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The Lib Dems have their own identity crisis to deal with at the moment. One of their very senior MPs told me there was no chance the party would move to the right (something their Economic liberals would like to see) just because a few of his fellow MPs in Southern seats were facing a rejuvenated Conservative party.

I remember attending one Lib Dem conference (with work) and listening to one of their more sensible MPs stating that their party will never been taken seriously unless it adopts national policies - rather than being a "Kentucky Fried Chicken" party - with franchises in all towns - but usually with very different policies.

The Lib Dems still haven’t got that national cohesion on policy - and there is likely to be more leadership talk to distract them in the months ahead, which I suspect is likely to be quite damaging to their party.

I have to smile when you consider that for the first time in a long time it is Labour and the lib Dems who are having leadership problems – whilst the political momentum is clearly on our side.

"They've always appealed to voters because they themselves have appeared moderate, reasonable, consensual and compassionate."

I'd say it's because they misell their party in every constiuency, effectively running a different election campaign in each. They are also shameless self-publicists when they get elected at any level. Get a Lib Dem on your council and every time a speed bump is unveiled, they'll be in the paper showing it off. It makes them look active on their constituents' behalf.

Persoanlly I've always found telling voters about Lib Dem policies to be the swiftest way to win them over. CCO produced a very good range of "spoof" leaflets at the election that did just the job ("A vote for your local Lib Dem is a vote for this - we believe in abolishing the life sentence for murder" etcetera).

Other than this, the main thing Conservatives have to do is not seem strident (no calls of "liar" please!).

Most of the Lib Dem activists hate economic liberalism. They would vote in Hughes as Kennedy's successor - that is why he is safe at the moment.

The activists voted down the two key economic liberal motions at conference this year - on Royal Mail part-privatisation and the EU budget cap.

I find it hard to imagine the activists accepting a coalition with the Conservatives - even if we are the largest party in a hung Parliament after the next election.

The Orange Book team and their allies on the frontbench will get fed up with such rebuffs. It is then up to them whether to continue to suffer at the hands of the activists whom they loathe or defect to a (hopefully) popular Conservative Party that looks like a route to power. Defections must be the objective - they damage credibility in the eyes of the voters.

Selsdon - yes, I suspect there could be a "bloody" battle within the Lib Dems. The MP I spoke to has openly admitted he is to the left of Labour - and that clearly doesn't sit well with the Cleggs of this world.

One wouldn't need to win many votes from the Lib Dems to pick up a decent haul of seats. I also think the best way of winning back a reasonable number of soft Tory supporters of the Lib Dems is to keep hammering home what Lib Dem policies actually are, on issues like Local Income Tax, crime, and the EU.

Perhaps there could be a Conservative decapitation strategy to win back those seats which the Lib Dems took from us.

One has to look no further than what has happened on the Isle of Wight where a Lib Dem seat has turned to a 5 figure Tory majority due to the work of one of the best campaigning MPs I have met.

I agree with everything said on here. One of the very few things I thought that was in Ken Clarke's favour was the comparison between him and CK, who surely only strikes the most devoted LD activist as a heavy hitter.

In my experience of LD voters (and admittedly I haven't been involved in that many close LD battles) they fall into 2 camps: people who hate the Tories, and people who dislike (what they think of as)'the establishment' but broadly hold with what passes for a political consensus in this country at the moment. Plus their local MPs, once in, are difficult to shift becuase to be fair to them they are hardworking and go out of their way to get known in the community and build a base.

My worry is that the majorities in the LD seats we need to win to have a secure majority in future - Bath, Cheltenham, Winchester, Cheadle, Torbay, Kingston & Surbiton, Sutton & Cheam, Twickenham etc - don't seem to be coming under that much pressure.

I'd also add that their voters never turn against them, because they have the luxury of making policy in a complete vacuum where no one ever holds them to very much they promise!

In Twickenham, the Conservative council has put up the council tax by a quarter in three years. The Lib Dems are campaigning on the fact that it is too high. Ironic!!

Where I am in the South West the Liberals just make stuff up. They said one MP had voted for the ERM despite not being in parliament at the time.

They lie and cheat at every turn so I think you have to be relentlessly positive and take the moral high ground. Which I think DC's leadership will help with.

That is not true, James Turner

We came close to removing Lib Dem MPs in Carshalton & Wallington, Torbay and Sutton & Cheam. Majorities were reduced substantially in Bath and Cheltenham. UKIP hurt us badly in some seats.

It is not a completely gloomy picture. I suggest that you check your facts before making such comments.

I think you can be negative, ie by pointing out what the Lib Dems really stand for, as well as positive. It also helps if the voters have recently had experiences of a Lib Dem council.

What we need to do is beat the Libs at their own game. Get candidates in who will campaign and work hard - not for 1 year but 4 and then IF they dont win - stay and keep fighting. The Lib Dems are looking at their targets 5 and 10 years ahead. We need to do the same.

"...they {the Lib Dems} misell their party in every constituency..."

I would go further than that,James, and say that they do the same from ward to ward at local council level

We lived in a town where a Conservative ward bordered a Labour one. On one side of the street in the Conservative area the Lib Dems would appeal to Labour voters whose Candidates would never stand a chance of winning a seat there to vote for them to try to oust the Tory and across the road in the Labour ward they used the same tactic on the Conservative voters with the same aim. (Tactical voting with a vengeance!)

Lib/Dems are also good at making national/international issues,which the local councils can do nothing about, into local election issues. I know of one hard working Labour councillor in our then town who lost her District Council seat to the Lib/Dems in 2003 because of the Iraq War. Cleverly, they had used their opposition to the war to gain enough Muslim votes to take the seat.

Oh for the day when my beloved city of Bath returns a Conservative MP again

Agreed Sean. In East Surrey, we had an atrocious spendthrift Lib Dem council which was ejected by a landslide in 2000. They are still well out of the running.....not least because people are still living with the financial burdens they have saddled council tax payers with for years to come.

The Lib Dems are looking weakened at the moment but it is going to take a very long time to form anything but the loosest of coalitions with the Orange Book Liberals. They are a vocal but very small minority who are detested by their own activists. They don't really have anywhere obvious to go. I sensed from David Laws' comments on Newsnight on Tuesday evening that he and his ilk are trying to mend fences with the CK/Simon Hughes/Norman Baker wing of the Lib Dems. So Oliver Letwin may have to be very patient indeed.

I agree with all the comments about how dreadful local lib dem activists are.

The question is, how do we win back the educated, largely <35 in age, block of middle class vote that was once Tory by default but which we have allowed to drift to the LibDems?

The first thing we have just done: we've voted for a leader who will simply appeal to that sort of person (I can't do it myself! but I can see it in Dave C). By doing this, we're showing a rejection of all the things we've discussed all over this blog since May, the small-minded Hefferian view of Britain that toxifies our brand. I think this was a totally necessary (though not sufficient) step in getting back to power.

I am intrigued by the Orange Book Liberals. From what I've read, I disagree with few of their views. Is it a tacit strategy to draw them into our fold, as we made common cause with the decent centre-right SDP members when that enterprise failed? Kennedy is a joke, sensible intelligent LibDems must be embarrassed by him; and Hughes as the likely (do you agree?) successor would hardly improve their (orange) influence. Then given that I believe them to be intelligent, they must ask themselves in the dead of night: ought I to stay in this wretched left wing student society, or might there be enough common cause with the centre right of this fascinating, Year Zero, Dave Cameron Tory Party?

That outcome: sensible centre right LibDems defecting to our new party - is one that sets my pulse racing! Also! And this would be the bargain prize -- it would make Heffer's blood boil!

It is a truism that we need to win back the voters that have been backing the Lib Dems in the recent past, but we need to be careful how we go about it.

The approach of building a consensus with Lib Dems could backfire on us badly. Take Winchester - Why vote Tory if they seem to be in agreement with your local Lib Dem MP, you will just vote for your local self publicist. We all know that the Lib Dems at local level will lie all the way to the ballot box.

We need to be operating a LONG TERM STRATEGY against the Lib Dems, over several parliaments. We need to 1) position ourselves in the centre ground 2) make the party seem attractive to the Lib Dem voter at the moment AND 3) expose the Lib Dems for their hypocrosy and incompetance 4) position the Tories as the alternative to Labour. Labour's vote is crumbling - we have to fight hard against the Lib Dems at every level from street to street to make sure they vote Tory in the future and not Lib Dem.

So, resonable consensus Yes - but lets keep attacking too.

Kenneth, I was contrasting those seats - seats we all agree that we do need to win to form a government (I accept we won in 1992 without Bath) - with the seats we did win and the seats where we put them under real pressure (and would have won if not for UKIP). Carshalton I agree was an error (and I'm glad that Ken Andrew has apparently been reselected).

We had some fantastic results in the seats we did win back, but realistically, where is the Conservatives' record in overturning majorities of 4,638 (Bath), 3,731 (Richmond Park), 7,476 (Winchester), 9,965 (Twickenham)...?

The biggest majority we overturned was in Newbury (2,415) and that took Richard Benyon 3 attempts. In Cheltenham, and Bath, we had the advantage of a retiring MP and in the former we still only got the majority down to 2,303. In Torbay the majority fell significantly but we actually received fewer votes than in 2001 (17,288 as opposed to 17,307). Is that a solid foundation upon which to start building?

The LDs overturned a majority of 9,407 to win Solihull and are forcing us into third place not just in heavily urban areas but in 1992 Conservative wins like Falmouth and Camborne, Bristol West and Watford. They are here to stay as a genuine bloc now and blithely expecting to win those seats back without years of trying is foolish.

I think you hugely underestimate the popularity of the 'orange bookers' among LD activists (as well as overestimating the extent to which they form a wing within the party)

As an ex-Conservative voter who's now a Liberal Democrat, I don't see a 'wretched left-wing student society' when I look at the party any more than you probably see xenophobic, racist Little Englanders when you look at yours (although that was the feeling I got from this year's election campaign...)

I think we need to be clear *who* we want to win back from the Lib Dems.

We want to regain the votes of ex-Tories in places like Sutton, Hampshire and the South West. But there is no point in chasing after the votes of people who vote Lib Dem because they see them as the most left-wing of the parties (ie middle class left-wingers in the inner cities) or Muslims who vote according to foreign policy.

Jonathan Sheppard is exactly right when he says we need to get candidates in place early. They should live in the area and campaign hard. In our constituency of New Forest East we had a very strong Lib Dem challenge. The Labour candidate who had obtained the Labour candidacy by underhand tactics, worked with the Lib Dems, even advising Labour voters to vote Lib Dem. Not one leaflet was sent out by Labour. Fortunately we had an excellent MP who had a high profile in the seat, and in spite of all this we increased our majority substantially. Before the election the Lib Dem candidate was confidently predicting victory, and we were having concerns. The look of utter dismay on the Lib Dem faces at the count were a joy to behold!

Good points James. However, it's worth noting that in seats where the Lib Dems are in first place, and the Conservatives are in second, there was actually a small swing in our favour (about 0.7%).

If we could get that swing a bit bigger next time (say 2%) it would deliver us quite a few seats.

I'm not actually that concerned if the Lib Dems can pull in some more left wing votes from Labour - if in turn we can pull in a few rightward-leaning votes from them.

There are many voters out there that voted Tory through the 80's and gave us our big majorities that are looking for somewhere to go.

Not the highly educated, sophisticated voter of a Bath or Romsey but the skilled working classes. They voted for us because we struck a cord with them, council house sell off etc etc. In the 90's they started to turn to Labour by '97 they were all Labour. They are now looking at who to vote for.

Its these voters that we need to be fighting the Lib Dems for. The lib Dems are already making in roads in to these areas at local elections and if we do not watch out they will become entrenched. We all know how difficult it is to unseat a Lib Dem, so lets not let them get their feet under the table

I also think that the Tories need to be a lot smarter in how they play the European card against Labour and the Lib Dems. They should be presenting Europe as an issue above all about liberal democracy, accountability and a fair deal for the Third World. The Lib Dems are fully signed up to a vision of Europe which is highly centralised bordering on authoritarian; totally lacking in transparency and accountability; and which routinely kicks the developing world in the teeth via the CAP. Lib Dem criticisms of this state of affairs are muted, to put it mildly. There can be no better example of why the Lib Dems are neither liberal nor democratic....apart of course from their cynical nudge-nudge wink-wink alliance over Iraq with George Galloway and the Provisional Wing of Islam.

Agreed. I'm glad you pointed out that little nugget as I wasn't aware of that figure. And I think you're right about the long term effects of their positioning. I cannot believe that the 'dripping wets' who were put off by the Conservatives in the 1990s and switched are really in tune with, say, a leftwing party led by Simon Hughes et al.

James, Winchester will always be difficult because of the Gerry Malone fiasco. Richmond Park and Twickenham make up the Royal Borough of Richmond Upon Thames. The Conservatives took in 2002 (compared to 2001 general) with a 10% against an incompetent Liberal administration that had been in power for well over a decade.

The Conservative council has put up the Band D council tax by a quarter in three years! The result - 5 crushing by-election defeats! The general election results merely continued the trend.

Who defines the 'centre ground', exactly? The BBC? Guardian? New Labour? In which case he's already standing on it, judging by his statements pledging to maintain Labour levels of squandering on 'public services' In which case what would be the point of replacing a Blair government with a Cameron government? What would be the difference?

I agree that then LDs now have a problem. They were forced into a leftist diversion by the Iraq war, for which they can't really be blamed and in my view deserve some credit. But do you think that the Tories are going to win back seats such as Winchester or Oxford West, just because David Cameron is leader?

We cannot expect Mr Cameron to deliver any seats - only hard work will win back seats.

We also need credible local candidates with demonstrable track records who voters will like and respect.

Simple. Follow the John Redwood anti-Lib Dem strategy. It's been tested and it works.

All you do is this -

STEP 1. check out all the completely nuts Lib Dem policies on sex education, handling of dangerous criminals etc.

STEP 2. produce a series of leaflets each publicising one crazy Lib Dem policy.

STEP 3. Lib Dem voters are shocked to discover the party they support has crazy policies.

STEP 4. Relax. And see Lib Dem support waste away.


The Above Thanks to John Redwood MP.

Mr Redwood is such a wise and able man!

I agree with many of the above comments. Exposing the LibDem policies on Local Income Tax and crime worked wonders in our local decapitation defence. We need much more of that.

And I think we should do whatever we can to exploit and widen the chasm between the Orange Bookers and the lefties. If we Tory bloggers put our minds to it- and could bear going onto the LibDem blogs- I'm sure there would be all kinds of subtle and persuasive "points" we could make.

Great idea Wat. Mind you after half an hour on a LD blog, most of us would need Post Traumatic Counselling. Not to mention two hours Swedish massage and a week in the Bahamas. Will party funds stretch to that yet? Michael Ashcroft - please come back. All is forgiven.


BBC Training Manual says the following.

Survey all the opinions on offer. Identify the Conservative Party position on any issue. That is the Right Wing view - meaning selfish, unprincipled and designed to benefit the few while penalising the many.

Move across the chart to the Left. When you meet either a Labour or a Lib Dem policy, this is now The Centre Ground.

For example, Conservatives believe in Social Justice, and offering High Standards of Education to as many as is possible - by allowing schools with high academic standards.

This is obviously Right Wing, becasue it's a Conservative Policy. The secret agenda not mentioned is to channel all the rich peoples' children into thse better schools so the Labour policy of lowering the standards of all schools ensuring no one can leave the ghetto, is The Centre Ground - so beloved by Michael POrtillo and other broadcasters.

It's all very simple. Just follow the BBC Manual, and you will be promoted to BBC Robot in Chief, qualified to lie to the nation very quickly. And by ensuring no one can get a good education, you will probably hang onto your job with the BBC into ripe old age, due to lack of competition.

One of the most effective tricks in the local Liberal Democrat book is the way in which they build up trust with the electorate and then exploit this.

You get ten months' worth of positive, local-orientated, down-to-earth newsletters, and residents read them and are impressed. Then, when it gets to the election, you get negative attacks and outrageous claims ("x can't win here"). Because of what has gone before, it becomes infinitely more believable.

Conservatives need to work hard and project a positive image before unloading their ammunition onto the LibDems. It will be much more effective that way.

Does anybody know what went so badly wrong in North Norfolk at the last election? From an outsiders perspective Iain Dale seemed to be running a terrific campaign in an East Anglian seat which is surrounded by Conservative seats. Not only did he lose but the swing against him was huge - what happened?

R UK is correct in saying 'centre' or 'centre ground' have become synonyms for 'left wing', but why have the Tory party moved in that direction then? What is conservative about Social Justice? And if the Tories have been High Standards of Education to as many as is possible', why did they shut down grammar schools, introduce the GCSE and expand high education to conceal youth unemployment? And Mr. Cameron's its, 'follow the BBC Manual, and you will be promoted to the head of the Tory party'.

The SDP tapped into a proto-"Compassionate Conservative" trend among young people in the 1980's. They stood for sensible economic policies but wanted to "spread the wealth" that those policies created. At the same time, young people were being turned off by the stridency of the Thatcher government.

And as a result, people told opinion pollsters they liked the SDP and some even voted for them. When they joined the Liberals, they lost the sound economics and a large chunk of their supporters. But the impression of being Compassionate Conservatives has never really left them - the media have never exposed it - that's why it's so important to point it out.

The aging demographic make-up has since made Comp-Con the centre ground. The voters we lost now have children who vote and they don't vote Tory either. Blair successfully tapped into the Comp-Con vein while we ran away from it. Cameron looks well placed to reclaim those voters but it will take a lot of work.

Ultimately Comp-Con requires sound economics to make it work and that's why we beat Labour in May in the areas where the economics has failed. However, so long as they can keep pumping money into their heartlands and keeping them afloat they will be hard to beat. The media take on Brown - hero or zero? - will be crucial.

With Cameron we are positioned in the right space and should be able to do damage to the Lib-Dems but overall the economic performance of the Labour Governent will probably be the main determinant of success in 2009.

7% swing from Lib Dems to Conservatives in Kingston and Surbiton. Not enough to win but proves that it can be done.

Lib Dems have soft majorities because they are a refuge for voters who cannot bring themselves to vote for either Con or Lab.

Once Con is more appealing they will come back to get rid of labour!

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