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.
In 2010, Liberal Democrat MPs were elected on a social liberal manifesto, in keeping with the party’s traditional, left-of-centre, radical, progressive stance, inherited from the Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell years.
Yet during the 2010 parliament, the ‘Orange Bookers’ – with unprecedented patronage and support from the leadership – were for the first time able to control the party’s direction. In yesterday’s election, the voters have had their first chance to deliver their verdict on this strategy. They have overwhelmingly rejected it, dealing the Liberal cause its worst result since 1970. We have lost most of our MPs and have a string of lost deposits to our name.
Liberals need to turn back from this centrist blind alley and find their soul again. The 2015 ‘split the difference’ strategy has failed. We need to consider what liberalism has to offer the public, and why people have previously voted Lib Dem – and why they have now ceased to do so. It is clear that the 2015 General Election strategy has no appeal. If we look to our heritage, we have been successful when we have been a reformist, left-of-centre, environmentally-focused party that makes no apology for its radicalism, and which carves out a positive, distinctive message. Voters deserted us when we deserted that position. We abandoned our values, and the voters understandably, abandoned us.
While the right is resurgent, it is plain that attempts by the centre and the left to accommodate the right have not met with any success. We urgently need to unite the centre-left against the conservative narrative of austerity and despair, in favour of the politics of hope. It is time for a wholesale reform of our electoral system. Those in all parties who have consistently opposed the most egregious aspects of the last parliament must come together to fight for the poor, for the marginalised, for the hopeless, and for a better, more inclusive and prosperous society that maximises human capability.
It must start with hope, and it must start today.