'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Saturday 23 May 2015

Um. I really think, with hindsight, we would change our General Election campaign. Wouldn't we?

While I think Ryan Coetzee's analysis of the Lib Dems #GE2015 campaign is often right,  one  paragraph stands out for me

"Should we have run the campaign differently, given what we knew? I don’t think so. We correctly identified the threats facing us on each front, and did our best to counter them. We made a coherent, liberal case to the voters, offering both a strong economy and a fair society. There are of course improvements that could have been made to the design and execution of the campaign, as there always are, but in retrospect it is difficult to imagine a different campaign producing a significantly better result"

Now of course its easy to be clever after the event. But it seems, frankly bizarre, that Ryan doesn't think we should have done anything differently. It's those 4 words. "I don't think so".

It seems self evident to me that, given the results, OF COURSE we should have run the campaign differently.

I happily accept that, given the evidence available, decisions were taken in good faith that seemed completely sensible at the time. But those decisions were evidently wrong. And we should have taken different action.

Let me give you one facile example. Ryan correctly (in my view) observes that we fought the campaign on 3 different fronts - anti SNP, anti, Labour, anti Tory. And adopted 3 separate strategies as a result.

To any party with frankly limited resources, that's madness. Remember, the Tories largely didn't do that - even with their huge resources. They concentrated on one core strategy in the campaign - emphasising the bogeyman of a Labour SNP coalition. They knew this would hurt the SNP, Labour and us. It wouldn't especially hurt UKIP - but they didn't let that get in the way.

Many will no doubt say we had no choice - am I saying I would have abandoned 2/3 of our sitting MPs to adopt a strategy that would save 1/3? Difficult, I agree.

But if we had done we would now have more like 18 0r 19 MPs than 8. 

So to suggest our strategy was the best it could possibly be and with the benefit of hindsight we would still have done the same thing, is, frankly, nuts.

Or of course we could have adopted Plan B. We joined in with scaremongering about the SNP, basically ruling out any perceived possibility of a coalition with Labour in voters minds as a result.

Supposing we'd done the opposite? Said we would work with the SNP? Not on nationalism of course - but on general domestic policy? Wouldn't many soft SNP voters have come back to us in Scotland? Wouldn't soft Labour have come back to us in England and Wales?

I don't know they would. But I'm reasonably sure our election results wouldn't have been any worse

So to answer the question Ryan posed. "Should we have run the campaign differently, given what we knew?" I'm afraid given where we ended up - it's a big YES from me.


  1. The thing that's really "nuts" in his article is the idea that by ruling out a coalition with Labour you could have "[guaranteed] victory in our Conservative-facing seats."

    Considering that in most of those seats the Lib Dem vote had been built up over decades as an anti-Tory coalition including a strong element of Labour tactical voting, one has to wonder whether this "expert" understands anything at all about British politics.

    1. Sorry but I don't think I said anything like that in this piece. If anything I alluded to the complete opposite?

    2. Apologies I'm told you were referring to the Guardian piece not my post. Which makes a lot more sense!

  2. Richard: the poster above was referring to a line from Coetzee's article in the Guardian, not from your blog post.

    1. Oh I see! That makes more sense, thanks :-)

  3. I said much the same thing about our line against the SNP - we and Labour both legitimised the Cameron scaremongering. Would it have been different if Clegg and Miliband had grown a pair and stood up to it? We'll never know.

  4. I quite agree Caron. While as you say we'll never know, the presumption that strategically we did the v best we could still seems wrong headed doesn't it!

  5. Richard,

    when Ryan says nothing else could have been done, he doesn't explain the decisions that were made between a year and six months ago by the leadership which boxed us in for zhe campaign.

    Clearly, with the fallout from the Euro elections, and no increase in Clegg's ratings despite increased exposed (remember Nick v Nigel), the time was ripe for a discussion about Clegg's leadership - Lib Dems For Change were actively calling for it. And yet the party leadership shut it down, talking about how more members liked cake than wanted a change.

    Then came the time to choose an economic spokesperson. Instead of picking a popular Lib Dem in Vince Cable (who remained popular despite tuition fees - a sign of his ability as a politician), the leadership picked Danny Alexander. Danny is not widely known by the public, and nor is he trusted by those who do know him. But he was close to Clegg.

    Time and time again, the leadership had a chance to address - or to let the party address - the lack of trust from the public in Clegg and the leadership. This option was never taken. Instead they chose cronyism, and the party as a whole has paid the price.

    Surely we'd do that differently.

    1. yes, while to be fair to Ryan his article was just concerning the campaign, there's no doubt that we made philosophical and strategic political mistakes over and over again. We lost this election over 5 years (some would say longer - let's not forget we lost seats in the 2010 election) - not the last 6 weeks