Wanted – a bit more dissent!

The last piece I contributed to Lib Dem Voice appeared a couple of years ago in August 2018 and was entitled Why Aren’t We Doing (Much) Better? That posting (which does seem, at least in part, to have been vindicated by subsequent events) was prompted by a critical analysis of party performance in The New Statesman: this one, which could reasonably be accused of being “Why aren’t we doing (much) better 2”, is prompted by a critical analysis of party performance in The Spectator. Not, interestingly, from The Spec’s ever-growing army of cultural warriors of the libertarian right, but from that pillar of Europhile liberal Toryism, Matthew Parris.

Mr Parris is saying that we Liberal Democrats haven’t said one new or critical or penetrating thing since the last Election. Who can reasonably disagree with him? The scars of 2019 (and 2015, and 2017) go deep within our party, and there has inevitably been an extended period of introspection. Both ourselves and the Labour Party are now in the very uncomfortable position of recognising that in the autumn of 2019 the majority of active party members wanted to take positions on Europe that proved politically disastrous. Those wise older LibDem hands who warned against the Revoke position lost the relevant conference vote by a landslide, with consequences that grew more apparent everyday: as a party we were unquestionably tough on Brexit, but on the (politically more resonant) causes of Brexit we were, and arguably remain, absolutely nowhere.

We have had a leadership election which didn’t exactly convulse the nation, and have in Sir Ed Davey as our leader a thoroughly decent, personable, humane liberal with extensive government experience. Thus far, however, those qualities of kind and thoughtful competence don’t seem to have cut through, and whilst we can blame the pandemic for our almost-complete invisibility, we shouldn’t: the fact remains that the external political situation ought to be (at the very least) fertile ground for a third party to make headway. The pandemic has both revealed and accelerated fundamental trends in every area of British life, and party politics has been no exception: the profound structural flaws in the voter coalitions of both of the two large parties have been shown for what they are, and should be ripe for exploitation. At the same time, our own voter coalition of middle-class remainers, elderly dissenting liberals and metropolitan social democrats remains as wide, and as shallow, as ever.

What has happened to our radical edge? What has happened to our capacity to take contrary positions that may just annoy or upset some people? Being the party that cares about care is (self-evidently) a good thing, but surely isn’t enough. Where, fundamentally, do we stand on the economy, and what are we going to do about the massively increased imbalances in wealth in our society since 2008? And how are we going to reconcile the sort of environmental policies that we know are necessary for the survival of the planet with our strong support base amongst middle-class home-owners and car-owners (like me)? Unless we start to address these challenges, and unless in the course of this parliament we can somehow move beyond the Coalition and our role in it, we won’t make any significant national headway.

I am always mindful of what the celebrated historian of the early Liberal Party John Vincent had to say about the disappearance of any properly Jacobin threat to existing power relations once Labourism had replaced Liberalism as the principal non-Tory force in Britain. We need a bit more bloody-minded dissent, and perhaps to take one or two more unpopular positions to show that we do actually stand for something that is more than ‘nice’: rather than just listening, our leaders need to start speaking too. And saying sometimes unexpected liberal and/or social democratic things that might, at the very least, get people to think. To do that would be a start.

* Richard Fisher is Vice-Chair of Cambridge Liberal Democrats. He writes here in a purely personal capacity. His father knew Lloyd George.

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72 Comments

  • Antony Watts 6th Jan '21 - 9:54am

    What I see is Lib Dems constantly saying “Conservatives are doing this, Labour is proposing this” as a poster to try to hit the publics confidence in other parties. This is meaningless.

    We must make our position clear positively on every subject as they come up for public debate. Liberal Democrats believe this… support this… will do this…

    No comment should be made by any Lib Dem whichdoes not include what Lib Dems would positively support and do.

  • Helen Dudden 6th Jan '21 - 11:26am

    I can only agree with Antony Watts.
    Firstly, to support those who need support is not political. Every time, the Labour Party put the pressure on the government there is a knee jerk reaction.
    Politics is democracy, the freedom to vote and have a voice, it’s not simply politics.
    As I campaign, for inequality within Social Housing, my Power Wheelchair is considered a fire hazard. The lack of suitable housing should be an embarrassment to those in power. The lack of treatment for anything other than Covid. The NHS always it’s weakest in the winter months. Should the saying protect the NHS mean, cut other treatments.
    The above, are the political thoughts of this government.
    Can policymakers have a human side, I think they should, it’s not purely left or right.
    I hope when Ed Davey is on the road, so to speak, I get a chance to meet him. My Power Wheelchair, is safe to be around.

  • Build things.

    Stop opposing development everywhere and build things.

    There isn’t enough housing around, so support building more.

    Build wind farms and other renewable energy sources.

    Build rail infrastructure. It’s by far the most environmentally and people friendly form of transport we have.

    Build communications networks, including 5g masts. If people can communicate better they will travel less, which is good for the environment.

    A party cannot call itself “progressive” if it keeps opposing progress. By all means place a focus on environmental impacts and ensuring high standards of building and design, but think bigger. A 5G mast might be unattractive, but if it lets a person work remotely who previously could not, then that’s one less car driving to a workplace every day.

  • Helen Dudden 6th Jan '21 - 12:26pm

    Dan Martin. There has been a further step up of student housing in Bath. The decision was overturned by the local authority. It’s not simply build and build more, of what do you build more of?
    The NHS could be progressive, while using the knowledge of the past. Matrons were positive, watching that standards never slipped.
    The 5G masts are not simply safety, but it’s been who is going to complete? I can understand the disquiet of parents, when they were suggested close to children and schools. I can remember the unpleasant sounds produced by pylons.
    We should be progressive, on the treatment and care towards those needing hospital treatment. The lack of is ongoing.

  • Helen Dudden 6th Jan ’21 – 12:26pm I can understand the disquiet of parents, when they were suggested close to children and schools.

    I can’t!

    A ‘mast’ and mobile phone ‘handshake’. When a mast is in close proximity it allows the mobile (next to your ear) to transmit on minimum power reducing any possible carcinogenic effects…Keeping masts isolated from the mobile has the opposite effect.. Inverse square law.

    Parents worry about the wrong end of the mobile call..

  • Paul Barker 6th Jan '21 - 12:52pm

    On Topic.
    Look at the evidence (see Mark Packs posts on this) – when we hit 20% in Autumn 2019 that was a temporary effect of our performance in The Local & European Elections ( & The Media over-reaction to it) – the later The General Election was held the worse we were going to do. The timing of The General Election was of course nothing to do with Us.
    There is no evidence that Our Revoke position had much effect either way.

    Right now The News is 99% Covid – even The Official Opposition hardly get a look-in, we are ignored. Predictions about the next 3 Years are pointless until we see what happens in May.

  • It’s obviously not about simply building everything possible, but it’s about an attitude.

    At the moment too much of the attitude seems to be one of looking for reasons to reject first and foremost, rather than a drive to get things done.

    Admittedly I’m a distant observer, seeing things that enter my twitter feed etc., not the detail, but that will be true for the majority of people, and there is a definite perception that Lib Dems like to block things.

    If people have concerns about 5G then they should be reassured of the safety, not simply pandered to. The things are safe and they improve people’s lives.

    Likewise the pylons you mention. I’d prefer a landscape without them, but I like having electricity rather more, and I think it’s fair to say it’s made the world better than it was before.

  • I like Matthew Parris, I read his stuff from time to time. What we actually need is some is some way registering dissent about the three week lockdown and temporary government powers that have gone on for a society wrecking year, with zero to show for it. Actually, you know, stand up for small businesses, young people, liberty and all that stuff instead of paying lip service to them and then letting the government behave like a bunch of despots. We need to peg this as the disaster it so obviously is. I think that is what Mr Parris is driving at. He seems to be very much a lockdown sceptic from what I’ve read.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Jan '21 - 1:01pm

    Great article, thank you, Richard. I’m pleased to be able to tell you that a radical motion has just been sent in for consideration at Spring Conference. It is entitled Beveridge-2 Plan within a Social Contract, and it asks the party to start a campaign for a Beveridge-type plan which would cover all the five social ills that William Beveridge highlighted in his wartime report, in all the areas therefore of poverty, health and social care, homelessness, education and employment. If we take this up we can make the party heard on much more that is needed than UBI and welfare increases. The motion proposes a Commission be established, to consider urgently how Lib Dem policies can be grouped and developed to form the needed Plan, and that this Commission draws on progressive politicians and academics from outside the party to contribute to its work.

    Sent in last night by two constituency parties, Copeland and Workington, and Basingstoke, and also supported by ten individual members (one of them from your Cambridge constituency, Richard), it will be a crying shame if this motion is not allowed to be debated at Spring Conference. Its post-Covid and post-Brexit timing is exactly right.

  • Richard Fisher 6th Jan '21 - 1:09pm

    Thanks to all who have commented thus far – the original version of this did have rather more to say to both Anthony and Paul’s points, but was sadly too long for LDV. I don’t agree that the timing of the 2019 GE was ‘nothing to do with us’ – clearly Lib Dem decisions played a part, if not the major one, in the dissolution of that parliament.

    And – as will be obvious – this piece was written in mid-December, in that moment of pre-new-strain&vaccine-discovered happiness that seemed to be suggesting a return to some kind of normality in the spring. Which (including holding local elections) now seems massively optimistic, sadly.

    Nonetheless I do stand by the main point – that we need to be saying (much) stronger things, whether positive or negative, and (as Antony says) making it clear what we stand for. The Tories have always been ruthlessly unsentimental about building new voter coalitions, in sharp contrast to both Labour and ourselves. What is the new voter coalition we are going to try to assemble for 2024?

  • William Francis 6th Jan '21 - 2:28pm

    I would argue that how revoke was sold to the electorate was the key issue here.

    The party’s polling stayed well in the high teen well after revoke was passed at conference, we tumbled when the party establishment sold the policy on the grounds that it will only be implemented if we get a majority and watering down the rhetoric attached to it, hashing the whole thing out of cowardice rather than boldly sticking to out messaging.

    In sense, by supporting a pro-revoke the party was trying to have the radical edge ( which I agree with you the eed) only to chicken out before fully committing.

  • Richard Fisher 6th Jan '21 - 3:15pm

    Martin’s point is entirely well-made, although in my defence that wasn’t quite what I was saying…

    Incidentally the original version of this piece went on to say

    ‘My Cambridge friend and former local MP Julian Huppert is absolutely right to say how inspiring is the vision for liberty, equality and community laid out at the very beginning of our party mission statement, but how do we translate this, and Julian’s compelling vision for a Generous Society, into policy and positive messaging that engages the electorate beyond our activist base? Surely that is our biggest collective challenge for the next phase, as (d.v) we slowly move towards a vaccinated and post-pandemic world.
    We are all (rightly) convinced that the economic arguments for Brexit are going to be shown for the misplaced sentimental lunacy that they are, and that post-Brexit any real improvements in the living standards and life chances of the post-industrial Left Behind will in all likelihood be nugatory. But what are we proposing in their stead? How can we move on from a situation prevalent in all too many parts of Britain in which migrating out seems, to too many young people, the only solution offering decent life-chances and (increasingly) the only alternative to long-term unemployment?
    In areas of historic strength (like the West Country) where our recent Brexit positions have cost us very dear indeed, we have to have some proper counter-arguments about investment, about housing, about education, and about opportunity.
    The two principal architects of the post-war British settlement were famously liberals, John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge. It would be good to think that the principal architects of the post-pandemic settlement could come from the twenty-first century embodiment of the same political tradition, and show (to quote another great mid-century liberal, F.R. Leavis) the ‘fineness, strength and impressiveness’ of that tradition for what it is. There is work to be done, starting now.’

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Jan '21 - 3:28pm

    If this party stopped sounding so very negative, so sure of itself, without anything to offer of substance, it might advance.

    Both the leader of this party and the official opposition are good competent men. But they are barely ahead of this poor government.

    Leaders must lead. That means ideas and visionary inspiring of voters.

    Calling for more two days before a lockdown, saying schools ought to be open, and pubs, then painting themselves as powerful voices for action, is pure cant.

    we need these good able men to lead.

    And have an original thought sometimes that is a popular one too.

  • When the poll ratings get down to just 4% this must be close to the diehard residual support, those who will support the party whatever it does. If that is the case, then it means that all voters who are open to persuasion have already departed. Perhaps the decline has reached rock bottom.

    Lorenzo has supplied most of the explanation with his usual eloquence. I would just add that as far as I can see, none of the debates that took place directly after the last election has been resolved, resulting in either conclusions or policy.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Jan '21 - 5:11pm

    Peter

    Thanks, appreciate it.

    This party needs to be popular once in a while as a result of, its own action, not whence or where blows the wind!

    Bob Dylan does that far better. Politicians need to be more like mainstream singers or singersongwriters of a good song. Neil Diamond in a tie…?

  • James Moore 6th Jan '21 - 5:31pm

    The party has had no distinctive position on lockdown, compensating those affected by lockdown or on how we will recover from lockdown. The party hasn’t even been prepared to stand up for the right to protest against lockdown or speak out against the dangers of excessive state powers. This job has been left to a few liberal Tories on the backbenchers.

    If the party isn’t prepared to put forward effective Liberal arguments, don’t be surprised if Liberals don’t vote for the party.

    One can blame the leadership – and Davey is clearly not a leader – but the whole parliamentary party needs to step up and take responsibility. The position is in a much worse than that in 1989-91. In those days the Lib Dems had the official status of third party and all that implied – and probably the best leader since Lloyd George.

    A major relaunch is needed, with a rebranded party taking clear and distinctive Liberal positions on the issues that matter.

  • Steve Trevethan 6th Jan '21 - 7:19pm

    Governments inevitably regulate social issues. Social issues are inevitably linked to wealth and the lack of it. Consequently we need to develop and promote an economic policy which is efficient, effective for the many, and so has a strong and clear compassionate facet.

    A first step, or anchor point, is to investigate and publicise the deceitful nature of Neo-Liberalism which has such a grip on our politico-economic thinking, feeling and actions. The steadily increasing inequity and poverty demonstrates this fundamental fault of Neo-liberal economics.

    Neo-Liberal deregulation is, in practice, pro big-business regulation as social issues, such as housing, are regulated for the benefit of big-business.

    The ethic or “dog whistle” of Neo-liberalism is “Freedom,” which has such a powerful appeal. It is particularly presented as freedom from regulation. It, most effectively, uses the “dog whistles” of the “Free Market” and the “Self Regulating Market”. The latter is not true as the present plague indicates. The former needs more definition to be true and useful for “the many.”

    The “free to” market, without optimal regulation, increases the wealth and power of the already powerful and wealthy. The “free from” market, with optimal regulation, gives power to the regular citizens including the homeless, the hungry, the poor.

    Is it beyond the capabilities of Liberal Democrats to defeat Neo-Liberalism and develop an economic policy/set of such, which benefits the whole nation, is clear and, for promotion purposes, entertaining?

  • Peter Chambers 6th Jan '21 - 7:20pm

    @James Moore
    > This job has been left to a few liberal Tories on the backbenchers
    This job has been left to a few libertarian Tories on the backbenchers.

    Fixed that for you.

    Why would one wish to campaign against an effective public health strategy? The clout of the libertarians and the equivocation of Mr Johnson is one of big problems in suppressing Covid.
    Are we strongly part of the reality-based community, or supposed to be against the administrative state? Indeed some thinking and discussion is needed.

  • Phil Wainewright 6th Jan '21 - 7:39pm

    Matthew Parris is an entertaining writer, but his analysis is characteristically lightweight. Like most critics of the LibDems from other parties, he seeks to cast the party in the image of his own political leanings. So he criticizes Ed Davey for taking a stance of being caring and competent, while celebrating David Laws and Nick Clegg for taking a stance of being ‘muscular’ and competent.

    The true flaw in both stances is the assumption that combining competence with careful triangulation between Labour and Conservatives is sufficient for electoral success. That’s why Richard Fisher is spot on in his analysis that the party needs to strike some notes of dissent that reflect what it stands *for*, rather than simply trying to define itself by saying what it’s against.

    We don’t need any new policies to do this. We already have loads of policies that will shake up the status quo and build a more Liberal Britain. Just say bollocks to triangulation and start defining what we stand for on our own terms.

  • Very good article by Richard Fisher. He is correct to ask, “What has happened to our radical edge ?”

    Certainly after Charlie Kennedy on Iraq the party lost it. As the Alston Report pointed out there has been growing inequality and poverty in the UK since 2010.

    In terms of catching public attention and rediscovering the ‘radical edge’, it’s time for a campaign to attack ‘Fat cat’ pay. There’s a load of public interest in pointing out the grossness of some of the salaries paid to FTSE top 100 bosses.

    Recent news links :

    “Greedy grocers under fire over fat cat pay …www.thisismoney.co.uk › comment › article-8472035
    29 Jun 2020 — The governance failure at Tesco is equally disturbing. … hit by fat cat pay row: Grocer under fire over the ‘excessive’ pay deal handed ……. Indivior boss Shaun Thaxter to leave scandal-hit drugs firm with a potential £2.3m pay-off.

    Fat cats rake in workers’ salary in THREE days | This is Moneywww.thisismoney.co.uk › money › article-7854651 › F…
    5 Jan 2020 — By 5pm today, bosses of the UK’s biggest companies will have earned … Lewis, of Tesco, earned 226 times as much as an average employee.

    Sainsbury’s new boss, Simon Roberts is reportedly on a package worth up to £ 4.1 million per annum. That’s an awful lot of Branson baked beans.

    The UK of 2021 is obviously a fractured society. My local foodbank has experienced a rise in demand of 37% this year and there is clearly one rule for “them” (i.e. such as Dom Cummings and the Johnson Chumocracy !!) and a different rule for the rest of us.

    Come on, Sir Ed… speak up and finally get a hearing.

  • I have been a Lib/SDP/LibDem member since time began it seems.
    Our advantage used to be that we aren’t Tory or Labour and seen historically as trustworthy people. We used to be beneficiaries of protest voters. Our first tranche of support left with the tuition fees scandal, the next when we appeared undemocratic with Revoke and lost badly. Bollocks to Brexit was so infantile and I feel demeaned a serious political party. That was radical, but stupid. We have lost our innocence.
    We need a new role in our political life. Currently we are not part of the conversation. At local level we are good at sniping and supporting noisy residents’ groups against sometimes the greater good eg housing developments. But we don’t say what we are “for”. People need to know where we stand in the greater scheme of things. I admit I have no real idea these days, except I am not Tory or Labour. Only the next local elections will show how we are really doing but I fear the results won’t be pretty and the Greens could steal a march.

  • @ James Moore ” The party hasn’t even been prepared to stand up for the right to protest against lockdown or speak out against the dangers of excessive state powers”.

    Welcome to the Flat Earth Society, James.

  • If the alternative to turning Britain into a miserable state controlled hellhole where ministers can decide where you can stand, who you can see, which business is put to the wall, which operations can be cancelled, and who’s mental health can be ignored, means being called a libertarian, then I’m fine with it. I know what I think the current parliament consists of. I do not see any sign of higher morality. All I see is destructive failure after destructive failure and a political class unable and unwilling to change paths.

  • Nigel Farage is back with his new named Reform Party. I am willing to bet he will force his way into the broadcasting studios to put his view. This will make us look even more irrelevant.

  • Helen Dudden 6th Jan '21 - 10:34pm

    Nigel Farage, was supporting Blair on the idea of just one vaccine is better than two. It will go farther.
    My forecast, is this will still be around in a year’s time, Van-Tam did let it slip.
    I think there should be more comments, by the Party. I also think, there should be more reasoning.
    Gove, didn’t know why there were no checks on incoming visitors even from areas like China. Other countries do it.
    I’m still amazed why there is no outcry over the lack of medical care. We could liken it too, getting up one morning and every hospital closed, as with doctors surgeries and dentists. I think it’s illegal.
    In my 72 year’s, I’ve never faced anything like this. I was born in 1948 and my mother had the newly formed Health Service for both my sister and I.
    There should be in Westminster some opposition of the decision being made, questions asked about the spending of taxpayers funding. Our grandchildren will pay forever!

  • Helen Dudden 6th Jan '21 - 10:48pm

    James Moore. Perhaps it should be considered that it’s now time to have an opinion. There has to be some experts in graphs etc. It’s very difficult to have opinions at present.
    We do live in a democracy, whatever the government says.

  • Richard Fisher,

    When I read the start of our preamble to our constitution the focus for me is ensuring no one lives in poverty, ignorance or conformity. Liberty, equality and community are the means to achieve these things. The most important for me is to focus on ensuring people don’t live in poverty. This should be widened to include homes for everyone. At the moment I think we should be advocating a return to full employment with everyone who wants a job having one which is suitable for them. We don’t have the policies to achieve these things and we need to adopt these policies. I hope that we can start work on formatting the policies to achieve these liberal aims and not continue just proposing gradual small scale reforms. (An example of which are our welfare reform policies which don’t even reverse all the cuts and disastrous changes made since 2010.) My fear is that we will not start on the formation of the necessary policies this year, and the Parliamentary party and the party leadership can’t change their mind-set formed in the years of the rise and leadership of Nick Clegg.

    The Beveridge-2 Plan that Katharine and I advocate is concerned with coming up with solutions to the problems we face with regard to poverty, health care, education and training, home provision and employment. This includes as Steve Trevethan says the rejection of the current neo-liberal politico-economic thinking. I believe it means running the economy for the benefit for the people. A truly liberal economy.

  • @ Peter Chambers

    “Why would one wish to campaign against an effective public health strategy?”

    Because it’s not actually very effective? Lockdowns are a blunt instrument that suppress transmission among the young and healthy whilst failing to focus protection on the elderly and vulnerable and delaying the onset of herd immunity. That’s why we are where we are.

  • James Moore 6th Jan '21 - 11:59pm

    Perhaps the most depressing thing about this thread is that it is clear some Lib Dems either don’t understand Liberalism or actively oppose it.

    The point is that we should defend democratic rights to protest and report – even if we don’t necessarily agree with the people who are doing it.

    As for people who think the lockdown has been successful, I would respectfully ask that you watch a popular TV programme called The News.

  • As expected, we’ve become beige, boring, and irrelevant.

    What’s our USP? How do we appeal to people? Hell, I’m a member, and I don’t know whether to vote for us in May.

  • Helen Dudden 7th Jan '21 - 8:06am

    Saving the NHS has cost employment, businesses, education and lives. Johnson, has stayed with his shallow, arrogant advisors.
    Why were the airports not controlled as visitors flew in? Was herd immunity control, the original idea?
    There are no choices in politics or democracy, Starmer hopes he will be, but I can’t see that happen.
    Can the situation in the USA, be one we should learn from?
    I long for normality, but Whitty is saying this continues into next year.

  • Kevin White 7th Jan '21 - 8:20am

    Here is an example of the type of thinking that exists in the current parliamentary leadership who seek to stifle debate, in this case on the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which comes into international law in two weeks time. It is from Defence spokesperson Jamie Stone and was addressed to me on 30th November: “Essentially, both spokespersons in each of the two Houses of Parliament are strongly opposed to this motion being on the Spring Conference Agenda. This is because the nuclear issue is potentially extremely divisive as other conference debates on the topic have shown. A divisive debate will focus on splits when our recently elected leader, Ed, will be seeking to contrast us with the deeply divided Tory and Labour parties.” No mention of the merits of the issue but just trying to paint us as a party which does as it’s told by those at the top of the tree. A motion has just been submitted on the subject backed by 203 members from all parts of the UK, yet the leadership in the parliamentary party don’t want to give the party a chance to debate it. That is no way for a Liberal party to behave.

  • James Fowler 7th Jan '21 - 12:18pm

    @Richard Fisher – thank you for posting this, a really interesting article.

    My two-penny worth:

    1. @James Moore nails it when he says: ‘Some Lib Dems don’t understand liberalism or actively oppose it’. Spot on. In many ways it would be more accurate to re-name the LDs the Politely Non-conformist Party (PNP anyone?). It’s kind of a Labour-lite/soft-left perspective that leads nowhere for us – because every Labour leader (bar Corbyn and Blair post-Iraq) does a better job of embodying it. Worse, the SNP and Plaid have got in on the act too.

    2. Liberalism is not necessarily ‘caring’ and it’s definitely not ‘split-the-difference’, although it’s been happy to go along with these perceptions to gather in the undecided. This is one part of the inheritance we should jettison. The other part is the position adopted by many commentators here that interprets liberalism as ‘Freedom From’. This position is both crowded and owned (Lab/SNP/Plaid). The increasingly vacant position is espousing ‘Freedom To’. Its the position that’s long been controlled by the Dutch and German Liberal parties. It’s also logical, coherent and creates an unassailable core vote.

    3. A concrete example of a ‘dissenting’ policy position, a liberal Party would have declared its hostility in principle to Lockdown from the outset and grudgingly voted for the minimum necessary regulations for the shortest possible time. It’s very uncomfortable truth the hard-Tory Covid Recovery Group has recently been doing a better job of defending liberal principles and a liberal society in Britain than we have.

  • David Garlick 7th Jan '21 - 12:50pm

    I guess that Donald trump would claim to be on the side of free speech and liberty to do what you want too.
    The peice is correct to say that our Policy on Carers is a beacon amongst a desert of Policies in that it will chime with Carers and the Public at large.
    What to do today about Covid is clear for all to see and say. Clear to all except this Government it seems as they are consistantly late arriving at the right/good course of action.
    Lets Focus on what we can realistically influence by developing Policy in areas that both matter to the people and where a new direction will make a difference for them.

  • suzanne fletcher 7th Jan '21 - 1:59pm

    maybe too late for anyone to see, but strongly agree with Antony Watts “making our position clear on every subject”.
    I don’t mean we are clear that Boris and co are messing up Covid things, although of course that needs to be said.
    But “and Lib Dems will ensure extra funding for Care and NHS by extra tax being paid by those who can afford it”, or something much better worded. Anyone can say they will fund things, but we need to be clear we have a proper plan on how.
    whatever message needs to be part of every press release and social media statement.

  • suzanne fletcher 7th Jan '21 - 2:02pm

    @Kevin White. I find the statement quoted “It is from Defence spokesperson Jamie Stone and was addressed to me on 30th November: “Essentially, both spokespersons in each of the two Houses of Parliament are strongly opposed to this motion being on the Spring Conference Agenda. This is because the nuclear issue is potentially extremely divisive as other conference debates on the topic have shown. A divisive debate will focus on splits when our recently elected leader, Ed, will be seeking to contrast us with the deeply divided Tory and Labour parties.” No mention of the merits of the issue but just trying to paint us as a party which does as it’s told by those at the top of the tree.”
    appalling.
    I doubt if Ed seeks to quell debate, and it is extremely healthy for a party to have different views on how any issue is to be tackled.
    Whatever is wrong with “disagreeing well” as Welby rightly said.

  • @James Moore

    “As for people who think the lockdown has been successful, I would respectfully ask that you watch a popular TV programme called The News.”

    And if you do – you will see that lockdowns have been successful .

    We lockdowned, the R rate fell to below 1, cases and deaths fell. The NHS was protected and didn’t go into meltdown.

    We opened up, the R rate increased to above 1, cases and deaths went up. The NHS is back on the brink.

    The problem was that we lockdowned – both in the Spring and Autumn too late and came out too early.

    Effectively South Korea lockdowned in the same phase of cases when we were opening up.

    We should have got cases down to zero (or very, very close to zero) in the Autumn during lockdown 1.

    It would have seen tough at the time but would have prevented much greater damage.

    Coupled with complete quarantine for people coming from abroad – and by that I mean having to stay in Government approved hotel accommodation

    Coupled with very quick stamping out of any outbreaks.

    Coupled with financially well supported but rigorously enforced self isolation.

    I absolutely hate that it is necessary – it goes against every fibre of my political being – but if you don’t you get greater pain – on civil liberties, for the economy, for the young and for those with non-covid diseases.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Jan '21 - 3:44pm

    James Moore

    There is no lockdown it is nonsense that word.

    There is, as colleagues suggest, reality.

    Are you locked into your home? Is going for exercise, to a shop, doctor, aged loved one for whom you are caring, a dentist, a church, any place for quiet worship, indicative of locked, in, down or otherwise.

    We are able to say what we want, create a blog, movement, following.

    We can meet online and do it or anything we would in conversation .

    Why think we are not free?

    We are free to do much. We are not free of the virus.

    You are locked down if locked in within your mind or mentality.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Jan '21 - 3:50pm

    And

    Michael

    I have been saying all you say, months!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Borders are the answer. Nobody gets it. Even the excellent APPG cannot go as far as I would. Close the borders unless emergency travel and quarantine in govt hotels, is my advocated solution since , March!

  • Nonconformistradical 7th Jan '21 - 3:52pm

    @James Moore
    Ignoring whether or not I agree with Michael 1 7th Jan ’21 – 2:14pm – I do – lockdown was an appropriate policy executed horribly badly by an incompetent government – if you are opposed to lockdowns what would you have done in those circumstances if you were the person on whose desk the buck stopped?

  • @ James Moore

    “it is clear some Lib Dems either don’t understand Liberalism or actively oppose it.”

    Yes you’re absolutely right. A common example is the misquoting/ distorting of JS Mill’s harm principle which said that the only rationale for state intervention is to prevent harm to others.

    However this is commonly misrepresented as “Mill confirms that intervention to prevent harm is always justified” which is not what Mill meant as it creates a position indistinguishable from
    Socialism.

  • James Fowler,

    The twentieth century UK Liberal Party moved to be much more of a ‘freedom from’ party than its nineteenth century one. From the late 1950s the party was a social liberal party. However, the UK liberal tradition has always had a strong element of ‘freedom from’. It grew out of the idea of making the people free from the power of the monarch and developed to ensure the people were free from the power of the landowning class. It has been proven after 2010 that there is no room for a Dutch or German type liberal party in the UK. This is why we need to again become a social liberal party and recognise our history going back to the seventeenth century that we have always wanted to ensure people have ‘freedom from’.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Jan '21 - 1:25pm

    One reason is we’ve been over concerned with internal issues. We need to make the daily news bulletins more often. Issues such as the treatment of asylum seekers, supporting the people of Honk Kong and where are all those electric vehicle charging points are distinctive and show our values. Our press team seem tied down with the issues of the day that are dictated by the our rivals. We need to regain the courage to speak out strongly, regularly and distinctively.

  • David Evans 8th Jan '21 - 6:44pm

    Sadly, the problem we face is that very few Lib Dems, including most of the people who have commented here, understand or are prepared to accept the facts of the mess we have got ourselves in.

    The first simple fact that we all have to accept is that since the disaster for Liberal Democracy that was coalition, and the election result of 2015, we are no longer an important party in the House of Commons. Many of us, including all our senior figures don’t want to accept it, but a party with only around a dozen MPs is of no interest whatsoever to the media, so we will get precisely no publicity because of our size, unless we are saying something that is relevant and different.

    Secondly, except for Brexit, we have had nothing relevant or different to say since 2015. Almost all the things that so many Lib Dems love discussing here, are of no interest whatsoever to most of the British people. Whether they be PR, Constitutional Reform, identity Politics, UBI, Neo Liberalism or the Generous Society, saying “Wouldn’t the world be nice if only X was done.” Doesn’t cut it.

    Tim Rogers is right when he says Nigel Farage is back, and he won’t have any difficulty getting into the broadcasting studios. But the reason is unsettling to most Lib Dems – He speaks interestingly, clearly and controversially on matters that people believe are relevant to their and their country’s needs.

    We can’t even persuade people who voted for us for decades that we are relevant to our country’s needs.

    The only way for a small party to get noticed is to be controversial on matters that people care about. Whether it is Covid Contracts for Cronies, Incompetence over Lockdown, PPE, Track and Trace or even the fact that our Prime Minister has the morals of an alley cat, we have to be strong and controversial, naming names and calling out incompetents and cheats. We have to say something noteworthy, and the opportunities are clear. If we don’t all the wonderful plans will be as nothing.

    Paddy could do it. Charles could do it. Even David Steel could do it when the issue was right.

    Why don’t we?

  • Kevin Fowkes 9th Jan '21 - 3:37pm

    The Lib Dems need to raise their game and win over remainer Tories who are happy with Johnson’s so called deal which many LD party members are in denial about. Otherwise they will struggle to get beyond 11 seats at the next election.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Jan '21 - 5:28pm

    Kevin Fowkes: they won’t be happy about it for very long.

  • Peter Watson 9th Jan '21 - 5:57pm

    Kevin Fowkes “The Lib Dems need to raise their game and win over remainer Tories …”
    Those eleven seats and current polling look like the result of 4+ years of that strategy (to the extent that at the last election, my Lib Dem candidate was my Tory MP the month before and did not appear to have changed one little bit). Surely the question has to be what can the party do differently?

  • John Littler 9th Jan '21 - 7:31pm

    LibDem presentation has to be bolder and it’s headline policies more radical to grab people’s attention and inspire them. We need to get away from being thought of as equidistant from Labour and the Tories, or of the soft mushy centre.

    I severely dislike populism but in this age you need to cut through all the shouting and give people a narrative they can understand, remember and which can inspire

    Now Labour has walked away from the Remain side, that growing group are there for the taking, much as after the Iraq war, supported by both main parties

  • neil sandison 9th Jan '21 - 9:12pm

    Micheal BG is correct a modern social liberal party making the most of the Sir William Beveridge Legacy helping to overcome evils he so rightly identified which have be re-introduced by the conservative ” deserving poor ” mentality . has left people behind ,.driven growing numbers to the foodbanks . I dread to think what will happen to the homelessness and those in housing need numbers when the right to evict is re-installed post COVID 19 .Councils will be overwhelmed by emergencies cases and do not be surprised if squatting returns as a result . The fight for the soul of our country has begun lets make sure the Liberal Democrats are not the ones left behind .

  • John Littler 10th Jan '21 - 10:28am

    I will repeat this from David Evans:

    The only way for a small party to get noticed is to be controversial on matters that people care about. Whether it is Covid Contracts for Cronies, Incompetence over Lockdown, PPE, Track and Trace or even the fact that our Prime Minister has the morals of an alley cat, we have to be strong and controversial, naming names and calling out incompetents and cheats. We have to say something noteworthy, and the opportunities are clear. If we don’t all the wonderful plans will be as nothing.

    There are other issues of importance. Green and transport issues and how they affect people, the fairness agenda, running an industrial and jobs strategy, banging on about the problems with brexit and that Labour will not fix it, only ameliorate

  • John Littler 10th Jan '21 - 10:39am

    I will repeat this from Michael:

    It has been proven after 2010 that there is no room for a Dutch or German type liberal party in the UK. This is why we need to again become a social liberal party and recognise our history going back to the seventeenth century that we have always wanted to ensure people have ‘freedom from’.

    There its another Dutch Liberal party, originally a breakaway, called D66. We should look at them. A social party but also owning the future with a cutting edge. They want government resources to go into training and industries of the future and not propping up the old ones, as Socialist parties always wish to do

    In the UK, the Tory Party is a wide coalition. It is like the Sun and you know what happens if you get too close. With this electoral system there is not a hope of running a centre right party that overlaps with them. People will pick the organ grinder over the monkey every time

  • Peter Watson,

    You ask Kevin Fowkes “Surely the question has to be what can the party do differently?”

    I would suggest using the approach in the point I made immediately before Kevin’s – “The only way for a small party to get noticed is to be controversial on matters that people care about … we have to be strong and controversial, naming names and calling out incompetents and cheats.” If we don’t use words like crooked, cheat, incompetent etc in our headline it isn’t worth bothering with.

    But I’m afraid our leading figures, whether Ed Davey, Layla, Daisy, any other of our MPs (including our President) or Lords and indeed Lib Dem Voice itself, are either just too nice or simply still don’t to get it.

  • Sorry, “… still don’t get it.”

  • Peter Watson 10th Jan '21 - 2:16pm

    @David Evans “The only way for a small party to get noticed is to be controversial on matters that people care about …”
    The party’s position on legalising cannabis springs to mind as an interesting, and perhaps cautionary, example of this. The party seems to have been quieter about it in the last couple of years though it might simply have been drowned out by all the Brexit noise. But in 2017, middle-class-plus middle-aged-plus men referring to “skunk” was cringeworthy, no party spokespersons seemed prepared for the obvious question about how they’d feel about their own children smoking it, and it was just another car in the pileup that was Tim Farron’s pre-election interview with Andrew Neil.

  • I agree with Neil Sandison the fight for the soul of our country has begun especially following Brexit and our not being in the EU being settled for at least 20 years. We need to start making clear what side we are on. It has to be putting people first and this means running the economy for the benefit of everyone and ensuring no-one is left behind. We have to advocate a new Beveridge-2 social contract which eliminates the social ills we face today – poverty, housing shortage, health issues holding people back, lack of education and free and easy access to the necessary training and the lack of secure well paid jobs for everyone who wants them.

    (John Littler,

    I do know there are two Dutch liberal parties but I was quoting and countering what James Fowler had written.)

    David Evans,

    I am not convinced that being controversial is necessary the right answer to improve our poll rating. Between February and August 1959 the Liberal Party was between 15 and 19% in the opinion polls and I don’t think that was what the Liberal Party was doing then. Between January 1983 and the 1983 general election the Alliance was between 14 and 29% in the opinion polls and again it was not their policy to be controversial. In fact they had the most sensible economic policies. Therefore while being controversial would increase our press coverage it is having the right policies to deal with the issues that people care about which is important for high poll ratings. I am sure that having solutions to deal with the five major social ills we face today, comparable with those Beveridge identified, are what we need to have. We need to reject small gradual changes which most of our policies are.

  • Alex Macfie 11th Jan '21 - 5:48pm

    Michael BG: Brexit is far from settled. The next election will, unlike the previous two, be fought on its real-world consequences, rather than on the fantasies sold by the Leave campaigners. If (as is likely) it proves a disaster, then there will be a movement to unravel it and move the country closer to the EU. No-one is suggesting that it’s going to be feasible to Rejoin soon after the next election, but the question of the UK’s relationship with the EU is not going to go away.
    Of course, by “settled” perhaps you mean that the two big parties have both accepted Brexit and ruled out any plans to reverse it. But what is the point of us, if we do not challenge a prevalent consensus that’s contrary to our principles? We made the right start by voting against Johnson’s “Deal” (a move which, contrary to government spin, would not have led to no-deal because the government would have ratified it anyway by Royal Prerogative). Labour’s embracing of Brexit and all that goes with it is presumably the result of focus groups from the Red Wall saying that people there just want to move on from the whole issue. But the danger of chasing public opinion is that you get left behind when it changes. And once the real-life consequences of Brexit bite, people who are adversely affected are not going to be grateful that Brexit was “done”, even if they originally voted Leave. So Labour’s made a major miscalculation here, leaving the anti-Brexit field to us. we could benefit if we play our hand well. It could be an Iraq War moment for Labour.

  • Katharine Pindar 12th Jan '21 - 10:27am

    Richard Fisher wrote early on in this vibrant thread, “The two principal architects of the post-war British settlement were famously Liberals, John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge. It would be good to think that the principal architects of the post-pandemic settlement could come from the twenty-first century embodiments of the same political tradition”. Exactly so, Richard, thanks. If our Liberal Democrats adopt and campaign for the ideas now formulated of the Beveridge-2 Plan and Social Contract, we can indeed be “principal architects of the post-pandemic settlement”. So let’s go for it together, both nationally and locally.

  • Alex Macfie,

    No-one is suggesting that it’s going to be feasible to Rejoin soon after the next election”. Therefore rejoining is not an election issue now or for the next general election, and most likely for at least 20 years – this is what I meant. We need therefore to have policies to ameliorate the effects of Brexit not talk about rejoining the EU. Being a member of a trading block such as the EU has nothing to do with liberal principles, it is about what is best economically, but the economic argument was lost to my surprise at the time.

    While technically the government uses its prerogative power to ratify treaties, in reality it can only do so if the House of Commons allow it. If the House of Commons resolves that the treaty not be ratified then the government has to make a statement why it should be ratified. If again with 21 days the House of Commons resolves that the treaty not be ratified the process restarts and this can go on indefinitely (https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn05855/).

  • David Evans 12th Jan '21 - 2:04pm

    Martin, Thank you for your supportive comment. It is good to find more people now taking the situation our party is in much more seriously than was the case. However, I think there one is point that I was trying to make which you may have misunderstood.

    Looking at your final paragraph, when you mention pledges, and the possibility of us over-inflating our points to the point of derision, I think you are misunderstanding what I am suggesting – indeed to an extent it is almost the opposite of what I suggest. We all know that the Conservatives have massively over stated what Brexit will deliver and under stated its downsides.

    What we have to do is point out their incompetence, corruption and lies and simply it has got to stop. If done effectively, that alone will start to raise our profile. After all that is precisely what we got with Vince’s message pre financial crash.

  • David Evans 12th Jan '21 - 2:21pm

    Peter Watson, Again thanks for your response, but I think you have substantially misunderstood my point when you contrast it with the party’s position on Cannabis.

    As you noted, my point was “The only way for a small party to get noticed is to be controversial on matters that people care about …”, but then you compare it to Cannabis! The one think I think we should be able to agree on is that most people only care about cannabis when they are rabble roused by the right wing press!

    As the the full sentence in my post said “The only way for a small party to get noticed is to be controversial on matters that people care about … we have to be strong and controversial, naming names and calling out incompetents and cheats.” Cannabis is one of the things we should NOT be banging on about, and thank goodness we aren’t.

    But we do need to get noticed and we aren’t. That is where we are failing. And it really should be so easy.

  • Peter Watson 12th Jan '21 - 4:49pm

    @David Evans ‘the the full sentence in my post said “The only way for a small party to get noticed is to be controversial on matters that people care about … we have to be strong and controversial, naming names and calling out incompetents and cheats.”’
    Apologies for focusing on the “controversial” bit of your quote, but cannabis legislation is possibly the only Lib Dem policy I can recall in the last few years that stands out as “controversial” in a morass of anonymity.
    However, looking at that original quote, I don’t think that calling out “Covid Contracts for Cronies, Incompetence over Lockdown, PPE, Track and Trace or even the fact that our Prime Minister has the morals of an alley cat” is particularly controversial and I don’t think it would get the party noticed: every news, current affairs and topical comedy program makes exactly the same points to a much wider audience.

  • Peter, Thank you for your further response, but this time you have somehow missed the impact implied in rest of the paragraph, which said

    “The only way for a small party to get noticed is to be controversial on matters that people care about … we have to be strong and controversial, naming names and calling out incompetents and cheats. If we don’t use words like crooked, cheat, incompetent etc in our headline it isn’t worth bothering with.”

    If you really don’t think calling out about “Covid Contracts for Cronies, Incompetence over Lockdown, PPE, Track and Trace or even the fact that our Prime Minister has the morals of an alley cat” are controversial, I suggest you try it in public questions in your local Council Chamber and see if you get noticed. Then imagine what would happen if it was done in parliament.

    Of course if we don’t like that we can always go back to digging up cricket pitches.

    The fact is that we have to do something to get noticed – Doing the same old, same old doesn’t work. What do you suggest?

  • Michael BG – I’m afraid I totally disagree with you when you say “it is having the right policies to deal with the issues that people care about which is important for high poll ratings.” Indeed I totally disagree with your entire response.

    As I have said from the very start, currently as far as 90%+ of the British people are concerned we are totally irrelevant to their needs. That is why they (and the media) ignore us. They don’t care about our policies however good some of us think they are (mainly those who like writing and debating policies as opposed to those who want to achieve something) 90%+ don’t care and never will, until we do something to get them to notice.

    Indeed, as you know, even more long standing Lib Dems are asking themselves if it is worth bothering.
    As for your comments on our poll ratings in August 1959 and 1983, I really do suggest you consider whether the fact we were a third party in a failing three party system, was a factor that made it the fundamentals very different. Now we are close to being a failing fourth/fifth party in a six/seven party system.

    Things really are so much different than how we might wish it.

  • Peter Watson 13th Jan '21 - 1:06am

    @David Evans “The fact is that we have to do something to get noticed – Doing the same old, same old doesn’t work. What do you suggest?”
    That is the $64000 question!

    Sadly, simply standing at the sidelines throwing brickbats at other political parties does look like the same old same old and it hasn’t worked; it doesn’t make the party stand out. I can get pretty much the same from 45 minutes of Newsnight, and besides which, ‘Mock the Week’, ‘Have I Got News For You’, ‘The News Quiz’, etc. are so much better at it. 🙂

    It doesn’t mean that Lib Dems should settle for mild “Careful now. Down with this sort of thing” protests, but I do believe the party needs to be much better at communicating a clear message about what it is for rather than continue to bang on about what it is against. UKIP had a defining vision for Brexit, and the SNP and Plaid Cymru have defining visions for independence, while the Lib Dems appear to have been defined by small-c conservatism and defending the status quo in opposition to these visions for change. And having spent 4+ years taking every opportunity to appear anti-Brexit and anti-Corbyn, Lib Dems looked stuck between a rock and a hard place in the 2019 General Election when it was unclear whether a Tory Brexit or a possible Labour Remain was the least worst option. Since then the party has looked purposeless and directionless with Corbyn gone and Brexit being done.

    I suppose that unlike opposition to Brexit, campaigning noisily to rejoin the EU would be a positive message for change as well as controversial and noticeable. And there’s a lot of debate on this site about poverty, so perhaps that’s another area where the party could present a positive vision. Personally, I’d like to see some clear, strong messaging about education reform: calling for the scrapping of grammar schools would certainly be controversial, and what about assertively pushing for Tomlinson-style changes?

  • David Evans,

    (In terms of opinion poll ratings we are still the third party. These polls have us between 4 and 10% since the 2019 general election – https://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/polls.html.)

    I agree with Peter Watson. Just attacking the government isn’t enough. Just being “controversial on matters that people care about” isn’t enough. I don’t think we have a great set of policies. We have conservative gradual small change policies. This is why having a plan for a Beveridge 2 is so important and different. It isn’t about small gradual change. It is about providing solutions to the social ills of today. It is about creating a liberal society where no one lives in poverty, no one is held back by health issues, everyone has a good education and free access to the training they need to get a job which they are happy with, everyone who wants a home of their own has one, and everyone has a secure, well paid job if that is what they want. To deliver such a society we need better policies which actually provide solutions and it is likely some people will find them controversial.

  • Katharine Pindar 13th Jan '21 - 12:07pm

    I am amazed at some members’ insistence that we have to be controversial to get noticed as a small party. I should have thought that the Revoke policy and ‘Jo for Prime Minister’ car-crash of the last GE would have warned the party against going for controversy to be noticed. No, Michael BG is absolutely right: what is needed now, for the party and the country, is to adopt the grand over-arching theme of a Beveridge-2 Plan achieving a new Social Contract. Peter Watson, education is one of the five areas we will campaign in, along with poverty, health and social care, housing and employment. Our motion, under consideration by the Conference Committee until this Saturday, charges the party to campaign for this theme and suggests a new Commission to develop the Plan.

    This is an idea appropriate to the post-Covid and post-Brexit times and to the Liberal Democrats as heirs of Beveridge. It is a theme to give us status and influence again as a party, because everything we plan and campaign for in these areas will benefit our citizens. It is much needed, and it will show that we are different and valuable again.

  • Peter Martin 13th Jan '21 - 12:38pm

    @ Katharine,

    If you are wanting to seriously upset the status quo you’ll naturally be seen as controversial and you’ll be roundly attacked.

    On the other hand if you are seen as what many might describe as a bunch of liberal do-gooders, the conscience of the ruling class, or its reformist cover, you’ll be politely tolerated. You won’t be considered a serious threat.

    So the act of being controversial isn’t a sufficient condition but it is a necessary one. No-one should set out to be controversial, just for the sake of it, but it is a sign that you’re ruffling a few feathers.

  • neil sandison 13th Jan '21 - 1:25pm

    This party needs some good flags to rally behind that offer a sense of direction to our members and will enable the party to grow . Beveridge 2 , Build Back Better, and sound green economics that reduces climate damage I would suggest offers the Liberal Democrats clear direction and messaging for the electorate . If we are confident in our own direction of travel and it strikes a chord with voters we have purpose .

  • Peter Watson 14th Jan '21 - 2:51pm

    @Michael BG “In terms of opinion poll ratings we are still the third party …”
    Though I was surprised a couple of weeks ago to see a poll (http://www.deltapoll.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Deltapoll-Mirror201230.pdf) which not only put Lib Dems behind the Greens, but also behind the SNP (who are on zero outside Scotland). Combining the UKIP+Brexit voing intention would move Lib Dems down another place!
    This is certainly an outlier, but it is nevertheless a reminder of just how precarious the Lib Dems’ position is.

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