The challenges ahead for the Liberal Democrats

I am honoured and delighted to have been elected as President of the Liberal Democrats.

The news is overshadowed by the results of the general election where, in amongst individual brilliant results, there were so many disappointments and tragedies. After such a promising start as our party leader only a few months ago, Jo’s own defeat is particularly saddening.

Our increased share of the vote, more second places and enlarged party membership, added to the fantastic growth in our local government base earlier in the year, does, however, provide us with the foundations to recover from. As does the welcome progress in making our Parliamentary Party more diverse.

It will be a big and challenging agenda for the party’s new leader, supported by us across the party and one I will now have the responsibility of helping shape and deliver as your President.

Thank you especially to everyone who helped get me elected, to my campaign manager and agent, Janet Grauberg and Pete Dollimore, and to the party staff for running the contest at such a busy time. Thank you also to Christine Jardine for a campaign carried out in such good humour.

I would like to pay tribute to Baroness Sal Brinton, our current President, to thank her for all her work in the role over the past five years and to wish her all the best in her new role as a Vice President of ALDE (the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe).

Thank you also to everyone who worked so hard in the general election. We will need to learn urgently the lessons of what went right and what went wrong, so that we can redouble our efforts in the new year to stand up for the liberalism, pro-Europeanism, internationalism and environmentalism that is so crucial to the future of our society and our country.

Let’s work together to make sure we succeed.

11 responses to “The challenges ahead for the Liberal Democrats”

  1. Yes a lot to do.
    Lets start by building a war chest for the next election.
    Get a campaign team that is savvie with what is reacting with the voters and act rapidly to take advantage .
    Our leaflets should get rid of bar charts and SELL OUR POLICIES to get feed back
    for one get fed up of Labour getting publicity for what we propose .Land Value policy for one. This was mentioned on the media we were not.
    We need to get the media on our side,flatter them ,make them respect us and aim to get Liberal leaning journo’s in place
    The next election may not be in 2024 we will have to build from now.

  2. I have some suggestions for a way forward for the Lib Dems. Comments and suggestions welcome.

    Abort, Retry, Ignore – a message that comes up on the computer screen when there is something disastrously wrong with the system. I believe our political system is displaying the same message today and rightly or wrongly Johnson (as directed by Cummings) is about to hit the Abort button to wipe out the past and restart with something completely new. In the process he will re-write the rules of engagement for future political battles. We will need to wise up to the new rules extremely quickly and react in an equally new way. Retry and Ignore are no longer viable options. To kick off the debate I have put forward a few ideas for discussion.

    Johnson the liar and deceiver extraordinaire is difficult to predict because he is extremely erratic and inconsistent. That said there are a few basics traits where he is ruthlessly consistent and therefore predictable.

    He will do anything to stay in power – legal or illegal no holds barred.
    He will turn on his allies if he thinks doing so will benefit his ambitions.
    He will say yes to everybody even if in the process he completely contradicts a statement he made 5 minutes before.
    Now he has a large working majority he will re-write the law to protect his ambitions and help secure his future – think Johnson the autocratic dictator producing a written constitution!
    He does not like being scrutinised.
    He does not empathise with “normal” people.
    He does not “do detail” he prefers to leave the details to others – think sweeping up the BS.
    If his election online media team is not disbanded we can expect huge quantities of misinformation – Fake News on a grand scale.

    The evidence for these observations is available in the way he has operated in the weeks since he became PM and some of it is in the small print in the Tory manifesto (see page 48).

    Normally a competent opposition party will hold his feet to the fire and at least make sure the public is aware of what is happening and stir up voluble public opinion to curtail at least some of his excesses. Given the scale of his majority and the weakness of the Labour party this is unlikely to happen. It is going to fall to the smaller opposition parties such as the Lib Dems to try to fill this yawning gap.

    The Way Forward?
    The main principle behind the Lib Dem campaigns would seem to be the protection of peoples’ rights. This goes beyond the Human Rights Act and includes democratic rights, freedom of information, animal, employment, movement, health, civil, education, security etc. The battle ground of the future can be visualised and expressed as “Johnson v The People” – where we represent The People with an aim to tame Johnson’s autocratic aspirations.

    There will be 2 distinct aspects to these battles for the Lib Dems:
    Exposing the fiction, hidden meanings, secret agreements, undisclosed conflicts of interest. Think Private Eye on steroids.
    Proposing and promoting a rational, positive, open minded, inclusive approach which protects peoples’ rights.

    We need a means to communicate these visions to the electorate – press, radio, TV, online – and be recognised as trustworthy sources of the truth with sound judgement and support for the rule of law, and creation of equitable laws that benefit and support the many not the few. Our first step is to select a new leader:
    With a vision for our nation and our society.
    Who can express these visions clearly, with conviction and empathy for the electorate and not hector the electorate.

    We need a new leader and a new vision now.

    Urgent Brexit Response Required
    We need to act quickly and must not waste time navel gazing. We have lost the Stop Brexit argument. We now know we will leave the EU on 31 Jan and the proper negotiations for our future relations with the EU and the rest of the world will begin in earnest. The country needs a tough, but well considered strategy for negotiating with the EU and we must agree the process with the EU before we start discussing the details of the policies. As we have seen with the Withdrawal Agreement the process will determine the strength of our negotiating position. A “WTO based No Deal exit” at the end of 2020 is not a strategy or a process. Apart from anything else it does not have a verb – there is no call to action! This is even more important today since Trump has refused to approve the appointment of a new judiciary for the WTO thus neutering the whole organisation, its purpose and processes. Effectively the WTO has ceased to exist.

    Johnson is gung ho to prove to his new found supporters that he is true to his word and will rush through, without scrutiny, his Withdrawal Agreement Bill, possibly before Christmas. We need to flag up now, the weaknesses, contradictions, policy reversals and consequences it contains that he has conveniently not mentioned to the public. We need to make it clear we are not trying to defeat the “will of the people” we are trying to make sure the “the people” know and understand what is being done in their name and hopefully influence public opinion to give Johnson reason to adapt his policies to honour his “One Nation” claims.

    We need to man the megaphones asap. (Please do not critique the lack of gender neutrality in that statement. We need action to protect our rights and our nation and we need it now!)

  3. An election result always brings the question of PR to the fore for us.
    1. How can we keep this much needed reform high on the agenda?
    2. What clear and easily understood new voting system can we agree, ideally with Labour as well as Greens and Nationalists, so that we all advocate the same reform at the next election?
    3. How do we help to build a high profile cross party campaign on this subject?

  4. The next election may be in 2024, but there are four local elections in the meantime. We need to become the natural party of local government, a federal UK libertarian agenda as spelled out in our manifesto would greatly help this. Most of the country dislike the overreaching control of Westminster, now is the best time to make this case.

  5. My main thought is that we need to reach out to other parties and independents and find a way to merge with them. The constant internecine bickering between progressive parties is idiotic and needs to stop.

  6. We must do an honest assessment of the Election. It is no good to say “the past is the past; let’s move on”. Or else we could repeat the catastrophe.
    We must see if we can completely and radically change the way decisions are taken! The decision to switch our position and go for an election–was taken by whom? How?
    And we need to scrutinise the way the policy was presented–we need to know who decided to go for what I call “unicorn land”–that we could win 326 seats and have Jo Swinson as Prime Minister. Who decided that? Not even any informal consultations. And then who decided to write the content of the HQ postings and foist them on us with not even the slightest consultation about timing? And why were local execs. excluded from the way their local candidates’ campaigns were managed?
    We are the foot-soldiers who had the rug pulled from under our feet–that’s how it felt! And the only way to prevent it happening again is to do a full appraisal and share the information at least with the local Executive committees. We can do better. It depends on you at the top, who took all the steps that landed us where we are, to tell us what went wrong so we can help you avoid it another time. Remember we are not just Liberals but Democrats–it is that part of our identity which we must remember best.

  7. Agree wholeheartedly with what Tamara Dragadze has said. The assessment of our campaign during the Election has to be thorough, honest and incisive- what our failures were, our weaknesses, how did we lose a third of our opinion poll support in 4 weeks -down from 18% to 12%. The questions asked above need to be answered – not papered over. In addition how could Jo be sent to the first Question Time debate so poorly prepped? Anyone with an ounce of sense would have held Q&A sessions with hostile questioning as preparation for her and prepared a measured defence of our time in coalition – not a list thrown out as a last minute afterthought at the end of the debate. All this will take time and must not be brushed aside simply as the result of being squeezed by the big two. There is no rush to choose a new leader – Ed and Mark as President can carry on for the next 18-24 months. Unfortunately we cannot really have anyone who was a member of the coalition as our future leader and it will take time to properly assess the others including the new intake of MPs.

  8. We have to accept that BREXIT is now a done deal and that there is little or nothing we can do about it for the next 5 years given the size of the Tory majority in Parliament. So, what is our strategy to get a significant number of Lib Dem Parliamentarians into the House of Commons in 2024?

    We must face up to three main threats:-

    1. Most of the newspapers will be only too willing to do us down and will give unstinting support to the Conservatives.

    2. Fake news on social media that will try to dilute and falsify our message.

    3. The first past the post electoral system that makes life almost impossible for small parties.

    These are real problems for us particularly now that social media has such a powerful influence on the group of new electors who will come onto the electoral register over the next 5 years. We can also forget any reform of the electoral system during this session of Parliament. We must also be realistic about what we can achieve, there was no way that Jo Swinson was going to become Prime Minister and this only made us look foolish and not a serious contender to influence power in Parliament. Slagging off the leader of a party that we hoped to form some form of political pact with wasn’t exactly a great idea.

    What do we need to do to get back to a significant of MP’s and local councillor’s over the next parliament?

    1. Set up an effective Internet and social media system designed to determine policy and get us all on the same page of the hymn book. The present set up is simply not fit for purpose. This is very important as the next election is probably going to won or lost on social media.

    2. Remember we have to SELL our policies to an often sceptical electorate. People buy things from, vote for, vendors that answer their key question “What’s in it for me”. This was brutally shown in Thursday’s election where the Labour party was unable to provide a satisfactory answer to the Brexit “In or Out” question to many of it’s core voters. Walton and Esher nearly became a Lib Dem seat as leaving the EU was not the answer to many traditional Conservative voters “What’s in for ME” question.

    3. One of the key “Principles of War” is “Concentration of Effort”. We must accept that we are not a real national party but that our effect and influence is concentrated in a small number of areas particularly those where we came a close second to the Conservatives or Labour party. It is these seats that we must concentrate our resources and effort in order to secure votes. This may mean that we reorganise around a regional structure than can concentrate on these key winnable seats. A well designed Internet and social media system will facilitate this and give members at every level a say in policy.

    4. We must concentrate our local resources on getting as many Lib Dem councillors elected as possible. Again we need a well designed Internet/social media system to facilitate this.

    5. Although getting people to sign up as members is important we need many more to vote for us both at local and national level. We must put a major effort into getting many more supporters and voters particularly in the key marginals.

    6. The most important “Principle of War” is “Selection and Maintenance of the Aim”. This implies that we must, as a party, be clear about our aims and how we are going to achieve these in power, or in a position to have a real influence on power. This is particularly important over the next 5 years in the context of getting power and influence in local authorities. A well designed Internet/social media system will be a key element in getting all members involved in policy discussions.

    7, Googlies. In politics, as in life, googlies happen and we must ensure that any system that we set up is flexible enough to handle any and respond in a proper manner. The biggest googly on the horizon at the moment is Scottish and Irish nationalism both of which have come rushing to the fore as a result of non unionist parties increasing their vote and MP’s at the election. The move towards independence will to a large extent depend on the effect of the Conservatives handling of BREXIT over the next two to three years, however; I cannot see any lessening of Scotland’s desire for independence nor of the nationalists in Ulster decreasing their desire for a United Ireland.

    As a party we are at a crossroads, with a couple of notable exceptions we failed to achieve our aim of becoming a major force in Parliament and being able to stop BREXIT. We need to put in place a policy making and communications system that is fit for purpose for the 21st Century.

  9. I am very sorry for Gideon as I felt he was an extremely good candidate I have to say that a lot of the blame for what happened nationally was down to 1. Jo Swinson – in that the more people saw of her the less they liked her ( including me- a paid up card carrying party member)2. The campaign: ” Your next prime minister” “we will overturn Brexit if we get a majority” – basically had people laughing at us. ( who at head office was responsible for that?)
    With a pathological liar and a sociopath leading the two larger parties the door should have been wide open for us to come through the middle and at least get into a position to moderate the extreme views of either of the 2 main parties.50 seats not 326 would have been a sensible goal and not put people’s backs up.
    3. the country is tired of feuding and bickering among politicians
    We need to build a constructive progressive alliance with the other like minded parties and show the country that we are voting responsibly on the issues of the day not just opposing for its own sake.
    Brexit is now unstoppable and we have lost an opportunity to make it less toxic and keep the country more closely aligned with our fellow European neighbours .
    Sadly the people in the middle and North od England who put Boris Johnson back into power will be those who suffer most from the adverse effects on the economy jobs etc of the hard Brexit that is coming our way

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