What’s next for the Liberal Democrats?

What are the policy priorities and prospects for the Liberal Democrats as the election nears?

Priorities first: we are as dedicated as anyone to getting the Tories out. They must lose the next election.  

But what is next on the agenda for change of an incoming government? Maybe bold ideas await their election, but we are not hearing much from Labour now and it is not easy to see how things will progress. A more competent, decent government surely – but most likely another single party majority, elected by a minority of voters, where most people’s votes didn’t count towards the election result, claiming a mandate while trimming its sails and hamstrung according to the dictates of a two-party binary system. 

 The Liberal Democrat aim is to win more seats, get a sizeable parliamentary party once again – and to argue for change.

Here’s what Ed Davey said at our York Spring Conference:

“Because we don’t just want to change things on the surface – paper over the cracks, but leave the foundations to crumble underneath. We want real change. That makes a real difference to people’s lives.

But that change will only happen if we change our political system too. If we’re going to stop the chaos and corruption…If we’re going to end the scandals and sleaze… If we’re going to have a politics that puts the country first, not parties – the people’s interests, not politicians’… we have to change the whole system. 

“First-Past-the-Post. It distorts democracy. It leaves millions of people feeling powerless and excluded. Unable to hold those in power properly to account.

 Conference, we know proportional representation would be so much fairer…So much better for our politics and our country. And a majority of the British people now back electoral reform. So why hasn’t it changed?”

Why indeed? In asking this, I totally and gratefully acknowledge the dedicated work of so many in the Labour party, including of course Compass, who have done so much to get Labour so close to embracing change. But the leadership falls short, seduced by the seeming but illusory prospect of the P word – Power. 

Of course voting reform isn’t the only change we need – but it is at the core of the problem and must come first. It is the key that opens the door to everything else we need to do. As a Liberal Democrat colleague remarked to me recently, in a democracy ‘political inequality is the start of all inequality.’

And what of the Liberal Democrat electoral prospects? The polls differ in their predictions for Lib Dems nationally. Some people may think some polls aren’t not reliable, so we need to look at what is actually happening on the ground.

Of course, there have been four spectacular by-election wins for us in 2022 and 2023. Underlying this though – we have now had three rounds of strong local election results. There are more Liberal Democrat councillors now than at any time since 2009. In big parts of the country, we are the clear challengers to the Conservatives – and in many of them , like Harpenden and Eastbourne, we are also running the council. In others, we have the biggest opposition group – like Wimbledon, where we have seen the group dramatically grow from one, to six to 17 councillors. Local election results are a great indicator on who can beat the Conservatives at the next general election.  

The Liberal Democrats are starkly aware that the First Past the Post voting system means that we need people to vote tactically in target seats. It is not that we inherently love ‘two-horse race’ bar charts but that they are essential under First Past the Post. And once we win these seats we will push to change the political system so that we empower voters by making every vote count and count equally. 

This General Election is our best opportunity in probably decades to put electoral reform on the agenda. So wherever you live, do ask your candidates whether they support PR; and if knocking on doors, do ask voters about how they feel about the state of politics; whether they think everything is okay, or whether change is needed.  The goal: building urgency and momentum – and increasing the chances of a parliament with more pro-PR MPs than ever before.

This blog was jointly authored by Hina Bokhari, Lib Dem London Assembly member/candidate and Keith Sharp Chair, Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform.

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