The starting pistol is fired on the leadership election!

Last week, we published the frank independent review into the 2019 general election. It rightly received plaudits in the media for its candour.

This review challenges us to change as a party and to change the country for the better.

We now need to get on with that work – and that’s what we’ve done with a set of key decisions by your Federal Board.

We’ve set a timetable for electing our next party leader – running from June through to August. With the widespread use of online hustings and online voting, we can make this work even if some elements of the lockdown are still in force. What’s more, with online hustings we can experiment much more with formats, topics and ways for members to get involved.

That new leader will be in place in time for our autumn conference – which we’ve confirmed we want to run online in the biggest event of its sort in British politics. There are some important details to sort about what will be technically possible. But we’re aiming big, including speeches, policy, training and fringe meetings. We want more members than ever before to take part in our annual showcase.

We also need to get our strategy right and in a democratic, grassroots-led party that means it needs to be driven by our members. So we’ll shortly be kicking off a consultation, which will then feed into detailed strategy work when we have our new leader in place. (They may have a thing or two to say on that too!)

We’ve also agreed on the next steps in improving the party’s technology – a vital task to give us the modern tools we need and to give you more ways to get involved and stay informed. The first project will be around the party’s website, and we’ll then be consulting widely on the steps after that.

Alongside all that, we won’t be forgetting last week’s review. The Board has commissioned a detailed implementation plan and will be regularly returning to the topic. It’s vital we get this right.

All in, this is an ambitious plan of work – electing a new leader, our biggest ever conference, involving you in a new strategy and modernising our systems.

But as the election review showed, it’s what we need to do.

Get it right, and our future can be bright.

Not a member? Want to have a say in the choice of leader? Click here for membership information

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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This entry was posted in Leadership Election and News.


  • James Belchamber 20th May '20 - 8:21am

    Great decisions here – especially digital Conference, which is an opportunity to create unprecedented access to our party democracy. For the first time in party history a single mother from Bury, on minimum wage, will have the same access to policy votes and have the same voice as anyone else that can make conference.

    Well, relatively. It’s not a panacea. And I’m sure some single mothers on minimum wage made heroic efforts to be at conference before. But this is an opportunity to enrich our party with the voices of those that could (or would) never attend Conference before. Handled well, this can revitalise the party with a diversity of thought and a diversity of experience before unknown.

    It’s also notable how the criticism around the leadership election was listened to and we’re now on course to finally elect a new leader. Good job.

  • Richard Underhill 20th May '20 - 8:32am

    At last! Long overdue! We need a leader and not a dictator. If adopted the review could create the sort of party we would have had if David Owen had become leader. He was defeated in the Epping Forest bye election and our campaigners were shown on tv “celebrating as if we had won”. We must insist that the new leader must be an MP, not a peer.

  • Richard Underhill 20th May '20 - 8:45am

    The issue is about money. If we become too dependent on large donors we would look like another Tory Party and a possible coalition partner of only one party. Nick Clegg quoted David Cameron as saying that their donors would not accept it.
    Our USP is democracy and we must say that loud and clear in the leadership election, at conference and in the next manifesto for the House of Commons.
    Labour made a mistake by putting all the motions passed at their conference into their manifesto in 1983 and set a record for the number of deposits lost in the longest suicide note in history.

  • In this age of fast communications it seems an unnecessary long period to me between closing date for membership registrations and the ballot result. We really do not want a Labour style almost 3 month election. Still it is happening, well done to everyone who put the pressure on for this to get going. Better make sure I have paid my subscription!!!!!

  • Daniel Walker 20th May '20 - 11:57am

    @Richard Underhill “We must insist that the new leader must be an MP, not a peer.

    That is a requirement of Article 18.5 of the constitution.

  • “We must insist that the new leader must be an MP, not a peer.”

    It’s a shame it has to be an MP at all. Too late for this cycle but we ought to address that for next time in case we still have a similarly small pool of candidates.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 20th May '20 - 12:37pm

    I’m so glad to hear that a timetable has been set, and that we will have a new leader by the end of August.
    I do hope that this time – unlike the last leadership contest – the candidates will feel free to disagree with each other, robustly but amicably, and that we will have several contrasting visions for the party’s future to choose from.
    As members we have a responsibility to reflect carefully and choose wisely.
    I’m sure online hustings will work well, but I do rather hope that by July and August it may perhaps be possible to have some actual “physical” hustings. Just an suggestion – would outdoor hustings be possible?

  • James Belchamber 20th May '20 - 12:50pm

    @Dan M-B this was something Vince attempted to improve upon, but much like the supporter class (which would have widened the diversity of views and experiences contributing to our party democracy) it was opposed by people who feared we would become “diluted” by that diversity of views and lose our ideological zeal.

    Ironically Liberalism itself is now so diluted in British Politics you might consider us homeopathic.

  • Catherine – I think Jo and Ed basically didn’t disagree with each other all that much. That can happen sometimes in a political party! I don’t believe they ‘felt unable to’ disagree, they just happened not to disagree on very much. Should they have invented differences that weren’t there?
    My own hope for this upcoming contest is that we don’t spend too much time talking about policy. Almost all questions at the hustings I went to last time were about policy. In this party the leader doesn’t make policy! So while I would be happy with a question like, “Can you tell us which area of current party policy you personally disagree and why?” I would much rather we had questions about strategy, campaigning and leadership skills/experience. In other words, treat it like a job interview, not a policy symposium.

  • Phil Beesley 20th May '20 - 2:37pm

    This will be a difficult election owing to the 2019 general election campaign, Covid-19 and government response to it. The word ‘dreadful’ can be prefixed to many public events in the last six months.

    Under normal circumstances, Lib Dem leadership candidates would be talking about Brexit and post-Brexit, the election campaign, ’emerging from austerity’ to adopt a Conservative Party expression, challenging a different Labour Party etc.

    It is clear that party members demand an election to be run. They have to be tolerant about the process, that things will go wrong, and that they are asking the party (and its independent helpers, perhaps volunteers, observing the election process) to do something they’ve never done before. With good will, it ought to work.

    A virtual political party conference? Most tech conferences are broadcast by professional TV crews. Really expensive stuff and almost zero interaction remotely.

    It is possible that somebody in the world has written software which permits an audience of x,000 to interact, audio and/or video, with moderators and with a formal chairperson. Before a conference, you have to test it.

    This stuff is difficult and there is a chance that somebody has already spotted the clever tricks to make it work. Don’t count on anything.

  • The flaw in this process is that the review findings are being considered by the Federal Board – precisely the same people that sat around the table and nodded through all of the patently idiotic decisions that led to probably the most risible election campaign we have ever mounted.

    Ironic, on the day that it is being reported that the UK’s National Security Council considered the strong probability of a virus pandemic a few years ago, yet made no decisions that led to any action being taken to prepare our country for the crisis we now face.

    The lesson is surely that a large committee of people sat around a table enables them all to take no responsibility for nodding through the stuff put in front of them, all of them taking the path of least resistance by keeping their head down and their umbrella up.

    It is abundantly clear from the 2019 election review report that our party decision making processes aren’t fit for purpose. Yet I expect we are going to see the myriad of party timeservers who currently sit on the FB doing everything they can to direct members’ attentions elsewhere.

  • “My own hope for this upcoming contest is that we don’t spend too much time talking about policy. Almost all questions at the hustings I went to last time were about policy. In this party the leader doesn’t make policy! ”

    I would expect them to at least have a clear and inspiring vision – which might encompass a number of high level policies that they feel strongly are the ones to drive us forward.

    We need someone to lead (even if we’re just following out of curiosity!) and drive the agenda – both within the party and without.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th May '20 - 8:11pm

    I’ve looked at this review and it is COMPLETE RUBBISH.

    The reason for this is that it says NOTHING about the MAIN reason our party has been doing so badly.

    The main reason is that Labour pushed the idea that all of us in the Liberal Democrats were keen supporters of everything the 2010-15 coalition did. That is, of course, nonsense. We were just one-sixth of the MPs of a coalition that was otherwise Conservative, with no other stable government being possible. So we were not in a situation where we could get the Conservatives to drop all they stand for and take up what we stand (stood?) for.

    We needed to explain this properly, I accept it would have been hypocritical to support a multi-party system but then to leave the country in a mess by not agreeing to the only stable government that could be formed. We needed to make clear that as just a small part of it, we had only a minor influence on it, and it was a long way from what would be our ideal, if we were the main party.

    But we didn’t do this in 2015, we didn’t do this in 2017, and we didn’t do this in 2019. This was madness, given that most of our votes and the seats we won were in places where we were seen as the main and best opposition to the Conservatives. Of course we would lose if we then became seen as supporters of what the Conservatives stand for.

    We then showed no concern for people who voted Leave, and we actually encouraged them to vote Conservative. MADNESS!!! We needed to work actively to explain to those people why Leave would not give them what they thought it would. We did nothing like that. Many people voted Leave because they had been tricked into thinking it was due to membership of the EU rather than the policies of Conservative governments since 1979 that had led to our country becoming one they were unhappy about – one that seems to be run by and for the extreme wealthy internationalists.

    The result is that the Conservatives were seen as having changed, and standing for the opposite of what they used to stand for. And we were – and I think are – seen as the true heirs of the old Conservative Party – apart from the true rich supporters of the Conservative Party. So, people who opposed what the Conservative Party stands for voted Conservative because they though that’s how to oppose it, but we gained little.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach “The main reason is that Labour pushed the idea that all of us in the Liberal Democrats were keen supporters of everything the 2010-15 coalition did. That is, of course, nonsense”.

    Oh come on, Matthew. People judge the party by what the M.P.’s do in Parliament. They don’t much notice the less gruntled ordinary membership ….. which, by the way dropped from 65,000 to 44,000 in five years voti ng with their feet… so there were less to notice anyway.

    How many Lib Dem M.P.’s rebelled ? Hardly any. Bob Russell and Mike Hancock voted with Labour to oppose increasing of VAT…. the “Tory VAT “bombshell” remember, and one or two rebelled on a few other issues and Andrew George deserves a mention.

    You can’t complain if Labour point out that without Lib Dem votes there wouldn’t have been…… an increase in VAT, student fees, the bedroom tax, the Health and Social Care Act, privatisation of Royal Mail, Welfare ‘Reform’ and the defenestration of local government and all the other austerity stuff.

    It’s no good making the schoolboy excuse, “Wasn’t me, Sir. It was a big boy wot dunnit”. Like Winnie the Pooh most of them have got honey on their fingers…… and a few knighthoods and peerages to boot.

  • Peter Davies 20th May '20 - 9:14pm

    Coalitions were certainly a big part of our problem. We believe in them. They were seen by the public as the only way we would be relevant. There were no credible partners.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th May '20 - 9:46pm

    David Raw

    How many Lib Dem M.P.’s rebelled ? Hardly any.

    Completely untrue. Most LibDems MPs who were not ministers voted against what happened with student fees.

    You can’t complain if Labour point out that without Lib Dem votes there wouldn’t have been…… an increase in VAT, student fees, the bedroom tax, the Health and Social Care Act, privatisation of Royal Mail, Welfare ‘Reform’ and the defenestration of local government and all the other austerity stuff.

    Oh, so you are suggesting that the the Liberal Democrats were the main cause of all these things happening, and if there had been just a Conservative government, they would not? That is what it comes across as what you are saying, and it seems to be what a lot of people actually believe now – that we Liberal Democrats were in control of the government, and it was mainly us that led to what it did.

    Not surprising then that we lost most of the voters we used to have.

    My last active involvement in the Liberal Democrats was attending the party conference where it was clear a majority of members there were opposed to the Health and Social Care act, and were trying to get the party to oppose it. Nik Clegg only narrowly managed to stop that by encouraging a few to accept we just had to support whatever the leader wanted. It was my disgust at how Clegg behaved that led me after that to stop being an active member, though I have retained membership.

    But you seem to be very happy with completely ignoring how the party actually was, and joining with Labour in giving the impression that we were all right-wingers.

    Has doing that done the party good, by obtaining for us a lot more economic right-wing voters, so it doesn’t matter that we’ve lost most of who used to be our core voters? Do we now have many more MPs than we had in 2010 thanks to that?

  • @ Matthew Huntbach I share your feelings about Clegg’s performance in the NHS debate at Conference, Matthew. Somehow I had managed to get there too, in an attempt to stop it….. I say somehow because three months before I’d undergone a transplant operation and the NHS had saved my life.

    It was a struggle to get there and I’ll never forget how Shirley Williams was brought on to save Clegg’s bacon….. and how certain Ministers were floating around the hall with a look of satisfaction on their faces. That was when the rot set in for me after fifty years of membership.

    Martin, A real talking point with the electorate ? That’s about the time when the chief executive of Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge, said senior Liberal Democrats had told her they considered their election manifesto pledge to be “complete nonsense” and that the “visceral” opposition to fees from the party base was not shared by senior figures.

    What adjective would you use to describe getting elected on a manifesto pledge ‘that is nonsense’, Martin ?

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st May '20 - 3:57am


    Is there anything other than your own impression and possibly some anecdotal evidence, that potential supporters, rather than those who would never support us, were so exercised by the Coalition?

    Our vote and number of MPs completely collapsed after the coalition and has never recovered. That is a basic fact. We needed urgently to deal with that issue, and we never did. That has destroyed our party.

    If that were the case why did many decide to vote Tory?

    People who support what the Tories always stand for have by and large continued to vote for the Tories. Clegg and the extreme right-wingers he brought in to run our party claimed that by coming out as all about right-wing economics, we’d win a whole load of new votes, but we didn’t. We just lost most of those who used to support us seeing us as the best opposition to the Conservatives.

    As well as keeping most of those who always voted for them, the Tories managed to get loads of new supporters by making out that it was membership of the EU that was the cause of the way our country has become more unequal and run by and for the super-rich. So, by being the party of Brexit, people voted for them thinking that’s how to reverse how our country has changed since 1979. I.e. there are large number of people who voted Conservative in order to oppose what the Conservative Party stands for.

    And we have done NOTHING to stop that craziness. Indeed, by just dismissing those who were tricked into supporting Brexit rather than putting effort into being active in explaining to them the reality of how the EU works, we encouraged people to stop voting for us and switch to the Conservatives.

    Labour too have concentrated on helping the Conservatives gain vote and dominate, by putting so much effort into pushing the impression that what the 2010-15 government did is what we are all about. So, most of those place where we were winning or getting close to winning because we were the leading opposition to the Conservative have returned to safe Conservative places.

    I.e. there was a coalition between the Labour Party and the extreme economic right-wingers who too over leadership of our party to work together to destroy us and so help the Conservative Party win.

  • JOHN INNES: If Jo was a mistake, then why would Ed be any better? Both are hobbled by their links to the Coalition. And the Thornhill report clearly indicates that our reasons for failure were about far more than the individual who was the “leader”. It would be a mistake for us to choose our next leader on the basis of fighting the last election better. The 2019 election is done, it’s over, and the next election will be fought on a different arena. And the party would do best by electing a leader unconnected with either the Coalition or recent events.

  • Peter Martin 21st May '20 - 11:11am

    “If Jo was a mistake, then why would Ed be any better? Both are hobbled by their links to the Coalition……..the party would do best by electing a leader unconnected with either the Coalition or recent events”

    Good question. You ideally want a Liberal Democrat who isn’t also a neoliberal. I’m struggling to offer any suggestions though!

  • I see three main issues to resolve and then everything else flows from them.
    1. Sort out the appalling decision to call for a General Election and the even worse campaign – done
    2. Get a LEADER – being done
    3. Remove every last vestige of the damn coalition, which I initially backed – stupid me), and that requires a LEADER totally uninvolved at the time – still to be achieved, but if any candidates from that era are thinking of standing, Ed Davey note, simply DON’T.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach “there was a coalition between the Labour Party and the extreme economic right-wingers who too over leadership of our party to work together to destroy us and so help the Conservative Party win”.

    I’m afraid that after forty years as an historian (of sorts) I subscribe more to the cock up theory of history than to the conspiracy theory of history if I was advising you, Matthew….. and the Lib Dems seem to have an unlimited capacity for the former.

    @ John Innes “I think that Ed Davey would now be the most formidable choice!!”

    Blimey, a selling plater rather than a Derby winner…… but they all seem to be of that ilk. The only one I can see slicing BoJo down is the forensic QC Keir Starmer. Again, from a strictly historical point of view, he reminds me of the young Asquith. Time will tell.

  • Peter Martin 21st May '20 - 12:25pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach,

    “So, by being the party of Brexit, people voted for them……”

    Well yes. If people support Brexit, and consider that to be the #1 issue even though they might normally vote Labour or Lib Dem, then that’s what is likely to happen. What do you expect?

    This was certainly true in 2019. Not really true in 2015, though, because Cameron and Osborne were Remainers. But Cameron, thinking that he could rely on Lib Dems to provide an excuse for not actually having one, still promised a referendum.

    So, again its all your own doing! 🙂

  • My opinion as someone on the outside of the party is, don’t elect a leader where you will spend any precious time debating their role in the coalition. Like Corbyn constantly defending the party over antisemitism, not only do you spend energy debating negatively it stops you talking about what you want to do.

    Please move on from that era.

  • Nigel Quinton 21st May '20 - 1:32pm

    According to the Election Review the prime task of the new leader is to: “Create an inspiring, overarching and compelling vision” – it is for signs of that capacity that I will be searching for in deciding who to back. We need a fresh voice capable of being positive about Liberalism and Social Democracy (for I believe we continue to embrace both strands of our heritage) and how it can shape our future in practical easily communicated ways. Sounds straightforward, but our failure to achieve this in recent years speaks volumes.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st May '20 - 2:52pm

    @David Raw

    Oh, I was joking, I don’t really believe there was an organised coalition between the right-wing leaders of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party. What I do mean is that in effect they did work together to destroy the Liberal Democrats.

    When I joined the Liberal Party, and was active in it and its successor, hardly any members were in full support of what now gets called “neoliberalism” but then was called “Thatcherism”. Indeed, the main point of the Liberal Party was a clear understanding of the way a “free market economy” does not deliver true freedom. We defined Liberalism as “none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” to explain why what is now called “neoliberalism” is not at all true liberalism. In fact when the Liberal Party and the SDP merged, the Liberal Party was to the left of the SDP in economics. But now, most seem to think, wrongly, that it was the opposite way round. It seems to be supposed now that the main thing the Liberal Party was about was what I joined it to oppose.

    At no point was there a democratic vote in the Liberal Democrats to push the party towards being supportive of right-wing economics. It was Nick Clegg who pushed it, using the Coalition to help do it. Perhaps he really did think that would win us a lot of new support, and he actually stated that he was happy for those like me to leave the party and join Labour. That was VERY offensive, because there are good liberal reasons why I joined the Liberal Party rather than Labour in the first place, and to this day I don’t want to join Labour.

    Pushing the Liberal Democrats to the right economically clearly did not win us lots more votes. I, like most members, reluctantly accepted the Coalition on the grounds that it was the only stable government that could be formed. However, like most others I knew we needed to make it clear we would have only a minor influence, and what the Coalition did was a long way from what we would do if we dominated the government.

    Despite us keep saying this, Nick Clegg did NOTHING to put that message out, and he really was supported by Labour in doing that, as they knew it would destroy our party and return them as the only real alternative to the Conservatives. This greatly benefitted the Conservatives, as most of the seat we won or were getting close to winning returned to being safe Conservative seats – for example, almost all of south-west England.

  • Fact remains that the FB is the problem, not the solution, yet we are at the mercy of this dysfunctional overblown body for how the party responds to this damning review.

    The FB is so large that there is no meaningful critique and it simply rubber stamps whatever is put in front of it.

    The person/people with the real power are those who draft the FB papers and shape the recommendations put before it. Those are the people responsible for the 2019 debacle and those are the people we would be better off without.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st May '20 - 3:13pm

    @ Peter Martin

    You say “If people support Brexit, and consider that to be the #1 issue” they would vote Conservative even though they might normally vote Labour or Lib Dem, and what would I expect.

    The reality is that before the referendum most people did NOT see Brexit as the #1 issue. But when the referendum happened, many people voted Leave because they were encouraged to think that meant “return to control of our country” by which they actually supposed a reverse of what has happened since 1979, with control going away from government and going to wealthy business people.

    We needed to show sympathy and understanding for people who thought this way, and work to explain to them how the EU actually works, and why leaving the EU would not give them what they really wanted, in terms of a more economically equal society. This should have been easy to do because the right-wing Conservatives who supported Leave wanted it for the precise opposite reason that most of who voted Leave thought it was about. The right-wing Conservatives wanted it to be able to push our country even further towards run by and for the super-rich, by breaking out of the international co-operation that the EU is about and which is needed to stop the super-rich getting what they want by playing one country against another.

    But instead of working hard to get people who voted Leave to reconsider what it would really lead to, we just made abusive comments about them, completely ignored their concerns, and so encouraged them to vote Conservative.

    That was madness and continued the damage to our party, helping to continue to push away most of those who used to be our keenest supporters up to 2010.

    This is what needs to be the central issue in the review of the 2019 general election, but it is not. I regret that without doing what I am suggesting here, the Liberal Democrats will never revive, or perhaps really will become the party that is all about what I joined the Liberal Party to oppose.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th May ’20 – 9:46pm……. Most LibDems MPs who were not ministers voted against what happened with student fees……

    Really? If my memory serves there were 5 LibDem ministers in Cameron’s cabinet…

    28 LibDems supported the rise whilst 21 voted against it; in addition there were 8 who abstained…
    Ignoring the 5 ministers ,that leaves 23 supporting it (31 ‘not against the rise’ if you count the abs.)..By any reckoning more ‘ordinary’ MPs voted for than against..

  • @ Matthew Huntbach Ah, that’s much better.

    I can identify with that, and hope you’re feeling better too. Maybe eight weeks of shielding has slowed me down a bit.

    Whilst the bird has flown off to California unfortunately there are still far too many cuckoos in the nest….. They’ve pushed out and alienated a lot of people such as me and thee and rather soiled the nest. They’ve also alienated a great number of the electorate who, if they even think about the party at all, just don’t trust it or respect it any more.

    Back in 2007 it was a poor choice of leader and I’m afraid it looks like being the same again. One heck of a task whoever gets the job.

  • Peter Martin 21st May '20 - 3:37pm

    @ Matthew,

    “The reality is that before the referendum most people did NOT see Brexit as the #1 issue….”

    I agree but it doesn’t have to be a majority. If only, say 20% or so of Labour/Lib Dem supporters do put it at #1 and so change their vote, then many seats will be lost. There is a reason why you’ve no representation in the Leave voting areas any longer. Labour, too, has much less representation than it had. It’s not just co-incidence.

    “We needed to show sympathy and understanding for people who thought this way, and work to explain to them ….”

    You’d have needed more than just good luck with that! Some of those 20% are/were regulars at my local. They’d tell you in no uncertain terms what you could do with your sympathy!

  • Douglas beckley 21st May '20 - 4:22pm

    Peter Martin – just for a historic qualifier:

    In polling in 2010, ‘Europe’ as a subject in a list of ten for Comres came second bottom of the list of voter concerns.

    The concern at the very bottom was ‘Voting Reform’.

    Yet, in 2011, the LibDems got a referendum out of it…!!…

    (and still bang the drum loudly for it. Go figure…)

  • Peter Martin 21st May '20 - 4:33pm

    @ Douglas,

    So we’ve had referendums on #9 and #10? Voting reform is obviously in LIb Dem interests so that explains that one. I’d just question why they allowed themselves to be fobbed off with AV which, while I agree does have its merits, is not PR and it is not going to enthuse either side of the debate.

    The debate on EU membership though wasn’t at all the same. That did get passions aroused. Once the lid was off the can of worms…………

  • I joined the Federal Board only this year. Some others also joined it for the first time this year. It therefore does not consist of precisely the same people as were in charge before. I am not there to rubber stamp anything.
    Turning to the question why the Party was fobbed off with a referendum on AV which did not enthuse our members: this was a terrible mistake, whose origins lay in the Jenkins Commission report of 1998 (not to be confused with an earlier report on company law by a different Jenkins). The 1998 report suggested an AV top-up system (which is not used anywhere in the world) and rejected an STV proportional system on the grounds that the necessary multi-member constituencies would be too large. An alternative theory I have read is that backbenchers from the main parties dug their heels in against breaking the link between MPs and places. (That MPs represented places rather than people was obvious when only landowners could vote. Nowadays we have the theory that they represent all the inhabitants in their constituency. On casework, yes, but on fundamental interests, no they do not as the interests of different groups are opposed.) A more cynical explanation is that both in 1998 and in 2010-2011 the main party MPs saw the end of their majorities if STV was adopted and refused to countenance a referendum on it.

  • Laurence Cox 21st May '20 - 6:42pm

    @Jo Hayes
    The top-up principle that you so dislike is exactly that which was introduced to bring more proportionality into the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senedd and London Assembly, which our party accepted. On the London Assembly, which I know most about, we have never won a constituency seat but we have won as many as five top-up seats (in 2004). While STV works well in urban and suburban areas, in rural areas it can lead to very large constituencies. Look at the existing Scottish Westminster constituencies and try creating a five-seat STV constituency in either the Scottish Highlands or the Borders.

    Even somewhere like Cornwall would have to be a single constituency under STV.

    Clegg’s failing for me was that he didn’t even bargain with the Tories for AV+ (the Jenkins’ plan) as a compromise between their wish for FPTP and our STV but meekly accepted their offer of AV, which it was known could create even more extreme results than FPTP.

  • The (at the time) divided Liberal Party could have had proportional representation in the 1918 Representation of the People Act. They chose not to do so…….. it was only later that they discovered it worked against them. Another own goal…… to add to the one when they rejected Keir Hardie when he wanted to be a Liberal candidate in a Scottish by-election in a Lanarkshire mining constituency by-election.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st May '20 - 8:30pm

    The fact that we had a referendum on AV rather that STV indicate how limited the Conservatives were in being willing to concede to us.

    We should have made clear this this was NOT our ideal, it was a compromise between what we want and what the Conservatives would allow. This would have helped us make clear more generally that what the Coalition was doing was NOT what we would do if we ran the government, but rather a reflection of a government that was five-sixth Conservative and just one-sixth Liberal Democrat.

    If we felt we couldn’t do it at the time of the referendum, we most certainly should have done it after the Coalition ended.

  • marcstevens 21st May '20 - 9:21pm

    There are some very effective social liberal female candidates and I can see one of them getting elected if they develop their strategy and pitch and embark on an effective campaign. This election should be open to supporters not just members of the party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st May '20 - 9:27pm

    The original form of what became STV, as proposed by Thomas Hare in the 19th century, didn’t have constituencies at all. Rather, anyone who achieved a quota of votes from anywhere would become an MP. While it would be supposed that most would seek to get their quota from a particular area, that wasn’t a necessity. It meant your MP really would be whoever you chose.

    STV was introduced as a practical way to implement the more general suggestion from Thomas Hare. Thomas Hare’s original proposal was actually that it would take a long time to do it, with people choosing to switch their votes later after their original choice looked like he was not reaching the quota, or exceeded it. STV was the way in which this could all be done in a single paper vote, and that is why constituencies had to be introduced in order to give a limited number of candidates.

    I have sometimes wondered whether on-line technology could enable something more like Thomas Hare’s original suggestion to be introduced. Although I also tend to be against on-line voting, due to the security issue that introduces. The other issue, of course, is that the Thomas Hare system could lead to many MPs representing extreme minority views, thus making it harder to get enough to form a government.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd May '20 - 8:56am

    “Daniel Walker 20th May ’20 – 11:57am
    @Richard Underhill “We must insist that the new leader must be an MP, not a peer.”
    That is a requirement of Article 18.5 of the constitution.”
    Yes, I know, but David Owen is a peer, and with all the problems he has caused us we must be clear at the start that he is not eligible. He can, of course, resign the peerage that John Major gave him through the legislation that the other David pushed through the upper house. He should not be forgiven for what he said in the Mail on Sunday just before a general election. Reportedly he voted himself against a hard left Labour candidate he disliked. If he wants to join the Tories there is a recommendation from Margaret Thatcher that he is ‘a wasted asset.’
    Former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd is on record as disapproving of what David Owen did on US tv.

  • There’s a lot of bad language being used in this thread. But why are we even talking about D*v*d O**n? Apart from his being a Peer, he isn’t even a Lib Dem, and wouldn’t be welcome in the party even if he wanted to join (which he wouldn’t, as he hates us and always has done). Nowadays even most Lib Dems probably don’t know who he is/was.

  • He [the future Lord O**n of Split] was defeated in the Epping Forest bye election and our campaigners were shown on tv “celebrating as if we had won”.

    then the following year was defeated in Bootle by the MRLP, whose campaigners probably also celebrated as if they had won, especially as it resulted in the death of his pet project, the reincarnated SDP-tick.

  • Daniel Walker 22nd May '20 - 10:31am

    @Richard Underhill “Yes, I know, but David Owen is a peer, and with all the problems he has caused us we must be clear at the start that he is not eligible.

    He’s not now, nor has he ever been, a member of the party, nor is he in good standing with us! (as Alex said) I only posted Article 18.5 to point out that we already had that rule. No-one else has suggested Dr Owen, so I think you’re safe there.

  • Martin:

    “in the few places where we were main challengers to the Conservatives we recovered many votes from Labour … but not from the Conservatives”

    I don’t think this is true. In Esher & Walton, for instance, our vote increased by 27.7 percentiles; the Tories were down 9.4, while Labour was down 15.2. In Winchester, our vote went up 12.2 percentiles, with Tories and Labour losing 3.7 and 5.9, respectively. Simplistically, one would be tempted to explain this simply by previous Tory and Labour voters transferring to us. But Johnson won his majority principally on Labour→Tory switching in Red Wall seats, and there may have been some of that in our target seats as well. In which case, the Tories may have actually lost even more voters to us, but this was offset by Lexiter votes coming from Labour.

  • Alex Macfie 22nd May '20 - 1:28pm

    Peter Martin:

    “You ideally want a Liberal Democrat who isn’t also a neoliberal I’m struggling to offer any suggestions though!”

    “Neoliberal” is one of those terms that is invariably used as a pejorative, usually by people who don’t know exactly what it means. But if you mean someone from the Clegg/OB tendency of the party, most of those left active politics pretty soon after the Coalition finished. None of the likely leadership candidates seem to be at all “neoliberal”, not even Ed (but he is nonetheless tainted by involvement in the Coalition).

    David Raw

    “Back in 2007 it was a poor choice of leader and I’m afraid it looks like being the same again.”

    So you know who’s going to win when we don’t even have a list of candidates yet?!?!?!?!

  • Peter Martin 22nd May '20 - 1:45pm

    @ Alex,

    You can look up various definitions of neoliberal such as the wiki one and I wouldn’t disagree with them in principle.

    My own take would be that a neoliberal is anyone who thinks the the way to reduce a government’s deficit is to cut spending and increase taxes. This is actually most people! Including many in the Labour and party and even parties further to the left. They want to apply a counter inflationary macroeconomic measure and expect it to deliver something other than a reduction in inflation.

    They have yet to realise that government spending causes taxation that matches the spending to the penny for any positive tax rate. And it does that instantly unless people slow down the process by holding onto their money for a period of time. A process known as “saving”.

    Saving includes having money in your hand. Any pause between earning and spending, no matter how short, causes saving to occur. And that saving, when netted off against loans issued, has precisely the same short term economic effect as taxation.

    Their mental model is simply wrong.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd May '20 - 2:25pm


    I would really like to know how you think it might be possible to convince people who had voted for Brexit “why Leave would not give them what they thought it would”.

    If you really do think it would be impossible to get those who voted Leave to reconsider whether it was really a good idea, then in effect you are saying that Brexit is a wonderfully good thing. Do you really think that?

    It was very clear to me, listening to what they said, that most people who voted for Brexit did so because they unhappy about the way our country has developed since 1979. Yes, 1979. What happened in 1979?

  • @ Alex Macfie Given the field is limited to the known eleven M.P.’s (some of whom have withdrawn) – unless you want to attempt to resurrect the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the answer is, yes. That is my judgement – after sixty years of observing and participating in politics, my little Chuckle Brother.

    Some people can play for Barcelona & Real Madrid …. and some for Blackpool,
    Brentford, or even, I daresay, Bradford Park Avenue or Queen of the South.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd May '20 - 2:45pm


    Lots did go wrong in the inception of the coalition, but none more so than our acceptance of a referendum on a voting system that neither of the Coalition parties advocated.

    In effect what you are saying here is that there should never be a Coalition, rather we must have a government that is just of one party so that it can have all the policies of that party. Is that what you think? That is the opposite of the whole point of having proportional representation.

    AV was a compromise, and that was clear to me. To me that is what a coalition is about and should be about. The elected representatives should work out a compromise which is in between what their ideal would be.

    The Conservatives would rather have the current electoral system, which works in a way that means in most places people feel forced to vote either Conservative or Labour out of fear that voting for anything else would split the vote and let whichever of Labour or Conservative they least like win.

    AV resolves this, it means one can safely vote for who you really want, because if it splits the vote, then the one with the lowest vote is taken out and their votes go to their next preference. It would have resolved a lot of the issues in the 2019 general election, where there was all that talking of parties making agreements to stand down.

    So, AV moves some of the way to what we want, but not all the way, as it is not proportional representation and still means that you get no-one really to represent you if you are of a minority view where you live.

    I think we should have made this clear – it is not what we ideally would want, it is the Conservatives moving just a little way to give us something in between what they want and what we want. We should have said that’s how the Coalition and any coalition would work. Only, thanks there not being proportional representation, we had just one-sixth of the Coalition MPs and what the Coalition did was much closer to the Conservative ideal than our deal due to that. If there had been proportional representation, we would have had two-fifths of the MPs, and thus able to get the Coalition to move much further towards our ideal.

    So, why is it that our party has never said this sort of thing? I think it would have helped us a lot if we had,

  • Peter Martin 22nd May '20 - 3:12pm

    @ Matthew,

    “…most people who voted for Brexit did so because they unhappy about the way our country has developed since 1979.”

    As a point of information, most people who voted Brexit were Tory. So, if you’re talking about a certain election result that of that year they probably haven’t been too unhappy.

    But that doesn’t mean they were numerous enough to win a majority for Brexit by themselves. They did rely on support from the Bennite left. I’d include myself in that category and we certainly haven’t been happy with events since 1979. There are other tendencies in the Labour Party which are eurosceptic too. Tony Blair did a pretty good job of vetting MPs. Now we don’t have much eurosceptic support at all in the PLP but it’s still there in the party.

    The greatest amount on non Tory support has come from those who were happy enough up until 2008 but haven’t been at all happy with what’s happened since. You probably think they’ve been unfair to blame the EU for all that. Probably, they just feel like giving the establishment a kicking. That’s fair enough IMO! You can try to explain all you like that they shouldn’t blame the EU for their troubles but that’s never going to work.

    It would be far better if the EU, and its UK supporters, had organised themselves better and hadn’t help create their troubles to begin with. The role of the Lib Dems in the coalition led to a spectacular own goal in 2016. You’ve only yourselves to blame.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd May '20 - 3:28pm


    Perhaps the coalition was a background factor, but not as you portray it, that we had previously been in coalition with the Tories meant that it was easier to suppose we might form a coalition with Corbyn’s Labour.

    I have not said that all, in fact my concern is the exact opposite to that.

    People seem to think that because of the Coalition we formed in 2010-15, we are really just supporters of the Conservatives, and so if there were enough LibDem MPs for no other party to have a majority, then we would automatically form another Conservative-LibDem coalition.

    I assure you, that is one of the main reasons why so many who used to support us now say they will never again vote LibDem, because now they see it as just another way of voting Conservative – and many used to vote for us because they saw us as the best opposition to the Conservatives.

    We needed to work urgently after the Coalition to stop this sort of thinking, yet our party, at least its leadership, has done NOTHING to do that. I think, thanks to them, it ma be too late and this our party has been permanently destroyed. But I hope I am wrong, and we can get a strong party leader who will do what I suggest needed to be done years ago.

    We needed to make it clear that there was no real choice in 2010, because there were not enough Labour MPs for a Labour-LibDem coalition to have a majority. In any case, Labour in 2010 were very happy to drop out of government and have a Conservative-LibDem coalition, as then they would not get the blame for the difficult things any government then would have to do. And they could also attack us, as they have, saying that the Coalition means we are just another form of Conservative, and this they really wanted to be able to do in order for Labour to be able to return as the main opposition in all those places where the LibDems had developed as the main opposition to the Conservatives.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd May '20 - 3:48pm

    Peter Martin

    As a point of information, most people who voted Brexit were Tory. So, if you’re talking about a certain election result that of that year they probably haven’t been too unhappy.

    Most people I know who voted Leave stated they did so for a reason which I could see was more about unhappiness with the way our country has developed due to the economic policies of the 1979 Conservative government, and all following governments, than it was due to membership of the EU. They may not have realised this, because the Conservatives have worked to try and get people to think it is the EU that is to blame rather than what we used to call “Thatcherism”.

    This is the most frustrating thing – the Conservatives managed to get a lot of support from people who oppose what the Conservatives really stand for. This became even more so in 2019, when many who knew they opposed what the Conservatives stand for economically still voted Conservative in order to support Brexit. The most appalling thing was that the Conservative right-wingers wanted Brexit for the exact opposite reason that those sort of people thought it would give them.

    There are many places which are supposedly safe Conservative, but in reality much less so than supposed, it just requires a bit of local action to bring down the Conservatives. In particular, much of south England is like that, and we Liberals were working hard, and succeeding in many places, to grow there and so push out the Tories. At one point it looked like most of Sussex, where I grew up, would become Liberal, as had happened to Cornwall.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd May '20 - 7:17pm


    Even so this suggests that some of those who refused to vote LibDem on account of the Coalition, voted Conservative instead!

    Yes, indeed. That is the result of the way our leadership has done NOTHING to explain what the Coalition really meant. So, with Labour telling everyone that all of us in the party were keen supporters of everything the Coalition did, we are seen now as the party that is most close to what the Conservative Party used to be all about.

    Meanwhile, by supporting Brexit, people have come to think that the Conservatives are now the anti-establishment party, the party that is against the way our country has become one run by and for the international super-rich. By saying that Brexit means “return of control to our country” the impression is given that the Conservative are the party that wants to ends the way control has gone to super rich businessmen, and wants to return it to our democratically elected government.

    That is, the Conservatives are now seen as the party of the economic left, and we are seen as the party of the economic right. So, people vote Conservative to oppose what the Conservatives stand for.

    At least that is what poor people who want left-wing politics think. While rich people who want right-wing politics still see the Conservatives as the party of the right and us as the party of the left. So we have managed, thanks to our useless leadership, to be seen throughout as the party that stands for whatever people don’t want.

  • Peter Martin 23rd May '20 - 3:17am

    “This is the most frustrating thing – the Conservatives managed to get a lot of support from people who oppose what the Conservatives really stand for.”

    Tony Benn often used to say that Parliament was lent its sovereignty by the people at each election and had a duty to return it undiminished at next one. Now, for a number of Parliaments this hadn’t been happening. Powers were being given away as one EU Treaty after another was being signed without popular ratification. We couldn’t discuss our agricultural policy, or fisheries policy, or trade with the ROW, etc. Yes immigration too. That was the big one for many. EU law had assumed primacy over UK law. It had all gone much too far.

    But, sadly, the left don’t have anyone in Parliament making the same arguments any longer. Even Jeremy Corbyn stopped once he’d been elected Labour leader. So many who do “who oppose what the Conservatives really stand for” were left to wonder if they didn’t also oppose what the 21st century left really stood for also. A common argument was that it wasn’t they who were leaving the Labour Party it was the Labour Party which had left them.

    Many of us still voted Labour and went out to do our canvassing as usual. But I knew we were going to lose and of course we did. But, I didn’t feel particularly sorry about it and I feel quite guilty about that. Holding second referendum which offered a phony leave option, which no-one would have supported, as an alternative to remain would have been a disaster for both country and party. It wouldn’t have solved anything and could have torn the country apart. It would have been much worse for Labour in the longer run than losing the last election.

  • Peter Martin 23rd May '20 - 10:12am

    @ Gladstone’s Axe,

    “Right Wing economics favours massive state intervention……….”

    Of course the conventional view is just the opposite of this. The left want nationalisation etc whereas the right want a more hands off approach. Laissez faire economics is supposed to deliver the optimal result according to classical theories.

    An alternative view is that all shades of politics require their governments to competently steer their economies. As the government is the currency issuer, and is always the biggest player in the economy it can’t possibly do anything else. Right wing governments, however, often lack that competency. They set out to minimise the extent of the state but can end up creating so many problems it ends up larger.

    Sometimes one incompetency cancels out another. Ronald Reagan had allowed himself to be persuaded that lowering taxes would increase total tax revenues and allow his government to have a more closely balanced budget. The so-called Laffer effect. That didn’t work at all, but the expansion of the economy allowed him to claim a successful presidency. The incompetency of thinking that a reduction in taxes would lead to a smaller deficit had cancelled out the incompetency of thinking that a smaller deficit was desirable to begin with.

    It usually all goes wrong with thinking that a smaller government can be achieved by the application of austerity economics. That’s the mistake made by the Orange bookers too. That’s a valid counter inflation measure and a reduction in inflation is all anyone should rationally expect from it.

  • Peter Martin 23rd May '20 - 10:36am

    @ Matthew,

    “Most people I know who voted Leave stated they did so for a reason…..”

    It’s a common mistake to think that the people we personally know are somehow representative of the population as a whole.

    But at least you know some Leavers! The criticism of those who lived in the London centric “bubble” was that they were hopelessly out of touch with popular opinion and had no inkling that a Leave vote was on the cards in 2016. Some gave the impression that they didn’t know any at all!

  • Laurence Cox 23rd May '20 - 1:55pm

    @Peter Martin

    Powers were being given away as one EU Treaty after another was being signed without popular ratification. We couldn’t discuss our agricultural policy, or fisheries policy, or trade with the ROW, etc.

    You may not have been old enough to vote in the 1975 Referendum, but I certainly was, and I knew we were accepting the CAP and the CFP when we joined what was then the EEC. In fact, the changes to both over the years made them better, not worse. I can remember butter mountains and wine lakes until the EEC realised that it could not keep subsidising farmers to produce more and more food (or fishermen to catch more and more fish). Indeed freedom of movement was accepted by Margaret Thatcher as part of the Single Market. We had mechanisms to control immigration from the EU had we chosen to use them, but it was easier for our leaders to blame the EU than admit this.

    Tony Benn was against the EU, but I don’t doubt he would have been quite happy for a Labour government to have taken the UK into COMECON instead.

  • Alex Macfie 23rd May '20 - 2:34pm

    It’s clear from the successful Labour squeezes in many of our target seats against the Tories that centre-left pro-Remain Labour voters now can be persuaded to vote for us where we are the obvious challenger to the Tories, when they could not be so persuaded in the previous 2 elections. This does suggest that the Coalition is less salient as an issue than it used to be. If centre-left voters who supported us before Coalition haven’t quite forgiven us for it, they do now at least consider other issues to be more important.
    Where we were less successful was in persuading them to vote for us instead of Labour in LibDem-Lab battleground seats. Clearly the Coalition (which Momentum was throwing back at us at every opportunity) was a factor there. This is why our next leader should be unconnected with the Coalition. (We also failed to get much tactical anti-Labour vote from the Tories — presumably Tory voters thought that we’d help Corbyn into No. 10 even if we defeated the local Labour candidate.)

  • @ Alex Macfie “It’s clear from the successful Labour squeezes in many of our target seats against the Tories that centre-left pro-Remain Labour voters now can be persuaded to vote for us where we are the obvious challenger to the Tories, when they could not be so persuaded in the previous 2 elections”.

    What’s “clear” about that, and what, apart from wishful thinking, evidence have you got ?

    The latest You Gov poll (18 May) has Lib Dems sinking to 6%, 1% ahead of the Greens. The SNP are polling 5% across the entire UK although they only stand in Scotland.

  • Alex Macfie 23rd May '20 - 4:14pm

    David Raw: Evidence is in the results in constituency contests in Con-LD marginals at the last election, where Labour was often squeezed. Current national opinion polls aren’t really relevant to that, and are still meaningless while the Tories are enjoying a crisis bounce and there are going to be no elections at all until May next year. You can’t just keep responding to points about specific regional success with the latest national opinion poll.

  • We need an excellent communicator as our next leader, someone who can explain why our excellent policies such as electoral reform, replacement of business rates and a wealth tax should be supported. The ability to get over to the electorate succinctly the whys of supporting us and remain credible and likeable is the most important issue to our success as a Party. This is regardless of whether they support them.

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