We have known for months that the Lib Dems were doing an internal review into what went wrong with the 2019 general election campaign. As someone who has strong views on this subject, I read the report, released yesterday, with anticipation.
I’ll start with this basic, overarching review: it is much, much better than I thought it would be. I should caveat that remark by saying my expectations were pretty low going in. I had cynically thought that the conclusions the report would come to as to what went wrong in December would be some painfully Lib Demy stuff along the lines of “we didn’t deliver enough leaflets” and/or “we should have been more progressive”. Instead the report is relatively bold. It delves into things I never thought it would; for instance, the dysfunctional structure of the party itself. It states that the way the president, CEO and the Federal Board interact doesn’t really work and needs urgent straightening out. It even goes as far as to say the internal bureaucracy of the party is deeply problematic in and of itself; the report might as well have wondered whether First Past the Post isn’t so bad after all, that’s how far off the usual Lib Dem trail it wanders at times. In fact, one of the things it mentions several times is how the the Lib Dems talk to themselves too much and don’t understand how to connect with the wider electorate – or sometimes, to even understand that the Lib Dem membership and the general electorate are two very different things. Another plus is that it avoids Lib Dem-speak most of the time. It is usually written in clear, concise English and is clearly produced for general public consumption. All of this is very good and pleasantly surprising.
The report is harsh on Jo Swinson. I can’t comment on anything I didn’t see, but there is one thing I will disagree with it on. It states that Jo’s team were too insular. Often times, this is actually necessary to a leader’s success; to have a close inner circle around them that is suspicious of anything outside of that ring. What the report should have said is that it wasn’t the fact that there was a close inner circle around Jo that was the problem, but rather that the team in question seemed to make some pretty terrible choices, over and over and over again, probably because (and this is a guess on my part the report reinforces) many of them were over-promoted. This is a distinctly different critique, and given this report is meant to build toward the future, an important one. You can’t want to do away with the nightmarishly labyrinthine Lib Dem inner bureaucracy and expect that the leader’s office won’t have a lot of power once you’ve done that.
The report does address this to some degree, to be fair. It calls for the professionalisation of the party in a manner that is sensible, long overdue and that would do away with a lot of the problems the report describes regarding both HQ and the leader’s office. It even goes as far as to want to, and I quote, “develop policies and practices in line with appropriate modern businesses/other sectors and benchmark ourselves against industry standards where they exist for the relevant departments.” This is ambitious and would represent a huge culture change as compared to the Lib Dems post-2015 to present.
I disagree with some of it. It overstates the effect the revoke policy had on the degree of loss; even then, it’s not nearly as bad as most sources on this topic. But even if there are some explanations presented I take issue with, most of it is relatively trivial and much more importantly, I think the recommendations the report makes are for the most part sensible. The problem comes with trying to implement them for real. Are the Lib Dems actually going to do all the stuff the report says it should? Starting from where the party is at the moment and with what must be very limited resources? I applaud the ambition the report exudes but also worry about how realistic it is to want to change as much as the report feels necessary.
Yet in the end, I’d rather the report was overambitious than a limp swan song in disguise. Congratulations to the review panel on coming up something relatively strong and decisive here instead of the usual whitewash. Whatever its faults, even those Lib Dems who don’t feel as rosy about it as I do should be able to agree on one thing – this report could have been exponentially worse in every imaginable way.
I have a new book out now. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!
It’s available here: