Why we should be proud of what Lib Dems did in Government

When I was elected a Lib Dem Councillor  in Oxford last year a regular feature of Council meetings (where there have not been any Conservatives for 20 years) was the Labour diatribe against the Coalition Government. Even the most talentless Labour hack knew that a safe answer to any Lib Dem criticism of the Labour Council was to attack the Coalition and the Lib Dems’ part in it.

As this got increasingly annoying, I decided it was time to do some detailed research on the subject. I found  that we have a great deal to be proud of in our record in government, and I am now sure that  we should be publicizing this good record as much as possible. I have already made a start in Oxford and have noticed the anti-Coalition rants from Labour diminishing.

Our biggest achievement was raising the minimum income tax threshold from £8000 first to £9000 and then to £10,000. It is not uncommon these days to hear Conservatives claiming the credit for this very progressive reform which took millions of poorer workers out of paying tax, disproportionately women and part time workers.  In fact, as described in David Laws’s fascinating book “Coalition “, it only happened  because of continuous Lib Dem pressure inside the Cabinet, spearheaded by Nick Clegg, and bitterly opposed by George Osborne.

Second biggest was the pupil premium, which reduced poverty and improved educational opportunity by providing massive extra funds to the schools with most pupils in receipt of free school meals.

Third was unprecedented investment in renewable energy (Liberal Democrats held the energy portfolio throughout the Coalition). This encompassed both encouragement of windfarms, and the Green Investment Bank   pioneered by Vince Cable and sold off and effectively abandoned by the majority Conservative Government after 2015.

Then there was gay marriage. This was supported by David Cameron, but would never have happened but for Lib Dem pressure, particularly from the Lib Dem Home Office Minister of State, Lynn Featherstone.

Then there was mental health. Before the Coalition this was the Cinderella of the NHS, reflecting a national lack of commitment to tackling the issue. Norman Lamb as Coalition Minister of Health was the first Minister ever to raise the profile of mental health within government and with the public, drawing on his own family experiences. His actions changed the climate of opinion in a way that is unlikely to be reversed.

We stopped Gordon Brown’s oppressive and authoritarian identity card scheme which would have required every person to pay to have their identity recognized by the state.

We played a key role in enacting the Localism Act, which now allows Councils to get round the restrictions on building new Council houses by forming Council owned companies private in form but wholly under Council control.

We were responsible for the statutory Pubs Code, which requires larger pub chains (over 1% of the market) to offer pub tenants the right to buy and become free houses at specified points in their tenancy. This has led to a growth in the number of free houses and improvement in the quality of beer served.

And we were even responsible for the plastic bag levy, although it came into force after the end of the Coalition.

So why were we punished so severely at the polls?  Smaller parties always lose ground after coalitions with larger parties, but that does not explain our drop from 57 seats to 8.  Undoubtedly it was the broken promise over tuition fees.  Moreover it was a fatal moral blind spot of Nick Clegg’s that he could not see this even after the event. The fault was not the policy of raising fees, for which there were many respectable arguments, but the broken promise not to raise them.  This was even worse because in 2010 we had explicitly campaigned on a manifesto criticising the broken promises of the other parties.

The school fees debacle destroyed  the reputation for integrity which we had rightly enjoyed under David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell, and without which we are nothing.

It will take years more to recover fully, but a good place to start the recovery is pointing out to Labour supporters that our record of progressive measures in government is infinitely superior to that of  the preceding Labour Government under Gordon Brown.

* Paul Harris is a Councillor on Oxford City Council, representing St Margaret’s Ward.

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82 Comments

  • Thanks Paul for pulling that all together for us.

    Of course it might be considered blasphemous amongst some Lib Dems who still want another 20 years or so of self-flagellation to atone for Coalition!

  • David Warren 10th Apr '19 - 11:17am

    Of course we should highlight our achievements in coalition things like increasing the income tax threshold and introducing free school meals.

    David Laws covers in great detail in his diaries his battle to get the latter introduced.

    On the opposite side we have to be honest about our mistakes and tactical errors as well.

    I put a lot of that down to the fact that we had relatively inexperienced people up against a party that knows how to play hardball.

  • David Singerman 10th Apr '19 - 11:30am

    Excellent article Paul. In contrast to the awful times today, the coalition government was an era of halcyon days.

  • Michael Cole 10th Apr '19 - 11:40am

    Yes, I agree that “we have a great deal to be proud of in our record in government, …” but we were naive to believe that we would get credit for those achievements.

    In 2010 I urged Nick Clegg (clearly without success) to make sure that we were not ‘shafted’. That we should work with Cameron/Osborne but not completely trust them.

    We need to be smarter in our presentation to the public.

  • Sadly, yet another rehash of the apparently endless series of “We did our best in coalition – didn’t we?” articles that keep re-emerging with a new author every few months on LDV.

    Until people come to accept that it’s not the good things we did in coalition that has got us into this mess, but the much greater number of bad things we allowed the Conservatives to get away with , things will not change.

    Whether it was
    Eric Pickles’ decimation of Local Government finance,
    Ian Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit, the Work programme and Benefit Sanctions,
    Theresa May’s Hostile environment to immigration and the Windrush Scandal,
    Michael Gove’s fiasco in Education,
    George Osborne’s Benefits Cap, Supporting Bank’s engaged in Money laundering, and of course the pre-election bribe to the over 70s in the run up to the 2015 General election,
    and finally Our party’s Tuition fees betrayal.

    All these things led and contributed to the almost total destruction of Liberal Democracy as a viable political force across most of the country and particularly in parliament. And for five years most people senior positions in the party and most people on LDV simply closed their minds to it.

    We have to get out of the frame of mind that continuously tries simply to airbush out the mistakes of the past so we can feel good about ourselves. Liberal Democracy is not about self esteem and virtue signalling, but about building and sustaining a fair, free and open society – something that with Brexit and the fractures in society, we are further away from now than we have been in many decades.

    The people of this country came to a conclusion about the Liberal Democrats very quickly in coalition, and it was that, despite the good bits, they didn’t want us anywhere near power in Westminster again.

    People are not going to change from this unless we make them, and they will not do that until we acknowledge that we have to change as well. Sadly, this article shows many of us are still not prepared to.

    What we did in government was to allow our leader to nearly destroy our party. Proud of that – no, not me.

  • Sue Sutherland 10th Apr '19 - 1:56pm

    Thank you for your calm account of Lib Dem achievements during Coalition Paul. We need to shout them from the rooftops as they show what Lib Dems stand for : protecting the environment, attacking poverty, supporting personal freedom, building more social housing and helping those who are suffering from mental ill health.
    This evidence can support our new manifesto. Universal Credit sounded like a good idea before the Tories started to use it as a way of cutting expenditure and tuition fees seem like a minor fault when compared with the performance of the two main parties at present. The Coalition gave the country stability in a time of financial crisis. Tories and Labour have succeeded in destabilising the country just as we were recovering economically.

  • Great article

    Unfortunately a few too many Lib Dems not only swollowed the opposition’s anti-Lib Dem propaganda, but became mouthpieces useful idiots for its endless repetition. Some of them stayed “Lib Dem”, though their endless tirades against the party means the party may well be better off if they were no longer “Lib Dem”. But even some of those that stopped being “Lib Dem” continue to hang around the party like a bad smell repeating the same old tropes and peddling their hobby horses (see how often Universal Credit is raised in the comments section of a LDV article that has little to do with it)

  • It is all history but we will be remembered for the negative factors to which we supported or contributed. It is all best forgotten and left alone. Do not remind Labour voters of the coalition please.

  • To mix metaphors, the Tories played the vanity card and the party fell for it hook, line and sinker.

  • nigel hunter 10th Apr '19 - 3:49pm

    The coalition was both good and bad for the party. Lets face it, we were the children (not in govnt for a long time). The ‘adults’ in the room used their ‘intelligence’ to trash the new innocent children in the room and gave the other ‘gang’ (labour) a stick to bash us with. It was a growing up lesson THAT MUST BE LEARNT.
    NEVER trust the Tories. ALWAYS push our successes . SILENCE Labour coalition bashing. Thanks to the other big boys with their propaganda sheets winning hearts and minds will be a no .easy task. The party must always show a positive face to the voter, learn from any knocks and win the voters of the future. We have a a mission to achieve to make a better society.

    Further comment. Javid took money off a charity funding (I believe Jamaicans) people wishing to return home . He has capped the Windrush payments to 10thou after saying their ‘was no limit’ to funding for them. Has he taken the money from one to pay the other and ignored the ‘no limit’ promised? The possible deviousness, etc of the Tories has to be exposed NOT the bashing of ourselves. We are the future.

  • Zero coverage on mainstream media…fighting desperately for fifth place nationally..facing meagre returns in upcoming council elections and potential humiliation in a European Election and you proudly curtsey to the dreaded Coalition years. By the way did I mention ZERO mainstream media coverage.

  • Could I mention Steve Webb’s pension reforms, notably giving people with personal pensions the right to access that money rather than be forced to purchase an annuity. A truly liberal reform that actually treated people like adults and gave them freedom to manage their money as they saw fit.

  • Every time I read articles like this I’m reminded of my mother’s, “If you pick at it, it’ll never get better”

  • At the start of the coalition the Lib Dems had thousands of councillors and 62 MP’S with an election percentage of 22%, at the next election the party had thousand fewer councillors, 8 MP’S and a vote share of 7.9% so please stop trying to put forward how successful it was, it was a disaster and no amount of whatabouttery will change that.

  • Paul Pettinger 10th Apr '19 - 7:02pm

    We have spent the best part of a decade testing (to near destruction) the ‘have the electorate heard enough of us talking about things we did in the [2010-2015] Coalition’ hypothesis. I find it extraordinarily that some 2010-2015 Coalition hobbyists want to push us back into the quicksand. Could we perhaps form a separate club or group for celebrating what happened, and leave those of us wanting to turn the Party into a successful political vehicle but *not* to take tactical lessons from General Melchett to get on with things?

    Nick Baird wrote “Of course it might be considered blasphemous amongst some Lib Dems who still want another 20 years or so of self-flagellation to atone for Coalition!”

    We have spent the last nine years either testing the ‘have the electorate heard enough of us talking about things we did in the [2010-15] Coalition’ hypothesis, or trying to change the subject. We have not spent any time as a Party atoning for our record during the 2010-15 Coalition – this literally has never happened.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Apr '19 - 8:42pm

    Neither of the Coalition party leaders are even MPs anymore. The Coalition is yesterday’s issue, and we need to make it more so, rather than pick at it. And the best way to respond to Labour attacks on us over the Coalition is to point out that now it’s their leader Ramsay McCorbyn doing deals with the Tories, while the Lib Dems refused any sort of deal.

  • We were not known as a tax cutting party and therefore while increasing the Income Tax Personal Allowance was a good policy, it was easy for the Conservatives to claim credit for it. However, it would have been better to have vetoed all the benefit cuts and not increased the personal allowance as much.

    The pupil premium was also in the Conservative manifesto. It was difficult for parents to see the benefits of this while general cuts were being made to school budgets.

    I recall some good things on renewable energy but I also recall them being downgraded during the later years of the Coalition government.

    There has not been any improvement in mental health provision. I think the reforms during the Coalition reduced mental health services in my area. Things which were provided are no longer provided.

    The Coalition government cut funding to local government and this is what people saw.

    I don’t recall the Labour Party or the Conservative Party saying look what we achieved in government x number of years ago. After 1979 the Labour Party moved on. After 1997 the Conservative Party moved on. It took both of them a lot of time. We need to do it a lot quicker.

  • It was a political disaster.

  • Those who actually go beyond the soundbites, like myself, will be aware that increasing the personal allowance has minimal impact on the very lowest paid, and disproportionately benefits the better off:
    https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/personal-tax-allowance-how-increase-widens-inequality

    And leaving aside the political ineptitude of the increase to student fees despite campaigning to eliminate them, the worse policy mistakes were to go in hard on austerity, contrary to the campaign. Another was going along with the marketisation of the health service, which is still wrecking it to this day, and even some conservatives are starting to recognize as a disaster that needs to be reversed. This was enthusiastically taken up by the Lib dems despite being contrary to the conservative pledge to leave the NHS untouched.

    The lib dem ‘achievements’ in government were either ephemeral (such as tax levels), or peripheral and sectional – what to the general populace is the big step forward in gay marriage, over civil partnership? Commendable, but trivial to 99% of the population. Chances to chance the country permanently, such as by changes to the electoral system or representation, were wasted.

    And now the libdems, having shifted apparently permanently, economically rightwards are tied up with single issues – no compromise anti-brexit (discarding 30% of your 2015 voter base) and sectional interests like shared parental leave.

    As for me: 5000+ plus leaflets delived in 2010. Not even getting my vote for the foreseeable future. Any thought of return swiftly dispelled by browsing here, and seeing the same old faces in charge, presenting the same old attitudes.

  • I look at the world in my own way as everyone does. My take on what happened is this. I was a councillor, like so many other party members, when the coalition was formed. I went to the special conference and thought I was voting in favour of a coalition in order to solve what was being presented as a national emergency. I was not happy with this, as to me the problem was a set of failures in what is described as the financial services industry. To me what happened after that might most charitably be described as a massive failure in communication. There was no bold national plan put forward. There was an increase in inequality. A key moment to me was the Rose Garden press conference, when the behaviour of Nick Clegg simply was not fitting to the seriousness of the situation.
    In the meanwhile I was not being given the information I needed to understand what was the grand plan to solve our national problems, or even a convincing analysis of what they were.
    Colleagues were losing their seats and often leaving the party. The party was shrinking and changing. It was a difficult time, but the electorate did not change. The opinions on the doorstep and the problems that were presented did not change. We changed.
    The most urgent need we have is to face the reality in an open and honest way and actually ask ourselves what we can do to move towards helping with the very real problems that so many people face.
    The starting point would have to be to focus on recognising that the membership is the party, and to use modern technology to ensure that they can all contribute.
    I do not see this in the party, and to me that is the problem.

  • Innocent Bystander 11th Apr '19 - 9:32am

    Tom,
    I liked your contribution to the discussion, full of the authority of genuine experience.
    But “what was the grand plan to solve our national problems,?” is answered by –
    There isn’t one.
    Nobody has one.
    Because the solutions that would work are politically unacceptable and the solutions that are acceptable, won’t work.

  • John Probert 11th Apr '19 - 9:41am

    I grew up believing that the Tories eat Liberals for breakfast and our experience in the Coalition shows the ongoing truth of it.

  • As for those who ask ‘So you made a mess of it. What lessons do we need to learn to put things right and make sure we don’t make the same mistake again (and again and again)?’ are portrayed as being in favour of “self flagellation” – Thanks for that Nick, “the coalition government was an era of halcyon days” – only if you regard the destruction of 50 years of hard graft as halcyon; ” tuition fees seem like a minor fault” – not to students, their parents, their grandparents, their wives etc; “their endless tirades against the party means the party may well be better off if they were no longer “Lib Dem” – Cheers James.

    The party rather splits into two groupings – those who regarded the objective of the Liberal Democrats was to use the gains made by the hard work of generations of Lib Dems to get into government and do some stuff (even if it meant destroying the chance of later generations doing the same) – these people are happy with coalition and ignore is consequences, and those who regarded the objective was to build and *safeguard* that fair, free and open society, and knew that you can’t safeguard it if you haven’t got any MPs, councillors etc.

    Ultimately it comes down to two conflicting philosophies – those who believe the in learning lessons from the mistakes of the past and those who wish it would all just go away.

  • John, In essence you are right. Tories eat weak, Liberals for breakfast. The trouble is strong Liberals who ask difficult questions like “That’s a great idea. Now how are you going to stop the Tories (or equally Labour) from undermining it?” are too often look at as being negative.

    John, In essence you are right. Tories eat weak, Liberals for breakfast. The trouble is strong Liberals who ask difficult questions like “That’s a great idea. Now how are you going to stop the Tories (or equally Labour) from undermining it?” are too often look at as being negative.

  • Sorry for the above. The second post, which repeats itself, should have been the first paragraph in the first post.

    Apologies.

  • Martin 11th Apr ’19 – 12:39pm….The Coalition was successful in demonstrating that Coalition politics can be functional in the UK (in most countries it is the norm); this is an important achievement…..

    I wish LibDems would make up their minds…. When anyone criticises the coalition years we are either told “We were a very junior partner and couldn’t affect Tory policies” or “Look at all the good things we achieved”.

    It doesn’t matter what ‘spin’ you put on things, the loss of MEPs, MPs and local councillors (and a failure to really improve in polling in the last 4 years) shows what the electorate thought; and that is what matters.

  • OnceALibDem 12th Apr '19 - 9:18am

    “And we were even responsible for the plastic bag levy, although it came into force after the end of the Coalition.”

    Hard to take someone who claims this seriously given that this was only done at the price of making some of the most vulnerable people worse off – and was condemned by some usually pretty coalition-loyalist figures:
    https://www.libdemvoice.org/a-mistake-from-the-coalition-years-that-we-never-repeat-57482.html

  • If Nick Clegg had bother to read a page of history book covering UK politics during 1916-1922, and 1931-1935, he should have realized that every single Tory-Liberal coalition ended up in disasters for the latter. Also, we can see Labour’s very sensible move to expel Ramsay MacDonald and retreat to opposition. Besides, unlike Clegg and Co and tuition fees, the Liberals during the 1930s knew their limits, as the official party finally broke with the National Government once the Tories moved forward with their protectionist Imperial Preference scheme, and even then they took substantial damage for staying in the austerity National Government for too long. Finally, with Lloyd George’s return to politics after his illness, the Liberals at that time were actually clever enough to quickly move on from National Government and went back to Keynesian economics.

    I mean, we should never make references about that period in which we lost over 85% of our seats. Move on from that as quick as possible. Return to free tuition fee platform and simply pretend that opposition to free university never exists. Of course other Continental European countries have shown that such hypothetical opposition to free tuition fees will be just a joke and will never amount to anything, so it is easy to ignore such a thing. On the other hand hiking up tuition fees after promising to abolish them was a direct f*ck you to all students and their parents, and they certainly deserve a sincere apology.

  • Paul Pettinger 12th Apr '19 - 12:39pm

    Martin writes that “The Coalition was successful in demonstrating that Coalition politics can be functional in the UK.”

    We didn’t need to prove this – we already knew coalitions could work, and had demonstrated they work ourselves (e.g. in coalition in Wales and Scotland). That coalitions couldn’t work was a fear based narrative set by our opponents, and our attempts to try and prove they could by desperately avoiding rocking the boat was a massive overcompensation and an early sign of the naivety of our leaders. I thought we would be led to disaster and voted against the coalition, but we didn’t need to avoid rocking the boat while in it, but to be seen to be standing up for our values. Our actions during this era may have further shown the functionality of coalition politics but led many more people to believe Lib Dems shouldn’t be empowered. An epic fail.

  • Joseph Bourke 12th Apr '19 - 1:40pm

    Expats writes “I wish LibDems would make up their minds…. ” and the loss of MEPs, MPs and local councillors …shows what the electorate thought; and that is what matters.

    I also wish Libdems would make up their minds. There is no political space for a soft Tory party or a soft version of the Labour Party. To be relevant Libdems need to be able to present and fight for an independent and distinctively Liberal platform (something we failed to do in coalition).
    What the electorate thought in 1979 was Thatcherism for 18 years with Landslide election results and then Labour’s adoption of Thatcherism with Blair/Brown for 13 years and then Cameron/Osborne for six years. The Conservatives won a majority in 2015 because of the success of coaition policies not in spite of them.
    There has not been a Liberal government since WW1 and the Conservative party has been the domimant political power throughout the 20th century, despite political disasters throughout too numerous to recount.
    The UK is not a socialist country. The political economy of Keynes and Beveridge is not socialism, it is rooted in modern liberalism and social democracy. That entails working with other parties in coalition, accepting you will be thrown out of office after a period of govenment and developing the relisience to hold fast to the party’s core values and beliefs,

    Believing that eternal opposition without being stained by the responsibility of having to take actual decisions in governments is the road to Nirvana might make sense for for those of a more spiritual bent, but being able to actually deliver policies that improve society in this world is more of a priority for us mere mortals.

  • Paul Pettinger 12th Apr '19 - 2:16pm

    Joseph Bourke writes “Believing that eternal opposition without being stained by the responsibility of having to take actual decisions in governments is the road to Nirvana might make sense for for those of a more spiritual bent, but being able to actually deliver policies that improve society in this world is more of a priority for us mere mortals.”

    Again, no one believes this. It is a self flattering and belittling narrative that distracts us from facing the reality of what has happened and in pursuing sounder strategies.

  • Paul Pettinger 12th Apr '19 - 6:05pm

    You are bending backwards to put our 2010-15 coalition era in a better light Joseph. The reality is it was a completely unsustainable project. The sooner this basic fact is accepted the better. Our well has been poisoned. Coalition hobbyists need to let us move forward

  • Paul Pettinger 12th Apr '19 - 6:51pm

    So we should highlight the tuition fees disaster, but otherwise double down on what happened, as we have done for the last nine years, even though it’s never worked. I think you would earn General Melchett’s sneaking respect. Anyway, smaller parties don’t always lose ground after coalitions. We didn’t after two consecutive terms of coalition in Scotland (1999 to 2007). Perhaps you reconsider some of your other assumptions.

  • Paul Harris 12th Apr '19 - 7:04pm

    Thanks for these interesting and thought provoking comments.

    Just a few points in reply.

    1. Defending oneself from untrue and unjustified comments is not ” picking at scabs”.

    2. I am not in favour of more coalitions. Going into the 2010 Coalition was a hard judgement call, and Nick Clegg and others were not nearly alive enough to the Conservative record of eating smaller Coalition partners.

    3. It is unfair and wrong to blame Lib Dems for every bad thing done by the larger party in the Coalition. The Windrush scandal was entirely due to Theresa May, whose relationship with Lib Dem Coalition Ministers was deeply antagonistic.

    4. It is also wrong to blame Lib Dems for distortions of their policies after the Coalition ended. I can well believe that many poor area schools now have less money than before the pupil premium, as a result of the massive funding cuts by the present government. That does not mean that the idea of the pupil premium was bad.

    5. I do agree that some Lib Dems in Government, particularly Danny Alexander at the Treasury, were too much under the influence of wrong neo- liberal economic ideas. As a cultural liberal and economic social democrat I am certain that the power of the state has to be used to create a fairer society. This will never be done by market forces. I do not think we will get close to Government again unless we recognise this.

  • David Evans 12th Apr '19 - 7:42pm

    Joseph, Councillor Harris’ comment is indeed reasonable, if the objective is to continue in on our failed strategy that it is sufficient to make reasonable sounding comments to ourselves and wait for other people to change.

    Quite simply many left of centre voters (many of whom voted for us, and quite a few were very good activists for us) felt betrayed by our leaders’ acts (and failures to act) while we were in coalition. Now most of them simply no longer pay any attention to us. So pointing out to Labour supporters our record is quite simply a non-starter. It will not take years but many decades for us to recover with that strategy (probably even longer than last time). In effect, like too many of our remain colleagues with Brexit, we are simply waiting for the others to change or die, rather than looking at ourselves and asking what do we need to change?

    I too believe being able to actually deliver policies that improve society in this world is more of a priority for us, but carrying on as we are doing, is self evidently getting us nowhere near that situation.

  • Peter Watson 12th Apr '19 - 8:12pm

    @Paul Harris
    “It is also wrong to blame Lib Dems for distortions of their policies after the Coalition ended. I can well believe that many poor area schools now have less money than before the pupil premium, as a result of the massive funding cuts by the present government.”
    The NAO report cited by David Raw was published in June 2015, predating “cuts by the present government”.

    “That does not mean that the idea of the pupil premium was bad.”
    Indeed not, which is why the Lib Dems, the Conservatives and Labour all offered the pupil premium in their 2010 manifestos.

  • David Evans 12th Apr '19 - 9:55pm

    Joseph,

    Sadly, like so many Lib Dems you resorting to academic research rather than relying on hard facts, and then throw in a gratuitous minor insult about navel gazing for good measure.

    The simple fact is that, four years after the end of coalition, and after three years where the one policy area where the Lib Dems have a unique position on and where the other two parties are totally failing, with the most woeful pair of leaders ever, we are still stuck on opinion poll ratings of between 5% and 12%, our gains in Local Government by-elections are few and far between, and our party machine still chooses to pretend 2018 was our best result in 15 years.

    In 2018 we made net gains of 76 seats – recovering just 10% of the losses we made in 2011 alone. In Newport West we got 4.8%, just over 1,000 votes, in a by-election!! That is what real people are telling us about the Lib Dems in real elections, not academics in learned papers.

    You claimed, “being able to actually deliver policies that improve society in this world is more of a priority for us.” But you quote more academic papers than almost anyone else on LDV.

    Sadly you don’t deliver policies that improve society through academic navel gazing. You do it by winning through the ballot box.

  • Paul Pettinger 12th Apr '19 - 11:23pm

    Using data on electors as a whole demonstrates that you still don’t get it. Lots of electors will not go near a successful liberal party in a month of Sundays, yet you’re asking us to take heed of surveys that include these people. Surveys worth looking at ones of people with liberal attitudes. Once you start looking at these voters – the main chunk of our potential voter base – then you will start to see better our problems. Most culturally liberal voters in the UK are centre left

  • Our opinion poll rating is solid and has increase from around 8.5% a year ago to 10% now. We are getting the equivalent of a 22% national vote share in local by-elections which bodes well for May. In contrast the Tories and Labour are both down (at least) 5%. And it is difficult for us to grind out a big increase in our rating until we win a parliamentary by-election which may or may not happen.

    On the coalition I am in agreement with both @Joseph Bourke and @David Evans!!! Going into coalition with a right wing party at a time of recession was never going to be easy – especially for essentially a left of centre party! A whole range of good policies were put in train – better pensions, free school meals for all infants, pupil premium, personal allowance increase. Some myths have grown up – mainly about things that happened after 2015. And it is true that mostly people’s views are as @Joseph Bourke outlines.

    But…. as @Michael BG outlines political parties are too slow to move on – perhaps inevitably and there probably are stages as with a bereavement. A large number, even of her opponents, but certainly on the right would have said that Thatcher’s government had some success – with a view of “I didn’t agree with everything she did but she was probably necessary.” Actually Major’s government was relatively successful too. But that didn’t mean that a large proportion of the right stopped voting for them until 2010. Despite their success they were seen even among their natural supporters as too antagonistic to public services then creaking at the seams, sleaze ridden and too reactionary on social liberal issues such as LGBT rights when society had moved on. David Cameron drew a line on this – “hug a hoodie”, gay marriage, and on the NHS (a lot of billboards saying that he could be trusted on the NHS at the start of 2015) when for the previous 10 years on they had tried to bat on about issues that may be excited their core supporters but didn’t attract others.

    For me we also need to move on from the coalition and draw a line under it. Personally I would do it by embracing free tuition fees as symbolic. But also drawing on our strengths such as doubling the pupil premium and a significant rise in general school funding.

  • Let’s also nail the myth that Labour or the Tories would have introduced the pupil premium – certainly in any meaningful way. It was only a passing reference in both their 2010 manifestos with no figures attached. It didn’t even make it to Labour’s top 50 manifesto promises.

    And the Tories would not have introduced the increase in the personal allowance – they would have had tax cuts for the rich. Cameron said in the leaders’ debate “I would love to do it but it is not affordable” – when a politician says that they mean it is popular but they don’t have any intention in a month of Sundays of actually doing it.

  • Joseph Bourke 13th Apr '19 - 1:29am

    David Raw,

    I don’t say it, I am quoting the conclusion to the article above (without caveating it) that refers to Gordon Brown’s administration on becoming Prime Miinster in 2007.
    Much was achieved under the Blair/Brown partnership, but the current Labour party appears to have rejected the politics of Tony Blair and the economic programs of Gordon Brown, eventhough the party under Harriet Harmen as acting leader abstained on the Welfare Reform bill in 2015 and had no plans to end the benefit freeze in their last manifesto https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/general-election-20107-latest-labour-manifesto-benefits-freeze-cap-jeremy-corbyn-a7739471.html. Ms Harmen in 2015 is quoted as warning “that Labour cannot afford to campaign against the public when it comes to welfare cuts.” Such is the stuff of electoral politics.

  • David Evans 13th Apr '19 - 8:30am

    Joseph Bourke,

    with no faux respect whatsoever, there is a world of difference between reading and quoting from academic research like “the kind of broad public survey and analysis that the NatCen for social research undertake annually”, which says nothing about how that research is translating into voting patterns, and looking at how real people vote and say they will vote on the other.

    I have regularly campaigned in Parliamentary elections and national and local by elections since the 1980s and despite your comments will simply point out that although you and probably many others can say you “find no significant difficulty in defending the Libdem record of progressive measures in government” such anecdotal evidence is clearly having little effect on our vote, because most voters have fixed views on our party now and what you are doing will have no effect, for reasons I have already pointed out and you have studiously ignored.

    I don’t doubt you when you say “I don’t think we have a difference of view regarding the necessity of winning through the ballot box, although I expect we would differ considerably on that should be done.” It’s just that your way (which the party has also been following) is not working.

    The evidence in the ballot box proves it. The only question is whether you and the party will ever accept that the approach you are clinging to is wrong and accept that you have to change before the party collapses into total electoral obscurity.

  • @ Michael 1. You’ve obviously missed the point that the National Audit Office found that 77 per cent of the pupil premium was swallowed up into general spending by schools mostly to make up for cuts in the SENs budgets.

  • Joseph Bourke 13th Apr '19 - 12:33pm

    David Evans,

    like most activists, I have seen the impact at local party level of the coalition and in common with many local parties around the country experienced a doubling of membership in the wake of the 2015 electiion and a further big surge following the 2016 referendum. These are the highest membership levels achieved locally in decades.

    Libdem policy is determined at conference and generally well-evidenved based, That is a strength of the party and something I am entirey comfortable with.

    You say “The only question is whether you and the party will ever accept that the approach you are clinging to is wrong and accept that you have to change .” The implication being a closer political realignment with Labour or more socialist policies. However, if I wanted to align with Labour, I would be a member of the Labour party.

    I can only quote Jo Grimond when he said “There is no point in keeping a Liberal party alive unless it promotes liberalism.”
    This IPPR article https://www.ippr.org/juncture/beyond-realignment-jo-grimond-and-the-legacy-of-civic-liberalism by Richard Reeves argues that Liberal Democrats should give up the goal of a political realignment with Labour and instead concentrate on promoting the cause of liberalism. I am in full agreement with its conclusion:
    “Civic liberalism is a political philosophy with a quieter voice than the shrill ideologies of left and right, and drowned out for much of the post-war period. But in a post-crash, politically fractured Britain, with politicians of all stripes looking for new approaches, Grimond’s liberalism is worth resuscitating – not least by contemporary liberals. He lamented in 1959 that ‘we were ahead of our time’. Of course, Liberals have been saying that for decades. Perhaps this time he was right.”

  • @ Joe Bourke. When I joined the party in1961, Jo Grimond wanted a realignment of politics on the left of centre – and there is another interpretation of the quote you have given.

  • Joseph Bourke 13th Apr '19 - 12:58pm

    David Raw,

    I think the linked article makes it clear that as you say “Grimond wanted a realignment of politics on the left of centre”. However, the article argues:
    “British politics is likely to get messier and less predictable over the coming decades. Hung parliaments are likely to become more rule than exception. Under these circumstances, rather than continuing the Grimond-Ashdown realignment dream, the political strategy of the Liberal Democrats should be three-fold:

    – First, take a cue from Baden-Powell and be prepared: for government. Ensure that policies are made to be delivered in legislation, not just on leaflets.
    – Second, focus on the big issues that matter to the majority – tax, jobs, schools – rather than taking refuge in the margins. It is easy to see how by picking special interest issue X wins you a seat or two there, and special interest Y gets you a couple more there. (Indeed, that was the thinking behind the disastrous tuition fees pledge.) It might be fine as a strategy for perpetual opposition, for using parliament as a managed workspace for various lobby groups, but it is hopeless as a long-term foundation for political relevance and growth.
    -Third, define yourself on your own terms, rather than with half an eye on one of the other parties. Nick Clegg got it right in May 2011 when he said that ‘realignment is a polite euphemism used by one party that wants to gang up on the other gang – with us as a temporary recruit’. Liberals need to stop making eyes at the other frontbenches and tend instead to their own philosophy and future. “

  • The basic problem was the coalition’s program of austerity made a lot of people who voted Lib Dem poorer. This is because a disproportionate number of the Lib Dem vote were disabled, worked in the public sector and things like that. In other words the Party failed to look after it’s own and didn’t pick up support. It’s not so much about being on the Left or Right v just being liberal. It was about people feeling let down, being made worse off and losing trust.
    The thing is this. Telling people that policies were successful and that they are better off because of your time in government does not work if it flies in the face of their day to day reality. It’s just looks like spin.

  • @Glenn

    Spot on.

    I recall Danny Alexander being a part of a tv programme before the coalition, about the DWP, disability assessments and welfare, he vowed to champion disabled people
    He vowed to take on the Government, to make disability assessments fairer etc.

    Only a couple of weeks after the program aired, his party got into Government and what happened, we saw him advocating benefit freezes, bedroom taxes, sanctions and a whole host of unfairness directed at sick and disabled people.

    Is it any wonder that a huge chunk of former voters felt betrayed and let down and thus abandoned the party and never to return..
    Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me and all that….

  • In any discussion of the Coalition government we should recognise that during the 2010 campaign we said the Conservatives would increase VAT and then the Coalition government did. We promised an economic stimulus, but trashed the UK recovery, it being reported at the time that we were in a double dip recession.

    Geoffrey Payne
    Makes some excellent points “At no point did Nick Clegg ever seemed to be concerned that we were losing our left of centre support in the country … It was though in the mind of Nick Clegg such people … did not matter”. Of course this wasn’t just Nick, there were large numbers of party members who brought into the idea that it didn’t matter we were losing our left of centre base because we would pick up new voters by being in government!

    It was another betrayal of trust. We expected our MPs to be like our activists, but they were mostly not, lots of them were right of centre and very happy to support the neoliberal economic policies of George Osborne.

    Glenn
    Also makes excellent points, “The basic problem was the coalition’s program of austerity made a lot of people who voted Lib Dem poorer. This is because a disproportionate number of the Lib Dem vote … worked in the public sector and … In other words the Party failed to look after it’s own”. The leadership didn’t seem to understand who our voters were and so ensure we didn’t attack them, a large proportion were working in the public sector where we froze wages and made their pensions worse.

    It would be helpful for us to move on to look at the failures of Coalition and put in place not only policies to reverse them but also mechanisms to stop our Parliamentarians doing the same in the future.

    I wonder what would have happened if we had started the disciplinary procedure against each MP which supported the recommendations of the Browne Review on University Funding for bringing or likely to bring the party into disrepute well before firm proposals were being made. Or if we had expelled from the Party all our Parliamentarians who voted to increase VAT for bringing the party into dispute. Perhaps it was a failure of the Federal Executive Committee.

  • Joe,

    Of the weighted sample 34.3% voted Conservative in 2017, 32.8% voted Labour and only 6.1% voted for us. 60% would never vote for us at the next general election. Of the 30% which thought we were right to go into Coalition I wonder how many have not forgiven us for what we did when in government.

  • Joseph Bourke 14th Apr '19 - 4:12pm

    Michael BG.

    “60% would never vote for us at the next general election.” Why do you say that? Most of the Libdem losses in 2015 were to Conservatives and the SNP. Seats were recovered in SW London, Scotland, Eastbourne, Oxford and Bath in 2017. Many of the traditional Liberal seats have not stopped electing Libdem councillors. Cheltenham has 32 Libdem councillors of 40 and a Conservative MP with a majority of 2500.
    There is currently a recall petition underway in Peterborough against the sitting Labour MP and another expected in Brecon and Radnorshire against the Conservative MP. While Peterborough (based on recent results) may not be a Libdem prospect the Welsh constituency would appear to be (as would the borderiing constituency of Ceredigion when it is next contested along with former Libdem seats Leeds North West, Richmond Park, Sheffield Hallam, Southport as well as Charlie Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown’s former seats in Ross, Skye & Lochaber and Yeovil.
    Mark Pack makes the argument “The party’s current single digit poll ratings aren’t down to continuing hatred over coalition or the party’s record in coalition. They are more down to perceived relevance, success and clarity over what the party stands for.”
    I think he makes a strong case for his argument and we would be much better served by a laser-like focus on basic key deliverable and costed policies that demonstrate what Liberalism means in the areas of housing, homelessness and rents; schools fundng, children services & child poverty; NHS and adult social care; Policing and knife-crime.

  • Joe,

    Do you not realise that I am quoting the YouGov poll that Mark Pack linked to. According to the poll “60% would never vote for us at the next general election “. Also the poll found that only 4% said they would definitely vote for us and only 22% would consider voting for us. The evidence does not support Mark Pack’s conclusion.

    In 2011 we lost 748 councillors; in 2012 336; in 2013 124 (mainly county ones), in 2014 310; in 2015 411; totally 1929. In 2016 we gained 45, in 2017 we lost another 42 councillors again most county ones, and in 2018 we gained 76. Many wards and divisions no longer elect Lib Dems. (1850 according to these figures no longer do so.)

    I want us to end adult and pensioner poverty not just child poverty. Don’t you?

  • @David Raw 13th Apr ’19 – 9:31am

    “@ Michael 1. You’ve obviously missed the point that the National Audit Office found that 77 per cent of the pupil premium was swallowed up into general spending by schools mostly to make up for cuts in the SENs budgets.”

    Probably because I believe this is not the point that they made. You don’t cite your reference (a fail I am afraid 🙂 ! ) but I assume you are referring to their 2014 report as it includes the 77% figure (but if it was something else let us know) when they said:

    “77% of schools use SOME Pupil Premium for activities that are designed to support all pupils rather than just those who are disadvantaged. This can be COST-EFFECTIVE but there is a risk of diluting the funding’s impact, particularly in the 15% of schools with fewer than 1 in 5 disadvantaged pupils that mainly use funding in this way.”
    (my emphasis in capitals).

    via https://www.nao.org.uk/report/funding-for-disadvantaged-pupils/

    My understanding is that it was always designed in this way to go to the WHOLE school. They might use it to employ a teaching assistant, say and that teaching assistant may be helping a non-disadvantaged children when the teacher was helping the disadvantaged child(ren).

    The NAO also noted: “The attainment gap between disadvantaged and other pupils narrowed by 4.7 percentage points in primary schools and 1.6 percentage points in secondary schools between 2011 and 2014.”

    Now that we do not face a £100 billion a year deficit which was Labour’s “kind” gift to the coalition, I have advocated on LDV a three pronged approach

    Double the Pupil Premium
    More money for schools in disadvantaged areas
    A real terms increase for the schools budget (including for those outside disadvantaged areas)

    It looks as if the PP is effective. You need more money for schools in disadvantaged areas to attract teachers generally who may not otherwise go to them. And all schools should see rising resources.

    I think that now public finances are better in no small part due to the coalition, education should be our top spending priority – crucial for tackling poverty in the long term, social mobility and our future economic prosperity.

    I am sure that you will point out that outside of the pupil premium there was a small real terms decrease I believe in the schools budget during the coalition – although my guess is that you find it was more generous than under most of Labour’s term.

  • Peter Watson 15th Apr '19 - 2:17pm

    @Michael 1
    “Let’s also nail the myth that Labour or the Tories would have introduced the pupil premium – certainly in any meaningful way.”
    That’s not nailing a myth, it’s simply creating a different one. It’s all speculative, but with the three major parties promoting the idea, it would have been a relatively easy sell for any of them in Government. The only difference would have been the combination of new money, old money, and sleight of hand to pay for it.

    “the Tories would not have introduced the increase in the personal allowance – they would have had tax cuts for the rich. Cameron said in the leaders’ debate “I would love to do it but it is not affordable””
    Cameron’s comments before the election made it clear the Tories liked the idea, so it begs the question, how was it afforded? In that sense, raising the personal allowance is similar to the Pupil Premium. The Tories had already shown that they were receptive to both ideas, and as spending or tax-reducing commitments they are only half of the equation so cannot be claimed as proud Lib Dem successes in isolation from the measures taken to fund them.

  • Michael BG,

    surely the survey prior to the 2017 election indicates that 35% could never vote for the Liberal Democrats; 25% would not consider voting for the Liberal Democrats at the 2017 election, but perhaps one day in the future; 19% would consider voting for the Liberal Democrats 12% would definitely vote for the Liberal Democrats; and 17%
    don’t know.
    How many voters would say they could never vote Tory or Labour compared with the 30-35% that say that of Libdems?
    Mark Pack’s conclusions are based on the specifics survey question asling if The Liberal Democrats were wrong to go into coalition with the Conservatives and I haven’t forgiven them – to which 22% answered yes. 46% either agreed that the Libdems were right to go into coalition decision or (if they disagreed) have forgiven the party.

    From this survey data directly addressing the question, Mark Pack is reasonably able to conclude that the party’s current single digit poll ratings aren’t down to continuing hatred over coalition or the party’s record in coalition. They are more down to perceived relevance, success and clarity over what the party stands for.

  • Peter Watson 15th Apr '19 - 5:14pm

    @Joe Bourke “surely the survey prior to the 2017 election indicates that …”
    Based upon the Yougov survey results to which Mark Pack links, I think you are quoting the survey findings after the 2017 election (fieldwork 13-15 September 2017) which, perhaps surprisingly, seem to show a move away from the party when compared with the findings from a previous survey (fieldwork 14-15 September 2016) when 30% stated they could never vote for the Lib Dems.

    I agree that a lack of clarity over what the party stands for (even on Brexit in some polls!) is a problem, but I am not convinced that the Coalition can be so readily ignored. In a review of the same poll, Chris Curtis at YouGov concluded (https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2017/09/18/why-lib-dems-couldnt-capitalise-brexit-election-an):

    The first reason [the Liberal Democrats have not made deep inroads into the “Hard Remain” vote] is the long shadow of the coalition. Overall, the majority (55%) of “Hard Remainers” think that the Lib Dems were wrong to go into government with the Conservatives and three in ten (31%) still haven’t forgiven the party for being part of the coalition. The figure is less surprising given those committed to continued EU membership are more likely to be younger graduates that may still fell particularly angry about the tuition fee increase.
    Being in the coalition still hampers support for the party. “Broken promises” were the main reason that 2010 Lib Dem voters that deserted the party in 2015 didn’t return to the fold in 2017. Furthermore, over a fifth (22%) of “Hard-Remainers” say they could never vote for the Liberal Democrats while a further 28% state they wouldn’t consider supporting the party at the next election they might do “one day in the future”.

  • @David Raw

    To coin a phrase an A for effort but an E for exaggerating how terrible the coalition government was. 🙂 !

    You totally misrepresent the NAO report (now 4 years old) which is positive but cautious about the PP but people can read it for themselves.

    On the pupil premium, it is worth listening to the 2018 (so relatively up to date) BBC Radio 4 analysis programme presented by Professor of Education at UCL, Dr Rebecca Allen. She concludes that she thinks the PP has closed the attainment gap. But she points out there is no counter-factual and that school budgets have suffered (a bit) since 2011. There is evidence that the attainment gap has closed by about 11% but to be fair she also points out that different exams etc. are being taken. She also points out that the benefits system and the home lives where families are struggling financially of disadvantaged children can have an impact on their attainment.
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0000szv

    The PP devolved approach of giving teachers the money and trusting them to spend it well according to what works locally that appeals to me as a liberal rather than dictats from a central bureaucracy which don’t necessarily know what is needed in School A. The coalition government also established the Education Endowment Fund with £125 million grant to do research on which educational approaches work and how the PP can be most effectively spent.

    The broad arc of public spending is the Labour government being pretty stingy in its first two terms and turning on the taps in its last 2 years, and obviously cutbacks during the coalition years but normally only back to what had been the case under Labour a few years early. Schools (and the NHS) were protected budgets.

    We didn’t go around saying how wonderful it is to cut government spending. We did say that the public finances needed to be improved from an unsustainable £100 billion a year deficit. And the Tories went too far post-2015 with massively improved public finances thanks to the coalition and with Brexit spent billions that could be going to our schools on fridges for the NHS and ferry companies without any ferries etc!

    On the financial crash I am not saying that it was necessarily Labour’s fault but it happened on their watch and clearly something we had to contend with while they walked away! I am sure that you probably blame Lloyd-George for it as everything is all our fault even it happened AFTER or BEFORE the coalition.

  • @Peter Watson 15th Apr ’19 – 2:17pm

    Oh really! Come off it!

    Tories and Labour hardly “promoted” the idea of the pupil premium. One line in their 2010 manifestos and not in Labour’s top 50 manifesto pledges – whereas it was on the essentially on the front cover of ours and one of our “first priorities”. I think you would be hard pressed to find it in their 2010 election campaigning except in response to us. Of course you can never say what would have happened in an alternative history but I would venture that it is a fair conclusion that it wouldn’t have introduced in a majority Tory or Labour government – other than perhaps a few pounds.

    On the personal allowance, Cameron said during the campaign that he wouldn’t introduce it. My guess is that the Tories would have made income tax cuts for the rich instead as they fund the Conservative party.

  • Andrew Melmoth 15th Apr '19 - 8:27pm

    -Joseph Bourke
    The pledge on tuition fees was effectively broken as soon as the Coalition agreement was signed and was a news story from day one. Support fell to about 18% in the weeks after the election but it was another 6-8 months before it got down to 12-10%. During that period Lib Dem politicians were repeatedly challenged on whether they would stick to the pledge and they couldn’t give a clear answer. The idea that the voters who deserted the party in 2010/11 weren’t really Lib Dems is a comforting fiction that hinders rather than helps the party’s recovery.

  • Joe,

    I agree with Peter Watson, the date of the survey is 13th to 15th September 2017 which is after the 2017 general election.

    I don’t know where you got your “12% would definitely vote for us” from. The figures are 35, 25, 19, 4, 17 totally 100. That is 4% would definitely vote for us at the next general election. And 35+25 = 60 who would not vote for us at the next general election as I stated.

    My point was the answer, “The Liberal Democrats were right to go into coalition with the Conservative” was a bad option because it will include both those who have forgiven us and those who have not. As I wrote, I wonder how many have not forgiven us for what we did when in government.

    It is not the case that 46% would consider voting for us, it is only 23% half of your mythical 46%. Therefore we could assume that 16% who have forgiven us are all in this figure, meaning that of the 30% who thought it was right for us to go into coalition only 7% have forgiven us.

  • Peter Watson 16th Apr '19 - 12:02am

    @Michael 1 “Tories and Labour hardly “promoted” the idea of the pupil premium. One line in their 2010 manifestos …”
    Much as I hate defending the Conservatives, their policy for a Pupil Premium to provide “dedicated extra spending for pupils who come from more disadvantaged homes” was described by a few more lines in a policy Green Paper in 2007 (http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/pdfs/2007-conservative-policy.pdf), perhaps a year or two ahead of the Lib Dems (who at least put a price tag on it), and in a speech to the RSA in 2009 Michael Gove said, “we have made it clear that we would reform school funding – through a pupil premium for poorer children – to ensure new schools and further innovation are most effectively concentrated in the areas of greatest disadvantage.”.
    I have to worry about the abilities of Lib Dem negotiators in the Coalition if persuading the Conservatives to agree to their own policies can be presented as a hard-fought victory!

  • Peter Watson 16th Apr '19 - 12:38am

    @Joseph Bourke “The conclusion I come to is the party has to rebuild by standing on its own liberal values and principles without being reliant on tactical voting from either anti-tory or anti-labour voters.”
    I agree with that entirely.
    However, I think the biggest obstacle is the lack of “clarity over what the party stands for” that you mentioned earlier. I would cite Tim Farron’s 2017 TV interview with Andrew Neill as a prime example of managing not to appear clear even on some bread-and-butter issues for Lib Dems. The legacy of Coalition government is obviously an important factor, and long-running disagreements about economic liberalism have also contributed to that lack of clarity, perhaps obscuring the socially liberal consensus and shared desire to build the sort of society described in the Party’s constitution (though thankfully the term “Orange Booker” is not thrown about much in the current Brexit-dominated climate). Also, perhaps inevitably, in recent years it seems that the Lib Dems’ limited media exposure has been used to criticise things they don’t want rather than promote things they do want. Party conferences and committees might have been bringing forward any number of brilliant policies, but the electorate has not noticed and perhaps won’t begin to until the dust has settled on Brexit/Bremain.
    I also feel that there is also an understandable reluctance to rock the boat and risk alienating those anti-Labour/anti-Conservative tactical voters. For me, the Lib Dems’ approach to grammar schools would be an example of that (and a particular bugbear of mine!).

  • OnceALibDem 16th Apr '19 - 8:53pm

    You can’t though just look at the LIb Dems in coalition on one side of the equation. you need to look at other aspects such as this:
    https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/28/scrap-laws-driving-privatisation-of-health-service-say-nhs-bosses

    And remember that the 2012 act was passed directly contradictory to the coalition agreement. There was certainly no mandate from the party to support it.

  • David Evans 18th Apr '19 - 8:25am

    Joseph, I can understand what you are saying, but I fear you, like too many Lib Dems, are still just repeating reassuring mantras rather than objectively analysing a drastically changed situation.

    The simple fact, which we both accept, is that since we went into coalition, our support in terms of votes received in elections plummeted and has recovered very little since. This is the clear verdict of British voters (as expressed in elections and in opinion polls where they are specifically asked their voting intention) on the Liberal Democrats in particular and Liberal Democracy in general.

    So far the party and its members has chosen a number of options over the period in an attempt to address this problem but hardly any have had even a slight positive impact and several are actually making things more difficult. Indeed, other than the decision to wholeheartedly support Remain, nothing has moved us, even temporarily, from the 8% to 12% range we have been stuck in for so long.

    As I have said, “Ultimately it comes down to two conflicting philosophies – those who believe the in learning lessons from the mistakes of the past and those who wish it would all just go away”. Perhaps I am slightly mistaken in that, and there is a third group (which I think you belong to) a group who believe that being liberal is sufficient and all we have to do is carry on with that approach (and of course improve it) and things will steadily improve. Certainly that is the impression I get from reading your posts.

    Sadly, although I am a liberal, the one thing I know is that if we stand on liberalism alone we fail miserably. As far as most people are concerned, the UK is a liberal country – indeed if you believe the latest research with just over half wanting a “strong, breaking the rules” type of leader, a slight majority believe that we are too liberal already. We declined from the 1920s to the 1950s as we tried to stay just liberal, and the only period when we were strong was when we took on board the social democrats with their wider appeal. Liberalism alone and chasing after its fabled core vote is final step in the route to oblivion.

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