The way forward: We need a pause to properly respond

We’re all hurting today. The election result might not have been completely terrible – our vote share went up! – but it’s not been a good campaign for us, the results are far below what we wanted or expected, we’ve lost our leader, and we’re now going to be leaving the EU in just seven weeks’ time.

The easy response would be for us to dust ourselves down, elect a new leader as quickly as possible and dive straight back into the fight, but I think that would be a mistake. Last night was a massive moment for us as a country and a party, and we need to properly take stock of what it means.

We’ve had lots of talk over the past couple of years of borrowing ideas from our Canadian Liberal colleagues, and I want to propose that we adopt an approach that’s common in their politics after a defeat. Rather than electing a permanent leader straight away, I think we need an interim leader for at least the next few months. This, I think, is the perfect role for Ed Davey to step into, but we need more than just a break before the leadership election happens.

There are a whole lot of changes going to be happening in the near future. As well as Brexit becoming a reality, Johnson will be setting out his domestic agenda, Labour will be engaging in their own post-electoral disaster reviews and debates, and there are massive political changes in Scotland and Northern Ireland we need to properly process and understand. What is the role of liberalism going to be in this new United Kingdom? We can’t answer that question in a few weeks through a leadership election.

So, I also propose that we clear the agenda of the next party Conference in March. With everything in flux and an election unlikely before 2024, we don’t need to be discussing the minutiae of policy that could be rendered irrelevant as soon as it’s passed. We need an agenda that’s more like an unconference – an opportunity for us to have open discussions, big and small, about where we are, where we want to be, and why we want to get there. Let’s have a blank slate and talk properly about what we’re doing. When that process is over – and that could be in March, or we might want to carry on through the summer, even till Brighton in the autumn – then we can have our leadership election and choose who’s going to take us forward on the principles we’ve discussed and agreed.

That also gives our new MPs the chance to get into their new jobs and learn the ropes of Westminster and national politics, as well as giving the members a chance to see them in action so they can properly contribute to the debate and to the leadership election that follows.

I believe that a strong and active voice for liberalism is going to be desperately needed over the next few years as Labour descend into internecine squabbling and the Tories drive off further into their authoritarian dreams. We need to take the time now to make sure that we’re ready to be that voice for the long haul, capable of mounting a serious challenge in Parliament and the country. It’s going to be a long, tough fight, let’s get ready properly for it.

* Nick Barlow has been a Liberal Democrat councillor in Colchester since 2007, as well as being a researcher and teacher in the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London. He writes about liberalism and many other things at https://medium.com/@nick.barlow

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84 Comments

  • Denis Mollison 13th Dec '19 - 12:41pm

    Good idea, we have the opportunity to rethink and should take it.
    A small compensation for Brexit is that we can get a better hearing for other priorities – electoral reform and the climate emergency for a start.

    And having Ed Davey as interim leader would be excellent. Sadly, having been part of the coalition (possibly the best bit of it!) militates against him being leader for the longer term.

  • David Becket 13th Dec '19 - 12:54pm

    Agreed
    Let us clear the conference decks, but I doubt if our Conference Committee will agree, which is partly what is wrong with this party, too many bureaucrats defending archaic procedures. Ed for acting leader, but only until we have a chance to see the candidates in action at Brighton next September

  • Yep, this newly minted member agrees 100% with this post

  • Martin Land 13th Dec '19 - 1:02pm

    Firstly, count The Party President ballot papers. Then we can look to Mark Pack for campaign strategies that work. Then, elect Layla Moran as leader, untainted by the coalition. Get thousands more councillors elected and select the best as PPCs, in other words stop parachuting in candidates just to meet our internal quotas.

  • Iain Coleman 13th Dec '19 - 1:06pm

    Good plan. I hope Federal Conference Committee takes it seriously.

  • Paul Holmes 13th Dec '19 - 1:08pm

    Martin, I think you will find that President (to be) Mark Pack played a significant role in this particular Campaign Strategy -Core Vote and all.

  • Laurence Cox 13th Dec '19 - 1:13pm

    We now have Ed Davey and Sal Brinton as co-leaders, as Sal announced this morning. Ed will lead the Party in the Commons and Sal take on the other leadership responsibilities. Perhaps we should be looking at co-leaders for the future, just like the Green party, because someone with the skills for performing in the House of Commons is not necessarily best suited for developing the Party outside Parliament.

    So in addition to the leadership, I think we also need to look at the role of the President. Perhaps we should be looking at a (gender-balanced) team campaigning for the two roles together.

  • Christopher Curtis 13th Dec '19 - 1:17pm

    Excellent and wise article.
    Winning elections, and the strategies to try to do that, are a means to an end, which is to re-forge this country around liberal democratic values and principles. We need to be able to articulate those values and principles in our current, now very different, national context before we can even begin to turn them into policies and proposals, let alone choose a leader to help us articulate them publicly.
    I agree that the next conference needs to be more of a convention in which we explore what it means to be a LibDem and how to persuade people of our value rather than the minutiae of detailed policy-making. We need to re-visit our priorities rather than lobby for our favourite manifesto lines.

  • David Becket 13th Dec '19 - 1:21pm

    Martin @ Paul
    I am starting to regret my Party President vote. Mark has gone very quiet, possibly working on 100 ways to lose an election. This is not the time for positive optimism. Let us leave the leader for a few months until we have worked out a new direction of travel.

  • chris moore 13th Dec '19 - 1:22pm

    Paul Holmes 13th Dec ’19 – 1:08pm
    Martin, I think you will find that President (to be) Mark Pack played a significant role in this particular Campaign Strategy -Core Vote and all.

    You are right. Dr Mark Pack was a forthright advocate of the doomed Remain Alliance and core vote strategy.

    Mark can play an important role in motivating and organising.

    But all those involved in the strategic direction of the campaign need to recognise their complete failure as strategists and leave this aspect of the party to others.

  • Elaine Woodard 13th Dec '19 - 1:29pm

    I totally agree with the suggestion for Spring Conference and for delaying the election of a new leader. I would certainly come for that.

  • Actually this election was a great success compared to the GE 2017. The Lib Vote increased from 7.4% to 11,5%.

    Increasing the share of popular vote is necessary, if the Lib Dems want to grow.

    What wasn’t successful was the allocation of the votes. Perhaps if the resources would have been concentrated to fewer target seat, the gains in popular vote would have been reflected better in seats, and this is something that could be improved in the future.

    Of course there are factors that are beyond Lib Dems power. The Brexit Party standing aside in favour of the Conservatives in Lib Dem target seats couldn’t be helped. Maybe if Labour would in future be more willing to stand aside in Lib Dem target seats, Lib Dems could retaliate in some Labour target seats, which could deny Tories the majority. But, again, that’s up to Labour, not Lib Dems.

  • John Marriott 13th Dec '19 - 1:35pm

    @David Beckett
    So the answer is to “clear the conference decks” is it? Just a minute, it’s not ‘Conference’ that the Lib Dems need – they do that quite well really – it’s how they behave outside of their various conferences that makes the real difference. Was revoking Article 50 on the agenda last year?

    As for the new Leader, I wonder whether a good performance ‘at conference’ is as important as a good performance outside. If we believe the propaganda, it would appear that Jo Swinson, a darling at conference, was perhaps not flavour of the month outside. Perhaps she should have spent more election time in East Dunbartonshire than touring the country. Perhaps, as ‘Jennie’ might say, I’m being ‘snide’ again. Mind you, as campaigning guru, Mr Pack, might say, we do need to fly the flag to give people a chance everywhere to vote Lib Dem, even if their candidates might face ritual humiliation.

    Now that he has a comfortable majority, which means he is no longer in hock to the ERG, we might see a more emollient kind of Boris Johnson. After all, love him or hate him, all things considered, he might be around for quite some time.

  • Paul Barker 13th Dec '19 - 1:38pm

    A welcome back to Jennie !
    The new Co-Leadership sounds like a good idea.
    This article is full of good ideas.
    Can I defend Mark Pack, if you read his stuff he has constantly stressed that The Core-Vote strategy is Long-Term, its not a quick fix. Lets not forget that our Vote went up by more than half, this was certainly not a disaster on the scale of 2017, 2015 or 1989.

  • Ethicsgradient 13th Dec '19 - 1:39pm

    Hi,

    I had said it many times, people had not changed their view on brexit and the country wanted to leave.

    Lin Dems have every right and indeed is probably a core tenant of your party to be pro-EU.

    What was needed though was for the result of the referendum to have been respected and implemented (instead to telling leave voters they didn’t know what they were doing or not sharp enough to understand), the UK should have left.

    Then the Lib Dems could legitimately campaign to rejoin the EU in future years.

    Good luck for the future. As always I remain a non-aligned (to any party) libertarian rather than a Lib Dem. I have sympathy for some of your standpoints: maximum freedom of the individual, environmentalism ( moving away from a Carbon based economy sensibly – not the hysteria). If the website doesn’t mind, may I post a second comment, listing what a possible lib dem voter like me would like to see?

  • Ethicsgradient 13th Dec '19 - 1:49pm

    1. For the net 5 years accept brexit is happening and help to produce a good UK-EU free-trade agreement (not remaining in the EU but simply changing the names BRINO)
    2. Not to expand a the state but targeted supports. Sure-starts, early years interventions really good stuff,
    3. 19th century free-market liberalism – market based economy with a good regulator. govt as a facilitator not job creator.
    4. don’t go crazy with huge spending pledges (which you didn’t do this year to be fair).
    5. Big push on moving off carbon. Sensibly this can only be through a backbone of new nuclear power stations combined with a huge push/subsidies to continue to develop renewables & electric cars/transport.
    6. Outword internationalist world view to trade and foreign policy but not through large geographical political blocks.

    So not huge changes to get me on board, but don’t try to block the brexit process. Brexit must conclude first before advocating to rejoin

  • John Barrett 13th Dec '19 - 2:02pm

    Laurence Cox “Perhaps we should be looking at co-leaders for the future, just like the Green party”

    I am not sure that co-leadership did much for the Greens at any level.

    One this which was evident throughout the numerous interviews given by Jo, was that her track record in the coalition and voting record, including on issues that were not in the coalition agreement but were supported, would come back to haunt her. The same will be true for Ed and hopefully his time as interim leader will be relatively short.

    To have joint leaders, one who has been appointed to the Lords and has no democratic mandate at all and the other who will be a constant reminder of our failures in the coalition is something we should move on from as quickly as possible.

    Hopefully there is at least one MP within our depleted group who can provide a vision for the future that we can willingly sign up to and that the country will believe in.

  • Helen Farrell 13th Dec '19 - 2:20pm

    No point worrying too much about rejoin – obviously not going to be an issue for a while.

    Now that BJ has a majority Brexit is basically whatever he decides it is. On Feb 1st 2020 we leave the EU but what happens after that is 100% the responsibility of the government. He can’t blame anyone else after this, there’s no “Remainers” obstructing him. It’s important to start re-framing or we keep the Brexit identity alive.

    The farmers for instance are already gearing up to campaign for maintaining food standards and alignment with the EU. We need to be a part of this but NOT in a “see, we told you Brexit would be bad” way. Instead we frame as “Johnson is putting USA agri-business ahead of British farmers.” “The Trade Deal chosen by Johnson will devastate British farming” etc. We are now second in a lot of rural seats – positioning ourselves as on the side of British farmers is a good way to start.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Dec '19 - 3:05pm

    Ethicsgradient

    What was needed though was for the result of the referendum to have been respected and implemented

    What turned me from someone who was not too bothered to someone who was a strong supporter of Remain was hearing what ordinary people who voted Leave said they were doing it for. And reading what right-wing Tories said they wanted it for in their own discussions: almost the exact opposite.

    People are unhappy about the way our country has gone, with the policies of all governments since 1979 passing control over to elite super-rich international business types, and making our country so much more unequal, with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer.

    So many people voted Leave, thinking that would reverse this, perhaps the person who said Leave would “turn the clock back” really encouraging them to do that. But also the general claim pushed by the Brexiteers that Leave would return control of our country back to us.

    However, what Tories wanted Leave for was to push our country even further down the right-wing economic path, with shady billionaires getting even more control due to the lack of international co-operation given by the EU to prevent them playing one country against another.

    If someone asks you to do something for a particular reason, and you know it will have the opposite effect, should you just do it anyway? No, not unless you have deliberately tricked, them to get what you wanted. As a decent and honest person, you should have explained to them why you think it won’t work, and ask them do they really want it?

    That’s a second referendum, and given there are so many different forms Brexit could take, and the reason it didn’t happen is because the Tory extreme right-wingers voted against the form that was worked out after the referendum, I think in any case a second referendum was needed to say “Ok, now what it really mans has been worked out, sure you sure you want it?”

    But the LibDems nationally did none of that, and instead pushed the impression that our party is only interested in support from those who were keen Remainers in the first place. We needed, instead, to show sympathy and understanding for poor working class people who voted Leave, and explain to them how the EU actually works, that it’s control is quite limited, and that they were being tricked by the Tories into voting Leave.

  • Let’s us look at the data at the moment. The lib dems have increased their % vote. There has been an increase in membership, although some members like me drifted away after the article 50 fiasco.
    Ethicsgradient has given a few pointers and I add a few. Tory part is currently hard rigbt but will probably now re align to right of centre. Labour are currently drifting left due to momentum. So there is a soft left of centre ground for the taking. However we need to forget targeting everywhere as the resources are not available. We have less than 5 years as Boris will scrap the fixed term parliament act to start producing a manifesto for the next parliament. We are very close with numerous candidates so keep them active on a local level, get them out and about at meet and greet days

  • Alasdair Brooks 13th Dec '19 - 3:15pm

    @Helen Farrell

    “He can’t blame anyone else after this, there’s no “Remainers” obstructing him”

    There’s no one in the _UK_ he can blame.

    I fear that the blaming of Brussels for any UK Brexit failures will go on for years – in much the way that the SNP is prone to blame Westminster for any problems in Scotland. It’s easy enough to find an external other to demonise when you need to.

    Unfortunately.

  • Paul Barker 13th Dec '19 - 3:28pm

    The explanation of the Result is pretty simple, we are not yet big enough for Voters to believe in us as an alternative & most Voters couldnt take Labour/Corbyn at any price. The Realignement brought about by Brexit helped The Tories take Nationalist Labour Votes as well.
    It was just too soon after The Coalition.

  • With hindsight it was a mistake not to try and find Chukka Umna a safer seat. When it comes to it he’s probably the leader we really need.

    I don’t see that Ed Davey can do it because of his past. And I don’t think Layla comes across strongly enough. We need someone with charisma…

  • “The election result might not have been completely terrible”

    It’s impossible to take an article that begins this way seriously.

    The party does need to address an inconvenient truth. It’s not actually very good at fighting elections.

  • Sean Hyland 13th Dec '19 - 4:04pm

    As a Lib Dem supporter but not a party member can i respectfully offer some views.
    I can in some respects see why a focus was put on Jo Swinson as leader. She was new in post competing against established leaders of the other parties. Unfortunately she was an easy target because of her past voting record in coalition. It could have been balanced with a bigger role for other MPs and candidates.
    You are always going to be up against the established media. Interesting that Labour also blaming it for their losses as well. You can only get around this by developing news that they feel compelled to report.
    I am one of the approx 30% of Lib Dem supporters who voted leave. I share the sense that the Lib Dems were not actually interested in the many reasons why people voted leave or wanted to really address their concerns of promote an alternative positive view of reasons to change. I support a new vote as a democratic process but felt the revoke decision sent a signal of not caring about leave voters.
    For a long time I have believed that the Lib Dems have moved away from being a radical, progressive alternative party. I’m not so sure that what it truly stands for anymore. It doesn’t seem to offer a voice or hope to those individuals most in need as per the parties stated principles and preamble. Maybe I’m too much an old school social liberal.
    I hope the party learns whatever lessons there are to be learnt from this. Don’t hide behind an increase in vote share and number of second places. Build on the existing community structures as you did in the past. I won’t be remaining the party as I have issues with my local branch but I will continue to always look to vote Lib Dem.

  • Richard Elliott 13th Dec '19 - 4:39pm

    Paul Barker is right, we under estimated the lasting effects of coalition and didn’t fully how the forthcoming GE, because of the Johnson/Corbyn dynamic, would squeeze us regardless of the successes/failures of the campaign. Setting up huge expectations that we could never deliver given this context was a big mistake and it put too much pressure on Jo, an inexperienced leader and we should have never put her (or allowed her) to get into a presidential style campaign of such expectations. It looked like hubris to those outside the party, as did telling Labour to get a new leader. This is not to criticise her efforts – she worked tirelessly and improved during the campaign, but the party has take the responsibility for setting her up to fail at great personal cost.

    The leadership style needed now is more collective, less tribal, more humble and more understanding of differing views – the revoke policy was the antithesis of this. Stop Brexit was fine, but revoke signalled a disrespect for leavers and added to a feeling that the liberal elite knows what is best.

    Policy isn’t the main challenge over the next period. The core of our policy direction (revoke aside) as expressed in the manifesto, which got a good press, provides an excellent future baseline: pro-EU (now in a different form), pro-Business, green, standing up for human rights, anti-nationalism, etc.

    Yes the result was very disappointing, but in our necessary critique of mistakes we also have to identify what we got right and build on this – the manifesto, ground operations in many seats, and targeting core-vote areas (as we have a lot more seats where we are a close second).

  • The Labour Party lost for three reasons. It has become a Marxist club with lefty loonie policies. It betrayed its own Leave voting supporters by reneging on its manifesto pledge to support the referendum result. Its leader is unfit for the office of PM.
    The way ahead for the party is to realise all of the above, have a big clear out and move to the centre ground. Momentum will not allow this to happen.

    What about the Lib Dems? Faced with Boris the Leaver and Corbyn on the fence, the party should have picked up all the Remain votes. What could possibly go wrong?

    You misjudged the electorate all along. The time for argument and campaigning to Remain was before the referendum. Then we had the biggest democratic vote in our history and the people decided to leave. But not this party. It decided to fight Brexit at every turn. Some Remainers and the party faithful may have approved, but not the average UK voter who has always respected democracy and expects political parties to do likewise.

    Then the madness of the Revoke policy made things much worse. It was madness because it could only have effect if Jo became PM so it was damaging for no benefit. The public began to regard the Party with derision.

    So where do you go from here? I don’t see much evidence of the party recognising that it now has an integrity/democracy issue in the eyes of the electorate. On the contrary, the party has a high regard for its own ethics and values and is oblivious to the way it is regarded by a large proportion of the voters. The party is not seen as a UK team player but wrapped up in its own internal ideological obsessions with a callous disregard and contempt for those who see the world differently.

    Stopping regarding Leavers as nasty morons would be a good start.

  • Michael Berridge 13th Dec '19 - 5:10pm

    @ Laurence Cox
    I agree that we should seriously consider joint leadership. “Perhaps we should be looking at co-leaders for the future, just like the Green party” – and like the German SPD. Richard Elliott usefully adds “The leadership style needed now is more collective”.
    @Ethicsgradient
    Matthew Huntbach has pointed out that the Leave campaign claimed one thing for Brexit (close relationship to the EU) and proceeded to impose another (no single market, no customs union, no ECJ). To put it more strongly: Brexit was a confidence trick, a swindle. That is not what we mean by democracy.

  • David Allen 13th Dec '19 - 5:12pm

    You still (mostly) don’t get it, do you?

    As late as last summer, there was a national majority view that Brexit was a mistake, and a real possibility that the “Make It Stop” vote would translate into a “Give up the Idea” vote. The Lib Dem popular surge was a demand, by voters to Lib Dems, to pull out all the stops to get Brexit cancelled. You basked in the adulation. But you didn’t actually meet the demand.

    You could have worked with Labour and tried to block Brexit. The chance was there. You made no effort to take it. You let Johnson outmanoevre you, kidding the DUP along to keep you down, then ditching them at the last minute.

    You could then have recognised the danger posed by Johnson’s khaki election plan. You could have insisted on Brexit before any election, something Ken Clarke thought would take about five days of parliamentary time. At least Johnson would then have been saddled witha next election only two years ahead and the need not to make a complete pig’s ear of his Brexit in the interim. Instead, like Sturgeon (but with less realism) you salivated about all the gains you could make. Like Corbyn, you let your egos lead, and willingly supported a battle at the wrong time.

    You were posing as defenders of Remain, while actually selling the pass. The unrealism was further advertised by the unrealistic Revoke policy and the deluded idea that a largely unknown novice could immediately look like a future PM. You couldn’t stop Brexit, because you hadn’t really tried. Seeing that, the voters abandoned you.

    Pack it in. Shut the party down. Let a new centre-left movement emerge, it can’t do any worse than you have. To quote an ironic line, Britain deserves better.

  • You need to answer a more fundamental question, what are you for? Before the coalition you were a leftwing and liberal refuge for people alienated by the rightwing and authoritarian new labour governments.

    You choose coalition with the Tories, lost that identity and those voters. Since then, the average person in the street is pretty clueless about your party. At the moment you are seen as a one issue party, a remain equivalent of the brexit party.

    That is not enough to keep you going in the medium, let alone, the long term.

  • I’m stunned to see some people downplaying what we have just been through. Of course it’s a disaster.

    Past experience as the third party is that our support usually picks up once we start getting exposure during the campaign, then gets squeezed back at the end. Sometimes we end the campaign higher than we started, sometimes we get pushed back to square one.

    Never have we started in such a favourable position and then squandered it as the campaign progressed. We lost pretty much HALF our support during this campaign.

    Our media exposure is strictly limited, and we wasted much of it with fruitless stunts like going to court over the TV debates – which allowed the media to ‘bill’ the time reporting our court case against our allocation (nothing on offer to voters there) – and in the final few days our President seemed to think the right issue to major on was gender reassignment!

    I have been through plenty of elections where the system has delivered us defeats that we didn’t deserve. This is the first time I can remember our having gone out and actively earned such a terrible result.

  • I see the Guardian reports that, “in her speech, Swinson hinted strongly that she would like her successor to be a woman, naming and praising the party’s seven female MPs, three of them new”.

    I’m afraid I have to argue that the next Leader should be the best person, regardless of gender or identity. To argue that it ought to be a man would be regarded as unacceptable…. and the opposite should also apply.

  • Ian, that’s an interesting comment about our time allocation on the court case, which I’d not considered. The counter point is that it did seem to create a sense of injustice that we had been excluded from at least some of our potential voters, but given we had great difficulty convincing people that our manifesto said more than STOP BREXIT, we likely missed something. Of course, we have no real sway over how the media outlets cover us during our allocation, so we have to be mindful of assuming we’d prefer the alternative.

    I support keeping Ed and Sal as interim leaders for the time being. We need to let the new and returning MPs settle into their roles, and as much as I respect Ed, I think the time has come where we need to find someone who wasn’t in coalition. We dared to hope that people were bored with ‘but student fees’, and that seemed to be the case during the EU elections, but it was reignited with a vengeance as soon as the election came into view, and it really didn’t matter to most that they were counting votes for our own and non-Tory policies as voting with the Tories.

    Some concerns are much easier to identify than they are to address. Corbyn supporters like to complain that the press is unfair, but Labour and Corbyn get much more comprehensive coverage than us, and there are a string of high profile columnists who act as unofficial spokespeople, and turn up to do the news reviews and Victoria Derbyshire etc. How do we get ourselves some of them? But as much as we could legitimately complain about our lack of coverage, we can’t fall into the Corbynista trap of thinking we’re entitled to have our press releases read out without challenge on prime time BBC1.

    Not only do we not have the right-wing press on board, we don’t have the Mirror or Guardian either, so how do we get our message out? Having a leader like Jo did attract attention, but I agree with the need to try to spread that attention around a bit. In that respect, I think Jo was a victim of her own success. They were happy enough to ignore everyone else, including Vince, but Jo forced them to pay attention – instantly making her ‘pushy’.

  • David Becket 13th Dec '19 - 6:05pm

    @Ian
    Gender reassignment is one of the Liberal Democrat campaigns that the majority of the electorate do not consider important.. We have too many of these “liberal Issues” that we go on about and bore the electorate. Stop it and concentrate on issues that matter to voters.
    @David Raw
    Gender equality may have some importance, but it should have no role in determining our leader.

  • Fiona, David, you both make good points.

    The key point about an election campaign is that you have a key purpose – some short clear messages that you want to get across to people – and you focus on them relentlessly.

    We can all despair at the dishonesty of the Tory campaign, but it will be written up by future experts and academics as a textbook example of how you stick to a plan.

    We didn’t appear to start with much of a plan and, insofar as we did, set out to undermine it at every turn. Almost all of the tactical decisions taken by the campaign were wrong. What we have just been through is a travesty and we need to make sure that we learn the right lessons, and don’t let the people responsible anywhere near the chance of repeating their mistakes in future elections.

  • I am a passionate democrat so please permit me to point out the lesson from yesterday.
    The people are sovereign. They hold the ultimate power in our country. This power is delegated to parliament to act on behalf of the people. For three long years parliament abused its power, treated the people with contempt and damaged the trust that underpins our political system. But parliamentarians are ultimately accountable to the people and yesterday was judgement day.
    There is a long list of parliamentarians who overestimated their own power and defied the people in a display of great arrogance. This morning, many of these have been dismissed. Democracy has triumphed. Political parties and individuals ignore the sovereignty of the people at their peril.

  • Ian, I agree. There were 3 key toxic strategies that’s led to this.
    1. I will be your next prime minister (Party Conference 2019) My husband laughed out loud at that comment…how? He said. Totally unrealistic, even on a 20per cent opinion poll reading
    2. We shall revoke Article 50. Kick in the teeth to everyone who voted leave, played right into the hands of the Tory party.
    3. I am sorry for everything I did in the coalition…..no way now to get the true message across.
    Please please don’t make these mistakes again. I agree Chukka is most probably the best leader we shall never have…..

  • I’ve had my two rants so now I shall try to help if I can. I support Brexit so I did not vote for LD but now that is in the bag. I have regard for this party and no respect for Labour. Every democracy needs a strong opposition. The Lib Dems, if I may say so, are now in disarray but unlike Labour is in a position to rebuild. That is the first point to grasp.

    RobertsP above, makes realistic points. I think the first stage of recovery is to accept the mistakes. Then, decide on what the party is about.

    I suggest that you accept that the UK will not be in the EU. I think it would be a big mistake to try to recreate conditions of a soft Brexit if that involves accepting EU control because that is not going to be acceptable to the majority of voters. Try to support the best deal for the UK compatible with good EU relations without ceding control.

    More importantly, the party needs policies on the NHS, care in old age, Industrial redevelopment, social benefits and all the usual boring but essential elements of life. I think the key is innovation of a genuine sensible nature, not ideological soundbites that mean nothing but are aimed at the core supporters.

  • Tobias Sedlmeier 13th Dec '19 - 7:42pm

    ” Jo actually had one of her high points on LBC when she articulated the Liberal vision in our Preamble of equality through the prism of transgender issues.”

    My experience is very much the opposite, and I am in inner London. I know many people who fled voting LibDem because of gender self-ID. Just go on mumsnet (a very middle of the road website) and you’ll find numerous threads about Swinson and gender self-ID.

    Following Swinson’s interview with Newnight presenter Emily Maitlis last week, Maitlis tweeted “We discussed gender self identification last night #newsnight. It’s not ‘these people’. It’s the fact a blanket law would allow any predatory man to self identify as female to gain access to women. That’s the danger.”

    I have no views on this issue, but to the electorate the LibDems seemed more obsessed with identity politics at this election than Labour. Or perhaps it’s more correct to say that the LibDems seemed obsessed with identity politics issues that are relevant to white English middle class people.

  • To be clear, I don’t have a problem with our policy on gender reassignment.

    I do have a problem with our squandering our party’s precious and rare allocation of airtime in the final few days of an election talking about an issue that affects only a tiny handful of people. And probably repels others, whether we like it or not.

    That someone was asked about it is no excuse. Tories were asked all sorts of things, and the answer was always Brexit done. Our politicians are supposed to have some ability to move a conversation quickly onto the matters we want to talk about.

  • Ed Shepherd 13th Dec '19 - 8:22pm

    The best position that any political party can be in is to be in the opposition to a government that has only a small majority or even a minority. In those situations, the opposition can choose when and how to hinder, humiliate and undermine the government without risking the unpredictable results of a FPTP GE. That is how the once mighty Tory government of the 80s finally died in the 90s. That is why the opposition essentially won the 2017 GE. It was foolish of the opposition parties to let Boris have a GE rather than striving to create a GNU where Jeremy’s unpopularity would have been irrelevant until the 2022 GE.

  • Christopher Curtis 13th Dec '19 - 9:36pm

    Peter’s comment is interesting:
    “ The people are sovereign. They hold the ultimate power in our country. This power is delegated to parliament to act on behalf of the people. For three long years parliament abused its power, treated the people with contempt and damaged the trust that underpins our political system. But parliamentarians are ultimately accountable to the people and yesterday was judgement day.”

    I agree completely that the people are sovereign. As he rightly says, that’s why MPs are elected by and accountable to their constituents. Parliament did not abuse its power by making decisions and taking votes that a minority government (which lost its majority after going to the people seeking support for its version of Brexit) did not want. It was doing its job very well. Governments exist only when they have the confidence of and can win votes in Parliament. There’s no other source of power or sovereignty, even if his particular wishes were not being pursued. It was entirely possible that this election could have resolved matters by rejecting Brexit. Sadly it did not and Brexit will now happen.

    Johnson’s majority changes the political situation, but voting never changes reality. Brexit will be able to go ahead, but it will still face all the contradictions, confusions and complications that are inherent in it. What the people want is irrelevant when they want things that are impossible to achieve and politicians that win their votes by not being honest about the realities of the political decisions ahead are playing with fire. Brexit will probably fail, I think, but I can’t foretell the future. It might not be a total disaster. It might even be some sort of success. What it will never do is satisfy the million different wishes and hopes projected on to it and the promises made about it, most of which were already abandoned long ago by the politicians who wanted it.

    Reality is harsh, but it’s all we’ve got and that’s every bit as true for those who want Brexit now that there is a Parliamentary majority for it as it has been for those who want to remain.

  • Joseph Bourke 14th Dec '19 - 1:01am

    Proportional representation is unlikely to be on the agenda anytime soon, as on these election results it would take away the majority enjoyed by the Conservatives (and the SNP in Scottish Westminster seats), make little difference to Labour and result in significant gains for both Libdems and Greens.

    Tories polled 43%) which got them 364 seats. Had they got a number of seats related to % it would have been 282 seats. Labours 10.3M votes, 32% and 203 seats. Related to % 209 seats. Lib Dems 3.67M votes, 11% and 11 seats. Related to % 75 seats
    SNP 1.2M votes, 4% and 48 seats. Related to %age 24 seats. Greens .86M votes, 3% and 1 seat. Related to %age 18 seats.

  • On Vote 2012 a poster says of Altrincham and Sale West: “Lib Dems: huge national spend, but locally very little different to what they’d have done in a ‘normal’ general election here”

    11%. Up 3.3

  • Mark Charlton 14th Dec '19 - 3:42am

    The party now needs to accept that Brexit is a reality and start working on campaigns to prevent the Torries selling Britain off to the Americans ….work with the farmers to maintain food standards, work with doctors to campaign for the NHS, work with British business so they are no left hanging when the Americans do role into town ….become a thorn in the side of the Tories until the public see us fighting for this fair independent Britain ….but equally independent of American pressure .

  • Yeovil Yokel 14th Dec '19 - 8:08am

    Peter (13th December, 7:35pm) – Brexit is not now ‘in the bag’, as you put it – this time next year we will be even deeper into the political and economic quagmire. I trust you’re financially resilient. Enjoy.

  • Paul Walter, Apologies, however I like a lot of the population saw that morphed into I want to be your next prime minister, you can’t be a candidate and not want to be Prime Minister? Can you?

  • jayne Mansfield 14th Dec '19 - 9:04am

    @ Paul Walter,
    The problem for me, is that, Jo Swinson, like all politicians who bravely asserted their values and put themselves in the public firing line to fight for a society that reflects those values, is that they faced a level of hostility that was vicious and a real test of their bravery. That was as true of male politicians as female politicians. There might have been a numerical difference but the viciousness was the same.

    Language demonstrates a person’s attitudes, but in the scheme of things, why waste energy pointing it out to them. It just confirms to them that we are moaning minnies, ( I know, I know). My objection to Jo’s politics, not to Jo herself, lay in the fact that in coalition, she supported policies that disproportionately affected women in a negative way.

    The fact that Nick Ferrari asked the question about gender self -identification demonstrates that it is deemed to be of particular importance to your leader. You may think this unfair, but your party has become associated very strongly with identity politics, Gender, unlike biological sex and the consequences of biological sex, is a matter of identity.

    Tobias’ post reflects my experience of why many women of my acquaintance would no longer vote Liberal Democrat. It is not the case that self identification of gender does not harm anyone. Women who have reason because of their experiences of some men, are understandably fearful of men, and their feelings of safety, is why safe spaces remain important from what they far is predatory men. Their feelings as women are important, dismissing their concerns and fears is what is truly sexist.

    There is devastating inequality in our society in terms of wealth, education, opportunity. I really think that your party needs to assess why it has become so closely identified with
    so called ‘woke’ issues, rather than the real fight against inequality, ignorance and social justice.

  • Robert Davies 14th Dec '19 - 9:11am

    So once again we have a tory government free to carry out whatever hard-right policies it chooses, having been elected by a minority of voters – 56% voted against them. I am liberal to the core but I’m not sure I can see much point continuing to support the Libdems if our only practical function is to split the anti-tory vote. We need to recognise that we live under a first-past-the-post electoral system and radically change our tactics to work with the system instead of allowing it to work against us. Our leaders need to abandon their personal and political ambitions and make it their priority to form an alliance with the other progressive parties – however unpalatable the compromises this would entail. That way voters at the next election will have a simple binary choice: reactionary values or progressive ones.

  • Totally agree with you. We need to see our new MPS at work and we need to choose somebody who had not been anywhere near the coalition. I think as a Party we are too hard on ourselves, the fault is and has always been Corbyn Labour I think we had reached a point where it was a choice between Revoke or Brexit I think the Kyle /Wilson ammendment was our last chance to win a referendum. With 2 anti Europe parties backing Leave we would have lost. We are now the largest Liberal pro European party in this country fighting against an illiberal right wing government we don’t have time for soul searching let’s just get back out there and fight

  • David Evans 14th Dec '19 - 9:34am

    Roberts P – You are absolutely right, and it finally rose to “Britain’s next Prime minister” before it flew too close to the sun and came crashing to earth.

  • John Marriott 14th Dec '19 - 9:42am

    Nick Barlow urges a pause “to properly response”. Perhaps, if we intend to respond properly, we could start by not splitting infinitives! (It’s all about standards, old boy)*

    *Marriott attempt to inject a bit of humour.

  • John Critchley 14th Dec '19 - 10:25am

    Totally agree with this proposal and hope that those at the top of the Party listen. There’s little point in having wash-ups at a local level without serious discussion about the future at Party level, and that must include the membership.

  • Chris Bowers 14th Dec '19 - 10:29am

    Getting back to the original article for a second, it has a lot to commend it (as the early comments testify), and Nick Barlow’s previous work adds gravitas to the unformed ideas he puts out there.
    To me, the fundamental questions we must address are: what is the role of a liberal party in a social-media and echo-chamber dominated era, and what do we actually stand for? In the past campaign I played down Jo Swinson, not because I didn’t like her but because we have to stand for our policies, not the personality of our leaders – otherwise we’ll be panned for cooperating with any other party in government, whether coalition, confidence & supply or whatever. We must define what we understand by liberalism or liberal democracy and find ways of selling it to the public. Then questions of the leadership will follow more naturally. If the period of reflection Nick Barlow is advocating can be used for that, it’s a very good idea.

  • As someone who has more or less stopped posting on this site, can I just observe that I’ve come back here and *exactly the same arguments and excuses* are being used as were used in 2015 and 2017. Virtually every comment is interchangeable with the comments in the equivalent threads then. That doesn’t sound like a much progress has been made.

  • Robert Davies – Your concerns are very valid, but I would point out one alternative. The Lib Dems become a party of those reasonable people who are unrepresented by the establishment parties – appealing to decent honest workers in rural areas like the South West who know metropolitan Labour will never represent them or people who consider themselves ‘Old style’ one nation Conservatives (e.g. in the Scottish Borders) who know that the Tories have deserted them and their values. These were often people with a sense of values, care for the disadvantaged, support for the local community etc, and in time they morphed into Lib Dems and they and the party were better for it.

    The mantra “Working hard for you” won them over, but it took a lot of time and effort over years and years. Then came a leadership who didn’t believe in the old, slowly successful ways and wanted a new, quick fix. Sadly that leadership coincided in 2010 with a fluke of the electoral arithmetic that put them in a position where despite us losing five seats, they could go into government. Within six months they betrayed so many of the core vote built around “Working hard for you” they almost destroyed our party’s future.

    I honestly don’t feel we can survive as an annex to a Labour Party who still believe in the “It’s our turn next” philosophy of government and accept periods of Tory rule as the price worth paying. Hence their total unwillingness to give anything at all for a Remain alliance.

  • Paul, someone apologises to you and you go in with big hob nail boots “Are you not concerned with truth any more? The accuracy of quotes? Or do you just want to make stuff up based on prejudice?”

    She has apologised. Don’t use it as an opportunity to throw a tirade of abuse at her and use it to question whether she is prejudiced. That is way beneath you.

    Could I suggest you look at the Comment Guidelines
    “Be polite:
    Comments that stray over the line into abuse of individuals or groups of people will be moderated. If in doubt, try being extra polite!
    In particular:
    • Avoid abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or coarse language.
    • Focus on the topic, not what you know or think you know about the personalities of other commenters, or the author of the blog post.
    • Avoid distorting the views of the author or subject of a post or other commenters. Expressing outrage at the views of someone who you have just misquoted is particularly to be avoided.

    If not, look at the title of this piece – “We need to pause to properly respond.”

    You are better than that last post. Be that man who can accept apologies from women and equally make them.

  • Paul Walters, have to agree to differ on this point. That said Jo Swinson has gone. She got my vote in the last leadership election. I was appalled by Nicola Sturgeons reaction when she heard the result in Dunbartonshire East, but I suspect that’s the dog eat dog political landscape we now exist in.RW media will morph the message to suit their own ends (Daily Express, Mail, Sun, Telegraph etc), What element of this highly successful Tory campaign has been built on truth? Very little….What wins elections? , three/four word sound bites …Oven Ready Brexit, lets get it done. It’s a sad state of affairs but this is the reality.

  • @Paul Walter – “She did not say it.” To be fair, the party did deliver an 8-page magazine to every household in the country, the front cover of which had a big picture of Jo with the headline, ‘Britain’s next Prime Minister.’ No question mark.
    So, she may not have said it herself, but we did.

  • Paul Walters, everyone is a bit frayed around the edges after little sleep on Thursday. Just cancelling my party membership. Have fun over the next decade.!

  • David Evans 14th Dec '19 - 1:53pm

    Paul, Point taken. Thanks for reconsidering. You are that man and much more.

  • David Evans 14th Dec '19 - 2:27pm

    I agree with Paul Walter

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Dec '19 - 6:19pm

    Peter

    For three long years parliament abused its power, treated the people with contempt and damaged the trust that underpins our political system.

    Democracy has triumphed.

    Has it? Or have people been tricked by those in real power?

    Actually the reason Brexit did not happen for three year was because extreme Brexiteers voted against the agreement that was reached to get it to work. It was then part if their trickery to put the blame on anti-Brexiteers.

    The reason why I became a strong supporter of Remain was listening to what most people who voted Leave gave as the reason they were voting it for. It is clear they are unhappy about the way our country has developed in recent decades, and have been tricked into thinking that’s down to the EU. They liked it when they were told leaving the EU would bring back control to us. Oh yes, more democratic control, a reverse of the way control of our country has gone – to shady billionaires running international big business.

    But what the right-wing Conservatives who have been leading Brexit want is the exact opposite of this – they want to leave the EU to be able to push our country even further down the extreme right-wing route where it is run by and for the super-rich.

    So, what caused the unhappiness that led to many voting Leave was to a large extent Conservative Party economics. The elite Brexit leaders have got people to vote Conservative under the supposition that a Conservative government will be the best opposition to Conservative economic policy.

    See here for the way extreme right-wingers have commonly used referendums to build up their support.

    My own feeling is clear – if someone asks you to do something for a particular reason, and you know it will do the reverse, you should explain that to them, and ask them whether they really want it. It is a common trick technique to do the reverse in order to get support for what people don’t want but say “They agreed to it”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Dec '19 - 6:31pm

    Me

    My own feeling is clear – if someone asks you to do something for a particular reason, and you know it will do the reverse, you should explain that to them, and ask them whether they really want it.

    And, of course, the Liberal Democrat leadership did the opposite of that. That is why I condemn them for giving support to the idea that one should show one’s opposition to Conservative right-wing economic policy by voting Conservative in the 2019 general election.

    What was needed was proper explanation of how the EU works and what it does, and so to show that the suggestion that we are somehow in complete control of the EU and they run us as the real government is nonsense. Our real government since 1979 has been the Conservative Party, and Labour only when under Tony Blair it became close to the Conservative Party – and we got our best support ever because many voted for us, especially in southern England, seeing us as opponents of Blair to his left.

    But our leadership did none of this. Nothing to get people who voted Leave to think again about what it would lead to, and nothing to explain how it is Conservative Party economic policy that has led our country to one where many are enslaved by poverty, and how the right-wing of the Conservative Party want to leave the EU to push things even further that way.

    The consequence was that people who voted Leave just as a general protest and supposition that it would mean they get listened to became strong supporters of Leave, because of the way our party just dismissed them, and more or less said “Don’t vote for us, we don’t like you”. By pushing the idea that the 2019 general election should be just about Leave/Remain, the Liberal Democrat leadership did a lot to push up the Conservative vote.

  • The short answer to Nick Barlow is no. A talking shop two day conference in the spring will provide no solutions to the changes which will happen in the next five years as suggested by him. We should know what liberalism means already. We should not need two days discussing it to know it.

    Didn’t we do something similar after 2015? The process ended with the Policy Paper 125, “The Opportunity to Succeed, the Power to Change’ (Agenda 2020). Wasn’t the ‘Demand Better – Liberal Democrat Priorities for a Better Britain’ (policy paper 134) the post 2017 attempt?

    The preamble of the constitution is all we need – “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full.”

    We need to state in each policy paper what the end result should be. For example on homes – everyone should be able to have a home of their own. The policy would then set out how we would achieve this. On poverty – no one in the UK should live in poverty. The policy would set out how we would achieve this. On running the economy and employment – everyone who wants a job would have one, and the government would run the economy to achieve full employment and provide the support needed for people to have a job if they wanted one. The policy would then set out how we would achieve this.

    Of course the Federal Policy Committee would not restrict working groups on how much they can spend to achieve the aims (as they do at present).

  • Joseph Bourke 15th Dec '19 - 2:31am

    Lord Adonis offers his perspective to both Labour and Libdems in this “period of reflection” .
    https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/election-labour-lib-dems-leader-change-policy-tony-blair-centre-a9247156.html highlighting five key points “a successful Labour or Liberal leader speaks the language of middle England on crime, defence and tax. A prime minister must, first and foremost, be trusted to keep the country safe and prosperous”.
    “Second, socialism is the language of priorities, as Nye Bevan said, and a successful Lab/Lib leader earns trust by focusing on key deliverable and affordable priorities to make Britain fairer and reduce poverty.”
    “Third … the need to cater to aspiration as well as social justice. Aspiration becomes a key part of social justice.”
    “Fourth…uniting progressive and conservative Britain”
    “Fifth…uniting Labour and Liberal England.”

  • Nick Barlow,

    I thought that for both policy papers I referred to that there was an extended consultation and they were not just produced in the same manner as normal policy papers. I thought that both papers are supposed to reflect our view of liberalism and set out how that view of liberalism addresses the problems of the future. If they fail to do this, then it is very likely that even if we spend two days discussing these issues we will end up with a paper which looks much the same as these two. Therefore it will again have been a waste of time.

    I think getting back to policy papers really based on our values would be a much better way to achieve what I think you want in the future.

  • I think a longer period of reflection is a good idea, because even though we have elections in 2021, we need to be coherent. As I see it, there are two approaches (amongst many) – (1) (re)define what we mean by “liberalism” so that we can relate all policies back to this, or (2) identify what the centre ground of politics in the UK is, where we want to sit in that, and how far left and right we are prepared to go.
    If we want to be radical (regardless of the above) and want to differentiate ourselves from the two main parties, then we could build on being the “bigger picture” party. By this, I mean our policies should be intended to work together in a coherent manner. This has pros and cons – the apparent con is that you are not reacting to the Daily Mail and soundbite politics creating policies that are a knee jerk reaction as we saw the other parties doing this election, but it has an upside – because we would have a coherent set of policies, we can anticipate many of the sort of things that could come and thus know where they would slot in, and thus be able to react to point out how and where things are covered.
    Most importantly, as a key plank of our offering, we should have a clear industrial and business policy aimed at growing the UK economy and the overall wealth. Much of the press commented that we had the most business friendly policy. In the post Brexit recession, chaos and austerity, people will eventually be looking for a party with a vision to lead us out of the Boris Brexit mess. (On energy, environment and industrial strategy, I have a few ideas that will fit together coherently – I am an engineer, a past alternative energy researcher, and on occasions have written some of the EC’s industrial strategy in the area of electronics).

  • Peter Hirst 16th Dec '19 - 6:09pm

    Let’s start with basics like are the values of liberal democracy relevant to the modern age.If not what values are going to be needed and are we able and willing to adopt them. To what extent are we willing to adapt to what the electorate wants. I certainly hope that if we present an alternative view to the populism and authoritarianism we can attract sufficient voters to form a government. Liberalism and democracy are part of that picture. What are the other ingredients? Cooperation, environmentalism, the right mixture of localism and internationalism, justice, integrity, honesty, discipline and altruism for others and future generations. Then it has to be sold to an electorate fed a diet of consumerism, self-centredness and hedonism.

  • Good to hear good discussion that covers many sides. After 20 years of campaigning I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter who our leader is. My company’s management training comes to mind: Good people working hard in a flawed system will always achieve flawed results.
    Given the number of Lib Dem MPs and the unfairness of the First-Past-the-Post system I have always thought we can never be in charge of the events around us. Thus, I do not believe we can ever control the “air war.” I also believe that the system prevents a sufficiently large enough swing for us to ever “break through.” I am glad, though, that we tried to use the Remain sentiment to overcome the constraints of FPTP. If we were going to break the mold of British politics this would have been the time.
    So for me, I am very happy with the old mantra of campaign until you drop. It is how we communicate with voters and build up the trust to win seats. Being a Lib Dem essentially means you are into marathons. We cannot win elections at a sprint. Also as an old campaigner, I have we did the best when people knew the least about us.
    I think we need to go back to some of our traditional focus and goals but using different methods. I would like us to re-emphasise our commitment to PR and a fairer voting system. Now, though, we use terms from the Leave campaign such as “ensuring democracy” and “listening to the people.” I certainly support previous comments about building alliances with other organisations and parties.

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