Wednesday, November 29, 2023

30 senior Lib Dems call on the party to be less cautious - and the leadership fluffs its reply

Thirty senior Liberal Democrat members have signed a letter to the Guardian arguing that the party under Ed Davey is being too cautious and needs to explain to voters what it stands for before the general election.

You can read the whole letter on the newspaper website, but here is its opening:

Rishi Sunak’s government is tired and incompetent, but what comes next? As the election draws nearer, Keir Starmer’s caution only grows. There is a massive opportunity for a liberal alternative based on internationalism, environmental awareness and modernising Britain. But we believe the Liberal Democrats are swerving this opportunity, not seizing it.

It is crucial that we are brave and honest about the challenges a new government will face, with distinctive positions the Tories would never take and Labour dares not adopt.

The letter then sets out some areas where we have better policies than Labour, before concluding:
We have bolder policies than Labour on the environment, fair votes and human rights, but we are not communicating them. At a general election, echoing Labour’s general antipathy to the Tories through local campaigns is part of the battle but insufficient on its own.

Only a statement of confident liberalism – on Europe, the environment, political reform and public services - will show people that the Lib Dems are a national force worth supporting. We do well when we have a principled message that cuts through, such as our current one on Gaza.

Paddy Ashdown understood this in 1996, when he foresaw a Labour government but feared that not much would change. He set out a clear alternative to both big parties. With Labour in the ascendant again, today’s Liberal Democrats must heed his success.
My impression is that these views are quite widely shared within the party. I wrote something similar myself when reviewing For a Fair Deal in Liberator. 

The Guardian has also run a news story about the letter, and this quotes a response from a Lib Dem spokesperson:
"It would be a comforting luxury to act as the most democratic thinktank in British politics and navel-gaze amongst ourselves. But after this Conservative government has wrecked our economy, broken our NHS and damaged Britain’s reputation on the international stage - the focus of this party is to defeat as many Conservatives as we can at the next election, and get them out of power."
I don't know whether that was Freddie or Fiona, but I recognise the tone. It's the one that Liberal and Lib Dem leaders adopt when they and their party are getting tired of each other. It's the tone the leadership adopts when it has convinced itself that only the leader and the people around the leader care about power and know what must be done to secure it.

In reality, many of us are afraid that our strategy of treating the next general election as a cluster of by-elections will fail. 

It's for that reason, I support the call for us to be more vocal on Europe, not because I am a idealistic European federalist (I'm not) or because I want to be a member of a debating society (I don't). 

I support it because the British economy is in such a state that the next government will need a rapid injection of growth to be able to afford any part of the programme of rebuilding the country needs. And rejoining the Single Market is the only policy measure I can see that will have this effect.

And we will need an answer to how we will fund that rebuilding come the general election. We won't survive the campaign if we do not have one.

Anyway, let's end on a lighter note. The Guardian does not list all the signatories of the letter. Among the few who do get a namecheck is William Hobhouse, who the paper thinks, stands out because he is a 'descendant of L.T. Hobhouse (early British social liberal)'.


nigel hunter said...

When it is the same old same, old, seesaw of the 2 parties, why not not only continue plans for targetted seats but be less cautious in other seats 'to test the water'.Are we just to join the same old, same old,?
The mess the country is in has to go.The people voting has dropped.Have they lost hope?New ideas can fire up the country.We should be saying something on the lines of --We have not been in FULL(we should have pushed ourselves far more in the coalition) charge of the country for over 100 years.We can end the decline that the big 2 have put us in since WW2.
You do not build a great country by saying 'woa is me,all is lost'.You grasp the tools to help advance.

Anonymous said...

The response was rude and insulting. The only thing Davey has done in his political career is help the Tories to 13 years of power.

If all the Liberal Democrats represent is a pale shadow of Labour, people will vote for the real thing, not the imitation.

We have one of the most unpopular governments since the war and the Lib Dems are polling at 2-3% in some recent byelections. That tells you that the core vote has disappeared and the party may disappear too if national messaging is not improved very quickly.

Anonymous said...

Generally speaking, I am always loyal to the Leadership, always have been, and tend to regard internal opposition to be the prerogative of posturing ninnies. However, this time, I have to ask, where do I sign? In the current circumstances we really should be taking a bolder, more positive stance rather than this "Safety First" approach. We ought to be doing a lot better across the board in opinion polls, local government elections and no-hope Parliamentary by elections - they are just as important to our perceived relevance as our occasional by election victories.