Steve Beasant

Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Great Grimsby and Councillor for the East Marsh Learn more

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John Pugh MP writes: Getting Back on Track

by Steve Beasant on 13 May, 2015

The following article was written by John Pugh MP and published yesterday on the Liberal Democrat Voice Website.

Railway trackLooking at the wreckage of our electoral hopes, the defeat of MPs of massive talent and commitment who have served their constituencies well, it is hard for all of us not to feel angry. A lot of that anger spills through in the post hoc analysis as we seek to distribute blame and identify the critical errors made.

I suspect that in years to come people will still argue about what went wrong and when, but certainly at the moment its all too raw to arrive at objective, dispassionate conclusions that all will accept.

In my view we ploughed on for years through signals set at danger and I for one have done my share of shouting at the drivers but I do not for one moment think that entirely explains the crash or the large number of casualties. Surveying the electoral carnage I am sure a major contributory factor was the election of Ed Miliband on September 25th 2010 – an event no-one in our party is responsible for.

I like Ed Miliband but he was unelectable as PM and did nothing to make his party more so. Fear of Ed, possibly bolstered by the SNP, was what did it and again like in 2010 ,where we had to choose between the Tories and a re-run election, we were caught in a horrible trap with no good choices.

We, even when we saw the danger, could not rule out a deal with Labour. The one clear option to avoid any nightmare Ed/SNP scenario was to vote Tory and that was what droves of people did. Ironically it helped that coalition government had partially de-toxified the Tory brand.

But for that Vince Cable, Steve Web and many other talented colleagues who ran stupendous campaigns would be gracing the green benches again. I have an abiding memory of an away day when after a long session on electoral strategy and tactics Ed Davey raised a point no-one had previously answered. “What plans”, he said , “have we got to deal with the big last minute scare ?”. We agreed we must think about that.

There is no point in railing against the hand fate deals with you. The measure of us as a party is how we now deal with it. Can I venture a few suggestions?

We must build bridges across the party, bring back exiles, embrace tolerance, avoid factionalism. We all need to get the party back on the tracks not fight over whose hands are on the wheel.

Shorn of so many talented MPs, the parliamentary party must prioritise ruthlessly on areas that move Liberal hearts not seek to cover all departments of state.

The talent available to us in our significant contingent in the Lords must be used more effectively in parliament, in the country, in the media and to support the MPs

Equally we must not allow the huge array of defeated candidates, MPs and young staffers who worked so hard for so little return to slip away unnoticed. They will have to earn a living but they can help re-build the party while re-building their lives. You don’t need a parliamentary pass to make a huge impact and perhaps we have forgotten that.

Finally we must set ourselves some short term goals- first of which which should be the 2016 local elections when the nonsense that is the Tory programme for government will be starting to unravel. When we are not fighting an air war ruthless effective targeting resulting in success on the ground is the key. Our success here will be the rebirth of our credibility and confidence.

John Pugh is the MP for Southport and is Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Committee for Health and Social Care

   2 Comments

2 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    John, I agree with much of what you write but I also think the Party must reassess its fundamental purpose and role, given the need to attract new supporters from both Labour and the Conservatives. What differentiates the Lib Dems from the centrist positions of the other parties and why should people give up long-standing allegiance to the Tories & Labour to vote for us. We need a broad base but that means a clear, well defined differentiating sense of purpose.

  2. Matt Horrox says:

    I agree with the other Matt, we need a distinct brand and policy narrative. We shouldn’t aspire to win protest votes against the government, or out of fear of the Labour/SNP, but have people affirmatively vote for us.

    Our brand is not toxic, but it is vague and wishywashy and I think voters no longer see us as principled, which has in the past been a counterweight to the vagueness of our ‘offer’.

    I would also say our structure and campaigning approach are old fashioned and could use an overhaul: and the recent heavy defeat is the ideal time to hold such a root and branch review.

    Most of all, I don’t subscribe to the view that the answer lies in throwing ourselves at the 2016 campaign. If we do so, without a proper debate, we run the risk of going back to doing what we’ve always done. Will doing what we’ve always done deliver a markedly different set of results next time?

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