Party's defeat was 'blindingly obvious' and campaign 'painful', says ex-MP
PUBLISHED: 14:24 13 December 2019 | UPDATED: 14:25 13 December 2019
Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk
Former MP Norman Lamb says his party's loss in North Norfolk was "blindingly obvious", as he reflected on a painful campaign which reinforced his decision to stand down.
Mr Lamb, who had held the seat for the Liberal Democrats since 2001, revealed he would be stepping down earlier this year to focus on mental health campaigning outside parliament.
His replacement, Karen Ward, took 15,357 votes on Thursday, but was beaten by Conservative candidate Duncan Baker, who took 29,792 votes and secured a convincing majority.
Mr Lamb said the result brought an end to a "painful" six weeks, describing an inner torment which left him torn between hopes for Mrs Ward and discomfort at the party's central campaign.
"It is quite a big decision to step away after so long but I felt I had made the right decision," he said, "and the truth is, while there were lots of reasons I stepped down, I couldn't have stood on the Lib Dem manifesto in this election, because I had a fundamental disagreement with its central message.
"It's ended a really difficult and painful period for me."
He said he had particular misgivings with the party's approach to Brexit, which he said, in his opinion, should have taken a more conciliatory approach.
"As a remainer myself, but as someone who felt we had to accept the outcome, I felt we should engage in discussions about what sort of Brexit we had," he said.
"The tactic from my party, but also remainers in Labour, was to refuse a discussion about Brexit, risk a no-deal Brexit, risk a hard Brexit, in the hope that at the crunch you would get a second referendum.
"The gamble has felt spectacular."
He said he felt the British public has lost patience with politicians and said at times he thought the party had come across "disrespectful".
"All the Bollocks to Brexit stuff," he said, "I think made us come across as disrespectful to those who have taken a different point of view.
"The last six weeks have been really painful because I have felt obliged to knock on doors all the way through the campaign. "That was a) because I had faith in Karen and knew she would be a good MP, but b) because people in north Norfolk have been so lovely to me. I couldn't walk away from party activists, but it's very hard when you disagree with the central premise of the campaign.
"It's a blessed relief that it's over."
He said people in the district had been "unfailingly generous and kind".
"I've known for six weeks that this would be the outcome," he said. "I couldn't share that, but it was blindingly obvious from the first day I went out knocking on doors.
"On most occasions people would thank me, but say they couldn't vote for [my party]. When you know you don't agree either it's hard to object to people making that decision."
He said, looking forward, it was time for "soul searching" for both Labour and the Lib Dems, and time to redefine what a liberal party should stand for in the 21st century.
He said since the 2008 financial crash liberal parties and the centre left hadn't found a convincing way to rebuild the country.
"There needs to be real intellectual thought given to what a liberal party should stand for," he said. "The need for a liberal progressive non-socialist party is as great as ever."
And on prime minister Boris Johnson, he said: "I'm not one of the people who say 'Boris is funny', or 'it's nice having an eccentric leader of the country'.
"I struggle with a politician who seems to find the difference between truth and lies quite difficult.
"The big question is how he will choose to govern - does he continue to associate with the right wing of the Tory party, or, because he does have a big majority, does have choose to govern from closer to the centre?"
Labour's Emma Corlett got 3,895 votes in North Norfolk, while Brexit Party candidate Harry Gwynne received 1,739, in a seat where turnout was roughly 71.4pc.