The Liberal Democrat vote fell in June because too few voters believed we were the party on their side and fighting for them on the issues they cared about.
That wasn’t the only reason of course, but it was the main one.
So what next?
Forget talk of a progressive alliance. Labour will use it to beat us up. Caroline Lucas championed a progressive alliance and for her troubles the Green vote more than halved. Labour are always happy to take Lib Dem votes lent to them in the cause of beating the Tories, but in Lib Dem/Conservative marginals Labour actively campaigned against the Lib Dems. Had they not done so, May probably wouldn’t be Prime Minister. But Labour prefers to stop the Lib Dems and Greens even if it means a Tory government and that’s not going to change.
No. The Lib Dems will only survive and prosper by carving out a space for ourselves. Not some theoretical slot on the left-right spectrum. Not simply “we’re not the Tories/Labour and we can win here”. But a space where a substantial proportion of the British public see the party as fighting for them and on their side.
The political space we fashion for ourselves must build on our core beliefs and our history, but it cannot be so narrow that it stops us winning seats. Any political platform must have the ability to bring on board 40%+ of voters across tens or hundreds of constituencies and 20%+ of voters across all constituencies.
That space should include Liberal Democrat concerns about freedom, equality and individuality. It should encompass our pro-European and internationalist beliefs too.
For me, the Liberal Democrats’ natural place is the party of aspiration and business. The party that understands that a strong, wealthy, inclusive country needs a strong, healthy economy and that relies on business – especially small and medium sized businesses – being able to set up, grow and succeed. The party of the entrepreneur, the self-employed and the regular person working 9-5 to improve the lot of themselves and their family.
Faced with a heartless, incompetent and anti-business Conservative party, intent on running down our economy by taking us out of the European Union, and a Labour Party selling fantasy economics, our nation needs a liberal party dedicated to economic growth that benefits all, to protecting our freedoms and playing our full part in the world.
Of course I am not for a moment claiming that a few speeches by our new leader, will be sufficient. Many challenges will remain if we are to succeed in taking ownership of this political space and getting our message across to voters both in volume and over time.
But I am absolutely certain that, unless we create that space and persuade a substantial proportion of the electorate that we are the ones who are on their side and will do the best for them, all our efforts will be for nought.
* Iain Roberts is the former leader of Stockport Liberal Democrats and Lib Dem Campaign Manager in Greater Manchester Mayoral election and for Cheadle constituency in the General Election