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.
2. Re-build from the local level up
The essence of our campaigning party in the past was community politics. We need to engage with people and help them to bring about positive progressive change in their local communities. This will be the first step on the road to us rebuilding our local government base.
Through active community politics we can reclaim many of the council seats that we have lost. We must start by trying to reclaim our former council strongholds, such as Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle, Hinckley and Bosworth, as well as many parts of London. Once we are restored as the effective party of local government, we can once again begin to be restored nationally.
3. Ditch Centrism
The party’s strategy of rigid centrism during the last Parliament has proven to be disastrous. We are fundamentally a centre-left party. We can no longer be the party of the lowest common denominator between Labour and the Conservatives. We must win back those centre-left voters that we alienated during our time in Coalition with the Conservatives.
Like Lloyd George and Beveridge before us, we must place social reform and social justice at the heart of our liberal analysis of what Britain needs. We must aim to tackle inequality and give a voice to the poorest people in our society who have often been abandoned by mainstream politics.
4. Prepare for Government not Coalitions
Now it might just be a little premature to be thinking about the next general election, but it’s vital that we acknowledge a mistake that we made during the last campaign. We must in future have general election campaigns that are focussed towards a future Lib Dem government not a future coalition with either Labour or the Tories.
We must offer a distinctive liberal message to the country, not an early compromise with the other parties. The Liberal Democrats do not exist just to prop-up another party in a coalition, but to eventually form a government of our own.
5. Develop a radical vision
We need a radical vision and narrative behind which our party can rally. It shouldn’t just be something that speaks to the party faithful but to the country as a whole. This vision must embody our centre-left social liberalism and the need to radically reform Britain, politically, economically and socially to ensure that no-one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.
We must develop a narrative that tackles the inequalities of the last 30 years. We need to develop a vision about redistributing wealth and power to the poor and the powerless. We must oppose Conservative dogma and right wing fear with centre-left progressive hope. The Liberal Democrats need to develop a radical liberal vision that challenges the current status-quo and that can capture the imagination of voters across the country.
The road of recovery will be hard, but we need not wait 30 or 40 years to see a recovery. I believe we can recover as a party in the space of a decade, if we follow the five steps above. If we develop a strong grassroots movement, if we grow our local government base, if we abandon centrism, if we focus on an eventual government and if we have a radical vision, we can recover.