Winning for Britain: Rebuilding the Lib Dems to change the course of our country

Today, we have published a new report with the Social Liberal Forum “Winning for Britain: Rebuilding the Lib Dems to change the course of our country“. We have done so because we passionately believe the Lib Dems must learn from last year’s catastrophic election defeat, not only for the good of the party and Liberalism, but because if we don’t the Conservative will rule for another decade.

We present evidence of the scale of what went wrong last December and ideas on what needs to change. Some of this is about data collection, analysis and improved message testing. But our report is also about the party’s strategic positioning, relative to the voter groups we need to win over.

The challenge in front of us is to build a coalition that spans voter tribes labelled in the report as the Green Left, Older Establishment Liberals, Progressive Cosmopolitans, Young Insta-Progressives, Centre-Left Pragmatists, Mainstream Tories and into the Younger Disengaged and the Older Disillusioned. In the latter two groups, the majority currently do not vote at all.

Our argument is that this coalition can only be built by a fundamentally progressive and socially liberal turn that consigns Cleggism and “equidistance” to the past. The Lib Dems must fight from the centre left but rather than being a pale imitation of Labour, must offer our own distinct, Liberal alternative to the Conservatives. The research in the report shows that the voter tribes we need to attract will support us on social justice, environmentalism, and internationalism. It shows we will get support if we attack unaccountable and over-concentrated private sector power. It shows that we can tap into new sources of support in disillusioned communities, young and old, if we challenge over-concentrated public power too. It shows we can win if we expand citizen voice and use it to erode the toxic perception that politicians are out of touch, a perception that helps drive support for right wing populists who claim to speak for ‘the people’.

But our report also shows that we should move on to territory that some in our potential voter coalition care about and that we often ignore. Issues like patriotism and social order matter to some voter tribes where we have strong potential to grow our support.

We knew, in making this part of our argument that some would attack us for pandering to the right in pursuit of ‘soft Tories’. But we are arguing for nothing of the kind. We are making the serious point that one of the reasons for our current predicament is that we allow our opponents to frame the debate, not just on patriotism but on much else besides. We don’t like the exclusive nationalism they come up with and so instead of battling to offer an alternative account of what it means to be a patriot we walk away and allow them to own the territory.

By suggesting we engage, we are not pandering to their opinions. We are saying it is time to park Liberal tanks on nationalist and social authoritarian lawns. We are saying it is time to articulate a patriotism that celebrates the divides we bridge, the diversity we embody, and our achievements as a people. We are saying it is time to see the flag as a canvas on which to write our own, liberal version of the national story, not allow the only story on offer to be the one peddled by Johnson, Cummings and Farage.

Adding liberal Tories who hate what Johnson is doing to our voter coalition isn’t moving to the right, it is thinking and explaining afresh to those voters what it means to be Liberal and progressive centre-left.  If we don’t do it, we’ll remain trapped in an electoral ghetto and the country will remain trapped under Conservative rule.

* Ian Kearns is the Director of the Social Liberal Forum and Jon Alexander is a Council Member at the Social Liberal Forum.

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12 Comments

  • James Belchamber 25th Sep '20 - 4:03pm

    This is a really high-quality publication, and fills in a lot of the gaps I believe should have been in the election review.

    A must-read for any party member, regardless of where in the party you see yourself.

  • Rob Davidson 25th Sep '20 - 4:49pm

    As a data scientist, I am pleased to see SLF team up with Datapraxis to produce this report and add to the debate on how we move forward and win.
    I hope that this new analysis will be reviewed by all the various Federal Board members and the team (old and new) at LDHQ and used to further shape thinking on how to act upon the Election Review and to gear up for future elections. It should be seen as a supportive effort and it really does add value.

  • Brilliant. Looking forward to the Lib Dem campaign against `rule of six`,against curfews, imaginative ideas about shielding the vulnerable so that they have some sort of physical contact with families and other vulnerable people so that we can open up our economy, our public services, non-profits, arts and sports and OUR DEMOCRACY!

    Don’t tell me the Lib Dems aren’t up for a load of safe socially distanced well-managed local by-elections?

  • Chris Northwood 25th Sep '20 - 9:17pm

    This is an excellent publication, and really gets into the nitty gritty that I’d have liked the Thornhill report to have done, and has some pretty actionable insights for the future.

  • `The research in the report shows that the voter tribes we need to attract will support us on social justice, environmentalism, and internationalism`

    Where are you on freedom of speech, diversity of opinion, migration (in a time of mass unemployment), CCP (who caused the spread of today’s misery), Nuclear power, statues and street names?

  • Peter Watson 25th Sep '20 - 9:48pm

    Half-way through, the line that really resonates with my view of the party from the outside is “The Liberal Democrats continue to lack a clear definition of what they are and what they stand for in the eyes of the electorate, as opposed to what they are not and what they stand against.” Whether the party follows one of the strategic options or some other strategy, it is essential to start communicating a clear message of what Lib Dems are for rather than just what they are against.
    In another thread, Gordon (https://www.libdemvoice.org/what-are-the-partys-principles-and-values-65898.html#comment-541550) sums up really well what this should involve: “Most … are far more comfortable thinking about down-to-earth things that directly relate to our lives and those of our family and friends – education, housing, security and so on. So, we should use what we say about those things as a demonstrator of our values. That doesn’t have to be fully worked-up policies – an outline of ambition and direction of travel will do.”

  • You Lib Dems will never learn. Running around making coalitions with anyone who is anti Johnson is not going to get you anywhere. Instead try coming up with policies that really matter to people and the voters will return. It really isn’t difficult, ease of on the identity politics and trying to save the world every day. Concentrate on Law and Order, Housing, helping those in need and people will start listening again. At the moment most voters think you are rather clueless.

  • You lost me when going on about voter tribes, thought the LibDem’s were all about individual liberty, etc.

  • …………The challenge in front of us is to build a coalition that spans voter tribes labelled in the report as the Green Left, Older Establishment Liberals, Progressive Cosmopolitans, Young Insta-Progressives, Centre-Left Pragmatists, Mainstream Tories and into the Younger Disengaged and the Older Disillusioned. In the latter two groups, the majority currently do not vote at all……….

    So, although a concensus with ‘Mainstream Tories’ (David Cameron types), LibDems still cold shouldering Labour.
    BTW it wasn’t just “last year’s catastrophic election defeat” it was 2015 and 2017. It seems, at least to me, this party seems still incapable of learning anything..

    As for ‘option 2’…- if every single Labour
    and Green voter had switched to the Liberal
    Democrats in every seat where the Liberal
    Democrats were the progressive frontrunner,
    and vice versa – that would still only have
    secured 28 Liberal Democrat seats, with the
    Conservatives still winning 303.

    That ignores the position that supporters of a third party, when their party clearly has absolutely no chance of winning, are far less likely to vote…It will need a concerted effort to remove this government and, if that fact is not acknowledged, 2024 will just be a re-run of the last three elections; a lot of ‘nearlies’ but no change…

  • Steve Trevethan 27th Sep '20 - 4:30pm

    Might we also consider exposing and opposing the massive deep state propaganda which manages public thinking to its detriment?
    https://www.medialens.org/
    Might we also seek out and promote an important matter which will realign public attitudes and political parties?
    https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/09/25/the-last-third-party-to-win-waged-political-struggle-with-a-revolutionary-reform/

  • Nigel Sarbutts 14th Oct '20 - 9:14pm

    That report gives me hope that there is a way forward, but let it be final screw on the coffin lid of the core vote strategy and hasten the exit of all those from Party HQ who espoused it. Does the party have the intellectual capacity and leadership to see this kind of radical change through? Not convinced.

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