Will we learn the lessons of 2014 in 2024?

It hit me yesterday that 2024 marks 10 years since the Scottish referendum on independence. How on earth did that happen?  Given the failure of the SNP to manage Scotland’s public services using the extensive powers they already have, you could argue that we had a very lucky escape.

For me, that referendum set in motion the events that led to where we are now. David Cameron learned that a broadly negative status quo campaign could win the day and transferred that experience to the campaign to remain in the EU.  He should have realised that the pro-UK side was lucky to get away with such a poor campaign and should have done so much better. If we had managed to get over 60%, we could have perhaps avoided all the arguments about a second referendum that have paralysed Scottish politics since.

The campaigns to stay in both unions failed to inspire, or offer any sort of positive vision. The Scottish independence campaign cunningly hid the negativity at its core with a frothy, engaging message that touched people’s hearts. The campaign to leave the EU just flat out lied to people and wasn’t effectively challenged either by the media or the opposition.

The Yes campaign and the campaign to leave the EU touched a nerve with people because they felt powerless to change their own destiny. It is also 10 years since our Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper, half a decade before she became an MP, suggested “Take Back Control” as a slogan for us.  It would be a slogan with meaning, too, because so many of our policies are about exercising power as close to the people as possible.  Liberal Democrats could deliver so much more than the non-existent control promised by the Brexiteers.

Liberal Democrats have so much substance in our policies to help deliver a much more equal, happier, sustainable society. From our guaranteed basic income, to strengthening our democracy by cleaning up our politics and making sure people get the parliament they ask for, to restoring our international reputation, to tackling the housing crisis and slowing our rush to climate catastrophe, we have some solid ideas that will make a huge difference to people.

I’ve been saying for a long time that we need a melody to tie all this together and inspire people to vote for us. This will help in our target seats where we need  soft Labour or Green voters to vote for us alongside the soft Tories who are disgusted by the devastation wrought by the modern day Conservative Party.

If we and other progressive parties don’t ear-worm the public with some positive reasons to vote for us, we risk not doing as well as we deserve and allowing the Conservatives to cling on to office. We also need to give enough to our own members to inspire them to give completely unreasonable amounts of time and money to help get as many MPs elected as possible.

Conservatives don’t give up on power easily. They are going to fling every nasty, divisive piece of muck they can find because it’s all they’ve got. They can’t gerrymander constituencies like the Republicans can in the States but their voter suppression tactics such as voter ID and making it more difficult to register to vote cost opposition parties hundreds of thousands of votes. They’ve also given themselves a massive campaign  boost by raising national limits to enable them to outspend their opponents. Oh, and they’ve changed the law to mean that political parties can buy up phone numbers again – but they will be able to afford to buy up more than us. They will be spreading their toxic messages under the radar and we will need to keep on top of that with robust rebuttal and strong, values based, heart grabbing communications.

When we have come out strongly on the issues of the day, for example reaffirming our commitment to end the dreadful two child policy on benefits, or our sensible and humanitarian line on Gaza, it’s done us good.

Part of our resilience against Tory toxicity will be our brilliant team of target seat candidates who have been busily building relationships and trust with their local residents over the past few years. The party has very sensibly put a lot of resource into supporting their campaigning on the ground.  Every good ground campaign needs support from the air, though, so we will need to offer some very strong and emotionally compelling reasons to vote for us.

We have so many of those. Liberal Democrats are basically optimistic about people and trusts them to live their lives, that recognises the barriers that stop them from doing so and has the ideas to get rid of them, that takes its responsibilities to steward the planet for the next generation incredibly seriously. Let’s all shout them a bit louder and be the sunshine of this election.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • For me, that referendum (2014 Scottish Independence) set in motion the events that led to where we are now.

    Sorry, Caron, but I have to disagree. ‘Where we are now’ was set in motion by events in 2010……. and making dishevelled points of order from Margot’s bar ain’t going to cure it.

  • Paul Barker 3rd Jan '24 - 12:26pm

    I have to agree with David Raw that so much goes back to Our ( & my) decision in 2010. Without the Coalition The Libdems voice would have been so much louder in both Referenda & Labour under more pressure to campaign properly. I don’t know how Labour handled 2014 but in 2016 they came across as just not interested.

  • Martin Gray 3rd Jan '24 - 1:31pm

    Agree with the comments …The 2010 coalition still casts a shadow across the party . It installed in the public that there’s a lack of trust as regards our often declared values.. Tuition fees & the bedroom tax being ones that stand out ..The BT was a particular spiteful piece of legislation that we should never have been associated with … Impoverishing the already poor is the opposite of what we stand for ..Nick’s defence of it on an LBC radio phone in to a woman who was very ill & had incurred significant debt already – was shameful…

  • James Fowler 3rd Jan '24 - 2:08pm

    I think that’s fascinating that Daisy Cooper proposed ‘Take Back Control ‘ for us. It’s only plausible for an insurgent Party, but that’s mostly what we play at, so I think the shoe would have fitted the Party image generally – as well a being a great tag line for reframing constitutional reform as a more popular issue. I wonder why it was rejected?

  • Mick Taylor 3rd Jan '24 - 8:40pm

    I do get just a little bit fed up with those contributors who want to constantly hark back to the 2010 coalition. Most voters have long forgotten it, just as they forgot the so-called LibLab pact in 1978. Those who do remember it, usually a small minority of Labour voters, simply want to use it as a stick to beat us with.
    As someone with a long political memory, I can remember dreadful things done by Labour (the Iraq war for one) for which they have largely been forgiven and similarly past Tory governments with appalling records that didn’t stop their successors from winning again.
    What we LibDems need is to get out there and sell a Liberal message that resonates with people, not sit at home in armchairs thinking up ways to criticise the party and its leadership. “I told you so” may be satisfying for some if their inactivity and negativity prevents Lib Dems making progress, but not for me.
    We have less than 12 months to set about defeating Tories wherever we can and making sure they are reduced to a rump in the next Parliament, rather than us.

  • Chris Moore 4th Jan '24 - 8:17am

    Spot on, Mick.

    You’d think reading some of the comments about the Coalition on here that it was a uniquely evil government in the whole of UK history.

  • I usually agree with Dr Taylor when it comes to the issues, but sadly I can’t agree with him (or with Chris Moore) on the impact of the Coalition on the standing, popularity and respect for the Liberal Democrat Party. Nor I think did the electorate. To drop from a popular vote of 6,836,824 (23%) in 2010 to 2,415,916 (7.9%) in 2015, and from 57 to 8 seats (some of which have since been lost), more than demonstrates that.

    To ignore a resounding and clear public verdict seems to miss the obvious, and that’s before we get to welfare cuts, the bedroom tax, NHS ‘reorganisation’, pledges made to students and so many other right of centre outcomes like privatising the Royal Mail.

    It lingers on in today’s headlines when the former postal minister has to apologise and complain of being misled by civil servants on the treatment of small postmasters and postmistresses (including a refusal to meet them) when they were wrongly accused of stealing in the Horizon scandal.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Jan '24 - 11:09am

    @David Raw: Any political opponent who tried to attack Ed over his (extremely minor) role in the PO scandal would look Very Silly Indeed as they would have to explain the (in)actions of former Postal Affairs ministers from both the Tory and Labour parties during the scandal (which, don’t forget, dates back to the Blair years). I think Ed might be the only former Postal Affairs minister to have actually addressed it now.
    It’s worth noting that the terms of reference for the inquiry into the scandal do not include the actions of government ministers. This is because the PO is run at arm’s length from government. Unless there’s evidence that Ed did anything to help the PO while Postal Affairs minister that others in the same role did not, then there is really very little for him to answer for.

  • Nonconformistradical 4th Jan '24 - 11:41am

    I agree with Alex Macfie re Ed’s role in the post office IT fiasco. I think Ed did the right thing in stating he wished he’d done more at the time. It’s an acceptance that he might have got things better. If he was being misled at the time he was very far from alone it seems.

  • Mick Taylor 4th Jan '24 - 1:06pm

    David Raw, no-one says the LibDems didn’t make a lot of mistakes during their first term in government since the 2nd world war or that they were not too naive and trusting.
    Like others who have been in government, we have to learn from mistakes and try not to repeat them.
    My point is that it’s far past time to move on. Our current offer is what’s important and campaigning to get the Tories out especially in areas where we are the challengers. Constantly harking back to the past – and sadly you do it far too often – will not win a single vote or seat. For me, and, I suspect, most of the current party members, winning more seats and getting a step nearer to the day when we can win and change the UK, is far more important. David Raw is fond of reminding us of past Liberal failures as far back as the 1st world war. Those of us with a similar keen eye for history have worked out that divisions within the Liberal Party and the split between Lloyd George and Asquith, was far more the cause than policies for the demise of the Liberal Party. In my view sniping from the sidelines is far more damaging and in an election year we need to focus on campaigning and winning seats.

  • Chris Moore 4th Jan '24 - 1:54pm

    Hello David Raw

    I left the party for a couple of years after the formation of the Coalition. And was strongly against going in in the first place.

    Some mistakes were made and some good LD policies were enacted too.

    I believe in being judicious. Not exaggerating and not constantly harping back to the Coalition.

  • Robin Stafford 4th Jan '24 - 2:02pm

    I don’t doubt that most voters have forgotten about the Coalition, though Labour activists have not and will throw it at us, much as Iraq or Corbyn get thrown back.

    I’d be more concerned that the party itself has not moved on and is still trying to look like the soft Tories of Cameron times, just to appeal to those voters. Where is the LibDem party of the past, that was prepared to come up with more challenging messages and policies, that were not just pale imitations off the right (or Left)? Or do we not think anyone is interested in them any more?

  • Alex Macfie may be correct that, “Any political opponent who tried to attack Ed over his (extremely minor) role in the PO scandal would look Very Silly Indeed as they would have to explain the (in)actions of former Postal Affairs ministers from both the Tory and Labour parties during the scandal”. Presumably he must include Jo Swinson as Sir Edward’s successor in 2012-15.

    The problem, Alex, lies more in attacks from the press and broadcasting than from political opponents given today’s coverage. It’s not a good look that Ministers fail to challenge civil servants on questions of injustice.

    I’m sorry Mick Taylor thinks I’m ‘carping from the sidelines’. In fact, for sixty years I’ve campaigned for the party, been employed at party HQ , was National Vice-chair of NLYL, resuscitated the derelict Sowerby association, five times elected Councillor (first Lib in Westmorland), twice Council Group Leader, polled 14,000 plus votes in what is now Sunak’s seat, and Cabinet member for Social Care (during the Coalition). I’ve worn out the shoe leather, Mick.

    As to Liberal History, Squiff and LLG didn’t feature in any of the above, Mick. There is, though, a massive historiography on the decline of the old Liberal Party (much of which was self-inflicted, and much of which is to be learned from).

  • Chris Moore 4th Jan '24 - 2:50pm

    Hello Robin, read Katherine’s article just published.

    We already have ambitious policies to eliminate poverty, increase staff in the NHS and others.

  • @ Alex Mafie and Mick Taylor.

    I’m afraid that truth, justice and Ministerial competence matter more than trying to save ex-Ministers faces. Here is the coverage of ‘Good Morning Britain’ on You Tube.

    ‘The Most Widespread Miscarriage Of Justice’ Mr Bates vs The Post Office | Good Morning Britain 60K views 2 days ago

    Good Morning Britain
    ITV Drama ‘Mr Bates vs The Post Office’ began airing this week. The Horizon scandal, described as “the most widespread …

  • Alex Macfie 4th Jan '24 - 7:29pm

    @David Raw: The question isn’t the scale of the injustice here. Nor is it a matter of saving anyone’s face. The question is why Lib Dems should get any particular flak for it because a few former Postal Affairs ministers happened to be Lib Dems, when there were many more former Postal Affairs ministers from the other two parties during the scandal. This is not a partisan issue. To treat it as such would be fundamentally dishonest, and should be called out as such.

    And BTW “political opponents” includes media apparatchiks, i.e. journalists paid to write hatchet jobs on us. Missives from such people are safe to ignore, as they are intended mainly as comfort food for our partisan enemies.

  • @ Alex Macfie Alex, I’m more than happy to acknowledge and give credit to Sir Edward for apologising now for events when he was a Minister over ten years ago.

    What I find more difficult is that he allowed civil servants to persuade him to refuse a requested meeting to hear the case about the Horizon system from someone who was then a spokesperson for the many traduced Postmasters/Postmistresses and who is now the central character and focus of a major television series in January 2024.

    If there ever are any future Lib Dem Ministers, I hope they will be strong enough not to be so easily persuaded by a future Sir Humphrey on matters of this type. Fighting injustice is (and ought to be) a major element of liberalism.

  • Alex Macfie 6th Jan '24 - 10:04am

    @David Raw: That’s easy enough to say with hindsight. Overruling advice from civil servants is not something to be done lightly, and it more likely to bring criticism. Remember Paxman grilling Michael Howard in 1997 (how many times did Paxman ask Howard whether Howard had overruled the (I think it was) Prison Commissioner?)? This government has been doing a lot of it, and it doesn’t make the government look good. One has to have a very good reason to do so.

  • David Evans 6th Jan '24 - 11:53am

    I’m sad to say that all those who say “Voters have forgotten the coalition” or any of the numerous variations on that theme are simply ignoring one key electoral fact – how many voters vote for us.

    The simple fact is that in GEs from 1983 to 2010 we had averaged over 20.8% of the vote, never less than 16.8%.

    Since 2010 we have averaged 8.9% with a maximum of 11.5%.

    Some may feel voters have forgotten, but votes in ballot boxes tell us the truth.

  • Peter Hirst 16th Jan '24 - 2:54pm

    As part of that we should be more positive about the virtues of forms of deliberative democracy such as Citizens’s Assemblies. They promote both empowerment and representative democracy. We trust Juries to deliver fair judgements so why not the people?

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