Lessons from the General Election (Jun 2017)

Let's Talk Merton is our monthly informal political discussion, which takes place on the 2nd Monday of the month.

In June, the theme was lessons from the General Election. See below for the full review of the meeting.

Locally, the General Election was positive for Liberal Democrats. We increased votes and vote share in both constituencies - Wimbledon was best-performing non-target seat in London (and 9th overall) and we moved from 5th to 3rd in Mitcham and Morden; and we made significant contributions to winning three neighbouring target seats, and came agonisingly close in a fourth.

But nationally, our vote was squeezed and our pro-EU message failed to achieve the anticipated breakthrough. Even with local successes, we cannot carry-on as we are. We need radical change.

We need to be bolder, with a strong, powerful message that resonates with the electorate. Well-costed, good policies are important but not enough. We need to demonstrate what we are for, and not just against. We need to focus on a clear vision of hope. The Conservatives and Labour have abandoned the centre. We need to be the champions of the radical centre: pro-business, pro-welfare state, pro-Europe, pro-environment – building a more prosperous, innovative Britain. We need to explain why liberalism is important, and why liberals should vote Liberal Democrats. We need to cut-through limited media coverage to inspire voters – this can be done with strong and consistent messages, strong grassroots campaigns and active social media.

Tactical voting is a challenge and an opportunity. It also highlights the absolute inadequacy of our first-past-the-post electoral system. While aspirations for a progressive alliance are understandable, it is not straightforward – voters are not a solid block who can be transferred to another party and may deny people the opportunity to vote for who they want; it prevents us developing a strong core vote and building for the future (nationally and locally); and it ignores the reality that parties can influence the political agenda without winning seats (see UKIP).

Labour’s use of attack ads against us in Liberal Democrats / Conservative marginal seats also demonstrates the one-sided nature of the aspirations for a progressive alliance – Labour do not want the Liberal Democrats to recover. Winning in Wimbledon is a good long-term prospect; we should build for the future and will not stand-down for Labour to beat the Conservatives.

Our local and national social media campaigns were positive, and should be expanded. We need a strong argument to rebuff attacks on tuition fees (all parties are implicated). Locally we should provide members with ‘talking-points’ for street stalls highlighting our core messages, and provide a clearer, explained ask for polling day, earlier in the campaign. We could also improve local branding, and work with schools and others to support voter education.

And we can’t wait until the next election – we must continue to campaign for a liberal Merton!

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