Seven initial thoughts on the Liberal Democrat general election result

1. Eleven MPs is desperately disappointing, accentuated not only by Jo Swinson’s own defeat but also by there being six further seats where the Lib Dems missed out by less than a thousand votes. The amazing hard work of so many people was not matched by the result.

2. The national vote share – up by 4%, an increase of a half on last time’s 7% – salves that disappointment. The 1.3 million increase in the Liberal Democrat vote numbers means many more second places from which the party can build in the future and many more supporters from which the party can create a stronger grassroots organisation. Fifteen further seats are now within a 5% swing of being won, for example.

3. There is going to be an awful lot to learn. We’re most likely to learn the right lessons if we remember what distinguishes the true expert from the crowd (short version: if you’re the sort of person who sends an email in the middle of the night telling others how you were right all along and those stupid dolts should have listened to you, you’re following all the traits that make for incompetence, not expertise).

We’re also most likely to learn the right lessons if we pay attention to all the evidence, especially when the evidence is apparently contradictory. An important example of this is the policy on Article 50: if you want to blame the policy for the Lib Dem election result, you also need to explain the public polling showing the policy’s popularity across multiple different polls, even deep into November.

4. A large part of what happened appears to be the traditional two-party squeeze. How to break that squeeze has long been a dominant question for the third party strategy in British politics. I was right to highlight in advance of the election the big risk it posed, though reading back now my suggested remedial steps, it is likely that, even if fully implemented, they would not have been enough on their own.

5. My provisional thought, subject to hearing more views from members, seeing what the data crunching shows up and having sleep to think this through properly, is that the sort of organisational priorities I set out in the party president election are very much part of what we need to do next, but not enough on their own. Political strategy, messaging and policy will all need to work together successfully too. With a party leadership election coming up, that will be a major opportunity for the party to thrash out some of these issues.

6. We can also learn from what went right: some brilliant individual constituency results and also an impressively diverse Parliamentary Party, even if our overall candidate mix was a good way behind (only one-third female, for example). Likewise, some of the work put into mobilising thousands of new canvassers are just what we need more of, starting much earlier before the next round of elections.

7. We will need to carry out a comprehensive election review, and of course all the above is subject to change depending on what the review finds. Jo Swinson captured powerfully why it will be important to get that review right, and so be able to be more successful in future, in her comments after being defeated:

This winter election has been dark in more ways than one.

Leaders evading scrutiny, voters feeling forced to choose the least worst option and an exodus of MPs ground down by threats.

Racism is infecting our politics, terrifyingly, it has now become mainstream.

Many people will look at the last few weeks, at these results and be filled with dread about the future of our country.

I understand. I am worried too.

This goes beyond our future relationship with the European Union. It is about our relationships with one another in the United Kingdom.

Do we value every individual for who they are? Are we an open, welcoming, inclusive society?

I still believe we are, at heart, or at the very least that we can be.

But there are many forces that seek to divide us, to allow resentment and fear to fester.

And if we want to be that open-minded, warm-hearted society, we need to stand up, join together, and fight for it.

There will be a door, there will be a way out of this nationalist surge, and we have to work together to find it.

There is a huge job to be done. We now have to rise to the job, to organise, to join together. Though I won’t be your leader, I will be walking alongside you.

All of us who want something different for our country have a responsibility to learn from this result, and to find new answers.

Next week is the shortest day.

We will see more light in the future.

Let’s explore the way together, with hope in our hearts.


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