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.

68 responses to “Seven initial thoughts on the Liberal Democrat general election result”

  1. We should have told remainers who felt obliged to vote for ‘Brexit to be done’ that this would let down all those former leavers who had changed their mind since the 2016 Referendum. I am not aware that anybody raised this point.

    This observation is not likely to help with future elections but it is important that the views of ordinary members can be chanelled and filtered through to the Leadership.

  2. Reference point 3 -I looked nervously for polls after Revoke became policy and did not see an immediate dip but that does not mean that in the context of a General Election where others comment on it and highlight it, it will work. It was intellectually indefensible as we have never maintained that our flawed electoral system represents adequately ” the will of the people” and an obvious vulnerability. We faced repeated charges of being Liberal Undemocrats up north , not in London perhaps- but the main weakness was it seemed to close down further conversations with those who leaned or had voted leave (52% of electorate). The Brecon and Radnor by-election was won only by cajoling some leavers onto our side as Campaigns people will verify.
    Addressing only Remainers reminds me of the Coetzee coalition campaign strategy to single out a sub-group of the electorate (in 2015 it was the small pool of “people considering the Lib Dems”) bombard them with messages and watch with satisfaction in Focus groups as they became more likely to vote for us. That sort of comfort polling persuaded many Coalition MPs that they would survive 2015. It is based on an imaginary scenario where we alone have the undivided attention of the public and our opponents say nothing.
    Stress-testing a policy involves having the wisdom to foresee how it will survive under the attacks in the maelstrom of a General Election across the country. Something we consistently as a party fail to do .It didn’t survive. It was labelled politely as a “distraction” by Vince and failed to move the dial in the South East which many of us in the North took to be the object (as we couldn’t see how on earth it would help us). The man on the Clapham omnibus might like it ,we thought- even though it led to the man on the Manchester Metro shouting at us and some of our own members and supporters downing tools.

    • All good points, but you haven’t really addressed Mark’s point that the policy was popular amongst the general public in polling. Those who called it undemocratic imo had already decided not to vote Libdems and wanted a justification. Many of our supporters didn’t like the policy but I suspect would not choose the other parties for that reason. If our policy had been the same as Labour, how would we have made our campaign on Brexit distinct? Would Remain voters have more likely voted Labour as a default position? We don’t know and your point about stress-testing IS important.

  3. A few thing stuck out for me immediately.
    First the way the media treated it as presidential. We need persuade Ofcom that their guidelines should reflect the number of candidates at the time, not the number of seats won the last time. Not just in who appears but also in the make-up of studio audiences.
    Then the vitriol that Labour had for us, especially noticeable in pro-E.U. social media fora (and the BBC party leader event when the large Labour group in the select audience really went for Jo not Boris). Their dismal performance gives hope that their libertarian, non-state socialist wing might come to the fore.
    We need examine how we can be different in eschewing slogans and sound-bites and be a party who treat the electors as thinking people. Our credo is never to disparage people or treat them like idiots. Sadly “Revoke now”, being a slogan not a well-explained argument, did us no good with those we needed win over.

  4. The thing which hit me hardest was the loss of not only Jo Swinson, but also Tom Brake. Tom managed to win every General Election since the time that Tony Blair was elected as PM, so it was really tragic for him to lose, although Sutton with a large area of Social Housing did vote with a great deal of enthusiasm for Brexit. I did fear that the Scottish Nationalists would beat Jo, as it was becoming evident that they seemed to be angry enough to hit out at anyone seen as being associated with London. In that sense it is all the more interesting that a large chunk of the MPs are from parts of Scotland, although of course there is the possibility that a combination of Remaining in both the EU and the UK could be a factor, but you are the experts. We will really miss Tom as he has been really diligent and extremely helpful. We hope that he will be able to make a comeback as others in the party have done.

  5. Many years ago at a LibDem meeting about PR and electoral reform I challenged Clegg and Huhne to set up and lead a movement for democratic reform. They were both of the view then than cross party working was pointless and that the party did not need any assistance to achieve its objectives. Last night showed again, if it needed to be shown, that our electoral system is only quasi-democratic and in this connected age where you can count anything in micro-seconds our Victorian system of fptp and midnight counts in town halls is long, long past its sell-by date. The best thing the LibDems can now do is to join with all the other groups who are under represented (or not represented at all) at Westminster to shout so loudly that it must be heard. A first though that comes to mind is to set up our own Citizens assemblies and debate the issues fully and in public. Who might be persuaded to organise and fund this is the next question, but there are enough think tanks and academic departments that could share the load. If Putin and Wall Street can fund anti-democratic movements, I’m sure we can find the wherewithal to put the case for a modern democracy.

    • The one good thing about the General Election result is that we now have about five years without the distraction of snap General elections and so we can give time and energy to becoming the party of political reform. Citizens assemblies are an excellent idea. Intelligent debate in a sound-bite free forum. We should work with anybody who supports proportional representation and an elected upper chamber, even Nigel Farage and the Brexit party, to draw up a Great Reform Bill for the Twenty-first Century.

  6. Thank you Mark, this is all very helpful. Let’s not over react, there are some very hopeful signs which have been temporarily drowned out by the disappointing headline.

    • I agree. I feel that the Lib Dems did as well as they possibly could despite the Presidential style approach to this election. There are many positives to build on in preparation for when those who voted Tory, because they definitely didn’t want Corbyn, realise what a monster they have unleashed, & are more than ready to look to a party that supports the development of a fair & equitable society. That party being the Lib Dems.

  7. Contesting marginal seats held by passionately pro-EU Labour MPs was absolutely demoralising and it eventually cost us very dear seeing how many Conservative MPs took advantage of the vote split on the Remain side. Thank goodness, Rosie Duffield survived this time round…

    The only way to consider any plans for the victory in 2024 is a nationwide alliance with Greens, Plaid and Labour and I’m assuming here that Corbyn will be replaced by a Blairite.

    If this basic fact is being disregarded and we keep focusing too much on our orange diamond, we do not need to bother to analyse anything further.

    The example of East Dunbartonshire is a shining one. I simply cannot believe that Lib Dems did not manage to convince Scottish Greens not to stand in such an uncertain constituency given that Jo would be absent for most of the time during the campaign.

    I beg everyone in power not to repeat that disastrous mistake.

    • Main issue unfortunately is that Scottish Greens are a independence party. More important in Jo’s seat was 4,500 Labour votes. Eh!?. And our revoke position meant Scottish Tories couldn’t get in behind a fellow unionist.

      • One argument that worked (heard in North East Fife) with Tories was “As you know its between the LibDem and the SNP. Do you want to wake up tomorrow with a unionist or a nationalist MP?”

    • I agree with you Rob the remain alliance was again disjointed and incomplete cf the leave forces. The massive march was ahighpoint ignored by Westminster

    • Yes, the Greens are with the SNP and Plaid Cymru in supporting the break up of Britain. At the 2015 and 2017 General Elections, those same three Parties worked together – against the Liberal Democrats! In Jo’s seat it might have been more fruitful to squeeze the Labour (and possibly Tory supporters). Maybe next time, though any alliance with the Greens and Plaid is contradictory since they are so close to the SNP!

  8. I commented at the time that the revoke policy became public ,that it felt wrong. I WAS a Lib Dem member….still am a Lib dem at heart. BUT I felt they forgot the ‘dem’ part of the name. Brexit IS a bad idea…but when I voted to ‘remain’ in the 70’s I was voting to remain in the EEC. The EU is a WHOLE different kettle of fish. Personally Common Market 2.0 would IMO have been a reasonable option for us. It would have honoured the 2016 result with minimal damage to the country. You are the liberal DEMOCRATS. You abandon that aspect at your peril…and the revoke policy seemed to be doing JUST that.

    • A General Election win with Revoke as the key policy in the manifesto would have been the biggest electoral shock since 1945. People would have been astonished if post-election we had rolled back on that. Johnson is clearly using his victory as a mandate for Brexit, even though only 47% of voters voted for Brexit-supporting parties. Can he do that? Whatever anyone’s views on Brexit, our cherished democracy is based on General Election voting and the winning party can and should implement its manifesto. A win would therefore have been a completely democratic mandate, more fair in our democracy than a rigged, illegally-won referendum with a split vote and undeliverable promises.

      • A LD election victory was always incredibly unlikely, but had it happened, it would probably have been with 35% or so of the vote…. It’s surely not hard to see that revoking on this basis wouldn’t have been seen as a democratic way to overturn the 52% in a referendum!

        You can claim the referendum was not legally binding, but politically those arguments are hollow. It’s no different to say that manifesto commitments aren’t legally binding, but surely the LDs understand the political cost of reneging on them after the tuition fees debacle!

        As for the Tories pressing ahead with leaving when 47% of voters voted for Leave parties? Yet, how many voted for Remain parties?… little more than 20% (The LDs repeated told us Labour was a Leave party!)

        Revoke lost you my vote. It showed you were a pressure group with no real appreciation of the need to unite our divided country, not a serious party of Government. By and large, British people are moderate…. You had the best opportunity in at least a generation to capitalise on that, and you blew it. I’m very angry that I had no one to vote for.

  9. My 2cents on “ An important example of this is the policy on Article 50”

    It wasn’t so much the policy though – we overplayed Jo Swinson as a force of power to the point she seemed arrogant- the work she had to do to turn that around was huge, and may well have contributed to her loss of a seat.

    We cannot put our “Leader” in that position again.

    “Jo Swinson’s plan” “Jo Swinson’s libdems” “Jo Swinson’s Britain”

    Ok – so the last one I added – but I’d suggest that was implicit after the “when we win we will revoke” policy was announced- integral to which was the suggestion that Jo could be PM.

    Jo was highly unlikely to ever be PM. The imaginary situation that was attempted to be solved where a libdem government had to deliver a second referendum is what many would refer to as a “Good Problem” – a majority libdem government could have figured that out after we had all shaken off our celebratory Prosecco hangovers.

    Another issue – the policy, in hindsight, was an error. That’s not the issue.

    We folded too soon.

    We didn’t stand, we didn’t fight.

    We could have said “ We believe the nation deserves a remain force equal in passion to Boris Johnson’s belief in brexit”, and stuck to our line.

    There is no harm in suggesting that the decision to leave or remain is partially one of passion. Human beings are emotional beasts and logic, in my experience is often used as justification rather than cause.

    Mark – you have your work cut out for you. Good luck.

    • I agree that this “Jo Swinson’s” plan etc. was wrong, in part because she was far too new as Leader to be able to carry this off. I also found the Jo Swinson for PM to be too reminiscent of David Steele’s ‘Go back to your Constituencies to prepare for Government’. That didn’t work out well either.

  10. We need a new leader who is not associated the Collation years and a council of wise people ie Charles Kennedy or Paddy Ashdown figure to guide the leader in to not making rash decision to call for an early election,

  11. Mark -ref Point 3 I think John Pugh makes excellent points about ‘our’ failure to stress test rather than comfort poll ever since the Coetzee days.

    In examining all the evidence what also of the YouGov poll, reported in the New European on 4th Dec, that found Lab Remainers leaned in favour of Revoke but would not vote L Dem? Or the opinion survey which showed half of Remainers rejecting Revoke?

    In short we deliberately rejected 52% of voters for 3 years, then alienated half of the 48% who voted Remain and then had to fish in a restricted pool of 24%, many of whom put their voting preferences and/or traditional loyalties elsewhere.

  12. The political paralysis before the election, the indefensible differences between the number of votes needed to win a seat under FPTP for different parties and the ability (soon to be demonstrated, I fear) of a government with a sizeable enough majority and a disregard of the niceties and unwritten conventions to legislate away checks and balances and protections of individual rights, means the present constitution is broken. With five years before the next general election, we need to begin to work up a new and fundamentally different vision and proposals for constitutional reform. We need to work with others where we can, but to be identified with and four-square behind the concrete plans that emerge. They should include, but not be limited to electoral reform, the closest possible engagement with Europe, a federal UK and embedded protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.

    The public may not be concerned with the minutiae, but the referendum and the Conservative victory shows that there is a deep feeling that politics is somehow broken: albeit that that feeling was hijacked by a sloganeering bogus solution peddled by those who had done most to cause the problem. But my point is that we shouldn’t shy away from fundamental reform because we think the people won’t want a change.

  13. Rob (Dec 13, 10.23pm)- Forgive me if I assume too much, but I’m guessing you are not Scottish or based in Scotland yourself? I’m afraid you haven’t grasped how different the political dynamics are in Scotland. The Greens up here are very, very different from the cuddly Caroline Lucas ones south of the border. They are pro-Independence and they openly loathe the LibDems in the same way that Corbynites do. There was never any chance of them standing down to help us in ED. In fact I think the likelihood is that they stood to help the SNP beat Jo. They certainly do co-operate with each other on many levels

    Mark – I really like your 7 points. I’ve actually been working on a similar list of my own today. Like yours, it’s very raw and may change as I get a chance to think some more. But FWIW here it is. It is split into three sections: Good, Bad and What next. Let’s start with the positives.

    A. The Good Things.

    I’ve heard some people say that we shouldn’t talk about the positives. Wrong. We shouldn’t obsess about them to the point where we minimise the negatives, but it is fair to accept, amid the gloom, that some progress was made and that it gives us the building blocks to recover. Namely:

    1. Our vote share rose from 7% to 12%. That’s our highest vote share in a GE in 9 years. That is clear – if slow – progress. It will give us more in terms of Short money, and in any sane electoral system it would have given us around 80 MPs.

    2. We saved more deposits than in 2015 or 2019, and we are clear second place now in [XX?] seats. Again I’m not over-stating this. It’s a low bar, but we did clear it, and those second places do matter to our future.

    3. We have a high-quality HoC team that is more diverse and younger than ever. 7 of them women, and 2 BME. Once again, I know it’s not brilliant, but it was a clear objective of the leader and she can say she made progress in this area.
    OK, so now to:

    B. The Bad Things.

    4. We seem to have got our targeting badly wrong, particularly in London – again. In Richmond, Kingston and Twickenham we got three stonking majorities, yet within 2 or 3 miles of them we were losing both Wimbledon and Carshalton by three-figures. I know it’s easy with hindsight but I simply don’t believe that in the final week our campaigners there were unaware that we were on course to win those three seats by huge margins, and it’s clear we did not divert enough resources elsewhere.
    The same could be said in Scotland: we always knew Jo’s seat was going to be tight. Did we (did she?) really pull out every stop there?

    5. It feels wrong to single out individual seats but what the hell happened in Sheffield Hallam? The circumstances of O’Mara-gate could not have been better for us, we had years to nurse it and by all accounts a very good candidate. Labour’s vote was tanking everywhere, but somehow we let them win here???? This was the one result of the night that actually made me feel quite angry. There needs to be a serious inquest here.

    6. The presidential-style campaign was clearly a mistake. “Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats” made me bristle a bit when I first saw it, but I was assured by a senior party figure that it had tested well in focus groups and private polling, so I bit my lip. (John Pugh’s message above is quite revealing on that).
    There’s a kool aid tendency in this party. We adore our leaders so we assume everyone else will, but we forget that the public doesn’t know them like we do and needs a bit of time to get to know them. Popularity and respect need time to develop. I’m old enough to remember when Paddy became leader in 1988. He was actually treated as a bit of a joke for a while. But then, slowly, he began to get a hearing on things like Hong Kong and the 1p on income tax. By the 1992 election he had a decent approval rating. By 1997 he was a great asset. But it took that amount of time for voters to see it.
    [Also, I suspect if an adviser had shown him a board saying “Paddy Ashdown’s Liberal Democrats” they wouldn’t have lasted very long].

    7. Revoke. Ah revoke, revoke, revoke. I’m actually reluctant to be too critical here because I completely understand how this decision was made, and I believe in general that we need to be bold and take risks at times. But bluntly this was a big mistake, and one we didn’t need to make. I would repeat the ‘kool aid’ point above.

    8. Linked to points 6 and 7, I think we failed in general to manage our national messaging. For example, the main image the voters had of the LibDems in week 1 of the campaign was of an angry Sal Brinton outside the courthouse taking ITV to court. Pure process. I understand why we did this, and I don’t blame Sal personally, but we were never going to win that case and in terms of optics it was pure process – with more than a hint of self-pity – not substance. We need to be more disciplined with our messaging. Thereafter Jo also had to spend too much of her time defending Revoke and the ‘next Prime Minister’ claim. Two own goals. She also had to constantly defend her/our coalition record, which leads to my next point.

    C. Where do we go from here?

    9. I take no pleasure in saying this but the next leader should NOT be Ed Davey or Alastair Carmichael, who were both ministers in the coalition. We need to visibly move on from the coalition years. Layla Moran now has a big majority so perhaps she can stand now, though I’m not averse to the idea of it being one of our new MPs – they’re all very impressive. But again, whoever it is, let’s not ram their brilliance down the voters’ throats. Give people time to get to know them and realise for themselves how good they are.

    10. This is not a new idea, but it is important and I make no apology for saying it: Local government is the foundations of our future success. We need to keep fighting at local level. Every local by election matters. Get out and fight them all. And as Tim Farron so rightly said when he was leader: Pick a ward and win it.

    That’s all I’ve got right now. Obviously there has to be a review of this election. Let it be serious and independently led, and let it be fair but thorough and, where necessary, blunt.

    • I like this thinking and I agree in particular re targetting and the new leader.It was also astonishing to me how weak our defence of the past was under interrogation .On the doorstep I repeatedly got ambushed over fees and developed a line, how come we did not anticipate at national level and prepare .On the doorstep the Jo for PM idea was openly laughed at .

    • The points made on the need for a non-coalition leader are, in my opinion, sound. I’ve talked to a fair few people who won’t be voting liberal in the foreseeable future- and student fees, coupled with the auto-revoke are big issues in otherwise potentially convertible voters.

      “The coalition” in terms of establishing a Tory government seems more of an issue amongst life long labour supporters, and one that’s hard to see as sustainable after the labour farce this time. The student fees debacle, however, really requires creative thinking. It’s a toxic badge, and one that in my opinion should require a thorough enquiry into any coercion or pressure on those encouraged to enter into the ill founded pledge.

      It’s a shame we lost some excellent candidates from other parties- a fair few could have been excellent leadership candidates – both in terms of talent and drawing a line under past errors.

      Do we need to choose early? Or could we elect a spokesperson and aim to get some of the new blood in via by-election?

  14. A few disparate thoughts:
    1. The “Revoke Article 50 notice” stance was not so much strategically wrong, as foolishly presented. It was excessively fanciful to suppose that the Lib-Dems on their own stood any realistic chance of getting a working majority, with Jo Swinson as PM. It just might have happened had there been a Macron En Marche moment, but that should never have have been presented as a serious expectation. The emphasis should have been entirely on working with others to get a further referendum, leaving any notion of a major landslide to throwaway remarks.
    2. The paty’s solution to the rights of trans women should never have been presented as a foregone conclusion in the manifesto or anywhere else. The most that might have been said is that the party was aware of the issue and would address positively it with due regard to all the concerns it raised for the rights of others. In Parliament such a matter should be dealt with on a free vote anyway. To make a specific solution party policy upfront evidently alienated many women unnecessarily. It also gave the party the image of being a bunch of opinionated activists, when the face of the party should be that of mature and responsible people who will look carefully at all relevant evidence and only then determine policy solutions.
    3. Apart from Brexit, I was disappointed not to hear anything of significance that distinguished the Lib-Dems from the usual motherhood and apple pie matters that all election candidates are obliged to recite. Electoral reform, specifically STV, is in the manifesto of course, and has been for decades, but I never heard a single mention of it. It would have been good to talk about it in the context of how unfair FPTP is to other minor parties with sizeable followings such as the Greens and even UKIP in 2017, to show that we would not be just special pleading. It should also be a priority to introduce STV for electing local authorities in England – as it already has been in Scotland and N. Ireland.
    4. Likewise, and just as importantly, there was never a mention that I heard of creating entire devolved regions, each with its government held to account by a local assembly (elected by STV, of course). City mayors are not enough: the rural hinterlands of those cities are left even more isolated than ever. Here again it would not be necessary to produce minute detail, but an outline that to be developed, preferably in cross-party consultations. It was the remoteness of Westminster to many voters away from London that gave the move for leaving the EU such force (however illogical that largely was) and the party’s line on remaining in the EU should have been couled with the need to address this b=very real problem. Full devolution to the English regions would also solve the issue of “English votes for English laws”. Finally devolution would lead to major reform of Parliament itself – properly presented, this could beome quite a popular topic

    • I fully agree with your point 2.This policy alienated a lot of women, who may have been looking for a stick to beat the LibDems with, but why hand them one?

    • I believe part two of Richards comment highlights valid concern.

      I found the policies around Gender Dysphoria and Gender non-conformity were confusing to a few people I spoke to.

      Gender Dysphoria, in particular, still appears to be the subject of much misunderstanding. Non-binary totally blows many people’s minds. Too many people seem to think GD is a choice. In terms of non-conformity- the older generation do not seem to realise the pressure the transparency of a 24/7 social media monitored lifestyle places on the under-30’s.

      I cannot say we got the messaging around this right this time. I do not believe we changed enough minds. I fear in some cases we may have strengthened prejudice.

  15. I found one or two of our policies were seen to be unacceptable and made people vote Conservative. I quote a JP who said he couldn’t vote for us because of our policy on drugs. Debates on some subjects either need to be had after elections are won, or tested in the public arena to ensure they have wide appeal outside of our own membership. I agree with the idea of Citizens Assemblies, held alongside the minor parties in opposition and ideally organised and chaired by respected third parties.

  16. Rather than worrying about London / Remain / Westminster and the corporate City, the party needs to get back out West.

    If the party can’t win in it’s traditional West Country base, it is in a dire state. There are clear parallels with Labour here. Both parties need to get out of the London dinner party mindset and get out to the West and North. Lib Dems used to also be able to hold working class northern seats too.

    Remain is now finished – whether you like it or not. The electorate culled it on Thursday. The focus for both Labour and Lib Dems should be to get leaders who appeal outside of London – with a much broader appeal (whilst equally not being the sort to take the corporate shilling and simply argue for Blairism / Cleggism) – and both parties should seriously look at electoral reform and how they are going to argue for social democratic values in the UK outside of the EU and stand up to the showboating Johnson, and his cabal of right wingers.

    • I agree with Pete that we need to Go West and Look North! We need to reconnect with our traditional supporters in the West-country and parts of the North of England. Most of all, we need to present Social Liberal themes and policies that are attractive to Ordinary/Working Class People throughout the Country. Also, as regards policy, surely now is the time to argue for a progressive system of V.A.T. with different rates for goods and services that are beneficial e.g. Building affordable homes…..

  17. 1- We need a leader outside the MP group, we need to open up our leadership. We should not limit ourselves to the 11 MPs we have and not put so much pressure on them as they all will be at risk of losing their seats if they don’t spend enough time in their constituencies. It’s a small group and so much to do in the Parliament. We need to open the leadership and attract more talent to the position.
    2- we need to use technology in running our party and engaging with members. We need to use it properly with expert advice and not thinking 100 Facebook pages is our way of engaging with members. It’s such a small bubble our membership. And is incredibly inefficient. We should champion technology.

    • I can’t see why we can’t select a Leader from the Lords, where we do have a good number of people, and who will not be distracted from working on Constituency business. We would need an HoC Leader, but that is the same situation with the Parliamentary SNP.

  18. As liberals, we need to understand that BREXIT was not the biggest issue on the doorstep. I spoke to remainers who could not comprehend Corbyn as a PM. Therefore they were voting conservative to keep Corbyn out, even though they liked out policy on Brexit.
    We are Liberals, and did not take advantage of targeting labour supporters to vote for us instead of a socialist state which the UK public to date have never voted for.
    We achieved one successful campaign tactic this election which was the electorate knew what we stood for and we gained respect for that. The problem with this was that it was ONE policy – not enough to win an election and alienated 17 Million people who voted LEAVE. Remember 13 million votes wins you a majority.
    We are Liberal Democrats – the challenge for us now is to retain the excellent activists and increased membership numbers now Brexit will proceed, build our LOCAL base through local government and create a message which appeals to local working class voters not just the metropolitan (ELITES) – so that we can build a liberal Britain.

  19. I completely agree with Joe Edwards. At a time when everyone was talking about our broken democratic system, brought about by Brexit splitting every party, surely voting reform should have been a flagship policy. Older voters in safe seats are fed up with being disenfranchised and on the streets I got a lot of traction when I challenged the “UNdemocrats” jibe by moving the conversation on to our undemocratic voting system. On a pure PR basis our voting base gives over 70 seats. It also gives the Tories 82 seats fewer. The key is Labour. Their seats actually matched their vote share far more closely than the Tories. If they came on board and we were able to launch a joint and sustained Fairvote campaign and an electoral pact at the next election in marginal seats then we’d get the Tories out for good and change our bitter confrontational politics into a system of cooperation and compromise.

  20. At a stroke “Revoke” policy lost all “Leavers” along with those “Remainers” who believed it was essential for the rift within the country to be healed. Why? Because a GE victory with perhaps no more than 35% of the vote (see Labour in 2005 and Tories in 2010) was not be seen as a legitimate or democratic way to bypass the 52% who voted Leave in the Referendum. This was the principal reason I didn’t vote Lib Dem.

    The poll you cited didn’t explicitly add “without a confirmatory referendum” in the question. If is had, I’m confident the results of that poll would have been different.

    • I’m not. I spoke to hundereds of people on the doorstep over the last 6 weeks, brexit rarely came up – it was mainly fear of corbyn. When it did come up it was a weary “it needs to be over”. People did not want another 6 months leading to another vote.

      The objection wasn’t to revoke, it was “you won’t get in so it’s going to be more votes next year if its not a tory majority”

  21. The Revoke Article 50 policy might not have aroused much comment when first passed by conference but under General Election scrutiny it was naive to think it would not lead to accusations, especially by Labour, of us being ‘undemocratic’.
    It is also misguided to blame the BBC over the makeup of the audience in the first Question Time Debate. Labour were bound to come after us and Jo over our record while in coalition. Emily Thornberry warned us, on the night of the European Elections, that that would be Labour policy. So the question has to be why were we not ready for that type of hostile questioning Why wasn’t a more assertive defence of what the Libdems achieved during the years of coalition prepared? The hostile questions seemed to take the party by surprise.

  22. Many members who wanted e mail communications from the Party did NOT want and felt insulted by, the constant appeals for money! We lost support because of that.
    Promoting the Remain Alliance and failing to negotiate it in Jo’s Constituency was an appalling error!
    Looking at the tragic loss of Tom Brake and the failure to win Wimbledon alongside the big majorities for Ed, Sarah and Munira makes me wonder why those 5 campaigns weren’t better coordinated so 3 could have been at least 4 and probably 5.
    Allowing the West Mids Party to insist on having Warwick and Leamington as a Regional Target and this sending people there instead of to Cheltenham was unforgivable.
    As a West Mids Cllr and Constituency Agent I was disgusted at that waste of energy.
    Although I supported Revoke at Conference it never occurred to me that it would be so badly used as a slogan!
    We need to actually listen to Cllrs and activists who have been around for longer than 5 mins and who have survived under hostile opposition.
    We now have to have a very deep investigation into what went wrong and it must NOT be conducted by those who led the Campaign, they are the people who made the mistakes!
    Also can someone tell me where in our Constitution it says that If the Leader Resigns The Deputy ABD the President become COLeaders?
    I was stunned to see Sal interviewed in that role!

  23. We as a party need to integrate with the population. Sit and help people with letters, offer advice and help filling out applications form and council tax. If we are seen to be in the community and doing things for the community then it will reap a great reward. I am sorry, I let my membership lapse after the article 50 shambles. Although I am European in nature I have deep reservations on the EU. I voted to remain, but it was a kick in the teeth for people who voted to leave and came across as un democratic

  24. On Revoke. We Should have continually pointed out that 6.1 million signed the Revoke Article 50 Petition. Was it not the UKs biggest official petition?

    Secondly, our HQ did great work but yet again we have failed to engage our big membership with the new world of Social Media. I have presented ideas on this for the last 5 years and has come to nothing.
    We need to involve our members all the time, not just at elections. (The same message we put out at local Elections.)

  25. Point 3 – there is a big difference between a hypothetical poll and the choice people are asked to make in the ballot booth. Anyone who thinks that ‘revoke’ wasn’t a problem hasn’t been speaking to voters.

    Point 2 – the figures really aren’t a consolation. We’re back at the per-seat vote share that was typical in the 1950s and 1960s, having started the campaign at around 20%. Never have we lost so much support during an election campaign – indeed third party support usually rises a little, even despite a squeeze back at the last minute.

  26. Whereas your trans policy is coming from an compassionate place in attempting to support those trans people who feel marginalised by society, it needs much more thought through as it is alarming many liberal-minded, tolerant individuals who have legitimate concerns from about how trans rights impact onto women’s rights. This has alienated many from conversations I’ve had, and is likely to be a reason your polling was lower with women. I appreciate it is an incredibly sensitive subject, and compassion and respect need to be at the heart of any debate, but it is an issue must be considered more openly by the LDs than it is currently. Shutting down those who believe chromosomal biology is an important consideration in gender-identity politics helps no one, not least trans-people. If the LDs don’t do this, they’ll never make the breakthrough the desire.

  27. I am in my mid 80s and have been an active and committed Grimondite liberal since the mid-1950s. Have stood for Parliament 9 times as a liberal/Liberal Democrat. What is interesting, having lived in the heart of Liberal Democrat territory for almost 50 years (Ham Richmond) is why Southwest London? Cue for an in depth survey of factors.
    It is clear that unless there is a reform of the voting system, which will not happen during the next 5 years, The future of those of us who favour the open society (Karl Popper ) relies on the fairly large number of Labour MPs that disagree with Momentum. will they have the courage, during this extended opposition leisure period and and whilst Labour will remain in the grip of the idealogues, to walk out and re-form the left?

  28. Remain is no longer available so our next task as pro Europeans is to #ProtectOurRights as the real negotiations get
    under way.
    Visa free travel across Europe (yes for other Europeans to visit us as well as for us to visit Europe). Oh and for our dogs too!
    The right to buy and live in a home anywhere (provided you can support yourself).
    The right to seek and accept an offer of paid employment. Accept this is not a right to benefits to which you have not contributed.
    The right of our elected Parliament to be sovereign and no one, especially the Executive, to not be above scrutiny by our courts – page 48 of Conservative manifesto needs to watched carefully.
    As Lib Dems this could be an important role for us especially as the “official opposition” are likely to be tearing each other apart for quite a while.

  29. Just jumping on this thread to congratulate you on becoming the next Party President, Mark. Articles like this have proven for a long time how you have a real vision and understanding of what needs to be done internally. You, the next leader and HQ will have your work cut out, but I know you will be up for the job.

  30. I think James Parker raises a very important point about how misleading it was to rely on the polling and petition evidence when neither mentioned the confirmationary ballot. I didn’t see any evidence the policy was popular at the time it was announced, and I wonder what evidence the party leadership judged that it was a policy worth supporting? In general I think you have been stuck in a Remain bubble for the past year and have underestimated how strong the forces behind Leave actually are.

    • It’s not so much the forces behind Leave that were the issue here, it was the failure to recognise that Remainers are far from all being a bloc of fervent pro-EU cheerleaders who prized “Remain” as an article of faith, and were seemingly indifferent to the alienating impact of their “Revoke” policy on Leavers and those who prized national reconciliation.

      Whereas the Tories and Labour aspired, or at least purported, to be parties for the country at large with their “one nation” and “for the many, not the few” monickers, the LDs not only to be the “Party of Remain” but sought narrow their appeal still further through its revoke policy to be the party of those who were determined to remain at all costs, when it was abundantly clear only a subset of Remainers fell into this category. Is it any wonder then that the LDs failed to vie with the Tories and Labour, ensuring Jo Swinson’ claim to be a credible PM candidate was hollow from the outset.

      The tragedy was “Revoke” policy was so entirely unnecessary. They were already the clear party for those who keenly wanted to Remain. It was short-sighted self-indulgence.

      It was analogous to the Tories doing something as crazy as adopting a policy to bring back hanging…. Sure, its base would doubtless have loved it, and would have cheered it to the rafters, but it would scarcely have got them a single extra vote, all whilst repelling soft-Tories in their droves.

  31. All good points made by Mark (congratulations by the way on your election), however:
    a) regarding the revoke policy I think the key thing for us to understand was who amongst remainers liked the policy. If, as has been mentioned above it was predominantly Labour remainers who had briefly come over to us but with the thought of Johnson sent them running “home”. One of the possible learnings could be that we were too reliant on Labour remainers staying with us. Thus our main target audience shunned us
    b) I think we suffered from being squeezed by the two parties, but in particular two leaders so disliked by large chunks of the population. I am in a Labour facing constituency and heard of a couple of Lib Dem members voting Labour because of their hatred of Johnson. Equally I suspect one of the reasons for the number of near misses could be Tory remainers scared enough of Corbyn to hold their nose and vote Tory. Stephen Bush did an interesting article in the i a couple weeks ago about how Lib Dems’ most important leader isn’t our one, but the Labour Party’s. For this point and point (a) It would be really good to perhaps do some focus group research to understand the factors
    c) One point also needs to made about doing any remain or other alliance with Labour particular this current Labour, is that they mean us nothing but harm. In seats up and down the country where they knew they didn’t have a chance of winning they were out campaigning saying they were the best chance to win with the hope of maintaining their second place / stop us winning. This was most evident in the two seats our defectors were in, Luciana and Chuka, where although they couldn’t win were out knocking up on the day rather than going to Tory target seats like Chipping Barnet or Hendon (which they both lost). On Thursday I was knocking up on a street shortly after Labour had been there and at least 1 person had changed their mind as a result. Labour got 12,000 votes and Luciana lost by 6000.
    d) Final point, is that a quick scan of the results where we won or finished very good seconds were that we had a well established good / dynamic activist base with councillors. A priority should be for all the places where we gained for the first time/ returned to second place but lack the councillor / activist eg Fulham and Chelsea, Finchley etcis trying to build up the activist base as much as possible and get them winning council seats and building resources for the next election which could well be sooner than five years. As Wimbledon showed one can come back from a long distant back in third and nearly win with a strong activist base, just think what would could do with all our second places with the same base.

  32. Thursday night so saddened me and guess to early to make any decisions and I agree with so much which has been said above.
    In my opinion, based on admittedly a small sample of friends I worked with 20+years ago and have a weekend away every year at the end of November, out of seven of us (6 remainers and 1 leaver)I was the only out and out Libdem supporter, another wavering between Labour and us but the others, despite wanting to stay in the EU were far more terrified of voting Libdem and letting Corbyn into Government.
    The fact Labour would had to have been in coalition to achieve this was simply not comprehended.
    In England at least, in retrospect, I feel our big error was not in getting a “remain” agreement across the country. Sure we would have stood in many less constituencies but it would have increased the chances of reducing the Tory gains and us getting more MP’s elected.
    Out on the ground canvassing for Martin Goss in Colchester I met a number of people on the doorstep who told me “we had missed a trick in uniting the remain vote in each constituency”.

  33. It all depends who you are targeting. I chatted today to friends in Cambridge who would normally have voted Labour and were considering the Libdems due to their policy on Brexit. The national literature they received in this target seat concentrated on how we should avoid a Corbyn Government by voting Libdem (they didn’t distinguish local and national literature – the Tories are nowhere in Cambridge). They were so upset by this, as they saw it, attack on their egalitarian values that they voted Labour. This was a constituency where there were too few Tory voters to squeeze, and you had to persuade Labour voters. The Libdems strong point here, with a Labour MP who had been a serial pro-EU rebel on Brexit, was that our party itself was consistent and united on Brexit and was open and tolerant. The result was, not surprisingly, a disappointment.

  34. It’s surprising that few commenting here have pointed out:

    1) The Lib Dem national poll rating was on a steadily falling trajectory throughout the campaign. It’s just as well the GE wasn’t held a week later, or we might not even had 11 MPs. Conversely, had the GE been held a week earlier, we would have ended up with 20+ seats. In London we would have retained Carshalton & Wallington and won Wimbledon.

    I’d be interested in Mark’s take on this, as the expert, in terms of the polls and the Lib Dem poll rating.

    2) Related to the above, the media presented the election as a contest solely between the Tories/Johnson and Labour/Corbyn. Both the BBC and the ITV bear a great responsibility in ensuring that it did indeed end up as a Labour/Tory contest, as we were edged out of election coverage, and made to seem irrelevant to the gladiatorial battle between Johnson and Corbyn, in a way that I’ve not previously remembered from my 47 years of political involvement.

    In making us look irrelevant, by largely writing us out of the election, it became a self-fulfilling Lab/Tory duopoly prophecy by the main news channels, and our poll ratings sank remorselessly as the election campaign progressed.

    Meanwhile the BBC and ITV gave a unwarranted amount of 3rd Party coverage to the SNP, even though they were only standing in 59 seats !

    3) It was indeed a Brexit campaign – and not in a good way. The seats we lost were all in Leave areas – Carshalton, North Norfolk, Eastbourne, Brecon and Radnorshire, and it made winning back Leave seats like St Ives impossible.

  35. Targets. I really think we had too many. There needs to be enough support locally and regionally for a Leader’s visit to make a difference. Do we assess the extent of local support?

    We had a chance to not give Johnson his election date. Giving him what he wanted looks a bit weak. Could have given him more chance to appear impossible.

    Concerned if Jo was really surprised by the public question time. The choice of Leader last time was of two involved in Coalition. So either was going to. To get hostile questions.

    The number of nearly seats is positive, and includes the losses.
    More worrying is the low level of support elsewhere. We expect it here, thanks to Labour attitude over a long period. Assessment here matters.

    If I found the heading irritating, so must a lot of people. But then I dislike the categories of Leave and Remain. It was not challenged. Need wide appeal.

  36. One thing that I think is even more important than reviewing the election is to keep a close eye on what Johnson does. A lot of his new recruits from Labour are waiting to see what he does about Brexit and whether he really will follow through on his one nation Conservative promises. His propaganda machine will seek to tell everyone he’s doing what he promised so we have to put the truth on every bit of literature local parties put out. By truth I mean we should acknowledge if he does something good.
    The initial indication of how he means to go on will be if or when he makes any changes to his Cabinet. We need to be ready to tell people what is going on so a way of doing this must be set up now IMHO. Analysis of the campaign can be left a little longer, especially if we’re going to avoid the blame game.

  37. On the revoke policy my view has nothing to do with strategy but right and wrong. It is to my mind undemocratic to undo a referendum decision on the basis of a first past the post election victory. Doubly so for a party which has a long standing policy insisting on the need to change to a PR system to address the democratic deficit inherent in FPTP. It reeks of double standards to say that we hate FPTP because it’s undemocratic but because we hate Brexit even more, we’re going to ignore our long held views on that. I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2016 because of Brexit. I very nearly resigned as a Liberal Democrat because of revoke.

  38. I think the problem with the revoke article 50 policy was that it appeared suddenly and so late when activists had got used to arguing a clear and simple policy. Also, polls might ask people about the policy and explain it clearly; but many electors hadn’t heard the “if we win a majority” bit. Anyway, we clearly weren’t going to win a majority.

    I do not agree that we should abandon soundbites. As Mark keeps stressing, what people take in and remember is not very much. How many voters read our manifesto? But I think the soundbites don’t say enough. Stop Brexit for number one. Fine. Right. But there should have been a 2 and 3 – in my opinion, save the planet (fight climate change) and change our broken political system. This was the election above all others when voters were ready to listen to both those. Then the slogans – the Pythonesque one about a Brighter Future and the one suggestive of a spoilt kid wanting chocolate – Demand Better (better tax breaks for the rich, maybe?), good though it was when coupled to specific policies.

  39. What we need to understand is why the public mood shifted from those heady days in June to where we are now. For me the over the top, excessive daily media coverage of the shenanigans in the HoC since then, contributed to the feeling that we just need to move on, hence get it done. Even some remainers were tired of it. Why do the bad guys have the best slogans? For me to have maintained our people’s vote position would have been consistent and resonated with Remainers and even acceptable to some leavers.
    We must also understand that it is not just the voters who need to be convinced about the credibility of a policy or slogan. The media are the ones who set the tone. They rightly judged revoking article 50 was never credible. Conference was never going to vote against it when it was so closely associated with our new leader as a defeat would have undermined her authority from the beginning. I didn’t vote for it recognising the dangers as did Norman Lamb and Andrew George from strong leave areas. Neither was Jo being PM credible. How my heart sank when I saw that magazine arrive in my target seat. To my mind this undermined our national campaign and we never recovered. In fact being forced to row back halfway through further undermined our credibility.
    I feel desperately sorry for those MP’s who lost their seats and those many excellent candidates who gave everything only to be undermined by what was going on nationally.

  40. I feel our campaigning should have been better targeted. Some voters felt overloaded with our leaflets and too often they were rehashing the same information. In the cities like London we should have been better at talking specifically about how we wanted to tackle pollution – that probably would have increased our vote share.

    Part of me wonders if we should have been better at challenging the idea that a vote for us was a wasted vote or would enable the Tories or Labour to win.

  41. Given the popularity for a “strong man” who is “willing to break the rules” came out in one poll last year, and the views of Dominic Cummings as well as the authors of “Britannia Unchained”, What is our plan for dealing with the country ending up as a right-wing authoritarian or “illiberal democracy” like Hungary or Poland? – this is not as far fetched as it might seem.

  42. A main weakness for me was that we said we wanted to stop Brexit and get on to other things, but for 3 long weeks we only put out 2 phrases about what the other things were. We should have had that list ready to go on day 1. When the manifesto finally came out, I got Focus out in our ward in time for the postal voters, but it was a real scramble and we couldn’t have got it out constituency-wide. PLEASE can we put more of our manifesto out clearly to our campaigners earlier in future.

  43. Instead of being so nice, I think we should have made more of the point that Brexit was being run by posh boys who care little for the rest of us and that Labour wanted to nationalise everything. Looking ahead, we need a strategy for countering the poisonous element of the press and internet, and need a charismatic leader in the mould of Tony B, Paddy A, Boris, Nigel and yes, even M Thatcher. I think voters are swayed more by their personalities than their policies. We have the evidence before us.

  44. Has anyone seen Tim Walker’s (the Tim Walker who stood down as Lib Dem candidate in Cambridge) article in the New European this week (Saturday December 14th edition), available at http://www.theneweuropean.co.uk ? The article is ‘Why my party missed its moment’. I do hope Tim passes on his thoughts to Mark.

  45. My thoughts on this, in addition to comments I have made to others:
    1) I for one don’t believe a word of Johnson’s One Nation Tory guff – I notice the MP for Henley also came out with this at the Count, so it’s obviously on the hymn sheet.
    2) We should remember we have a hard right Government in power and that these are the ones we must oppose. With Labour in disarray let us leave them to sort themselves out for now. The Tories have got away too long with blaming someone else – the EU for wholly derived Westminster Policies and then ourselves when in Coalition. This time we must not let that happen. If they go for a hard Brexit, with what I expect to be its failure, it must be laid firmly at their door. May I suggest that our MPs (preferably all Opposition MPs) abstain on Brexit related votes? In the last Parliament we heard how ‘Remainer’ MPs/LibDems/SNP thwarted May’s deal, but Johnson and Rees-Mogg’s behaviour in thwarting it, is conveniently overlooked.

    I myself only joined after the Referendum – and as a member in OxWAb, I joined primarily because I was so sick of Nicola Blackwood that I wanted to do everything to get her out.

  46. After considering East Dunbartonshire Mark mentions ” six further seats where the Lib Dems missed out by less than a thousand votes.” Please might someone remind me which these were? (I’ve got Carshalton & W, Cheltenham, Wimbledon, Winchester and Sheffield Hallam, but the sixth eludes me…!). Thanks!

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