What might a “Citizens’ Britain” local election campaign look like?

At the end of last year, Ian Kearns and I published a short report called Citizens’ Britain: a radical agenda for the 2020s. The title was in homage to Paddy Ashdown’s book of the same title from 1989, and the core of the approach remains exactly the same: we see the task of liberalism today as being to put more power in more people’s hands. We quote Paddy to start the report:

“A society cannot be free and is very unlikely to be successful for long unless the men and women in it have real power to determine their own destiny. The one thing that unfailingly gives me satisfaction in politics is to watch those who have been taught they are the subject of others’ power, rise to meet the challenge of power in their own hands – and then be unbelieving at what they are able to do.”

With elections coming up all over the country, I wanted to share an idea as to what it might look like to put this spirit at the heart of Lib Dem communications. I reckon it would look something like this…

Now, obviously this footage is a bit out of date, but I reckon you’ll get the idea. It’s taken from interviews I did with three Lib Dem activists about their activism during the first lockdown last spring: Josh Babarinde of Eastbourne Lib Dems; Jo Conchie, now standing for Police and Crime Commissioner in Cheshire; and Liz Barrett, recently elected as a Councillor in Perth.

My intention is to demonstrate what a low-budget campaign to celebrate “21st century community politics” – the politics of a Citizens’ Britain – might look like. It took me and a friend just a few hours to record the interviews and edit them together. I reckon if we wanted to pursue an approach like this, there would be hundreds of stories from all around the country we could tell. I think it would position us as a party right where we should be, as the party of the citizen, getting stuck in and using the power we have to make things better, through actions rather than words. I think it would make us all prouder to be Lib Dems, and make more people want to join us.

I’d love to know what you think.

* Jon Alexander is a member of the council of the Social Liberal Forum and of Sevenoaks, Dartford and Gravesham Liberal Democrats

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  • Admirable…… but raising a few questions. Is this really a Liberal Democrat Party campaign or is it what a good Councillor of any party would do ? Do you have to be a Liberal Democrat to do it ?

    The film starts : “This is not an official Liberal Democrat communication”.
    Ms Conchie says, “We didn’t do it to be political”.
    Councillor Barrett, “when lockdown started the first thing we did was get involved in the local Food Bank”.

    Good and worthy stuff – the sort of thing I did back in 1972 as a Liberal Councillor in Kendal and no doubt what David Evans and John Marriott did too. But – I became Chair of a Food Bank five years ago when I stepped down as a Lib Dem Councillor after seeing how the national policies pursued by the party in 2010-15 had actually increased poverty and the need for food banks.

    There’s more to politics than being a nice well intentioned person. It’s about the party having (and implementing) good policies, about telling it as it really is. It’s not authentic to disguise a political label or pretend to be something you’re not. If it’s difficult to do because of the actual record of the party then there is a genuine problem of authenticity. People are not taken in because the label is covered up on the tin.

    It’s something only the Party Leader and the Parliamentary representatives can deal with….. however awkward and difficult that may be. The general public needs to see evidence the leopard has changed it’s spots. The Leader and MPs/Lords have yet to do it.

    As Elton John used to sing, “Sorry is (and continues to be) the hardest word”.

  • neil James sandison 4th Feb '21 - 11:05pm

    There comes a time when all political parties remodel and re-invent themselves . Blair did it with New Labour , Cameron did it with the nasty party conservatives . The question remains open as to if Steady Eddie has got what it takes to re-engage the Liberal Democrats and return the party as the top community champions in British politics .

  • David Evans 5th Feb '21 - 8:07am

    I agree with David and Neil completely. One key difference is that Tony Blair’s re-invention worked, and David Cameron’s worked, but only while our MPs were there to save him from the ERG.

    Nick Clegg’s re-invention of the Lib Dems, however, totally failed as we all know and indeed we need to revert to what worked before then not do a new re-invention.

  • James Moore 5th Feb '21 - 8:54am

    One of the reasons so many people rallied to community politics in the past was strong national leadership and national messaging. That gave local activists and candidates the confidence that their efforts weren’t being wasted.

    Paddy was particularly effective at giving the party a sense of purpose and self-belief – even when we were on 6% or an asterisk in the polls, people locally still had the belief they could win.

    Whoever leads the Liberal Democrats in the future needs to recapture that, whether it be Daisy Cooper or someone else.

  • Paul Holmes 5th Feb '21 - 10:13am

    The need for a Laws/Clegg plan to ‘reinvent’ the Lib Dems always escaped me. When Nick appeared on the Parliamentary scene in 2005 it was as a result of a General Election where we had just elected 62 MP’s -our greatest number since 1922. This in turn followed a previous record breaker in 2001 and another in 1997. We were also a strong presence in the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament, among MEP’s and running Councils across the country. We had averaged 20% of the vote across all the GE’s from 1974 to 2005, but in the last 3 had learned how to start turning that into increased seats, even under FPTP.

    We were being told however that all this was not good enough, it was too slow. We had to be ‘rescued from the ‘Soggy Socialists’ said Laws in the Orange Book. From 2010 onwards we were told we could happily ditch two thirds of our previous support, because ‘Liberal Conservatives’ would flock to our banner to replace them as soon as we had proved we were economically safe in the Coalition. That is, as soon as we had owned ‘the cuts’ and reduced taxes.

    Well, if the record breaking success levels of 1997-2005 were too slow, I have yet to see Laws, Clegg and Co admit that their disastrous experiment was responsible for all but destroying us.

  • David Raw,
    I cannot comment on the other contributors, but I can for Jo Conchie.
    Jo is from Winsford, apart from two LDs (not including Jo) all other Town Cllrs are Labour. With the odd exception all are placemen/women, more interested in internal Labour fights than fighting for their communities.
    Without this initiative many people in Winsford would have been worse off. Jo did this because she believes in making life better for people by actions, not theorising and posturing, she was echoing your past work in Kendal.
    It is in our Lib Dem (and Liberal Party) DNA to do this, some in other parties have a similar outlook but my experience they are in a minority. It is part of our base philosophy, as Paul Holmes said Clegg and co tried to change that, look where it got us and we are still paying the price.

  • David Garlick 5th Feb '21 - 8:27pm

    @Paul Holmes. The absence of comment suggests to me that you are indeed reporting fairly and as I see it accurately on the disaster that was the coalition and the thinking behind it. Hopefully the Party has learned the lesson and would not allow such self indulgent thinking to gain traction ever again.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Feb '21 - 12:04am

    Jon, well done with the video, but I would recommend you doing a more up-to-date one. Lib Dems having the philosophy and the tradition of community politics will have been active in this admirable sort of work up and down the country, as your video indeed suggests. Our leader Ed Davey has been out and about too, supporting the efforts, and I seem to remember organising country-wide as well. Fortunately the Virus has anyway it seems to me brought about a kinder, more sympathetic spirit nationwide, with so much anxiety and grief to be shared, and so many people losing their jobs and having to go on universal credit. I think people who can do so have generally offered help to their neighbours, so that in my own local community the organised help isn’t party political at all, but the Lib Dem activists of course do their share and will be seen to do so.

    When the friendly spirit dies down and people suffer more from Brexit red tape and price rises, our party will need to take centre stage, not to remind people that we were right about Brexit (well, not too irritatingly!) but to offer a genuine National Renewal Plan, incorporating the Beveridge-2 Plan the details of which we shall need to start working out. Some details are obvious – if gas and electricity charges are going up, drop any charges and limitations on much-needed welfare support as a start.

  • The article starts well with the assertion that men and women should have “real power to determine their own destiny”. Thats great, infact it lies at the very core of my own politcal beliefs. But before long we have a video with lib dem activists talking about how they became active in very practicle ways in their own communities. Now, forgive me, but showing OUR commitment to our community and providing opportunities for OTHERS to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives are two very different things.
    Food banks are mentioned as focuses of local community action. My local food bank has announced on its website that it doesn’t want any more volunteers and its board of trustees is dominated by wealthy local businessmen, who also sit on parish councils etc etc.. Same old faces, same old story. What the political scientists call Elite Capture, I believe. And where, in any of this, is the real transfer of power to ordinary people ?

  • Peter Chambers 6th Feb '21 - 4:18pm

    @Paul Holmes A concise model for the Clegg/Laws project is the Apollo space mission. There are various lower stages, connectors, and a Service Module. Only the Command Module makes it into the firmament. The other stages have the task of ensuring that happens, and then they fall into the sea or burn up in the atmosphere. Hollywood keeps making films about it.

    The Lib Dems of 1992 were about building one sort of organisation. Those of 2008 were building a different sort.

  • “Those of 2008 were building a different sort”.

    I’m afraid not, they were demolition contractors learning their trade on their own house.

  • @ Paul Holmes

    I think you are oversimplifying a few things here.

    The circumstances of 1997-2007 were the most favourable any Liberal leader could ask for, with a centrist Labour government competing with a right wing Thatcherite Tory opposition and then there was the Iraq war. This allowed the Lib Dem’s to temporarily build up a very diverse coalition of support that was hard to sustain.

    With Blair gone and Menzies Campbell – no Orange Booker – as leader the Lib Dem’s were back to single figures in the polls. A new strategy was needed and for a period of time Clegg did provide it.

    One should not assume that the failings of coalition mean that the Orange Book project was the wrong direction to go in.

  • I absolutely agree with Marco. The (largely unfair) fallout from coalition is what sank the party, not the ideas. The Orange Book put us in a position to even have the ability to be kingmakers as we did. I contend that if we’d have spend the past five reasserting what actually makes the party unique (social AND economic liberalism), then we’d have recovered a lot faster. I don’t see how we can expect being a second Labour Party is going to get us anywhere, especially now that that party has returned to social democracy. Proper liberalism is our USP, otherwise we’re just another flavour of Labour.

  • Marco 7th Feb ’21 – 5:49pm,,,,,,,,,,,One should not assume that the failings of coalition mean that the Orange Book project was the wrong direction to go in………..

    In other words, “The operation was a success but the patient died”

  • Paul Holmes 8th Feb '21 - 1:48pm

    2005 -22% of the National Vote and 62 MP’s.

    2010 23% of the National Vote and 57 MP’s.

    2015 under 8% of the vote and 8 MP’s.

    Clegg provided nothing but the destruction of a Party which had averaged 20% across all GE’s for 36 years from 1974-2010. As Expats alludes, the arguement that we did really well between 2010-2015 but for the fact that the electorate did not agree, is an entirely spurious one for any party seeking success in a democratic system.

  • Alex Macfie 8th Feb '21 - 2:41pm


    “The Orange Book put us in a position to even have the ability to be kingmakers as we did. ”

    No it didn’t. What put us into the position of kingmaker was an accident of Parliamentary arithmetic. We suffered a net loss of seats in 2010, and had it not been for the (un)lucky accident of the election producing a hung Parliament, the Party’s campaign strategy and leadership would have come under a lot more scrutiny. We should not have lost seats to Labour in an election following a tired, unpopular Labour government. Our best ever result in terms of seats was in 2005 under the late Charles Kennedy, no Orange Booker. This was a continuation of our success in the previous two elections, nothing to do with any coloured book.

  • David Evans 8th Feb '21 - 2:45pm

    It is sad to see there are still Clegg Disaster Deniers like Marco and Gareth on LDV. So just to add a few facts to flawed homespun ‘My heroes were right all along’ homilies, lets add a few realities to the mix.

    1) Marco, 1997 to 2007 were not the most favourable any Liberal leader could ask for, Labour were rampant for most of it and to hold and gain further seats against such a backdrop showed how competent our party was at that time.
    2) Marco, The lowest opinion poll ratings for the Lib Dems were 11% (See Mark Pack’s Opinion Poll database) never in single figures.
    3) Marco, The 11% results were in October 2007, when Nick Clegg, having already been part of the coup which undermined Charles Kennedy, had then subsequently undermined Ming Campbell his successor. So let’s be clear about this, the fall to 11% was the direct result of the instability in the party brought about by Nick’s ambition, the recovery merely the removal of that self inflicted instability.
    4) Gareth, The fallout from coalition was because of what Nick Clegg did (like break promises, ignore party democracy over Secret Courts, and refuse to resign when it was clear his game was up in 2014), and actually it was fair. Our leader misled people and then through weak leadership and negotiation put us in a position where the Conservatives could spend 5 years helping him to undermine his own party, because it was “in the national interest!’

    As for the Orange Book, well, despite Nick, David and others believing it, “being a second Conservative Party” truly was the way to get us near to oblivion. I suppose it depends where you want us to go.

  • @ David Evans You’re correct to describe Marco & Gareth as Clegg Disaster Deniers, David, and judging by his posts Marco could be described as a Covid Denier.

    But the disaster isn’t just loss of electoral support (fifty years in my case). It was more of a disaster for the less fortunate in society.

    Hansard records the current Leader voted to,

    1. reduce housing benefit and support Duncan Smith’s associated welfare cuts including PIP and Osborne’s austerity measures .
    2. increase VAT – despite pledging not to.
    3. against increasing tax on earnings over £ 150,000
    4. against a bankers bonus tax
    5. reduce corporation tax
    6. support the Lansley NHS ‘reforms’ – (even Boris is about to review).
    7. increase tuition fees despite pledging not to.
    8. for elected police and crime commissioners
    9. sell state owned forests
    10. cull badgers
    11. for HS2
    12. against slowing the rise in rail fares
    13, privatise the Royal Mail
    14. restrict legal aid
    15. against restricting fees charged to tenants by letting agents
    16. slash local government services & funding, a public sector wage freeze including the very lowest paid.
    17. Slash provision for social care.
    18. Cut back the proven ‘Sure Start’ programme.

    Consequence ? Food bank use up : 40,000 to 600,000 clients, 2010-15.

    It’s not about ‘Kingmakers’ or electoral fortunes. It’s about whether Liberal Democrats are mere parrots of the Tories of a slightly lesser shade of blue… and whether they share responsibility for the outcomes itemised by the Alston UN Report.

    2019: UN Rapporteur: Final Report | Bristol Poverty Institute …www.bristol.ac.uk › poverty-institute › news › un-rapporteur…
    BBC News : 22 May 2019 — “The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, undertook a mission to the United Kingdom…

    But …. still no apology or acceptance of responsibility by Sir Edward. Charisma aside, until he smells the coffee, at 6% (if you’re lucky) it will stay.

  • Postscript Oldies on here, like my chums John Marriott, David Evans ? and Katharine Pinda ?) may remember Richmal Compton’s ‘Just William’ series, where the untidy schoolboy hero once described politics :

    “There’s four sorts of people tryin’ to get to be rulers. They all want to make things better, but they want to make ’em better in different ways. There’s Conservatives an’ they want to make things better by keepin’ ’em jus’ like what they are now. An’ there’s Lib’rals an’ they want to make things better by alterin’ them jus’ a bit, but not so’s anyone’d notice, an’ there’s Socialists, an’ they want to make things better by takin’ everyone’s money off ’em, an’ there’s Communists an’ they want to make things better by killin’ everyone but themselves”.

    Seems pretty accurate from my present perspective looking out at dusk over a rolling sea on the Firth of Forth.

  • I think many of you missed the point of what I was saying.

    I believe there were many serious errors in coalition that I disagreed with but the unpopular policies were Conservative policies that should have been vetoed. They were Not in the Orange Book and were not in the 2010 manifesto so the Orange Book project should not be blamed.

    Furthermore there were good policies such as free school meals, pupil premium, taking the lowest paid out of income tax, renewable energy, equal marriage, pensions triple lock, scrapping ID cards, closing child immigration detention centres, banning the export of death penalty chemicals and blocking Tory policies such as hire and fire at will and blocking the £billions of welfare cuts that George Osborne gleefully introduced once the Lib Dems were off the scene.

    The party has not made enough of the above which is partially due to questionable leadership and perhaps left-leaning members could try to be less negative. Arguably if Clegg had remained leader since 2015 the Lib Dems would be in a stronger position now. At least people know who he is.

  • @David Evans

    I seem to remember polls saying 9% but in any case, since 2007 there has been the rise of the SNP and whichever party Farage has happened to be leading at the time so the marketplace is more crowded and votes were naturally harder to come by so 11% then is ~6% in 2021.

    The reason why I consider 1997-2007 to be favourable is that Labour were losing support during that time but were holding on to key swing voters by triangulating ruthlessly vs the Tories on crime, security etc but were happy to cede territory which the Lib Dems could capitalise on. It was also fairly obvious Labour were going to win so people could risk voting for us. The Lib Dems always do better when Labour do well and vice versa so the 2010 result was an impressive achievement.

    @ Paul Holmes

    Yes 20% here, 20% there but if we are honest it was a different 20% each time with the exception of the loyal 6-7% core vote that we have now and had in 1989. That explains why there was such a churn in seats won and lost from one election to the next.

  • @ David Raw

    Thanks for the list, wow I knew Clegg was bad, but even I did not realise it was quite that bad.


    ID Cards- Arguably something like this could have prevented the windrush scandal and also could have made it easier for Europeans who are trying to claim and prove their residency here.
    renewable energy- the coalition also approved more Nuclear power stations

    “Arguably if Clegg had remained leader since 2015 the Lib Dems would be in a stronger position now”
    The Liberal Democrats lost thousands of supporters and Voters under Clegg, some have started to gradually return, this would not have happened were Clegg to be still holding the reigns. And has been proven by the most recent elections their were no soft blues to pick up despite many feeling despair at the Tories.

    It was always going to take several election cycles to undo the damage that occurred under the coalition years. 2014 is going to be the year that the party starts making inroads in to that. The Tories are going to lose their gains in the North that they desperately need to get re-elected, Labour still lacks all credibility and I cannot see that Changing. It is up to Liberal Democrats to adapt and become a broader church and reach out to these demographics.

    Overturning an 80 seat Tory Majority is going to be difficult, but it is not going to happen by being soft Tories

  • @ Matt

    “Overturning an 80 seat Tory Majority is going to be difficult, but it is not going to happen by being soft Tories”

    I am not advocating being soft Tories I am advocating radical liberalism which is the polar opposite of social conservatism (which exists on the left as well as the right).

    Having said that it is not a bad idea to have policies that appeal to Tory voters if you want to beat the Tories.

    All I am saying is that whatever the flaws of the Clegg era, in the Orange Book and from groups such as Liberal Reform I do see some genuinely liberal ideas.

    “And has been proven by the most recent elections their were no soft blues to pick up despite many feeling despair at the Tories.”

    In 2019 we gained millions of voters, mainly Conservative remainers and if we had PR would have gained lots of seats.

    “ID Cards- Arguably something like this could have prevented the windrush scandal and also could have made it easier for Europeans who are trying to claim and prove their residency here.”

    Would it not have been easier to just not do the Windrush scandal in the first place. An ID scheme to enforce an illiberal immigration system is the last thing we should want.

  • Marco – I continue to be astonished by a line of argument that seems to proclaim our vote share in 2015 and 2017 as some sort of triumph because it was a supposed ‘Core Vote’. Unlike those terrible, apparently undesirable, voters who made up our average 20% support across the General Elections of Feb 1974, Oct 1974, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010.

    Presumably then, the extra 4% who voted for us in 2019 are undesirable too since they are not part of the 7 or 8% ‘True Believers’?

    Strangely enough I don’t see the Conservative Party complaining that they won over significant numbers of previously staunch Labour supporters and took 43 ‘Red Wall’ seats in 2019. Neither do I recall Labour bitterly objecting to the Conservative voters who switched to them to give them their great election victories of 1945 or 1997.

    Only in a PR system can you pursue a purist niche of ‘Core Voters’ and win a purist niche of ‘truly Liberal MP’s -such as the FDP in Germany. Not a Party that I for one would ever join or vote for.

  • As for being ‘True Liberals’ your definition is obviously very different to mine.

    You praise the tax cuts we ‘persuaded’ the Conservatives to make during Coalition. Those negotiations must have been really difficult -“George, we will only support your taking £27Billion out of Welfare, cutting the Police by 20% and cutting Local Government by 40%, if you agree to cut taxes by £27Billion. But if it helps win you over we will also ditch our 13 year opposition to Labours Tuition Fees and instead propose trebling them to the highest level in the Western World outside of some exclusive, private US Universities.”

    The Conservatives must have been downcast at that sales pitch. I certainly was.

  • Marco, You do seem to have great skill in generating ever more tortuous arguments to prove you were right, even when you are demonstrably wrong. Facts are brushed off with an ‘I seem to remember polls saying 9% but in any case …’, or totally misinterpreted as in ‘since 2007 there has been the rise of the SNP and whichever party Farage has happened to be leading at the time so the marketplace is more crowded …’

    The brush off of ‘I seem to remember, but in any case …’ simply exemplifies the lack of care in basic data collection, but the ‘rise of the SNP and Farage’ excuse shows faulty analysis. Quite simply the data shows that our growth from 1970 to 2010 (up from 7.5% to 23.0%) went alongside a growth in votes for other parties (up from 3.2% to 11.9%), not at the expense of it. The destruction of the old Two party system, that our steady recovery drove from 1955 onwards was in full swing, and in 2005, we were on the verge of capitalizing on it.

    However hte 2010 to 2015 coalition catastrophe led to a collapse in trust in our party (due to our leaders adopting a yellow book approach and betraying many of our left of centre supporters), simply led to the disconcerted migrating to other parties and labour, while labour’s vote was disintegrating in Scotland.

    We were on the verge of a final breakthrough but your so called Yellow Book driven success, wasn’t the driver of our success – it was actually the cause of our collapse. It isn’t your more crowded marketplace that drove our fall from 20% (not 11%) to between 6% and 8% – it is your “Yellow Book” that destroyed us.

    ~6% in 2021 is not the new 11%. I suggest you try to get used to that fact.

  • Three cheers for Paul Holmes who tells it as it is.

    It’s strange but obvious that someone who believes the solution to covid is leave it to herd immunity (‘everything else compromises classical liberal ‘freedom’) can also believe the party will survive and prosper on the basis of exclusive hard core (?) support. It rings of Blackadder’s WW1 comment that the one person left standing at the end will be the winner.

    The trouble with that is you end up by yourself in an empty room.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Feb '21 - 2:25pm

    I would like to say a very significant thing on a thread I arrive on.

    You all have it both right and wrong.

    You are correct to say the coalition turned out very badly for the Liberal Democrats.

    You are wrong to blame a book.

    None of the list of wretched things David Raw alludes here to, were in the Orange book.

    Few here read the book, some can’t remember it was orange, calling it rather, yellow!

    It was a mixed bag of varied ideas, none right wing at all, all pro market ideas in it, not the main content, were for government to utilise the market.

    even the piece by David laws was for more government, a social health insurance scheme , with scope for that to be better funded than now!

    i liked some of it, did not like some of it, but i read it!

    Blame Clegg for supporting policies to the right, but they were not in that book.

    Those policies of cameron, Osborne, were to the right of Thatcher, major, and May, and Johnson!

    They were not orange, not light, and for any who know the think tank, well to the right of, bright blue. They were purple blue and the party ought not to have gone there, and neither should the party of One Nation Tories either.

    Osborne is now a banker. Alexander too.

    Thatcher post government carried on contributing ideas, as does Major.

    Whether you like them or not, some on the centre right are to the left of where you think they are. Including that..book.

    Time for the party to recognise to look ahead, kit needs to look back with less anger and more reflection.

  • @ Paul Holmes, David Evans et al

    A popular saying among European Liberal parties is that “to govern is to half”. If you are serious about being a party of government not one of protest you need to accept that this will lead to support being lost at the next election.

    In the case of the coalition, the Lib Dem vote was “thirded” rather than halved and this was partly due to the mistakes made in coalition but also due to the lack of a core vote who would stick by the party after a spell in government.

    I am definitely not saying that the 2015 and 2017 results were good and Paul Holmes misrepresents my position by saying that. However I happen to think that in 2019 progress was made and provided a platform to build on. It concerns me that Paul and many other people don’t grasp why a party would want to have a loyal core vote with a very clear idea of what the party exists for. Clear and unambiguous liberalism was what led to the party’s rise under Jeremy Thorpe and why vote shares in the high teens became the norm in the first place.

    You can argue about the Orange Book or what David Evans calls the “yellow book” but as Lorenzo Cherin points out, it was a collection from ideas from across the party. In fact, in the Charles Kennedy era people like David Laws and Mark Oaten were promoted and some of the policies pointed in that direction eg abolishing the department for trade and industry long before Clegg took over.

    Perhaps the real question is why has there not been more of a recovery since 2015? I think there are two things, one is what you might call the “Miliband Paradox” whereby Labour have had leaders who are generally unpopular with the public but with the exception of social liberal voters who were most likely to view them positively.

    Secondly, the Liberal party has historically done struggled when the Conservatives have won the election. 2010 was by far the best performance in such circumstances and we know who the leader was then.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Feb '21 - 10:34pm

    Martin thanks, and Marco, too, both are here, right.

    It was a book of essays. There was a sequel, Britain after Blair.

    The books had the support of Kennedy and Campbell, as ideas to consider. You did not see an ideological tendency that was strong in the party ever, in years. It was merely a new way of saying old things. Aka the unservile state of the Grimond era before our era.

    We can better move forward if we better understand the facts. The fact is Clegg screwed up, as a deputy pm, not as an orange book writer!

  • Alex Macfie 11th Feb '21 - 8:17am

    @Marco: Lib Dems maintained or increased our support after our first terms as Coalition partners with Labour in Scotland and Wales. Loss of support after a period as junior partner in government is always a danger, but it is by no means inevitable, and it certainly should not have been on the precipitous scale that occurred in 2015.
    You are absolutely right to say that our 2015 disaster was due to errors made by the party in coalition; however, there were signs earlier that Clegg did not have a good understanding of the rough and tumble of political campaigning. One obvious red flag should have been the bizarre decision to stroke David Davis’ ego by standing aside in his vanity by-election, thus shoring up his position in what was then a target seat for us, and allowing this right-wing authoritiarian Tory to own the issue of opposing 90-day detention, which should have been our issue. Our vote share, meausred by both opinion polls and local election results, declined during Clegg’s leadership before the 2010 GE. Probably Cleggmania, brought on by a good first leaders’ debate performance which he was unable to repeat subsequently, was what saved us from a pasting in that election.

  • Alex Macfie 11th Feb '21 - 8:36am

    We don’t always perform badly when Tories are popular. In 1983 and 1987 the SDP-Liberal Alliance won over 20% of the vote in elections that produced Tory landslides. Lack of targeting meant that this good performance was not translated into Parliamentary seats. It’s alao a myth that we have to tack to the centre-right in policy to win “soft Tory” votes. That strong Alliance popular vote was under manifestos that were not particularly gung-ho free-market, certainly not compared with the Lady who had made free markets her USP. In 1997 we gained dozens of seats from the Tories on a platform that was to the left of Labour’s at the time. One of our better results in 2019 was by Layla Moran, who as we all know is on the radical wing of our party, winning over 50% of the vote in a largely middle England seat that’s mainly rural Oxfordshire (OxWAB is more Abingdon than Oxford, and in particular no longer includes the University). The principal reason we didn’t do better in winning over the soft Tory vote was fear that we would help Jeremy Corbyn into No 10. Now he is gone, while the Tories hve abandoned the last vestiges of being a sensible moderate party by fully embracing right-wing populism. So we don’t have to hark back to Clegg & co to win over liberal-minded Tory voters; rather we have to show that the Tories are no longer liberal in any sense.

  • @ Alex Macfie

    I don’t think the Alliance was a success, it was basically just the old liberal party in an electoral pact with a non-liberal centrist party in the SDP. The Liberals won 17 seats in 83 and 87 and the SDP won 6 and 5. That was a big disappointment for them given that 29 MPs had defected to it.

    In terms of vote share they were aided by the fact that Labour under Michael Foot put forward a genuinely hard-left manifesto with a promise to nationalise the top 200 or so companies and withdraw from the EEC. This contrasts with Corbyns soft left approach which only pledged to nationalise some utilities and have a second Brexit referendum – and was therefore popular with social liberal voters.

    What the Alliance did was to make significant inroads into safe Labour seats but not enough to win them whilst failing to make inroads into the Conservative vote. Indeed the Conservative vote share was remarkably stable between 79 and 92, the actual size of their majority was dependent on the split among the non-Tory parties.

  • @ Alex Macfie

    You describe Oxford West as “rural, middle England” etc but in reality it is something of an outlier as it was very pro-remain (about 63% according to electoral calculus) and has a much more highly educated than average population. It is therefore a natural Lib Dem seat as is Bath and St. Albans. By contrast it had proven harder to win other target seats such as Cheltenham and St. Ives despite having good candidates.

    I would suggest therefore that Layla has benefited from the pro-European stance and core vote approach rather than her own “radicalism”.

    I am not sure what Layla’s stance is on Europe but if she came out strongly for rejoin then many people might see her as the natural successor to Ed.

  • Alex Macfie 11th Feb '21 - 9:29pm

    @Marco: The Alliance did take votes from the Conservatives, but this was offset by Conservatives taking votes from Labour, which is what formed the basis for the Tory victories in the 1980s. The group of voters was different, but the process and principle was the same as in 2019 — traditional Labour voters switching straight to the Tories because they felt that Labour was too middle-class and didn’t speak for them anymore, while the Alliance was just a gateway to Footite Labour, and anyway also too middle-class and liberal. And just as in 2019, it was in areas where the centre grouping was relatively weak, so we didn’t have much bearing on the constituency outcome.

    Corbyn is not soft left, however much he and his fanclub pretended he was. He has always been anti-EEC/EC/EU, believing it to be a capitalist conspiracy. He had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the official Labour line of the 2019 election, a position that he and his poshboy revolutionary acolytes did their best to play down. Meanwhile, local Labour campaigns in its pro-Remain urban heartlands avoided mentioning Corbyn, knowing he was a liability. He won over soft left supporters basically by pretending to be something he wasn’t. He actually represents a much harder Left than Foot ever did. Say what you like about Michael Foot but he was a libertarian socialist who had no truck with Corbyn’s knee-jerk anti-western fantasy politics.

  • David Evans 12th Feb '21 - 2:42pm

    Marco, I can understand why “to govern is to half,” is a popular saying among European Liberal parties. It rationalises and provides self comfort for abject failure.

    Of course in the case of General Clegg and his troops, “to govern was to lose two thirds of our support, and lose almost 90% of our MPs, lose a referendum and leave the EU.” It was catastrophic incompetence on a grand scale.

    Oh yes, and it was to remain stuck at around 8%, squander 50 years of hard work building up to where we were, and deprive future generations of Lib Dems any chance of being in government.

    Nothing to be proud of, was it?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Feb '21 - 4:17pm


    Ironic, correctly you refer to Foot that way, though his 83 manifesto made that of Corbyn seem like mild social democratic moderate good sense!

    David as in Evans

    Correct too, but what do we gain by reviling. We need to move forward. As a history graduate with an ongoing love affair with that subject, I share your concerns, to know where we’ve been does help us to go forward. But a truth and reconcilliation style symposium’s day has gone.

    Let’s move on, on this, eh?

  • Alex Macfie 12th Feb '21 - 5:01pm

    Lorenzo Cherin: Whatever the 2019 Labour manifesto, Corbyn himself is much harder left than Foot ever was. Foot didn’t have Corbyn’s blindness to left-wing tyranny. You’d never have caught Michael Foot calling terrorists his “friends”, and he didn’t surround himself with Marxist advisors. To the extent that the 2019 Labour manifesto was soft left, this was despite Corbyn not because of him. And it wasn’t the manifesto that lost it for Labour, so much as Corbyn himself.

  • David Evans 12th Feb '21 - 5:14pm

    Lorenzo, The problem isn’t reviling failure and arrogance. The problem is repeatedly praising failure and arrogance and painting it as success.

    If we are to learn anything, we have to learn from the past. To most people

    “We have to move forward”

    simply means

    “I refuse to admit that I was wrong and so will just carry on telling the same old story of the inevitability and nobility of failure. And if I mislead future generations of Lib Dems and they make the same mistakes again, I don’t care.”

    Let’s be honest, Johnson, Sturgeon and even Starmer will love us for that. Their parties aim to succeed.

    Perhaps too many of us prefer noble failure.

    But “move on” will just move us on to letting down yet another generation and leaving them to struggle on in a Conservative dominated society.

    Perhaps you are a Liberal Democrat who is content with that. I’m a Liberal Democrat to stop it.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Feb '21 - 11:58pm

    I can add to these responses , Alex, and David.

    I was a young teenage boy in the audience for Foot, Alex, I know he was better than Corbyn, I was one of Kinnock’s youth in favour of fighting Militant!

    Because of that, David, when, years later and not active as much in politics, I joined this party here after Iraq, I agree with you on much, so please do not imply I am as you say I might be, I am not, I favour moving on having been learning from, the past. But I favour looking ahead with all who can, along with us, under most conditions, with those failures too!

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