WATCH: John Curtice tell Lib Dems how we can do better

Following on from my article on Sunday about how we could develop a more distinctive liberal voice in our messaging for the General Election, I thought readers might like to have a look at one of the most packed fringe meetings at our recent Bournemouth Conference where Professor Sir John Curtice took a look at our performances in elections and opinion poll ratings.  Layla Moran chaired the meeting and Dick Newby, our leader in the Lords, responded for the Party.

He had some sobering facts for us, particularly on the loss of voters to Labour, as the BBC reported at the time:

Professor Curtice said: “The truth is, while the party has focused on attacking the Conservatives, it has perhaps failed to notice that it’s losing votes to Labour.

In particular, it’s losing the votes of people who want to be inside the EU to Labour.

Whereas Labour can argue it has gained ground among both Leave and Remain voters.

The Liberal Democrats have frankly lost ground among Remain voters and the ground that they have gained amongst Leave voters is not sufficient to compensate for it.

It’s galling to lose votes to Labour when they are as responsible for the result of the Brexit referendum as the Conservative Government and they have since said very little except how we have to try to make Brexit work.

Back in 2020 as we dealt with the pain of that election result, we were perhaps too quick to absorb too much of the blame ourselves. We had a hand full of 2s and 3s while the Conservatives had all the high trump cards.  All they had to do was sit back because in the end of the day, people were more scared of Jeremy Corbyn being PM than either Boris or Brexit. Our biggest mistake was letting that election happen when it did. We seem to have now told ourselves that we have to be as careful not to upset anyone as possible when we should be holding both Conservative and Labour feet to account for their many failings.  Every bad thing we said would happen has happened.  We should be plotting a course back towards greater alignment with our EU friends. We need to be saying loud and clear what we could gain by getting back into the single market.

Perhaps the most frustrating about this party is how often we have been right on the issues of the day but not got the credit we deserve for it. Iraq is another example, also Vince’s warnings on the economy and Ed’s on climate change.

Anyway, you can read John Curtice’s presentation to the meeting here.

And New Liberal Manifesto, who organised the meeting, recorded it and you can watch the the three part video below:

I suspect the Party’s campaign strategists would say that this polling doesn’t matter and we can focus on building on the work we have done in our target seats and not worry about national vote share. Certainly, Ed has led the way on building our capacity and campaigning infrastructure in our most likely prospects and must be commended for that. However relying on that alone is a risk. Voters in our target seats are going to be as exposed to national messaging as everyone else and if we are not presenting a vision for the country that they like, or if they perceive that Labour is doing better than us, that could cost us. Also, we need Labour voters in those seats to vote for us and unless we are saying distinctive, progressive things, they won’t. Thankfully, Ed has been very clear in differentiating us from Labour on issues like the two child cap. Labour have cravenly said that they would keep one of the most awful policies that is one of the biggest drivers of child poverty. We opposed it from the outset and have maintained that opposition, without any cost.

The political landscape is very different from 2020. The Conservatives, while still a danger, have been more incompetent, cruel and divisive than any Government most of us have ever known. Brexit has been exposed as the Emperor’s New Clothes and the revelations from the Covid Enquiry are just sickening.

John Curtice has spelled out how we could do better if we had a more resounding national vision. We would do well to listen to what he has said. We don’t have to change course. All the ingredients are already there in our policies and values. We just need to talk about them.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • PMs Questions today, an opportunity for our leadership to go for a Cease Fire.
    It would differentiate us from Tory and Labour and catch the media eye.
    Do not think we would lose any support in the country probably gain.

  • Martin Gray 1st Nov '23 - 12:29pm

    “It’s galling to lose votes to Labour when they are as responsible for the result of the Brexit referendum as the Conservative Government and they have since said very little except how we have to try to make Brexit work”…..
    It’s ironic that what is being proposed now was unacceptable back in 2019 – in doing so we were complicit in handing Johnson an 80+ seat majority ..
    SM is EU membership in all but name…The mechanics of joining are not easy & accepting fom would still be a tough sell amongst those that actually vote…
    It’s a policy that could sap all our energy defending it at the next GE – while many voters would have moved on from the debate & are rightly concentrating on other issues – issues that were apparent when in the EU and when out …. NHS , poverty pay , insecure work , lack of affordable housing , Crime and Asb , Gp appointments etc etc ..

  • Well said Caron. I was not initially a believer in pushing against Brexit after the last election but now even the Conservatives have now reversed some Brexit decisions like CE labels and Horizons. Talks are now apace about Frontex. But above all else we need SirEd to be more active in the news on TV. We have a crisis in the middle East and he has not appeared once.

  • Thanks for this. People might ask why in a FPTP election losing votes to Labour matters all that much. However looking at target seats like Wimbledon and Hitchin, in 2017 the Lib Dems were 3rd in such seats and winning votes from Labour made us the main challengers to the Tories. If that unwinds it will be a big problem.

  • Steve Trevethan 2nd Nov '23 - 8:46am

    “The medium is as important as the message.” (From Marshall McLuhan)

    Might successful politics have an essential “showbiz” element?

    If/when H Q finally gets around to having half a dozen or so engaging headline policies, might they frame them in catchy, snappy phrases rather than complex sentences?

  • Phillip Bennion 2nd Nov '23 - 9:31am

    There was no mistake in letting the election happen when it did. For those with short memories, EU Council was meeting during the same week as both Labour and we conceded on allowing an election. What most don’t seem to remember is that the main business of the Council was consideration of a further three month extension for the UK to remain inside the EU. This required a unanimous vote, which was looking unlikely. Tom Brake assured us that the numbers were not there for the People’s Vote amendment. Our intelligence from the Council was that either the People’s Vote amendment or an election called were a prerequisite for an extension. Had we refused to allow the election we were out of the EU without any deal three days later.

  • Phillip Bennion 2nd Nov '23 - 9:34am

    That the ensuing election campaign was disappointing, is of course true. Our attacks on Corbyn as being unelectable were true, but counterproductive. Our own campaign tended to push voters to an uncomfortable vote for the Conservatives to keep Corbyn out.

  • Chris Moore 2nd Nov '23 - 10:02am

    Our feisty Revoke policy hacked off large swathes of the electorate, Leavers and get-over-it Remainers.

    Our hapless leader, tasked with selling a pup to an incredulous nation, ended up with serious negative personal ratings.

  • Thank you for publishing this.
    My comments come from my background as someone who joined the party in 1959. I look at the world differently to those who argue about how we should appeal to one section of the electorate or another. My perspective is that of looking at society as being composed of individuals. From this perspective our first priority must be to change the party into one which will enable people to campaign on the issues which matter to them. The rather strange approach at the moment appears to be to identify a market and go for it – rather like selling soap powder. This is something I can not really understand, and certainly do not support.
    My present thoughts concern the question of who I should vote for, and whether I should cease my subscription to the party.

  • @ Chris Moore so now we’re being silent on Brexit whilst the Tory leave vote collapses. How’s that going, why are we not on 15-20% of the vote? I would suggest that we need to regain the momentum we had under Vince Cable i.e anti-brexit but pre-revoke.

  • Barry Lofty 2nd Nov '23 - 11:52am

    With so much negativity surrounding our politics at the moment especially the scandalous revelations emitting from the covid enquiry, it is very disappointing that the Lib Dems are not seeing their opinion poll rating’s increase? Why is that??

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Nov '23 - 1:58pm

    @Marco: Mid-Beds is a very different type of seat from Wimbledon. It was majority-Leave with a substantial traditional Labour vote in the towns and a majority that is rural small-c conservative. Whereas Wimbledon is demographically increasingly like the nearby yellow-triangle constituencies. Mid-Beds has never had a strong Liberal or Lib Dem presence. It might have been winnable for us had we not been distracted by the by-election in the much more winnable Somerton & Frome. The early opinion polls putting Labour as the main challenger to the Tories were arguably self-fulfilling, enabling Labour to hold onto their urban vote in places like Flitwick while Lib Dems got the rural soft Tory vote that would never go to Labour. The result there has no bearing on our prospects in a seat like Wimbledon where we have already gained 2nd place.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Nov '23 - 2:01pm

    @Phillip Bennion: I seriously doubt that Lib Dem campaigning had anything to do with making Corbyn unelectable. That would require voters to care a lot more about what Lib Dem campaigners think than they do in reality. Corbyn was already unelectable. Our campaign simply reflected that view of him common among our Tory-facing potential voters, and aimed to distance our party from him to assure voters that we would not help him into No 10.

  • Christopher Haigh 2nd Nov '23 - 2:32pm

    Corbyns position on Europe in 2019 was too weak. LibDems should have formed it up for him and said exactly what would’ve been put to a confirmatory referendum.

  • Chris Moore 2nd Nov '23 - 2:38pm

    @Marco: Labour are re-gaining voters lost to the Get Brexit Done Tories NOT by offering to revisit Brexit! But by campaigning on the everyday issues that matter to such voters. We need to press on with our focus on NHS, sewage etc.

    Look at where Europe now comes in the list of voters’ priorities. Very low down indeed.

    This means that campaigning to rejoin the Single Market, for example, is not going to win us many votes. So it would be a mistake to make it our focus.

    On the other hand, now Europe has fallen down the list of priorities, our pro-European stance is not going to put off the sort of Eurosceptic voters who gave us so much support in our West Country strongholds up till 2010.

  • Christopher Moore 2nd Nov '23 - 2:41pm

    PS We are strong favourites to win Wimbledon and Hitchin (or its main succesor seat, if boundary changes happen.)

  • Nick Hopkinson 2nd Nov '23 - 3:20pm

    Caron, well said again. Our strategy for growth should have the EU Single Market as a core component. Any growth plan without it is meaningless.

  • There is a possible explanation of the result of the last General Election as far as Jeremy Corbyn is concerned. That is that after a credible result at the previous General Election many Labour MPs very publicly fought against him.
    Many do not like divided parties.
    Another possible reason for the result of the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election was that the Labour candidate and the party leader appeared to attack the Labour Mayor.
    Many do not like divided parties.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Nov '23 - 4:06pm

    @ Nick Hopkinson,

    ” Any growth plan without it [returning to the EU’s SM] is meaningless.”

    Is it any more meaningless than ‘with it’ ?

    It’s not as if the EU has been a boom economy in recent years!

    This article was written in 2019 before the Covid and Ukraine crises struck. The only change since then is that the EU has had higher inflation to go alongside low economic growth!

  • Nigel Quinton 2nd Nov '23 - 4:16pm

    Thanks for posting these videos, an interesting session and wish I’d been there! My takeaways: 1. We should listen to JC when he tells us that we need distinctive messages, that asking the question what “matters to voters” is naïve, and that “For a Fair Deal” is a meaningless slogan. 2. Our recent strategy of keeping quiet about Europe (and I would add the climate crisis) risks losing us huge numbers of voters to Labour, and 3. Dick’s comment that ‘politicians don’t like visions’ – I thought the conclusion of the Thornhill review was that the Leader’s main job was to present a vision of why voters should vote for us. That we are still in search of that vision speaks volumes.

  • Nigel Quinton 2nd Nov '23 - 4:19pm

    @ Chris Moore – the new Hitchin constituency is unlikely to be a top target, it is looking like a three way battle akin to mid Beds, in fact some mid Beds wards will be included within it I believe. The new Harpenden and Berkhamsted constituency is I think the one you mean, where we have a great chance of winning and where we are the clear anti-Tory choice.

  • Chris Moore – The video is worth watching and Dick Newby puts the counter argument. What struck me about Curtice’s findings is that although we have gained about 4% of the vote among 2016 leavers these are mainly people who regret Brexit. We have made no progress among voters who still want to stay out.
    Alex Macfie – Mid Beds contains some suburbs of Bedford where we do have a presence albeit so do Labour.

  • Chris Moore 2nd Nov '23 - 8:30pm

    Labour has made progress amongst Remain and Leave voters because they have moved on.

  • Chris Moore 2nd Nov '23 - 8:33pm

    Forgive me, but JC is not a political strategist.

    Having a distinct message is a bromide, not a strategy.

  • I’m not sure it’s remotely surprising that we’re gaining Leave voters and losing Remain voters: In 2019, Brexit was a huge issue, and many voters would have voted primarily on that one thing – meaning that some of the most passionate Remain supporters would have ‘lent’ their vote to the LibDems while some Leave supporters would have withdrawn their vote from the LibDems, on account of the LibDems’ Revoke policy. Now that Brexit is no longer much of an issue, you’d expect many of those voters to return to their normal party – which is perfectly consistent with what is being reported about Remain voters swapping back to Labour (Especially now that Corbyn is no longer scaring lots of Labour voters away).

    It’s never nice to lose votes but I doubt that any panicking or trying to adjust Brexit policy to get those particular voters back is likely to be worthwhile.

    On the other hand, I totally agree about the need for some broader Liberal vision.

  • Alex Macfie 3rd Nov '23 - 9:50am

    @Simon R: I agree that Brexit is no longer a major issue among most voters. However, the corollary of this is that the 2016 referendum is no longer of importance to them either. So our opponents will not be able to weaponise it against us when the issue of, say, Single Market membership comes up, as you claimed they would under another article. People who follow politics closely often forget that ordinary voters tend not to. People who don’t care much about Brexit are very unlikely to care about a referendum on the subject from many years ago.

  • @Alex Brexit is no longer a major issue because most voters see it as a done deal (as well as other issues being more pressing now). But if the LibDems go into the election promising to bring back freedom of movement and therefore mass EU immigration (which is what rejoining the single market requires), then immigration would inevitably become a big issue – and not in a good way for us! It would be an absolute gift to the Tories to campaign on 🙁

    It’s also by the way totally inconsistent with us (correctly) wanting to focus on solving the housing crisis: How can we go into an election promising to solve the housing crisis while simultaneously promising to bring back one of the very things that helped cause the housing crisis in the first place? We’d look totally ridiculous!

  • Phillip Bennion 3rd Nov '23 - 12:27pm

    Alex Macfie, I obviously wasn’t sufficiently clear. That Corbyn was unelectable indeed was nothing to do with the Lib Dem campaign. However we helped the Tories by pressing that point. Positive canvasses were drifting away with each week of the campaign as even Remainers were willing to vote for Johnson to keep out Corbyn. It was clear from the start that Corbyn wasn’t going to win the election, so we should not have joined in the hyping up of his chances. Reassuring voters of that might have given us a slightly better result, but the squeeze was inevitable to an extent in any case.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Nov '23 - 1:24pm

    @ Alfie and Phillip

    “Corbyn was unelectable”

    This was also said in 2017 when Labour won 40% of the vote and deprived Theresa May of her majority. Almost the entire political class actually believed it to be true, including Ms May herself, otherwise the election would never have been called. The opinion polls started off predicting a Tory landslide. Either they were totally wrong or the gap between the two parties was closing so rapidly that just another week or so of campaigning could have seen the Labour Party overtake the Tories.

    There was a big difference between the two elections. It wasn’t about Brexit in 2017. That was the previous year’s argument as far as most voters were concerned. But, it was, of course, very much about Brexit in 2019.

    Prof John Curtice, who I believe the Lib Dems do listen too now and again, analyses the 2019 result entirely in terms of the leave/remain vote. Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t get much of a mention at all.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Nov '23 - 2:41pm

    The consensus of opinion is that Labour is on course for a landslide.

    However, whilst this is the most likely outcome there are large uncertainties in how events will progress. We can probably expect some improvement in the Tory vote. The Labour vote is soft with little enthusiasm for what Starmer is offering – a continuation of present Tory policies.

    The Labour Party is split and has been for a while. The handling of the Gaza-Israel war has focussed attention of what everyone should have known for some time. Starmer has never been able to ride two horses very well but he just about fell off with his inept comments about the Israelis having “that right”. There are already voices telling him to quit the circus.

    Next May Jamie Driscoll will run as an independent candidate for mayor in the North east. He’ll have the support of a large percentage of Labour members nationally and a majority of Labour members locally. If the Labour rulebook is followed, anyone who expresses as much as FB like for anything he says will be expelled. The process could be bloody. We could see Jeremy Corbyn run for mayor in London too with even more intra-party conflict. We’ll almost certainly see suspended MPs Corbyn, Abbott and Macdonald stand as Independents in the next General Election. I’m not sure how the Labour Party will be able to avoid a formal split in such circumstances.

    It might yet not turn out quite as planned for SKS.

  • When identifying the most important issues people will mention “valence issues” e.g.cost of living, public services, where the divide is about party competence on the issue. However Brexit and the sense of govt chaos are underlying issues that people don’t mention but are very relevant. Curtice notes that “it is remarkable how public opinion has turned against Brexit despite not being prompted to do so by political parties”.

  • Alex Macfie 3rd Nov '23 - 4:14pm

    @Simon R: Arguments about “mass immigration” (whether from the EU or anywhere else; it may not have escaped your notice that immigration did not fall once the UK left the EU) may resonsate with some voters, but mainly not ones who are ever likely to vote for us. They certainly won’t resonate with the Blue Wall soft Tories we are targeting now — right-wing populism is one of the things that is turning moderate voters off the Tories.

    As for the housing crisis, if ending freedom of movement was meant to heal that, it’s failed, and it would have failed even if it had successfully brought down immigration. Its principal causes are things like buy-to-leave, developers sitting on land, building the wrong type of homes, 2nd homes occupied for just a few weeks a year etc. In other words, it’s nothing to do with immigration, and everything to do with a dysfunctional, badly regulated housing market.

    @Peter Martin (BTW please get my name right): It was the Tories themselves who squandered their lead in 2017, nothing to do with Corbyn’s Labour party. To the extent that Labour did well, it was mainly in seats that were already safe for Labour. Corbyn was never popular among swing voters, and they’re the ones who matter most under FPTP. A more electable leader would have won that election, but of course they’d never have had the chance because there wouldn’t have been an election then.

  • @Alex: EU immigration has dropped from 200-300K every year to roughly zero – so Brexit clearly did solve the problem of freedom-of-movement (FOM) causing huge immigration putting pressure on housing/infrastructure. It happens that in a similar timeframe, non-EU immigration has risen, for reasons that are unrelated to the EU or to Brexit (Mostly: Ukraine, Hong Kong, and pent up demand after travel was suppressed during Covid). So we can deduce that long term net migration levels – high as they are – are probably 200-300K lower than they would have been if we’d remained in the single market.

    As you say, ending Freedom of Movement hasn’t instantly ended the housing crisis: That’s because you still need to build houses for all the people who have already come to the UK! But at least FOM is no longer contributing to making crisis worse: That gives us a better chance of catching up on building the homes we need (given a decent Government).

    And yes, the housing crisis has multiple causes – and you correctly cite some of them. But it is not plausible to deny that high net migration is one of the causes. Each additional person living in the UK is a person who needs somewhere to live and who we therefore need to build a residence for: That is just basic maths!

  • Martin Gray 3rd Nov '23 - 7:06pm

    @Alex …..Corbyn polled numbers at the 17/19 GE’s that we could only dream about…The poll of polls on the eve of the 17GE had the Tories winning an 65+ majority – how wrong they were – in 19GE labour lost 60 seats – 52 leave seats . The 2nd referendum policy was nearly as bad as ours – remain or remain in all but name…
    There were some wild predictions on here back in 19 as regards polling numbers – this being one of them …
    “You are assuming uniform national swing, which is simply not going to happen. The Tories are likely to lose seats to the Lib Dems in Remain areas, and this could well be enough to deny the Tories a majority, whatever the national poll ratings”

  • Thanks for posting the links, we didn’t get there early enough to get in.

    John Curtice in his bar charts has set out what success for us at the next general election looks like – at least 30 MPs. He even suggested that the local election result if repeated at the next general election could result in us having more than 37 MPs.

    What is very concerning about the presentation by John Curtice is that of the 80 seats where we are second to the Conservatives in 32 seats Labour would become second after the next general election.

    John Curtice was clear that we shouldn’t talk about re-joining the Single Market, but we should point out the problems caused by Brexit and what we would do to lessen them, so we are not outflanked by Labour if they talk more about their policy to lessen the effects of Brexit.

    He said that the phrase “for a fair deal” is content free. He said that we should have an effective strapline (like ‘Get Brexit done’) and then have three distinctive policies.

    I would suggest:
    Ending deep poverty within the decade;
    Making personal care free for everyone who needs it, like the NHS;
    Saving the NHS with huge investments over the next Parliament paid for by increased taxes on the income from wealth.

    ‘Fix Britain’ is my attempt at a strapline.
    Fix the NHS
    Fix social care
    And end deep poverty.

  • Katharine Pindar 4th Nov '23 - 12:17am

    ‘Fix’ is a great word for an effective strapline, I agree with you, Michael. But in choosing key policies you are missing out housing, in which we have excellent policies, much needed by the country. I can’t manage just three bite phrases, but suggest two pairs, ‘End’ being another key word:

    Fix the NHS crisis. Fix the housing crisis. End deep poverty. End the need for food banks.
    (Social care is too wide a subject, though bringing in free personal care is one of our stand-out social justice themes.)

  • Alex Macfie 4th Nov '23 - 9:36am

    @Simon R: The increase in net migration from non-EU countries is mainly a consequence of the decline in net migration from the EU. They are mainly essential workers who, since they are now more difficult to get from the EU, have to be found from elsewhere. The fact that we can’t find people already living here to do them is a separate issue, but immigration figures show the naivety of thinking you can turn one tap off and not expect a flow from elsewhere.
    As far as the relationship between mass migration and housing is concerned — in a properly functioning housing market the supply will match the demand. Right now the supply is artificially constricted by people with a vested interest in limited supply. Reducing demand (by, for instance, reducing immigration, never mind who will do the work the migrants are doing) will not have much effect when the problem is on the supply side. I’ve not heard anyone blaming the housing shortage on immigrants anyway. The victims tend to be young professionals priced out of the housing market (rental or ownership) by buy-to-leave investors and other owner-nonoccupiers. While it might be possible to construct a populist narrative that blames it on the immigrant, that particular demographic isn’t inclined towards right-wing populism so it doesn’t seem likely to work.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Nov '23 - 9:49am

    @Martin Gray: As I wrote earlier, it was the Tories who squandered their poll lead in 2017, nothing to do with Corbyn. Remember the Dementia Tax?
    The main reason Lib Dems didn’t break through in what we now call the Blue Wall in 2019 was fear of Corbyn. I think we won 2 seats from the Tories — St Albans and my own home constituency of Richmond Park (which really was ours to lose). When canvassing in the North Kingston bit of RP constituency, I found the #1 reason for potential Lib Dem voters sticking with the Tories was that Lib Dems might help JC into No 10. My argument was always that we were either going to land up with a Tory majority government or hung Parliament with Tories as largest party and there were no circumstances in which we could or would want to prop up a Corbyn-led Labour government. But evidently a lot of people who might have considered us held their noses and voted Tory just to be sure.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Nov '23 - 9:56am

    In general I don’t accept this idea that we need to follow the right-wing populist framing of debates on freedom of movement or the various wedge issues on which the right make a lot of noise. It would be trying to impress the wrong people in the wrong way. People who are attracted by right-wing populism won’t consider us, they’ll vote for the real deal instead.

  • Peter Martin 4th Nov '23 - 10:17am

    @ Alex,

    Sorry about getting your name wrong! Maybe I can get away with blaming it on the auto -corrector!

    The same argument is, of course, being made now that the Labour lead is all about the Tories and nothing to do with Starmer’s Labour. John Curtice himself tends towards this view.

    All the same, there’s no denying that Corbyn’s Labour party was greatly underestimated in 2017. This was apparent at the time to those of us who were involved in campaigning. I’ve never known morale to be so high amongst Labour foot soldiers. If Labour HQ hadn’t got their priorities all wrong we could have won. They were far too defensive which resulted in a pile up of votes, which you mention, in existing held constituencies rather than winning votes in what should have been target constituencies.

    It wasn’t quite the same in 2019. We were getting a lot of push back over the second referendum policy.

    Our other policies were popular but weren’t getting any traction due to the nature of the election itself.

    On the other hand the morale in the Labour Party isn’t at all good at the moment. Membership and attendances at meetings are both well down on what they were a few years ago. I doubt there will be the same multitude of enthusiastic canvassers available to Starmer at the next election.

  • During the 2019 GE campaign Labour gained as many votes as they did in the 2017 campaign albeit from a lower starting point. When Corbyn announced the 2nd ref policy they were in the low 20%’s and they then won back many remain voters and won or held seats like Putney and Canterbury. The 2nd ref may have cost some leave seats I.e 20 or so but Labour would have lost the election anyway.

  • Mary Fulton 4th Nov '23 - 12:30pm

    @Peter Martin
    Labour always has to choose whether to have policies that motivate its members or policies to attract swing voters away from the Conservatives. When it does the former, like under Corbyn in 2017, activists are enthusiastic at trying to persuade voters to support socialist solutions to the various political issues of the day. Jump ahead 6 years and socialist activists – if they are still members – are unlikely to be enthusiastic about advocating Tory-lite policies.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Nov '23 - 12:45pm

    Far left activists may be enthusiastic campaigners but they tend not to connect well with swing voters. This is both because of policies and a tendency to insult voters who do not agree with them. I doubt Labour would have won either of the two recent Parliamentary by-elections under Corbyn.

  • Martin Gray 4th Nov '23 - 12:58pm

    @Alex….By the 19GE people had had enough of the Brexit debate by far – the progressive left were foolish enough not to realise that and offered the electorate – here you go we think you got this wrong – have another …or as in our case ignoring it completely – both were utter folly… Labour lost where it mattered most 52 out the 60 seats lost were leave seats ..The middle class metropolitan mindset of we know better was all too evident .

  • Christopher Haigh 4th Nov '23 - 2:08pm

    @mary Fulton, indeed. Our previous Labour MP who lost her seat in 2019, resigned from Labour party when Starmer was elected.and now supports the People’s Alliance of the Left- a democratic socialist movement. If Corbyn joins this grouping the next election could be interesting !

  • Alex Macfie 4th Nov '23 - 5:59pm

    @Martin Gray: Just understand this: we were never going to win the pro-Brexit vote, and we would not be remotely credible if we tried. Going all-out against Brexit was probably our only chance of success. Otherwise there just wouldn’t have been any point in our party. Brexiter voters would only ever vote for the real deal, not a wannabe. And if “offering” to the electorate the opportunity to undo Brexit was saying “you’ve got it wrong,” then any opposition party campaigning for a change in government in a general election is telling voters they got it wrong last time around. The whole point of democracy is that past democratic decisions can be reversed democratically.
    What happened with Labour in the Red Wall in 2019 is not of concern to the Lib Dems, who were not and still are not in contention there. Nonetheless Labour’s failure there was at least as much due to Corbyn as to Brexit. Besides, don’t forget that Corbyn is a Lexiter at heart, and his Janus Man act on the subject impressed nobody. If a Corbyn government had enacted a 2nd referendum, chances are his far-left SPADs, i.e. the likes of Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray, would have scuttled any chance of Remain winning.

  • @Alex. The purpose of the LibDems is surely to create a liberal society in which people have as much freedom as practical to build the lives they would like. That purpose existed long before the EU and will still exist long after the EU has come and gone (as all institutions ultimately do). So I totally disagree with you when you claim that, without opposing Brexit, “Otherwise there just wouldn’t have been any point in our party.“: That is to reduce the LibDems to a single issue party, and I’m certain the LibDems are far, far, bigger than that.

    As for your claim that, “Brexiter voters would only ever vote for the real deal, not a wannabe“: I’m pretty sure that most Brexit supporters would have been willing to vote for any party that was prepared to honour the democratic referendum result, whether or not that party had originally wanted Brexit. But sadly, in 2019, the Tories were the only party willing to do so, hence they got the vast majority of Brexiter votes (as well as an awful lot of Remainer votes).

  • @Alex Regarding your claims about populism: I’m not trying to be populist: I’m simply looking for the most appropriate policies based on my understanding of the World. While there certainly are populist politicians, I think you should be careful about just labelling stuff you disagree with as populist – as it can easily become a way of shutting down debate. Far better to argue with what I’m saying based on the merits or otherwise of my arguments than to just dismiss arguments as ‘populist’.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Nov '23 - 6:57pm

    @Simon R: You’re wrong, if people want N, they’ll vote for a True Believer (someone who always supported it) far sooner than a wannabe who, having campaigned against it for the previous 5 years, now insincerely claims to support it because they think that’s what the people want. If we’d gone down that path then there would have been no point in us because we’d be one of 3 parties saying essentially the same thing, but whereas the Tories were (apparently) sincere in supporting Brexit as the best thing for the country, we were just trying to grab votes. And in doing so we would have alienated Remainers. And once again most Remain supporters who voted Tory did so because of Corbyn. Voters don’t tend to vote on philosophical considerations like whether reversing a policy would be right or wrong whether or not they themselves wanted that. They vote on what they want to happen in the real world.

  • Alex Macfie,

    I am surprised anyone is defending our revoke Brexit policy of 2019. If we had kept our policy to have another referendum we would have picked up more Remain voters, because the majority of them saw our policy was undemocratic; as they believed a referendum result can only be overturned by another referendum no matter what politicians or constitutional experts think. Also there was no way we were ever going to be the largest party in Parliament.

    The Labour Party’s position in the 2019 general election was not to oppose Brexit, but to get a new deal and put that to a vote in another referendum with Remain as the other option. Therefore Corbyn being in favour of Brexit should not have been an issue. The Conservative share of the vote only increased by 1.2% in 2019 compared to an increase of 5.5% in 2017.

  • @Alex; I’m surprised that you say “If we’d gone down that path then there would have been no point in us…”. What about creating a decent liberal society? Reducing poverty? Constitutional reform? Protecting the environment? Defending freedom and democracy? Building safe communities? To my mind those are the point of the Liberal Democrats. You seem to be saying that that’s all pointless if we don’t oppose Brexit – that seems strange and very limiting to me. Surely the World is much, much, bigger than Brexit policy?

  • Chris Moore 5th Nov '23 - 7:02am

    And of course many liberal-minded voters, who voted for us in the past, were pro-Brexit. It’s perfectly possible to make a liberal case against membership of the EU.

    In 2019, we made it clear to those voters we didn’t want their votes and they could take their b…….cks elsewhere.

    Fortunately, in 2024 GE, Europe is not going to be the defining issue. Therefore we have a good chance of winning back lost liberal voters. But we need to get beyond the Remain/Leave cleavage which still seems to determine much thinking on here.

  • Chris Moore 5th Nov '23 - 7:09am

    Also it’s a psephological non-sequiitur to observe our modest position in the polls and leap to the conclusion that what will bend the votes of an indifferent electorate is one of our passionate pet policies.

    There are 2 of those that keep on coming up on here: PR and Single Market.

    Both of these are desirable. However, the first will not win any votes for us at all. The second may win a few, but also may also put off a few voters.

  • Peter Martin 5th Nov '23 - 9:54am

    @ Michael BG,

    “I am surprised anyone is defending our revoke Brexit policy of 2019.”

    Whilst not agreeing with it, I’d have to say it was a more honest policy than having a second referendum on the lines suggested. This would have given voters a “choice”, for want of a better word, between Remain and agreeing to a form of Leave that no-one on either side of the divide could have supported – a quasi-leave deal negotiated by Remainers.

    The inevitable response of the Leave side would be to boycott any second referendum. Civil strife would have ensued and nothing would have been solved. I doubt that the EU would have wanted us back with the country being in a virtual state of civil war over the issue. It was a stupid policy foisted on the Labour Party by none other than Keir Starmer.

    The Remain side had an opportunity to negotiate a entirely different Leave deal prior to the 2019 election. But they blew it. Instead they formed an unholy alliance with the Tory right wing to thwart any progress being made in negotiations.

  • Chris Moore 5th Nov '23 - 10:19am

    You’re right, Peter. LDs made serious strategic and tactical errors from the Referendum onwards. We had two clear opportunities to support a much better deal than we eventually got.

  • Chris Moore 5th Nov '23 - 2:09pm

    Nothing to do with neo-liberalism. These voters were simply suspicious of what they saw as distant unaccountable government. That’s a perfectly comprehensible concern. Though not one I personally share.

  • Peter Hirst 5th Nov '23 - 2:09pm

    One issue with our present strategy as I read it is that it treats campaigns such as by-elections as silos. I agree we also need a strong national policy to supplement the superb local campaigning that has brought us such excellent results. No constituency is an island and we should broaden our local campaigns so that they are also relevant to neighbouring constituencies and the whole region. That way we can improve our polling numbers while continuing our local campaigning.

  • Martin Gray 5th Nov '23 - 4:35pm

    @Martin ….
    “In effect it is preventing the UK from dealing with increasing problems such as poverty, health provision and inequality”….
    Plenty of those existed all during our membership of the EU… Anybody who canvassed in those towns that voted so heavily to leave would recognise that .. Looking around those communities who can blame them for voting to leave – membership didn’t make one iota of a difference in their lives…Asking to accept the status quo is never a great selling point … Outside of metropolitan areas the EU just isn’t that popular – woeful turnouts & nameless meps was the norm …

  • Mick Taylor 5th Nov '23 - 4:44pm

    I have never been a socialist, nor was I a fan of Corbyn. However, I was appalled at the downright falsehoods put about about JC and his policies, not least by members of my own party. I even saw someone on an LDV thread saying he was a threat to national security. Whilst I did not and do not share the Labour prospectus for the UK, it was all legitimate politics and would have been no more harmful to the UK than the Tories.
    I actually liked some of his policies, especially those that would have brought water, power and railways back into state ownership.
    I think we scored an own goal in helping to so frighten many potential LD voters that they voted Tory.

  • Peter Martin 5th Nov '23 - 5:48pm

    @ Martin Gray,

    “Plenty of those existed all during our membership of the EU”

    Exactly. “Those” being poverty, poor health provision and inequality. It’s consistent what the EU themselves say too.

    “In 2022, 95.3 million people in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion; this was equivalent to 21.6 % of the EU population. The risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU was, in 2022, higher for women than for men (22.7 % compared with 20.4 %)”

    The working class citizens of the Northern towns who voted leave are obviously more aware of this defect in the EU than the more highly educated and, I suspect, the more highly travelled middle class EU-ophiles who inhabit the Lib Dem party. Perhaps they think, from their visits to the more upmarket areas of Paris, Copenhagen and Vienna, that these are also typical of the rest of the EU?

  • Peter Martin,

    The problem in 2019 was that there was no majority in the House of Commons for a referendum on the deal. This was because not all of the Labour MPs would support this. Therefore we should have been seeking to increase our numbers by the number of such MPs.

    It is not possible to say what would have happened if there had been a referendum on a deal verses staying in the EU, especially if the vote for the winning side was a higher percentage of the electorate than the 37.47% that Leave achieved in 2016.

    Chris Moore,

    Indeed it seems that better deals than the current one were rejected by our MPs, but even if we had voted for them, they still would have been defeated.


    It was a huge mistake to come up with a way to get round the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Our voting for the Early Parliamentary General Election Act made no difference. I am not aware that the EU had ruled out an extension for a referendum. According to Wikipedia “A poll conducted in December 2022 by Savanta, 65% of voters were in favor of holding a second referendum, while 24% were opposed (11% don’t know).[32]”

    The Labour Party had not agreed to campaign against a new deal they would negotiate see Policy Positions – Brexit

    I am not sure free trade is a neo-liberal policy.

    Peter Hirst,

    John Curtice agrees with you. He said you can’t win a ground campaign without air support.

  • For people who don’t want to talk about Europe or political reform (of which PR is only one element) I am interested to know: Do you think that the current poll figures are inevitable? If not what should the party be doing differently? Why should people identify as Lib Dems over the other parties except for tactical reasons?

  • Alex Macfie 6th Nov '23 - 8:08am

    @Mick Taylor: “I think we scored an own goal in helping to so frighten many potential LD voters that they voted Tory.” You are assuming that ordinary voters cared enough about what the Lib Dem party thought that they would take their political cues from us. If they did, then a lot more of them would have voted for us. The reality is that (rightly or wrongly) many of our potential voters already thought JC was toxic. There was nothing we could have done to change that perception. Our only option was to distance ourselves as much as we could from him.

  • Martin Gray 6th Nov '23 - 1:15pm

    It’s not a question of not talking about – it’s about being realistic… It’s not a lapsed gymn membership we’re talking about – the path to rejoining just isn’t there …
    Both main parties would need to agree – the country would have to be consistently in favour & dig deeper they’d need to be a commitment to Schengen & the Euro – can’t see any of that happening soon & as for the latter – probably never ….We have to deal with here and now not keep hankering for an old flame that’s moved on in life !…

  • Chris Moore 6th Nov '23 - 9:13pm

    The point is this Marco: we all observe our modest poll ratings.

    But it’s a non-sequitur to leap to the conclusion that therefore campaigning heavily for PR or the single market is the solution.

  • Chris Moore 6th Nov '23 - 9:21pm

    Those are policies that excite Lib Dem members, but are far down the list of voters’ priorities. They won’t win us votes.

  • Katharine Pindar 7th Nov '23 - 5:25pm

    Marco, I thought your query of this morning very relevant. But some of us have offered answers already, on the policies we have to offer that do not concern Europe or voting reform. Could you please look back at the suggestions of Michael BG, 3rd November 8.50, last two paragraphs, and my follow-up of November 4 at 12.15 am? I have sent details of these suggestions to our President, Mark Pack. I am next going to ask the Council of Social Liberal Forum, which meets on November 13, to pass a resolution asking our party leadership to actively promote policies of a radical nature this winter. I am suggesting these include our policy For a Fairer Society (F12) passed at York Conference last spring, which includes the radical policy to eliminate deep poverty and end the need for food banks within ten years; and the policy F31, Tackling the Housing Crisis, passed at our Bournemouth Conference in October. There really are Liberal Democrat policies which we believe make us worth voting for, because they are policies the country needs which we will promote with Government.

  • Macro,

    I do not think our current poll figures are inevitable. But they will not change without the party changing what it is saying. As John Curtice said we need to be saying things different from the Labour Party to get any coverage in the air war.

    Ending deep poverty within the decade is one.
    Making personal care free for everyone who needs it, like the NHs is another.

    A more difficult one is to fix the NHS by investing more than the Labour Party and being clear what our policies are to ensure more doctors and nurses are trained.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th Nov '23 - 1:10am

    I think Michael was in his last comment probably addressing Marco. But, relevant to the discussion about competing with Labour, I came across a quote from Keir Starmer recorded by the Observer in mid-July. Apparently he said, “the Left has to start caring a lot more about growth, about creating wealth, attracting inward investment and kickstarting a spirit of enterprise. It is the only show in town for those who dream of a brighter future.” Well, if that is the way he thinks I reckon he leaves the fields of poverty reduction, welfare reform and personal care wide open to us. Let there be jobs, we can agree – preferably Green jobs – but wealth creators, wealthy investors and enterprising individuals savvy with modern technology are bound to be a minority. Particularly if the advance of Artificial Intelligence greatly reduces the number of work-a-day jobs available, our policy of Guaranteed Basic Income could soon be accepted as essential.

  • Peter Martin 8th Nov '23 - 8:00am

    @ Katharine,

    We, on the left, all agree on the need to end ‘deep poverty’. Where we disagree is how it can be achieved. Trying on the basis of ‘welfarism’ is unlikely to be successful unless the working class changes its collective attitude. This is that everyone, who is able, should work and in return should receive a fair share of the proceeds for their endeavours. This should come from their employers rather than what they would say were the taxpayers.

    I’m sure you’ll have met plenty of voters who express this view. You might think they are closet Tories but their thinking has broadly shaped the working class movement over the last 150 or so years.

    It’s unlikely to change any time soon.

  • I think Peter is correct here. @Katharine. I think it’s you who has said a few times that the LibDem plans – the GBI scheme etc. are really well thought out, but I don’t think they is: They’ve been thought through only in strict accounting terms – how much you raise in tax and how much you spend, assuming nothing else in the economy changes. But if you implement it, the economy will change – and not all in a good way – and the plans don’t take that into account. You haven’t for example thought through the impact GBI would have on inflation, the economy, whether there’s enough physical infrastructure (in particular housing, as opposed to paper money) to support it, or – most importantly – the impact it would have on people’s attitudes if you just tell everyone that they don’t need to do anything at all to contribute to society or care about others – you’ll just pay for them to have a good life anyway. Once you start seriously thinking about those things, then it becomes apparent that the GBI plans are unworkable. If you want to solve poverty (as I think all of us here do), then you HAVE to think about how much the country produces, not just how much it spends, and you therefore HAVE to treat it as a two-way thing where you expect people to contribute to society to the extent that they are able, in return for society looking after them.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th Nov '23 - 5:55pm

    @ Peter Martin. I don’t think you are considering enough of the realities of today’s working environment in this country, Peter. You write “everyone who is able should work, and in return should receive a fair share of the proceeds for their endeavours … from their employers”. Well, yes – but in practice employers in general don’t seem to care that company bosses will be rewarded with salaries and bonuses and share options which will mean that they earn, what, 20 times per annum more than a worker can earn? Good luck to the unions if they can change that ratio.

    We Liberal Democrats call for employees to gain a fair share as ‘stakeholders’ in companies, but it would appear that in our market economy the share-holders count for more. And I take it that ordinary workers are quite aware of the inequality of their position. Besides, how many are in secure well-paid jobs, compared with the vast numbers obliged as parents or carers or themselves ill or disabled to accept part-time work at the minimum rates? And why do you think so many over-fifties have dropped out of paid employment since Covid, when they were able to see the limitations of their everyday working life? I suggest ‘the working class’ these days don’t feel obliged to put up with the pay and conditions of their forbears – as witness all the strikes in so many sectors this year, reacting to the fall in the standard of living which most of us have surely painfully noticed.

  • @ Katherine and Michael I agree that we should commit to tackling poverty but Ed is as almost as tentative talking about benefits as he is about Europe. We could make far more of the fact that the 2 child limit was blocked in coalition for example and we were also to the left of Corbyn on benefits. However there seems to be a fear of scaring off centre right voters.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th Nov '23 - 6:27pm

    Simon R. GBI will be brought in gradually, Simon, and I don’t see what housing has to do with its economic impact. But I want particularly to answer your assertion about attitudes. Sorry, but it’s nonsense to suggest that the reform will lead to people thinking they can just be paid to have a good life without any need to make any contribution at all to society.

    We did indeed in the Fairer Society Working Group (as in its predecessor) consider that being paid a basic income might give people a new freedom, to fulfill themselves differently, perhaps developing talents they hadn’t had time for before, or working in the work they really always wanted to do which doesn’t pay. But such freedom will come at a price. You will only get Guaranteed Basic Income (in contrast to the formerly supported Universal Basic Income) when you can show you have literally nothing to live on. And the income, yearly assessed, will be as the title suggests, Basic. For anyone for whom the idea of a Good Life involves having spare money to spend, they won’t be seeking a GBI. It will be a necessity. It goes back to William Beveridge’s wish, that nobody should be destitute in our country. But now, we know, destitution is shamefully actually increasing.

  • Peter Martin,

    This attitude of the working class is not something which has existed for 150 years. It came about after 1979. Before that there was general agreement that unemployment would be a short-term issue and those unemployed would receive an income sufficient to see them over their short-lived period of unemployment. Before 1945 the working class supported a universal welfare system to replace the workhouse system which still existed in the twentieth century.

    I think the issue is that people in work think that those who are long-term unemployed should be in work. There is nothing wrong with this view. The problem is how to assist these people into work. Making them live in poverty does not help them to return to work. As living in a workhouse didn’t help people return to work outside the workhouse.

    We need to convert more people into being liberals where personal choice is more important than conforming to having a job.

  • Simon R,

    The cost of ending deep poverty is about £37 billion – about 1.7% of the UK’s GDP. Divided over five years this is about 0.33% of GDP and with economic growth it is even less. Therefore this is not likely to effect inflation or the economy much. Having to live on benefits at the deep poverty level is not enabling them to have ‘a good life’. The first step to solving poverty is to ensure no one in the UK lives below the deep poverty level and this can’t be done if the benefit levels are below the deep poverty level.

    The housing issue is separate to increasing benefits to the deep poverty level. To get 380,000 new homes being built each year will take time. In the year up to March 2022 204,530 homes were built. It might be possible to increase the number of new homes built each year by a percentage. A 10% increase each year would get to 380,000 in seven years. 20,000 homes costs about £4 billion, which is less than a fifth of one percentage of GDP. In the seventh year 35,431 homes would cost just over £7 billion, which would not be much more assuming some economic growth. Again these increases are small compared to the size of the UK GDP and so are unlikely to badly effect inflation or grow the economy by much.

  • Peter Martin 9th Nov '23 - 8:37am

    @ Michael BG,

    I’d refer you to the wording of the original Clause 4 in the Labour Party constitution which reads: “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof”. It’s not a call for higher levels of welfare.

    The Jarrow marchers of the 30s was primarily about the lack of jobs in the town.

    This is not to say that the extent of social benefits wasn’t also an issue but the emphasis and the priority was about paying jobs so that the workers could look after their families. The Lib Dems seem to have these priorities in a different order.

    The point of a thought experiment isn’t necessarily to bring about exactly the conditions envisaged. It’s to establish the theory in a simple scenario, then test the theory as this scenario is adjusted to better reflect a more complex reality.

  • Christopher Haigh 9th Nov '23 - 5:57pm

    @petemartin, Peter, I think you are living in a bygone era when you could just turn up at your local mill or coal pit, ask for a job and start work the next day. My family had been involved with the textile trade as far as we can trace back, but in 1979ish mostly all the mill s in west Yorkshire simultaneously closed for good. This mass employment trade has not been satisfactorily replaced by some other, although some high technology units employing few workers do still survive.

  • Marco,

    Sorry to spell your name incorrectly. Ed has said at Conference that he believes ending poverty is an important task for the party. Indeed, we should make more of our policy to scrap the two child limit on benefits. It would cost only £1.3 billion to scrap it and effects 1.5 million children ( and I can’t see any reason why ex-Conservative voters would not support this.

  • Peter Martin,

    The Labour Party has not existed for 150 years. It was founded in 1906. Before that from 1900 there was the Labour Representation Committee. When the Labour Party’s constitution was written it did not represent the whole of the working class. It is unlikely it ever has.

    I don’t know where you have gotten the idea that the Liberal Democrats don’t care about the economy and people having jobs. I have often written that a liberal society is where everyone who wants a job has one. In the pre-manifesto document accepted at Bournemouth in September we said we want “a fair, prosperous and innovative economy that promotes opportunity and wellbeing. Everyone deserves the chance to get on in life and see their hard work and aspiration properly rewarded.” We want “to create worthwhile jobs in every part of the UK”. “We will invest in renewable power and home insulation to drive a strong economic recovery.” There is also a whole chapter on the economy, which includes, “We will build a strong, fair economy that benefits everyone in the UK, develop an industrial strategy … in order to grow the economy, create good jobs, boost productivity and empower more people to enter the job market” and “fix the skills and recruitment crisis by investing in people’s skills”.

  • Peter Martin 10th Nov '23 - 8:43am

    @ Michael BG @ Christopher Haigh,

    We can debate the history of the Labour movement sometime if you like -I’ll leave that for now except to say that the Labour Movement is not just the Labour Party.

    At the moment the Labour Party has been lost to the wider movement after being hijacked by a right wing faction which has gained control by a process of deceit. Whether we can get it back remains to be seen.

    Sure. every party will be concerned about the economy. Everyone, or maybe nearly everyone, will want workers to actually be working. However, not everyone wants “the most equitable distribution (of the proceeds of that work) that may be possible”

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