My party is now in a very unfamiliar position. We are in government. I think that our negotiation team did an excellent job. We have 5 cabinet ministers and numerous other government positions with some of our best MPs now in a position to actually do things rather than just say them.
Friday, 14 May 2010
We got a higher share of the vote than at the last election. We also did well to take some of our target seats such as Wells and Norwich South. I know from first hand experience just how hard our candidates, members and helpers across the country worked.
The fact that our party is now swept up in a very unpredictable political drama of the new coalition is very exciting. We have great opportunities to show what a Lib Dem influenced government can do.
However we need to make sure that in all the excitement we do not forget to have a proper inquest about what went wrong with the election result.
Despite increasing vote share we lost seats. As I wrote in this article back in March, the Lib Dems had increased their proportional seat share compared to votes at every election for 36 years. We were steadily getting better and better at winning seats in First Past the Post elections compared to the size of our vote. So if that pattern had continued we would have expected to increase our seats. Instead we lost 5 compared to the 2005 result.
We also saw poll numbers in the low-mid 30s after the first leaders debate subside to what was in the end 23%. I don't fully know the reasons behind this although I have heard comments about the classic two-party squeeze kicking in in the last few days of the campaign and also that some of those who said they would vote for us just simply did not turn out to vote at all in the end. We need a more detailed analysis.
We also need to be honest about our policies. We got an absolute kicking in the media for our immigration and Trident policies for example. Now I happen to think that they were both good and defensible policies but there were some problems. Firstly, we were hit by the classic issue of nuanced thoughtful policies in that our opponents could express what they thought in about 5 words in each case "We will encourage illegal immigrants" and "We will leave Britain unprotected". I think both of those are wrong and we could explain why. However it took us about 20 times as many words to explain why and as I have said before that makes it much harder to win the argument. Secondly, I feel that in some cases we did not make the argument well enough. In the case of immigration, the incumbent Labour and previous Conservative governments had both operated a de-facto amnesty for anyone here for 14 years or more. I hardly heard any of our spokespeople (including Nick in the debates) mention this. They did to be fair mention that Boris Johnson had called for an amnesty too but probably not enough for my liking. And even people who follow politics fairly closely were talking to me about how the Lib Dems are unilateralists. That is absolutely not what our policy was but the message claerly was not getting through! Next time we need to make sure that our policies are properly bullet-proofed before our people go out there to try to explain and defend them.
I expect there will be a review of what happened at some point. I will just reiterate that we need to be very honest. Just because the outcome was an historic and politically game-changing coalition government does not mean that the campaign was an unbridled success.
We could have done better and we should learn the lessons. The fact that we will have been in government and will be defending a record next time makes this actually more necessary.