The 2015 election is certainly not one to remember for the Liberal Democrats. Losing many great MPs like David Laws and Vince Cable will certainly take a long time to recover from, but what exactly went wrong and why did we do much worse than forecast.
- Triumph of fear over hope.
There is no doubt that the Conservative tactics of pitting England against Scotland worked for them. The idea of a Labour-SNP coalition was too much for many centre ground floating voters who voted tactically for them. Instead of defending their record and talking about the real issues the Conservatives instead spent the campaign promoting English nationalism and spreading fear. This tactic did for many of our MPs in Tory-LD marginal in the southern regions of England. Whilst it has worked in the short term it will cause problems for David Cameron over the course of the next parliament as he governs a hugely divided country with little support north of the border.
- SNP Success
The unprecedented success of the SNP north of the border was too much for both ourselves and Labour. Swings of up to 39% (Portillo in 1997 was 17%) meant that virtually no one was able to survive the SNP tide. Huge credit has to go to Alistair Carmichael in Orkney and Shetland who managed to hold on to his seat. The Scots have inadvertently let David Cameron back in to Downing Street. The double whammy of a reduced opposition force of Lib Dem and Labour MPs and the aforementioned scare tactics employed by the Tories in England mean that the success of the SNP has directly led to a Conservative majority – ironically the thing they were trying to stop at all costs.
- Lack of campaign clarity
It certainly seemed at times that we were unsure of how to position themselves against Labour and the Conservatives. On one hand they were defending the record of the coalition government which alienated many of the left-leaning supporters who voted for us in 2010 and on the other we distanced ourselves from it which persuaded many centre-right voters to ditch them for the Conservatives. Whilst promoting the balanced and sensible approach is certainly a credible and sensible position to take, it left many not knowing what the party stands for other than limiting the excesses of the others.
In spite of the hammering we got last night we know that Liberalism and values of fairness and liberty will never die. It will take a long time to recover from this but there is no doubt that we will. Over the next parliament it will become apparent that much of the work done by Lib Dem MPs was sensible and worthwhile and a Tory government lurching off to the right will show the electorate that they made a mistake this time.