At many a hustings meeting it was my Tory opponent – a Government Whip - who was ‘generously’ trying to ‘big up’ the ‘wonderful contribution’ of the Lib Dems to the Tory led Government, whilst I was fast peddling in a different direction trying to differentiate and distance myself from the Tories. I was also trying to use the hustings meetings to explain that I was just as, if not more, concerned as the other progressive candidates (Green and Labour) with the implications of another right wing Government programme, such as the follies of renewing trident, extending benefit cuts or healthcare competition, and delaying Climate Change action (as the only Party with a practical plan to do so with our 5 Green Laws and Minister willing to argue for a 50% target at the forthcoming Paris summit). It seemed to perfectly encapsulate the Lib Dem dilemma and challenge of differentiation, and the struggle to change public perceptions that we were anything other than Tory lite – which has little appeal even to soft Tories as it makes them more likely to vote for the real thing, rather than for an alternative.
But the challenges did not stop there. I was standing in a seat where we had built up to a strong second place in 2010, but with an increasingly withering local organisation – and trying to run an integrated campaign of local and national messages, but with serving councillors only re-standing on condition that they could put as much distance between themselves and the Party with the Lib Dem logo almost invisible on their literature. Training on connect (which unhelpfully crashed on election day), e-campaigns and other methods of voter connectivity have never really percolated down as far as Suffolk.Read more
Unless progressives stop ceding the ground on austerity, the Tories will always capitalise on economic fear
Elections do not happen in a vacuum. Political pundits and seasoned campaigners can sit around regretting the use of a particular slogan or the flop of a particular photo opportunity, but the real issue is cultural; meaningful understanding of what happens in an election comes from examining the complex unity of social feelings and ideas that conditioned the choices that people made at that crucial, lonely, moment in the ballot booth.
It would seem that the over-arching feeling was one of fear: a deep-rooted apprehension about the economy. The financial crisis still casts a shadow over our sense of confidence and well-being, and we continue to feel the concrete reality of an anaemic economy. There are few people who feel like there is adequate understanding of why the financial crisis happened in the first place, and fewer still who feel confident in the regulatory measures that have been introduced to avoid it happening again.Read more
The general election was truly horrific for the Liberal Democrats. Despite our huge losses, our party can recover if it follows these five steps.
1. Become a Movement with a Parliamentary Face
It is vital that we become a radical campaigning party again. Whether it’s concerning political reform, civil liberties, the environment or fairness, we must be visibly campaigning on those causes that will make Britain more liberal. Likewise we should be as active in protesting against regressive policies, something that the new Conservative government will give us many opportunities to do.
From the street corner to Westminster, we must make our campaigning voice heard loud and clear. We should become a Liberal Democrat movement with a Parliamentary face. One part grassroots movement, one part Parliamentary party. The grassroots movement for liberty, opportunity, and social justice, spearheaded by Liberal Democrat MPs in Parliament.Read more
As if the scale of the Lib Dem defeat wasn’t bad enough closer analysis shows that the party did even worse, if that is possible, in seats with higher black, Asian and minority ethnic populations.
As a general rule, the bigger the BAME population the worse the Lib Dems fared. The national swing against the party was minus 15 percent, but it was minus 30 percent in some heavily multicultural seats.
Predictable maybe, but unless the Lib Dems address their ‘ethnic deficit’ this one-off protest could become the norm.
If the party do not reach out to BAME communities in the next term it will quickly see the brand become toxic, a byword for white middle classes who don’t understand or care for diverse populations.Read more
The Liberal Democrats repeatedly ignored the warning signs that their strategy was not working.
- We have lost 45% of our councillor base since 2010 (we now have 2,257 compared with 4,088 in May 2010).
- We lost 71% of our MSPs in 2011.
- We lost 91% of our MEPs in 2014.
Five things we must never do again
We must never again accept coalition with the Tories - Every time the party has entered into a coalition with the Tories it has come out seriously damaged. The one in the 1930s ended in a three way split and national irrelevance. This one might be worse. It is a near-death experience. We must never do this again. Why does this happen? Largely because we are a party built on values, not on protecting interests, and coalition with the Tories obscures the public's view of our values. We end up looking like a party of manoeuvre, caring only about holding office.
We must never again promote coalitionism - Much worse than entering a coalition is adopting the stance that coalitions are good in themselves because they bring 'stability'. If people want stability they vote Conservative. The final week of the 2015 campaign was ludicrous. Getting supporters to wave placards saying 'Stability' and 'Unity' was not only deeply illiberal (it looked like something out of Vichy France) it was also deeply stupid. It played into the Tories' main strength. A party such as ours, a party that wants change, cannot make stability its main goal.
We must never again push centrism - Saying that we are between the other two gets in the way of saying who we are and what we are for. Worse, it leaves us with a very small group of voters who believe that both the other parties are extreme. For all other voters, our argument reinforces the view that voting for us risks putting into power the people they were against. That is why we lost seats both to Labour and to the Tories.Read more
The public has finally been able to express its view on the direction that the Liberal Democrats have taken since 2010.
The General Election results were an unmitigated disaster. To claim anything else is to insult both the candidates and the campaigners who worked so tirelessly, and to the voters who responded to a poor and unappealing offer.Read more
The government has announced the implementation of more SLF policy. Just a couple of weeks since the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference adopted new SLF policy on trade unions, Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable has reached an agreement with the Trades Union Congress to begin work towards enabling trades unions to ballot their members electronically.Read more
Between the ages of six and nineteen I used to regularly attend two social / sporting clubs a week. Sometimes up to four evenings a week, I was out at one or other of these activities. I came from a not-well-off Working Class family, especially when my parents split up when I was eleven, so this isn’t some tale of a Middle Class family forking out lots of money so their young one could do nice things. No, the fees, such as they were, for joining these groups, was quite low.
But what they taught me was priceless and stays with me to this day. Being part of these organisations enabled me to make friends, to join in activities, to be part of the community, to stay on the straight and narrow, and to see a wider landscape of what I might achieve when I was older.
Of course what happens in school is important in terms of the course our lives take, but the impact and importance of out-of-school Youth Services, whether run by statutory agencies or charities, can and often do play a vital role in the overall well-being of our young people and therefore a determining factor in how they behave and perform when in the classroom itself.
Which is why it’s been so shocking and upsetting to see the near decimation of Youth Services in all too many parts of the Country in recent years and why myself and Linda Jack, among others, are calling for an assessment of where these services need restarting and reinvestment.Read more
In the most uncertain election for decades, only two things can be predicted with much confidence: Barring a major slip-up (or breakthrough) during the campaign by Ed Miliband, there will be no overall majority; and Liberal Democrat representation in the House of Commons will be significantly reduced. However, it is also likely that the party will do better than the public expects, for three reasons. First, public expectation is ill-informed. Plenty of intelligent people think a Lib Dem meltdown would leave them with only a handful of MPs. Similarly, talk of a UKIP (or Green) surge has led people to believe they’ll have 20-30 seats in the next parliament. In reality, the reverse is more likely. Second, low expectations for the Lib Dems have been accentuated by the media’s limited comprehension of polling data – and particularly of the long-standing lack of correlation between uniform swings and Liberal Democrat seat losses (or gains).Read more