What would Paddy do?

I’ve been rooting around the comments on LDV autopsies, finding myself in a contradiction. We “already have a horse”, I said – Sir Ed Davey – and could steal a march on whomever Labour appoint as the second of only two horses in the next No 10 race. I don’t believe it to be an anti-democratic appeal to ask new entrants and MPs with little or no public recognition to think about what the party needs before personal careers.

 We are in desperate need of realism. We really cannot go into 2023-24 expecting a majority. That would be a farce. It was not down to the withdrawal of the Brexit Party, destroying a “4 horse race” strategy. Did we genuinely believe Farage would abandon decades of attempts to leave the EU to cash in on some short term power move? The Brexit Party’s existence was an obvious threat to its own imperative. We could see that clearly enough to push for a win, so we must have known withdrawal was a highly likely possibility.

 So I’ve been trying to resolve my contradiction. We cannot win, but should not wait for a second horse to be appointed and trail after them, shaping our party in their image. I don’t believe those are positions that cannot be squared. I found myself asking: what would Paddy do?

We know the answer to this because Sir Paddy Ashdown set the Liberal Democrats up to walk into power alongside New Labour in 1997, recognising the need to put pride second and adopt a realistic position to rid parliament of the Conservatives.

 It was an unpopular proposition when he suggested it, but Paddy was a realist about their situation. We need to do the same. We cannot win alone. We must accept that now, not the day after GE 2023/24, nor five years after.

 It’s time for a conversation about working with Labour. Which Labour? Who knows? So let’s not alienate any of them. Jo Swinson’s strike on Nicola Sturgeon on Question Time was an abrasive start with around 40 votes we needed to Stop Brexit or form a Government of National Unity.

 I suggested we be ready to “mop up”, whether the Corbynites win and their right-leaning colleague’s riot or vice versa. But a good winner will predict that inevitable trouble. I’m not sure we should not expect a surge of members; certainly not long term ones. We ought to learn from last summer’s false surges and unconverted electoral energy.

 If we prove that we can play well with other parties by building bridges over common policy areas, trust and personal relations will be strong for 2023/24. We will have a clearer idea of Labour’s intent, and how we want to input, what our primary objectives are. My intention is to start a necessary open conversation rather than pretend to have a fully formed idea. But it requires realism and compromise. It will take consistency. Moreover, we might feel humiliated throughout much of it as Labour insist they can win alone or call us “Yellow Tories”. When they realise, yet again, that they cannot, we must stand ready to give them life support, not re-assess the fact we cannot win alone!

 Further reading: https://www.markpack.org.uk/148111/ashdown-blair-project-duncan-brack/

 

 

* Johnny McDermott is a Glasgow University Law graduate who is studying for his Masters with a focus on moral and political philosophy.

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60 Comments

  • Maybe the answer is to be positive. To build up a clear narrative of the sort of country we want to see, and the way we want the planet to go. To be positive, but to test every action by ourselves and others against whether it is moving in the right direction, and then to speak accordingly.
    And let us ask our fellow citizens about the country that they want to see, and be positive in explaining what we want. And let us reform our party to better involve members in our own decisions. This should start in York – but we shall see.

  • Julian Tisi 12th Feb '20 - 1:03pm

    I think we need to stop worrying about Labour and pleading with them to let them be their junior partner and start marking out distinctive ground as a party in opposition to both Conservative AND Labour. It’s utterly naive to imagine that whichever person wins the Labour leadership will somehow come round to the idea that they need to look to us for support. They won’t.

  • No offense but I really don’t think Ed Davey is going to do any better than Jo, possibly worse. The voters are still very volatile so anything could happen in five years time, thus wedding the LibDems to a dying Labour party might not be a bright idea. As both Labour and Conservatives seem to be moving towards ever bigger State about the only hole left in the ether is small State, people in charge of their own destinies and actual policies that emphasize that would go down well with Liberals if not Social Democrats. The March budget will show which way the Tories are really going (any nasty stuff will need to be done well before the next election) so need to see that to see where LD’s should go next.

    An interesting exercise would be to work out the cost of replacing welfare, tax credit, child benefit, pensions and personal tax allowance with a living allowance for every adult (and circa half for kids and twice that for pensioners), post-Brexit only available for British passport holders who are resident in the country. Add on essential frontline services and then adjust other outgoings to bring the overall spending in to line with current spending. This could form the basis of a radical reform of tax/welfare that would at least make the party stand out from rivals.

  • James Belchamber 12th Feb '20 - 1:34pm

    We should stand ready to work with Labour if they wake up out of their haze, but progress at this point is down to them and spending any further time on the issue is a demoralising waste of time.

    What we need to do is start preparing to replace Labour, if they can’t work out how to come back from the wilderness. That’s a long project, but the alternative is to place trust and hope in a party over which we have no control and that don’t share our values.

  • Paul Barker 12th Feb '20 - 2:39pm

    We really need to make an effort to see things from Labours end. For Labour to “Stand Aside/Run Paper Candidates” in some of our Target Seats would be an open admission that they can never “Win” again. It would throw away their greatest advantage ; being seen as THE alternative Government. Its not going to happen unless they split.

    For the rest of the Article : Whoa ! Hold your horses. British Politics could look very different by Xmas, or a lot sooner.
    Yes a Libdem led Govt is not the most likely result in 2024/2025 but we can do things to make it more likely, like forming an Alliance with The Greens in England & Wales & gaining more Council Seats.

  • In general electoral pacts with one party standing down for another in particular seats do not work in British FPTP politics if that’s what is being proposed.

    Secondly we need a very distinctive identity – marching towards the sound of gunfire. This is difficult because we are also moderates – I see the benefits in capitalism and it’s shortcomings for example. If we are not distinctive then frankly we should all go and join another party and perhaps more importantly others will and voters will support them instead

    We shouldn’t also rewrite history too much on what Paddy did in the 1990s. He kept his discussions with Blair secret and they didn’t amount to much in practice. In seats where we were challenging Conservatives with Labour were trailing a poor third, the national Labour party were not going to put any resources in and the local Labour parties in these seats had little resource themselves.

    And we had distinctive positions from Labour. More taxation for the NHS and education for example. Paddy said two things to use your vote in most effectively for you to support our distinctive position generally and tactically to get rid of the Tories. Without a good national base vote due to being different as we have seen urging a tactical vote leads to very few seats.

    Of course we were blessed with a Tory vote some 15% – a third – lower than it was in 2019. And it looks likely that we will have a higher Tory vote at the next general than in 1997. And there is some truth in the saying oppositions don’t win elections Governments lose them… the Tories may be riding high today but then they looked relatively well poised after their fourth win in 1992….

  • John Marriott 12th Feb '20 - 4:11pm

    I have to hand it to all those ‘recent’ Lib Dem members for their enthusiasm. It’s always fascinating when people keep trying to reinvent the wheel. The question I would pose is “Why should the Lib Dems succeed?” The same question ought also to apply to the Labour Party. The Conservatives are a very different animal. They have fine tuned the system to make it work for them and if those parliamentary boundary changes ever do take place it will make it even more difficult to dislodge them from power.

    Over in the USA the Republicans and Democrats have succeeded in gerrymandering so many districts that many often remain virtually uncontested. I happen to live in a similar constituency (Sleaford and North Hykeham), where the Tory parliamentary candidate regularly gets well over 60% of the popular vote and would probably, to be fair, still win through even with PR.

    Mention was made of the late Paddy Ashdown and his ‘relationship’ with Tony Blair. Yes, I am sure that promises were made in the run up to the 1997 GE. As a parliamentary candidate myself that year in Sleaford and North Hykeham I would agree with ‘Michael 1’ that the Tories took a pounding. We had clearly had enough of 18 years of Thatcher and Major and, although, to use an analogy first coined by Neil Kinnoch after the Brecon By election of 1985, to explain the success of the Liberal/SDP Alliance, while the Lib Dems had indeed shaken the tree, it was New Labour that “picked up the apples”. When push came to shove, the brutal truth was that, after the results came in, Blair just didn’t need Ashdown and his party any more. On the doorstep in the 1997 campaign the most common question I got, after where I stood on fox hunting (no need to guess from which side of the political spectrum that came), was “Who came second last time?”. The Tories in the form of one Douglas ‘Moat’ Hogg still polled nearly 44%, Labour around 34% and yours truly on around 15%.

  • The Lib Dems seem to take a long time to learn a lesson. The savage 2015 Election should have been enough of a wake up call but here we are again. The Coalition years continue to haunt the party not even Brexit and a changing political landscape altered the fact…members who call out the unfairness of this can’t seem to grasp that voters expected different from the Lib Dems a lot more different..Why? Because they believed in the 2010 campaign they liked and supported what they were told. The party had a real chance a Golden opportunity and we know what happened next.

  • Had the Party heeded the wise words of Paddy Ashdown from the night of the Referendum it would be in a whole lot better position today…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Bv_1z2lFlw

    You know, those who’ve asked for this, and I was the first leader ever to ask for a referendum way back in, I don’t know 89 / 90, have said so because they believe it to be an act of democracy.

    I will forgive no one who does not accept the sovereign voice of the British people, once it has spoken, whether it’s by 1% or 20%.

    Once they’ve spoken, it’s our duty, as those who serve the public, to make the best use, and to make sure our country does the best it can, with the decision the people have given us.

  • @jeff

    We can accept the sovereign voice of the British people that does mean that we do not seek to change it.

    Just as I accept the sovereign voice of the British people in December’s General Election. It does not mean that I do not seek to change it.

    If Farage can do it so can we!

  • Michael 1 12th Feb ’20 – 6:01pm:
    Just as I accept the sovereign voice of the British people in December’s General Election. It does not mean that I do not seek to change it.

    The result of the General Election has been implemented. As have the results of the 2011 Alternative Vote Referendum and the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum. No problem with campaigning to change any of those decisions after the appropriate duration (as specified). By contrast the Lib Dems never accepted the result of the EU Referendum and campaigned to revoke it before it had been implemented. More from Paddy Ashdown…

    I mean either you believe in democracy or you don’t. When democracy speaks we obey. All of us do. And then if you put your nation first then you make the best use of it as you can with the decision you’ve got.

    If you are disappointed one way, you still apply yourself to making sure that the British people’s decision is followed, is obeyed, and we do the best in the national interest with that decision.

    Any people who retreat into we’re coming back for a second one, they don’t believe in democracy.

    Anybody who say’s I’m disappointed, I’m therefore going to fight against this; that is I think an abdication of the very thing we stand for.

    You can not run a democratic system unless people accept the democratic judgement and then put the national interest first.

  • Alex Macfie 12th Feb '20 - 8:31pm

    Ed Davey? NO NO NO We need a Leader with no links to the Coalition, so as to neutralise what was still in the last GE the biggest line of attack used against us by our enemies. In the leadership election, Ed was much keener than Jo to defend our role in the Coalition, so he would have been attacked even more than Jo was over it. As for Jo’s Question Time performance, do I need to remind you that she was stitched up in that show? Because the audience was selected for party balance based on Parliamentary seats won in 2017, it was stuffed with hyperpartisan opponents of the Lib Dems. It’s doubtful Ed would have proven any better at coping with this; it wouldn’t have made any difference at all who the leader was.
    I don’t think Paddy had to face such an overtly hostile environment as we faced in 2019. And nor did he face a Labour Party that was more interested in attacking us than attacking the Tories. It was “New Labour” back then, not Militant or its spiritual successor Momentum, who prefer the Tories to win when it’s us against the Tories. You think Jo was “abrasive”? Look at the hostile bad-faith opposition she had to face. Anyone would be.
    So aside from a leader unconnected with the Coalition, we need a complete revamp of our media strategy. We need Alastair Campbell style ruthlessness in taking down trolls and haranguing the media to give us a fair hearing. Otherwise, I have little hope for us at the next general election, however well we do in intervening by-elections and regular local elections.

  • Martin Land 12th Feb '20 - 8:39pm

    What would Paddy do? Ask his trusted campaign team.

  • Alex Macfie 12th Feb '20 - 8:42pm

    Jeff: The referendum was advisory. So there was nothing to implement.The legislation that provided for the referendum did not provide for anything do be done following the referendum, whatever the result. General election results are “implemented” automatically, there is nothing that needs to be done to “implement” them, it’s just what happens according to the law of the land. Implementation a Yes vote in the AV referendum would also have been automatic, via a statutory instrument that would have automatically kicked in following the Yes side winning, as specified in the relevant legislation.
    And the idea that a referendum result has to be “implemented” before anyone can campaign against it is a made-up rule. Even Switzerland doesn’t require it: implementation can be abandoned if it proves undesirable or impractical.

  • @Alex Macfie.
    Can you, or anyone for that matter, explain why Lib Dems who served in the coalition government are deemed unelectable, while the Tories they served with are clearly very electable ? Given that most people have probably never heard of Ed Davey, and if they have they will have no recollection of what he did or didn’t do in the past, this is, I believe, just a stick to beat those in the party who we might not entirely approve of. Time to move on.

  • Johnny McDermott 12th Feb '20 - 9:37pm

    Tom Harney – agreed, positivity has its place. It does needs to be attached to realism. Labour’s very long shopping list manifesto proved as much. Johnson’s relentless optimism sells, but it’s not the kind we want either, based on lies. We have to hope those that have bought into it will tire of it quickly!

    Re: it being a waste of time/ they’ll never come around: I think there’s much to be gained from developing relations with all parties, so we can build voting alliances to affect policy and amendments where we can. This applies to the Conservatives too, but we have plenty of market liberals that could forge those ties, as we have plenty of social democrats that could reach out to Labour.

    As for values – individuals have values, but they rarely match a party’s values exactly. Many issues will push people from one wing to another, often controversies, such as terror legislation/ any security related matter. But then something like cannabis decrim finds support from all across political spectrum (and opposition).

  • Johnny McDermott 12th Feb '20 - 9:38pm

    Frank West – I’m not sure what the basis is for the Ed prediction, but I guess part of my argument is to stop thinking in terms of “in 5 years time”. I think you may be getting at that too, re volatility, but it’s more than that. We need to get past this election to election survival, always hoping the next will be the one. We need to plan on multiple timelines, hence my frustration at leadership delay.

    Agreed James Belchamber. A great deal depends on the victor, and what I’m proposing is a rather relentless effort to put the idea in their head. Because, although I won’t wager the eating of any hats, I have a feeling that come the run up to the next election, whoever leads Labour will be thinking about the support of other parties. We want that to be us, not the SNP. We want that to be us within reason – this isn’t a blank cheque. But by engaging with them over a period of 2-3 years, the trust and relationships will be established upon which to build some kind of cooperation. That process may also work to socialise their policies (it works both ways, I guess, which some won’t be keen on). If we’re around them, discussing areas where we seem to converge, we can have an influence, particularly if the MPs are on good working terms. Possibly starts at York, as Tom Harney said, then compare and contrast with Labour’s first conference to see those areas of convergence. Close European ties seems an obvious start.

  • Johnny McDermott 12th Feb '20 - 9:40pm

    Paul Barker – I realise I did get a little carried away. Most replies include the anything can happen caveat. I acknowledge that. As above, I’m hoping the connections built will help to shape amendments and policy before then, and in doing so engineer a situation where it is more likely they’d call on us to support them in government. The other factor is the next election may not be all those years off, if they feel they’re onto a winner early on. But you’re right, it assumes a degree of stability, particularly on Labour’s part, that is by no means certain. Admission they can’t win an important observation too. Feel there’s a need for us to discuss this openly, early on. Looking at Duncan Brack article, he suggests talks be open or secret. I imagine for Labour, it would probably be something they’d prefer to keep quiet. Again, it’s too far off. I think it’s important to start building some bridges. The run up to that GE saw many demolished.

  • @jeff

    I appreciate your point but there are a number of other points.

    Anwd of course it was Farage himself who said the referendum was unfinished business – when he thought he had lost.

    Firstly it has *now* been implemented so presumably that leaves us free by your logic to campaign for a referendum to rejoin.

    Secondly most of the time was after the 2017 general election in which we stood on a manifesto of a second referendum so that’s what we and our democratically elected MPs did!

    The issue for me but I appreciate not Brexiteers is it has been bit like passengers instructing the driver to drive a car off a cliff. When we were facing the fall it would have been right to ask the passengers whether they really wanted to take the plunge after all especially as it seems the passengers by then had changed their minds as to whether hurtling into the abyss was really such a good idea! But Johnson put his fingers in his ears and said “no, over the cliff is where you instructed me to drive so over the cliff is where we will go.” Waiting for implementation will have been like having thar car crash let’s hope we can put the car back together again!

    We did our patriotic duty to try and prevent it and ensure a better Britain, a better NHS and fewer deaths from cancer. And we should be proud of that.

    In a democracy a decision may last a day or a millennium but it only lasts while it has popular support.

  • @ Chris Cory “Can you, or anyone for that matter, explain why Lib Dems who served in the coalition government are deemed un-electable, while the Tories they served with are clearly very electable ?” Simple, Chris, when you think about it.

    Their decisions greatly offended

    a) The majority of their traditional long term supporters

    b) Anyone with a social conscience on the progressive side of politics who witnessed the outcome of those decisions….(rising poverty/inequality in the UK)…… and, as an
    example, the establishment of three food banks on the Isle of Wight responding to a growing demand to alleviate said outcomes..

    c) Why vote for a right wing Lib Dem supporting right wing Tory policies when you can vote for the real thing ?

    d) Mr Gladstone – (of low tax retrenchment/candle ends fame) died in 1898. Things have moved on a tad since then.

  • Chris Cory
    Because people didnt expect any better from the Tories. The Lib Dems ran on a platform of change they promised things would be different. The voters who believed them such as myself got a viscous cruel list of goodies to celebrate. The misery caused to so many weak and vulnerable was and is unforgivable…the Lib Dems should have been different than the rest they ran on it they lied.

  • Alex Macfie 13th Feb '20 - 6:06am

    Chris Cory:

    “most people have probably never heard of Ed Davey”

    Most people had never heard of Jo Swinson either, before the 2019 election. We know what happened there.

  • Alex Macfie 13th Feb '20 - 7:44am

    To move on from the Coalition, we have to elect a leader who was not involved in it. Past experience shows that it will inevitably come up during the next election campaign, and it’s going to be much easier to deflect if our Leader can honestly say she (as it would have to be, given who is the running) wasn’t even an MP at the time, and wasn’t involved in any of the decision-making. Tony Blair had that advantage in 1997, having no connection to the previous Labour government that the Tories were still trying to scare voters with.

  • Chris Cory 12th Feb ’20 – 9:25pm………..1)….Can you, or anyone for that matter, explain why Lib Dems who served in the coalition government are deemed unelectable, while the Tories they served with are clearly very electable ?………….
    ….2) Given that most people have probably never heard of Ed Davey, and if they have they will have no recollection of what he did or didn’t do in the past………….

    1) If you sup with the devil you lose all credibility with those who won’t.
    2) Most people might not remember Ed Davey (and what he did) but opposition MPs, and a hostile media, will take great pleasure in reminding them at every opportunity.

  • The Lib Dems showed ferocious loyalty to Nick Clegg Danny Alexander etc..from the moment the Tuition Fees fiasco started the party was heading for destruction..on this very site so many members warned begged demanded that the party not go head first into the void but no the Top Team still went on…the huge numbers of Local Councillors used as cannon fodder never to return the voters who believed the NO MORE LIES tag line told to grow up when they complained the list is endless. The party is on the verge of collapse and you know it deep down you do so go ahead elect Ed Davey and see what happens .but you already know the answer don’t you you always did.

  • John Marriott 13th Feb '20 - 9:46am

    Will somebody please tell me if I am stating the bleedin’ obvious? The Lib Dems have eleven MPs. Yes, it ought to have been more but they were not served well by FPTP. There’s a vacancy for the top job. For many reasons the choice would surely lie amongst these eleven. For me the person best qualified would be the one with the most experience. That must rule out quite a few. In fact, the only two left with a relatively unblemished record (now that Tom Brake has sadly departed) would appear to be Tim Farron and Sir Ed Davey. The former has already had a go and probably wouldn’t want to subject himself, or the party, to the kind of comments he endured before. The latter has made a comeback after losing his seat in 2015 and, whisper it softly, he ACTUALLY served as a minister in the dreaded (for some) 2010-2015 Coalition government.

    Now, if we ever do adopt a fairer voting system, the chances are that we shall have to get used to coalitions and what some cynics term ‘horse trading behind closed doors’. So being a member of the last one that FPTP unexpectedly threw up should not in my opinion be a barrier to consideration. “What about the ladies?” I hear some of you ask. I quite like Layla Moran, who would seem to be an obvious choice for a relatively ‘ new kid on the block’ candidate. However, and I know one shouldn’t make moral judgements when dealing with individuals, she and possibly Alistair Carmichael, whom I had discounted for the same reason, could, if elected, become quite unfairly the subjects of a similar snide whispering campaign as was Tim Farron.

    As I said in a previous post, I like Ed Davey. He has an interesting back story, which has seen him face adversity both when growing up and today. He ticks all the right boxes for me. He’s not afraid to speak his mind and, as I am someone, who is still not ashamed to have supported the formation of the Coalition government, he would get my vote, were I still a member of his party.

  • @Alex Macfie

    Sure, there’s no formal constitutional rule that a referendum has to be “implemented” before it can be campaigned to reverse it. There’s also no formal constitutional rule that referendums have to be held at all, so it should be a reasonable expectation that a government calling a referendum is prepared to implement both possible results.

    I think for me the point I realised we were definitely leaving was the EU Elections – and specifically the campaigning by the Lib Dems and groups like Peoples’ Vote, which was focused very heavily on what signal the election of MEPs would send to MPs in Westminster, rather than anything about what those MEPs might do if they did get to the European Parliament [1]. And at that point I realised that if even strong Remainers can’t bring themselves to visibly care about what happens in Brussels, or who the MEPs actually are and what they vote for, we’re not going to be staying there in the long term whatever happens in the next few months.

    Yes, there might be circumstances in which it made sense not to implement a referendum result because of genuine changes in either the circumstances or the opinion of the electorate … but neither of those have actually happened yet.

    [1] e.g. tactical voting sites treating LD and Green/SNP votes as interchangeable because they’re “both Remain” without any consideration of them sitting in very different EU Parliamentary groups. (Or for that matter treating Labour and Brexit parties as “both Leave”)

  • I find it amazing that so many Lib Dems want the party to keep apologising for the coalition until anyone involved in it has moved on and/or people have forgotten. This utterly misguided approach is a key reason for voters not trusting us. Jo’s appalling performance in the 2019 GE Question Time was principally because she couldn’t think of anything better to say than “sorry” about our record in coalition. It was damaging because we haven’t been able to differentiate ourselves from Labour sufficiently for voters to understand who we are. We had a niche in the coalition as a party both strong on the economy and in favour of a fairer society. But we’ve been trashing our record in coalition and now voters don’t see us that way, they think we’re Labour lite, so can’t understand why we went into coalition, why we did what we did. Why vote for Labour lite when you could get the full fat version?

    If she had said something like “Of course we made mistakes in government – as do all governments – we are proud of the role we played because we had to take difficult decisions to get the deficit down but we knew that the Tories on their own would have slashed and burned. We didn’t do that, we knew we had to cut – and Labour promised the same level of cuts as the coalition actually made – but we made sure that we started cutting from the top – from those who could most afford it. Likewise our top tax policy to cut the personal allowance cut taxes at the bottom, but we made sure the richest paid more in tax. This is what happened – despite what Labour might claim. Like Labour, we want to improve peoples’ lives, particularly those who need the most help. Unlike Labour, we’re realistic about how we can get that done.”

    At some point in the future, if we are to get into government again, it will likely be via another coalition. Voters aren’t going to trust a party that just trashes its one time in office.

  • David Evans “Time to move on for Lib Dems from denial that coalition was a disaster for our party and its future”

    If we accept for the moment that this is true, the big problem with your statement is that the coalition was very much NOT a disaster for the country, as previous and subsequent governments have shown. Quite the opposite, in fact.

  • @Julian Tisi you are a breath of fresh air amongst all the doom-monger, nay-sayers and hair-shirt nihilists who make up a large proportion of the commentariat here.

    Please turn this excellent BTL comment into a main piece! It deserves to be very widely read, as only when our party starts being proud of its achievements will start to gain any cut-through with the sensible part of the electorate.

  • Julian Tisi
    But voters who trusted the Lib Dems NO MORE LIES campaign didn’t want the Tories they didn’t want Labour they didn’t want politics as usual and the Lib Dems screamed that message out loud and proud. The ,’Get Real’ approach to people who trusted the Lib Dems meant what they said won’t wash we are not talking about the other two parties we are talking about the Lib Dems and myself and others can’t forget Ed Daveys full blooded passionate service on that cruel miserable coalition…just not gonna happen.

  • One of the things we need to do as a party is to get the small things right. Here is an example:

    My local party recently requested a speaker from the party to put forward the Lib Dem position on the NHS at an event we were organising at the end of February.

    The initial response was encouraging, but just over two weeks before the event we were told by the Whips office that because of the weather (!) and because travelling to Grimsby takes more than two hours there was no speaker available.

    It seems that the Tories aren’t the only party that neglects the North of England. Is this the attitude needed to build a party capable of winning in the North?

  • TCO as I said and you completely ignore – “the coalition was a disaster for our party and its future.”

    You may want to pretend that I said something different, but I’m sad to say you are simply ignoring facts that you can’t argue against. That is precisely what the party has to move on, but sadly it appears you (after 10 long years) are still not prepared to.

  • TCO as I said and you completely ignore – “the coalition was a disaster for our party and its future.”

    You may want to pretend that I said something different, but I’m sad to say you are simply ignoring facts that you can’t argue against. That is precisely what the party has to move on, but sadly it appears you (after 10 long years) are still not prepared to.

    The simple fact is that it was a disaster for our party, and for our country, because it destroyed our electoral base. That led to Cameron’s victory in 2015. That led to the Brexit referendum and that sadly has now led to Brexit.

    The blame for all that lies with the Conservatives, but it was our leader’s incompetence that gave them the chance.

    Apologies for the previous post which got posted before it was complete.

  • TCO: there is no doubt at all that this party has made momentus errors in direction and strategy over the past ten years, begnning with going onto coalition, not staying out and maybe losing 20 seats later that year in a second election, then tuition fees , bedroom tax etc, then unrealistic approach to 2015 election, electing the wrong man in 2015 as leader when we were warned but did not heed the warnings, inaccurate and grossly inflated ideas of our popularity in 2017 & 2019, and even now a seeming belief in some that we are right and everyone else is wrong, it is ourselves who have been doing it wrong and as yet have not come off that cliff edge. Until we properly face this we are probably doomed,

    1. Going into coalition, better to have taken a hit perhap;s losing 20 seats, at a second election later in 2010

  • TCO.
    A question Straight answer if you please. The cruelty and misery that was unleashed on the weak and vulnerable. .Was it worth it?

  • @David Evans it was only a “disaster” (your words) on our party because people like yourself had spent years telling voters we were anti-Tory and pro-Labour, when we are not.

    @Silvio “A question Straight answer if you please. The cruelty and misery that was unleashed on the weak and vulnerable. .Was it worth it?”

    I don’t accept the premise of your question. It requires, first, a straight answer, it you please. What alternative to the coalition do you envisage taking place in 2010? And given what we know about the parlous state of the economy, how would the inevitable depression not have unleashed, to use your words, “cruelty and misery on the weak and vulnerable”?

  • Johnny McDermott 13th Feb '20 - 3:26pm

    Agree with need to distinguish ourselves, Michael 1, and no specifics, just a need to build relations at this point. Glad to hear Paddy cited at last! In Brack’s chapter he mentions Blair having wanted LDs in cabinet, but for Prescott’s threat to resign, so I think it had more impact than little. It’s an imperfect example given the outcome, but not an outcome that was expected. He did everything to prepare for power. We need to do the same. Hoping you’re right about Tory prospects – I suspect the date of election will be telling. They did not expect this, at all. When is the best time to gamble it all? It could be as early as 2022 if a Brexit deal is done and impact is less severe than predicted.

  • Johnny McDermott 13th Feb '20 - 3:26pm

    John Marriot – I recognise it’s likely frustrating to hear newbies make definitive statements about “our” prospects, though in my defence December 2018 was hardly the most appealing time to join this party. I was going to proclaim that I am no Labour refugee… but it occurred, it should be something to be pleased about, that people continued to join the party right up to the election and in its aftermath, despite the disappointments, especially those coming from other parties. I joined the Lib Dems because part of the appeal is the democratic process. So when you talk about re-inventing the wheel, I don’t think suggesting we work more closely with the main party of opposition (and the only one that can challenge for No 10 with a straight face) is that radical. The inspiration comes from a time you stood for election, so I can’t match that experience. My political involvement was offering my 9 year old advice to Dad to vote for the guy with the cool name. But I do think we need to face some hard truths and do things differently, and I reckon there’s a definite need for new ideas. So: not a new wheel, but one that isn’t locked up.

  • Johnny McDermott 13th Feb '20 - 3:28pm

    Jeff – I’d agree with this entirely. Another part of the reason I joined: May’s deal was dead, and in my mind the only option was to find a route to a democratic and pragmatic abandonment of No Deal (though the chances are that would’ve been viewed dimly, as a coup, by the majority of Brexit voters, even with a second vote, causing irreperable harm and entrenchment of polar opposite beliefs). We had a chance later, when the government was weakest, to push through a Tory lite-backed Soft Brexit. Pitching that idea to the party, increasingly FBPE in our outright rejection of any Brexit, didn’t go down very well. Nor did the only route to a People’s Vote, a Corbyn-led government of national unity. I guess the sharpness in my post is borne of frustration at us beggars being choosers. Unilateral remain was just not an option, and like Paddy’s sentiment in that quote, not one we should ever have entertained. Yet the only other option to a democratic vote was rejected out of hand. Who did we think we were?

  • Johnny McDermott 13th Feb '20 - 3:32pm

    I’m avoiding getting into the legitimacy of the referendum or what it meant. It’s pointless, now, anyway. Possibly should have read ahead and not weighed in at all, but Paddy was right. And declaring the party to be a Remain one, within days of the result, looked very foolish, from an external, disillusioned for 2 years Tory… though in retrospect I like to think of myself as having been a ConDem… a fitting title, the other comments seem to think. Definitely no use of the term “coalition” then, should that opportunity ever arise (as advised in Brack’s article!).

  • Johnny McDermott 13th Feb '20 - 3:42pm

    Alex Macfie – If the leader shouldn’t have links, should any of us? There were terrible outcomes we need to own in a more open and honest way than Jo or Ed appeared to in the usually dull LD leadership contests, in which it was difficult to distinguish the pair on much but personality. This was key for me, though. We needed to aim for an alliance of parties to stop the Tories driving us off a cliff. Choosing someone personable and not with the form Swinson had for picking fights seemed wise to me. I watched it, and defended the fact she was objectively right. But we needed those SNP votes (preferably without ceding an IndyRef). But that’s about as pointless as rehashing legitimacy of ref debate, it’s more the idea that we don’t use our opponents, with whom we must work to make any impact as it is now, never mind the future, as point scoring punch bags to boost leadership prospects now. Thornberry fell foul of the same negative look for “hating” the SNP. With the names put forward, it doesn’t seem like that should be an issue. It’s somewhere the positivity mentioned in the comments above should come through. We feel grim, but we need a positive message to sell, not just about holding government accountable.
    Agree with the need to be more ruthless/ effective, taking inspiration from Cummings as well as OG Campbell, as you say.

  • TCO.
    The Liberal Democrats bag carried for the Tories they took part in battering the poor taunting the weak ..the lies told to students the barbaric Bedroom Tax was it worth it. The party should not have taken part and Tag Teamed such a nasty bunch of Right Wing brutes. Thankyou for saving the country though..the cost was your partys doom.. congratulations on being so loyal I’m sure Cameron raised a glass to your service to the Nation and Nick and Danny look fondly at the Lib Dems ferocious commitment to putting Country first. I hope the collapse and near irrelevance of today’s Lib Dems was worth it but deep down you know the truth.

  • @Silvio “the cost was your partys [sic] doom”

    I’m not sure we need any lectures from a Momentumite.

  • Alex Macfie 13th Feb '20 - 4:22pm

    Johnny McDermott: No, not Cummings. We need to ruthless in correcting disinformation, not creating it. We need effective Defence Against the Dark Arts, not actual Dark Arts.

  • Julian Tisi 13th Feb ’20 – 10:25am…………….. but we made sure that we started cutting from the top – from those who could most afford it……………………

    No we didn’t! From ‘75% of coalition policies are LibDem’ through ‘Universal Credit’ to the ‘Bedroom Tax’ our leadership loudly supported those Tory policies. Danny Alexander spent more time in the media defending cuts to welfare, disability allowances, etc. than did George Osborne.
    The coalition was a slow motion car crash with losses in local government. MEPs and finally almost all the MPs…
    Pretending to the electorate that things aren’t what they remember (and punished the party for) is folly.

  • Johnny McDermott 14th Feb '20 - 11:36am

    Chris Cory – I think it’s integrity, despite the fact the Compassionate Conservatives have done most of the moving on Overton window (though we hae a too, the FBPE wing dragging us a little). Lib Dems (seemed to) compromise on more fundamental values. That said I became very disillusioned as a nominal Tory (was pretty far gone) when 2015 came and Lib Dems went. But the “we prevented worse” narrative doesn’t sit alongside an apology, and neither seem to cut the mustard… it’s tricky and needs to be addressed, but I don’t think our leader having no coalition credentials helps much. Integrity is questioned again if that new leader is constantly apologising for other MPs/ party members. Quick route to unpopularity amongst own party.

  • Johnny McDermott 14th Feb '20 - 11:46am

    Michael 1 has a good point – now it’s implemented, can campaign to Rejoin. Whether we want to do that is for the party, but I reckon it’s not feasible as it stands. Need to make the normative case for Europe/ cosmopolitan values. Plus we couldn’t win argument with best deal we won’t get again, so need responses to Eurozone and Schengen Qs. I’m not sure what those are/ make for strongest attack against Indy Scotland.

    Re coalition again, from external point of view at the time, greatest “victory” of Tories wasn’t student fee increases but the watered down mess of an AV+ referendum. Collapsing it would’ve led to further economic damage. A responsible choice, or a suicidal one? Was the same with government of national unity. Joining Corbyn, for a while, would’ve been really bad for the party, probably even if eventual People’s vote had overturned referendum. It was a Catch 22 in both situations, and one that’s likely to reoccur if we’re ever in a supporting role again. We should think about that too.

  • Johnny McDermott 14th Feb '20 - 11:48am

    Trying to keep replies in order, but spotted and enjoyed the Defence Against Dark Arts comment too much, Alex – you’re totally right. But remember, they study the dark arts to defend against them!

  • A couple of days ago I asked why we had paid a price for coalition policies, when the Tories had not. A number of people suggested, if I can summarise, that people who voted for LD expected more of us, whereas the Tories are expect to be mean, hard hearted SOBs.
    This makes sense if you believe that most LD voters are progressive people of the centre left. That is probably where most LD activists and contributors to LDV stand, but many people who vote for us are centrists or even veering to the centre right. If we had paid the price for betraying our progressive principals then you would expect people to have gone to Labour.
    In the South West in 2015 our vote seemed to drift right, not left. In North Devon Nick Harvey’s vote was down 18%, and while Labour and the Greens made small gains, it was the Conservatives and UKIP who saw the largest gains (+ approx 7% each). Unless we are realistic and understand that not all our voters share our assumptions, then progress will indeed be slow. It’s a similar problem to that which ails Labour.

  • In the 1990s we were clearly an anti-Tory party, when the Labour Party were in power we moved further to the left in opposing Labour. So in the 2010 general election we had some supporters who had voted for the Alliance in the 1980’s, some who couldn’t bring themselves to vote Labour in 1997 and after, and some who couldn’t do so after 2008.

    After 2010 we lost the student vote, we lost the vote of ex-students, we lost the vote of public servants who had their pension arrangements changed, we lost those who believed we were different from the other two political parties and we wouldn’t break our promises (a major campaign point made by us during the general election) and we lost those who started voting for us during the Blair years when we were the radical alternative to the conservative Labour Party.

    The 2015 St Ives result – we were down 9.6%, the Tories 0.7%, UKIP were up 6.3%, Labour up 1.2% and the Greens up 3.5%. It is possible that most of our vote which moved went to Labour and the Greens, but most of UKIP’s increase in vote came from Labour.

    The 2015 North Devon result – we were down 17.9%, the Tories up 6.7%, UKIP up 7.5%, Labour up 1.9% and the Greens up 4.4%. Again I think it is likely a large section of our vote went to the Greens and Labour, with most of the UKIP increase in vote coming from Labour. If we look at the 2017 result we were up 8.6%, the Tories 3.1%, Labour 5.6% and UKIP down 12.6% and the Greens down 4.4%. If the Labour Party manged to get some of its vote back from UKIP in 2017 it is possible that a large part of our increase in vote came from people who voted Labour or Green in 2015.

    For the 2015 general election we were trying to get people to vote for us who hadn’t voted for us before. People who liked the Coalition and a Liberal Democrat Party with Conservative economic and social policies which was socially liberal. This strategy failed. We are a party of the centre-left not a party of the centre-right. There is no large pool of voters for us as a centre-right party where many liberal parties in the rest of Europe are positioned, and they don’t get the level of support we achieved up until 2010.

  • @ Michael BG Not much of any substance left anymore, Michael.

  • Johnny McDermott 15th Feb '20 - 11:12am

    Julian Tisi – I think you’re right on the apology front, but the idea pride is taken in a flawed economic model (I fully supported as a Tory… until it was not supportable anymore, far too late in the day). The budget of the household stuff makes me incredibly angry now. I believed it cause it sounded sensible. What is the excuse of an economist like Ed, who must have learned about fiscal multipliers long ago? I reckon he’s going to need an answer for that. You’re right, as long as disowning that’s period/ apologising continues, it isn’t a great look, but nor is taking pride in those decisions that cannot be justified… if “it worked”, we’d have said that, ie: “it needed to be done”. It did not.

    There’s an interesting idea about certain shared policies in Brack’s chapter. Green New Deal seems like an ideal place to start, agreeing on the impact climate action will have and how to mitigate it. Protecting those who can least afford it from climate change is something I’m sure most want to see, even if sceptical about the science/ extent of human impact. Ed already has a solid background here, and policy to decarbonise capital.

  • Johnny McDermott 15th Feb '20 - 11:12am

    It’s difficult to make a breakthrough response to those saying “no coalition background”. I just think we’d spend a very long time trying to boost Layla and Wera’s recognition figures to Ed’s, and still have 10 odd MPs in 3-4 years. Why do it again? (Other than being hair shirt nihilists…).

    Les Bonner – agree 100,000,000%. Feels neglected further North, too.

    David Evans – it’s all Cameron’s fault? I reckon many people need to own some of that responsibility, right down to the voters, as I do. Giving us the chance to make a mess of our country was unwise and arrogant. But there were so many factors, can’t reduce it down to one man. Key failure is collective, for me: a sense of apathy until we knew what we had lost in EU citizenship. The Love EU stuff barely existed before the vote. Hence calls (in other posts) for a normative case for cosmopolitan interdependence between democratic states. We fight the “we the people” nonsense by going back to the people and making them a better – more secure – offer.

  • I’m not interested in disvowing the Coalition or apologising for it. Most voters don’t care about apologies, and it’s a general rule that those who do have no intention of accepting any. The reason I think it’s best to have a leader unconnected with that era is that it immediately means any mud thrown at us over it is far less likely to stick, and it’s much easier to look at our time in Coalition from a detached perspective. It was the right thing to do at the time, but the way it was done was completely wrong in a lot of ways, in particular the rose garden love-in, and the failure to differentiate our policies from Tory policies. Probably it would have been better if we had had total control over some government Departments, rather than having our Ministers scattered over all of them. The problem is that such a nuanced argument is difficult to sustain in an election campaign full of soundbites. We could go all Matthew Huntbach and point out how limited our influence was in government with only 1/6 of the seats, but how do you say that in a few words? Better to remove it from the equation by having someone as leader who cannot be expected to answer for it because they were not involved.

    I’m not convinced about Michael BG’s analysis re European liberal parties. In the Netherlands and Denmark, both of which have two liberal parties, one representing each of the economic and social liberal strands, it’s the economic liberal party that tends to do better, both often being the largest or 2nd largest party in terms of seats and providing the Prime Minister when in government.

    Also re the 2010 and 2015 elections, and the sort of voters we were pitching to, the Tory party of that time was very different from now. People were voting Tory in 2015 because they liked the Coalition and thought it would continue. No-one can possibly now think the Tories in government alone are anything like they were in coalition with us. Our failure then was failing to give people a reason to vote for us instead of the Tories, because we failed during the Coalition to differentiate ourselves from the Tories. This all boils down to our leadership conducting the Coalition as a love-in, when it should have been presented as a business arrangement.

  • Johnny McDermott,

    I am glad to read that you reject the idea that government budgets are like household budgets. I hope this means that you recognise that austerity was the wrong policy in 2010. I hope all party members can recognise that austerity was the wrong policy in 2010 and why this was the case.

    Alex Macfie,

    The reason for having someone in each department was so the Conservatives couldn’t do things without us knowing and supporting it. I don’t believe that us having a few departments would have separated us from the terrible social and economic policies of the Coalition Government. I wonder how many of our MPs were not Liberals in the modern British tradition and didn’t understand who our supporters were. We failed to protect the interests of the groups of voters who voted for us. In our 2010 manifesto we talked of an economic stimulus, but after the general election our MPs forgot this and supported reducing the government deficit too earlier and not via increased economic growth. Our MPs seemed to have got carried away with the idea of doing things in government and supporting Tory policies even where we should have opposed them and ensured they were not enacted.

  • @James Belchamber

    “We should stand ready to work with Labour if they wake up out of their haze, but progress at this point is down to them and spending any further time on the issue is a demoralising waste of time.”

    The fact is that Labour can no longer win alone without the Scottish votes. Therefore, to get a change of government all opposition parties have to pull together as a Progressive Alliance with a common message of political change in the manifesto. The headline would need to be electoral reform once elected. Labour would have to lead that alliance into an election campaign and into a coalition government, and to do that it has to appeal to voters again and accept that times have changed; the 21 Century voters can be a fickle bunch, and standing alone alienating their allies in elections won’t help anyone except the Tories.

    The LibDems have always recognised that we cannot win alone (unless the intitials JS appear that is) and alliances is what we strive for. However we also have to figure out where we are in these volatile times.

  • @Nigel Hardy “Therefore, to get a change of government all opposition parties have to pull together as a Progressive Alliance with a common message of political change in the manifesto. The headline would need to be electoral reform once elected. Labour would have to lead that alliance into an election campaign and into a coalition government.”

    Oh dear. So much wring with this.

    1) There is no such thing as a “progressive alliance”, because it (i) “progressive” is a meaningless term (like “neoliberal”) and (ii) Labour are authoritarian socialists witha strong antisemitic tendency and penchant for identity politics.
    2) Labour will never abandon FPTP. See 4).
    3) Any alliance with Labour is viewed by them as solely for their benefit. If you’re not with them, you’re against them. They never do sharing.
    4) 1997. 1978-9. 1945. The 1920s and 30s.

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