Disclosure : I am a Liberal Democrat member, activist and elected Councillor. This article represent my views only, not the party.
This 2019 General election is a shock.
Not necessarily because of the result, but because we knew it would happen, we said it would happen and no one listened.
We spent three years making the case for Remain, we rightly said that the EU referendum was so vague that “Leave means Leave” actually meant 17.4 million versions of Brexit. Also, we insisted that the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated was not the “Will of the people” as it did not reflect the type of Brexit advertised by the Leave.EU campaign back in 2016. We were correct.
However, this is not the case anymore. Brexit is clearly defined, with a negotiated Withdrawal Agreement and many analysis on its impact on the economy, citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland.
It gave the Conservatives a strong majority regardless of all the negative consequences. We know the vulnerable people will likely be more vulnerable, our strong living standards based on EU regulations will likely decrease and our precious NHS will be up for sale.
The messaging that took three years to build is now gone over one night. They now know what they were voting for. So what happened?
My analysis will be as follows:
1. Failure of the Remain side
2. Party politics which prioritised tribalism and ideology over country
3. Failure to understand the electorate
Failure of the Remain side
The first mistake was to assume the Remain voters were better than the Leave voters. They were not, they just shared different views on many things, regardless if we agree or not.
As a consequence (the following is inspired by the brilliant SheRa_Marley on Twitter), they spent three years insulting Leave voters with multiple names (being thick, stupid, etc..) because they thought they had the moral ground and kept bashing how wrong, racist or uneducated they were.
Many commented on the Brexit related job losses with “we told you so, you voted for it, etc…”. However, those are real persons with a right to vote and the Remain side spent three years to insult them.
On the 12th of December, those voters fought back.
But the Remain side did not only attack the Leave side. Many attacks were internal. Remainers were not Remainers enough if they dared to criticise Remain voices. Some Remainers were cultish over opportunistic Remain “heroes” who were and still are damaging to the cause and insulted anyone criticising them. I called out someone on Twitter who crowfunded over 20k£ to fight Brexit and used it for personal gain and musical career, rightly called it a scam as it was misleading donors on the use of the money collected. As a result, I was called names. Especially from whose who proudly wear a #FBPE on Twitter.
The tribal Remain side did not accept any criticism and instead to adapt strategy, they fought each others. I personally lost at least 100 Twitter followers because of me being critical. We needed to listen all views, an unfollow just erase unpleasant messaging like it does not exist.
Lastly, the obsession of being the “moral ground” meant that the opposition did not need to attack the Remain side. The Remain side attacked itself.
During the election, the Remain side were focused on fighting all the flaws about their campaigns. And I agree, they were many. But by doing that, they fed the media negative stories doing the work for the opposition and the opposition could focus on its own messaging.
I do not say that we should not report things we are uncomfortable with, I just say, be careful what you wish for.
The result of the 2019 elections shows that lies, disregard for debates, hiding in fridge, or not turning up to TV debates make you win an election. Unfortunately, being honest, factual, does not. Regardless of the politics we want, this is unfortunately a fact.
Remain learnt that the hard way in the EU Referendum and kept doing the same mistake.
The political world changed. People want emotions, feelings, not facts.
We need to adapt ourselves and, I agree, sadly not in a direction we would like, but we will have to if we want to win.
For example, many Remain people attacked the Lib Dems over the dodgy bar charts while all parties actually do that. And they were misleading if you did not read the small prints. The Conservatives ignored it. But by doing so, the Remain side made the Lib Dems lost air time to justify itself and lots of the press coverage were about that. Fair enough, some bar charts were dodgy.
But on the other hand, the Conservatives won by creating complete fake stories, such as the fake spin about little boy lying on the floor in the hospital.
Now the election is over and we dramatically lost over obvious lies, was the drama about the dodgy bar charts worth it?
We need to stop reacting to the messaging that is not targeting us, we need to be less naive. Parties are targeting the electorate that are sensitive to emotions, feelings, not facts, because we all know it does not work. By being the “facts” police, we sabotaged that. Remainers thought their party of choice targeted them. Huge lack of political awareness. Same goes with political strategies used by parties that could not be made public, I will explain it on part 2. Suddenly everyone became political experts and sabotaged smart strategies. Yes, the Lib Dems had smart reasons to stand were they could not win. They targeted the soft Conservatives voters to split the Conservatives votes because they would never vote for a Corbyn’s Labour . It eased the win for a Labour MP because the number of votes to attain in order to win was lower. This is exactly why the Brexit Party stood in the North, to split the Labour’s vote and help the Conservatives, it worked. But the Remain police spent the elections blaming the Lib Dems that they were splitting the Remain vote. It is a failure to understand how politics works and what I call political engineering.
Parties will do whatever it takes to win the undecided/softies, and by the end of the day, I maintain back to the first point that if a dodgy bar chart makes us win over the opposition, job done. I would obviously prefer they were factual. But I won’t react to it, because it is not worth it and there are more important battles.
Party politics which prioritised tribalism and ideology over country
Yes, the Lib Dems called the 2019 General election. But the context matters.
1. The People’s vote did not have enough support because Labour abstained (an election was coming and they wanted it into their manifesto),
2. Sources inside the Parliament knew that Boris Johnson had enough support to pass the Brexit deal because the lack of Labour’s whip against it
3. There was concerns that the EU would not grant another extension because of point 2.
So, at that time, the only way to stop the clock on Brexit was to call for a General election. The goal was to win a majority within the opposition to take back control of Brexit and have a People’s vote.
However, the opposition, even some Conservatives, knew that the Leader of the Opposition would be a problem. He was the most unpopular leader on record. The Lib Dems, like the medias, tried to highlight it and were shut down.
What was not expected after the call of this election is that all the opposition did not share this agenda. Electoral pacts were on discussion to have only one People’s vote party against the Conservatives. Labour refused to even attend the early discussions. But blamed anyone who did not stood down for them as they thought to own all the opposition votes. Now we know the Lib Dems were correct to stand everywhere because the result would have been even worst without a different option to attract the soft Conservatives or the Labour members deceived from Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour thought their “win” of votes during the 2017 General election was a mandate for their values. But in reality, they were landed votes to fight for Remain, those voters felt used when said that was a mandate to deliver Brexit.
They ignored their loss in 2017, they ignored their loss during the 2019 EU election where they arrived 4th and ignored many losses in local elections.
Instead of reaching to the centre to fulfil the purpose of this election, they decided to stick with their most unpopular leader and unleash a radical left wing agenda. What a mistake. When the NHS is in such state, no one wants to spend billions on free broadband. And the amount of policies scared the most vulnerable voters. They know so well that the more you disrupt the system, the most they suffer. They want change, not a radical one that will put them at risk.
The Lib Dems chose to Revoke Article 50 in the manifesto would they have a majority, and it was relevant when no deal was a real threat. It was decided with a poll and supported with a petition that got 6+ million signatures. They supported a People’s vote otherwise. It was hard to explain, we should have prepared a better messaging.
The Lib Dems thought that the country needed an apologetic and strong voice pro Remain in opposition to the Labour Party “Neutral” position on Brexit. Actually not so neutral as Jeremy Corbyn had many nice words to say about his Brexit deal, but nothing about the deal we already have as a member of the European Union.
I don’t regret our clarity and we were ambitious, knowing that the lack of position within Labour cost them trust, especially after the 2017 General election. Also, when the policy was voted, the Labour position was still unclear.
The personality of Jeremy Corbyn did not help. He brought his party to be under investigation by the ECHR for institutionalised antisemistim and refused to apology for it. That made him not credible when he attacked the xenophobia within the Conservatives. He kept choosing prospective candidates known with antisemitic behaviour. Lastly, when the terrorist attack in London happened during the campaign, he was not credible to call it out as we know he supports people across the world who share those values and call them “friends”.
The tribalism of Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn costs us many seats. They actively campaign in Lib Dems / Conservatives marginal seats to make sure the Lib Dems would not win.
We also know that Jeremy Corbyn campaigned actively to prevent Luciana Berger to keep her seat, and we all know the reason. She left the Labour Party over the failure to tackle antisemitism.
Lastly, the Labour party via its members actively campaigned against tactical voting websites because the Labour Party were not the automatic recommended choice everywhere. They refused to acknowledge that the 2017 General election results were not relevant anymore.
So they created a narrative to not believe in polls, in predictions, in tactical voting recommendations.
The Lib Dems did many mistakes too. But to my own opinions, none of them would have changed the outcome. Actually, most of the critics where directed to the leader Jo Swinson. Personally, I find them and the media coverage quite misogynistic. Yes, she was ambitious, loud, strong, energetic and fighting. But I do not see those characteristics as negative, she is a leader of a party. That’s the necessary characteristics to motivate the team. Perhaps her mistake was to be a strong woman with opinion. The society did not like that.
Sir Vince Cable, former leader of the Libdems in 2017, said he wanted to become Prime minister. Why no one reacted of him being too ambitious or too strong?
The drama of the candidate standing down in Canterbury was created because the candidate preferred to announce it via the medias instead of talking to the party. The Lib Dems did not want to campaign there to give a free way to the Labour MP. His move sabotaged that and brought attention to this area, supported by the Remain tribes.
When we pick a candidate, there is a team behind of hard working volunteers. Standing aside is not a personal decision and it has to be discussed. In this case, the Lib Dems did stand due to the lack of electoral pacts with Labour, but was not campaigning. Without this inconsiderate move, it would not have been noticed and Labour would have won as predicted.
Overall, the loss of sight about the reasons of why this election was called made us lose. The stubbornness and tribalism of the Labour Party and his leader gave him the worst defeat Labour had since 1935.
The Lib Dems did do mistakes, but they were not the main opposition, they actually won more than a million votes which is more than the SNP or a third of the Labour’s votes, sadly with our broken electoral system, we have only 11 MP left.
I would be now a bit critical of the tactical voting websites. In 2017, they were accused to recommend Labour as a Remain party, and voters felt betrayed.
In 2019, those sites misjudged how unpopular the Labour party became and ignored this factor in their predictions.
Now the election is over, I strongly think they should have recommended parties in the Unite to Remain alliance.
The ambition of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made this election about Power. They wanted to be in power alone, or in the opposition alone. They did not accept criticism and only looked at the feedback of the Corbynista fan base.
His incompetence will lead the most vulnerable people to have five more years of Conservative government, and a hard Brexit with our NHS up for sell.
If Jeremy Corbyn cared that much for the left behind, he would have sacrificed himself for the greater good.
The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn will be remembered as the handmaiden of a hard Brexit that will make the vulnerable people poorer, along everyone else and will put an end of our NHS as we know it.
As a Lib Dems, often accused of being a Yellow Tory (austerity, tuition fees, etc), Labour will not recover from its past mistake. They will have to live with it and own it.
Failure to understand the electorate
Everyone underestimated the powerful message of Get Brexit done.
The election clearly showed there was no appetite for a People’s vote nor to Revoke the Article 50. That is why I don’t think this Lib Dems stance had an impact. I don’t think people switched to the Conservatives over that. But many life long Labour members switched to the Conservatives, and no one predicted that.
People just wanted to get Brexit done, and we all failed to acknowledge the Brexit fatigue.
So now we all need to heal our wounds and understand what went wrong.
The Lib Dems will need a Leader who was not in the coalition, and the Labour Party will need to find a new Leader, distance itself from Momentum and reform its constitution to allow cross party cooperation.
We need to acknowledge that people voted three times to get Brexit and they will have it at the cost of the union and our prosperity. So be it.
It is now up to us to make the case for a fairer, more equal and international United Kingdom for, when the moment will come, make a case to rejoin the European Union, but not now.