My focus is on persuading moderate Conservatives, building a broad base of support, and winning our marginals at the next general election.
My primary objective as Leader of the Liberal Democrats is to get the party winning again, at every level and in every part of the country. Overwhelmingly, our marginal seats are Conservative-facing. That is why my plan is focused on persuading moderate Conservatives to support our party and get us winning again.
To do that, we need to develop a message that appeals to a broad group of voters, talking to them about the mainstream issues – like education, the economy and public services – that are relevant to them.
As Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy both showed, a broad vision can go hand in hand with taking the lead on those distinctive issues where we are ahead of the old parties, like the environment and civil liberties.
Getting our message right is vital, and it has to address the mainstream concerns of ordinary voters. And it has to appeal to a broad enough base that it makes individual seats easier, not harder, to win. In short: it must appeal across the moderate spectrum of voters.
That’s why my message will be a simple one: the Lib Dems will provide the security for every individual to live life as they choose.
Ideas that I have put forward so far, around Education, Economy and the Environment – are based on this principle. A world-class education system, an adult retraining program, a Universal Basic Income for those who fall on hard times, an investment in public services, a green recovery which protects people’s jobs and the planet. All will give people economic security and a more equal opportunity to thrive.
At the next general election, most of our target seats will be Conservative-facing. Having overturned a 9,500 Conservative majority in 2017, I know that we have to appeal to both moderate Conservative voters and Labour and Green supporters. I’ve won over Conservative, Labour and Green voters in roughly equal numbers. We can win many of our target seats in the same way.
I’ve also supported campaigners in neighbouring seats since I won in 2017, and was delighted to see us make progress in Henley, Wantage and Witney which neighbour my seat. But from working with them, it is also clear how big the task is to build up seats like them to the level they need to be to win in the future.
To win seats like those, and to break through at every level in every state and region, we also need to work across the party, as a team, to rebuild our campaigning capacity.
I know that we already have the ideas, experience and commitment to achieve that.
But I also know from the feedback I’ve had from members and activists that our party has not been nearly good enough at utilising our members and activists to best effect.
I’ve already been listening to local parties through Zoom calls up and down the country, and as Leader, I will continue to do this regularly.
The feedback has been consistent:
- We have to work WITH local campaigners.
- We need more and better resources for volunteers and local parties.
- And we need an integrated campaign plan with the aim of advancing in every set of elections at every level of government.
My plan for the party
We must listen to local campaigners. We must tap into their expertise. We need a partnership approach between HQ and local parties, not a top-down approach. Winning seats often relies on a mix of national party or ALDC support and an effective local team. It’s where this relationship works well that we get the best results.
We need HQ, ALDC, states, regions and SAOs to work together in a coordinated way. We have far fewer resources than the old parties, and we must use them to maximum effect. When we do this, as we did for the 2019 local elections, it can have a massive impact.
We must provide more and better resources for our volunteers and local parties. We need to invest in our hard-working staff and training and development for a new generation of Lib Dem campaigners. When we do put resources into training, like the excellent ALDC Kickstart weekends, it is hugely successful. But for a party that relies on volunteers, we currently invest far too little.
We need to be innovative in how we do this and provide digital tools that are simpler for activists to access and use. We should provide a suite of training, materials and support for every volunteer role in the party. Some good work has started on this, but I will encourage this to move forward quickly.
We also need to be realistic. It is eight years since I was selected to fight Oxford West and Abingdon, and it’s taken us three elections to build up to the 9,000 majority we have now. It takes time and effort to build a strong team, canvass every door several times over, and build the local credibility it takes to win.
We found out in December that it simply isn’t possible to win by picking a list of seats and throw national literature at them.
We have to be willing to rebuild from the bottom up, in as many places as possible. Our aim should be to try and make progress in each round of elections, and we must support initial breakthroughs and target parliamentary seat, and everyone in between.
The role of the Leader is to set the overall message, support campaigners and work with the party organisation to provide the practical support that’s needed.
I think I’m the right person to do that job for our party.
My whole life I’ve navigated change and overcome challenges. I want to use what I’ve learned in winning my seat, and what I’ve learned from others, to move our party forward. It’s never been more important that we do.
Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat for MP for Oxford West and Abingdon