‘What the Lib Dems can learn from failure’, Liberal Democrat Newswire #88, 5 December 2016

We all fear failure, but we don’t want to think about it too much. It’s less uplifting and less inspiring than success, and worrying about it can stop us even trying to do stuff.

That’s a pity. Because, paradoxically, thinking about failure – trying to understand and even empathise with it – can help us succeed. Unless we work out the don’ts how can we really know what the do’s are?

Here I declare an interest – an interest in failure.  I’ve spent the last decade not just writing about political parties (first the Tories and then Labour) but focusing on their darkest hours and dumbest moves.

The Lib Dems, of course, played a part in both those stories – first by winning by-election victories so stunning they scared their rivals half to death, then by doing a counter-intuitive coalition deal that saved David Cameron’s bacon, sealed Labour’s fate but turned out to be electorally suicidal.

Now, after winning just eight seats and eight per cent of the vote in 2015, what can Lib Dems learn from the mistakes made by both Labour and the Tories in the wake of their shattering defeats in 1997 and 2010?

Here – in reverse order – are my top five tips.

5. Don’t jump on every passing bandwagon simply to get some airtime: you’ll find it hard to jump off again and, anyway, voters can smell opportunism a mile off.

4. By-election and local election success helps build momentum but don’t let it fool you into assuming you’re on the way to repeating it at national level.

3. After you’ve inevitably rushed into a leadership contest, be prepared to ditch the winner if they’re clearly getting nowhere.

2. Don’t bargain on being able to fight elections on the issues that favour you: make sure you’ve also got something sensible – and centrist – to say on those issues that traditionally play well for your opponents.

1. Never presume a big defeat is simply a swing of the pendulum: spend as much time and money as you can – and soon – on research in order to properly understand what went wrong, then do everything you can to show you’ve got the message and signal that you’re changing.

Some of this should be obvious. But parties aren’t textbook ‘rational actors’; they know what they like and like what they know. Thinking about failure provides an antidote to complacency. And complacency, in politics anyway, can be the biggest killer.


Originally published at https://www.libdemnewswire.com/


About tpbale

I teach politics at Queen Mary University of London.
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