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:
Dave Chapman says
I’m aware that LibDem Voice isn’t the sole authority speaking for the party members, and there are other influential go-to blogs associated witih that party. But in terms, I’ll use LDV as an interesting illustration.
To date, since 15 May and that being the date of the report as detailed above, there have been a number of articles published by LDV, but solely one on the subject of the report.
One article titled – ‘Liberal Democrats mark IDAHOBIT’
‘By Caron Lindsay | Sun 17th May 2020 – 6:55 pm
Today is the annual International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
During lockdown, many LGBT people will be stuck at home with families that don’t accept who they are.’
If memory serves in the report, there is a small but powerful and memorable soundbite :- ‘Niche policies attract niche voters’.
In comparing that notion to the quoted article above, as a non-LD voter, I say, with good reason – WTF!!!!????
A serious, in-depth and certainly controversial report into (yet another) crushing LD defeat is followed by almost complete silence. At time of writing the only recent entry ( by Mr. Paul Walter) has a little over fifty responses. Higher than usual but not much higher. And by no means what other subjects might garner.I would normally expect the in-house Blog of the LibDems to have a separate , section now of tribal oppositions and supports for the 2019 GE Report, with multiple upon multiple entries. This report presumably ought to be raising passions? But no. Among the articles posted subsequent to the initial alert that the report had been published is a standard litany of special-interest articles talking solely among LibDems to themselves on matters neither myself, nor any other member of the human race I know of would be interested in.
Maybe I’m being unfair and that the tidal wave of debate is only hours away. But my experience of this kind of controversy illustrates that political passions are aroused almost with immediacy into responses and articles. Sharply for or against. The silence of the rolling tumbleweed would suggest to me that complacency remains the order of the day?
Julian Tisi says
I think the report is broadly fair and I too am pleasantly surprised by how robust it is; then again, the panel is a very strong one, including liberal leaders from other countries and leading business folk.
I’m not 100% surprised there hasn’t yet been a deluge of articles on LDV on the review; it’s a lot to take in and I’m sure these articles will come in various guises on specific aspects and recommendations in the weeks and months to come. But Dave Chapman’s point above is sadly broadly fair.
One of my main takeaways is this: the party needs to seriously rethink how it makes policy that makes its way to the manifesto, if we’re to deliver an offering to the voter that is credible, affordable and desired by the average voter. I’ve always admired that the party makes policy on the conference floor based on motions accepted by the conference committee; then the manifesto is pulled together from these various policies. But thinking about the worst two policies in terms of votes lost in recent years: Tuition fees and Revoke, these were both policies that failed badly for different reasons. Free tuition was an expensive but unfair policy whereas the Coalition’s new tuition fee structure was less expensive but broadly fair. But that wasn’t the way it looked to the average voter and our abandonment of the former cost us hugely. Revoke (I disagree with Nick, this was a horror show) was IMO one of the main reasons the Lib Dems failed so badly (in addition to the other reasons the report rightly mentions!) – it turned off not only all leavers but many, many remainers affronted by the undemocratic look of the policy. For both of these I think we need to give the leadership a bit more scope when it comes to pulling together a manifesto, in order to better come up with an offering that addresses voter concerns (as opposed to Lib Dem activist concerns), has a broadly liberal thread, is affordable and credible (not a wish list of spending pledges) and excludes toxic policies that would turn off voters. This to me is one key thing the party should do.
Dave Chapman says
You might be interested in this one from LibDem Voice from today.
Contribution from ‘Sue Sutherland 3rd Jun ’20 – 2:59pm’
No disrespect to her – it’s just an illuminating comment towards the very end:-
‘Finally, I would really love it if the party would do some research into the 6% or so of the population who say they would vote for us.’
I raise this one since the sentiment is not a one-off. It’s quite a commonplace to see LD voters think in that way.
She wants to have a conversation with 6% of voters. (Her proportion – it sounds low but I’ll just run with it). Ultimately, 6% (say) sounds pretty much to be the core vote.
…whereas the real target the LibDems need to have a conversation with is the 94% remaining, surely?