This week has seen public discussion of various leaks associated with the Labour General Election inquest. Less publicly, the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Executive having discussed the key action points is due to discuss the full document at its next meeting.
Both will have had the opportunity to pick up on accounts of what made the Tory campaign quite so successful. See this video from Lynton Crosby for an example..
Labour suffered from a lack of gravitas, partly due to having the wrong people in the wrong roles. None of the lessons from 2010 had been learned; so it was hamstrung on the economy and more importantly had lost much of its historic working-class support characterised by the immigration debate, but in reality going much deeper than that. The sort of uncoupling of the Labour vote that had benefited urban Lib Dems before 2010 was now helping other parties – or creating a vacuum.
In my time in Keighley for the General Election I saw at first hand Labour confidence in picking up this traditionally bellwether marginal seat evaporate. Their candidate was former Selby MP John Grogan, upbeat throughout the hustings. By the Sunday before polling day his mood had changed; we had a live hustings on the BBC Politics Show’s regional slot, filmed in the Stygian surroundings of the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway’s engine shed at Oxenhope. Freezing cold, John’s mood can’t have been helped by reports of his leader’s reaction to the infamous Edstone.
The Labour reviews will no doubt be used to confirm pro- or anti-Corbyn theories as Labour’s internal debate rages on. (You may need a Scribd free app or account to read the whole thing). But at least they have published.
So what about the Liberal Democrats?
They have a problem in that their review remains totally shrouded in secrecy. It is highly unlikely that it will be published. The 2014 review was outrageously kept secret – I am told that even members of the Federal Executive were not trusted by party chief executive Tim Gordon with a copy. Yet someone – presumably Gordon – told the FE the lessons learned from that report had been implemented when they evidently were not. As a basic principle of accountability, the party should be told whether Gordon or others were responsible for that deceit – and if still in post, those responsible should be summarily removed.
I understand that in December the summary findings of the 2015 review were made available to FE members at the start of an awayday – but without any of them being able to retain a copy or make notes. Indications suggest that only selective parts of the report will be made available to members. If it says merely ‘Nick Clegg wasn’t popular’ it will be an utter waste of time. The party deserves to know in some detail what happened and what state (including financially) the party is now in.
We do know from the revelatory account by Nick Harvey (which I would urge you to read) published in Liberator magazine that the results of polling were ignored as part of the chaotic shambles that masqueraded as the Lib Dem election campaign. Some parts functioned relatively normally: the party’s campaigns department, barely treading water for a decade, produced bland and content-free literature templates that most of the 7 then-held seats I helped in followed. None of the literature would have persuaded anyone to change their vote – except in Leeds NW where Greg Mulholland tore up the rulebook and won.
Meanwhile the much-maligned and unaccountable ‘Wheelhouse’ with its six-figure PR professionals came up with the worst and least inspiring slogans on record – from ‘Look Right, Look Left… Then Cross’ to the sub-Fascist ‘Decency. Unity. Stability’. It evidently failed to see the oncoming Tory juggernaut and according to some reports threw good money after bad at hand-picked seats, particularly that of Clegg whose seat saw over ten times the expenditure of South West seats lost by a smaller amount.
I have written elsewhere about the dismal failings of the strategy and the now existential need for Tim Farron to find both strategy and vision that give the Liberal Democrats an identity and a point. But without the facts – and honesty on just how bad a state the party’s finances are now in – then the Lib Dems will remain unfocused, disorganised and unelectable – with an orbit satellite trying fatuously to deny all reality and blame the election result on ‘leftists’.
Thanks to attention by Michael Crick the absence of a Lib Dem autopsy is now reaching a wider audience. Paddy Ashdown, true to form, has jumped in very quickly with a classic diversionary tactic; try and pre-empt the verdict by blaming an entirely irrelevant third party. Paddy of course has form on this note.
Ultimately the Lib Dems risk a failure of their much-vaunted accountability if the report into the party’s General Election catastrophe is hushed up to protect the guilty – with the party unable to hold those responsible to account. It would be hypocritical for the party of freedom of information to practice the opposite of what it preaches and operate what would only be seen as a cover-up.