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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