We are not a party of the centre

There is a frequent claim on these pages and wider commentary: as a party of the centre or centre-left, with Labour and the Tories pulling away from the centre, the Lib Dems should be polling a good deal better than 5-7%. This failure to transform an advantageous position into wider support is ascribed to a lack of vision, distinctiveness, or messaging etc.

I consider this analysis is flawed, and that the ‘solutions’ that follow are unlikely to improve our situation. My contention is as the article title states – we are not a party of the ‘centre’.

Centre of what?

Diagrams of political space are only useful if they show the criteria on which parties are judged by their electorates. They are always therefore a simplification, as each voter will judge based on different criteria and will have different perceptions of the parties. This simplification has still worked historically, more or less, with the key criteria being the role and size of the state in the economy and the traditional “left wing” (more intervention and taxation) and “right wing” (less) labels that follow.

However, I doubt that this particular simplification is still valid. In recent years, concerns about globalisation, immigration and Brexit have become big priorities with many voters, and unlike other issues do not neatly line up with the traditional left-right spectrum: there are left- and right-wing voters and politicians on both sides of these issues. In the General Election, we saw Theresa May campaigning for working class votes in Labour’s heartland (which could have been successful in a better run campaign) whist Jeremy Corbyn piled on votes in well-heeled suburbs and cities (e.g. Canterbury).

Political compass, adapted

A commonly seen improvement to the left-right spectrum is to add a further axis measuring authoritarianism/liberalism – typically called a “political compass.” In my early political years, when national debate and our campaigns were focused on I.D. cards and detention without trial this seemed appropriate. The political landscape is very different now, and Brexit consumes that part of the political debate not taken up with traditional left-right issues (re-nationalisation for instance). So how might we depict our political parties if we show their economic thinking and attitude to Brexit? Something like this perhaps (my own subjective analysis of course but to give some idea):

This shows the Lib Dems as a fringe party rather than occupying the centre ground, which provides an alternative explanation for our current polling that doesn’t point the finger at our ‘messaging’ or ‘brand’ in a way that presents few actual solutions.

I’m very keen to hear the views of others on this representation and what it might mean; here are two questions for starters though: should we look to campaign among voters who are to our left, right, or less anti-Brexit to widen our support? If we are a fringe party, do we need to act more like a political insurgency and less like an established party, and how might we do that? Post your answers in the comments!

* MIchael Atkins has been a member of the Liberal Democrats since 2005.

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  • Nathan Sinclair 7th Nov '17 - 4:36pm

    Any attempt by the Lib Dems to pull away from our anti-Brexit position would be all it took to convince me – and I think, many others – to tear up my membership. There’s basically nothing in British politics I feel more strongly about than that (except perhaps the NHS), and I’ve long since lost all my ability to continue enduring debate on the subject.

  • Trevor Warne 7th Nov '17 - 5:10pm

    Excellent article. I think you depict the party’s positions very well. Labour sitting right on the ambiguity centre point for sure! They played that card very well in the recent General Election.
    I very much doubt only 5-7% of the population are anti-Brexit and the diagram picks up where LibDem should go looking for votes. Labour are sitting on the fence but seemingly quite happy to allow the Tories to continue with Brexit – simply insisting on a few minor changes to the type of Brexit.
    The General Election may have had significant tactical voting but the lack of a post Election bounce in LibDem is concerning.
    Silence is not a virtue in politics and Vince Cable needs to be going after Jeremy Corbyn and Labour to shake them off the Brexit fence. As the opposition party Labour have more room to change their Brexit position than the Tories but they are getting away with their ambiguous Brexit position.

  • Tony Greaves 7th Nov '17 - 5:20pm

    I don’t think there is any danger of our “pulling away” from our anti-Brexit position. And anyway, the longer the nonsenses go on, the more people will start to realise that is has to be stopped. The political processes by which that can/will be achieved are far from clear, but it is vital that we are there in the vanguard.

  • paul barker 7th Nov '17 - 5:38pm

    The Idea of The Libdems as Centrist surely owes more to our instinct for consensus than any particular position. That cant apply to a Binary issue like Brexit, there is no position of Half-In, Half-Out.
    Our present position is a direct result of The General Election which was treated by most Voters as a Binary choice between May & Corbyn. We have been slowly recovering since but it will be at least 6 Months before we are seen as relevant to any issue but Brexit. We have no real choice but to keep banging on about Brexit & the Values of Openness & Optimism that lie behind our position.

  • Katharine Pindar 7th Nov '17 - 5:41pm

    Michael, your useful article follows on well from the discussion that ensued in comments on my own piece, ‘Just who are we, really?’ published here on November 3, so that you have probably looked at the 33 comments there which opened up various lines of enquiry with various answers. To answer your own queries now for myself, no, we are a major party, not a fringe, and look to drawing support again from both Tories and Labour, having elements in our principles and policies which relate to each of them. Our flagship policy at present is to be pro-EU and anti-Brexit, as Nathan holds, while we need also to have more focused presentation of our other major policies to clarify our public image.

    While it will be difficult to become the governing party without voting reform, which will mean urgent and continuing work to gain support for this from members of other parties, there are other major paths we can follow to gain support. One of these will be to present to the public a clearer idea of the BENEFITS of staying in the EU, rather than continuing to dwell on the evils of Brexit, and to give them hope that this is still both achievable and worthwhile. We should include with this some explanation, both that moderation of immigration is perfectly feasible, and that we can remain in an outer tier of EU states as at present but still be a full and contributing member.

  • woolfie Smiff 7th Nov '17 - 5:50pm

    Reading the comments tells you all you need to know about why you are polling at 7%. Detached, living in the past, unable to innovate, create or establish leadership. Sad really the Liberal Party should really be THE major party right now, trouble is, it has the wrong message and the wrong people

  • That seems pretty close, UKIP possibly reaches a little further leftwards than you’ve indicated as the party does have a sizeable core of big state ex-Labour supporters. The Tories and Labour would look dramatically different depending on whether you were depicting their leaderships or their member bases, but taken together, that’s probably about right.

    As for being the anti-Brexit party, this goes almost as far as the tuition fees thing to explaining why you’re back to being a single-digit party. You’ve set yourselves against the result of a free and fair democratic plebiscite, making a mockery of your party’s own name. The majority of even those that voted Remain have accepted the result and only a noisy and increasingly tiresome minority continue to bang on about Europe now. (Oh how that turn-of-phrase has flipped around!)

  • The strength of the sketch/diagram is that it depicts the Labour and Conservative parties closest to the centre. More than 50 years ago Donald Wade MP challenged conventional left/right models with a lozenge, or if you like an oval. The longer sides of the oval stretched from left to right on the page with Labour in the middle of the top side and the Conservatives in the middle of the bottom side. However the top and bottom long sides bent towards each other at the extremities of the oval with Liberalism at one end and authoritarian Communism and Fascism coming together at the other extreme. Unfortunately a local pact with the Conservatives in Huddersfield West obscured Donald’s insights somewhat. But the diagram served us well in that very different era.

  • I joined this party before I fully understood what ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ meant.

    I joined because of attractive and relevant policies articulated by an authentic and charasmatic leader.

    Can we just go back to that and forget about the whole left v right thing.

    The average voter down the pub, hairdressers, daycare centre etc I’m sure would much rather that too.

  • Speaking as someone who generally votes Tory but is sympathetic to (real) liberalism and has several times considered joining, the key thing about the current political situation is Brexit. The people voted, and rightly or wrongly they voted to leave. Parliament authorised the referendum almost unanimously, and after the vote Parliament authorised the government to invoke Article 50 with huge majorities. It is going to happen. The Lib Dem insistence that it ought not to happen is costing votes.

    Yes, it could be reversed – but only by another referendum. Does anyone want that? What if the vote is even stronger to leave, given the obvious intransigence of the EU over the past months?

    Look at UKIP. It’s vote has collapsed. Why? Because we had the referendum and they won the case. Look at the polls – we’re now back to two party politics, both parties going to enact Brexit. Labour, especially Corbyn and the left of the party, wants Brexit even more than UKIP, because they cannot have their socialist utopia within the EU. Even the Tories, under the spectacularly incompetent May, are still polling 40%. Why? Brexit.

    This insistence on opposing Brexit is a problem for the Lib Dems. You cannot just ignore the express will of the people in a referendum. The UK has done that precisely once, when Malta voted overwhelmingly to become part of the UK but the government here changed its mind. For all internal referenda, the government and Parliament have followed the wishes of the people whether they wanted to or not. To not do that, at least without a second vote, would trigger a massive constitutional crisis.

    Be under no illusions about the EU. It is not a liberal institution. It is all about crony capitalism, privatising everything, big business, distinctly illiberal micro-regulation (which is great for big business, which can afford to deal with it, but not for small which cannot) and trying to create a corporatist federal nation nobody wants. Anti-EU sentiment is quite strong in several EU states and it is growing – witness recent French, German and Austrian elections. And you STILL want to be part of that? Why, for goodness’ sake?

    The key issue of the day is Brexit and how to make it work. Insisting Canute-like that it should be stopped will only ensure the Liberal Democrats remain a fringe party, vying with the Greens for fourth place.

  • Nathan Sinclair – however many would not vote Lib Dem if it changed on Brexit, more would vote for it.

  • Michael Cole 7th Nov '17 - 7:18pm

    An excellent article Michael.

    It has long been my belief that seeing politics in terms of simply left or right is crude and simplistic. We should view ourselves as neither left, right or centre but as forward looking and progressive. Falling into the ‘left-right’ mode is tacitly supporting the ‘left-right’ FPTP voting system and the outdated and dysfunctional rich-poor class politics.

    I think we should be very clear that seeking to attract voters from Lab/Con is not to become like those Parties.

    Martin, Point well made.

  • I think your analysis is sound. I would love to support the Lib Dems were it not for the anti-Brexit positioning.

  • Katharine Pindar 7th Nov '17 - 7:58pm

    ‘Progressive’, as with ‘Radical’ is an idea to engage with, because it engages feelings. The thing is, dear author of this piece, that we have to engage the emotions of the voters as well as their thinking faculties to win them over. It is a difficulty often observed in counselling, that clients will intellectualise rather than engage with feelings, and that is particularly true of very intelligent people. So I noticed on another thread the author refer to ‘primal beliefs’, where he really meant ‘primal emotions’.

    We need to give voters hope, an optimistic feeling about our future in the EU, which is certainly within our scope if we care passionately about staying in, as I and many of us do. It was the future of his children, their freedom to move and work in the whole of Europe as easily as we have done, which first moved our former leader Tim Farron to declare that we must stay in.

  • I agree that ‘centrist’ is an unhelpful term for many reasons. It implies that we are incapable of coming up with bold, radical policies which are necessary to deal with the many injustices and inequalities in our society. It’s also seen as placing us somewhere near halfway between Labour and the Tories, which is not where we want to be because it means being defined by what those two parties are doing rather than where we need to be, true to our liberal democratic values and principles. What I would agree with is that being seen as reasonable and sensible is no bad thing. It’s not at all incompatible with being radical.

  • The problem you have on your second graph is that you haven’t got any overlap between the parties, and they most definitely overlap.

  • Oh, and ignore the siren call of those on here and elsewhere who try to tell us we should abandon our most distinctive and well known policy position just as the public is coming round to it. Especially those who admit openly to not voting for us anyway.

  • Peter Brand 7th Nov '17 - 9:36pm

    I’m not Attracted by the idea of describing the political landscape with one axis representing a single issue (Brexit). We need a picture with a longer shelf-life. Our position on Brexit is the result of our place in that longer term political landscape. I offer these alternative axes:
    X – left-right if you like but I’d be more specific and say socialist-capitalist (in the sense of whether assets should be in private or state ownership).
    Y – liberal-authoritarian let’s put authoritarian at the bottom of the page and liberal at the top.
    Then we can re-draw what’s where. Tories get the bottom right hand corner. Labour get the bottom left corner. The LibDems get most of the top half, with the Greens getting the left-hand edge of it. There’s a no-man’s land on the right hand edge of the top half. UKIP are not really relevant any more but you can squeeze them in just below the X axis on the right between the Tories and no-man’s land.
    (I wish I knew how to put a picture on here!)

  • Excellent analysis from Michael Atkins, and those graphs look pretty much like hard reality to me.

    However quite why anyone posting here still chooses to believe that the public are moving against Brexit when all of the polling evidence is the opposite is a mystery really. All of the actual evidence is that the electorate are mostly either fully behind, or are comfortably resigned to, Brexit happening now, and are now only really concerned with the detail which is of course entirely lacking at present.

    Although much of our main stream media present a very negative picture of Brexit, and sentiment amongst southern metropolitan liberals and in Scotland continues to be strongly against leaving the EU, that is failing to change minds amongst the wider electorate, probably because people are not stupid and have seen for themselves that the much trumpeted doom and destruction predicted, if not guaranteed, by the remain campaign during the referendum has wholly failed to occur and so people no longer believe that scenario.

    It is true, as stated by others above, that being staunchly anti Brexit is the one distinctive remaining LibDem policy but whether it is a vote winning one with anyone who isn’t already a LibDem remains very much to be seen, so far it has not been as we can see from this year’s general election.

    So by all means follow your hearts and continue to campaign hard against Brexit, but don’t expect it to be the basis of a revival of the party’s electoral fortunes on its own, because all of the evidence is that it is not, and will not be, the case.

  • Peter Brand 7th Nov '17 - 9:43pm

    Sorry, to answer the question – we would then obviously need to campaign to attract people from Labour, Tories and most importantly the apolitical – because the dyed-in-the-wool extremists are very hard work – towards our policies which emphasise freedom in a framework of social responsibility. Should be easy!

  • Peter Watson 7th Nov '17 - 10:21pm

    Perhaps your 2-dimensional graph shows that to most voters, the Tories and Labour are, well, 2-dimensional, while Lib Dems have defined themselves so much by a single issue in the last 2 years.
    Inside or outside the EU, voters have some idea (for better or worse) what Labour and the Conservatives represent. Voters who are opposed to Brexit need a better idea about what sort of Britain in the EU Lib Dems would deliver if they are successful, and what sort of Britain outside the EU they would want to protect if they are not successful.
    Otherwise, Lib Dems might as well be an anti-UKIP: fight Brexit tooth and claw until 2019, and then, win or lose, simply disappear.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Nov '17 - 10:32pm

    I believe Liberalism, social with a basis of classical, is in the radical centre and moderate centre left and can move around with flexibility and in opposition to extremes of right and left .

    I do not like diagrams or graphs that confuse my eye and do not like articles that presume my stance.

    This one leads me to back David Raw. We need policies.

  • nigel hunter 7th Nov '17 - 10:58pm

    Why are we navel gazing. We have Mays elections to win. We should be selling our policies in focus and media we have a Government to aim for. We should be pointing out,for one,. why Universal Credit is a mess not giving a REAL opportunity for people to progress in to a job

  • “ignore the siren call of those on here and elsewhere who try to tell us we should abandon our most distinctive and well known policy position just as the public is coming round to it.”

    They aren’t coming round to it.

    “Especially those who admit openly to not voting for us anyway.”

    You mean the people you need to convince if you’re to get over 7% in the polls?

  • Euan Gray 7th Nov ’17 – 7:08pm………Speaking as someone who generally votes Tory……………………… Labour, especially Corbyn and the left of the party, wants Brexit even more than UKIP, because they cannot have their socialist utopia within the EU………

    Strange that you believe that Labour’s policies can’t exist within the EU when they are far closer to those of ‘the other 27’ than are Tory policies…Your first sentence explains your reasoning…

  • Tractor Gent 7th Nov '17 - 11:57pm

    I’m not sure about left/right. For myself I would want an economic axis with fantasy-land (magic money tree) on one side and economic prudence on the other. Inevitably this maps onto spending priorities so it sorta mirrors left/right. I’m pretty much on the economic prudence side, which in theory makes me a conservative, but I don’t think much of their current stewardship of the economy either.

  • Arnold Kiel 8th Nov '17 - 7:11am

    As Brexit determines the UK’s maneuvering space in all policy-areas, it is the paramount question. Along the conventional left-right axis, this implies two scenarios: continued measured or extreme austerity. Therefore, in terms of real policy options, the matrix again folds into one dimension.

    Exiting from Brexit requires removing the Tories from power, and the only impactful role for the LibDems in this scenario is in coalition with Labor.

    I am not at all convinced that Labor is eventually pro-Brexit. Corbyn and McDonnell do not have many of the radical backbenchers that drive May, and they will become scared once they look into the financial and social abyss. Currently, they are waiting for their northern voters to come around while rather effectively discrediting the Government’s handling of Brexit. They know that, even if handled well, Brexit is a no-win project. Realising their re-nationalization and anti-austerity pet-projects would require an extremely soft Brexit which would logically entail continued adherence to EU competition law and non-discrimination rules, e.g. equivalent tuition-fees. My homecountry Germany, btw. owns its railway and power-grid. No need to Brexit for that.

  • expats – Jeremy Corbyn has been anti-EU since we joined the EEC. Note also that he was the first MP to call for Article 50 to be invoked. Labour’s ideas of extensive nationalisation constitute state aid to business and are not permitted under EU rules.

    There are very good left-wing objections to the EU, most notably that it is in effect a capitalist club for big business and even, as propounded by Tony Benn as far back as the 70s, that it is a nascent empire. And that gets us to the nub of the EU problem and the Lib Dem approach to the union – WHY should we stay in it, and WHAT are the concrete benefits of membership? Being afraid of change isn’t a good enough reason to stay in.

  • I place you just to the right of Momentum, only a smidgen.

  • chris moore 8th Nov '17 - 8:41am

    The fact is the referéndum was lost. I am sad about that. But we should accept the result and campaign to ensure the best Brexit possible.

    We alienate former core voters by our refusal to accept reality. They voted against the EU for cogent reasons – though incorrect in my view. We come over as arrogant and elitist on this issue.

    And many Remain voters don’t want another referéndum. I’m one of them.

  • Euan Gray 8th Nov ’17 – 7:15am……………….expats – Jeremy Corbyn has been anti-EU since we joined the EEC. Note also that he was the first MP to call for Article 50 to be invoked. Labour’s ideas of extensive nationalisation constitute state aid to business and are not permitted under EU rules………….

    Corbyn was the ONLY Leader to give a fair assessment of EU membership (7/10)…. I suggest you watch the whole of the Dimbleby interview rather than taking snippets out of context…..
    His remarks about invoking article 50 were tied to ‘respecting the result of the referendum’; his stance on free movement, employment, etc. are far closer to our view than Tory..He also stated that he thought it essential that Cameron and Osborne should stay as such a decision would show ‘stability’…As a Tory voter you will be aware that, within days, ‘Brave’ Dave ran away…

    As for your second point, mixed public and privately run services and transport are the norm rather than the exception in Europe, so I see no problems on that score..

  • Most voters do not view themselves as left/right/centre. In order to suceed we need a coherent program for government. Bold policy positions on a range of issues, not just Brexit. Until we develop, and successfully explain and sell these proposals, we will stay at eight percent in the polls. Talk about being in the centre or not is a distraction. We should get thinking on proposals for housing, future funding of the NHS, reducing inequality, making capitalism work for the majority not just a rich few, and developing new technologies and industries so Britain can survive in a rapidly changing world. Policies win elections not imagined positions on a political spectrum

  • Ian Hurdley 8th Nov '17 - 10:20am

    The fundamental problem with being the anti’-Brexit party is that it is a time-limited position; within the life of this Parliament (barring the fall of Theresa May and a fresh election) Brexit will go, either because we have killed it off or because it will have happened; moreover, we cannot kill it off on our own since we are too few in number without the active help of likeminded politicians in the other parties.
    So we need to look further ahead. We also need to shift from a negative to a positive stance with mileage. I would suggest that we should actively and explicitly position ourselves as the only truly pro-European party and on the back of that, the only truly internationalist party. We want strong and close ties with our European neighbors and we also want strong and close ties with progressive, democratic countries across the globe.

  • Can I enter an observation I have made – two issues relating to the EU.

    A party can not campaign under a banner of Liberal Democrats if they show signs of not being liberal or democratic.

    One of the most obnoxious acts, from my point of view, was the introduction of the European Arrest Warrant – an act that I consider destroyed the idea that I as an individual was protected from the state, and that I could not be arrested and held without charge.
    The cutting of this age old silver thread, that ran through many generations, could never be seen as ‘liberal’ – and yet the EAW was championed into power by a Liberal Democrat.

    The other was, of course, the Lisbon Treaty.

    In no way could the LT be seen as justifiably democratic: the LibDems should have either stood up for the EU and the treaty, or stood up for real democracy – instead there was a tactic of an EU referendum sideshow.

    People aren’t dumb, and diagrams are not helpful to those people when they see that politicians really are “all the same” when protecting their own interests and power.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Nov '17 - 11:06am

    We have an image problem in articulating the values that distinguish us from the other Parties. Fairness, freedom, community, diversity, tolerance, caring, internationalism and environmentalism do not figure highly in many people’s list. I fear our best chance is to seize on the plenty of mistakes they are making while maintaining our core values.

  • As a classical liberal, the LD’s anti-Brexit stance is one of the few draws. Diluting political power by distributing it between competing institutions, i.e. nation states and the EU, a robust framework of rights irrespective of what the mob votes for, free market capitalism cemented in legal frameworks? Yes please. And more dilution with a Europe of the regions. The LDs should pursue liberal policies, emphasizing free markets, open borders, reducing the power of the nation state, legalizing drugs, allowing businesses to set their own terms on smoking indoors, etc. UKIP, authoritarian, nationalist, protectionist, and radically democratic, are the antithesis of this. Tories and Labour, moderately authoritarian, nationalist, protectionist, etc. Why fight them on their own turf? Provide a liberal contrast.

  • David Evershed 8th Nov '17 - 11:29am

    If it is being suggested that the party should change its beliefs, values and approach to increase its vote share then what would be the point of having a Lib Dem party at all?

    Political parties should lead opinion not follow it.

  • “We have an image problem in articulating the values that distinguish us from the other Parties. Fairness, freedom, community, diversity, tolerance, caring, internationalism and environmentalism”

    Because unless you announce specific policies, these are mere empty platitudes, and banal ones at that – no party is going to disagree with them.

  • Martin Walker 8th Nov '17 - 12:06pm

    Interesting article. I’m not sure that you have demonstrated that the political compass of left / right plus liberal / authoritarian is out of date because of Brexit. In fact it is arguably strengthened by Brexit, given findings that the closest correlation with Brexit voting patterns was with answers to a question about whether people believed more in freedom of expression or following rules.

    In terms of answers to your questions, I believe that we should indeed look to campaign to win over voters whether they are to our left, right, or less anti-Brexit. I don’t think there needs to be a choice (or that we have the luxury of a choice) when it comes to prioritising one of these groups to the exclusion of others.

    I wouldn’t accept the premise that we are a fringe party – though I don’t doubt that there are ‘insurgent’ style characteristics that we could usefully adopt.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Nov '17 - 12:12pm

    David Raw

    Having read the most bothersome comment to your way of thinking on LDV, from Greg, I now have just read the most brilliant from you.

    The European Arrest Warrant , is an example of the most important areas of EU cooperation we need to preserve and extoll. There are flaws in all legislation, and need for more.

    I really do think you can mock and make fun all you like , sometimes, but we have from any so called wing of this or any party ,very much in common and you should see it more, across this party.

  • @David Raw – you are quite wrong.

    When powers of the state exceed the rights of the individual we can no longer consider ourselves to be liberal.

    It is all very well to believe in an open borders free-for-all, but that comes at a cost to others’ ways of life, and terrorism is one of the costs that the EU has brought upon itself – as, I think, you sought to indicate through your (not working) link.

    But to deprive me of my rights in pursuit of your idealogical and corporate view of the world is not liberal. What is happening in the EU now is about power and money.

    I would rather stick to my, obviously outdated, sentiment of habeas corpus and take my chance with the terrorists, than have the state descend upon me when it wishes.

    But, once again, I would point you to the question of “What is a Liberal Democrat?” – giving the state power over any individual is not liberal.

  • Nick Hopkinson 8th Nov '17 - 1:51pm

    Whilst Brexit is the key issue polarising British politics, I would not create a separate vertical line in the graph for it. The EU model reflects a blend of right and left policies. I would rather keep the left-right spectrum putting anti-brexit in the centre, with Brexit at both the left and right extremes. There are unfortunately other reasons why we are not gaining more traction, but that is the subject of another article! NH, Chair, LDEG

  • Good analysis. It is useful to consider the future implications too. If the UK leaves the EU as intended, what will LD do then, campaign to re-join? What a vote loser that will be. If Brexit fails and LD rejoice, there is a good chance that a majority of the population will despise the party. The current policy is outdated and suicidal.

  • Nick Collins 8th Nov '17 - 2:41pm

    A babbling brook trickling upwards: now that would be something to behold!

  • Red Liberal 8th Nov '17 - 2:46pm

    To be honest, in the event of a no-deal, ultra-hard Brexit, the policy of campaigning to rejoin the EU won’t be such a unique selling point for the LibDems. That will become the political mainstream very quickly… I can see the UK political battleground in that scenario developing into a Rejoiners versus Golden Dawn style Ultranationalists duality very quickly.

  • Sue Sutherland 8th Nov '17 - 2:58pm

    First of all extreme left and extreme right wing governments tend to end up having the same miserable effects on the population, so I would see your LR axis as a circle, with our party somewhere in the middle of it because we do not want authoritarian government at all. We should be attacking both main parties as they move towards intolerance and I think we are.
    I think we are developing policies on issues other than Brexit but since we are the only party to support the EU we get publicity on that issue far more than on any other.
    My concern is that we address those issues that caused many people to vote Leave. Increased vulnerability to poverty seems to sum them up, and many of these issues have been wrongly attributed to the EU rather than to domestic policy which is where the blame should actually lie. Please see the previous post. No wonder people without a degree tended to vote Leave. They have had little opportunity to improve their lives so they showed intelligence, not stupidity, in voting as they did.
    I would like to see us using the opportunities for publicity on Brexit to show why we support the EU, not just for economic reasons, but because we value friendship and cooperation and the strength to stand up to those who hide their wealth to avoid tax, which is what the EU is doing at the moment.

  • Peter Chambers 8th Nov '17 - 5:25pm

    This is an interesting article. While it has some limitations, it provides a model of our distance from parties that have better current polling.

    What might be even more useful is to analyse the Referendum result and subsequent opinion polling on the Y-axis value into components. For instance an ideological anti-European voter might be greeted (briefly) with polite disagreement. Yet someone who is “left behind” and only voted to give Mr Cameron a “good kicking” might be interested in regional development, anti-poverty campaigns, financial transparency, infrastructure, offshore, education, or the like.

    Navel gazing or useful campaign analysis?

  • Tony Dawson 8th Nov '17 - 6:30pm

    Although there are a fair chunk who express loud sentiments one way or t’other, most older people do not have a particularly ‘pro-Brexit’ or ‘Anti-Brexit’ position at all. Because most people do not have any real feeling of certainty as to what Brexit means for things which they know they are for or against and care about. Remember, a lot of people who voted in the referendum did not have very strong views either way and probably still don’t. Why should they? They have lives to lead.

    In my view, the arguments in the Referendum were very poorly-put on both sides with the poor ‘Stay in’ campaign made much poorer by the fact that a hell of a lot of the people who were meant to be in favour of staying in weren’t prepared to do much work if any to convince anyone on the matter (Corbyn, May, to name but two) and weren’t prepared to abandon old hostilities to present a common front on the matter. If you weren’t suspicious of Cameron’s ‘pitch’ on the EU before the campaign, you really ought to have been afterwards even if you were a firm ‘Remainer’ like me. In contrast, the ‘Leave’ lot appeared to be relatively focused and disciplined in their dishonesty.

    What I am getting to is that if the Party thinks that pitching a ‘package’ idea such as Brexit is going to miraculously restore Lib Dem fortunes then they surely need another quick general election to lose a few more parliamentary seats. You have to get people to identify with yourselves on the actual issues people care about, many of which will be direly-affected by Brexit. Otherrwise, just give up now.

  • @ Peter Chambers
    I have a degree in one of the “hard” sciences, I voted Leave and the motivation was to get control of my country back. I do not see the Lib Dems as a facilitator in my particular quest.

  • @ Peter Chambers – Perhaps I should have added that my career as R&D director of an international company involved working in Europe for many years.

  • Peter: you have your country, its here, we live in it, pay our taxes to it and support it in a patriotic way, what on earth do you mean have it “BACK”?. These sort of words a such a gross exaggeration of the reality and cause unnecessary confusion.

  • Denis Mollison 8th Nov '17 - 8:57pm

    @ Peter Chambers
    The reality is that within the EU we had a large share of “control”, both within Europe and as part of it on the international stage. Leaving the EU will inevitably involve major losses of control, for example having to lower our food standards and open our industry to competition in order to get replacement trade deals.

  • @ Nick Collins Like it. Upwards and onwards to the sunlit uplands.

  • Denis Mollison 8th Nov '17 - 9:15pm

    As to the discussion of political dimensions, I recommend the moral foundations approach of Jonathan Haidt.

    The distinction he draws between “liberals”, who put the emphasis on Care and Fairness, and “conservatives”, who put emphasis on Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity, fits well with the Remain vs. Leave divide. And if the current shift in political alignments is indeed along a natural divide between instinctive moral positions, this helps explain the strength of current feelings and the challenge of reconciling them.

    One example of how we might do this is to try to shift the”Loyalty” argument – currently strongly associated with nationalism – towards the liberal ideal of subsidiarity, where loyalty (and control) are shared between the various demographic levels, from family and local community through region and nation to global; to try to explain why we need to see ourselves both as people of Somewhere and of Everywhere.

  • I can’t understand the attitude of members like Nathan Sinclair. As Ian Hurdley points out by 2022 being anti-Brexit will not be a valid policy. Therefore we should not decide on our policies because members like Nathan may resign from the party. The party cannot be a one issue party. (I don’t advocate changing our position on Brexit, I just don’t think it will gain us any support, but it is the right position.) However we seem to be not interested in having policies for the people of somewhere who voted Leave because they want things to improve. To gain more support we need to have such policies. At the moment we seem to want to push them away.

    @ Tractor Grant

    Your views may reflect a large section of the population. It is a shame that economics is not taught in schools so people understand that the role of government is to manage the economy for political ends and not opt out under the mantra of “prudence”. I can remember when the first economic aim of government was full employment, and believe this should still be the top economic aim of government, because it was during the years of full employment that economic inequalities were reduced the most and since 1979 when that policy was discarded economic inequalities have increased returning I think to at least pre-1945 levels.

    @ Greg
    “giving the state power over any individual is not liberal.”

    You are incorrect and need to read Mill “On Liberty”. The community has to be protected from the individual and has always given some power to the state to protect everyone, this comes at the cost of the liberty of individuals. For liberals it is not a matter of opposing all powers of the government, but deciding if the limitations on the freedom of individuals is balanced by the benefits to most people. An example would be the government restricting the freedom of individuals to smoke in indoor public places to protect the health of those who choose not to smoke.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Nov '17 - 2:08pm


    Brilliant in it’s being so very strong and needed. You are correct on being mainstream, your views or most of the time my agreement or on occasion strong disagreement on an issue, rarely if ever puts either of us so out of the mainstream, I agree this is not always the case with some who seem to emphasise the more obscure at the expense of the very important . This is to in no way denigrate such views, but we as a party and we as colleagues believe that inequality and poverty and the resultant poor public services whether in welfare or healthcare , are priorities .


    Excellent point you make on liberty , and thus On Liberty.Some mistake Liberalism for libertarianism, a desire for absence of the state,others for socialism, with or without the state. The reason I staunchly defend the radical and moderate centre and centre left, apart from that most Liberals or Liberal parties are not on the farther left or right, is we avoid such rather extreme thinking on the state. As my interaction with David shows, whether from a radical or moderate centre left perspective, he and I , and indeed you , see the by all means, real danger of an autocratic state, but the danger too of no or minimal state to alleviate or end harm. Mill, who moved from the centre to the centre left, knew that Liberals must intervene, whether to defend negative freedom, from harm, or promote positive freedom for good.FDR, knew much the same thing in his New Deal, and JFK with his New Frontier.

  • Laurence Cox 9th Nov '17 - 2:34pm

    I want to see our Party representing the radical Centre, as this posting illustrates:


    Just being anti-Brexit does not make you a radical, which I see as a failing by the author of the original article.

  • Peter Watson 9th Nov '17 - 2:53pm

    @Laurence Cox “Just being anti-Brexit does not make you a radical”
    Indeed. Almost by definition, opposition to Brexit makes you a conservative. Perhaps the party could use a bit of radicalism to counter what has looked like a very conservative approach in recent years, with support for the status quo in opposition to changes proposed by the Tories, Labour, UKIP and the SNP.

  • Laurence Cox 9th Nov '17 - 3:47pm

    @Peter Watson
    Change for change’s sake also does not make you a radical. It is quite possible to be anti-Brexit, while recognising that both the EU and Westminster need reforming, which is the thrust of the posting I referenced.

  • Peter Watson 9th Nov '17 - 4:55pm

    @Laurence Cox “Change for change’s sake also does not make you a radical.”
    But too many Lib Dem positions have looked like opposition to change because the party is divided over what direction it would like any change to be in. It is as if radical ideas in the party end up cancelling each other out and we end up with fudges like the policy on Trident or simultaneously opposing the extension and termination of grammar schools.

  • Colin Walklin 9th Nov '17 - 5:52pm

    The 2nd axis should be Authoritarian/ anti Authoritarian . This puts Labour & the Tories in their correct place as respectively left & right Authoritarians & the LibDems at the Anti authoritarian end of the spectrum.

  • @MichaelBG. Lol. You’re confusing OL with Rawls’ Theory of Justice

  • @ Ghent

    Again you are incorrect. I can’t be referring Rawls’ “Theory of Justice” because I was not aware of it. Mill talks of “(t)hat the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” It is very clear from what I posted that I was talking about harm to others, especially with my example.

    I do however move on from this harm principle so that the government can have taxation and benefit policies to reduce inequalities, so that liberty can be distributed more equally within society.

    If you are aware of both Rawls and Mill I don’t understand how you can write, “giving the state power over any individual is not liberal.” As both writers are within the liberal tradition.

  • Peter Davies 11th Nov '17 - 10:40am

    I think it’s a mistake to define the public in terms of their political philosophy in the way that you do political parties. Most people don’t really have one. To get people to vote for us we don’t need to position ourselves at an optimum point on a diagram. We have to persuade people that we are:
    on their side
    and stand up for what we believe in even if they’re not sure we’re right

  • @greg – I’m really not sure what kind of liberalism you’re proposing here. If it’s the sort of quasi-anarchical, zero-government liberalism espoused by the American right, then you really don’t understand the Liberal Democrats – I suggest you go and have a look at “On Liberty” and the notion of the Harm principle, and you’ll see where we come from.

    Freedom of movement of labour, though, is surely the most liberal policy of all? If there’s a job in France, or Italy, or wherever, why shouldn’t I be able to go and do it? Likewise, why shouldn’t an Italian be able to work in the UK – after all, does it really matter where the best person to do the job comes from?

  • David Evans 14th Nov '17 - 8:22am

    Keith, of course when you only consider freedom of movement as an individual choice, it is easy. However, that only considers liberty, just one of the three fundamental values mentioned in the Preamble. Until you consider the other two, equality and community, you are not even starting to try to balance them. This would include such matters as the fact that English is the nearest thing our planet has to a universal language and so UK citizens, especially those who have only had the benefit of a ‘standard UK education’ have much less chance to get a job in Italy than an Italian has to get a job in the UK (i.e. equality); or the impact on local communities of the possibility of substantial numbers of Eastern Europeans coming over to work in low paid jobs here, because what they can earn much more than in their home country.

    Putting it simply, modern Liberalism isn’t as easy as just personal choice.

  • It is rather odd to assume that being way out to one end of a spectrum means you won’t have much support, especially as a persistent problem is people having little idea what we stand for. Sometimes it’s the centre that’s squeezed and the wings are well-populated.

    Another measure which seems to me fairly obvious, but I’ve never seen proposed, is on environmental issues – green versus, well, perhaps not red, but whatever indicates giving the environment a low priority. This too is not reflected on a traditional left-right axis and neither does it correspond to the open-shut axis. On this we’re definitely not in the centre, but presumably somewhat towards the centre compared to the Green Party.

    You could even argue for a fourth – one about the distribution of power rather than wealth or health. The largest vote ever won by a Liberal third party since 1929 was achieved by the Liberal Party in February 1974 on a programme of radical devolution and a broadly leftish set of right-left policies.

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