Welsh Lib Dems hope for new start as conference begins

Kirsty Williams speaking at a previous Welsh Liberal Democrat conference Credit: ITV News

As the Liberal Democrat conference begins in Bournemouth, nobody is suggesting that the party is in anything other than a fight for survival.

49 Lib Dems lost their seats in the UK General Election, leaving the party with just eight MPs and only one in Wales.

The party lost half of its Welsh councillors in 2012 and came sixth in the 2014 European parliamentary election.

Meanwhile polls suggest that it could lose seats in the Assembly next May, with some forecasting just one or two Lib Dem AMs returning to Cardiff Bay.

It couldn't get much bleaker which is why senior Lib Dems are hoping that they've seen the darkest hour before the dawn.

The party has a new leader, Tim Farron, membership has increased and there have even been a handful of council by-election victories.

And, speaking ahead of the conference, Welsh Conservative leader Kirsty Williams said:

More members are set to attend this conference than ever before. We are a party that is united, growing and that is up for the fight. Liberals are needed now more than ever, and at this conference you’ll hear an unashamed pitch of why people should join us on our journey. We are the only party that will fight wholeheartedly for the UK to remain in the European Union, while combining a pro-enterprise and pro-social justice message.

Kirsty Williams AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat leader

Before the fightback, however, the post-mortem.

In her speech to the conference on Monday, I expect Kirsty Williams to repeat for a UK audience her analysis of what went wrong that she laid out in a speech in Cardiff in June. Back then she said that at times over the last five years 'it felt like we were struggling to locate a compass to navigate our way through with our values unscathed.' You can read more about that speech by clicking here and watch what she said to me at the time below:

I expect she'll be even more trenchant in her views at a closed session of the conference today (Saturday) to consider what went wrong.

Others have weighed in with their views.

On his blog, Lib Dem Assembly Member, Peter Black writes that it wasn't going into coalition itself that was the problem but the way that the party acted once in government, dropping promises and showing a naivete that allowed them to be 'played' by their Conservative partners. He adds that by the time the election took place, it was too late for the Lib Dems:

The problem last May was not that we were out-campaigned by the Tories, it was that we went into the election damaged with a massively unpopular leader and nothing the campaign team did could repair that. The new leadership and the different direction taken by Farron can help us repair those wounds and I hope to see us begin to win back support, but it is a long hard journey and the first step must be facing up to past mistakes.

Peter Black AM

Another former senior Welsh Lib Dem, Gwynoro Jones, agrees andwrites on his blogthat today's post-mortem session must deliver some answers as to why the party failed to prevent the damage being done.

On Saturday someone needs to explain what on earth went on and why didn’t the corporate body of the Liberal Democrats at Westminster and the various committees of the party put a stop to what was going on?

Gwynoro Jones