Wera Hobhouse: A new direction for the Liberal Democrats

Wera Hobhouse has set out her vision for the party on her website.

It’s about making a clean break with the last decade and abandoning one key element of our strategy and reigniting another.

The time for equidistance is over:

The mistake was to see our party in the political centre, standing equally between right and left. In this day and age, the biggest threat to liberalism – not just in Britain – comes from the right.

Our reasons for entering coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 were well intended, but we ended up undermining our values. We ultimately legitimised the Conservatives’ long-term illiberal, nationalist agenda.

She argues this cost us:

By aiming so much fire at Labour (rather than just distinguishing ourselves from Labour) we weakened the centre-left as a whole. As a consequence, we strengthened the Conservatives and thereby shot ourselves in the foot in the majority of constituencies where our immediate opponent was Conservative.

We need to keep open the possibility of rejoining the EU:

We were right to take an unequivocal anti-Brexit stance working with other parties on the centre-left, to set the national agenda and to successfully pressure the Labour Party into backing a People’s Vote. The Revoke position indeed proved a lot harder to explain than intended. But the clear ‘Stop Brexit’ message in the European Elections, which arose from the same unflinching, strident pro-EU position, is what catapulted us back to relevance in the national conversation in May.

Going forward we should be proud of the dynamic pro-European movement which has been at the heart of our national revival. We must keep the flame of EU membership alive as a genuine possibility for Britain, because if the flame goes out it may never be relit.

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47 Comments

  • “The Revoke position indeed proved a lot harder to explain than intended.”

    What was there to explain? It was brutally clear, that was the problem. It basically gave two fingers to democracy, the referendum result and the will of the people, not to mention our parliamentary system, political convention and the centuries old arrangement of trust between politicians and the people.

    The stance on Brexit nearly catapulted the party to oblivion because it involved trashing democracy.

  • Richard Underhill 31st May '20 - 6:09pm

    A coalition with Labour and the SNP might be needed, overturning the 2014 referendum and antagonising nationalists in England. This would need a lot of preparation and great clarity of presentation.

  • John Littler 31st May '20 - 6:37pm

    Wera is right. The only political space that the LibDems can occupy that could add up to anything at least under FPTP voting is on the centre left, differentiating itself from Labour rather than opposing them.

    Now Starmer is 19% ahead of Johnson in a poll, with Labour close to catching up the Tory ratings, the fear of Corbyn’s Labour has gone and we are entering a new era of politics. The public were slowly shifting left in some respects before the virus, but collective solutions, the big state and scientific expertise constantly paraded on TV have completely changed the narrative.

    People can now see how badly governed the UK has been under the Tories and in particular, populism in UK, USA and Brazil has shown itself of being inept and incapable of rising to serious challenges, being highly damaging to public health.

    Johnson was picked to present a cavalier front for the Tories, but that now looks like yesterday’s fluff. The worry will be that he will be ruthlessly replaced by someone less useless before the next election.

    If there is a hung parliament in 2024-5 and the Tories come knocking, even with ostensibly bigger offers it would to repeat a historic mistake to take that up. It would help to put reforms including proper PR voting as a pre-condition of talks in any manifesto

  • Laurence Cox 31st May '20 - 6:44pm

    @Richard Underhill

    If Labour need both us and the SNP to make an overall majority, that means that the Tories will be close to an overall majority on their own. Unless we win a large number of seats in the next GE, a Labour/SNP coalition is much more likely; only if we win 30 seats or thereabouts (which has to be the upper limit of our ambitions), could we be in a situation where Labour have a choice between us and SNP as coalition partners. It is difficult to see the SNP winning less than 40 Westminster seats next time and they could win as many as 55.

  • Paul Barker 31st May '20 - 6:45pm

    If this is really the best that Wera can come up with then She wont be getting my Vote.

    Wera is against Equidistance but who in The Libdems has been arguing for it in recent Years. This is setting up a straw Man to knock him down.

    Labour “backs” a Green New Deal but its fake as you can tell from the lack of screaming from Unions involved in Oil, Airlines & Motors. Labours position is Green wash.

    Labour were crippled by Corbyn & Momentum not Us.

  • John Littler 31st May '20 - 6:53pm

    Lawrence, why would Labour go in with the SNP. They have had a visceral hatred for each other for decades and primarily chase exactly the same vote, unlike others parties.
    The SNP would not offer much without the offer of an endless go at getting 50.01% in a neverendum, to break up the UK.

    If Scotland left the UK, for opposition parties to beat the Tories based on past results, it would take 1-2 generations for anyone to beat them in the rest of the UK. Johnson’s planned round of boundary manipulation, backbench MP number reduction and hammering of the Electoral Commission, HoL and Courts, would make that task even more precarious.

  • Alex Macfie 31st May '20 - 7:49pm

    We were successful in squeezing the Labour vote in seats where we were the principal challenger to the Conservatives. Where we were less successful was in persuading people to vote for us instead of Labour in those (many fewer) seats where we were challenging Labour. So Wera’s claim that “[we] shot ourselves in the foot in the majority of constituencies where our immediate opponent was Conservative” is wrong. The reason we didn’t win most of them was people voting Tory to “keep Corbyn out” (and BTW this probably included people switching from Labour to the Tories). And this fear of Corbyn wasn’t the result of anything we said or did. We simply didn’t have that much influence in the election debate, and if we had, then we would have done much better.
    I afgree with Paul Barker: “Labour were crippled by Corbyn & Momentum not Us.”

  • David Allen 31st May '20 - 7:50pm

    The SNP have long been Labour’s nightmare. The Tories convinced many voters in 2015 and 2017 that Labour could only win power through a UK-destroying alliance with the SNP. (Actually, it’s the Tories who would be the more likely to do a dirty deal with the SNP over Scottish independence, as that could gain them a huge electoral advantage in a UK-without-Scotland. But hey, when did Tories ever pay any regard to the truth when campaigning?)

    So Labour would love to convince the public that they could win a governing majority without having to depend on the 50-or-so SNP MPs. That’s a tall order.

    A resurgent Lib Dem party could help. That would give Labour more than one coalition option. It would also give the Lib Dems a fair amount of clout, in that their price might have only to be not as high as the price of losing Scotland.

  • Just to get this straight, are we now being driven by electoral strategy or policies and values ? Or do we trim the latter to accommodate the former ?

  • Ashley Thompson 31st May '20 - 9:24pm

    You trim, without betraying, your values to be palatable to the electorate, or else you stick with purity and our current total irrelevance to national politics.

  • Peter Martin 1st Jun '20 - 8:49am

    “By aiming so much fire at Labour (rather than just distinguishing ourselves from Labour) we weakened the centre-left as a whole. As a consequence, we strengthened the Conservatives and thereby shot ourselves in the foot in the majority of constituencies where our immediate opponent was Conservative”

    Yes, this is spot on.

    “We must keep the flame of EU membership alive as a genuine possibility……”

    Not quite so spot on!

    For one thing the EU wouldn’t want us back right now. They’ve got other problems they need to solve. Like how to make the eurozone function effectively. They don’t need another one. But lets see how they get on with that and try to keep a cordial relationship. Just maybe, if everything goes well for the EU, we can think of rejoining at some point but it won’t be any time soon.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Jun '20 - 9:16am

    Peter Martin: I’ve already pointed out how your first Wera quote is not so “spot on”. Soft Labour voters in Tory-held Lib Dem target seats were happy to vote for us in the hope of defeating the local Tory, even if they might have been unhappy about our anti-Labour messaging (which was necessary to get soft Tory voters onside) or (still) about our role in the Coalition. It’s in the seats we hoped to win from Labour that we didn’t do so well in attracting Labour voters — with no Tory to defeat, soft Labour voters were more likely to respond to Momentum’s dog whistle about us being supposedly “Tory enablers”.
    The biggest flaw in Wera’s analysis is the idea that our attacks on Labour “strengthened the Conservatives”, because this supposes that we had a lot more influence than we actually had in the political debate. It’s a failure in logic, because if we were the ones who had turned voters against Corbyn, then surely they would have voted for us, rather than the Tories. Of course, we hadn’t, because Corbyn was already toxic to soft Tory voters. It wasn’t us who “strengthened the Conservatives”, it was Corbyn and Momentum.

  • Steve Griffiths 1st Jun '20 - 9:57am

    Martin
    “I agree with Paul Barker and Alex Macfie (no surprise there)”. No, no surprise at all.

    “Liberals have never argued for equidistance between Left and Right, we have placed ourselves firmly on the Liberal end of the political map”.

    Oh and where is that exactly? When I joined the Liberal Party in 1970 being Liberal was firmly left of centre; indeed we referred to ourselves as being the Libertarian Left. As Matthew Huntbach put it so correctly in a recent different thread on LDV;

    “…the main point of the Liberal Party was a clear understanding of the way a “free market economy” does not deliver true freedom. We defined Liberalism as “none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” to explain why what is now called “neoliberalism” is not at all true liberalism. In fact when the Liberal Party and the SDP merged, the Liberal Party was to the left of the SDP in economics. But now, most seem to think, wrongly, that it was the opposite way round. It seems to be supposed now that the main thing the Liberal Party was about was what I joined it to oppose.”

    I also joined for the same reasons.

    Wera is also right about “shooting ourselves in the foot” in many constituencies. I find myself these days in the West Country campaigning for the Lib Dems. I canvassed the declining port town where I now live, at the 2019 GE. This town was once one of the most Lib Dem and previously Liberal parts of the constituency. The reason we now come 3rd or 4th in the ballot box here is because we walked away from left-of-centre policies and had nothing to, to say to the electorate here, that was remotely relevant to them. And they told me that in very strong terms on the doorstep. Others on other threads on LDV have said that Labour voters hate us now. I have found here, they do not. Labour members may do, but here voters told me that they do want to support us again, if only we spoke for them once more and looked like the party we once were.

    We need a leader who is unsullied by the coalition.

  • James Fowler 1st Jun '20 - 9:57am

    Lots of respect to Wera for setting out her stall so clearly. However, I strongly disagree that there is a vacant patch of political ground on the centre left. That’s where Starmer’s camped out – I like him, but what’s the point in being too obviously an auxiliary? Why not just vote Labour? Here’s what I think might be sustainable if we’re lucky and get about 20 MPs in 2024:

    Labour: Maybe confidence and supply. We’ll have to be very clear and determined about what’s in it for us though.
    Lab/SNP: A disaster for liberalism. Stay well away.
    Cons: Toxic for us now they’ve swallowed UKIP.

    Truthfully, we might do better just staying well away from them all for a while!

  • Peter Martin 1st Jun '20 - 10:14am

    @ Alex Macafie,

    ‘It wasn’t us who “strengthened the Conservatives”, it was Corbyn and Momentum.’

    This argument ignores the 40% vote obtained in 2017 when Jeremy Corbyn, Momentum and the Labour Left fought the campaign with little or no help at all from the centrists in their own party, never mind the Lib Dems. Nevertheless there was less of the hidden opposition than we experienced in period of 2017 -2019. Most of the Labour right was overconfident that Jeremy Corbyn would fail naturally and that there was no need to actually sabotage his leadership with underhand methods.

    That naturally changed afterwards.

  • John Kiely 31st May ’20 – 8:52pmPaddy ended equidistance in 1997 and felt that Tony Blair would modernise our democracy, Blair won a landslide and the radical agenda went out of the window………..
    What? Introducing a minimum wage, devolved government in Scotland/Wales, gay rights (civil Partnership), Improved employment rights, Human Rights Act, improved pensions and childcare, the most pro-EU government (before or since), increased spending on NHS, etc…Are these at odds with LibDem policies?

    His legacy is now confined to Iraq, but…..

  • Alex Macfie 1st Jun '20 - 10:52am

    Peter Martin: The 2017 election happened at the height of the “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” bubble, at a time when he was unknown to much of the electorate and got (in Nick Clegg’s words) a lot of abuse but no scrutiny. That election also featured what was probably the worst Tory campaign in living memory. A more effective Labour leader would almost certainly have easily defeated the Tories, except that they wouldn’t have got the chance because the Tories would not have dared to call an election at that time.

    Labour’s unexpectedly strong vote share in 2017 Although didn’t actually help it very much, because so much of it was simply adding to Labour majorities in seats that were already safe for the party. Corbyn (despite his Euroscepticism and hard-Left background) was popular among young metropolitan small-L liberal people who were already inclined to vote Labour, but he was very unpopular among swing voters. Nonetheless, Labour thought that it could win by “one more heave” and so tried in 2019 to refight the 2017 election. They had no chance against a much more effective Tory campaign with a simple slogan that resonated with many Leave-voting natural Labour voters (again despite Corbyn being himself a Eurosceptic — it was the whole Corbynite package that turned those voters off him), and with a bunker-dwelling Labour leadership that had been much more heavily scrutinised than before. Again, it’s likely that Labour would have seen off the Tories under a more effective leadership.

  • Peter Martin 1st Jun '20 - 11:44am

    @ Alex Macafie,

    The Labour campaign in 2019 was sabotaged, partly by the very people who were paid to run the campaign. I’ve said that the Labour right largely sat on their hands in 2017. But what was happening then was bad enough but carried on to another level in 2019. The full story on that has yet to emerge.

    We heard a lot about anti-semitism in the Labour party prior to 2019. In a party of 500,000 members there is always going to be someone who’ll say something inappropriate. That won’t change under Sir Keir Starmer. But will we hear anything about it? No we won’t. Because there’s no need for the Labour right, and their supporters, make an issue out of it any longer.

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-leak-report-corbyn-election-whatsapp-antisemitism-tories-yougov-poll-a9462456.html

  • Peter Watson 1st Jun '20 - 11:54am

    @Peter Martin In a bizarre way, it did feel as though the 2019 General Election was won by anti-Corbyn Labour MPs who had learnt from 2017 and lost by anti-Brexit Tory MPs who had not!
    The Lib Dems sided with both groups, so mixed results perhaps 😉

  • Catherine Royce 1st Jun '20 - 12:40pm

    I agree with Wera. This is the clearest and most concise strategy which encompasses our principles and values that I have read so far. Equidistance should have been buried long ago. We must put the past behind us, including the Coalition, it may have been right for the time but its history now and time to move on. if we don’t start forgiving ourselves, then no-one else will either.
    The question for today is can we do business with Starmer’s Labour on the issues of the day? -social justice (and Covid fallout) -our future relationship with Europe, -the environment and climate change, for me the answer is an unequivocal yes.
    Labour cannot defeat the Tories without us, there is a mountain to climb so we had better get started.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Jun '20 - 1:38pm

    Peter Martin: The leaking of that “report”, which was written by Corbyn loyalists to whitewash their role in Labour’s election defeat, seems very conveniently timed to embarass new Labour leader Keir Starmer. It’s probably comforting for the Corbynites to believe that their election defeat was due to a conspiracy by his opponents in the party, rather than Corbynism’s intrinsic lack of appeal to most voters. But it does not bear scrutiny. Labour’s main spokespeople during the election campaign were Corbynites, while centrists like Keir Starmer were marginalised.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Jun '20 - 2:07pm

    Peter Martin: “

    Because there’s no need for the Labour right, and their supporters, make an issue out of [anti-semitism] any longer.”

    On the contrary, Keir Starmer has already publicly vowed to root anti-semitism out of Labour. It’s not a matter of a few bad actors (and even if it were, one anti-semite is too many), but an institutional problem, and Labour will have to publicly repudiate the anti-semitism if it is to have any hope of regaining the trust of Jewish voters in particular.
    Neil Kinnock was ruthless and very public in kicking Militant out of Labour. Starmer will have to take the same approach with the left-wing fringe in Labour now if Labour is to have any hope of winning back power.

  • Peter Martin 1st Jun '20 - 2:26pm

    @ Peter Watson,

    It was so bizarre as to not make much sense at all. Yes, the Labour right won insofar as they removed Jeremy Corbyn but, in the process, they had to wave goodbye to the EU and be content to sit in opposition to Boris Johnson and the Tories for the foreseeable future.

    The Lib Dems too. But I suppose you got one extra seat in total. Is that what you mean by “mixed results”?

    @ Alex Macafie,

    Thanks for the advice.

    However, if centrism is a winning electoral formula we all might expect the Lib Dems to do a bit better than you do. You might have noticed that you guys did better when you took a left tack? Jeremy Corbyn has, over successive elections, consolidated his hold on his own constituency. For Jo S. to lose her seat once might be considered a misfortune. To lose it twice looks like carelessness.

    There’s really nothing in the polls to show that Keir Starmer is going to change the fortunes of the Labour Party. There’s no sign of any “honeymoon” bounce. We’re on 33%. You guys are on 6%. The Tories are on 49%. And that’s picking the best one! So you haven’t lost support to us and the ‘forensic’ Sir Keir.

    But maybe the DC affair will help improve the figures, but if it does it will be short term. It will all blow over one way or the other for the Tories.

    I should be sadder about that than I am! But, I can’t help thinking that all those who undermined Jeremy Corbyn with votes of no-confidence, with a refusal to serve in his cabinet and campaign in the elections will deserve their come-uppance.

    https://ukpollingreport.co.uk/

  • Barry Lofty 1st Jun '20 - 2:31pm

    I also am also impressed with what Wera has had to say, as her words are closest to how I would perceive the future of the Lib Dems. Look forward to hearing more from her.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Jun '20 - 3:12pm

    Peter Martin: Actually the best opinion poll for Labour has it at 39%, with the Tories on 43%. This is Opinium’s latest poll, and shows a reduction in the Tory lead from 12 points the previous week to 4 points. Opinium had the Tories as high as 26 points in early April. The continuous strong Tory leads and failure of Keir Starmer to cut through immediately, are due to the governing party enjoying a crisis bounce, which is now disappearing due to Cummingsgate and Starmer’s forensic scrutiny of the government. Under Corbyn the Tories would probably still be riding high in the polls.

    The difference between Labour and Lib Dems is that Labour has a tribal core vote, while the Lib Dems do not. This means there are no safe seats for us, and we have to work hard to win every seat we do win. The leader’s seat is particularly vulnerable. And the massive majorities in Corbyn’s and similar seats in recent elections are simply an example of what I wrote about earlier, Labour uselessly piling up large numbers of votes in already safe seats, with limited success among swing voters in marginal seats. Lib Dems were never as left-wing as Momentum anyway. We pitched ourselves as more radical than Labour in the later Blair era, but that wasn’t difficult when Blair was abandoning the centre-left. Lib Dems never supported the dogmatic statism, knee-jerk anti-westernism and terrorist idolatry that is characteristic of Corbynism.

  • Peter Watson 1st Jun '20 - 3:31pm

    @Peter Martin “Is that what you mean by “mixed results”?”
    Throughout last year, the Lib Dems gave the impression that they had two priorities which were, to all intents and purposes, mutually exclusive by the time of the Election: Stop Brexit and Stop Corbyn, so the party was always likely to secure one of its objectives.
    What did surprise me though, was that when push came to shove, despite all of the rhetoric, petitions and marches for 3 or more years, Stopping Corbyn seemed to be more important to the party. I suspect that might have been because, for a couple of years after the Referendum, bolstering Lib Dem support on the back of opposition to Brexit looked like it was more of a priority than actually stopping or softening Brexit. Spring 2019 gave the false impression that mass popular support had successfully been secured and based on this self-delusion the party campaigned believing that it could secure enough seats in its own right to stop both Brexit and Corbyn.

  • John Littler 1st Jun '20 - 3:39pm

    If you look at the criticism in the Guardian and Independent among many former supporters from the past 30 years, the LibDems are lacking in any radical edge to put its mildly and presenting a mushy indistinct position, which they interpret as being willing to trade sides for personal power. How they think other politicians are somewhat more entitled to power, but less covetous beats me, but that is what they think? . This was not the case under Ashdown or Kennedy and probably not under Campbell.

    The recent position emphasised this indistinct mushiness via the “one trick” policy GE position, now fairly irrelevant in a deep invisible policy void.

    There has to be a radical re-alignment or the party may be finished nationally. As it is, few LibDems get to battle it out on national TV and the SNP with 4% nationally, get far more coverage, even on purely English matters. I have written to the BBC on this, but I think they basically put the nationalists into a LibDem black hole.

    Dithering about in equidistance, waiting to repeat the 2010 mistakes would finish this party to be forever categorised as “yellow tories”. The Tories and their media portray everything good in coalition as theirs, making them look more moderate and electable, while the small left/centre media completely ignores the Libdem achievements and portrays them as vicious enablers. It was worse than pointless. It blew 30 years of desperately hard won political capital in about the first 2 months in 2010, as opinion polls sunk without trace. I am astonished that this lesson has not been learnt.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Jun '20 - 4:11pm

    Peter Martin: The site you reference, https://ukpollingreport.co.uk/, tends to be a few weeks out of date in its published opinion polls (the poll you mention giving the Tories a 16-point lead is from 7 May). Up to date polling stats can be found on Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_next_United_Kingdom_general_election
    And these show that the DC affair has seriously dented the Tories’ popularity. I disagree with your prediction that it will “blow over” for the Tories. This scandal looks like the sort that will haunt the governing party for the rest of this Parliament, as it cuts right to the heart of the Johnson/Cummings positioning as supporting the “ordinary people” against a supposed political elite. It is exposing this positioning as a lie, as it is Cummings and Johnson who are behaving like an elite, for whom the rules that they themselves created do not and should not apply. It’s like the Lib Dems over tuition fees.
    The Tories’ reputation for economic competence was shattered by black Wednesday in late 1992, causing their credibility to be so torn apart that they remained unpopular for the rest of that Parliament. The same sort of thing could happen now, if the Opposition is effective enough in holding the government to account.

  • Just a general observation … it would be good if those standing for election as party leader (and I’m not just singling out Wera here), when they deign to share their ideas on LDV, could be encouraged by the editors to please respond to and engage with any points raised in the comments – rather than merely dropping their often somewhat random and/or simplistic missives and policy/vision/strategy snippets from on high.

  • Paul Barker 1st Jun '20 - 5:35pm

    My objection to Wera attack on equidistance is that it is useless as a means of distinguishing between any of the likely Candidates; Who is backing equidistance ?

    Labour must know that the price of our Co-operation In Government At Westminster is Electoral Reform, if they dont start warming to that Idea by, say 2022 then we will know that they arent interested.

  • I had hoped for better than yet another outing of the endless ‘equidistance: more or less?’ debate that the party seems incapable of getting past.

    For, at root, the thought behind it is merely a tactical one, namely: ‘How do we position ourselves to get more votes?’ Sorry, but while that may be all important to activists, it is of no interest whatsoever to the electorate. What they want is a party with a worldview they identify with and realistic plans to improve their lives. The Lib Dems are NOT that party; they have little coherent understanding of the world outside Westminster and little interesting to say about it.

    Moreover, just after the publication of the Thornhill Review (itself the tip of the iceberg IMO), I would really expect to see some leadership, some hint of ambition to tackle the many deficiencies in party governance. It is a LEADERSHIP election after all.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Jun '20 - 7:02pm

    Peter Watson: You fundamentally misunderstand the Lib Dem strategy. Stopping Brexit and stopping Corbyn were hardly mutually exclusive, as Corbyn is and always was pro-Brexit despite pretending not to be. Indeed Corbyn as Labour leader is one of the factors that led to Brexit, as a more effective Labour leader would have campaigned more vocally and effectively for Remain in the referendum. A government led by Corbyn would have made every effort to scupper the chances of a People’s Vote, or tried to rig it so that Leave won.
    But Lib Dems were not in a position to stop Corbyn, who was already toxic with the soft Tory voters we were courting. The aim of our attacks on Corbyn was to neutralise the “Vote Lib Dem Get Corbyn” message that was coming from the Tories, and which scuppered our chances in most of our target seats against them.

  • Paul Barker 1st Jun ’20 – 5:35pm………………….Labour must know that the price of our Co-operation In Government At Westminster is Electoral Reform, if they dont start warming to that Idea by, say 2022 then we will know that they arent interested……………….

    May I refer you to Aesop’s fable about the ‘Frog and the Ox’…

  • Peter Watson 1st Jun '20 - 9:30pm

    @Alex Macfie “You fundamentally misunderstand the Lib Dem strategy.”
    As someone outside the party with more interest in the Lib Dems than most (I used to be a member and voter), then that does not reflect well on the strategy.
    The only credible means to prevent Brexit was Labour’s referendum and Lib Dems showed no interest in facilitating that. By pursuing its own interests and maintaining a very anti-Labour line, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that Brexit was less of a concern for the party than Corbyn. I suppose that an alternative possibility is that the party really did believe the Jo for PM hyperbole and planned to go it alone, but that might reflect even more poorly on the party’s credibility.
    Your theory about Corbyn’s referendum is one possibility, but equally possible is that Corbynism would have been severely limited by opponents within his own party, a need to keep the SNP (and perhaps even Lib Dems) onside, and a hostile media. We’ll never know what might have been, but we do know that the strategy that Lib Dems pursued lead to fewer Lib Dem MPs (especially when one counts the loss of additional MPs accumulated during 2019), and did not prevent Brexit or a Tory majority.
    Given that a similar tactic of working hard (perhaps too hard) to counter the “Vote Lib Dem Get Corbyn” or “Vote Lib Dem Get Milliband + Sturgeon” was hardly a success in 2017 and 2015 either, perhaps the next leader should be one who wants to try something different it the party is to appeal to a wider section of the electorate.

  • Julian Tisi 1st Jun '20 - 10:13pm

    @Peter Watson “What do people actually mean when they talk about being for or against “equidistance”? I don’t think I’ve come across anyone in the party who means the middle of wherever the Tories and Labour are. Rather it’s keeping each at arms length, supporting each policy by policy if they agree with us but otherwise expressing no particular preference. This has a pragmatic purpose, apart from anything else, namely that if we DO express a preference it pretty much kills our vote from both ends. E.G. Favour Labour and the Tories will capitalise, while Labour will suggest we’ve endorsed them and use that against us.

    “The only credible means to prevent Brexit was Labour’s referendum and Lib Dems showed no interest in facilitating that. ” I must take issue with this – Labour rejected a referendum 17 times before pivoting at the last minute. The Lib Dems made a stupid error in their Revoke policy but did make it clear we were very open to a referendum (a policy we never abandoned) so what you say isn’t true.

    Overall, well done to Wera for setting out here stall so clearly. I don’t remotely agree with what she says though and I won’t be voting for her.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Jun '20 - 11:32pm

    Peter Watson: There was nothing similar about our campaign strategies in 2015, 2017 and 2019. In 2015 we’d just come out of coalition. There was certainly no attempt to promote Nick Clegg as a potential PM, the extent of our ambitions being junior coalition partner again. Our message was rather uninspiring, reminiscent of mid-1980s SDP messaging of giving a heart to a Tory government or head to a Labour government. We fell from 57 seats to 8.
    In 2017 there was no Tim4PM message, but in sharp contrast to 2015, we ruled out coalition with either the Tories or Labour. We trod water, our share of the vote falling further but the vagaries of FPTP translating this to a net gain of 4 seats. We kept our No Coalition pledge by refusing to prop up Theresa May who had lost her majority.
    In 2019 the Jo4PM slogan seems to have been an attempt to present us as anoption for those who might have been sufficiently repulsed by the prospect of either a hard-left ideologue or a hard-right ideologue in No 10 that they would vote for a plague on both their houses. We again ruled out coalition with either because there was no realistic way of working with them. Both were anti-liberal ideologues, and in that sense had more in common with each other than with Jo and the Lib Dems. Perhaps it was naive, because they were determined to prevent any challenge to their left-right duopoly and so conspired to freeze us out. But Lib Dems had in previous campaigns been getting tied in knots by questions of what we would do in the event of a hung parliament, and that is something we wanted to avoid.
    So 3 different campaign strategies, and none of them successful in countering the “Vote Lib Dem Get <scary left-wing Labour leader>” message from the Tories. So why you think any alternative Lib Dem campaign strategy would have worked in 2019 is anybody’s guess. The best way for it not to work is for the Labour leader to be electable. “Vote Lib Dem Get Blair” didn’t work for the Tories, because nobody was scared by Tony Blair.

  • Andrew Melmoth 2nd Jun '20 - 12:32am

    The only viable, democratic route to overturning the 2016 referendum was another referendum. By opting for the Revoke policy the Lib Dems attempted to garner electoral support at Labour’s expense even at the cost of sabotaging the Remain cause. I’m always puzzled by the Brexiteers on the site that rail against Revoke. Isn’t it obvious to them that Revoke played into their hands? It meant that whatever happened they never again needed to get majority support for Brexit.

    The truth is the Lib Dems never had a serious strategy for reversing Brexit. Individuals in the party may well have wished to reverse Brexit. But the party as a whole never tried to persuade Leavers to become Remainers. The party only ever wanted Labour and Tory Remainers to become Lib Dem Remainers.

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Jun '20 - 1:03pm

    Laurence Cox 31st May ’20 – 6:44pm I do want to make major gains quickly, don’t you?
    When I wrote in the Liberal Democrat News that we should give the new Tory chairman an early bath I did not know that our local party would change its parliamentary candidate. The previous Tory chairman had made a self-deprecating speech at the Savoy Hotel in London, listing the occurrences as “the resignation of a Prime Minister” (Mrs Thatcher). Our party had not published a list of target seats, although others had made deductions from previous electoral results and press speculation had noted the effect of the community charge (poll tax) and the universal business rate on an area with lots of antique dealers with valuable stock in large premises.
    Ribble Valley in Lancashire was not like that, there were lots of smallish houses with occupants who disliked the increased costs that their Tory government had imposed on them.
    I also asked “has Paul Jacobs been an agent before?” thinking that our readership would know that the answer was the Eastbourne bye-election which our party had won among Tory complacency. He was also the agent in the Kincardine and Deeside bye-election, which our party won after Ribble Valley, in which the then Tory candidate had loyally supported the poll tax and caused himself a nervous breakdown when he lost a seat held with a Tory majority of more than 19,000 and in which their previous MP had been sent by John Major to lead the Lords after Mrs Thatcher had put him in the Home Office as a hanger and flogger. She had voted for capital punishment, anathema to a Liberal, while her then Home Secretary Douglas Hurd, later at FCO, had spoken and voted against it.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Jun '20 - 2:48pm

    Leadership is personality more than policy, David raw shows here often the great quality of Grimond could bring him support from all wings by his strong personal and yes, political manetism.

    Blair had it, Charles Kennedy, Paddy Ashdown.

    Wera does not have what is the only thing gets this party noticed, the personality that emerges and relates to Jo and Jane Bloggs.

    I campaigned for and voted for another Jo, Jo Swinson, who also did not have it though she has a lot of strong qualities, including charisma.

    Talk of equidistance or otherwise is secondary to these aspects.

    It’s Layla or goodness knows who?!

  • There are an awful lot of past battles being poured over. Not many people are talking about the issues of the future.

    Policies need to be boiled down more effectively, instead of piled up high in micro-details nobody will read:

    Green issues, the transforming of energy systems and the economy to reflect the crisis

    Economic issues, transforming companies, promoting exports, improving technology transfer and overseas links

    Technology issues, harnessing the high tech changes to physical and white collar work that are are arriving fast and changing the welfare state and the workplace to support, protect and benefit workers and consumers. To own the future and not try and fail to stop it

    People issues, increasing opportunity & training, boosting poorer areas,
    Improving infrastructure, housing & public transport

    Tax issues, shifting the burden away from poorer people and the productive end of the economy towards land and the rentier economy, simplifying the tax code to cut loop holes and bring more revenue in

    The LibDems need to take these issues on and attempt to own them, or Labour will outbid them and blow them away. The Tories will instead try to pork barrel they way back to power by purchasing the vote on borrowed public money and using their new fake news techniques to win. If it fails someone else picks up the bills. If it wins, Johnson will kick the can down the road to stay in power. He is no Osborne.

    The LibDems are at the last chance saloon and it will take inspiration just to get back to where we were 2-3 decades ago, let alone seize the moment. Keir offers the possibility of getting into a pre-election pact over reforms including PR. If we mess that up, I will probably never live to see this country properly represented or at the heights opportunity of what it could be

    Meanwhile Freedman, Hayek, Adam Smith and their successors are about as relevant as a better buggy whip in the era of Henry Ford

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Jun '20 - 7:14pm

    Laurence Cox 31st May ’20 – 6:44pm
    “events , dear boy, events.”

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Jun '20 - 7:23pm

    John 2nd Jun ’20 – 5:47pm
    Sir Keir Starmer has his own timeline, to root out anti-Semitism.
    Have a look at Paddy Ashdown’s memoirs, photos with Tony Blair (close) and John Major (distant).

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Jun '20 - 7:24pm

    John 2nd Jun ’20 – 5:47pm
    Which Henry Ford?

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