Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 14 May 2010

Lib Dems need a proper election inquest

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.

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.


Anonymous said...

I did wonder about the 14 year amnesty. I volunteer as a general advisor with the CAB in an area where we get a lot of immigration queries so I'm familiar with this one. But was astounded that no one else seemed to realise that a one time amnesty for 10 year illegal overstayers was just an amendment to an already existing and working policy. I put this down to what happens when the press isn't on side.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness someone else is thinking about this. Really important issue especially with doom-mongers saying the coalition will cost the Lib Dems votes.

I'd love to see some analysis of why the polling numbers dwindled away. Have any of the polling companies produced analysis?

Communicating policy is so important. I hate all the talk about "immigration" being an issue in the election when what people are really concerned about is good public services that they think (correctly or incorrectly) there aren't enough of to go round.

Keep up the good work.

Alex said...

I think they needed to stress the "work in the community" part of the earned amnesty policy.

On the election being lower than the polls - it wasn't a two party squeeze (not on that last 24 hours when normal polling was so different to the exit poll), instead the "Others" category increased a few %.

Andrew said...

Trident: Suggest the key is a fundamental defence review to assess risks and evaluate options with a clear view of the current internaitonal environment.

Were this to show Trident as a useful deterrent device, so be it. And if not, alternative international options should be sought before acting.