Sun, 3 March 2024

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
Women in Westminster: In Conversation With Tulip Siddiq MP Partner content
Press releases

Liberal Democrats' election performance was a 'high speed car crash', internal inquiry says

Jo Swinson stepped down after the disastrous election campaign

3 min read

The Liberal Democrats’ 2019 election performance was a "high speed car crash", according to a hard-hitting review commissioned by the party.

The independent study concluded that the party's promise to stop Brexit alongside attempts to portray Jo Swinson as a potential Prime Minister had "alienated" swathes of voters ahead of their 2019 election defeat.

Ms Swinson was forced to step down as leader in the wake of the disastrous campaign which saw her lose her own seat and left her party with 11 MPs, one fewer than at the 2017 election.

And the review, led by Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Thornhill, slammed the party's decision to stand on a platform of "Pure Remain", saying it failed to win over voters who were either "less hard-line on Brexit or ambivalent either way".

They wrote: "We suffered from self-inflicted attacks as the complexities of our ‘Revoke’ policy were twisted and used against us; by the Conservatives to mean ‘undemocratic; they want to ignore your vote in the referendum’ and by Labour (as well as the nationalists and other parties) to mean ‘undemocratic; they won’t even give you a second vote.'"

And the report's authors hit out at the party's leadership for choosing to run a campaign based on "time-bound events, using short-term tactics, blunty articulated and lacking balance between qualitative and quantitative data to aid decision making".

Describing the election as a "disaster waiting to happen" the review also took aim at Ms Swinson, accusing her of creating an "inner circle of advisers" who were "unaccountable" to the wider party.

"Those who were supposed to be leading ‘on paper’ were often not leading ‘in person’ because decision-making was being taken elsewhere; often in the leader’s team and sometimes by Jo herself," they added.

"This not only slowed things down but concentrated decision-making in a small group whose belief in the leader and the mission was so strong that challenge was at best ignored and at worst actively discouraged. It also hindered a culture of working together in a spirit of collaboration."


Baroness Thornhill also criticised Ms Swinson's decision to put herself forward as a potential Prime Minister before dropping the message later in the campaign, saying the idea had "appeared unrealistic to the wider public".

She added: "As a result of the inherent and long term challenges the party faced – not all of its own making – we ran an over-optimistic campaign that lacked the necessary strategic planning over many years and as a result fell well short of the standards required, both on the ground and in the air, locally and nationally.

"There was little or no long term strategic planning for what the total organisation would need to do to be successful in a general election and it was unclear who was in charge and making decisions. It cannot be said any more plainly and it is as bad as it sounds."

Responding to the report, acting Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said the findings were "raw" and "powerful".

"It shows just how much we need to change to get our party fighting fit," he said.

"I'm proud we published it. Many other political parties wouldn't, but we have shown real courage.

"Transparency is one of our values and today we have shown we practice what we preach."

PoliticsHome Newsletters

PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by John Johnston - MP Warns That Online Hate Could Lead To More Real World Attacks On Parliamentarians


Political parties