The big challenges ahead
There are two versions of 2019 which future historians of the Liberal Democrats may write about. One is about a party that was on the road to recovery since 2015, took a big hit in December, but then continued upwards afterwards. It’s a story in which the successes of the first half of 2019 were the ones that pointed to the future. Or there is the version in which the Liberal Democrats were in continued decline after 2010, showed brief signs of life in early 2019 but where it was the disappointments of the general election that pointed to the future.
Either could yet turn out to be the one that’s written. Which one gets written is down to us here in the present.
That means getting our own house in order. It means learning the right lessons from last year – and acting on them, successfully electing a new leader and also making a success of the May elections.
These elections are much bigger than many people realise because, although they are the smallest in the round of English council elections, the presence of London, Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner elections means that the elections are nationwide in England and Wales.
But it’s not only about elections. It’s also about our purpose in a period when there’s a one-party government in Westminster with a comfortable majority.
Westminster is not the only source of power in the country, and even in Westminster, the existence of that majority does not mean the government is impervious to successful campaigning. After all, how many people turned up for work at one of our many pressure groups and non-governmental organisations the day after the general election and said, ‘right, let’s pack up work for the next few years because we now can’t do anything’?
We can still campaign at all levels to turn our values into practical action, and we can still win victories at all levels. And there are many Liberal Democrats in power – including Kirsty Williams, the education minister in Wales, and 50 Liberal Democrat council leaders or co-leaders around Britain.
The big black cloud hanging over all of that is January 31st, when Britain leaves the European Union. But although we have may lost that battle, there is still a long-term struggle over Britain’s attitude towards its neighbours and how we best go about dealing with problems that cross borders.
Our values – our pro-Europeanism and our internationalism – won’t change on February 1st. We will have new political battles to fight and we need to find more effective ways of promoting what we believe.
Through all that, we’ll still be pro-European, we’ll still be internationalist and we’ll still be a vital liberal voice.