Saturday 9 May 2015

Guest post: How To Win The Fightback

What a depressing time for Liberalism Thursday night was. I believe strongly that we as a party should now all get behind Tim Farron to be the new leader and begin the fight back.

However, the first step must surely be to admit where we went wrong. Going into a coalition in itself was not a mistake as it showed we were prepared to put our money where our mouths were. But we voted through so many awful policies, such as tuition fees and secret courts that we should have blocked, while allowing the Tories to veto all the key reforms we proposed - electoral reform, Lords reform and minor changes to the treatment of drug users.

Giving up our historic position as a party on the centre left who back well-funded public services along with a strong commitment to individual freedom, and swapping it for a vague, mealy-mouthed, neither one thing nor the other approach was also intellectually weak and tactically inept. When I spoke to voters on the doorstep over the election period, many naturally Tory and Labour voters who had previously lent us their vote said they would be unable to this time for fear that we put the other ‘lot’ in. To regain the trust of voters we must be prepared to stand up for what we think and what we would achieve in Government, not just what we would try to block.

Our current obsession with cutting taxes must also surely now come to an end. Not only does it go against the fundamental principles of progressive liberalism to continually want shrink the state, it is economically illiterate. By continually ‘taking people out of tax altogether’, not only do we take away people’s stake in the public services they use, but we have also punched a huge hole in the UK’s income tax take, thus worsening the structural deficit that those supporting tax cuts claim to want to cure.  The misguided Tory pledge to enshrine 'no tax rises' in law naturally creates the space for this debate.

We must also reverse the process of watering down our policy commitments; if the swing to UKIP tells us anything, other than a huge dissatisfaction with modern politics, it is that voters like politicians who say what they think, rather than say what is acceptable to focus groups. The Liberal Democrats used to back the legalisation of prostitution and of soft drugs, for the obvious reasons that it is not the role of Government to ban personal activities, but merely to regulate them properly to reduce harm. But the former is now never mentioned at all and the latter has been replaced by a commitment to stop treating drug users as criminals and start treating them as patients.

The road back to relevance and power will clearly be a long one, but rediscovering our soul and purpose must be the first step. I dearly hope that under Tim's leadership, the points I make above can be addressed. If they are not, I fear for the future of our party.

Nic Bourgueil is a Lib Dem member and former member of staff in London, writing under a pseudonym for work reasons and expressing a personal view.