An internal Liberal Democrat report has revealed "evidently low morale" among party members and identified the U-turn on tuition fees, their alliance with the Tories and Nick Clegg's decision to do television debates with Nigel Farage as the reasons for the party's poor results in the European elections.
The review, ordered by Clegg in May, said the party's "near wipe-out in the European election has established a considerable challenge in the run-up to the general election" and warned of the potential for a divide to open up between the grassroots activists and central party unless more is done to motivate members.
A short summary is published on the Liberal Democrat website but a fuller version obtained by the Guardian decided that the party is "too prone to accept the criticism of others and too easily swayed by the attacks of our adversaries". As a whole, the party is also too ready to "beat itself up" rather than sticking to its ground, the review found.
The report, written by James Gurling, a PR man and campaigns chief, found activists cited Clegg's television debates against Ukip leader Nigel Farage as one of the main problems with May's election campaigns.
"Placing ourselves as the direct opponents to Ukip made it difficult to present the core Lib Dem message of membership and reform of the EU, and didn't leave enough space to campaign on the strong records of our MEPs. It also meant that the sheer volume given to the opposition to our core position, in the media and elsewhere, made it difficult for us to retain trust in our key messages," he wrote in the online summary.
The review also identified the need for stronger "message discipline" within the party and recommended that Lib Dem peers with campaigning experience "adopt" local candidates and constituencies to help them in the run-up to the general election.
Some senior Lib Dems fear the party could suffer at the election because of the suspension of Lord Rennard, the former chief executive and campaigning expert. The peer has apologised to four female activists over the possibility he touched them inappropriately but remains under investigation over whether he brought the party into disrepute.
After the Liberal Democrats got just 13% of the vote in May's local elections and 7% behind the Green party in the Europeans, Clegg admitted that some "soul-searching" is needed and announced a "lessons learned" review conducted by Gurling. The poor results led to a failed coup on the leadership of Clegg by Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat peer and friend of Vince Cable, the business secretary.
A few hundred activists leading the Libdems4change website also published an open letter calling on Clegg to stand down but the Gurling review noted that very few members were calling for the party leader to go in submissions to his inquiry.
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