We can learn from UKIP!

UKIP is dead in the water. Their voters have swung to a Tory party committed to Brexit with no final consultation and the opening new grammar schools, both signature policies of UKIP: their task is done.

Meanwhile, we Lib Dems are bigger than we’ve ever been; and yet in spite of a 2% swing to us, we are not making the gains we deserve. Both Labour and the Tories have sticky voters who aren’t coming over to us: if Corbyn was as much of a dead weight as people say, I would expect a bigger swing from Labour; and Tory voters seem optimistic the consequences of Brexit can be weathered in a safe pair of government hands.

We need to learn from UKIP. To be victims of our own success would be a great pleasure. As most people see it, we are victims of our own stupidity; the one totem policy people associated with us got dropped. The ins-and-outs of policy do not matter to the man on the street. The strides we made in government, of which we are rightly proud, simply aren’t important.

Where we won the battle but lost the war UKIP has managed to bring two ludicrous policies from the fringe into the mainstream without any significant representation in Parliament. UKIP did not fight Europhilia on the virtues or vices of the European Arrest Warrant or regional investment; it fought on the basis of un-elected Eurocrats and arcane bureaucracy limiting the choices of the British people and its government. Emotive, simple subjects anyone can understand as a point of principle: Britain should say who it lets in and send home anyone it doesn’t want.

Likewise, we Lib Dems should be fighting for local politicians to control local services. This is a point of principle: local decisions should not be made by politicians in London, who not only aren’t connected to the area but often aren’t even voted for by a majority within that area. Local people should control as much of their own money as possible: that means proper representation at multiple levels of the state.
We can complain about issues of the day like NHS waiting times, grammar schools and education funding but these promote our opponents’ world view: that the moral aspect of public policy is exclusively utilitarian. No: to us, these matters are the consequences of a corrupt, immoral system.

I advocate a break with Lib Dem campaigns of the past: it is no good to prepare for government. Look where government got us. We have to pull other parties into a debate we set the moral tenor of, as UKIP did to Labour and the Tories. Unlike UKIP we are not going to pull the rug from under ourselves. We must promote reform by appealing to simple moral binaries and local identities: we can only prepare for a government we are prepared to be in.

* Toby MacDonnell is a Lib Dem member. He is a graduate in history from Sussex university reading Keynes and Baudrillard in preparation for postgraduate studies.

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  • Eddie Sammon 6th May '17 - 2:09pm

    I find there’s lots of pragmatic Lib Dems who want to change things and win power too. No point doing a UKIP kamikaze act.

    No one wants to campaign heavily and then lose. The party should just tweak things and target broadly the centre-ground. There must be loads of people who want a strong government but don’t want it to be Theresa May’s UKIP tribute band.

  • I definitely agree, at least, with the idea of talking to local people about local issues. After all, MPs represent constituencies, and every constituency has its own issues. Liberal Democrats are traditionally very good at this. UKIP, I hope has been made clear after their disastrous local election results, are not.

  • I would take out commitment to localism more seriously if we didn’t squeak about ‘postcode lotteries’ the moment service provision shows any sign of varying.

  • Our, not out.

  • Sue Sutherland 6th May '17 - 3:03pm

    Interesting reading about dead cats Toby. It made me realise that we have almost gone back to Roman politics when the populace were bribed by food and drink to vote in a particular way. However I agree that our policy of localism should be simplified, particularly if it’s treated as a “Londoners keep telling us what to do when they don’t know anything about it” matter.
    If we do manage a significant increase in the number of our MPs I’d like to see us stop adhering to Parliamentary conventions as a signal that we are different. As a start we could stop referring to people in the House of Lords by their title. We don’t agree with the system so why do we obey it? Let’s also clap a good speech and carry on doing it.
    Tim is a good leader to have if we want to rock the boat. IMO the tuition fees disaster was as much about the fact that it showed us to be just the same as the other parties rather than the fact we broke a promise.
    We have to be superficial to be a success in these days of sound bites so let’s go for it big time!

  • Richard Underhill 6th May '17 - 3:26pm

    “Britain should say who it lets in and send home anyone it doesn’t want.” That is existing policy. Admittedly the Blair-Brown government stuck literally to the spending plans of the previous Tory government, so there was for a while no money for deportations or administrative removals, relying on Carriers’ Liability and the Anglo-French Gentlemens’ Agreement.
    Returning someone to the country of his/her nationality depends on that country accepting the person. Some countries are unhelpful, Iran for instance, passport needed, or the Peoples’ Republic of China, which has 50 million illegal migrants within China, working illegally away from their home base. The “Democratic” Republic of Congo had passports so easy to forge that the ink would run from sweat or rain in the holder’s pocket. Somalia has/had no effective government at all.

  • Richard Underhill 6th May '17 - 3:28pm

    Sue Sutherland 6th May ’17 – 3:03pm ? Or Tammany Hall in New York? (formerly New Amsterdam)

  • paul barker 6th May '17 - 3:53pm

    Totally wrong.
    Tims long-term strategy is correct, we replace Labour as the main Party of the Centre-Left. Labours decline will continue after June, Corbyn will stay in place until a Far-Left succsessor is in place. Politics doesnt end on June 8th & nor does our recovery.

  • I think the Lib Dem’s issue most of the time is that they try to be far too clever for their own good and end up tying themselves up in knots.

    There is a need to articulate complicated issues simply so that most people can understand.

    This is not being condescending to voters, but simply facing and accepting facts.

    What is the average reading age of the general population?

    What is the average reading age of Lib Dem members?

    What does this mean when trying to communicate a message?

    Political correctness is all very well but it does not get you understood.

    There was a debate on here many months ago on “what do the Lib Dems stand for”.

    How is this communicated?

    We tied ourselves in knots again through a total inability to communicate simply and succinctly to people who are not activists/supporters, what we stand for.

    This is and remains the key issue.

    How many Lib Dem politicians do the public know and respect?
    How many Lib Dem policies do the people know and respect?

    The Lib Dems are most successful when they have public figures who are respected and trusted and policies that are simple to understand and have popular appeal in line with Lib Dem core values.

    The issue I think is over complicating, over thinking, fearing over offending and trying to appeal and assease all of the group most of the time.

    This leads to copious knot tying.

    “Keep it simple stupid” – is not abad a piece of advice as it may sound to more educated ears.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th May '17 - 4:33pm

    Paul Barker, if that is the aim of Tim, we need to be far more exciting and far more mainstream, radical and moderate, Therefore from Tim less hysterical May bashing on every single news appearance and a measure of gravitas , he has , displayed more.

    Mike S, we tend to agree with each other, you talk sense, and sense can be simple, and shared, you have called me Mr. Common Sense, it is rarer than some think , but you share it too !

  • Peter Martin 6th May '17 - 4:48pm

    “reading Keynes and Baudrillard in preparation for postgraduate studies”

    I can’t comment too much on Baudrillard, but Keynes is my favourite Liberal! It’s a pity that the current Lib Dem leadership have rejected his economic insights.

    You might want to read Kalecki and Abba Lerner too. The three of them provided the economic groundwork which ensured that growth continued after WW2 and there was no repetition of the 30’s depression which led directly to that war.

    The EU like to claim the credit for no more European wars though. Which is somewhat galling as they have effectively outlawed Keynesian economics within the eurozone and all EU economies which are in alignment for the EZ. That’s why we have the problems we do.

    I’m not really sure we can learn that much from UKIP. Maybe your next article could be titled ‘What we can learn from Keynes’ ?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th May '17 - 5:23pm


    I think Tim is doing a very fine job , is a very fine man, and a very fine leader.

    It means when I say on some things he is getting it wrong , or not quite right, it is me being constructive as I think , you are trying to be in your article which is also analytical.

  • Phil Wainewright 6th May '17 - 5:34pm

    Toby, I like the thrust of your argument – we are too reasonable in asserting our beliefs, we could do with more of a dead-cat approach and yes it is all about valence not evidence.
    But if I may play devil’s advocate for a moment, I don’t understand how localism works as a dead cat. Why would people want their lives to be run by local politicians who they don’t trust rather than Whitehall politicians or eurocrats who they don’t trust? At least there’s some visibility and accountability at a national level, whereas hardly anyone even bothers to vote at local elections.

  • Besides, I believe that people use NHS for things like IVF, non-essential cosmetic surgeries, or transgender operations must be excluded from free healthcare. Besides, those suffer from obesity and diabetes due to unhealthy lifestyle must pay extra fees. We must prevent moral hazard.

  • I suspect that most LibDem voters would abandon the party if we go down the road of trying to either out-UKIP UKIP or emulating its methods on any issue.

  • Thomas

    How about charging for missed GP / hospital appointments currently costing the NHS £ 1 billion, not to mention the billions lost to health tourism.

  • Thomas,

    The operations you wish to ban are not luxuries, they can have devastating effects on the mental health of people who are denied them. As too your other suggestions about paying extra fees, a lot wouldn’t be able too, should they die Thomas and reduce the surplus population?

    We all indulge in moral hazard Thomas and I don”t want people like you telling me what to do and that is what you would like the government to indulge in. Nanny knows best isn’t appealing, especially as she seldom does.

  • This needs fleshing out, but the principle is very sound.

    Conservative and Labour have for ever each had policy areas where the public as a whole trusts them more than anyone else. People trust Labour more on the NHS and trust the Conservatives more on defence. Occasional leaders may manage to defuse the issue a bit for their parties – Cameron was good on the NHS, Blair was good on crime and defence – but the best you can do is defuse it, not own it.

    We don’t have an equivalent. We used to be known for electoral reform but frankly the public don’t care. Now its Brexit, but just over half oppose us. Localism is good LibDem stuff and both the other parties are absolute rubbish at it. It also goes to the heart of “Taking back control” – the sense that “them” (Brussels, Westminster, whoever) don’t understand.

  • I like many other lib dems supporters were a little bit disappointed with the apparent lack of increase in the number of seats in the local elections. But it was encouraging to see an increase in the actual share of the vote.
    I read today that if lib dems are elected we would increase income tax by 1% across the board. To help fund the NHS
    Whilst I agree there is a real need to get more funding into the NHS ,i am concerned about the impact on low income families like myself. The Lib dems made a real difference to people on low incomes by raising the Tax Theshold whilst in government. Would it not be better to raise tax for higher earners. Also if the party want to garner support in Labour seats would not the threat of higher tax for lower income hinder gaining support in these seats? So yes i fully agree The NHS needs more funding but does it have to be the lower income people who are already struggling have to pay more tax .
    I joined the Party 2 years ago and really look forward to us moving forward and continuing to gain support across the country

  • @ Toby MacDonnell
    Your article about dead cats was interesting. “Take back control” as a Lib Dem slogan sounds good, but for UKIP the way to do it was easy – leave the EU and it didn’t cost any money. Take back control could mean direct democracy for local government and I don’t mean government by referendum. Could every decision be made by those who can be bothered to turn up? If a school is proposed for closing can every adult in the catchment area decide if this should happen? If more houses are to be built for a town can every adult in the area come together to discuss it? How big a discussion chamber will be needed?

    If we are not suggesting that every adult should have direct control by attending the meeting which makes the decision, then how do we give them control? Would we promise than no ward would have more than 2000 voters to enable the candidates to try to meet everyone during an election campaign? Would there be single member wards with elections every year so people have control? Would we ensure that decisions could always be considered again after each election and ensure no council has a rule stating the same topic can’t be discussed within a certain period? Do we restrict the population size of councils to 200,000 voters to ensure no council has more than 100 councillors? Do we have an indirect democracy for larger authorities and again elected every year maybe by STV with these people being accountable to the lower council and the lower level councillors accountable for the decisions that the higher level councillors made? So that if a voter doesn’t like the decision made by the higher level councillor they can vote for a councillor who didn’t vote for that higher level councillor.

    We could elect the UK second chamber in the same way – indirectly every year. According to the ONS there are 42.68 million people in the UK aged between 16 and 64 and 11.54 million over 64 making 54.22. If members of the second chamber represented one council area assuming all had 200,000 voters there would be 272 members and with an average council size of 150,000 there would be 362.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th May '17 - 1:15am


    I believe in individual and social responsibility.

    I am a critic , though a supporter , of the model of the EU , but also of the NHS.

    The people you mention , being charged more or differently , would have to include smokers, by a degree of justice, but they pay massive duty on cigarettes. You site people who have diseases that are often not their fault at all, and even if complicit, health care is not a form of criminal justice, innocent , guilty, not proven, but social justice, proven, in need, treatment !

    To involve those who need IVF, or worse, those who are transgender, as if somehow trivial, is an insult to intelligence as much as an abrogation of human decency.

    We need a more responsible society . There are those who do need more in the way of a lesson found in a punishment , in the criminal justice system.

    Keep the social justice as it should be.

    With equality at its heart.And a heart the equal of any other aspect .

  • Lorenzo Cherin – Diseases may be not as you say, but accidents could be. I mean, someone can suffer from traffic accidents because he violates traffic laws.

  • To an extent this is happening already, for example now we have equal marriage, gay rights is no longer the vote draw away from the Tories they would have been in the past..

  • Not wishing to rain on the localism parade, but the popularity of ‘take back control’ was due to it being from ‘Brussels’ – mythical bogeymen (foreigners, to boot) our tabloid press had been scaring readers with for decades.

    Wales has ‘taken back control’ of lots of areas – and very few people feel more empowered, or happier, as a result. Cardiff feels more remote than Westminster in some ways: think it was the Western Mail visited various towns, with cardboard cutouts of the party leaders a few years ago, and very few members of the public could name any of them.

    What the Welsh Assembly DOES get, as a reaction, is “more snouts in the trough”. And whenever council cuts are announced, they are met with howls of ‘cut councillors’ allowances’, ‘cut the officers’ salaries,’ so more councillors/officers would be seen as the same.

    As for giving people a direct say in everything: if you leave it to existing residents, no houses would ever be built anywhere, and; no school or facility would ever be shut, however economically costly/unviable.

  • You don’t use short emotional slogans to communicate our views because most voters are not clever enough to understand complex policies; you do it because they are too busy with the rest of their life to do so.
    It’s not about intelligence – I’ve worked most of my life in high tech industry with very clever people, who would misunderstand or ignore an email if it didn’t make its point in the first paragraph. Or even first line! They were simply too busy to read the rest, unless it was something they really wanted to know.
    That is why a good FOCUS has a big photo that tells the story, and a small amount of text in 14 point or larger. (As a volunteer printer, I often despair at the page of tiny print I’ve been asked to print!)
    We need the detail for ourselves, and those who want to see that there is a well thought out policy behind the slogans, but that should go on our web sites, not in our press releases and leaflets – though do include a link to it!

  • @ Toby MacDonnell

    How do I have control if I am one of 10,000 voters or with STV maybe 20,000 voters in a ward? The larger the number of voters the less control each voter has. I am not convinced that STV improves voter control. Under FPTP a small change in the voter share can have a disproportional difference in outcome. Under STV a 5% decline in your vote should result in a 5% decline in representation. However AV with one member wards would be OK and should increase councillor turnover and accountability.

    I think there are 326 councils excluding joint and county and these could be the basis rather than having a total reorganisation, but the largest with populations over 200,000 would need re-organising, which might have a knock on affect.

    Giving more powers to these local authorities would be good – schools, police, council housing, buses, trams, and maybe doctor and dentist NHS surgeries etc. And perhaps look at the powers local government had in the past and restore them as well.

    We could have local income taxes and local capital taxes as well as property taxes.

    Also we should abolish elective dictatorship such as elected mayors and the cabinet style of local government and return decision making to every councillor.

  • @ Toby MacDonnell
    “Micheal, you agree with me on every point except proportional representation giving more power to the people” (sic).

    If 6 people are elected with an electorate of 20,000 and a turnout of 70% over 2,000 people can end up unrepresented. No candidate can meet the majority of the electorate during the campaign. People have to vote based on party. However with AV in one member wards of 2000 electors only less than 700 are unrepresented. Every candidate can meet the majority of the electorate and the majority of the electors can meet the candidates and know what they support and hopefully know what they supported in the past if they were a councillor. This small electorate makes the councillor accountable in a way that being one of six with an electorate of 20,000 does not.

    In an STV election there is little need for those elected to try to represent everyone they can depend on their share of the vote to get them elected no matter how unpopular they are with the majority of the electorate in the area represented. With AV no candidate can be elected if they are unpopular with the majority of their small electorate.

    With all wards having a maximum of 2000 electors it is more likely that the overall result will be proportional and this likelihood is increased with AV.

    The way you define “control” makes it sound conservative. Control should never be about “stability” it has to be about accountability. With elections every year unpopular decisions can be quickly overturned as a visual sign of control being with the people.

  • I do accept the “Burkean idea of representation” rather than the modern one. But your view and my view are not really that important. You wish to promise the people that a vote for the Liberal Democrats will be a vote for them to “take back control” in the same way it was seen when voting UKIP. I understand this. I also understand that the public must understand what “taking back control” means. In my vision it is clear, yearly elections; small wards where the people do not see those elected as distant politicians, but where those elected can be part of the community and replaced quickly. (In my vision independents will find it much easier to get elected.) Your alternative with STV and lots of councillors always being elected and possibly the same parties then forming coalitions, which might be as unchanging as the current system I don’t think will be seen as “taking back control”.

    I am not trying to achieve “good government” or a better proportional representation (in the modern sense rather than the “Burkean” one). I am trying to persuade you that “taking back control” has to be seen by the public as giving them control and my vision does this but I don’t think your does. Your vision is complex and you have written there is no room for complexity. You wrote people think politicians are all in it for themselves. The message should be simple – take back control by electing councillors in small wards where everyone can know their councillor and their councillor is not a distant politician in it just for themselves.

    I don’t understand why it is good for councillors to be concerned with “politics” rather than doing what they consider to be best for those people living in their ward. I can’t imagine that the public will believe that having career politicians with experience of government is better than having someone who votes the way they promised. When I was elected a councillor there were many councillors who felt I needed to gain experience of being a councillor before I tried to persuade them how to vote, luckily for me they were in a minority and I look back at my first year as a councillor as my most successful (this might of course be also because the Conservatives had just lost their majority).

  • “the Lib Dems can influence the other two parties from the outside by forcing them to respond to the claim that they support an immoral system”

    And when the other parties shrug and dismiss this as the same old Lib Dems whining because they aren’t needed to form a coalition any longer.. well, what then? Talk of the system is too abstract for most voters and risks sounding like the sort of crazy talk in which Corbyn and cronies now specialize.

    UKIP achieved the results they did because they could frighten the more moderate Tories with the spectre of the right wing splitting off to join them out of a desire for self-preservation, combined with the backing of the bigoted jingo press. That toxic blend scared Cameron into yet another weak, short-term gamble – and this time he lost his shirt, as gamblers always ultimately do. The Lib Dems have no such leverage.

  • Toby, I am saddened by your response. It sounds to me an answer from the “political class”. I don’t think people think that local politicians are any better than national ones, on the doorstep they say – “you are all the same”. As you correctly identified “people think politicians are all in it for themselves”.

    In my Borough we have elections every year – three years of Borough and one County. There is no need for a council to be controlled for years by one group of politicians, the benefit is course so all the unpopular decisions can be made early in the hope that the electorate will have forgotten them in four years’ time.

    Of course elections are disruptive they are meant to be. Without elections the same people can continue on and on to make decisions and never be disrupted. I think of “good government” as a Conservative argument to discourage ordinary people from wanting to stand. I don’t recognise the concepts of “good” or “evil” government. A government is corrupt or not corrupt; it tries to benefits everyone or a few; it is elected or not.

    I thought you agreed with the abolishing of elected mayors and the cabinet system so that power within councils can be returned to all councillors away from the few. I want responsive government. I don’t think it is hard to make decisions as a councillor, anyone can do it.

    To be clear I have accepted that “taking back control” could work for us, but we have to mean it, we have to give control back to the people and not allow local politicians to have power for more than a year at a time. I reject “elective dictatorships” in all its forms.

  • Toby I wonder if you understand that I am advocating one year terms only for local government? I am not advocating direct government because it would require everyone having the time to make considered decisions. In a world where no one needs to work I would advocate direct government.

    There are no practical concerns which would make my system unworkable. It is only that you don’t like it. It also might be you don’t have the experience of working politically in an area where there are local elections every year. It might be you have never been a councillor and so are not aware of the training available for new councillors (both formal from the council and informal from their group).

    I don’t think that Borough councillors where I live are “electioneering” all year long to the detriment of good decision making. However I do recommend that they start knocking on doors as early as possible because it is impossible to knock on them all in a four or five week campaign. With only 2000 electors there would be about 1350 doors to knock on, which one person should be able to do in 23 campaign sessions (days).

    Normally I would be happy to campaign for STV for local council elections. However it is only in the context of a campaign to “take back control” that my suggestion becomes important. Without my suggestion, people will feel conned, we will have promised that we would let them “take back control” but under your suggestion they will not have taken back control; control will be in the hands of long-term politicians, secure in their office for four years.

    I think it is shame that you can’t recognise the logic of your position that to promise people that “they can take back control” it has to involve meaningful change so that people will feel they do have control. It is this part of your vision that I am criticising and making a suggestion to improve it so it does what it says on the tin.

  • There is no evidence that areas which have local elections every year have lower turnouts that those that have them every four years. Earlier you had praised the involvement of parties against my suggestion which would make it easier for independents to get elected. Such small wards would encourage those nominated to actually contact the voters knowing a personal visit could change the result, unlike now where in local elections there are safe seats where the politicians know who will be elected before a vote is cast. With huge electorates and STV candidates and political parties will know they can get a certain number of councillors elected without doing much. It is activity and competition during an election in the local area which increases turnout.

    I never said you should be a professional politician I only suggested that you lacked experience of how councillors are trained and how easy the job is. As I reject the cabinet system I also reject that the major role of a councillor is scrutiny. In the same way as I reject the idea that councillors should be experts.

    I really like your idea, but I think it is doomed to failure because the people will see that you are not interested in giving they control; you are only interested in them voting once every four years for experts to decide what is best for them. We have been calling for more power for local government and STV elections for decades and it hasn’t caught the imagination of the people. This is why I think adding the idea of “taking back control” is a good idea, but we should have learnt we should not promise something we will not delivery. As I haven’t convinced you that it has to do what it says on the tin I can go back to hoping that one day we will be in government again and part of any deal will include STV elections for local government without a referendum as happened in Scotland as a stepping stone for STV for the UK Parliament.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Aug '17 - 4:58pm

    Page 2 column 5 of the I of 16/8/2017 is headlined
    “Tory MP faces trial on expenses charges”
    “Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay will face a six-week jury trial next May on charges of making false declarations over his 2015 general election expenses. The 50-year old South Thanet MP, who beat Nigel Farage to take the seat, appeared at Southwark Crown Court yesterday.”

  • Richard Underhill 18th Dec '17 - 11:04am

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craig_Mackinlay was re-elected as a Tory MP in 2017.
    I do not know what effect that would have on the trial.
    On 18/12/2017 my unsolicited business direct mail contained a glossy leaflet from UKIP and the group it belongs to in the European Parliament the EFD, with colour photos of a young looking Nigel Farage and Ray Finch. It criticises the £20 billion ‘divorce bill’ and expresses their views on immigration from the EU until 2021.
    We should not be complacent.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jan '18 - 9:54pm
  • Richard Underhill 16th Jan '18 - 9:48am

    Was David Cameron wrong to say that that UKIP contains some “closet” racists?

  • Richard Underhill 20th Jan '18 - 9:12am

    UKIP loses another MEP as Jonathan Arnott quits party

  • Richard Underhill 10th Dec '18 - 12:50pm

    There has been a succession of leading UKIPpers leaving, most recently Nigel Farage.

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