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?

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.

Choosing your tribe – them and us

“In Ireland you must choose your tribe. Reason has nothing to do with it.” 

 

So wrote J.G. Farrell in his 1970 novel Troubles. While much of what has happened politically in 2016 has felt both tribal and irrational to me, psychology suggests that we don’t even need big issues to persuade us to pick our tribe. Developed at much the same time that Farrell published his novel, Henri Tajfel’s minimal group experiments show how easy – how frighteningly easy – it is for us to do this.

Minimal groups can be formed using arbitrary criteria.  A coin toss can be used to divide people randomly into two groups. A simple task, such as distributing small amounts of money, results in people favouring members of their own group. This happens even when there is no objective difference between group members and the distribution is performed anonymously.

This result led Tajfel with others including John Turner, to develop Social Identity Theory (SIT). SIT can be used as a way of explaining the minimal group results, but more importantly, can perhaps shed light on what happens in everyday life outside of laboratory experiments.

SIT argues that we categorise ourselves and others into different groups. A process of social identification occurs over time, where we decide which groups we identify with. Our decisions on group membership are influenced by others already in a particular group whose attitudes and beliefs we wish to emulate. Finally, our self-esteem is boosted by positive comparisons of our own group against others. It can also be damaged if other groups are held in higher regard by society than ours.

The need to pick our tribe, regardless of how rational or irrational that choice may seem to others, would therefore seem to be an inbuilt characteristic of humanity. Which of the tribes that we belong to is most important to us at any point in time depends on how salient the social identity it embodies becomes. If that identity feels threatened, then we often cling to it even harder.

It would seem to me that the events of the last week demonstrate that the most salient political identity in the UK at the moment is how pro-EU (or anti-EU) we feel. How else would you explain the truly wonderful result for Sarah Olney in the Richmond Park by-election if that was not the case? How else would you explain the willingness of many people to work across traditional party political divides to make sure that we don’t drive our economy off a cliff? Or how else would you explain a large slice of the electorate still voting for the ‘independent’ ex-incumbent anyway?

Long may the country’s new-found passion for the EU continue. I have chosen my tribe and for the first time in some years, I feel rather good about being a member.

My response to the recent Post40Bloggers writing prompt number 104: “Them and Us“.

10,000 steps a day – day 27 – Allestree by-election

Today’s steps were easily achieved as this evening I went out leafleting on behalf of the excellent Liberal Democrat by-election candidate for Allestree, Deena Smith.

Allestree by-electionFor those of you that don’t follow Derby politics closely, the vacancy was caused by the Conservative councillor elected in May being jailed for two months for providing a false address. I think the people of Allestree deserve better than to have their votes taken for granted by the Tory party. The by-election is on Thursday and I hope that the recent success elsewhere in Derbyshire is a good omen in what has been considered a safe Conservative ward.

If you’ve never delivered leaflets before, this is what the activity looks like to a Fitbit tracker.

Delivery WalkI was quite pleased that I didn’t have to backtrack too many times.

 

There are just three days left in my September walk all over cancer, but there’s still time to sponsor me. My donations page is here. Thank you!

Two thoughts following the referendum result – and what to do next

This is a quickly written post as I really need to get on with my dissertation today. However, here are two thoughts about what not to do, and what to do following the EU referendum ‘leave’ result.

First – the what not to do. Don’t sign the petition arguing for a second referendum on the same question immediately. We may not like the result (that’s possibly the biggest understatement I’ve ever made), but a second referendum isn’t the answer. At best it would be a sticking plaster that fails to address the underlying causes of the dissatisfaction that many people feel about their situation. At worst, it looks like sour grapes. In fact, I’m in full agreement with the good Lord Bonkers (a.k.a. Jonathan Calder) on this – referendums on anything are a really bad idea in a parliamentary democracy. Read his piece published before the results were known to understand why.

Secondly – the what to do. With the Conservative and Labour parties ripping apart at the seams, an early General Election seems like a real possibility, even with the fixed-term parliaments act in place. If you think that the UK should remain in (or rejoin) the EU, I hope that you’ll join the Liberal Democrats. Come and work with us to create an optimistic, liberal and positive vision for the future, that addresses the underlying problems in our country with real solutions, not just cheap slogans.

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