The Skeleton in the Cupboard

On Referendum Night in 2016 I did a tour of the polling stations in Eccleshill Ward to get a late indication of turnout. I had done virtually nothing in the campaign since I had recently started a sabbatical from active party politics. It was our turn to have the Lord Mayor and the Council Group decided it should be me. However I felt that I could offer the campaign this small contribution because I would not be talking to voters.

What I saw at all the polling stations gave me a shock. I returned to the Lib Dem office and said,“There are a lot of angry people out there who I have never seen vote before.” We subsequently learned that Eccleshill had voted 66% Leave. The following year we had no local elections, it being the “fallow year” of the cycle.

In May 2018 Eccleshill returned me to Bradford Council for a third term and in 2019 a new candidate was returned with the usual 200+ majority. Around the country there are many places where Lib Dems get elected (and sometimes run the Council) because most people don’t vote in local elections.

We may regret the low turnouts and we should be proud of policies which we have developed in order to mitigate social exclusion. However we should not ignore the fact that in the referendum of 2016 a significant number of people voted who had never voted before and who were unlikely to vote in anything other than a referendum and possibly not even then.

Whatever our thoughts about the fraudulent nature of the 2016 campaign, that Leave vote included a disproportionate number of people who do not vote in parliamentary elections. Some do not want to vote for MPs of any sort. Many of them want Boris Johnson to win an overall majority at this election but that does not mean that they will vote Tory or anything else.

I am not sure that the Labour or Conservative or Brexit Party campaigns have digested this – or the pollsters for that matter. The reverence for the 2016 majority has skewed our politics for three years and and a large Tory lead in the polls may be far more fragile than we think.

I may be quite wrong about all this but that’s the way it looks from Eccleshill, Bradford.

* Geoff Reid is a retired Methodist minister and represented Eccleshill on Bradford City Council for twelve years

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  • Brian Edmonds 25th Nov '19 - 12:22pm

    Let’s hope you are right about the softness of Johnson’s popularity, Geoff, and also about the turnout. The last GE, a year after the referendum, might suggest a less optimistic outcome – turnout slightly up, and votes cast overwhelmingly between Tory and Labour, to the detriment of our, and the SNP’s, hopes. Current polls may suggest that the trend is reversing, but it is also possible that when the chance comes, the disenchanted and the non-aligned have not forgotten the power of their vote.
    The other point to consider is, of course, that the Referendum was first past the post, but only in terms of the total popular vote, making it a form of PR; whereas we still have this iniquitous principle applied to our constituency-based system in General Elections. I fear multi-party politics will only happen when we achieve truly proportional results – oh that this could be a condition of any cooperative arrangement come December 13th!

  • nigel hunter 25th Nov '19 - 12:42pm

    Are you saying that a lot of people voted in anger cos of the situation they/country was in? Later you say that we were back to the ‘normal’ state of things (low turnout,200maj.).That the Tory lead is suspect and the end result of the GE will show less support for the Tories more for Lib Dems on a low turnout!?

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Nov '19 - 2:54pm

    Yes, a lot of people did indeed vote Leave because they are angry about the way our country has gone: a big increase in inequality of wealth and income, jobs that are much more stressful and insecure and so on. In part this was a general protest about the way things have gone, thinking that the establishment are pro-EU, so voting Leave would be a way to tell them one is unhappy about the way they run our country. In part it was because they have been persuaded to believe that membership of the EU is what has caused what they are unhappy about.

    They were greatly supported in thinking this way by the claim that leaving the EU will “turn the clock back”. Whoever said that did a lot to support Leave, because that’s what people want – a return to the sort of more equal and less stressful society we had back in the 1970s and earlier. It may involve a bit of a golden memory, but given the way the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer, starting promptly and continuing pretty continuously since 1979, you can’t really dismiss them.

    Except we have. We don’t seem to have shown any concern about why they voted Leave, or put any effort into explaining to them that it isn’t EU membership that’s caused their concerns (if it is, how come we have moved from being one of the most equal to one of the most unequal countries in Europe?).

    The regrettable result of this is the three years where Brexit has been almost all national politics has been about seems just to have strengthened that feeling, so people who voted Leave as a general protest now firmly support it, and want to vote Conservative to do that.

    I.e. people will be voting Conservative to express their unhappiness about what has been caused by Conservative governments, and the Labour government we had 1997-2010 which essentially supported Conservative-style economics.

    Is this really something we can’t explain is madness?

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Nov '19 - 3:24pm

    Thanks to the way Labour accuse all of us in the Liberal Democrats of being enthusiastic supporters of everything the 2010-15 government did, and the way the Conservatives have escaped from this by pushing themselves forward as primarily the party of Brexit, we are now being seen as the main Conservative party.

    Well, given that one of our biggest reason for getting votes is that we were seen as the best opponents of the Conservative Party in many parts of the country, that’s not good. We are now giving the impression that we don’t care about that, and actually that the votes we want now are mainly those who used to vote Conservative but want to stay in the EU.

    Sorry, but I think that unless we in the next couple of weeks, led by our Leader, come out clearly and state that’s not the case, and we are the party of true modern Liberalism (not “neoliberalism”, which means the opposite i.e. we knew there was a need for active state involvement to protect against enslavement by poverty, ignorance and conformity so we kept as an independent party in the 20th century instead of just joining the Conservatives with their support of extreme free market), we face disaster in the coming general election.

    Why is it that we have not made clear that as the party that formed just one-sixth of the Coalition, we were not in a position to get the party that formed five-sixths of it to completely drop what they stood for and accept what we stand for? It was the only stable government that could be formed in 2010. So we could get only minor modifications and had to accept a lot that wasn’t our ideal. Why can’t we say that things would have been very different had there been proportional representation, so we wold have formed two-fifths rather than one-sixth of the government, and could have obtained more because then a coalition with the second biggest party would also have been viable, so we could have argued with much more strength by threatening to switch to supporting that one if they were more sympathetic to us?

    We do now have a rather strong example, to show what happens if there is no compromise with an agreement to accept what is not your ideal because that’s the only majority that can be obtained. Might it not also be an idea to point out that voting No to AV was not a good idea, given what not having AV is causing now?

  • John Marriott 25th Nov '19 - 3:26pm

    If we believe Geoff Reid then we should be pleased that we normally get low turnouts. Or am I doing him an injustice?

    Now, if, like Australia and Belgium, for example, we had compulsory voting (not quite what it seems, I know), with a space at the bottom of the ballot paper marked ‘None of the above’, we might stop taking so many voters for granted or concentrating on known supporters or ‘people like us’.

  • William Fowler 25th Nov '19 - 3:38pm

    A lot of those angry people have it in their heads – true or fake news, does not matter – that their social housing and low end jobs have been taken by wave after wave of immigration and will probably vote again if they can see the Tories stopping it by a points system and, more importantly, five year residence test before they get into the benefits system as the latter will discourage low skill immigration (especially if later the personal tax allowance can only be enjoyed after five years). Expect Boris and the press to go into overdrive on this, comparing it to Corbyn’s extending freedom of movement and access to the welfare state (even more valuable under Labour). LibDems are remarkably quiet on this save for an ideal world where there are no border controls and everyone in the world should enjoy a nice standard of living, which given climate change now seemingly accelerating seems very unlikely.

  • I did say “we may regret the low turnouts” and most of us do. In fairness quite often Lib Dems win with good campaigns and good track records which cause people who would never vote for us not to bother! We win in Eccleshill because our voters are more motivated than Labour’s. Labour regard the ward as their “natural” territory and are regularly puzzled as to why the percentage who vote get it wrong…

  • Brian Edmonds 25th Nov '19 - 4:08pm

    Matthew writes: “Why is it that we have not made clear that as the party that formed just one-sixth of the Coalition, we were not in a position to get the party that formed five-sixths of it to completely drop what they stood for and accept what we stand for?”
    I too have been astonished at how we don’t seem able to put this to bed, particularly as it is still seen as a free hit by Labour and many interviewers (I wrote to several MPs on this point many months ago, but clearly to no avail – probably ended in the assistants’ recycle bins). It’s all the stranger as Jo is usually very sharp and to the point in interviews – we can only assume that what passes for the Lib Dem spin department have persuaded her that ‘apologise and move on’ is the new way. I agree with Matthew; a robust defence would be better, even if it requires people to listen and concentrate for more than five seconds.

  • Peter Watson 25th Nov '19 - 4:14pm

    In the context of the legacy of the Coalition years and how the party is perceived, there is a very interesting opinion piece in The Guardian

  • Very much agree with Matthew Huntbach, with the added confession that after 50 years of being a very loyal enthusiastic Liberal, the legislative outcomes of 2010-15 sapped that enthusiasm and loyalty to breaking point…… and, more important, caused pain and hardship to many of the most disadvantaged people in this country. Saying, “it wos a big boy wot dun it’ isn’t the answer, nor is knocking the BBC.

    Matthew is correct to point out that that the party lost many soft Labour tactical voters…. who often tipped the result where Lib Dems challenged/ or held former Tory seats. And… it’s no good moaning about the BBC when the present Leader is challenged on the 2010-15 record… the bedroom tax and welfare reforms did happen and it hasn’t been forgotten by many former supporters. The BBC knockers have overlooked the fact that Jeremy Corbyn, too, was pinned down and embarrassed in the broadcast about an incident involving Ruth Smeeth M.P….. nor did Johnson have an easy run.

    The criticism faced by Jo Swinson was entirely predictable. A much more convincing strategy than a pained expression of surprise ought to have been devised to deal with it. Get real and get professional.

    The world is as it is. No amount of shooting the messenger but ignoring the message is going to change it. Being a pale blue imitation party is a cul-de-sac and is no answer to the social problems of poverty and inequality. Lessons should be absorbed and reflected on.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Nov '19 - 5:09pm

    @Peter Watson

    What it says in the Guardian article you give a link to proves my point. It says that Liberal Democrats voters are “often middle-class, well represented in the media and business” and “the Lib Dems have even become ‘the party of choice for some of the country’s elite'”.

    That’s not how it used to be. The Liberal Party survived and grew in remote parts of the UK because people there felt they were not represented or understood by the mainstream middle class, media and business. I joined the Liberal Party in the 1970s, growing up in a working class family in southern England, and the Liberal Party seemed to be the only party that cared for people like us. There seemed to be a cozy alliance between Labour the Conservatives, with Labour standing and speaking for only strong industrial and urban places, and letting the Conservative Party win every seat elsewhere, not knowing or caring for us who were working class but not in a place where there were strong trade unions speaking for us through Labour.

    Our core vote, until quite recently, was working class people in southern and semi-rural parts of the country. Perhaps the main difference between when I joined and more recently was that with the collapse of big industry with strong trade unions, many northern working class people came to feel like us southern working class felt previously.

    I was a councillor for 12 years for Downham in the Labour-run London Borough of Lewisham. People supported us there because it was one of the 10% poorest wards in the country, but in the south of the borough and back then still mainly white, and they felt Labour were ignoring them and their concerns because they were so obsessed with ethnic minorities and the northern more centrally urban part of the borough. I felt we did a good job in stopping those people being taken in by the racist BNP, as happened elsewhere.

    Well now, it seems we as a party are doing the exact opposite of this, and happily letting people who once would have been our supporters turning into Brexiteers because extreme economic right-wingers have managed to con them into believing the EU is the cause of their problems, and we are actively supporting those Brexiteers by dismissing those who were conned that way and letting them stay thinking like that.

  • Brian Edmonds 25th Nov '19 - 5:40pm

    Curious post from David Raw, apparently agreeing that our record in the coalition should be more fiercely defended, yet proceeding to maintain that it was that record which put an end to his faith in the party. It is tempting to deduce that David’s 50 years of activism were spent on the idealistic wing, many of whom found the essential, down-and-dirty horse trading of the coalition too much to bear. They frustrated me during my time as a party foot soldier, and they have a counterpart in the French intellectual socialists I know, whose sanctimonious abstention in the second round of the last presidential election could have put Marine Le Pen in the Elysée Palace.
    The coalition decision was courageous, grown-up and well-meant; those involved knew the risks, and are to be believed and defended when they say they did their best to moderate the worst Tory extremes. Incidentally, characterizing them as ‘right wing’ (see the Guardian piece referenced by Peter Watson) is the stuff of Labour spin, though I suspect David Raw might agree. His reduction of Matthew’s point to the absurdity of a playground excuse is a lazy form of rhetoric, and nobody was reproaching the BBC for robust scrutiny of Jo Swinson, just for creating a predominantly hostile audience whose predictable reaction could be spun against us.

  • Bill le Breton 25th Nov '19 - 6:06pm

    Fascinating from Brian Edmonds.

    Are you able to tell us where you were a ‘footsoldier’ and when, Brian.

    It was in the mid 70s that we first had councillors that had to get ‘ down-and-dirty horse trading’ because no single party had overall control. I wouldn’t be surprised if David Raw himself had some direct experience.

    One of the first councillors to find herself in such difficult waters was, Maggie Clay, who wrote a bible on how to succeed in such circumstances – Life in the Balance. It went through many editions, building on the knowledge gained from experience.

    At one time we had over 150 councils where Liberal Democrats were routinely ‘horse trading’. I reckon that between 1985 and 2005 over 10,000 Liberal and then Liberal Democrat councillors had experience in handling both the demanding Party management and public communications that their position required if they were not to be wiped out by the electorate.

    Many were re-elected and our minority administrations often survived for years – a mark of their political sophistication and ruggedness – see Three Rivers and South Somerset, plus many counties and a few large cities where the scrutiny and challenge and negative campaigning against us was fierce.

    Unaccountably, none of these experienced ‘horse traders’ were ever consulted by the Leadership in 2010 – 2015. They made a mess of things which even the worst councillors avoided. They never read Maggie’s book you see.

  • David Raw is correct even in Lib Dem/Tory marginals we need the support of left (or Labour) leaning voters. It seems we have forgotten this. I believe the way to get some of these ex-supporters to vote for us again is to stop attacking Labour and attack the Conservatives more. As I keep writing we do best against a Conservative government when Labour do well as well – 1923, 1929, 1964, 1970, and 1997. So it makes no sense to attack the Labour Party as not fit to govern. I think this leads to people to vote Conservative rather than vote for us.

    It is a shame we haven’t committed to reverse all the benefits cuts made since 2010, including restoring the link between Local Housing Allowance and local rents back to the 50th percentile of local rents over a set period of time, restoring the national Council Tax Benefit scheme to ensure all those of working age are treated equally across the whole country and restoring the benefit levels to their 2010 real time values.

  • I also very much agree with Matthew Huntbach; many voted Leave because they are angry about the way the country has gone.

    Also Leave was – and is – far better sold. Even now, Remain voices (including the Lib Dems) still make overwhelmingly ECONOMIC arguments and often manage to sound like a toddler having a tantrum after a favourite toy is taken away. Not very persuasive for someone with little or no stake in the economy!

    Conversely, Brexiteer voices usually speak in terms of POLITICAL arguments such as “Take back control”. Many accept there will be economic harm, some even agree it will be major harm, but still consider it a price worth paying to achieve the political objective.

    All of which raises an important question; how did the Lib Dems so completely manage to lose touch with their actual (~30% of whom voted Leave) or potential base?

    Answers on a postcard…

  • @ Brian Edmonds “apparently agreeing that our record in the coalition should be more fiercely defended,”. Not so, Brian.

    I don’t know how you come to that conclusion. It’s the very opposite and requires mental gymnastics to defend. I do not recognise the party I joined as a teenager in 1960…. when the views I hold now were then party mainstream.

    My party experience extends back nearly sixty years. I was employed by the party,
    elected five times as a Councillor, never lost my seat, led two Lib Council groups, been a parliamentary candidate and held national office in the then 60,000 strong Young Liberals.

    At the time of the Coalition I was a Lib Dem Councillor with Cabinet reponsibility for
    Social Care. I’m afraid I must condemn unreservedly the vast majority of the Coalition’s legislative legacy – with the exception of school meals…and, tongue in cheek, revising the Royal laws of succession. In 2015 my local Lib Dem parliamentary seat was lost after fifty years. (45% in 2010 became a fourth place 4% in 2017. The electorate told the party something but I don’t think it was listening.

    It was a right wing Coalition legacy , and now as Chair of a Food Bank, I still see that legacy. It has caused devastation and havoc for those least able to bear it.

    As usual Michael BG is correct…. and….. the general thrust of the Guardian article posted by Peter Watson is also accurate in my understanding.You should read it. Nothing curious about it.

  • Gordon
    Brexit was driven by a more nationalistic political mind set. Not everyone is convinced that the EU is a good idea. The problem with pro EU voices is that they are so convinced that a supranational political project is the way forward that they simply can’t see the attachment people have to the idea of the Nation States. I think this is by far the biggest factor in the Brexit vote. I’m also not convinced that a sizable proportion of the Remain vote is really that supportive of the political unification aspect of the EU, either. I suspect that had there been a vote on the formation of the EU before November 1 1993 we wouldn’t have been in the EU in the first place. In other words it was only holding off the vote on membership that kept Britain in the EU for the 23 years prior the referendum.

  • Tony Greaves 25th Nov '19 - 11:56pm

    I was and am now no fan of the Coalition but David Raw is a bit unfair to say there was nothing good achieved. But the fact he thinks that may be a legitimate comment on the party’s media, publicity and general approach strategy at the time. Starting with the awful Rose Garden. But I am increasingly aware from some books I am currently reading
    of how much the party was taken over and ruled by the Orange Book tendency at the time, and how little we understood what was happening.

  • Well I always wondered why it I said (in reverential tones) that many people voted in the Referendum who didn’t usually bother to vote. How does anyone know, unless marked Registers for all recent election are compared against that for the Referendum? Some people vote sometimes and not others. The Referendum was a snapshot. That remain lost seems baffling, but it was battling 40 years of right wing claptrap peddled by the sort of rent a gobs that make a living pleasing the wealthy right. Remain was also battling anti-immigration sentiment, anti-rich people, anti-bankers , empire nostralgics, little Englanders, people who thought they EU had stopped them from smoking in pubs, people who didn’t like Cameron and Clegg, people who felt lost …. The pitch for remaining in a successful trading bloc does sound a bit less colourful. But it also means surely that we do worry less about them, politically, even if we do care for them in every other sense?

  • Alex Macfie 26th Nov '19 - 7:01am

    Michael BG and David Raw fatally misunderstand the electoral dynamics of Con-LD marginals (the vast majority of our target seats), especially when Labour is unpopular. In the one where I live and am campaigning, we lost by 45 votes in 2017. Many people said in that election that although they had voted for the Lib Dem Sarah Olney in the by-election the previous year, they couldn’t that time because they didn’t want to risk Jeremy Corbyn in No 10. And one of the Tory leaflets has only one person pictured, and that is Corbyn, and once again has the message “Vote LibDem get Jeremy Corbyn”. We need to distance ourselves from Labour to shore up our support among soft Tories, who make up the vast majority of our support here. As for the tactical Labour vote, that is assured by an effective squeeze message and blanketing the constituency with orange diamonds. There are always the hard-core leftists for whom a Lib Dem is, always was and always will be a yellow Tory, and will vote Labour because you might as well have a blue Tory as a yellow one.. The Coalition is just the stick they’re currently using to beat us.
    As for “we do best against a Conservative government when Labour do well as well”, this does not explain 1983. The elections Michael BG cites (assuming he meant 1974 rather than 1970) were ones in which the Conservatives were generally unpopular, so all it means is that we often do well when the Conservatives are unpopular, and usually when that happens Labour does well. And the reality is that at present, Labour are NOT doing well in the polls, for reasons that are nothing to do with the Lib Dems, and we have to work with what we have got.
    In 1983, the last time the Tories were strong and Labour unpopular, the SDP-Libs benefited from national media hype and a perception that they were the party of the sensible centre ground as opposed to Foot’s radical socialism. But this did not translate into seats in Parliament because we didn’t target (and most of the seats we did win in that election were either on the back of personal votes or in traditionally Liberal voting areas).
    This time some of the dynamics are similar to 1983, but one crucial difference is that we are tightly targeting, as opposed to the scattergun approach of the SDP-Lib Alliance. And in those seats we are targeting, it does not make sense to appear close to Labour.

  • Remain were not underdogs. The campaign had the backing of all the main political parties (left, right and centre), the EU itself and even the most popular President of the USA in decades. What it came up against was a large chunk of resistance in the population on the one hand and a general lack of enthusiasm on the other. It was, in retrospect, a tough sell, which I suspect is why the vote was held off for so long. I also suspect that had the economy been in better shape the leave vote would actually have increased. I doubt that the remain campaign would get very far if it was concentrated on the idea of European unification and politics above economics. Mainly, the EU project trundled along on voter apathy and the low turn outs for MEP elections reflected this by being little more than an afterthought (and another box to tick) in local council elections.

  • Peter Watson 26th Nov '19 - 8:09am

    @Alex Macfie “Con-LD marginals (the vast majority of our target seats)”
    In many ways that is part of the problem: it means the party appears to present itself as a substitute for the Conservatives rather than an opposition to them, reinforcing what some have written above.

  • Peter Martin 26th Nov '19 - 9:27am

    @ Matthew Huntbach,

    “……because extreme economic right-wingers have managed to con them into believing the EU is the cause of their problems”

    It’s not just the extreme right. Many economists, across the entire political spectrum, have pointed out the flaws in the EU/EZ’s ordoliberal structure. Countries either have to be strongly mercantilistic or end up in severe recession. Either way they are poor markets for UK exporters. Whereas we run a small to moderate trading surplus with the ROW we have a large deficit with the EU.

    That deficit has to be funded by borrowing. Both in the public and private sector. The explosion in private debt has created an asset price bubble which has priced out the younger generation from the housing market. Concerns about the extent of public debt have led to the imposition of austerity economics.

    So whilst it isn’t true to say the EU is the cause of ALL our problems,neither is it true to say the EU is completely blameless and it ALL the fault of Westminster governments.

  • John David Raw 26th Nov '19 - 10:06am

    According to Alex Macfie, “Michael BG and David Raw fatally misunderstand the electoral dynamics of Con-LD marginals (the vast majority of our target seats)”.

    I don’t know what experience Alex Macfie has. Perhaps he – or she – could tell us. Comparing leafy well heeled suburban metropolitan Richmond with the traditional Liberal/Lib Dem strongholds in the West Country, North of England, Wales and Scotland is a far from paradigm example of the situation.

    My experience in contesting a Tory seat in North Yorkshire in 1983, when Labour had an equally unpopular leader in Michael Foot, contradicts Alex. Incidentally, Mr Foot received the same sort of (unfair) ridicule by an unrelenting Thatcherite Tory tabloid press which left a sour taste afterwards. Lib Dems don’t attract moderate Labour votes by echoing such a denigrating chorus….. it’s simply a reminder of the worst excesses of the Coalition when Clegg & Co cosied up to Cameron & Co.

    Compare : 1983 2nd place,nearly 15,000 votes, 28%. 2017, 5%, 3rd place, 3,000 votes.

  • It is good that some non-voters turned out for the referendum. What concerns me is why they voted as they did. In theatre, the dress rehearsal is an essential part of a good play. It allows actors to make their mistakes and learn from them. This is why another referendum will be a much better reflection of people’s true views. It might be too late for Brexit and a vote on a different issue might be a more informed vote.

  • Sue Sutherland 26th Nov '19 - 1:52pm

    I agree with Geoff Reid’s analysis and would like our party to make the lives of many who voted Leave much better. However, at the moment, Jo in particular is having to walk the tightrope of appealing to moderates in the Labour Party and in the Tory party and those who voted Remain and it’s a bit of a thankless task because it gives almost everyone in the party a stick to beat her with if they choose to do so. Remarkably many are choosing instead to go out knocking on doors and leafleting to get our message across.
    The other two parties represent extreme views which will lead our country to disaster, not just because Brexit will make us poorer but because one party will rule for the rich and the other will bring authoritarian government via Momentum. I’m sometimes afraid that the country needs to experience this before it comes to its senses.
    I want our party to give the poorest a better share of the prosperity the country has experienced through membership of the EU but I don’t think we can go as far as we need to at the moment. Our main objective has to be gaining enough seats to stop Brexit even though both main parties want to Leave the EU for, I believe, nefarious reasons.

  • Alex Macfie 26th Nov '19 - 2:41pm

    John David Raw: There is no cosying up to the Tories; the Lib Dems are highly critical of both the two big parties There will be no coalition between Lib Dems and Tories; the two parties are simply too far apart on practically all policy issues, and diametrically opposite on the biggest issue in UK politics today.
    In 2010, Clegg and Cameron had a personal rapport as they come from similar backgrounds, and had a fair amount of common ground politically. Neither of these apply to Jo and Johnson. Can you seriously imagine the state-school educated Glaswegian Jo Swinwon doing a press conference with entitiled Old Etonian Johnson in the Downing Street rose garden? Not going to happen. You only think it’s about to happen because you seem to be directly equating criticism of Labour with supporting the Tories. But we criticise him for different reasons from the right-wing media and Tory politicians. We criticise his fence-sitting on Brexit becuase we strongly suspect that it’s based on his lifelong hostility to the EU; the right criticise him for not being pro-Brexit enough (and try to make out he is a Remainer).

    Yes, in 1983 we uselessly piled up a lot of votes in unwinnable seats, leading to a lot of distant 2nd places. And that was part of my point. We actually lost many 2nd places in 1987, 1992, 1997, in the lsat one because of tighter targeting (how else did we get 2½ times as many seats in 1997 on a reduced share of the national vote?) I do not want the 1983 result again. Getting 15,000 votes and 2nd place in Richmond (Yorkshire) is no good if it’s 20,000 votes behind the Tory and we miss winning Richmond (London) by 75 votes (which is what happened that time around).

  • @ Alex Macfie Well thanks for telling me I was uselessly wasting my time in 1983. If I remember correctly it was called breaking the mould and a new left of centre party was about to “return to its constituencies to prepare for government.”

    I’ve actually been elected five times and I hope achieved a few things in local government. I’ve also spent over fifty years campaigning for radical liberalism. It would be interesting to know what your experience amounts to if anything…… and whether you believe Ms Swinson (as she aspires to) will be doing a solo performance in the Rose Garden if she follows your recommendations.

  • Alex Macfie,

    If we demonise the Labour Party we do nothing to convince the Tory voter who will not vote for the Labour Party and fear us supporting Labour. As I stated they will just vote Conservative. In Richmond Park, your constituency, Sarah received 8033 more votes than in the by-election. However, the Labour Party vote went up from 3.6% to 9.1%. It was the 4,218 people who voted Labour in 2017 but didn’t in the by-election which you should have been identifying and convincing to vote for us. Attacking Labour would not do this.

    I wish I had confidence that the targeting message has been presented to all our members. I fear that with talk of Jo being PM and us winning over 200 seats we are fighting a “scattergun” general election campaign. The emails I get from HQ now at least mention targeting, they didn’t until very recently

  • Glenn,

    All the points you make fall squarely into the area I described as ‘political’ in my earlier comment.

    As for the Lib Dem position, it’s a mystery to me. As far as I can tell (other perspectives are most welcome) the implicit view has always been that international cooperation of any sort and especially via transnational government is so wonderful that it should be supported no matter what. And so, the Lib Dems have always acted as cheerleaders for the EU and waved any centralising initiatives through without critical examination.

    Whatever the exact reason, there are several huge problems with this. For example, it’s naïve in the extreme to imagine that politics could or should be absent from such a difficult undertaking as developing a new way for a bunch of small and medium-sized nations to work harmoniously together.

    In particular, it conflicts with the Liberal aim to devolve power to the lowest practical level. It’s nonsense to think this should only apply below the national level and not to the EU level which is remote and opaque to most. Politically, this means we are stuck with some responsibility for every misstep the EU makes, most spectacularly the euro and all its toxic fruit. In other words, we start with very low credibility.

    This has meant the party just doesn’t have a developed and coherent POLITICAL line it can take on Brexit. Contrast that with the Tory right who for years have been saying roughly, “It’s all the fault of Europe”. Absent any pushback desperate (“angry” as Geoff Reid described them) people have quite naturally seized on the only theory that purports to explain why their lives have deteriorated so badly.

    It should be easy to weaponise the political dimension. Too many have been sold the line that the UK is the helpless victim of a monstrous and uncontrollable juggernaut. In reality, we are one of the three big powers in the EU with a veto on any significant development and our net contribution gives us extra clout. Anyone unhappy with the direction of travel should take it up with the political parties and engage in European politics, not just walk out. The EU has and will develop in the ways its members want – including the UK if we stay in.

  • Alex Macfie 26th Nov '19 - 9:13pm

    Michael BG: The 2017 election was held at the height of the Jezmania bandwagon. Sarah has an anecdote about young voters emerging from polling stations confused because Corbyn’s name wasn’t on the ballot paper. Basically they were so politically naive that they didn’t even understand that we vote for a local representative, not directly for a President-type figure. So most of the increase in the Labour vote probably came from first-time voters who had just registered, along with some people taken i by the Jezmania bubble. The 9.1% that Labour got in 2017 was still half what its 2015 share.

  • Alex Macfie 26th Nov '19 - 9:34pm

    Michael BG: we have been targeting from the start. Constituency polls released during the campaign show dramatic increases in support in seats we are targeting (e.g. my own Richmond Park, F&GG, Kensington, Portsmouth South) and only modest increases in other seats (e.g. Great Grimsby, Workingtom) where presumably we are running a token campaign.

  • “Michael BG 25th Nov ’19 – 6:21pm
    David Raw is correct even in Lib Dem/Tory marginals we need the support of left (or Labour) leaning voters. It seems we have forgotten this. I believe the way to get some of these ex-supporters to vote for us again is to stop attacking Labour and attack the Conservatives more. … So it makes no sense to attack the Labour Party as not fit to govern. I think this leads to people to vote Conservative rather than vote for us.”

    Nail. Head. Hit. If we’re too good at denigrating labour, how do we convince people to vote for us when we might facilitate labour getting into power?

    I can sort of buy the logic of picking a message that targets the key target seats, but if that’s the limit of our ambitions then we may as well pack up and go home on the national stage and stick to local politics.

    And let’s remember that this is the last chance of stopping Brexit. I’m astounded that we’ll talk about supporting the Tories in return for a referendum, when that’s a million miles away from their current policy, but we are at pains to rule out supporting Labour when a referendum *is* their policy. And we claim to be the Remain party?

    As a Remainer, as things currently stand, I see the best (only?) chance of getting that outcome is through Labour. A referendum that’s Remain vs a Soft Labour Brexit is more likely to result in Remain (Tories and Brexit Party would surely campaign against a soft Brexit). And even if we lose a soft Brexit isn’t the worst outcome.

    But any Tory referendum, if you can even conceive of it happening, would be their harder Brexit vs Remain. I can’t really see Remain passing when you have the weight of a Tory Government and probably the Brexit Party behind leaving.

    Burning bridges with labour to focus on key marginals had better be worth it and, if by some fluke we end up as kingmakers again, I hope to god we don’t fall for any promises the Tories might make on Brexit.

  • @ Alex Macfie “Basically they were so politically naive that they didn’t even understand that we vote for a local representative, not directly for a President-type figure.”

    And then some folk wonder why the party is seen as patronising and, yes, illiberal.
    Have you ever been to Workington from your leafy London suburb, Alex ? The Welfare Reform Act of 2012 has had something of an impact. Try looking this up.

    West Cumbria facing poverty crisis with highest demand for … › news › 17386079.west-cumbria-facing-p…
    26 Jan 2019 – “Officers also find the Universal Credit system, through the Job … Adrian Cozens, project manager for the North Lakes Foodbank, said he was …………

  • “In Lib Dem/Tory marginals we need the support of left (or Labour) leaning voters.”
    Yes but we need Tory switchers more. We need both, but it makes more sense to prioritise the soft Tories. Because a). There are more of them, and b.) every one of them who switches to us is effectively two votes (one less Tory, and one more LD). The Labour tactical votes are of course welcome too, but every one of those we get is just one vote, so less important than the Tory switchers.
    So in those seats, attacking Labour helps us attract those wavering Tories. It also helps shore up our own vote, which in those seats is probably a bit more anti-Labour than anti-Tory. Obviously we can try to pick up some Labour Remain votes by targeting our Remain message to them, but strategically in these seats it makes more sense to prioritise the soft Tories, and therefore a strong anti-Labour, anti-Corbyn message is helpful.

  • David Raw: What’s “patronising” about observing an obvious misperception on the part of the voters in question? If some voters in Richmond Park apparently thought they would get a chance to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, and that his name would appear on the ballot paper (presumably alongside Theresa May and Tim Farron) then clearly they misunderstood how the UK’s constituency-based electoral system and Parliamentary democracy work, and thought it was a presidential contest. It’s a simple observation, nothing patronising about it at all.
    My point about Workington was simply that we aren’t targeting it, and probably aren’t even running much of a campaign there, so constituency polling does not indicate an advance on our result in 2017. The politics of the constituency don’t really come into it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '19 - 8:36am


    Yes but we need Tory switchers more. We need both, but it makes more sense to prioritise the soft Tories.

    So why are so many people voting Tory? A recent poll showed that more working class people are now saying they will vote Tory than Labour.

    They have been persuaded to believe that the Tories are the party that will turn the clock back, make our country more equal, give ordinary people more control over what happens in our country. They feel that Brexit will do that. Meanwhile we are being dismissed as the party of the elite, as the party of comfortable wealthy people who do well from international economics.

    They are supported in thinking this way by the right-wing Brexiteers being happy to get support from people who think it will reverse what in reality had been caused by Tory government policy since 1979. And also by the Labour Party which is pushing us as being the main party in control of what the 2010-15 government did.

    What have we as a party nationally done to correct this madness? Nothing whatsoever. That is why, I am sorry to say, this election will be a disaster for us.

    And that is why I now say to our party leader – PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE come out and do what is necessary to stop this. Show sympathy for those who voted Leave but explain to them properly how the EU works and how leaving it will not give us a more economically equal society. Explain that as a party which formed just one-sixth of the Coalition which was the only stable government that could be formed, we were not in a position to be able to make the party that formed the other five-sixths of it completely change their policy to become ore like ours. Explain that the reason why we were so weakened was the disproportional electoral system supported by Labour and the Conservatives.

    Why can’t you do any of this?

  • Peter Martin 27th Nov '19 - 11:37am

    @ Matthew Huntbach,

    “Show sympathy…. but explain to them properly how the EU works and how leaving it will not give us a more economically equal society. Explain that as a party which formed just one-sixth of the Coalition……… Explain that the reason why we were so weakened was the disproportional electoral system……….”

    You are probably right in saying the Lib Dem campaign is on the wrong track. But is your suggestion going to rectify it? I’m sure we’ve all had a go at “explaining” to our friends and work colleagues just where they’ve been going wrong – politically. Maybe you are better at it than I am, but my record of “explaining” has had somewhat limited success!

    Leavers have heard it all before in any case. They aren’t suddenly going to start voting LibDem if you “explain” it all over again. Leavers want to explain to you and show some sympathy for you just as much as you might want them to accept your sympathy and explanations. Except, maybe not all of them! The less polite ones will tell you where you can shove your sympathy!

    It’s a complex issue. My advice to remainers would be to concentrate less on economic and more on political arguments. “Take back control” is a political argument. It isn’t take back control so we can all be better off. You need to find something that will resonate with the electorate without it sounding condescending.

    Which I’m afraid many Remainers do. Including yourself!

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '19 - 1:23pm

    @ Peter Martin

    You are suggesting that everyone who voted for Leave is such an extreme supporter of it that they think it matters more than anything else, and so they should therefore vote Conservative and have an extreme right-wing Conservative government for the next five years because that will give us Leave.

    Is that really the case? I seem to recall that when the referendum took place, most people didn’t think of it as the most important political issue, but voted for it on a sort if vague basis of what seemed to be the best.

    I wasn’t too bothered either way myself, but what really struck me was the reason many said they were voting Leave, which was the EXACT OPPOSITE of the sort of right-wing discussion on what Leave was for coming from those now in charge of doing it in the Conservative Party. I.e. many people voted Leave because they were unhappy about how our country has developed and become more unequal since 1979, and have been persuaded that it’s EU membership that has caused that – whereas in reality it’s Conservative economic policy. And what the real Conservative Brexiteers want to do is leave the EU so they can push things even further that way.

    I do think by not making this clear, and not showing sympathy for those working class people who voted Leave and explanation of why it won’t get them what they think it will, the elite type who are leading Remain campaigning are getting it all wrong.

    I’ve been saying this ever since the referendum took place, here and elsewhere. I have been ignored, as usual, and the leadership of our party has done the exact opposite of what I have suggested they should do.

    Yes, “take back control” sounds good, but loss of control in our country is much more to do with privatisation and cuts to local government that have made it powerless than it is to do with EU membership. Brexit Party people have been campaigning heavily in the High Street where I live, and I’ve been asking them what exactly is the control that the EU has over us that makes them the real government. NOT ONE of them has been able to answer my question.

    I do think, even now, we could switch things a bit by coming out and making this clear. Instead, the way the Liberal Democrat leadership has behaved has just strengthened the support for Brexit by ordinary working class people. I am APPALLED by that, as a long-term member of the party.

  • Peter Martin 27th Nov '19 - 1:50pm

    @ Matthew,

    No I’m not suggesting that. I’m putting my own Lexit inclinations aside to vote Labour as usual. I’m not against a second referendum per se. However, I do have serious reservations about the Labour plan to offer their version of Leave as one of the options. Leavers need to choose their preferred option and Remainers need to choose theirs.

    I’m not sure if you read it, but, in a previous comment (26th Nov ’19 – 9:27am), I did try to ‘explain’ (that dreaded word again!) how, even though we don’t use the euro, extreme austerity in the EU spilled over to austerity and both a public and private debt problem in the UK, too. It also created a highly asymmetric migration flow. The EU isn’t completely blameless.

    I don’t expect either the Tories or the BXP to make any serious challenge in the Labour heartlands. The BXP isn’t likely to win a single seat.

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