The time has come: What next for (the) Liberal Democrats?

I’m writing these thoughts during the last few hours of the general election, but won’t hit publish until just before the polls close at 10pm. I’m then going to bed, hoping that June 9th will bring at least some crumbs of comfort from a Liberal Democrats perspective. Net gains would be nice!

What has astonished me most about the campaign has been the sheer dreadfulness of Theresa May. I always suspected she was a dud, but everything that’s happened suggests she’s far worse than that. I think her weaknesses must have astonished many Conservatives too. While it was too late to change election addresses and candidate billboards (at least in Mid Derbyshire), it’s been noticeable that the ‘standing with’ and ‘strong and stable’ brands have become ever less prominent as the weeks have gone by. One can only wonder what would have happened if she’d undergone the journalistic scrutiny that the other party leaders have. Regardless of the result, I doubt strongly she’ll still be their party leader at the 2022 election.

Labour have had a good general election campaign. They’ve been helped by the collapse of Theresa May’s credibility and authority. Although they look certain to increase their vote share from last time, I wonder how this will actually translate into seats gained.

There were glimmers of hope at the start of the general election campaign for the Liberal Democrats. Exceeding 100,000 members is no mean achievement. I remember Tim Farron talking about this goal during the leadership hustings in 2015 and I genuinely thought that this wasn’t achievable in the short-term. As with so many of my political predictions, I was wrong. The manifesto is great – human, fair, evidence-based, rational  and costed. As the IFS pointed out, if enacted it would provide the best economic outcome for the poorest 50% of society, and by some margin. I’m really proud to be in the same party as the people who put this together.

However, our air war simply hasn’t worked – for whatever reasons. Vote-share looks as if it will be close to the 8% result in 2015. The otherwise welcome collapse of UKIP may sadly mean some lost seats. I sincerely hope that the ground war in our key seats has worked well this time and that my pessimism is unfounded.

I’ve no idea which pollsters will be proved right or wrong. I’ve been intrigued by the new YouGov model. If the trend back towards two party politics in most of the country has continued as expected, then I suspect models based on uniform national swing (UNS) will be more accurate. If there’s been a massive uptake in tactical voting, with young and non-voters turning out for the first time, then YouGov may be the real winners in this particular battle.

So, to my prediction, written a few hours before the polls closed. I think we’ll see a Conservative majority – probably around the 50-60 seat mark. (This implies that I think UNS models will be better than YouGov’s new one). Sadly, I suspect that this would put my party at the lower end of the YouGov 95% confidence interval of 5ish to 20ish seats. Possibly even below it. I really hope that I’m wrong about this and that I look totally foolish tomorrow morning. Regardless, I’d like to add my thanks to all of our candidates and their teams. You become and stay a Liberal Democrat through conviction, not because of a desire for an easy political life. I appreciate all that you do, especially as I am currently unable to do much myself.

Britain under a Tory or Labour government will be unrecognisable in 2022 as the privations of Brexit really start to bite. People that I love will suffer, so you can perhaps understand, a little, why I’m still incandescent with rage with the Brexiteers and their late converts in May and Corbyn. However, I’m no longer confident that the perpetrators of this national catastrophe will ever be properly punished by the electorate. It will be very simple for authoritarian politicians to try to shift the blame onto external causes. But I’m glad that our party remains on what I believe to be the right side of this argument, regardless of whether it is eventually an electorally successful position.

Somewhere in the attic I have a copy of Paddy Ashdown’s 1989 book “Citizens’ Britain”. If I remember correctly, he paints two opposing pictures of how the UK could be in the early 2000s. One is of an optimistic, open, tolerant and united Britain and the other is of a closed, insular, mean and unequal country. Citadel Britain. Up until June 24th last year, I genuinely thought that Citizens’ Britain would eventually be closer to reality. Now, I’m utterly convinced that we’re in the dystopia of Citadel Britain and see no obvious way out. I told you earlier that my political predictions are usually rubbish.

So now only one question remains for me. What next for those of us who want to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, balancing the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity?

What makes an accomplished negotiator?

There are few empirical studies outside of academia that have looked into what makes an accomplished negotiator. However, in 1978(*), Neil Rackham and John Carlisle of the Huthwaite Group conducted one that went beyond game playing. Their work compared the behaviour of a number of accomplished negotiators with ones rated merely average by their peers. They found that accomplished negotiators:

  • Spent twice as much time asking questions (20% vs 10%), and so presumably more time listening to the other party
  • Talked more about their feelings
  • Spent twice as much time ensuring that a common understanding had been reached
  • Used fewer arguments to support their proposals
  • When responding to a proposal, they made half as many counter-proposals

In addition, average negotiators made six times more statements that annoyed the other party than an accomplished negotiator.

Yesterday afternoon we got another glimpse of Theresa May’s preferred negotiating behaviour. Will giving her even more power on 8th June end well for anyone in the UK?

 

(*) The Rackham & Carlisle study is referenced in Hal Movius’ 2008 paper “The effectiveness of negotiation training”.

Waiting for a hard Brexit

A photograph I took at a Bruges market illustrates the consequences of hoping for the best from a hard Brexit.

Waiting for a hard Brexit

Fortunately, not everyone is offering Hobson’s choice of a strong and stable rotisserie or one that works for the people. There is a way to escape what less brave politicians want you to believe is certain.

Change Britain's Future

Nick Clegg in his speech at the National Liberal Club yesterday clearly spelt out the consequences of a hard Brexit. It will cost us thousands of pounds each that could be far better spent on the NHS, education and ourselves. We may have voted to leave, but it is essential that we have a say on our ultimate destination. Neither the Conservative or Labour parties want us to have that say.

Liberal Democrats clearly do. They’re arguing for a referendum allowing us to choose what the government manages to negotiate or to remain in the EU. That’s a much better option than arguing about which spit of the rotisserie we prefer.

Is Theresa May reading my blog for policy ideas?

… I think we should be told. Someone in the Prime Minister’s constituency is clearly desperate for policy ideas with substance, rather than the ridiculous “strong and stable” guff she’s been spouting so far. While the Conservatives outrageously claim credit for Liberal Democrat achievements in government (for example, raising the personal tax allowance and same-sex marriage) this idea, I’m certain, will never be a Liberal Democrat policy.

Abolish bank holidays policy

Here’s a link to the (tongue firmly in cheek) post this particular search found.

 

Before the EU single market and the disaster of a hard Brexit

Yesterday an opinion poll suggested that a majority of voters want the UK to remain in the single market. It’s encouraging that the majority take this view, as I’m old enough to remember the difficulties of trading without it.

In the 1980s, before the EU single market, I worked for a UK software company based in Nottingham. One of our partners was the French computer manufacturer,  Bull. We had an agreement with Bull to support our software on their hardware – the SPS9 and SPS7. In a world before high-speed networks, this meant physically having the machines on loan in our offices. A heavily bureaucratic process known as a carnet was required. This meant the machines had to be shipped back to France every year (“for a holiday”, as my director put it) and updated models returned. We were unable to carry out work for our Bull customers while the lengthy process of satisfying customs regulations took place.

One year, the machines were shipped back from France and held at the Port of Dover for inspection. At best, this process took a couple of days, but on this occasion the days turned into a week, and then almost two. Eventually, our shipping agent suggested that I give the customs people a call, as he was making no progress. After getting through to the right office I was met first with hostility, but after turning on the East Midland’s charm, he agreed to look into the problem for me.

The problem was simple – the carnet was in French, and the person in the customs office dealing with my shipment who spoke French was on holiday. They were due back in a couple of days. I sighed, as arguing with customs is a pointless exercise. Two days later after his colleague had returned, the computers were released and returned to Nottingham. However, this delay eventually contributed to the loss of a large contract.

Any Brexit agreement that fails to keep the UK in the single market will lead to a drag on the economy. And let’s not fool ourselves – the type of no agreement, hard Brexit promoted by the extremists in the Conservative and Labour parties will be even more disastrous.The consequences of a hard Brexit will be dire – especially for funding the public services we all rely on like the NHS.

There’s a great opportunity on June 8th to stop this economic vandalism happening. We need to make sure that there are strong voices in the next parliament that will fight for our place in the single market.

The best way to ensure that this happens is to vote for Liberal Democrats.

What does the general election mean for lymphoma patients?

A mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) support forum I belong to recently had a posting from someone in the US. They’d received a bill of around $70,000 for an 11 day stay in hospital. Their visit involved a single round of chemotherapy. Other people with this rare cancer recount their despair of fighting to pay medical bills. Some are unable even to afford an application for bankruptcy protection. Almost inevitably there is a regular litany of struggles with insurance companies, even for vital diagnostics including PET/CT scans. Those of us from the UK boggle at the mental and physical hardships our fellow patients in the US endure. We know, first hand, how valuable a properly funded and staffed NHS is to our survival. Mantle cell lymphoma strikes people at random and is tough to treat.

One of the many negative consequences of the Conservative and Labour desire to take us out of the EU will be the loss of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The impact on MCL patients shows every sign of being a disaster. New, innovative treatments that are being developed for lymphoma will take longer to be approved for use in the UK post-Brexit. The experience of Canada and Australia (who approve new drugs at a national level) is that they run around 6 months behind the EU on approvals. Canada and Australia have strong economies. They are not facing the imminent catastrophe of losing EU single market membership. I can only wonder what kind of delays will be introduced into the UK approvals system.

Furthermore, the expertise of the EMA is not something that can be replicated overnight and any replacement will introduce yet more delays. A 6 month approval lag may not sound like very much, but the median survival for MCL patients post-diagnosis is just 3-5 years. As current treatments are limited in their effectiveness, every day counts. And obviously it’s not just MCL patients that will be affected, but I write about what I know.

It’s clear to me that the NHS will face continuing crises should either the Conservatives or Labour party form the next government unchecked. A Conservative victory will see further pressure on NHS budgets and an ever-creeping privatisation of the service. An insurance-backed health service that the right-wing extremists in the Conservative party long for would have a devastating impact on patients. A Labour victory won’t stop Brexit and the loss of the EMA.

Like so many issues in the 2017 general election, the first step to ensuring a successful future for the NHS and the patients who rely on it is to ensure continued EU single market membership. Ideally, we need a chance to retain our full EU membership. The Conservatives and Labour are offering neither. I know how I’m voting on 8th June.

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