Our party is in desperate need of reform.
Over the past few years, we have overlooked the importance of winning locally. In doing this, we have carelessly damaged our local government base in many areas by sacrificing our local strongholds on the altar of national government dreams. We have assumed we can win new MPs without winning locally first. The 2019 election shows us that we can’t. As has been said in the 2019 General Election Review: ‘The overarching conclusion … is that had we made much better decisions in 2019 we might have gained a few more seats, but not many more.’. A major factor in this is that we hadn’t built enough support locally to go on and win nationally. For too long we have given priority to Westminster, its national policy interests and the messaging that goes with it. We need to shift resources to empower local parties to win in their areas, rebuild our local government base, and again become the true champions of localism. Local campaigns should never be in a position where leaflets from HQ loses them votes. Our local parties should be helped by central party, not be at loggerheads with them.
We must become an insurgent party again. To be liberal is to challenge established thinking, to be bold, open to new ideas and unconventional thinking – we shouldn’t do things just because that’s the way we’ve always done them. It is important to value differences of opinion and be confident in our diversity, encouraging healthy conversation and debate.
One size doesn’t fit all. There is a challenge to have an overarching national message about who we are and what we stand for as Liberal Democrats, whilst leaving enough flexibility to local parties to shape their own messages, fitting the local narrative. Our centralised structures mean we are late adopters. We need to be the opposite and unleash the ideas from the bottom up. We will never be a party with large teams of paid researchers drafting detailed policy documents, but we are the party of local Lib Dems doing new and exciting liberal things. We need to improve our digital offer, not just centrally, but locally. We should have regional campaigning hubs that support local parties, taking the pressure off HQ.
I would also move HQ functions that do not need to be in Westminster to a northern city with direct rail links to London. The General Election Review recommendations deal particularly with the responsibilities of the three top positions: the President, the Chief Executive and the Leader. All these positions are in London, but my vision is to unlock the potential of Lib Dems at the grassroots. We are champions of devolution and we must apply it fully to our party.
We must endeavour to strengthen the links between national councillor groups like the
Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors with our regional parties, to better connect council groups and party campaigners with each other. By embracing a bottom up approach, we have a much better chance to become a nimble early-adopting insurgent force attractive to voters at a local level across every constituency.
We need to build our local strongholds, door by door, street by street, and ward by ward. Concentrating on our local successes will hand us back the widespread national support, from which we can win seats in Westminster.
Wera Hobhouse is the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Bath. She Tweets @Wera_Hobhouse.