We suffered a massive blow, but now we have a new opportunity

Newcastle Liberal Democrat councillor Greg Stone on how the fightback must start now as his party is unshackled from the Tories

Cllr Greg Stone
Cllr Greg Stone

It’s a bitter irony for Lib Dems that having taken the decision to go into Coalition and tackle the economic crisis, and to be a responsible party of government rather than a hollow party of protest , we have now been punished so badly by voters who have effectively endorsed the Coalition’s strategy by casting a tactical vote for the Tories.

Locally and nationally, the significant proportion of the electorate who supported the Coalition’s economic plan have decided that the best way of preventing a hung parliament and a Labour-SNP government, and to ensure stability and economic growth have decided to prevent that by voting Conservative.

At the same time, some of the electorate who have voted Lib Dem in the past as a “protest vote” have drifted towards the Greens.

That left us with a badly squeezed core vote. Given an either-or choice, more Lib Dem-leaning voters have decided to vote Conservative than Labour.

There was no evidence nationally that the voters felt Ed Miliband and Labour were ready for government, and Labour (and sections of the media) seemed unable to recognise that they were simply not credible as a party of economic stability and aspiration.

At council level, it is frustrating that whilst Lib Dems have often received tactical support from Conservative-minded voters who recognise that Lib Dem councillors represent local communities effectively, the extra turnout at a General Election has resulted in several hundred voters in each ward voting Conservative in both elections, rather than splitting their votes.

That decision has resulted in Labour making a couple of undeserved gains in Castle and North Jesmond in Newcastle.

Across the rest of Tyne and Wear, it is striking that in Lib Dem strongholds in Gateshead the party secured very impressive results, with Ron Beadle doubling his majority in Low Fell and Jonathan Wallace securing a majority of over 1,000 in Whickham.

Elsewhere, we know that we have work to do to rebuild our organisation in places like Sunderland and South Tyneside.

Now we are no longer shackled to the Conservatives we will be working hard to rebuild and reposition ourselves as a radical and distinctive political alternative to both Labour and the Tories.

We believe that there is still a strong case for Liberalism nationally and in the North East - we have always been a party that believes in liberty, in localism, in devolution, in internationalism, and in sustainability.

We have left a legacy of a stronger economy and more people in work in the North East from our time in government, and we believe our education Pupil Premium will pay long-term dividends by increasing attainment and social mobility.

But of course, it is a tragedy that at a time when Liberal voices are badly needed in Parliament, our representation is so greatly diminished.

It was clearly a painful and a chastening election for Liberal Democrats, and we now need to regroup and begin to fight back.

In the past 36 hours more than 3,000 new members have joined the party, as they understand that we offer something distinctive and important that the other parties are lacking. This election has been a massive blow, but it now offers the party a new opportunity to move forward.

  • Greg Stone is a Liberal Democrat member of Newcastle City Council.


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