Q: What is a Liberal Democrat, who are you targeting, and how will your vision reach them?
I think a political party must always start with our values. The Liberal Democrat values of freedom, equality of opportunity and community – these are our strong values which we’ve campaigned on for years and years, and we must keep campaigning on them.
In terms of targeting, I think there are millions of people who share those values. I think in the recent past we’ve may have been too narrow – I think there are lots of people who will vote for us, I think those values speak to huge amounts of people. The real challenge that we have is to translate them into people’s lives, their everyday problems and hopes. That’s the challenge, as Leader, I need to take on with the whole party.
Q: How will you broaden diversity in the party, and work with SAOs/AOS?
If we don’t improve our diversity we don’t deserve to succeed.
We have made some process in recent years. I want to pay huge tribute to Jo Swinson who campaigned so hard to make sure we improve on gender. We have made huge strides on that.
But we’ve got to really improve our representation from black and ethnic minority, disability and LGBT+ diversity in our party. I want to work with AOs, I want to work with the whole party. I am ready to lead this work nationally, but I want every local party to realise it’s their responsibility too. We all need to work together to change the culture and the diversity of our party.
The Thornhill Report into the General Election rightly pointed out that we have not yet implemented the Alderdice review. My message is: we’ve got to stop talking and writing reports – we’ve got to start doing.
Q: How do we ensure that the voices of disabled members are heard?
I’m a member of the Lib Dem Disability Association, and I joined actually because I’m a father of a disabled son. While I have cared about disability my whole life, I see the hardships now through the lens of a father, and I could not be more committed to equality for people with disabilities, and therefore am delighted to work with the LDDA.
Q: If you could have anyone in history join your team in the Lib Dems, who would you want to have?
It would have to be someone I miss very much: Paddy Ashdown.
My first job in the Lib Dems was as the party’s economics adviser. This was in the middle of a recession, where jobs and job losses were huge issues. Paddy would ring me up most Monday mornings, with his military background, would sort of bark down the phone “Edward, come to my office!” So it would be great fun to be able to to ring Paddy every Monday and get the benefit of his advice.
Paddy would be the perfect person to advise me given the moment we find ourselves in as a party. When Paddy became leader, the party was at just 4% in the polls and was just an asterisk in Scotland. It was tough, and people didn’t see us as relevant. But he was really that we needed to build back from the grassroots, and have clear messages that resonated with people.
Q: We will not gain power or save democracy on our own, we need to make alliances with other parties. When we will start doing the work to build these alliances?
It’s an important question, but we’ve got to start with ourselves first.
In the speech I gave when I became Leader of the Liberal Democrats last month, I said that we needed to wake up and smell the coffee. We have had three disappointing general election results in five years.
Before we talk about alliances, I want us to be strong. We need to win more Lib Dem votes, have more Liberal Democrat MPs, and more Liberal Democrat councillors. My focus will be on building up our party and not being distracted by ideas of some short-term route. Let us also say to people who want to work with us – let’s reform the system. I want to know if other political parties have that desire to change the political system in our country.
Q: What would your top three messages on health and social care be on the doorstep?
For me, there’s nothing more important than getting our campaigning on social care right. I’ve been a carer for most of my life; for my mum, grandma and now my son.
There are millions of people who need to see the care people improve.
But my first message would be on resources. I’d say that only the Lib Dems are campaigning for a 1p on the £1 for extra cash for your health service and social care..
Secondly, mental health support. From Norman Lamb’s fantastic work, we have the credibility on mental health, and we’ve just passed a great new policy on it too. In the context of Covid and the stresses people have, I think we should talk about mental health.
And finally, my advice would be to have a local health issue to bring up, know your area and tailor your message accordingly. In my area I’ve run many health campaigns, for example, to create a new healthcare centre in Chessington. I created one a few years ago working with local Liberal Democrat councillors. We managed to start another campaign because we want another one in the north of Chessington. These campaigns really resonate on the doorstep as people really understand this is something you could deliver on.
Q: Young people have gone through a lot this year. What’s our message to them as Lib Dems?
I think young people have suffered the most from everything that’s happening this year. Whether it’s people who’ve gone through the crisis of the exam disaster – those taking the GCSEs and the A levels, and the way the Government made them so stressed in the way it was mishandled by Gavin Williamson.
Some young people have obviously felt very constrained and it will have impacted their mental health. When you talk about the future of work and offices, I think young people are the ones who suffer the most by not having to go to work, because they’re not able to socialise, to get training and mentoring.
The question is how to do we help them. I think fundamentally by making sure that we think about them in all our policies.
Let me give you one example. I’ve been thinking about how the world of work is going to change, because while many people will go back to the office, it may not be as many people as pre-pandemic. But many young people do want to go back to the office, so we need to facilitate that. So we need to work with businesses and make sure they’re flexible to support this.
Q: How do we get back to a closer relationship with Europe after Brexit?
First of all we need to be clear that we are the pro European party and we should not be afraid of showing that we are pro European.
In the debates in front of us, about the future relationship, the trade deal or things beyond that, we need to make the argument that the closest possible relationship with our friends and neighbours in Europe serves the British people’s interests.
I think people are clearer now than ever on the economic side. We’ve got potentially the deepest economic recession for 300 years because of COVID. The idea that you put barriers in the way of trade at this moment is just ludicrous and we shouldn’t be afraid of saying that.
If they come up with a No Deal or a hard deal we should be very critical of that because it’s not giving people, whose jobs and businesses are on the line, the help that they need. Whether it’s on climate, or security, or the pandemic – surely it makes sense to work with other countries. As committed internationalists, committed pro-Europeans we must make those arugments.
Q: How do we reach out to left behind people in towns?
This is central to my message about listening. Many of the voters in those types of towns don’t see us as relevant to their concerns. They don’t think that we speak for them. Perhaps in how we’ve campaigned in the past, you might not blame them.
But I believe we do speak for them in terms of our values. In listening to their concerns we can find solutions to their problems that are based on liberal values. There are so many: we’ve talked about housing, jobs, health, care.
All of these, from a liberal perspective, mean we can offer more hope to people in these towns.
That’s why I’m going on about listening – I think we need to translate our values to make them more relevant to people’s problems.
Q: How do we win big and establish a foothold in the May 2021 elections?
Great question. We aren’t going to be able to do anything if we aren’t able to win elections.
The elections next May are the biggest set of elections we ever see between General Elections: we’ve got elections in huge numbers of English local councils, we’ve got the police and crime commissioner, we’ve got the London Assembly and Mayor, the Welsh Senedd, and the Scottish Parliament.
We have to win in all of those elections.
What I’d like say to campaigners is this: I hope you’ve got your candidates in place, I you’ve got your messaging in place, I hope you have a fundraising strategy. I want to work with you at the grassroots and up to make sure you have great messaging.
On messaging, can we get over this message that’s coming back from when I’ve talked to people on this listening tour. They’re telling me that the issues they really care about is Covid and the health crisis, Covid and the jobs crisis. They want to know what the Liberal Democrats are going to do about that.
Let us talk about the issues people really care about.
If we do, if we make ourselves relevant to their lives, their problems, their hopes, then I think we can win big.
The full Q&A session will be posted soon.