The morale imperative

In terms of member morale and our reputation the news Lib Dem Peers in the House of Lords had voted for Chris Rennard to the Liberal Democrat’s Federal Executive caused the single most damaging day for the Lib Dems since the General Election.

The fact that this was a self-inflicted wound and one that was entirely avoidable made it even harder to stomach.

The attempts to shrug this decision off by party establishment figures as an internal matter shows they’ve learned nothing from Helena Morrissey’s report. You may think I’m overstating things, but:

Yesterday another one of my friends and longstanding activists Katherine Bavage resigned live on Channel Four News.

This morning I received a text from a longstanding member out of the blue:

‘I have just sent  a protest re: the ridiculous appointment of Chris Rennard…via the Freepost donation envelope that landed on my mat the same day as the news broke. NOT impressed.’

My friend, a former parliamentary candidate and member of Federal Executive, Kav Kaushik put together an online questionnaire that has attracted over 200 responses in less than 24 hours.

A petition organised by other members to call a Special Conference to change the party’s rules has already met the threshold needed to happen.

And a large number of new members in our Newbies Facebook Group, some of the most enthusiastic people in our party, expressed concerns.

A Twitter Poll I ran asking people if they thought Tim Farron should speak out against the appointment came out 84% in favour.

These reactions are just the tip of an iceberg and reflect a widely held opinion within the party. It looks even worse for women outside our party, looking in.

That peers would think there would be no external scrutiny of their action in electing Rennard to the Federal Executive beggars belief.

It’s probably the case that Tim Farron can’t change their decision but he can speak out strongly against it and lay down the direction he wants to lead the party in. It was good to see Sal Brinton respond and express disappointment but for many of us this was far too late to frame the developing media agenda.

A senior campaigner commented on my Facebook posts yesterday that Chris Rennard was the party’s most successful campaigner, almost as though that excuses everything.

Ignoring that there is precious little evidence to show his methods have adapted to the new methods of campaigning, I’m sorry one man, however successful, is not worth the resignations and the rapid demoralisation of hundreds more women and men in our party.

Without them, their energy, their commitment #Libdemfightback cannot happen.

They joined a party they thought would be liberal and democratic.

Transforming the Lib Dems, making us a female-friendly party is about more, much more, than our leader appointing women in reasonable numbers to his shadow team.

It means all of us, from the most senior to the newest member (particularly those Lib Dems that seek to represent others) living by the values we espouse.

Days ago I addressed an audience full of politically active women, many of whom voted Lib Dem at least once and have now joined the Greens, Labour and the Women’s Equality Party.

If you don’t think the Rennard affair affected their perception of our party? Maybe try to talking to one of them. Attempts to squash this debate internally are futile, if we allow those outside the party to draw their own conclusions that in the Lib Dems certain men are more equal than others.

When I woke up this morning I wondered if I could be bothered to go to Oldham on a Saturday in November to spend  7 hours on a train and £65 on the ticket, and then I thought no actually why should we punish the only woman on the ballot paper – our candidate – and all those other volunteers.

If we are going to change the culture in this party we are going to have to stick around and show that we are not going to take no for an answer but that doesn’t mean that we have to be silenced.
I am working hard to get elected as an MP in 2020, to kick the door down and keep it open for others to follow. My priority 2020-2030 will be to get more women elected at all levels and to ensure our next leadership election has women in it.


Effective opposition means disowning bad Bills

In politics, timing and getting your message right are both important.

In opposition, even more so.

When the draft investigatory powers bill was published by Theresa May last week it was clear that this was something that Lib Dems should instinctively oppose.

It is not our job to defend what is contained in Conservative Bills.

What was published may have be an a considerable improvement than what was originally proposed in the ‘Snoopers Charter’ thanks to Lib Dem ministers in coalition – but that was then and this is now.

After all, we have liberal in our name and are naturally suspicious of any legislation which seeks to tip the scales further towards the state and away from the individual citizen.

People expect us to stand up for civil liberties because as on so many issues, if we don’t who will?

Like most people who are not Westminster insiders I rely on Twitter and other channels for my news.

On the day of the publication of the Bill I searched online to find out our line.Hours passed and still the Lib Dems had no official position.

Elections are sometimes lost but good ideas can shape the future – some thoughts on political leadership

I’ve been interested in the subject of effective political leadership for a while. We don’t have nearly enough of it, in my view.

Effective political leadership is different from other types of leadership and despite being around for centuries it seems to me it is still not very well-understood or particularly valued.

Although it often features as part of the curriculum of academic politics courses, students  are rarely taught how to be political leaders, and our politics are poorer as a result. I often reflect on the fact that my politics degree did not equip me very well for a career in politics! 

I have since learned that the principles of political leadership although not for everyone can in fact be taught and I’ve become all the more convinced that it should be. Or, we should expect the quality of political decision-making to continue to be poor, which benefits no-one.

I was lucky enough to be taught about  political leadership by Cllr Richard Kemp and other senior leaders in local government when I was a young councillor via the Next Generation Programme run by the Leadership Centre (part of the Local Government Association).

Richard is one of the closest things we have to a guru in the Lib Dems – a community campaigner to his core.  Not convinced? you might have heard of Tim Farron – one of his other former students. Richard and Tim both believe strongly that as an elected person you should never forget who put you there in the first place, and I agree.

They also believe you should spend more time in your community representing your constituents than in the council chamber/parliament – something I remember telling a journalist within hours of my election. ‘Daisy set to skip committee meetings to talk to residents’ was how that was eventually written up!

I introduced Richard to some of our new members I hung out with at our Federal Conference last week and reading this post  which he wrote afterwards I was delighted to see the experience had a positive impact on him as it did on them.

Cllr Richard Kemp with new Lib Dem member Emily Barrass

Cllr Richard Kemp with new Lib Dem member Emily Barrass

Very often, when you’re active in a political party and lucky enough to be elected you learn how to campaign and win elections. On the NGP we were lectured not about how you win  but crucially how to exercise power and keep it.  The course was all about exercising influence – council officers effectively run councils but elected councillors must lead them.

In my experience, effective political leaders have more in common with each other than individual politicians have with individual political parties.

This is something I learned as a local councillor after observing who was running councils and who managed to stay running councils. In general I found it wasn’t actually about party, it was all about personality.

For me, it wasn’t enough just hearing from people who had exercised real power it was important to see a Lib Dem-run administration in action too.

I remember organising a council group visit to Eastleigh Borough Council in 2009 when I was still an opposition councillor and listening to Lib Dem council leader Keith House saying ‘if you want to do things you have to be in power’. It may sound obvious but it had a big impact on me and other colleagues at the time as members of a group who had only ever known opposition and opposing things.

With Cllr Keith House and members of the Lib Dem Group on Reading Borough Council

With Cllr Keith House and Cllr Louise Bloom and members of the Lib Dem Group on Reading Borough Council

Listening to Keith  and other senior councillors such as Louise Bloom taught me the importance of  goals in politics, and having something to aim for. 

For me that visit showed up the difference between campaigning for better recycling collections (as we were doing in Reading at that time) and being a genuinely green council influencing the climate change agenda as Eastleigh BC was  (and still is).

Again, devolving decision-making to ward level via area committees had only happened because Lib Dems were running the council, not just because they talked about it in their leaflets or in a couple of council meetings.

It’s not enough to campaign against things to win elections,  you also need to know what you would do in power if you had it. This is one of the reasons I found coalition a relatively easy concept to get my head around, unlike a few other people!


In 2011 in my role as Lead Member for Housing with Andrew Stunell, then Lib Dem Housing Minister. On the site of the first new council houses built in Reading for over 20 years.

A couple of years after graduating from the Next Generation Programme and visiting Eastleigh I found myself in a cabinet running my local council with lead responsibility for  housing, social care and health and managing a multi-million pound budget.

In that role I precided over the first council-house building programme in over twenty years just a few years after tabling questions about over-crowding in my ward. It was a dream come true.The year after that I became leader of my political group on my council, a post I held for two years.

Being a member of the Programme also resulted in my nomination to become a member of an international leadership network, the British-American Project where I continue to learn from recognised leaders in their fields, many of them outside politics

Seeing the things that Nick Clegg has been saying and doing since he left office got me thinking about this subject and specifically the exercise of political leadership beyond political parties and offices of state.

In my view, once a political leader, always a political leader. The vehicle and platform may change but the impetus behind it – to change things – does not. Perhaps thought leadership is a better name for it.

Nick has broken his silence a few times since the election to talk about things other than what I would describe as Westminster water cooler stuff i.e his time in office and the election – to advocate and promote his ideas.

He fired a shot across the bows of  the probable future Tory leader George Osborne with an article in the Evening Standard where he sought to wrestle work from the Tories and reclaim it as a liberal value:

Work is not just an economic necessity. It brings identity and self-reliance. It is a spur to ingenuity and a catalyst for growth. Work demands the learning of new skills. It sustains communities and nourishes families. Without work, society crumbles.

So I take an old-fashioned liberal view that supporting work — rewarding and fairly-rewarded work — should be one of the first duties of government.’

I happen to agree with Nick on this point and I was pleased to see his passion on issues of fairness and social justice has clearly not wavered since he stepped down as leader of the Lib Dems.

Nick also attacked Tory cuts to tax credits ‘these changes remove the work incentives for precisely those low- income families who should be supported to work more.’

Fastforward 3 weeks and we find the points that Nick put forward in his article gaining traction in the mass media:

A cynic may say that Nick cares only for protecting his own political legacy. That may be partly true but misses the wider point:  these are ideas worth fighting for in this parliament  and Nick is right to fight on for them.

Elections are lost but ideas, if they are good, can survive. We cannot  let the Tories march their tanks on to the centre-ground of British politics or ‘the common ground’ as David Cameron may prefer to call it (as he did on Andrew Marr today) without pointing out at regular intervals the ways in which Tory policies in government are a long way from being socially just.

This week Nick went beyond than simply offering a stinging critique of this Conservative government by attacking in the strongest terms the collective failure of governments across the world to tackle the scourge of drugs and is leading a new campaign for worldwide drugs reform.

I would describe this intervention as exercising global leadership on Nick’s part. People like him who are prepared to use their influence, to stick their necks out and find solutions to complex problems in this way should be lauded and encouraged, not least because they are so few in number.

When I tweeted a link to Nick’s Indy article it was retweeted 25 times and liked 36 times in the Lib Dem Newbies UK Facebook Group I help to curate. Small numbers, yes, but an indicator I think that there is still a big market for Nick’s ideas and for Liberal Democrat ideas and policies in general.

It wasn’t surprising to me at all that Nick’s recent campaigns have been well-received particularly by our new members, after the way Nick conducted himself in government and the policies he espoused was the reason many of them joined.

I went on the hunt for a political quote that sums up influence and leadership and the best I could find was this by Martin Luther King:

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

Politicians should not cease to lead debates and shape our society when they stop being party leaders, and Nick is no different.

Political leadership is not confined, however, to leaders of political parties. I have been impressed by the work that Jo Swinson, Paul Burstow, Vince Cable, David Laws, Martin Horwood and Steve Webb among others have been leading to actively promote ideas and proposals they championed in government.  Between them, our former MPs and (councillors) have the experience and the insight to be really credible on this stuff and to push our thinking further forward.

I was taught long ago by Cllr Richard Kemp that it’s not the job title in politics that matters it’s what you do it that counts. On that basis why should our ex MPs and ministers’ political influence end just because they are out of power?

As I wrote in The Independent a few weeks ago, no-one is going to sell our story if we don’t but it won’t be enough to harp on about what we did in government or even what we stopped the Tories from doing. 

We must now look to the future and go on to say in more detail  what we would do if we were in government, promoting our ideas outside parliament as well as inside it.

As Richard Kemp would say, with just 8 MPs in Parliament we will have to become a ‘guerilla group’ picking on issues where we can make an impact – the days of shadowing every department are effectively over and the days of having no Lib Dem on Question Time are back.  Our Peers must do their bit too.

As part of #LibDemFightBack w must use all the resources we can muster outside the party to support our parliamentarians- including our former leaders – to get our liberal message across in this Parliament.

Anyway, here’s something I’ve been listening to this weekend:

How #LibDemFightback found its voice and is teaching us oldies a lesson

When I sat down to write this post it was going to be about diversity, something I’ve been banging on about a lot this week.

My frustration with my party on this subject goes back a long way but this week’s meltdown was prompted as a result of my friend Elaine Bagshaw posting this article highlighting the fact 6 of the 7 places on the Lib Dem regional candidates list for the Scottish Parliament elections have gone to men.

And thereafter followed a stream of angry tweets.

Anyway, enough about that for now. If you’re interested, my friend Sam Phripp summarised really well why a few of us are really pissed off so I won’t rehearse.

I wanted in this post to revisit a subject I wrote about a couple of months ago – #LibDemFightback and the impact thousands of new members is having on my party.

Shortly after the election I wrote a blog about my frustration with the apparent disconnect between what my party stands for and how it behaves. I wrote:-

‘I think we need to take a long hard look at how our party appears to the outside world.

Can we make it easier for people to get involved?

We need, I think to take this opportunity to refound our party so that it reflects modern British society as it is today.

We need to live and breathe the values we espouse in the preamble to our constitution.’

Peter Sigrist, a new member from London who I did not know at the time commented on my blog and said:

‘Hi Daisy. As a LibDem Newbie, it’s galling to read your views and feel the sense of imbalance in the party. I, too, want to hear what Norman Lamb and Tim Farron will do to make sure we represent properly the voters in the UK. But I don’t think it’s just down to them. I want every local party, every local organiser to articulate this. For anyone who has any status inside the Liberal Democrat party: now is your moment to make it clear what you are going to do to change people’s minds. If we don’t start hearing soon what the entire party is going to do to get this balance right, I want the 320 members who have so far signed up for our Newbie meetups in London to make themselves heard. Turn up to local party offices and events and ask them: “what are you doing to make the Liberal Democrats relevant and electable?” Change is here and I can’t wait to get stuck in to make it stick.

At the time, Peter’s optimism was hard to hear, feeling bruised as I was after an exhausting and disastrous General Election campaign. ‘He clearly hasn’t spent any time slogging campaigning for the Lib Dems’ I sighed.

Reading them again now I find Peter’s comments refreshing and invigorating – he’s got what the Lib Dems should do now completely nailed – and just days after joining the party too!

Anyway, more of that later.

Cultural divides on and offline

I am a member of various Facebook groups – an inevitable byproduct of being active in a political party.

The difference in tone between some of the established groups – dare I say it home to established/establishment Liberal Democrats –  and Lib Dem Newbies UK (home for most of our new members) is stark.

The Newbies group is a public group, established groups tend to be secret.

The description of the Newbies Group is as follows:-

The Liberal Democrats were savaged in the 2015 General Election. In response, many people in the United Kingdom chose to show their support. We want to help revive this party, which should be a powerful force for good in modern politics. What do you say? Tens of thousands of people can’t be wrong. Join us!

The Newbies group is aimed at new members but it’s membership is not exclusively new members.

The main difference I’ve observed between the Newbies Facebook group and others that abound in the Lib Dems is in terms of tone –  posts and comments tend to be generally positive, hopeful, open and discursive.

The hopefulness might seem surprising or odd for a party supposedly in the doldrums but not if like me you’ve spent any time as I have with our new members.

In the Newbie group all opinions have the same weight and all posts are permitted long as they are generally on topic and about debating ideas.

As a member of the group I can say this has led to a much more interesting, as well as engaging discussion.

Questions and discussions are actively encouraged in the Newbie group particularly from new joiners and people who haven’t commented before.

This includes young women who are often under-represented in online dicussions.

Being a member of this group got me thinking about how we can broaden the Newbie approach to how we conduct ourselves as a party more generally.

Let’s take a leaf out of Peter Sigrist and the Newbie’s book, and change the way we engage offline as well as online as a party.

Let’s stop shutting people and conduct our discussions in open forum – not exclusively or behind closed doors.

Let’s do more to create a level-playing field for debate. Create a friendly and positive atmosphere for our discussions so we get to hear the voices of all our members not just the loud ones.

Let’s give people the space to ask questions and talk about a broader range of issues that matter to them not just us.

Oh yeah, and when we come across blatant discrimination in our party, let’s challenge it head-on but not in a way that makes those facing discrimination feel like they are the problem. They aren’t.

Organisations get tired, lose site of their core purpose, forget why people joined them – none of this is unique to the Liberal Democrats!

But,  our liberalism is what makes us different, so reconnecting with our members and reinvigorating ourselves is a must.

Speaking as a member of ten years standing I’m excited about the positive impact our new members are having on my party.

And I cannot wait to see what  damage  they do when they turn up at #LDConf in September.

This week’s musical reference – New Generation, Suede (1995)

“Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” (With apologies to Beastie Boys)

The title for this post popped into my head while listening to Liz Kendall being interviews on Radio 4 Today programme.

Of course she’s in the race to win. What a stupid question! Not much better than that other stupid question she was asked.

I like Liz. Apart from her awesome taste in hip hop, Liz’s trouble is her ideas are way ahead of where most of the Labour party is right now.
If Liz wants to lead an economically credible party with a social conscience she really needs to join the Lib Dems.

But more of that later.

Politics is defined by key moments and how you respond.

The Welfare Bill was a key moment.

Tim Farron responded, and Labour flunked it.

Progress on political positioning OR How Tim got it right on the Welfare Bill 

After That Channel 4 interview Tim  started the week a bit bruised and getting media coverage sadly for all the wrong reasons.

The first test of his political skills came on Monday when he needed to make a call on the Welfare Bill.

This was a basic test for all opposition parties(set by George Osborne (complete with his in-your-face Guardian article) and while all the focus was on Labour, as Her Majesty’s Opposition, it was just as important for Lib Dems to get our response right.

The Lib Dems doing the right thing on the Welfare Bill was critical for a few reasons:

One, it was the first time Tim had spoken as our leader in Parliament, and indeed the first time Lib Dems as a political force would get to set out their stall without the Tories alongside us.

Over the next five years we are going to need a response to that perennial question: What IS the point of the Lib Dems?

This question is followed close behind by what are the Lib Dems for? And what are they against?

Tim’s response to the Welfare Bill is the start It helps us to begin to answer all those key questions

Consistency is everything (particularly for Lib Dems)

So what did Tim’s speech against the Welfare Bill tell us about the position he wants to take the Lib Dems, and what the Lib Dems are for?

Politics as we are often told is about choices. Framing choices between one thing and another, and also making them.

In his speech on Monday night, Tim said:

‘In truth, the Government do not have to take £12 billion from the poorest families in the country, mostly working families, but are choosing to do so.’

This is consistent with the line that Nick Clegg took before the election;

“[The Conservatives] are asking for £12bn over two years,” said Clegg, speaking to Newsnight’s Evan Davis.

“We’ve made £20bn over five. They want to ask the poorest to make additional sacrifices while not asking the richest to pay an additional penny through the tax system to balance the books – that’s downright unfair.”

Tim underlines the marked contrast between the Tory vs Lib Dem approach later in the speech:

‘The reduction in the incomes of poor families in work comes at the same time as the Government are giving inheritance tax cuts to millionaires, cutting corporation tax for the richest firms and refusing to raise a single extra penny in tax from the wealthiest people—for example, through a high-value property levy.’

Consistency is important in politics.

This is not to be confused with saying everything you say in politics has to the same.

Not changing your message to fit the times would be a mistake. However, your values which underpin everything – they need to be consistent. I wrote about the Lib Dems’ recent problems in that regard here.

In these media-driven times, it is  particularly important to be consistent in what you say and do so people can point to things you’ve said and done over a period of time and see a pattern.

Saying one thing and doing another ergo Tuition Fees is where it all went horribly wrong for us in the last Parliament.

In opposition, what we say becomes a guide for our would-be voters – to what we would do in government.

Finally, let’s also not forget the fact that seventeen thousand plus people recently joined the Lib Dems precisely because of what we were saying and doing in the last Parliament.

So, for all the reasons outlined above consistency of message is even more important for Lib Dems.

Establishing clear yellow water

But the success of Tim’s speech was not just about it’s consistency. Tim was also highly successful in setting out a key dividing line between us and the Tories.

One of our challenges during this Parliament is going to be setting out, repeatedly and at regular intervals, how we as a party differ from the Tories. This may sound obvious but it’s very important.

Firstly, we have suffered hugely because of being associated with decisions some of which we agreed with but a lot we did not made by Tories and with Tories in the last Coalition government.

The ‘nasty Tory’ brand has rubbed off on us and we are going to have to spend a lot of time washing it off.

Secondly, being in coalition with a party that is much bigger than us – and with a lot more media backers – has meant that our smaller brand has been subsumed.

So, every chance we get Tim, our MPs, our Peers, our councillors – all of us members – will need to talk about what makes the Lib Dems different from the Tories.

Tim’s message was clear ‘this is a Tory Bill. We wouldn’t vote for it in Coalition and we’re not going to start now!’

All of this is a lot easier to do in opposition but the pleasing thing is it’s already having a transformative effect.

Warming to his themes

Politics, particularly opposition politics, is all about picking your battles. It’s also about establishing territory on which to fight them.

If you listen carefully to the speech you can hear Tim setting out some key themes and key groups that he plans to champion this Parliament (you will notice many of these are familiar from Norman Lamb’s campaign)

Young people:

In many ways, young people are the biggest victims of the Bill. I think of young people being supported by housing benefit…Taking housing benefit away from young people is not just morally wrong but utterly counterproductive, because it will prevent them from accessing work and other life opportunities.’

Low paid workers:-

We will stand for the thousands of people in work and yet in poverty, and for the millions of people who might not be personally affected but who do not want to see inequality grow in Britain.’

The 1-5 Britons who have experienced mental ill-health

‘We will continue to make the case for u for a welfare system that understands the needs of people with mental health conditions and helps them back into work, rather than putting them under the kind of pressure that simply makes them worse.’

And again:-

‘We will continue to speak for the millions of people who are young, who suffer from mental health problems, whose parents have no spare rooms or spare income, who do not have parents at all, or who have more than two children. The Liberal Democrats will stand up for families, whether they are hard-working or just desperate to be hard-working.

Tim is bidding to replace Labour as the credible alternative to the Conservatives

If Tim had simply managed to be vaguely consistent in his message, careful not to trash our five years in government and had set out some key Lib Dem themes in his speech this would have gone down as a solid start.

But what impressed me is that Tim went further, much further in his speech than simply attacking the Tory government.

He stuck the knife into Labour too and signalled his bold ambition to get the Liberal Democrats into a position where we replace Labour as a political force.

Tim’s neat drive-by on Labour did the job perfectly:-

‘We will not let the Conservatives through choice, or the Labour party through their silence, unpick our welfare system.’

This was a full-frontal assault on Labour MPs for their complicity, conspiring with the Tories in recent years to create a toxic narrative in the media which has fatally undermined public confidence in welfare.

It fits in well with TIm’s comments last week in the speech he made when he became leader when he said ‘your failure is not my success’

Tim is explictly calling-out in his speech the fact that is Labour who first got the ball rolling on calling welfare claimants benefits scroungers a when they were in government 1997-2010.

The Tories simply carried on where Labour left. Tim’s remarks also echo something Tariq Ali said yesterday evening on Newsnight:

“These Labour people, most of them, can’t oppose the Tories because they agree with most of what they say” says @TariqAli_News

— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) July 24, 2015And right-wing commentators have spotted it too:

Tim’s speech would have been strong at the best of times, but on a Bill in which Labour abstained en mass against huge cuts to Welfare his timing could not have been better.

As Cllr Keith House, Lib Dem Leader of Eastleigh correctly tweeted after the debate:-

Tim did the right thing to rub salt in Labour’s wounds the following day with his excellent letter to Harriet Harman.

Yes, it was a stunt (a lot of opposition politics is!) but he was right to point out that it is the Lib Dems who are leading opposition to punitive Tory cuts, not Labour:-

‘Labour claim to be a party who believes in social justice. If that is true, then they must join with the Liberal Democrats in voting against these cruel and excessive cuts.’

With Labour seemingly intent on consigning themselves to opposition for decades there is a gap in the market for a party that is fiscally credible and socially-conscious

But its not just that Labour don’t seem to want to win it’s the fact they know and the public knows they don’t really stand for anything anymore.

Labour activists are now faced with the fact that their party is hollowed out, spent, after decades in power and subsequent years in denial about why they lost the 2010 election.

There is a gap in the market for a party that responds to British society as it is rather as we might wish it to be.

For a party with a vision grounded in reality, mixed with hope.

All that left and right schtick doesn’t work any more – it’s terminally broken.

The issues people care about now: housing, education, mental health, our ageing population, public services globalisation –  all require a liberal approach.

Liberalism – the freedom to live the best life you can afford, regardless of background, and in the manner you choose (as long as it doesn’t harm others) is where it’s at.*

If you agree with this and you’re not a member you should really join us*.

True Faith: Why Tim winning is the beginning not the end of #LibDemFightBack

In the build up to the rally where our new leader would be unveiled I was preoccupied by which music would be the best soundtrack:

As someone who voted for the losing candidate (not for the first time!) you might have expected me to be down in the dumps.

But, to quote Pulp (who I’ve been listening to a lot this week) Something Changed. In fact a lot did.

What just happened?

As I blogged a few weeks ago it was always pretty clear to me that Tim Farron would win. But there were two big things that happened that I did not predict.

One, the galvanizing, revivifying impact of  Norman Lamb’s campaign on a frankly lacklustre contest, and secondly, the ability of the Labour party to completely implode whilst conducting their own leadership contest.

When Norman first threw his hat into the ring I must admit I didn’t think he had a hope in hell of garnering more than a handful of votes.

Heavily associated with the coalition (including Nick’s team), with a quiet demeanour and a low public profile I thought that he would struggle to make it out of the starting blocks and be a credible challenger to Tim.

But as I blogged last month, Norman got it right in so many ways that so many of us, least of all me, didn’t expect.

  1. His enormous energy + the serious and composed way in which he approached the contest – attending every hustings, visiting far-flung local parties – killed all suggestions that he was in the race as the fall guy to Tim’s homecoming hero.
  2. Norman’s ability to speak to and connect with members and his ability to capture a mood, coin a phrase: (‘our liberal age’ sticks in the mind).
  3. His ability to correctly identify the liberal issues we should absolutely be campaigning on – mental health, drugs reform and human rights.
  4. The way in which he spoke out forcefully against the lack of diversity in our party and our outdated structures led to him gaining huge respect from many.
  5. Finally his recognition that a political party is nothing if it is not a font for new ideas. All of these things were seriously impressive.

Not only that the combination of all the above proved incredibly effective in a way I think most commentators inside and outside the party expected.

I’ve written before that endorsements didn’t have a big impact on my decision, but I would have to demur slightly and say the wide array of senior Lib Dems across the spectrum who supported Norman was revealing and added weight there is no doubt.

Outside the party, the serious endorsements Norman attracted from unexpected voices such as The Economist only helped to solidify his appeal as the dark horse in this contest.

Thank you, Norman

But in the end, the real game changer was actually none of the above.

The signficant part of what happened was the transformational effect Norman’s campaign had on Tim’s campaign.

Bearing in mind Tim’s candidature was the biggest racing certainty in post-election Liberal Democrat politics and that he had an army of supporters before he even sent a single piece of campaign literature, by facing a strong opponent Tim was effectively prevented from running his own race by Norman.

By this I mean had there not been a serious contest Tim could probably have won this election fairly easily by campaigning on the things he wanted to campaign on and only speaking to his natural supporters.

By being challenged to a contest, Tim was forced to confront some uncomfortable questions on his voting record, sure, but for me the key thing was he was that Norman, involvement pushed Tim beyond his comfort zone.

In the end, Norman notched up 43.5% of total votes cast. This was a brilliant result against a popular candidate who had spent most of his political career gearing up for this moment.

That is 43.5% of party member who Tim will need to reach out to.

Some will be Nick Clegg supporters, some won’t be.  Some will be new members, some will be longer in the tooth. Some will be fans of the Coalition, some not.

Either way, judging by Tim’s shift towards the centre during the campaign those of us who fear the Party being dragged to the left can take comfort from the fact that in this result Tim must acknowledge that the party contains many viewpoints of which social liberalism is only one. So Norman has done the party a great service.

And not only during the campaign.

Norman has tested Tim before the other parties get their chance. Our leader must be battle-hardened and battle ready. There is one thing all Labour leadership candidates and future Tory ones can agree on: they want to see an end to the Lib Dems and fast.

By challenging Tim, Norman helped us take that first step out of the Coalition bunker and we should thank him for it. The contest has brought out the best in Norman and Norman has brough the best out in Tim.

Let’s face it, this is not something Labour will be able to say after their contest has decided into the usual soulless grudge-match.

That other silver lining

Politics is getting weirder and wielder these days and I’m having to get used to expecting the unexpected.

I’ve written before about the thousands of new members joining the Lib Dems being not only a big surprise but also a huge consolation to all of us who bust a gut campaigning in the last election.

No-one said we would get a defunct Labour party into the bargain! To misquote Shakespeare for a minute Labour at the moment can be summed up as follows:

Sans leader. Sans message. Sans everything.

For all my fears that Tim might lead us further into the wilderness the disappearance of Labour from the political scene now looks like a realistic prospect.

I don’t think for a minute that Jeremy Corbyn will win.

The point is NONE of the candidates barring Liz Kendall look like winning at what really matters – beating the Tories at the next election- anytime soon. A

nd as everyone keeps saying who know a lot more about Labour politics than I do – Liz won’t win. In the absence of a sensible Labour party I am confident that we will continue to hoover up support not only from the centre but the left too.

Oh what a night!

Finally, I wanted to write a few words about the humongous event that was the rally last night and why it left me feeling wildly optimistic and not depressed about the future of the Liberal Democrats.

It may have been because I spent most of the night after the rally hanging out in the pub with our ridiculously impressive new members but I don’t think that was the sole reason.

With Jack and Sarah - new Lib Dem activists and leading lights in #LibDemFightback. I told Sarah she needs to learn to love selfies!

With Jack and Sarah – new Lib Dem activists and leading lights in #LibDemFightback. I told Sarah she needs to learn to love selfies!

In no particular order:-

1.Norman was and is a total rockstar

The fact that Norman, the bloke I voted for was amazingly humble and posed for a selfie when let’s face it all he probably wanted to do after the result was declared was go home and drown his sorrows is testament to the man.

[The sight of him with one of my heroines, the architect of Equal Marriage Lynne Featherstone made it a pretty great evening from the get go as far as I was concerned]

I look forward to seeing Norman take on a substantial role as advocate for some of our signature policies not least equity in mental health care. I would also like to see him working with party members behind the scenes to modernise and fix our outdated party structures.

Oh and continuing to champion a more diverse party.

Me, Norman Lamb and Lynne Featherstone

Me, Norman Lamb and Lynne Featherstone

2. Tim agrees with Nick on some important stuff

The lot of ex-party leaders is often not a happy one.

Well at least that’s how it seems to work in the Labour and Tory parties.

Not us! Not only was Nick in the house last night (and it was hardly surprising to see him clapping and smiling at the right moments) In our media-driven age that’s what we all expect these days.

What I’m talking about is the fact that Tim was very deliberately – at least from where I was standing, in that hot, sweaty hall in Islington  – channelling Nick throughout his speech.

Bearing in mind thousands of people recently joined our party not least because the things Nick said and did in government this was a clever mood.

But it also revealed a deeper point – maybe Nick and Tim have more in common than people think.

They are both liberals. They both care about creating a fairer society. What’s so strange about that?

Nick Clegg looks on while Tim speaks

If Nick was about anything it was about this: not allowing accident of birth to be the key determinate on the success of a person’s success or failure.

The Pupil Premium was the thing that Nick has always cited as his proudest achievement in government.

And during the cold, hard years of Coalition when I was going out knocking on doors and regularly getting the door slammed in my face fo Tuition Fees it was knowing things like the fact that Lib Dems were focussing public spending on things like helping the poorest kids that kept me going.

So it was good to hear Tim not only praising Nick but talking about the things that Nick and thousands of us still really care about.

But there were subtler points I noticed too. This line in Tim’s speech shone through like a beacon:- ‘We are in politics to get stuff done. We got stuff done.’

So many times, offline as well as offline, people take it upon themselves to slag off the Lib Dem record in government and our reasons for going into government. I don’t buy it. In fact I reject their revisionism utterly.

We went into government for the right reasons and as Nick Clegg said recently intentions matter in politics. I also get fed up when people attempt to rewrite history and suggest that Lib Dem members did not want to go into coalition.

Whatever members may feel now as a consequence of being in Coalition and the loss of support that followed, at the time, when the question was posed Liberal Democrats voted by a clear majority at a Special Conference in 2010 to support going into coalition.

Tim’s restatement of the core purpose of a political party as a vehicle to do things was from my perspective therefore very bloody important for him to say.

Sure, we don’t want to be in government for a while. We need a period in opposition, to listen more to the public and to get back to winning ways.

But as Tim said none of us got involved in the Lib Dems as a good career move – either now or when I joined (2004). We got involved or at least people like me did to change things.

And for all of us who, over a five year period put ourselves on the frontline – not least scores of councillors and MPs many of whom lost their seats – and got a kicking for our troubles – we need to hear that what we did was for the right reasons.

That campaigning for the Lib Dems meant something then and it means something now.

Politics with a purpose is what #LibDemFightBack must be about.

With Duncan Hames, one of the MPs I campaigned for in the election. He lost his seat and he's still smiling!

With Duncan Hames, one of the MPs I campaigned for in the election. He lost his seat and he’s still smiling!

And so Tim’s recognition, public restatement of the fact that not only were Lib Dems in government we did things, we got stuff done – was really important. And really appreciated.

And maybe at last it was the response I an effective response to those of us who have expressed fears that Tim lacks substance.

Finally, I’m sure I’m not the only one who recognised a lot of Nick in the bit towards the end of Tim’s barnstorming speech aimed at people outside the party.

If you care about human rights join us.

if you think you shouldn’t have your emails snooped on join us.

if you think everyone deserves a decent home join us.

if you think its wrong to demonise immigrants, the young, the poor, foreigners, Brussels, the English, the Scots…join us.

If you are fed up of self-satisfied politicians ambitious for themselves and unambitious for their country… then guess what? You are a liberal. Embrace that diagnosis. It is an utterly decent and British condition. So join us, join us today.

As I said on Radio 5Live (21 minutes in!) this morning it wasn’t so much what Tim said that was different it was the way he said it. Simple. Plain. To the point.

Liberalism that does what it says on the tin. Well, it works for me!

2. Tim’s right. Winning in politics IS everything

This was the central plank of Tim’s speech and for good reason.

It’s absolutely what we need to focus on now. Today. Tomorrow and the day after.

You win seats because it gives you the power in politics to do things and most importantly to change things.

On a related point, Tim was absolutely right to urge members to ‘pick a ward, any ward!’ and to win it.’ Clawing our way back to power, from the bottom up.

That’s what I did. The Farron way is the way to win council seats. As Tim rightly said it’s not rocket-science. It takes belief and shoe-leather.

I beat Labour in a ward that hadn’t changed hands for decades. From that platform we went on to win more council seats, to defeat the Labour leader of my local council in Reading and also to build the biggest student branch in the country.

The tragedy of the past few years in government has been recruiting members and meeting activists who have never experienced winning. I was lucky. I won my first election within a year of becoming active and it totally and completely changed the direction of not only my politics but my life.

Winning is everything and it’s something that most of us – some of us – have never experienced that needs to change.

Yesterday’s phenomenal council by-election results which saw Lib Dems take seats of Labour and Tories and win with big swings are just a taster of what we can achieve and what we will achieve I think in the coming years.

I started this post by musing about music choices. I should have guessed that Tim, a football-supporting northerner would have picked New Order. World in Motion, however was a good and left-field choice.

I’ve attached the lyrics below because I think they are particularly poignant:-

Express yourself, create the space
You know you can win, don’t give up the chase
Beat the man, take him on
You never give up, its one on one

(Express yourself) It’s one on one
(Express yourself) It’s one on one
(Express yourself) You can’t be wrong
(Express yourself) When something’s good its never gone

Loves got the world in motion and I know what we can do
Loves got the world in motion and I can’t believe its true

Now is the time, let everyone see
You never give up, that’s how it should be
Don’t get caught, make your own play
Express yourself, don’t give it away