The Liberal Democrats are back and the electoral opportunity is huge

I’m not a Lib Dem. I’m Labour and I hope that in voting as I did I will help the Labour Party see sense and do the right thing for the country.

This was Alistair Campbell tweeting about his support for our party on Sunday night, following the European election results.

In some ways history is repeating itself. Through his work in convincing the Blair government to go to war in Iraq, Campbell was also partly responsible for the last great surge of support from Labour to the Liberal Democrats. What we learnt from that episode in our history is that party loyalties die-hard amongst much of the UK electorate, as those who supported us due to our anti-Iraq stance in many cases disappeared as quickly as they came.

A Labour voter does not suddenly become a Liberal Democrat overnight. The famous Brent East by-election victory taught us this, where in 2003 Sarah Teather was elected with a 28.5% swing away from a highly unpopular Labour party. The result was however reversed in 2015, and within two years the Liberal Democrats were coming third in the constituency with only 4% of the vote.

The tidal wave of support for the Liberal Democrats that came from our anti-Iraq stance in the Noughties bares a striking resemblance to what happened on Sunday night. The European election results were incredible, exhilarating, glorious and logic-defying. In London alone, Labour strongholds have been transformed. The borough of Lambeth saw the Liberal Democrats win with almost one third of the popular vote, compared with Labour’s 22% – a dramatic loss of 30% of their vote share compared with only a year earlier in the local elections. These results were repeated across the capital: 36% in Camden, 33% in Southwark, 52% in Richmond, 37% in Wandsworth – the list goes on.

As a party, we now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to change British politics and create a liberal Britain. However, we must not be complacent and assume the work is already done, with further great successes to follow. The European election results provided a strong affirmation for our unashamedly pro-Remain stance, but Alistair Campbell isn’t the only person to ‘lend’ their vote to us. This was the Remainers’ revenge – an opportunity to protest, in what many considered to be a relatively unimportant election, against the two main parties who have provided the country such catastrophically poor leadership on Brexit.

The challenge, but also the opportunity, we now have is finding a way to retain the loyalty of those who have in many cases broken a lifelong tradition of supporting either Labour or the Conservatives. This won’t be easy and it cannot be built on tactical voting or our anti-Brexit stance alone. We need to offer a wider positive narrative for the future, which clearly identifies the vision the Liberal Democrats have for the United Kingdom. A vision that will inspire people to rightly conclude that we are fit to govern.

Whereas both of the UK’s main parties have, in the past, been able to build coalition of voters based on some basic and memorable key values, the Liberal Democrats have consistently struggled to define their unique selling proposition to the electorate. In Labour’s case their values have been built on their commitment to social justice and for the Conservatives it has been tradition mixed with economic competence.

Politics across the western world has now turned on its head, with the battles no longer being waged between left and right, but instead between open and closed; internationalist or nationalist. In this new paradigm our values are clear whereas our main opponents’ are not. While Labour equivocates, we know which side of this vital debate we sit on. However, we cannot assume that the electorate understands that we share their values – it needs to be made crystal-clear.

This isn’t about producing a manifesto of detailed policies and promoting them; it is about connecting with people on a more visceral level. Explaining that we believe that immigration is a good thing, that global problems such as climate change require global solutions and that we are all citizens of the world. The detail on how we will create a better future can come later.

To do this will require some changes in the way we campaign. We have to accept that Sunday’s results were primarily derived from a strong, simple and honest national message driven by the federal party, to ‘Stop Brexit’, which was easily understandable and memorable for a wide portion of the electorate. Our future campaigns need to be similarly bold in their content. Elections are no longer determined by the strength of a manifesto or the strong presence of a local champion as the candidate for office. They are primarily determined through simple and decisive messaging that speaks to those who hold similar views.

So let’s hope that the future leader of our party realises the significance of the opportunity we have before us and seizes the moment. For the time has come to build a liberal legacy that will last for many generations.

* Dan Whitehead is a councillor in the London Borough of Southwark and the Campaigns Lead for the Southwark Local Party.

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  • Peter Farrell-Vinay 27th May '19 - 7:26pm
  • Dan Whitehead 27th May '19 - 7:32pm

    Very interesting, Peter Farrell-Vinay. It very much confirms the suspicion that an unashamedly remain stance means that our voters are most likely to come from the Labour party and not the Conservatives. This may also change the constituencies which we consider to be target seats in a general election.

  • John Marriott 27th May '19 - 8:22pm

    Now should not be the time to obsess about how the Lib Dems can gain political advantage from a situation that could, if handled incorrectly, endanger not only the future of the union; but even more importantly, the economic future and wellbeing of our country as a whole.

    We have theoretically got until the 31 October to sort out what on earth we are going to do to prevent the U.K. crashing out of the EU without a deal, let alone stopping Brexit altogether. By ‘we’ I mean all those, regardless of party affiliation or none, who basically reckon it makes sense to stay where we are, not, in my case, because I think that everything the EU does, intends to do or stands for is perfect; but because, all things considered, it really is the only show in town.

    To paraphrase the late Bill Shankly, it isn’t a matter of life or death. It’s more important than that!

  • Richard Underhill 27th May '19 - 8:30pm

    The result in Northern Ireland has come at last, but what a result!
    Nothing in England, Scotland or Wales is more pleasing than Naomi Long’s win.
    Beating the DUP leader in 2010, while campaigning against double-jobbing shows her mettle.

  • Paul Barker 27th May '19 - 9:04pm

    While I agree with Dan Whiteheads conclusions, consolidating our new support won’t be enough; we need to build some sort of Alliance with The Greens & Change. Luckily that fits with continuing to fight to Remain in The EU.

  • Katharine Pindar 27th May '19 - 9:20pm

    Dan expresses wonderfully the current excitement and delight of London Lib Dems, who have achieved such great results and deserve their celebrations. You are surely right that the results, both in the council elections and in the Euros, present a great opportunity for our advance, and we certainly do need ‘a wider positive narrative for the future’. That was explored to some extent in the long-running thread that began on May 7 (Time to celebrate success – but what next beyond stopping Brexit?’), and the questions are equally valid on May 27 and no doubt for weeks to come!

    But I do want to suggest one note of caution, please. You say that we need to make it clear to the electorate that we share their values. But on the open-closed internationalist-nationalist spectrum, there will be a large portion of the electorate which doesn’t share our values: specifically, I doubt if more than a minority think of themselves as citizens of the world. I wish they did! However, the values expressed in our Preamble surely do have widespread appeal, and we have much to offer. As to simple telling slogans, let’s avoid the simplistic, but Bollocks to Brexit really was great.

  • Tony Greaves 27th May '19 - 9:24pm

    You think the Greens are interested? You think Remain have anything to offer?

  • As I have said before (sorry!):

    1. Change the policies – become the New Liberal Democrats. “Bollocks to climate change, university fees, bad education and poverty (oh.. and Brexit)”

    2. Burn the council, House of Commons, House of Lords, EU Parliament passes and take to the streets (and get on the train or phone to Peterborough!).

    Or blow it.

    We are back down to 7% if Labour adopt (full heartedly) an EU referendum. Election nights are mirages. It’s never as good or as bad as one thinks. Enjoy it. Grasp the opportunity of a hearing with the British people. But remember that it’s only an opportunity. I fear one to slip through our fingers like sand.

  • Do I think the Greens are interested, not really but by offering and them rejecting it makes it clear to the world and his wife their priorities. As to change be magnanimous even a few extra members is a plus.

  • I know that it is easy to get carried away with the analysis which says that the election was all about remainders v leavers. However life is more complicated than that. It was an election. You were invited to choose between parties.
    And what was on people’s minds? They have seen the sheer chaos that purports to be our parliament. They have seen many months of failure to deal with a simple issue. As responsible citizens why vote for one of the parties which is responsible for the mess.
    My impression is that most people have noticed the chaos the country is in. However I am certain that activists in the Labour and Conservative parties have noticed. We have learned the reality surely that it follows from the “where you work you win slogan” that where you don’t work you don’t win. This is what happened. The two parties effectively decided not to campaign.
    We exaggerate only too easily the changes in the electorate. The parties change rather than the people. In particular resources are scarce especially for the Liberal Democrats.
    And when the work stops the votes stop.

  • I’m not much of an enthusiast for alliances with other parties – I thought we should have strangled the SDP at birth, and we shouldn’t touch Change with a bargepole (let those few MPs who are liberals join us anyway) – but I do think that we are possibly at an historic point in our national politics when the old paradigms are shifting and there is space to create a new liberal/green axis. I don’t suggest that we should have a merger, or even necessarily a formal Alliance though that might be a possibility, but Green/Liberal agreement would benefit both parties: it would reinforce and make more obvious to the public our own green credentials, and it would push the Green Party towards an ideological coherence that it inevitably lacks because ‘green’ is basically a set of policies without a core philosophy regarding the means of implementation.

  • @tonyhill

    Would we have won seats like Winchester without the SDP?

    I think you are wrong about the Greens. Other than in some very specific local agreements. We should burnish our green credentials both in national policies and local action and point out that in 99.9% of seats they can’t win.

  • John Bicknell 28th May '19 - 9:46am

    I hope that our party uses this opportunity to build a broader base of support rather than relying on being the leading Remain Party. Interesting that the Greens (who were very tribal in this election) lost no opportunity to repeat the mantra that they are anti-Brexit, anti-austerity, and anti-climate change, whilst suggesting that the Lib Dems are simply a one-trick remainer pony. Windows of political opportunity do not last long (as CUK can testify), and Labour will inevitably seek to shore up its crumbling remainer support, by coming out less ambiguously for a further referendum. We have the momentum for the moment, and must use it wisely.

  • John Marriott 28th May '19 - 9:48am

    @Michael 1
    “Burn the Council, House of Commons “etc. Calm down, dear. You need to get out more. Unless, of course, your tongue was firmly in your cheek when you wrote that down.

    When searching for an appropriate analogy I invariably find something from my song book. A couple of lines from Oasis’ ‘Look Back in Anger’ come to mind:

    ‘So I start a revolution from my bed
    ‘Cause you said the brains I had went to my head”

    I think I prefer the calm and analytical ‘Michael 1’! Oh, by the way, you WERE right about the Lib Dems ending up in second place. I guess that, when I’ve finished eating that slice of humble pie, I’d better start taking psephology more seriously in future!

    Seriously though, I do agree with many of your observations, although I would not include free university education (for all?). As far as where the Lib Dems stand in the party pecking order, they would stand a better chance if they worked with others, especially the Green Party and Change UK (unless, of course, having seen the writing on the wall, the latter decides to throw in its lot – minus possibly Ms Soubry – with them anyway).

    Who knows? We might even find that a post Corbyn Labour Party, or elements thereof, would be more likely to welcome a conversation. Many people reckon that a major factor in Sarah Olney’s success in the Richmond Park By Election back in 2016 was a deal struck with the Greens and a half hearted Labour campaign.

    It is obvious that the centre ground is getting pretty crowded, which, under FPTP, would make it the graveyard of many moderate ambitions (not that everyone in the Lib Dems wants to be put down as a moderate). But surely the most important thing to do at the moment is to concentrate on fighting a no Deal Brexit. The clock is ticking. We can fight that fuse under Westminster later.

  • John Marriott 28th May '19 - 10:00am

    Just a couple of corrections. That song was, of course, ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ and ‘fight’ in the last sentence should have read ‘light’.

    As for heading off to Peterborough, all I would say is that, if the Brexit Party does make a breakthrough there, I would think that the idea of precipitating an early General Election might go out of the window, certainly as far as the Tories and Labour are concerned.

  • Katharine Pindar 28th May '19 - 10:15am

    ‘Oh, winnow all my folly and you’ll find A grain or two of truth among the a chaff’ – a line from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Merryman, Jack Point, came to mind as I read Michael 1’s latest extravaganza, above. It does seem likely that as Labour in a grindingly slow way finally admit to favouring Remain, many of the Remainers who flocked to vote for them in June 2017 and in disgust then flocked to us in the Euro election may revert to supporting Labour. We will have to sharpen our pens to point out firmly that our offering for the future beyond stopping Brexit is different from and better for the country than theirs.

  • Nonconformistradical 28th May '19 - 10:19am

    “although I would not include free university education (for all?)”

    Michael 1 – I do wish you would stop banging on all over LDV about free university education (which is a subsidy to the better off from the less well off and downright poor) and start thinking about the rest of the population – who need continuing education instead of abandoning it at the earliest possible opportunity.

  • @John Marriott 28th May ’19 – 9:48am


    I guess I burn with a little frustration – having lost two council seats myself! That our new councillors will spend too much time making that speech in council to an audience of … no-one or scrutinising performance indicator 30 – or MEPs, or Peers – although I do think most of our MPs have got the message – but to any LD MP if you’re ever tempted by the standing committee on delegated European legislation…. (Now I did run some good campaigns and at a guess was more active than most LD councillors in the country but if I was to have my time over again….!)

    My favourite question on council candidate approval panels is “What do you want to have achieved in four years time?” I have yet to have it satisfactorily answered – including from me. But, folks, you need to answer it and four years will be but a blink of an eye.

    My favourite ALDC training session is one where the great Jeanette Sunderland gave us al stone and told us to throw it at our council (I do believe metaphorically!) But do take the advice of ALDC folks!

    Thanks for admitting that I was right !!!!! (as I always am – except when I am wrong!) I must admit that you were (at least partially!) right in that deepest (rural) Lincolnshire is perhaps not very quickly changing its mind on Leave. And Boston (the highest Leave vote in the country) still had a (very) sizeable BP/UKIP vote. Northern towns/cities are changing their minds (and a bit in rural areas – but it only takes a bit!)

    But hey – hopefully by discussing things here (without too many barbs) we can learn from each other who are like-minded (mostly!!!)

  • Nonconformistradical 28th May '19 - 10:25am

    @Katharine Pindar
    “Labour in a grindingly slow way finally admit to favouring Remain, many of the Remainers who flocked to vote for them in June 2017 and in disgust then flocked to us in the Euro election may revert to supporting Labour.”

    Well, maybe and maybe not.

    “Half of Labour-Brexit Party switchers said they expected to stay with their new party at the next general election, with only just a quarter saying they expect to go back to Labour. Just over half (51%) of Labour-Lib Dem switchers currently say they will stay with the Lib Dems.”

    Our task is persuading the Labour switchers to us that we’re a better home for them in the long term.

  • Hi Silvio, how did your change mates get on in the EU elections? And what was that about the Lib Dems finishing 5th or 6th in the polls? How did that turn out? Hello Silvio, are you there, hello….hello.

    Huge congratulations to all the new MEPs now how do we help out in Peterborough?

  • On the whole, experience is that converts from Labour often stick. Converts from Tories generally return. Many of the converts from our stance on Iraq might have stuck but for the coalition and the general impression that we were centrists not too bothered about public services, poverty and inequality, but very keen on power. Unfair, but we let that impression grow.

    Some of the people who’ve posted on social media about switching from Labour and joining us sound like people who should have been with us all along and will probably now realise that. However, the collapse of Tory and Labour votes in this election was so great, we have to expect votes to be lost and need to remember our percentage of the vote was around what we got in general elections from 1992 to 2010.

  • marcstevens 28th May ’19 – 10:39am
    Hi Silvio, how did your change mates get on in the EU elections? And what was that about the Lib Dems finishing 5th or 6th in the polls? How did that turn out? Hello Silvio, are you there, hello….hello.

    Silvio was a faithful representative of Change UK’s delusions about themselves and the Lib Dems.

    Change UK’s dire Euro result may have induced a touch of poltical realism.

    They do have something to offer, namely11MPs, whose chance of survival would be materially increased from zero to possible if they had Lib Dem support and activism in their constituencies.

    If they’ve got any political sense at all, they will get on with either moving across to the Lib Dems en bloc or in dribs or drabs, If they choose to remain independent, they need to endorse Lib Dem candidates in every other seat, except where Lib Dems have stood down to back the Greens.

  • Nonconformistradical 28th May ’19 – 10:19am
    “although I would not include free university education (for all?)”
    Michael 1 – I do wish you would stop banging on all over LDV about free university education (which is a subsidy to the better off from the less well off and downright por

    Well said! The Lib Dem problem with tuition fees arose from promising one thing and doing another. The original promise should never have been made.

  • The EU elections show how South-West London vote has the potential to be a Lib Dem stronghold, by building on established areas such as Kingston and Richmond and then focusing on councils such as Wandsworth and Merton. Labour voters may well swing back from being a protest vote if Labour comes out for a 2nd ref. But of the 2015 GE voters – 39% of Conservative voters ended up voting remain. That segment of the Conservative vote has always been strong in those areas and is looking for a permanent home as there’s a huge misalignment between those voters priorities and the future direction of the Conservatives…

  • On free uni fees:

    1. It is a bookkeeping change .

    One is borrowing underwritten by the Government that we owe. The other is borrowing underwritten by the Government that we owe. The only difference is where you put it – a bit like PFIs (plus the interest rate for the Government is zero)

    2. It is NOT a promise that we couldn’t keep .

    Guess what we kept another £7 billion pledge! Aid spending – to govern is to choose (and it could have been delayed). We sacrificed our MPs and councillors for the world’s poorest It was just a pity that Clegg was so c**p on fees – he never supported it (in private)

    3. It’s political oblivion if don’t support it .

    Sorry folks but it’s true. It was the 1st thing Thornberry was attacking us on. Parties go through stages – rather like the bereaved. Denial. No choice. Complicated. Others would have done it. It was the messaging. (all true!) Don’t mention “the war”. But eventually as with New Labour and Cameron’s Tories they change & symbolic things. The first seats we have to win are “university towns” and voters there that voted Corbyn in ‘17 and Green in ’19.

    4. If Labour won and proposed it – would we really vote against it?

    5. The Lib Dem approach is that education (under 18 but now I suggest under 21), the NHS etc. is provided on the basis of need universally. Go & be Tories if you want to.

    6. Many things are a “subsidy to the middle classes” – ‘A’ levels to start with . Child benefit for the higher rate tax payers. Arguably if we really wanted to help the poor we would cut the NHS, state education, pensions for all but the poorest. This leads to a massive poverty trap, no support for them & the middle classes pay taxes in return for services as well.

    7. It’s the ONLY way to higher growth and productivity (to help the poor) . A tractor driver with skills to drive grows more than someone who plants by hand. Same with a programmer etc.

    8. My package is £21 billion for “no child left behind”, an equal package for non-uni 18+ and an adult education fund.

    9. We need “practical” skills at 18+ but within 50 years some 90% will be educated to degree level.

  • 2/2

    10. Our competitors are sending more to uni – 75% in South Korea today. (I had pushback that there was more young suicide there – true but it applies to all ages in SK). We’re no “thicker” than South Koreans.

    11. If you want to limit it to doctors fine. But engineers, entrepreneurs, social workers, teachers are all valuable too. /b> There might be an argument that some of it is dependent on doing things like Voluntary Service Overseas or helping poorer communities here.

    12. Borrowing makes sense. We call for borrowing for a physical infrastructure fund. We should call (even more) for a human infrastructure fund. More skills, higher GDP, more money to pay for it. It’s actually cheaper than not borrowing.

    13. If you don’t like borrowing – a fully costed manifesto will be along soon. £13 bn if we don’t Brexit. Limit Aid and defence spending. Have a graduate tax. Remove the cap on NI etc. etc. Take your pick! We can find £21 bn in a £800 bn budget!

    Sorry – 13 good, Liberal Democrat reasons why I will bang on about it (and I apologise that it’s irritating)!

  • Paul Holmes 28th May '19 - 3:37pm

    @Michael1 – On affordability ref Tuition Fees:
    a) The short term Pledge (as opposed to our then 13 year old policy of abolishing Fees) was ‘cost free’ since voting against any increase does not involve extra cost.
    b) Also of course the Coalition chose, despite the crippling austerity cuts it said were essential, to cut taxes by £27Billion. One third of which would have abolished Fees outright. Less really since as you point the taxpayer underwrites Fees borrowing and will eventually stand a long term loss of up to 50% on unpaid Fee Debt anyway.

    Politics is indeed about choices and George Osborne had assumed that Fees would be a Red Line for us. Our Leaders chose not to make it so.

    I do wonder, if the Cons Govt review does indeed suggest cutting Fees to £7,500 as is being widely touted, will Lib Dems on here be arguing against such an ‘unaffordable and reckless policy’ whilst the Tories lap it up and Labour (who introduced and then trebled Fees) call for more reductions!

  • Richard O'Neill 28th May '19 - 3:53pm

    Am I the only one who found the support of Alastair Campbell, Michael Heseltine and George Osborne a little depressing. They were three endorsements I would rather have done without. It’ll be Tony Blair next.

    As for Change UK at the moment they seems so unstable that we should keep our distance. The Green surge is the only thing that troubles me slightly. But they are still more of a fringe party when it comes to Westminster.

    But Lib Dems have proved again that we are the Third Force in national politics.

  • Paul Holmes 28th May '19 - 4:06pm

    Dan -there are a lot of interesting points in what you say but your conclusion in your penultimate paragraph is wrong -and for an ‘outsider’ Party like the Lib Dems electorally dangerous if our campaigners were to believe it and act accordingly.

    The vast majority of votes in UK elections are still cast in FPTP elections (Westminster and English Local Govt). There, a strong Constituency or Ward focused campaign is absolutely essential to attaining the critical mass needed for actually winning in that Constituency or Ward. Remember that UKIP won the 2014 Euro elections with 27% but has only ever elected a handful of Cllrs and just one MP (in a General Election). A year alter they took 12% of the national vote in 2015 but elected not a single MP. Likewise the Greens did very well on national vote share in the 1989 Euro elections but in those, at that time FPTP, elections won nothing and ever since have managed only a handful of Cllrs and one MP.

    The difference between FPTP and PR elections mostly explains this. But we also need to remember that voters see EU elections, like Parliamentary by elections, as a risk free chance to ‘send a message.’ Admittedly this particular ‘message’ was a historic record breaker as the major two Parties were abandoned in order to send a 34% Leave/39% Remain message but that doesn’t rewrite the reality of FPTP elections.

  • Michael 1 is correct that at the moment the government pays university tuition fees and hopes to get the money back in the future.

    We should believe in free education including for a first degree. I want us to go further and for us to have a policy to provide free training for the unemployed. Vince has talked about giving every 18 year old about £30,000 to spend on education and training, so we sort of accept the principle but we haven’t go the delivery method correct.

    I quite like the idea of a graduate tax of 1p on earnings above the national average, but then why should it only apply to those with degrees? I hope our one penny on income tax would only be applied at the average earning threshold and the higher rates.

  • Dennis Wake 28th May '19 - 4:27pm

    The rise of the Irish Party in the 19th century led to the collapse of the then main opposition party, the Liberals, in Ireland. The rise of the Scottish National Party in Scotland has led to the collapse of the Labour Party there. Will the rise of the Brexit Party, the English National Party, lead to the collapse of the Labour Party at least in the North of England and other traditional areas ? Listening to voters in the North they seem to think Labour has become a middle class party uninterested in the needs of their traditional supporters and have gone over to the the Brexit Party in large numbers undeterred by the leader’s obvious middle class character but very much attracted by his English Nationalism and a desire not to be ruled by foreigners even if it means a lower standard of living. The Irish put up with a long period of poverty after Independence but they did not wish to return to the United Kingdom with its landlords etc. as long as they could come here to work.
    There should be an opportunity for a party like the Liberal Democrats to attract the residual Labour vote.

  • Dan Whitehead 28th May '19 - 4:40pm

    Paul Holmes – thanks for your comment. To be clear, I am not at all dismissing the importance to continue to have a strong local presence. The word count somewhat limited me from explaining this point further.

    What I am saying is that historically we have often won in FTTP elections through having a strong local candidate that is well known and loved (Sir Simon Hughes in the case of Southwark). This remains desirable, although is unlikely to be the determining factor in most national elections.

    However, I completely agree that a strong ground presence in our targeted constituencies remains vital to our success. I think this is different to the identity of the candidate, with the emphasis here being on having a well organised local party that is capable at carrying the national message through doorstep conversations, leafleting and digital media.

  • chris moore 28th May '19 - 4:48pm

    @Michael 1.

    1.South Korea ‘s higher education system – which you see as a model and somehow suporting your argument – is in fact dominated by private universities/higher education institutes.

    2. I would prefer to spend the £21bn you quote for free tuition fees improving the lot of the poorest off.

    This does not make me a Tory.

    3. Surely, you can enter into discussion without insulting party members who disagree with you.

    4. I’m happier with your idea of an education fund for each and every person. But in reality, this would still re-distribute to the most highly educated, who are on the whole better off. We have to build a more equal society.

    5. The NHS caters to all; not just the highly educated.

    3. You cite the NHS

  • chris moore 28th May '19 - 4:48pm

    My apologies for the bad editing.

  • John Marriott 28th May '19 - 5:23pm

    @Michael 1
    “It is NOT a promise that we couldn’t keep.”
    There is the world of difference between being radical and being realistic. As I have outlined on many threads, the idea of subsidising university education might have been viable when I went to university in the early 1960s when only a small proportion of the school population went down this route; but not justifiable, in my opinion, today. The idea of borrowing the money to make it possible leads me to ask whether this really ought be a priority for any competent government. I’m still trying to get my head round the idea of a tractor driver with a degree, by the way. Or have I got that bit wrong?

    “Go & be Tories if you want to.”
    I get really tired of people, who are prepared to issue blanket condemnations. Having had to work with ‘Tories’ in a joint administration at local government level has taught me that nobody has a monopoly when it comes to good ideas.

    “If Labour won and proposed it – would we really vote against it?”
    Well, I would, for what it’s worth – and another thing; I wouldn’t seek effectively to bribe student voters in “university towns” either.

  • @chris moore

    Thanks for your points. And apologies (& to @John Marriott) if I insulted anyone – I’m in a slightly belligerent mood today! Sorry!

    But I’d exercise great pushback that just because we provide the NHS, under-18 education, state pensions to the middle classes & the wealthy as well as the poor this is bad or indeed “bad” for the poor. Ditto uni. There are many arguments that universal services & universal benefits are of wide benefit to the poor – more than if you just targeted it on the poor.

    1. South Korea.

    I didn’t exercise great clarity. But I see university for (virtually) all. The point is made that people are not intellectually capable of that but I don’t think that Brits are “thicker” than South Koreans. And some of this will be highly practical education.

    2. £21bn. No its £7bn.

    £14bn for what are, IMHO, the best 2 single things to improve the lot of the poorer. Close the education attainment gap under-16 (£7bn). And a lifelong education fund so people can acquire the skills later in life they may have missed out on (£7bn to those that don’t at the moment go to uni). But I’d also put at least £5bn into benefits and reform local taxation – saving the unemployed & poorer £100s at a revenue neutral cost.

    3. Lifelong fund.

    Yes – everyone gets 3*£7k (I’m assuming fees go down £7k). Do your degree in 2 years & have £7k left over. Set up your own business straight from school & have £21k to acquire business skills. Get A-levels at 50. Whatever.

    4. The £7bn “cost”.

    As I say we borrow this already – instead HMG do it for us collectively. HMG pays off the capital because if it borrows less than GDP+inflation (5%) – it goes down as a % of GDP.
    @John Marriott

    1. Viability.
    Take a view. £7bn on a government spend of £800bn & an economy of £2000bn. But 5x£7bn is what we’ll spend renovating the Houses of Parliament in the next Parliament…

    2. A tractor driver with a degree! Yes 🙂 !

    In the news today robots will be picking raspberries. The agri workers of tomorrow will be the programmers of robots.

    3. Bribing uni students in uni towns.

    Perish the thought!

    Politicians never of course “bribe” anyone with pensions, health care, benefits etc. But they might like us on Brexit & green issues but their pencil will hesitate – should they vote Labour or Green instead for no fees….

  • @ Dennis Wake “There should be an opportunity for a party like the Liberal Democrats to attract the residual Labour vote.”

    Absolutely true, Dennis. But it begs the question of what sort of party the Liberal Democrats ought to be or will become. For fifty years of my membership the Liberal/Lib Dems were a left of centre radical party committed to social justice, free speech and civil liberty – the best of which was the Liberal heritage….. and the party (under Jo Grimond) campaigned for radical realignment of British politics.

    If the party fails to inspire and to aspire to this and reverts to the neo-liberal austerity politics of recent years then it will fail – and deserve to fail. Temporary increased support is no substitute for truly radical liberal politics and policies. The party must inspire with the vision of a more just and fair society and an attack on poverty and inequality.

    @ John Marriott Now old friend, I do hope you can get your head round the idea of a tractor driver with a degree. I bet there are Eastern European tractor drivers in Lincolnshire who have one.

    In quiet moments I ponder the memory of Granddad going down the pit at 12 in 1900 – and buying a book I still treasure with his annotations on the geology of coal mines. He was much cleverer and witty than me – but I rejoice that his grandchildren all went on to get Masters degrees (helped with a grant from the great Alec Clegg of West Riding CC).

    Life long education should be an article of faith to Liberals………… as it was over a century ago in the Calder Valley and elsewhere with the wonderfully named Mutual Improvement Societies.

    Mutual improvement societies and the forging of working‐class …
    by C Radcliffe – ‎1997 – ‎Cited by 8 – ‎Related articles
    9 Jul 2006 – Mutual improvement societies are neither so well known nor so widely written about as they deserve to be.

  • Katharine Pindar 28th May '19 - 9:05pm

    British people can’t be herded, so I trust that if the Brexit party alias Mr Farage and followers seeks to become a significant nationalist party in future, people will realise that there is nothing there to improve their lives and let it drop. Perhaps Labour will then genuinely bring in measures to win back the northern workers.

    But at the moment, as Dennis Wake’s comment leads me on to think, Labour and our party are fishing in the same middle-class pool of people: we share an obsession with education, as the above exchanges remind us. I would like us to strongly distinguish ourselves from that party by our concern for individuals and local communities, as our dedicated councillors show us a way towards.

    I am thinking that a danger for us in retaining our new support is that we will be dismissed by Labour activists, not only for the economic failures in Coalition and breaking the tuition-fee pledge, but also because we will be called ‘Labour-lite’. That is another reason, for example, why we should be actively campaigning for actually righting the wrongs disclosed by Philip Alston, not just denouncing austerity as Labour readily does. We have more to offer to assist individuals in need than Labour has, I believe, but we will need to assert and campaign for our policies. Let’s ask Change UK and the Greens to join us in that.

    As for education, vital as it is, Michael BG is right I think to ask for a wider outlook there.

  • Yeovil Yokel 28th May '19 - 9:27pm

    Michael 1, John Marriott, David Raw – there is, in fact, a Lib Dem member not far from Yeovil who drives a tractor and has 2 degrees – but he doesn’t wish to make a huge fuss about it.

  • Change UK is all over the place. Umunna is talking about an electoral pact with us whilst Allen is talking about a possible merger. Soubry has poured cold water on that, at least for now. Umunna has also stated that Change UK endorsed us (and the Greens) in the local elections:

    This was news to me. Was anyone else aware of this endorsement?

    Change UK has previously said it will back the Renew candidate at Peterborough. This makes sense in that both “Change UK” and “Renew” are politically vacuous titles. Does this endorsement still hold, I wonder, since Sunday’s election results?

    In fairness to Soubry, she says that Change UK needs to develop some policies. I’m not against co-operation in principle but we need to know what we are dealing with before discussing any form of possible political alliance.

  • John Marriott 29th May '19 - 7:31am

    My query about the “lorry driver” with a degree has, I think, been misunderstood. I thought that ‘Michael 1’ was implying that you needed a degree to drive a tractor. Skill and training, yes; but a degree. It might sound controversial to many; but, for example, do you really need a degree to be a nurse? I know that Macdonald’s ‘Hamburger’ University used to award ‘degrees’ to its employees but surely, ‘flipping meat’ as Mark Knopfler sang hardly warrants that level of intellect.

    We are far too obsessed with the acquisition of degrees, especially those with precious little surrender value. What we need to do is get serious about vocational education and training that will lead to secure employment. If people want to indulge themselves, then they shouldn’t expect the tax payer to bail them out.

  • @Paul Hunt 28th May ’19 – 9:42pm
    Umunna has also stated that Change UK endorsed us (and the Greens) in the local elections:
    This was news to me. Was anyone else aware of this endorsement?

    No. There was no such endorsement made publicly.

    I’m afraid the whole article struck me as being oportunist and dishonest.

  • @John Marriott

    There are to be serious, very, very, very, very (!) important issues on this . The first point is that over time a lot of lower skilled jobs will go. In x years, driver jobs will not exist. We will have self-driving vehicles. You can argue what x is – but it is soon!

    This is of course brilliant, wonderful, fantastic news

    On two grounds.
    it creates jobs

    Overall it creates more jobs. It is estimated that the spreadsheet has destroyed 400,000 lower level jobs but has created 600,000 higher level jobs.

    The automated horse – otherwise known as the car destroyed thousands of jobs looking after horses. It created millions more – mechanics, designing cars, marketing them, making them etc. Now not all these jobs have been more skilled but that is the overwhelming trend. And the lower skilled jobs will go to other countries with cheaper labour. A third of our economy is intellectual property – it will soon be double, triple (!) that!!!!!

    Secondly these are better jobs Better paid, more “enjoyable”, less injurious to health.

    Thirdly (!) we have more resources to spend on health etc. If it takes fewer people to grow food – the first need of humans, we can spend more on doctors, researching new medicines etc.

    We need to upgrade people – those not getting GSCEs, getting GSCEs, those not getting A-levels, A-levels, those not getting degrees, getting degrees.

    Of course there are some issues around whether you actually need a degree to do a specific job – but in general you need the flexibility, the ability to think on your own, advanced techniques, specialised knowledge etc. etc. that you acquire as you progress in education.

    And of course as Liberals and as @David Raw movingly outlined we should encourage people to get the best possible, highest, broadest, most inspiring education they can! Just as a GOOD THING!

    We need to stop making smart-alec remarks on tractor drivers or how we can’t afford it (sorry to be rude but I am quite belligerent on this!) and start realising that our future as a party, as a country, as a world depends on it.

  • BTW I was NOT implying that you need a degree to drive a tractor!

    I was eliding an argument.

    The point is that as we become more productive – humans achieving more with artificial technology and aids we need more skills and education. Plant things by hand no skills. Tractor driving skills plus mechanics etc. Robots picking raspberries – people to design, program the robots. Plus at each stage, lower skilled jobs go and they are not replaced – but by (more) higher skilled jobs elsewhere.

  • @ Chris Moore 29th May – 10.49 a.m.

    Thank you very much for confirming that I wasn’t asleep during the campaign. I agree that Umunna’s article is opportunist in trying to claim some credit for our success.

  • Peter Farrell-Vinay 2nd Jun '19 - 6:53pm

    Given that the Tories have almost certainly hijacked the Labour Leadership election and there is a rumour that Labour is about to return the compliment and deselect as many Remain Tory MPs as possible, I hope the LibDem management is keeping a beady eye on new LibDem members.

    Having a 6000% increase is wonderful …. but.

  • Michael1’s optimism is nice. But… in my case, six people in an office created software than enabled my old employer to axe hundreds of skilled jobs.
    Number of jobs created by this? Maybe a handful.

    Closing the pits in the 1980s ‘freed’ tens of thousands of men from horrible, dangerous jobs… and blighted the towns and villages where they lived to this day.

    We do have schools in the Valleys, you know. That not every child leaves them with A-levels is down partly to culture/attitude, but also down to actual ability. We can’t all be rocket scientists!

    Telling people working in call centres (only big employers round here): “AI will destroy your jobs, but don’t worry, you can all train to become AI programmers” is not going to encourage lifelong Labour voters to turn to us!

  • @Cassie

    Of course it is very, very sad when people lose their jobs due to technology. Thousands lost their jobs as grooms, stable lads etc. when the automated horse – otherwise known as the car was created. I think you’ll agree that millions more jobs have been created in areas that were not even foreseen – delivery drivers, ambulance drivers, and it has facilitated things like supermarkets etc.

    But the skills needed increase. I’d ask you to google “the Flynn effect” and see that actually IQs (although they have tailed off a bit recently!) show that the same people (we’re the same genetically) are actually rather intelligent compared to 60 years ago! Of course we all have different abilities – but we just need to upgrade everyone’s abilities – so those not getting GSCEs, get GSCEs (may be at 21) etc.

    But the pace of change is increasing. Indeed having people skilled in programming may not even be enough as that will be done in India, China etc.

    Paddy Ashdown failed his French O-level but become a fluent Chinese speaker! So when you have the inspiration and motivation – most of us can do most things Look at say 1880 and then look at today and think how brilliant (and changed) our jobs and lives will be! The same arguments were put forward in 1880. No-one needs education beyond 11! Sending them down the mines will be enough.

    But in 2160, cancer probably cured, progress on Alzheimer’s, people living to 120, people enjoying the “young old” (defined at the moment in Japan as 60-75), electric self-driving cars, 3 day week, education to 25! 99% with a degree! UBI! All just a continuation of current trends. Let’s get there asap!

    And actually 140 years is not long and it will start very very soon! I am just impatient to get there.

    “but don’t worry, you can all train to become AI programmers” is not going to encourage lifelong Labour voters to turn to us!”

    I take the point but many have gone on to get OU degrees etc. later in life and had brilliant careers – give people that opportunity!

  • Richard Underhill 31st Jul '19 - 9:27am

    Alistair Campbell was expelled from the Labour Party because he voted Liberal Democrat in the Euro elections and said so. He appealed, but has decided not to contest his expulsion.
    He has also said that Jeremy Corbyn is simply not up to the job of Labour Leader and should resign in the interests of the Labour Party.

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