In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

Slogans without Strategy

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Don’t you think he looks tired? (Edited: Spectator)

Along with Labour [1], the Liberal Democrats also conducted their review into the 2015 General Election [2]. Across the country, the party lost 49 seats, and were reduced down to 8 MPs [3]. The Liberal Democrat’s vote share crashed from 23.1% to 7.9%. In the South West, the Liberal Democrats vacated the region, failing to win all 15 of their seats, and even losing seven deposits from 55 candidates [4]. The Liberal Democrats became the region’s third party, with the Conservatives dominating with 46.5% of the total vote.

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The Liberal Democrats were wiped out in the South West. (Source: House of Commons Library)

Speaking of their review, the Party President, Baroness Sal Brinton, said:

This report came out of a disastrous election for the Liberal Democrats, but it represents an important step forward in rebuilding our party. It doesn’t just show up our failures, it highlights our successes and the parts of our campaigning we must focus on improving over the next four years.

The report itself suggests there was a “perfect storm”:

The loss of some our longest-held seats [sic], and with them our most experienced and nationally-acclaimed MPs, is the culmination of a perfect storm sweeping them away on a wave of Tory message and money, a weak Labour party, an anti-Westminster SNP campaign that built on the Scottish referendum, a misdirected public perception of proximity between the Labour and Conservative parties, a hollowed-out Liberal Democrat activist base, and general disengagement as a consequence of policy decisions such as tuition fees.

Tuition fees

The vote on tuition fees, resulting from the Browne Report, are focussed upon in the election review:

It is almost incomprehensible, therefore, that six months on the Liberal Democrats ending up with 27 members voting in favour of a tripling of fees, a package negotiated by one of ours Secretaries of State [sic]. 21 MPs refused to vote in favour, including Jenny Willot and Mike Crockart who had to resign their government roles.

Polls which had languished in the low twenties since coalition was formed (down from 30% pre-polling day, but compared to a general election result of 23%), dropped to around 14%. They had only further declined by Election Day 2015.

This is not a particularly accurate summary of public polling on the Liberal Democrats.

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The Liberal Democrat decay was immediate. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Their decline from the party’s vote share in the 2010 General Election began immediately and continued consistently, before settling around 10% by December 2010. After climbing slightly between 2011 and 2013, the party’s vote share decayed again to achieve around 8% in the 2015 General Election.

It does not seem fitting to blame this erosion — that occurred since the Liberal Democrats went into coalition in May — on a single vote on a cold 9th December night [5]. It would be more consistent with polling data to say that the original injury to their vote share was the decision to enter into coalition, of which tuition fees became a virulent symptom, rather than a direct cause.

Internal polling

From this unusual reading of public polling comes a revelation about the party’s own polling programme:

However, this polling programme had its own weaknesses – it eschewed qualitative research almost entirely, it did not test opponents’ messaging, and no strategic seat tracking poll was established during the short campaign. This resulted in an absence of messaging to combat negative opinions of the party, and a central message that lacked both distinctiveness and ownability.

The party’s slogan was, definitively, an intermediate position between the two main parties.

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Yeah, nobody should trust that Kennedy Scholar in economics at Harvard to be Chancellor. (Source: Liberal Democrats)

However, it appears that the Liberal Democrats had no strategic insight on the election they were fighting. The Liberal Democrats, according to their own review, seemingly did not realise that they would be vulnerable in their seats, particularly in the South West, exposed to a sustained and targeted Conservative campaign.

ComRes polling even considered only Liberal Democrat-held target seats in the South West, so it is indisputable that these seats would have public backing for Conservative MPs [6].

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Enter a caption

The report does suggest a number of recommendations for the Liberal Democrats to enact, suggesting that the party accepts responsibility for their polling problems, and realises the hard work necessary for returning to power.

References

[1] Masters, A., 2016. Learning the lessons. Available from: https://anthonymasters.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/learning-the-lessons/ [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[2] Liberal Democrats, 2016. 2015 Election Review. Available from: http://www.libdems.org.uk/2015_election_review [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[3] BBC, 2015. Election 2015 Results. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2015/results [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[4] Hawkins, O., Keen, R., and Nakatudde, N., 2015. General Election 2015. House of Commons Library. Available from: http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7186#fullreport [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[5] BBC, 2010. Tuition fees vote: Plans approved despite rebellion. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11952449 [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

[6] Clarkson, T., 2015. Where did it all go wrong for the Lib Dems? ComRes. Available from: http://www.comres.co.uk/where-did-it-all-go-wrong-for-the-lib-dems/ [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

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This entry was posted on May 4, 2016 by in National Politics and tagged , , .
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