The Lib Dems: Why We Got Walloped

In the aftermath of the Lib Dems’ horrendous election night, Rebecca Linford, General Secretary of the Brighton & Hove Liberal Democrats, reflects on why her party was smashed into oblivion, and what they should do to come back.

The Aftermath: The Lib Dems
By Rebecca Linford

Bye Nick! We’ll miss you (kind of). (Photo: Reuters)

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

I am sure that Liberal Democrats up and down the country are currently repeating a similarly-themed mantra to themselves, while rocking in a corner and quietly whimpering. This is by no means the end of us, but considering that in such a short space of time we’ve lost 49 seats, 15% of the vote, our party leader and several high-profile members such as Vince Cable and Danny Alexander, you could forgive us for feeling rather pessimistic. In short, this election has brought us right back to square one. Fortunately, now the only way is up.

When the exit polls were first announced, most didn’t believe it. Clegg had already dismissed Ashcroft’s polls placing his Labour rival ahead of him in Sheffield Hallam and Paddy Ashdown swore to eat his hat if they were right. And yet, although we didn’t think it would be 49, we knew we were going lose some. The Liberal Democrats have made some mistakes. We’ve also achieved a lot (such as raising the personal tax allowance) and blocked a lot of the harshest and most Conservative plans, but the general population likes to gloss over this. And yet people argue over which particular mistake caused all this. But, to be honest, it doesn’t matter. Whichever one you use: the coalition with the Tories; tuition fees; that atrocious “Look left, look right, then cross” broadcast – (Dear advertising, including more than one any car crashes in a video convincing people to vote for you was never going to be a ringing endorsement) – whichever one it is, everyone knew the electorate was going to punish us for it. And punish us they did. 

Paddy Ashdown and Alastair Campbell are forced to eat their words after the BBC exit poll turned out to be truer than previously thought. (Photo: The Telegraph)

However, hopefully, our devastation on Thursday can also signal a better future for the party. It was hard to campaign with the majority of the country refusing to believe a single word we said, but now we’ve paid our debt. Nick Clegg, the man who went into coalition and broke his promises, is gone, whether he was guilty or not. He’s gone and he’s taken with him the betrayal that most people felt. And while I’m not saying that all’s forgiven and the public will welcome us with open arms, I do truly believe there will at least be less open hostility. With that crushing defeat, we have paid for the mistakes we made, both in government and out, and now it’s time to start with a clean slate. We got votes in 2010 because we were the outsiders, the protest vote. Now we’re the outsiders again, and that could actually begin to work in our favour.

Regardless of who our new leader is, Norman Lamb, Tim Farron or any of the other 5 MPs, the whole point is that they will be new; a new leader that can place the blame solely at Nick Clegg’s door and start afresh. Because, whether the party remains right or moves towards the left, the fact remains that we are still the respectable third choice. Ukip’s support will ebb and flow; the Greens will lose support as soon as their impossible promises are revealed; and only those in Scotland will vote for the SNP. But we’ll still be here, bit by bit repairing the damage done. It’ll take a long time, building the party up to what it once was. But it will happen.

In the mean time, try to avoid mentioning how you can fit all of the Lib Dem MPs in two London black cabs with two seats to spare.

It may be true but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting.