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Good Weather Liberals

May 28, 2014

When I first saw the email from Libdems4change last Saturday morning I was not really surprised. Every Lib Dem knew that the combined local and European elections 2014 would be a challenge.  Many Councils had not seen elections since 2010 and we have gone through the toughest economic challenges in a lifetime.  Many Labour facing Council areas had already seen a steady decline of electoral success and we had lost activists to fight our corner.  Additionally Lib Dems were standing up for Europe, an unfashionable message. So basically everything was against us and yes, we did badly.

Ahead of the outcome were some rumours that Nick Clegg might face a leadership challenge.  But I thought by now Lib Dems had grown up politically to understand that being in government in Westminster came at a price; that we could no longer count on tactical Labour voters;  that we would no longer attract voters who wanted to protest; that there is a decline in electoral fortunes at local level when a party is in government at Westminster.

Well obviously not. Looking at the list of people who signed up to Libdems4change they seem to come mostly from areas which have done ok so far, but where suddenly people are getting the jitters. I don‘t blame them, but I want to warn them that going down the route of internal fighting is the fastest way to obliteration.

Our experience from Rochdale is a ‘good’ example.  In May 2010 we lost our MP and we lost control of the council. At local level we went into a Tory coalition. In addition with being in a national Tory coalition the response on the doorstep and the attacks by Labour and the local (Labour) press grew vicious.

Party colleagues who were facing elections in May 2011 lost their nerve and in December 201o challenged the council leader to resign. When they failed, 9 councillors defected forcing us to go into opposition, completely losing face not just with Labour but also with the Tories. In 2011 we lost every seat we defended. None of the defectors won with their ‘new’ party. Nor did a new leadership make any difference, the damage was done. The only thing the electorate saw was a dysfunctional group and the decline has continued ever since.

This ‘good weather liberalism’ has been a complete disaster.  Had people stuck together through the difficult times, they would have been maybe bruised by an election defeat but come out with their credibility intact, sharing their disappointment with political colleagues and a future opportunity to fight again. Now there is nothing for them and nothing for the party.

Mature government parties like Tories and Labour know that there are good and bad times. You take advantage of the good times and make the most of winning, lie low in the bad times when you re-group and re-energise and get ready for when the time of change comes. This is how parties survive the long term. The nervous questioning and looking for your own personal survival is exactly what the other parties are hoping for. They will put their dagger in and finish us for good.

We have to stick together, support the bruised losers of an election, remind ourselves of what we stand for and be proud of what we are achieving. Our success or failure is not just Nick Clegg’s responsibility.

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2 comments

  1. Oh really …I do despair…………
    I think you have just lost or upset another chunk of Lib Dems.


  2. So- unless you are a actually a Labour activist- explain to me why you are despairing? Despairing that I say ‘we need to look at the long term’? Despairing that I say ‘united we stand and divided we fall’? Explain to me which chunk of real Lib Dems I have lost by saying that? Only our enemies want us to leave the coalition and the course we have taken to smirk and say ‘Same old Lib Dems they don’t stand for anything’. We are now a smaller but much more united party than 4 years ago. And I appeal to those who are prepared to do grown up politics.



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