How Tim Harford can help Lib Dems learn the right lessons from the 2019 elections

In the new year, the party will be kicking off its formal review of both the general election and the European Parliament election. (The review of the latter was delayed due to the then imminent general election.)

There will be much to learn, and it’s important that the review is conducted independently of those who ran the campaigns and that where necessary it is robust in its findings. Party members should have received yesterday an email with an initial survey to help capture feedback while it is fresh in people’s mind. Much more consultation will happen in the new year.

One area that I hope both those submitting feedback to the review and those conducting the review will give careful consideration to is not only the merits of certain key decisions but also the culture and organisation that lay behind them.

Saying with the advantage of hindsight and the comfort of a backseat that person X or committee Y made decision Z that was so obviously wrong is easy. But that also frequently misses the point. What’s much harder – yet also very necessary – is to understand how and why the decision was made. Even very smart people make bad decisions. The really smart people know that understanding the systems and cultures behind wrong decisions is necessary because unless you fix them, similar mistakes will continue to happen.

That’s what makes Tim Harford‘s new-ish podcast series Cautionary Tales so relevant. It has many well-told tales of mistakes, omissions and blunders. But rather than simply inviting us to laugh at how stupid those making the mistakes were, it dives into the failures of systems, habits, culture and human psychology that make such failures possible. And it highlights how those sectors which best learn from mistakes, such as the airline industry, are those which are also best at remembering to investigate and learn from those wider issues too.

There’s a lesson for the Liberal Democrats in that too.


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12 responses to “How Tim Harford can help Lib Dems learn the right lessons from the 2019 elections”

  1. Tim would be a good candidate to lead our post mortems. His BBC series ‘More or Less’ investigates the sometimes misleading world of statistics, and is compulsory listening for me.

  2. What were the underlying mood? of the voter in the 1st decade of this century when we did well.To catch the mood of the voter is important to consider. This time it was Brexit,get it done for it had gone on for 2 long. .You get peoples vote from doing what they want. That means, to me, respecting what they vote for .Swallow our pride and do a U turn if necessary. Monitoring the way the country goes and adapting to it will help leading(and adapting to it in Liberal terms) to the next election.
    The Core vote strategy is good but it will take time. As a result we should aim for ,say, 20 seats at a time, a number that is winnable.Sell policies not bar charts,.Those will be what will hit the people and they can be modified to suit on return of information/and checking polling information. The Tories (Ashworth) etc use them to check how things are going.We should always question whether we are on the right track to success.

    • What is meant by success?

      Is it a political party’s role to formulate a number of crowd-pleasing policies that will get it elected? To act that like an investment portfolio that seeks to maximise its “electability”.? To be a self-promoting body whose only aim is to get itself elected come what may? Or is it to have core values and principles to which it adheres, regardless of their popularity.

      I always thought that the Liberals/ LibDems were in the latter group. Since my first involvement in politics (as a 16 year old schoolboy in 1964 during the era of Harold Wilson’s “White hot technology”, the Liberals have supported closer integration and membership of the European Union through its various guises. The Lib Dems are sometimes accused of being “Wishy washy” , of not having clear aims.

      At last week’s election we offered the electorate a very clear choice. They could either vote for a nasty right wing Tory government led by a crook that was consumed with hatred for the EU and dedicated to leaving it at the first opportunity. Or they could vote for a Labour party peddling an extreme and out-of -date Socialism with a dithering leader that did not know whether it was for or against leaving. Or they could vote for the LibDems, and the associated Independents who were absolutely crystal clear that they were committed to remaining in Europe, while offering a viable and credible economic plan. For reasons that I don’t (and many others) don’t understand the electorate rejected this in favour of the worst kind of choice they could have made

      The LibDems have nothing to be ashamed of, and everything to be proud of. No need for any U turns. In fact if there had been a U-turn on the most fundamental issue I would not support it.

      I have been excommunicated from my local party for extreme heresy, having suggested that faced with an overwhelming Tory mountain of 30,000 it was wasting its time and resources could perhaps be better used in neighbouring seats with more chance of success.

  3. Please take a good look at the complete destruction of the UK parliamentary system that has been made law in the European Withdrawal Act. The current Prime Minister and his ruthless adviser Dominic Cummings already proclaimed the intention to remove our democratic checks and balances, and he has the Commons filled with MP’s who have pledges to pass ???? I have not seen exactly the wording but they will obey him, not represent their constituents. He can choose pliant members of Cabinet and stuff the Lords with his own choice. He can choose the timing of the next election after careful preparation and distortion of reality.
    Politics will not be back to normal when the next election arrives (if one does before he dies). Of course lessons must be learned but they must constantly be adjusted as power is taken away from MPs and the electorate.

    page 48 Conservative manifesto 2019

    After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people. The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical. We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law

    The EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 the UK could find that it was ruled by a Prime Minister whose power was not constrained by parliament, the opposite of the Leave promise that parliament would “Take Back Control”.

    Quotes from EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018

    page 6 “8 Main powers in connection with withdrawal ” “8 (1) A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate to prevent, remedy or mitigate “— ” (a) any failure of retained EU law ”

    page 7 ” 8 (4) Regulations under this section may make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament. ”

    page 8 ” 8 (6) Regulations under subsection (1) may (among other things) provide for functions of EU entities or public authorities in member States (including making an instrument of a legislative character or providing funding) to be” page 12 (a) exercisable instead by a public authority (whether or not established for the purpose) in the United Kingdom, or (b) replaced, abolished or otherwise modified”

    The Prime Minister and future Prime Ministers will be able to appoint a new Cabinet that consists solely of MPs who will obey orders without questions. Those Ministers will have the power to legislate without any scrutiny from parliament. They are likely to be people who have no experience of working in the topic of their ministry, and who don’t consider the possibilities of ” unintended consequences “. Already contradictory laws are being written into UK statutes.

    Mrs May kept information secret, and prevented government Departments from cooperating to ensure that alterations do not interact badly acted on other Departments e.g. no tariffs would be a disaster for farmers and negotiators (who would have no leverage tools) but are essential for the Just in Time chains of food and manufacturing.To make changes of this sort a success it is essential to share information and cooperate; instead Mrs May imposed Non Disclosure Agreements. MPs and people are asked to vote without full knowledge of the consequences.
    The UK is now was ruled by a Prime Minister whose power was not constrained by parliament, the opposite of the Leave promise that parliament would “Take Back Control”.





  4. Mark, I quote from your blog link under Tim Harfords name above – “piloting and testing a wide variety of policies is better than relying on the one magic solution. Especially as the one magic solution often turns out to be not so magical and not that much of a solution.”

    Testing a wide variety of policies rather than rely on one magic solution, for me we Lib Dems were too focused on Brexit and must fight on a platform of wide policies publically (they are in our manifesto) and not becme a cult organisation similar to corbynism

  5. Anne Morgan is right to alert us to al this. I recoiled at the line from the Queen’s speech ‘my government will establish a constitution, democracy and rights commission’. Clearly they cannot be talking the same language as you and I and their aims for such a commission will be vastly different to ours. We know that their definition of ‘democracy’ is not ours and words are used to suit whatever their current purpose may be, and they are now claiming that this corrupt voting system has delivered them a ‘mandate’ for whatever they choose to claim they have a mandate to do… Very worrying times ahead, we should proceed with great caution.
    And no, Nigel Hunter, I shall not ‘swallow my pride’ because I know we are right. It might be a forlorn hope, but at some point people will come round to the reckoning that we are better working with our continental neighbours than kicking sand in their faces.
    Our approach might be better served by starting up citizens conferences to develop grass-roots democracy, working with other opposition parties and involving the non-aligned to open peoples eyes to the fraud that is being served up to us.

  6. Whilst we discussing the viability of ideas – could I suggest another article for consideration. Tom Chivers writing in “Unherd” asks the question does Dominic Cummings understand the implications of “Survivorship Bias” – https://unherd.com/thepost/does-dominic-cummings-get-survivorship-bias/
    That is failing to understand underlying causal relationships. For example – In March 2019 – “The UK has been experiencing a construction skill shortage since the recession and now, according to City and Guilds, 1 in 20 construction companies report their tradespeople do not have the range and level of skills needed.” Does anybody remember the Plumber shortage before we joined the EU – it was not because there were plumbers standing idle – it was that demand outstripped supply. Boris’s big infrastructure plans are not going to build themselves.

  7. It would be helpful to have an essential minimalistic few sound bites that can become our brand and set out our agenda. The public can’t all collectively remember much more.

    Say :

    Constitution : Voting and democratic reform
    Economy: Excellent education for all, build our businesses, tax fairly.
    Society: Health , justice, climate.

  8. In 2010 and the Election before we were truly a UK wide party, 63 then down to 57 seats, and literally from Lands End to John O’Groats .
    Whilst having 4 MP’s in Scotland is great, having none in Wales, one in NW England, one in SW, none in the NE or Midlands etc makes us anything other than a UK wide party.
    A Core vote strategy is essential to the continued existence of the party.
    In addition a strategy based on 20 out of 650 (existing) seats means gaining power when my great-grand children come along..
    A continued re-building of our local Councillor base is also a must…
    ALDC really needs to become integrated in to the party
    We need regional champions and to make much more use of our Peers and the amazing talent we have in our National Party Membership
    The Only way is Up !!

  9. Also highly recommended is Tim’s book Adapt – I found it redefined my ideas of success and failure, and my responses to them.

  10. Being in tune with what the voters want is always key – the preparations, regular Focuses throughout the year, is another matter. We went into two G.E.s with ‘a penny on tax for education’ didn’t we? It took a long time but it eventually resonated and voters started quoting it back to us on their doorsteps! When that happens you know the penny has dropped!
    Hence – and this answers a number of comments since this G.E. – we have to hammer a very few key points and spend as long as it takes to do so. They will be points we have identified through residents’ surveys and door-knocking, eliminating those less important to people along the way.

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