Lib Dem backbencher: “We have lost a generation of young voters”

Liberal Democrat backbench MP Adrian Sanders has attacked the party leadership for losing "a generation of young voters", alienating "thousands of tactical voters" and a "lack of engagement".

Liberal Democrat backbench MP Adrian Sanders has attacked the party leadership for losing “a generation of young voters”, alienating “thousands of tactical voters”, a damaging “crisis of confidence” and a “lack of engagement” between the grassroots and leadership.

In the latest edition of the liberal political magazine ‘Liberator’, he writes:

“The Liberal Democrats are in trouble. The problem is not wholly electoral. Council by-elections where we have a track record and work hard show we can hold our vote… It is more a crisis of confidence and image, both within and without the party, and this will be far more damaging in the long term…

“We now face the brutal realisation that we have fractured our core vote, lost a generation of young voters, and alienated thousands of tactical voters in seats where it makes the difference between electoral success or failure.

“The message on the doorstep before the election was often ‘I support another party, but you seem to have more integrity and do more for local people so you have my vote’; now it is ‘I used to vote for you, you still work hard for your local area, but you are discredited and lied just like the rest of them’.”

The Torbay MP adds:

“It seems like the leadership has done all it can to copy the method of governance of Labour and the Conservatives. Our grassroots has been effectively divorced from having input into what the party leadership does.

“What our ministers do is often driven by special advisers, who never have to face an electorate, and while some are very good and understand this, others seem to have a cosier relationship with journalists than the parliamentary party…

“The lack of engagement between leadership and party is of some concern; I don’t believe the leader spoke to our ministers in the Foreign Office or Ministry of Defence before going for intervention in Libya, let alone sought out opinion among us humble backbenchers before any decisions were made…

“We need the leadership to start acting like the leadership of an independent political party that just happens to be in coalition, not the leadership of a coalition that seems to forget it has an independent political party to take into consideration.”

Mr Sanders, who voted against the government’s tuition fees trebling, last made national headlines in December, with an outspoken attack on his Conservative coalition partners, telling the Today programme the Tories were his “enemy”.

At the same time, in language similar to today’s attack on the party leadership, he blogged:

“Unlike the bulk of the Liberal Democrat membership, the current leadership and their advisors are dominated by people who give the impression they didn’t, among other things, enter politics to deny the Conservatives political power.  That is the fundamental difference between them and those who have spent a lifetime campaigning against the enemy, and who view the Tories as the opposition to just about everything we stand for.

We have a leadership that seems keener on impressing the Conservatives as to how much we can be relied upon to take ‘tough’ decisions, than on asserting how much the Conservatives need us in order to remain in Government. This has led to the leadership’s complete failure to recognise that the premise upon which difficult decisions are being justified is wholly false.

“The leadership cites polls from before the election that showed some people didn’t vote for us because we have no experience of taking decisions in power. Instead of challenging such a silly premise when we have decades of local government experience taking and using power for the benefit of communities across the UK, nearly always involving tough decisions, we chose to believe these polls and give them so much credibility that we could end up sacrificing hundreds of those experienced Liberal Democrat politicians in the local election next May.

“In my experience it is a lack of electoral rather than decision-making credibility that prevents Lib Dems winning seats, and it is bad decision-making that losses them. The leadership on the other hand almost revels in having to take decisions against the grain of Liberal Democrat support and can’t see the damage and hurt left in their wake…

“The leadership appears not to understand, or worse care, why it so difficult for some Liberal Democrats to accept policies they have spent much of their lives opposing, let alone the sacrifices many of them have made to get elected and thus allow others to ‘enjoy’ being in Government.  Just as there has been no enquiry into our poor general election performance that saw us lose seats and left little option but to form a coalition with the Tories, there doesn’t appear to be any strategy for winning back support, and certainly no exit strategy for when the Tories discard us.

“It’s more of the same machismo about how big and tough we are in Government, when our supporters are looking for how we have changed Government for the better and what difference we have made now we have been given a chance.  All they see is another political Party letting them down once they’ve had their vote.”


“There is so much positive policy and influence to promote, but we can’t get it across to the electorate unless we can show how we made the difference. Getting this information out and understood is part of a giant task that now confronts us to rebuild trust with voters who feel we have let them down, or worse betrayed them.

“Perhaps we can start by admitting to ourselves the pleasure most of us take in the distress Conservatives have being in coalition with Liberals. It is such a pity that some in our leadership give the impression they feel the same discomfort with members of their own Party.

“If they could only see what we see; that the Tories need us to implement some of their policies far more than we need them to water down, or corrupt ours, then maybe we can see light at the end of the tunnel, rather than the lights of another train bearing down upon us.”

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