Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Simon Hughes on What Went Wrong

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th February, 2020

Simon Hughes 3I spent most of today at a pop-up conference put on in Bermondsey by the Liberal Democrat lawyers’ group, Rights Liberties Justice. The key theme was how liberalism can combat populism in the world today, with interesting contributions from Professor David Howarth, former MEP Irina von Wiese and messaging strategist Rob Blackie. But little more than two months out from the disastrous general election it was not surprising that many of the attendees were keen to understand what went wrong then — and ideally to avoid such problems in the future. The former local MP, Simon Hughes, in his speech this afternoon tackled that issue head-on and did not hold back in his criticism of the LibDems’ general election campaign. He thought it was undemocratic for the Party to propose Revoking Article 50 — though that is what the Bournemouth party conference decided — and he thought we should have stuck with arguing for a People’s Vote, for which there was sizable support within the House of Commons, even if not perhaps a majority. More serious was the decision to run a presidential-style campaign with a new Leader most of the electorate had never heard of (despite the fact that Jo Swinson had been a Minister in the 2010-2015 Coalition government). This was particularly crass at a time when not only was the parliamentary party more gender-balanced than ever before but also (thanks to high-profile defections from both the Conservatives and Labour) more diverse than ever.  This was something the LibDems should have championed, but it missed the opportunity, with which I agree. It was also foolish, Simon Hughes believes, to reject outright the idea of allowing Jeremy Corbyn to form an interim government, rather than pushing for a general election which was a terrible gamble in which the stakes were stacked against us. Moreover, the election campaign was devoid of a punchy, memorable message to counter the Tories’ “Get Brexit Done”. Our messages were wishy-washy, eminently forgettable and presented in excessive quantities of insipid leaflets. The net result, of course, was that the party lost half of its opinion poling support during the final weeks. Far from being able to form a government — a palpably absurd pretension — it registered a net loss of one MP compared with 2017, with a final total of just 11. Simon is not alone in hoping that lessons will be learnt from all this. Baroness Dororthy Thornhill is chairing the election review group (on which David Howarth sits). So watch this space.  

One Response to “Simon Hughes on What Went Wrong”

  1. David Thornewell said

    Hi I agree with all Simon Hughes is recorded as saying. I thought we should never have agreed or indeed pushed for an election. There was a chance I think of getting a vote through for a second vote on the EU. And saying we would revoke was also a mistake as it was seen as undemocratic. And I also thought saying we might form a majority government was unbelievable. I think that people got carried away by the good results in the local and Euro elections and underestimated how the election of Boris Johnson changed the whole dynamics of the national situation.

    We should continue to campaign against a no deal Brexit and point out all the problems as they come up. And that we seek a close relationship with the EU but we should not give the impression that our only policy might be to seek to re-join the EU. I doubt if this is realistic in the near term. I know many party members feel really strongly about the EU but we must not be a one issue party!

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