two lead figures in the Public Sector and Five Leaders of Councils or major council groups. Putting it bluntly – Too many people used to being Chiefs and, maybe just one member used to just being a member of the Poor Blooming Infantry.

    Equally we had Two Lords, two ex MPs, Five other PPCs, Five Council leaders and one ex party staff member in the nine who were not in the six selected from the major donors, Senior Foreign Liberals and the two Reps from Scotland and Wales . All in all too metro-centric, too Westminster bubble centric, and too Party organisation centric.

    And definitely no-one – Not a single person who has been saying things have been going disastrously wrong for most of the last decade, and that the people at and around the top, should have done something about this long ago.

    So what do we end up with in the report?
    1) Lots of high level generalisations about what went wrong (but little supporting detail to indicate what specifically needs to be put right),
    2) Lots of recommendations saying we need a total review of everything, everywhere which will tie up the party for years in endless navel gazing, and
    3) Absolutely nothing on what really has to change
    . – The reluctance of the Party Hierarchy to face up to the root cause of the problem – Their unwillingness to accept that they have allowed this to happen and indeed supported much of it at the time.

    Too much Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5 and not enough Oasis Standing on the Shoulder of Giants – “Where did it all go Wrong?”

  • Richard Underhill 22nd May '20 - 7:23pm

    The review strategy depends on successful fundraising.
    If that is a problem please do not approve the review,
    but we must have a leadership election if we are to continue to exist.

  • On this last point I totally agree. The problem is not what we say but that we never say anything. In times of crisis leaders come to the fore but Sir Ed has not been on the news for 9 weeks.His PMQ question was asked erratically. David Owen was always on news despite only having 7 MPs.

  • Roger Billins 22nd May '20 - 8:00pm

    I agree with Michael. The party is in an existential moment. It lost its radical, community campaigning roots and tried to replace that with an appeal to europhile, young middle class people. Trouble is, many of them were not frightened of voting for Corbyn’s Labour.

  • Paul Barker 22nd May '20 - 8:12pm

    Time to knock another Myth on the head before it goes any farther.

    No, this was not a Golden Opportunity missed. If Johnson had called the Election in the first Week of October we might have got a very different result but with 12 MPs our influence on the timing og the Vote was negligable.

    If the Defectors from Labour & The Tories had seen the neccesity to co-operate with The Libdems from the start, things might have been Very different but there was nothing more we could have done to persuade them, we bent over backwards to be nice to them & they responded with a stab in our back.

    The Review has it right, too many of us went on being too optimistic for too long but it probably didnt have that much effect on the overall result.

  • As stated earlier, we have Brexit, Covid and a future economic crisis. Some authors here are excited about UBI, building on what the government is doing to help the public cope with lockdown. I suggest that as we move into the next phase, the emphasis will be getting everyone back to work and reducing unnecessary public costs. Extending benefits to people who do not need them would seem to be a doubtful strategy and an unwelcome addition to the current record expenditure.
    Remaining in the EU is no longer relevant. It is therefore clear that the party urgently needs new policies. But this leads to other questions. What is the purpose of the party in this new political landscape? Is there a need for the party, if so, what is that need?
    I really do think that the party has to start again. The Government has exceeded expectations in providing financial help for those locked out of income. The EU is guilty of driving the trade talks towards no deal. Starmer is trying to re-position the Labour party. Whether people here agree or not, the arguments of six months ago are now out of date.

  • This is perhaps not going to be the most forensic comment, and it is meant with the best of intentions as an ex-Liberal Democrat who would like to see a Social Democratic alternative. I voted Conservative at the election for the first time ever, it was a wrench but having done it once I would now do it again.

    The Liberal Democrats just come across as ‘posh and preachy’. I don’t know what the working-class base of the party is – but the MPs all seem to come from really posh places, certainly the ones with a media profile. If I think Liberal Democrats I think Waitrose and Ocado, not Tesco or Aldi. I think delivered organic veg boxes rather than a queue outside Lidl. The party just does not seem to exist in my world.

    As for preachy – whether it be climate change, the EU, education….. it just always seems that the Liberal Democrats talk down to people, telling you why you are wrong and how they have some uniquely brilliant insight; which is particularly galling when the person talking down to you is a member of the House of Lords.

    I don’t think the defectors helped. To most people I think it just looked wrong to have so many MPs who were elected from one party suddenly becoming Liberal Democrats; and it changed how the party looked. Why vote for the imitation Conservatives when you could vote for the real thing? The adulation that they were given just looked immature as well, it reminded me of when I met a famous football player when I was 6.

    The other thing that I thought of, on my way to the polling station, was which of the three party leaders I could imagine standing up for Britain internationally? I am afraid it was not the one the party had; and it is not a gender thing before I get preached at – I can imagine Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May or Nicola Sturgeon being that person.

    Please be kind, this is not a full critique, just my reasons for not-voting for the party that I was once a member of. I remember the party as being a party of really lovely people, and I am sure that it still is – it just doesn’t come over that way anymore.

  • Philip Knowles 23rd May '20 - 8:01am

    There were a few things missing from the review (and Michael’s review of the review).
    One was Jo hi-jacking the Brexit motion and announcing BEFORE Conference what Party policy was going to be. I sat on my hands in the vote as she had made it a ‘vote of confidence’.
    The other is the effect of OMOV on Party policy. Autumn Conference (where, let’s face it, Party policy is made) is ALWAYS south of London. The result is that policy is made on the basis of this who live in the south or have the wherewithal to travel and stay there. The vast majority of members have no say in policy making and the decisions about what is debated at Conference.
    I submitted a motion for the Bournemouth Conference about truth-telling in politics. It was rejected because Federal Policy Committee was ‘working on something’. Three months later we were in a campaign where we (who complain bitterly about our opponents telling half-truths) were accused of doing just that. Plaid Cymru received plaudits for their proposals for for truth-telling.
    The Party has become hide-bound by procedures. We are not nimble or agile anymore. In business, small businesses are lauded because of their ability to react faster than their bigger competitors. We have become a supertanker and we find it difficult to change direction.
    If we don’t fix that we are in even greater trouble than we thought.

  • Doug Chisholm 23rd May '20 - 9:45am

    “However, it would be wrong to conclude that this is simply a story of the Revoke policy, a prime ministerial campaign, over-optimistic targeting and one-track messaging. The real story runs much deeper and over a much longer period of time.”

    Disagree, everything else pales into insignificance. I am afraid this is like getting a plumber to check your electricity after the roof has been blown off your house. Since the coalition the most significant attribute of the Libdems has been denial.

  • James Fowler 23rd May '20 - 10:35am

    @Ed. Interesting points. It sounds like you were looking for a charismatic leader with a good connection to ordinary peoples’ concerns. David Owen and Paddy Ashdown spring to mind, but generally I don’t think that popular charisma is a liberal forte. Preaching is part of the LD’s non-conformist heritage, but I agree it sits uneasily with the modern interpretation of a commitment to social liberty. Essentially the party represents the concerns of the ‘Brahmin Left’ of white collar public sector professionals which has caused endless problems in the relationship with Labour. It has the potential to transcend that and become more distinctive and consistent by fully embracing liberalism; however, I don’t think that liberalism is ever likely to become a popular creed again as it was in the 19th century.

  • Michael Bukola 23rd May '20 - 12:20pm

    Watching the 1979 General Election on BBC Parliament right now, you realise that it wasn’t that long ago that no ethnic minorities candidates were even standing for Parliament, let alone getting anybody elected….that said, we seem to have lost the ability to choose candidates in accordance with the local demographics. Chris Rennard understood this and a lot of success followed. Not recognising that Chuka or Sam could have stood in a seat like Bermondsey, which had both a historic LibDem vote and elected councillors, members and supporters, capitalising on a strong vote was simply breath-taking.

  • Surely it’s within our whit to compromise a message that is topical, relevant, resonates with the public and media and distinguishes us from the other Parties. The other two Parties are doing all they can to help us by their incompetence. It then needs to be got out there in a coordinated fashion ready for the next electoral challenge. Surprisingly, we still have an army of campaigners who are able and willing to knock on doors etc. Give them the tools.

  • Gordon Lishman 23rd May '20 - 1:03pm

    As ever, lots of comments from different directions, expressing definite opinions on past, present and future.
    I see no sign of any consensus-building about what happened and why, where we are now and what we do next. The only areas of general agreement are dislike of what’s happened (albeit for different reasons) and a strong certainty that “something must be done”.
    The biggest challenge our part faces is how to draw our people together in a broad consensus about political analysis, priorities and strategy. That won’t be achieved by a new Leader (although they could set about building it as Paddy did in his first years) nor will it be achieved by all of us offering our own arguments for other people to pick over randomly.

  • @ Gordon Lishman “I see no sign of any consensus-building about what happened and why, where we are now and what we do next”. That’s not too surprising in a blame game culture, but there’s a quick answer to that Gordon.

    Instead of an introspective ‘dislike of what’s happened…..and a strong certainty that ‘something must be done’, why not ask the people ? If any of Sainsbury’s millions is left spend it on in depth polling to ask the electorate (‘real people is the jargon) what and why they think of the party, its policies and it’s ‘personalities’.

    I quoted Truro on another thread. The same could be done in all the 62 seats held by the Lib Dems. Truro is a paradigm example of what the electorate thought of the party between 2010-19. In nine years Truro moved from almost winning the seat (20,000 votes, 41%, 2010) in three steps down to 7,000 votes (12%, 2019). It would be a good idea to establish why, and where, the missing 13,000 went.

    Winning Burnley (15,000 down to 4,000) and Scottish Borders, (22,000 to 4,000) are other examples…… and the 59 others. Where, and why, did 11,000 and 18,000 voters go elaewhere ?

    Ask the electorate – even though you might not like the answers.

  • @David Raw. Agree 100%. Let’s ask the electorate just what they like, or don’t like about our party. Might not be cheap but I can’t think of a better way of spending the money. But are we prepared to change our positions, or at least our priorities, based on the results ?

  • The over centralization of our party occurred when it was formed by the merger with the SDP. Prior to that each local Liberal Association had autonomy and mostly affiliated with the national organization. When local difficulties arose they could be fudged as in Eastbourne recently. In deciding what reforms are needed now we should learn from our history.

  • David Garlick 23rd May '20 - 4:48pm

    I read the review as an attempt to clearly state what was wrong, so much to report, but leave the future plan page to those who follow on with the responsibility to write it, seek approval for it and deliver it. No report on the past, which was I belief the task, can state the complicated future plan that is needed to fit a dysfunctional organisation with no clear chain of command. Much of what is written here is good going on great but it was never going to be in this report.

  • George Kendall 23rd May '20 - 5:18pm

    @Joseph Bourke
    Genuine question here. How do you reconcile the following sentence from your quote with a belief that that most people would support substantial extra taxation to pay for a new universal benefit (a UBI)?

    “Despite increasing poverty among working age people, even fewer, only 30%, want to see more government spending on welfare benefits”

    (My view is that polling can be very misleading, but probably the British Social Attitudes survey has is about right. This doesn’t mean we should slavishly follow public opinion, but we should certainly take it into account)

  • It is a good question, George. The simple answer is the great majority of people will have more money in their pockets. In the scheme, I outlined a couple of months back for a minimum income guarantee all basic rate taxpayers and benefit claimants would effectively see an increase in their take-home pay or benefit payments, while higher rate taxpayers could lose up to £2500 of tax relief on the current personal allowance of £12,500.
    Public opinion changes with circumstances and more recent polls indicate increasing support for higher taxes on wealth and companies
    “74% of the public want to see the wealthy paying more tax – including 64% of Conservatives. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (66%) believe that people who earn a living from their wealth should face the same tax rates as those who work. 69% support council tax reform to make it more closely reflect current house prices, so those with more expensive homes pay more. 63% support an annual wealth tax, including 57% of Conservatives. Only 24% don’t want to pay more tax personally and a similar percentage (26%) of respondents want to see tax cuts for everyone”
    The history of social welfare reform including the Beveridge report indicates that people will support social justice measures even in periods of austerity such as the immediate post-war period.
    I think, as a party, we need to be thinking in particular about taxes on economic rents i.e. LVT on land and mortgages; excess profits over and above normal returns on real capital arising from intellectual property protected by the state; and especially fossil fuel and carbon taxes as we endeavour to move towards a more sustainable economy.
    We are facing a world-wide downturn in International trade with all the implications that has for a long-lasting depression and long-term unemployment. A robust safety net, green jobs and access to affordable housing will be needed as never before.

  • John Littler 24th May '20 - 10:52am

    Now Hobhouse is running on an explicit pledge to end that position – to stake out a distinct position on the liberal-left, rather than one of a liberal party that could go either way or a centrist party with liberal elements.

    The party’s debate over its ideological position is also an argument over its electoral strategy. The Liberal Democrats face two problems at elections. The first is that they are not, realistically, going to be able to govern alone; their best-case scenario is a hung parliament, so Liberal Democrat leaders are often asked who they would go into power with.

    The second is that most voters regard the leader of the Labour Party as being the Lib Dems’ preferred choice of governing partner, so if that Labour leader is not popular in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat battleground seats, or worse, if they are actively unpopular, then the Liberal Democrats do badly.

    I’m not saying that the popularity or otherwise of the Liberal Democrat leader isn’t a factor in how the party does in a general election, but there is a good deal of evidence to suggest it is less of a factor than the popularity of the Labour leader. The 2017 election is a pretty good example of that.

    The LibDems have to take a clear position to get away from much of the public view of it as a local or national shape shifter and in the Clegg era, as power opportunists, even if it is not true. Certainly not more true than any other politicians.

    The LibDems are nothing if not of the Liberal Left. Under FPTP, if pushing some extreme free markets line with no popular support for such, it might as well give up and merge, handing over it’s resources to the Tories

  • Peter Chambers 24th May '20 - 4:29pm

    @Ruth Bright

    Why (and I am not accusing does everyone who has been sacked or sidelined think they are the holder (as the report puts it) of the party’s “corporate memory”?

    Possibly as, in part, they are. Record keeping in dysfunctional UK organisations is rubbish. Topical examples are CHX and the London Mayor’s Office. Also one other.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th May '20 - 5:51pm

    David Raw

    In nine years Truro moved from almost winning the seat (20,000 votes, 41%, 2010) in three steps down to 7,000 votes (12%, 2019). It would be a good idea to establish why, and where, the missing 13,000 went.

    We used to be seen as the main opposition to the Conservatives in places like that. But Labour were keen to push the idea that we keenly supported everything the 2010-15 government did. I.e. we are just another form of Conservative. So obviously that lost us most of our votes.

    We needed urgently to explain the situation in 2010. The disproportional representation system meant that the only stable government that could be formed was a Conservative-LibDem coalition, and that would be five sixths Conservative and one sixth LibDem. The policies of that government reflected that balance. We had only a minor say in it, we were not in a position to make the Conservatives drop all the stand for and pick up what we really wanted.

    So, maybe we had to agree to it, as otherwise there would have been no stable government, and that would have left the country in a mess. But that does not mean it was our ideal, and did what a LibDem dominated government would have done.

    Yet that was not made clear in the 2015 election, or the 2017 or the 2019. So it seems people now really do believe we are just right-wing Conservative types. To make it worse, the Conservatives have managed to push the idea that it’s the EU that has led to our country becoming as it has since 1979, rather than every government since then being one of Conservative-style economics. So, now by supporting Brexit they are seen as the party to vote for to oppose what they really stand for, and we are seen as the real heirs of the old Conservative Party.

  • Michael in his article writes “To survive in any meaningful political and electoral presence, the party has to formulate, adopt and to promote a process towards an up-to-date statement of philosophy and values in today’s vastly different circumstances to the last effort in 2002.”
    We sometimes forget that the UK Liberal Democrats are part of a worldwide movement.
    Has this exercise in value definition not been effectively undertaken by Liberal International with the publication of The Liberal Manifesto, adopted by the Congress of Liberal International in 2017. It sets out a Vision for Human Progress in a Free World, the challenges of today and the future, and ten policy frameworks that furnish a statement of philosophy and value for the modern world.
    1. Promote equal rights for all, and defend human rights worldwide
    2. Strengthen democratic institutions, the rule of law and civil society
    3. Defend freedom of information, expression, and the media and the right to privacy
    4. Foster, extend and promote education
    5. Deliver best access to health care for illness and disability
    6. Secure sustainability of global growth
    7. Promote technological advances and fight abuses
    8. Support trade and investment
    9. Support controlled migration
    10. Strengthen international peace and cooperation

    That is a pretty good guide to the plethora of issues that the party needs to be able to present a clear and unequivocal policy position on; and that will ultimately determine its electoral fortunes at the national level as we go regroup for campaigns yet to come.

  • I am passing on these comments from Michael Meadowcroft:

    Ruth Bright: Yes, “corporate memory” is important and it works both ways, ie it ought to prevent the party repeating mistakes, such as the fond idea that rigid targeting can continue to deliver gains after its first outing or that Focus leaflets that only highlight parochial issues can build a political party. But it ought also to encourage the party to keep banging the drum for popular policies, such as the parliamentary party’s 100% opposition to the Iraq war, the Liberal Party’s sixty year support for a united Europe, its 125 year support for land value taxation and its seventy year advocacy of co-ownership in industry – all policies unique to Liberals.

    David: yes – I wrote a paper on strategy for Nick Harvey before the 2017 general election and revised it following that election. I have revised it again following last year’s disaster. In view of your, and others’ comment I have put it on my website: (Click “Liberalism” in lefthand column and it the first piece.)

    James Belchamber and n hunter: yes, of course, the local associations need the freedom to do their own thing, but, frankly, most are are in no state to function politically or organisationally on their own. HQ needs to be proactive in training a cadre of volunteers capable of visiting every constituency with a “start up” template and at least a minimum of pump-priming.

    Katherine Pindar: I only mentioned the lack of positive content in the Review on future strategy because it did put forward the bare outline of a future strategy.

    Peter: you make the point about possible challenges to Liberal Democrats if Keir Starmer makes a decent fist as Labour leader. Such a problem will only arise if the Liberal Democrats have only a shallow understanding of what Liberalism is. A dynamic party that is confident in its beliefs and its unique appeal, and is capable of campaigning on its values and its policies has nothing to fear from a hegemonic, statist, old-fashioned, nationalistic Labour Party with a pleasant and forensic leader who, frankly, does not stir the blood.

    You also state “Remaining in the EU is no longer relevant”. I disagree! With a global pandemic and the threat of climate change it is more relevant. It took the Liberal Party twenty years of campaigning to get the UK to enter the then EEC and I hope it doesn’t take as long to re-enter!

    Philip Knowles makes an important point about the location of the autumn conference being always on the south coast skewing the party’s debates and image. If this has to continue the party must at least implement differential rates of registration for those travelling considerable distances. It could be really radical by adding a surcharge for “locals” to subsidise travel and accommodation!

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    @ Chris, Adam and David, So can we all agree (except perhaps Alex ) that being in favour of the EU does require uncritical support? This is a big problem...