What should we do first?

I am reeling. It’s not just the catastrophe of this election, but what feels like our country sliding inexorably into darkness, to which we’ve been turning for more than a decade and which, despite our good intentions, could not have happened without LibDems.

One of the few benefits of disaster, is that it forces you to take stock and examine things you might never question otherwise. It drives you to redefine and rediscover what is really important to you: to find a firm foundation on which you can rebuild when everything else has been swept away.

We are in a new world with no way back. I don’t think this is a time to move a bit to the left or right, tweak a few policies, start co-operating with Brexit or Labour or whatever else. It’s certainly not a time to try to “get our old party back” to when things were marginally better than they are now. There’s no possible leader who can magically solve all our problems.

It is a time to revisit our core values and beliefs.

We’re not, or shouldn’t be, vague, constantly shifting somewhere between Tories and Labour. We have a distinct political vision. That’s where we have to start rebuilding. We can’t keep shoring up what has fallen over and tacking on extra rooms or windows and paint because we think it will make us look better, like building a shack in a shanty town. Without strong foundations, any storm will damage us and eventually we will collapse completely. We have been rebuilding for as long as I can remember, but never ending up with a better house.

Our core values and what we stand for could be a long, complicated list and very different depending on who writes it, even before you ask people outside the party. We’ve lost the clarity of Charles Kennedy who could put it in three words: “Freedom, Justice and Honesty”.

We build on a foundation like that in three stages. First, we ask what are the most important and urgent issues standing in the way of our society being free, just and honest. Second, we build a clear, and easy to communicate, analysis of exactly what needs to change and third, we say, simply but credibly and realistically, what exactly we are going to do to address those issues and change them.

Honesty would be a good place to start. Our time in coalition did not leave the country heading in a better direction. We now have little chance of being in government, except locally, nor of enacting any of our policies. We’re going to have to watch things we hate, happen. We’ve made some terrible errors, including some which hurt people by helping to damage freedom, justice and honesty, and we’ve won a few victories.

What do we honestly say to people when they ask why they should vote for us? What do we honestly say to ourselves when we ask what the LibDems are for?

* Christopher Curtis is a LibDem member in deepest Tory and Brexity New Forest East.

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22 Comments

  • There is only one thing we can honestly say, and more importantly do, now when people ask why they should vote for us?

    We work hard *for you*.

    Our leaders decided we could stop doing that in 2010, because we were a national party now and we could rely on our values. Sadly the values they jettisoned were the ones people supported us for.

    We still have them in spades in local councils across the country, and in our surviving MPs are and they have to remain the embodiment of them. To get them back will take hard work and it will take a long, long time.

    But we have to do it so there is a Liberal Democrat Party still there for a future generation when it gets its chance.

  • ” feels like our country sliding inexorably into darkness”

    “First, we ask what are the most important and urgent issues standing in the way of our society being free, just and honest”

    The problem is right there. We’ve just had a GE which the Tories won easily. Now like it or not the Tories gave an upbeat message of the UK, of us being “free, just and honest” and the people seemed to agreed with them. The UK may have problems, but overall it is one of the finest countries in the world to live in. You guys really have to stop playing the everything is “gloom and doom” card, it’s clearly not helping you.

  • Innocent Bystander 20th Dec '19 - 11:15am

    I understand these airy notions of ‘Liberal Values’ as though it was some sort of mystic religion, but they butter no parsnips.
    What actually are the differentiators in the political arena, post Brexit?
    There are very few, in reality, there is just a pretence that there are. Both Lib and Lab are for higher taxes for welfare’ish topics, for more borrowing to trigger the fabled Keynes Economic Miracle and some feeble economic regeneration ideas that have all failed so many times before, it’s laughable. The only slight distinction is between the proportion of private ownership to public but neither party can justify their particular choice of ratio.
    Who wants “values”? I worked for a company once which spent ages and piles of money on crafting a ” Vision Statement” instead of fixing the obvious things that was making the company fall apart.
    I have been reading these pages for years and the honest truth is that there are no “radical” ideas, where radical means a completely new way forward rather than “just a bit more socialist”.
    It is just rearranging deck chairs against a soundtrack of haughty sanctimony.
    The gap in the market is for action and almost for dictatorial action.

  • I am sorry to repeat myself but our time in coalition may have seen us make some decisions that we have come to regret but, to my mind, the main reason for the cooperation with the Tories then was to save the country from financial ruin which I think we achieved, that we did not receive the credit for that was due to the usual dirty tricks perpetrated by the Conservative party. As an aside it seems to me that the population of the UK spends the years between elections grumbling about the running and state of our institutions and then votes for the party that by and large has been instigators of their Ire.

  • @David Evans – It hardly needs pointing out that “Liberal Democrats Working For You”, “Liberal Democrats Working All Year Round”, and “Where We Work We Win” are all so deeply ingrained in the consciousness of most Liberal Democrats that they probably mumble them in their sleep. But they don’t seem to have helped much in 2015, 2017, 2019…

  • Jane Ann Liston 20th Dec '19 - 12:40pm

    @Paul Murray – ‘where we work we win’ does seem to have helped in North East Fife. Also Edinburgh West, with Christine’s increased majority.

  • Sandra Hammett 20th Dec '19 - 1:34pm

    What do we do first?
    Seems like have some idea of what we want our future relationship with the EU to look like now Brexit is definetly happening, we can’t stop it, but we can argue for a better destination.
    And we should be the leading voice on that because while we suffered, we still have the same values, Labour can’t be relied on while they have an existentiaal crisis, potential breakdown and possible civil war (The Tories have already had theirs).

  • Jenny Fradgley 20th Dec '19 - 2:02pm

    During the run up to this election we gathered many new members and helpers. I think most will stay but we need to be able to apply our National policies at a local level to show people what we would do in power

    The student fee fiasco still haunts on the doorstep and is a main plank in loss of trust in politicians at local and National level because we have never honestly owned it as a betrayal of our word. The fact it was a Lab policy, ‘required’ by the Tories and the Nation needed a stable government at the time and Vince constructed the best m, progressive student loan repayment system where most students never repay all their loan ever.

    Stop apologising for the CA but be honest about it

    Our big policy has now gone- we have to revisit Freedom-Justice -honesty and agree policies for now open-international-fair and above all honest

  • David Evans 20th Dec '19 - 5:18pm

    Paul Murray – I presume you didn’t notice the bit where I said “Our leaders decided we could stop doing that in 2010, because we were a national party now.” So to be honest, it didn’t need pointing out at all that they don’t seem to have helped much in 2015, 2017, 2019.

  • Yousuf Farah 20th Dec '19 - 6:44pm

    The only thing we can do now is survive.

  • Christopher Curtis 20th Dec '19 - 8:16pm

    Thanks for the comments.
    If LibDem values and beliefs don’t exist, or don’t really exist except as “airy fairy” ideas, it’s very hard to argue that we’re anything more than another “progressive faction” and there are thousands of those. Of course it’s vital to work hard for the people who vote for us, but we have to be able to say what we are aiming for when we work.
    I do think we are distinctive and not just a collection of bits from other traditions. It really is about freedom and the role of the state in allowing and helping everyone of us to be free: to have choices and options and to be able to exercise them. It really is about justice, including in the operation of economics, to allow everyone that freedom and to protect us from the abuse of it by others and it is about honesty: rational, open and inclusive debate leading to shared decisions. None of those things are core to Conservative or Labour traditions, though of course there are liberal strands and people in both.

  • Christopher Curtis
    A lot of the critics of the Lib Dems on LDV are basically Conservative voting trolls. They crop up after every election to tell liberals what they think is what’s what. They’ll hang around for a few weeks then disappear back to Conservative home.

  • Neil Sandison 20th Dec '19 - 10:29pm

    What we must not do is lash out at one another and duplicate the blame culture or factionalism of the Labour Party. We must be big enough to accept collective responsability for our failures and over enthusiasm of a few polls which took our eyes off of practicle targetting . We scored a lot of second places but some of us have been around long enough to remember “lots of good seconds under the SDP/Liberal Alliance .
    We need to do some thing much more radical and re-invent the party as we did under Tim Farron. How do we do that and allow the bird of Liberty to rise from the ashes.

  • Neil Sandison 20th Dec '19 - 10:40pm

    How does the bird of liberty rise from the ashes .Firstly lets take our time and suspend standing orders and have an open primary for our next leader .The qualifying criteria is that any candidate should have leadership skills having either run a local council ,served as a MP or been elected as a MEP.The candidate with the least votes gained being eliminated in each round when we get down to five candidates a hustings in each region finishing with the strongest candidates at annual conference. We need to form new alliances as we did in this election but all must be committed to PR. We should consider citizens assembles to fight the tories in towns cities and villages and plan to get the best candidates in place within 3 years .

  • Sopwith Morley 21st Dec '19 - 12:29pm

    Perhaps carry out a period of self examination, by looking at yourselves from outside the liberal bubble you inhabit, in effect as others see you.

    This article written by an American reprising presumably American liberalism might help, there is certainly something familiar about it , which those of you with an open minds and a willingness to change might gain some insight from.

    https://townhall.com/columnists/johnhawkins/2009/05/19/the-six-problems-with-modern-liberalism-n1286951

  • Nigel Hardy 21st Dec '19 - 5:30pm

    We need to looking at the monumental thing that’s going to come hurtling towards us in a few years, maybe a decade. Constitutional change. Even Lisa Nandy has mentioned this recently when she spoke of local democracry to replace the old centralised control that Whitehall can no longer cope with. With that will come PR. And that’s the one conversation we should be opening up now. Do we really want to be wrong footed by a forward looking Labour person? Also the urgency of climate change is in the here and now and ever more urgent as the Tories ignore this altogether.

  • Christopher Curtis 21st Dec '19 - 8:37pm

    I welcome our increase in vote share, and us becoming more competitive in more seats, even if we didn’t win them. We won’t automatically keep those new voters. It’s a very big question where the remain vote will go once remain is no longer an option (and rejoin might take a while to replace it).
    We’ve often been good at keeping the protest vote: people vote LibDem once and end up doing so again and again, but that takes work which I know quite a few people are already doing. People lent us their vote to try to remain in the EU or to try and fight the Tories without voting Labour. We lost on both those issues. My view that we need to go back to our core values is part of what I think is the conversation we must have with them, as well as with ourselves.

  • Christopher Curtis,

    I don’t think honesty is a unique liberal value, it should be a universal value and some people are very honest no matter what party they are in. You mention the role of the state to enable people to be free, this includes how the government manages the economy and ensuring that it works for everyone and leaves no one behind or 14 million people living in poverty. For we should all recognise that if a person lives in poverty they can never be free. Liberalism is always about controlling power and that especially means economic power.

    For years we have shied away from running the economy for everyone and ensuring no one in the UK lives in poverty. We have believed that education is the panacea to solve inequality and it can’t do this without the correct environment which includes a government that intervenes.

    The most important issues standing in the way of our society being free are poverty, ignorance, and an economy which doesn’t work for everyone. Part of the solution to ignorance is regulating the press so it can’t publish falsehoods and politicians so they can’t state false “facts”.

  • David Evans 22nd Dec '19 - 1:28pm

    Neil Sandison – you say “We must be big enough to accept collective responsibility for our failures and over enthusiasm of a few polls which took our eyes off of practical targetting.” But why should those of us who pointed out the problems in some cases over many years accept collective responsibility? We had no say in Britain’s next prime minister, no say in our new leader’s drive for the Revoke Policy, no say in the decision to rush to a General election.

    Collective responsibility is a sham – An excuse put forward by those unwilling to face up to their personal responsibility for failure. Liberals should never be fooled by it.

  • Christopher Curtis 22nd Dec '19 - 8:05pm

    @MichaelBG
    Of course I don’t think honesty is unique to LibDems and more than Freedom or Justice, and as I said, we don’t always honour our core values, which is why we need to revisit them, especially after defeat.
    BUT a commitment to rational, evidenced, open and inclusive debate, with direct participation of those affected, IS a fundamental of our party and of liberalism. That’s the core of honesty in this context, and it is in extremely poor supply in British politics at the moment. The government is in power because it lied and its core policy (“get Brexit down”) is a blatant lie that has no connection to reality. Labour offered all sorts to everyone, but people rightly did not believe them. It built a whole campaign on lies, not least the idea of “jobs-first” or “Labour” Brexit along with “kinder” politics which meant purging the party of everyone who did not zealously support the (now failed) leadership.

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