Five reasons why Liberal Democrats leave York in good spirits.

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Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 08.06.08Liberal Democrats left York with spirits as bright as the sunshine which brought 17 degree warmth to the historic city.  Seriously. I was quite surprised about how genuinely upbeat people were. It’s not that they’d forgotten that we’re defending 12 European Parliament seats in 74 short days’ time. By the way, if you think that’s along time away, remember that 74 days ago was Boxing Day.  Everyone knows the scale of what we have to achieve by then and nobody is taking anything for granted.

Even the more, how shall I put this, hardened Awkward Squad (not an insult, definitely a badge that many of them would wear with pride) were saying things that could only be described as positive. Actual positive, not just lacking in complaints.

Why the good humour, then?

People love fighting a European Election about Europe

Liberal Democrats are by their nature internationalist. If it involves working together and building global alliances to make the whole world better, we’re happy. And that, to be honest, is what the European Union is all about. It’s about making sure that our young men don’t have to meet up somewhere on the continent and kill each other every few decades. If you look at the last couple of thousand years, that’s pretty huge. Yes, there are lots of other benefits that have a real practical relevance to people’s lives, but peace and stability across 350 million is the Big One.

Over the last, well, as long as I can remember, speaking of our love for the EU too fulsomely has been discouraged. It’s not as if anyone thought there was anything wrong with it, it’s just that nobody had found a way of communicating it in a way that didn’t make reading a phone book seem thrilling in comparison. While the Eurosceptics’ menacing message was communicated succinctly, the case in favour was always far too reticent. And we have to take our share of the responsibility for that. We fought our European elections on the national, even local issues. Yes, we’ve done the right things around new treaty powers and the like, but we’ve  not worn it on our sleeve as much as we could have.

Finally, we seem to have found a way to proudly communicate the positives, spurred on by the fact that if we don’t do it, nobody else will. We’ve found a way of saying that this matters, it’s about yours and 3 million other people’s jobs. It’s about the future of the planet. It’s about catching criminals. It’s about being stronger together and weaker apart. That, to be fair, is very similar to what we were saying in 2009, but while Nick Clegg might have been saying it on tv, local leaflets were not all as pro European as they could have been.  We are now doing it in a way that means something to the significant numbers of EU enthusiasts in the UK.

Claiming that space when others flinch, the Tories because Europe is such a toxic issue for them, Labour because they are too timid, should stand us in good stead in May.  Someone needs to stand up to UKIP and it’s going to be us.

An agenda that Liberal Democrats like

When we last met in Glasgow, much was made of the various scraps between the economic and social liberal wings of the party. We certainly had some robust debates about policy. These were necessary debates, but they weren’t divisive. What people don’t really get about us, even with the wider scrutiny we’ve had over the past 4 years, is that we might have a good debate but we don’t split off into factions. There are certain issues that unite us. Obviously Europe and international issues are in there. But so, too, are things like political reform and civil liberties. Well, what do you know, there was a motion covering everything from federalism to electoral reform yesterday and one on a Digital Bill of Rights today. There was even a motion on curbing the powers of pubcos yesterday. There was a lot on this agenda to make Liberal Democrats feel happy.

Good news

When we met in Brighton this time last year, people were still talking about a double dip recession. Now we can see the effects of growth. We know that 1.3 million jobs have been created on or watch. The patient may still need lots of careful nursing but we’re moving forwards and in a much more sustainable fashion. Our campaigners know from their experience on the ground that many of those who voted for us before are willing to consider doing so again. There are more smiles and fewer snarls on doorsteps. That helps.

An infrastructure fit for the challenge

Tim Gordon, in his two years as Chief Executive, has done much to modernise our organisation. He has carefully re-organised the party’s systems so that they work better. Our infrastructure is in better shape and things that should have been sorted out long ago are being tackled. Old databases and tired looking websites are being replaced by much more useful and shiny, sparkly new equivalents. The new party website, our shop window to the world, has been transformed in recent weeks into something that people actually want to read.  It’s bright, it’s interactive, it’s engaging, it’s interesting.

Not only that, but membership is growing for the first time since we went into Government. Local parties are feeling the benefits of that in their bank balances, with a new rebate arrangement that rewards efforts to recruit and retain members. Self-evidently, if you have more people, everything else becomes easier.

Gordon has shaped a team and infrastructure that is much more capable of meeting the party’s needs in the run up to 2015 and beyond. We are much better prepared than we were 5 years ago for the European elections. There’s more consistency in our messaging and our campaigning and we have the technology that makes it worlds easier to get the job done.

Location

A beautiful historic city with fabulous real ale pubs, restaurants offering mouth-watering delicious food and three days of pretty good weather definitely helped the feel good factor.

All in all the conversations on the stalls, in the bars, were as much about getting on with the job as they always have done. But there’s a definite change in the mood. There’s real enthusiasm backing up the determination and cause for hope and even optimism. People are trusting the evidence of what they are feeling on the ground. Election campaigns don’t start in April. People have been campaigning for months, years even. They feel the change and they see reason to hope.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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36 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 9th Mar '14 - 7:31pm

    I have no doubt that the last reason is a good one!

    Tony Greaves

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Mar '14 - 7:38pm

    Talk about damned by faint praise, Tony:-).

  • Hi Caron,

    I thought it was a good conference too. The manifesto discussion with David Laws and the positive One Member One Vote debate were the highlights for me.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Mar '14 - 10:29pm

    I was in that OMOV debate, too, Gareth and I heard you speak. The reason I was there, by the way, was because I had submitted my life to an internet poll as to which of the 7 things I desperately wanted to be at I should attend. It was very good and very thoughtful. I learned a lot from it.

  • A rousing conference by all accounts.

    However we still have problems.

    1. How do we communicate this in the short time available? Practical things like getting the updated leaflets printed and delivered. There is simply not the time to put out this new message widely. We should have had a year run-up, not 74 days.

    2. Internationalism suits us better than patriotism. I understand that this is in response to the challenge by UKIP. There is no way that we can out jingo their jingoism, we should have stuck to our knitting and they to theirs or we come across as insincere. What Nick Clegg has said over the weekend is contradictory and that is what bothers me. It will not take long for our political opponents to spot this and mercilessly shine a light on it.

    3. Yes there is a glow from fine speeches at the conference. However in the cold reality we have been losing deposits, and even getting just 13 votes, and coming below the Elvis bus pass party. Really not good. Are those who are feeling happy in denial or are they past caring?

    4. We still have a credibility gap. Going all patriotic before the head to head debates with UKIP is just going to make people suspicious, and make our credibility problem even worse.

    This quote by Nick Clegg is a disaster:
    “We don’t like Europe for Europe’s sake. I think we should be members of the European Union for Britain’s sake. If we’re not part of the club, you can’t stand on doorsteps saying you are fighting for jobs if the Tories and UKIP pull us out. You can’t stand on doorsteps saying you’re fighting to keep communities safe. You can’t stand on doorsteps saying you’re doing everything you can to fight flooding and other climate change events.”

    http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/NEWS/11062325.Liberal_Democrat_conference_in_York__live_blog___day_2/

    It is important to avoid mentioning flooding and the EU in the same breath. UKIP are pushing the linkage, (lack of dredging because of EU directives) we should just keep quiet and not draw attention to it.

    The 3 million jobs lost claim just does not hold water when you look into it rather than blindly repeating it like some sort of mantra or magic spell. We should stop mentioning it or risk our credibility even more.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Mar '14 - 8:16am

    We should be fighting the European election not just about Europe, but about our specifically liberal vision for Europe, in the same way as we fight national elections on our specifically liberal vision for the UK. We need to get across the point that in EU politics, the same as in national domestic politics, there are differences in views on policy based on ideology. So yes, the

  • Alex Macfie 10th Mar '14 - 8:20am

    EU is about catch criminals, but as liberals, we need to make sure it does so in a way that is consistent with the principles of natural justice (so focusing only on the serious criminals and not historic indictments over petty crime, for instance). We should be critical of the EU as it currently operates, not because of any Euro-scepticism, but because we have our own liberal ideas about how it should operate the same as we do for any institution.

  • Mike Hanlon 10th Mar '14 - 8:30am

    Problem is these points here about the EU won’t fly on the street. Beyond a few UKIP Colonel Blimps, painting eurosceptics as isolationist & against peace is lame. No-one believes that. Even the jobs point is weak, as people don’t believe all trade / 3m jobs are at stake. At the heart of our recent troubles is credibility & I’m sorry to say people like Nick and Vince will have to go before we can turn that around.

  • Emerging from a Liberal Democrat conference is a bit like escaping back to the real world. Whilst there you have been subject to strange psychological pressures. I see evidence of it in the writings of a number of friends who are normally rational. In the days when I was able to go to conferences I saw it in myself. It is a bit like Stockholm syndrome, which is described in Wiki as follows —

    Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.

    Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.

  • Joe King, don’t agree with you at all. How on earth is Nick being contradictory? And why is that quote a disaster? It’s exactly right . There are plenty of people in Britain who see the sense of staying in the EU, and we are the only party that they can be confident shares their view. The other parties are chasing after Eurosceptic votes. We are saying what we believe and going for the votes of people who agree with us. That’s what we ought to be doing!

  • paul barker 10th Mar '14 - 1:47pm

    Great article, says what I feel only better.
    I cant see any contradiction between Patriotism & Internationalism, Patriotism is about loving my Country best because I know it best, in the same way that I love my Daughter best. UKIP dont come across as loving The UK in 2014, they are forever whinging about how its gone to the dogs.

  • I am with Samuel Johnson on patriotism. More so with Bob Dylan who took it further to –
    “They say that patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings. Steal a little and they throw you in jail. Steal a lot and then they make you king.”

    I am puzzled by people who think patriotism and internationalism can go hand in hand. But if your purpose in commenting in LDV is to slavishly toss our hat in the air in agreement with everything Clegg says, I expect the meaning of words is a secondary consideration.

  • Phil Rimmer 10th Mar '14 - 4:01pm

    As someone who like John Tilley has done his share of conferences over the last 35 years, I hope he wont mind if a fully agree with what he says. I fear that I see the effects in far too much of what I am reading from people who were at conference.

    To speak plainly, the hole we have spent the last few years digging ourselves into will not be easily climbed out of via a few green shoots grown at breakneck speed in a conference hothouse.

  • Paul in Twickenham 10th Mar '14 - 4:11pm

    @John Tilley – I can only agree. Mr Clegg sounded exactly like Tony Blair – full of platitudes that play well to the gallery composed of verb-challenged tweet-sized sentences. It was Liberal gemuetlichkeit. I have no objection to it but from a distance and reading the text it is hard to identify the transcendent experience that some people are reporting.

  • @Prue Bray “The other parties are chasing after Eurosceptic votes”

    Labour aren’t. They are sitting on the fence, but they do tend to be pro-Europe. It would be interesting to know exactly which way Labour is facing on this. With Euro elections due iminenetly, I hope they make up their minds soon.

  • Have a guess who wrote the words below. When I read it I immediately thought of Ed Miliband and David Cameron.

    ‘TODAY it is my conviction that in general, aside from cases of unusual talent, a man should not engage in public political activity before his thirtieth year. He should not do so, because up to this time, as a rule, he is engaged in molding a general platform, on the basis of which he proceeds to examine the various political problems and finally establishes his own position on them. Only after he has acquired such a basic philosophy, and the resultant firmness of outlook on the special problems of the day, is he, inwardly at least, mature enough to be justified in partaking in the political leadership of the general public.

    Otherwise he runs the risk of either having to change his former position on essential questions, or, contrary to his better knowledge and understanding, of clinging to a view which reason and conviction have long since discarded. In the former case this is most embarrassing to him personally, since, what with his own vacillations, he cannot justifiably expect the faith of his adherents to follow him with the same unswerving firmness as before; for those led by him, on the other hand, such a reversal on the part of the leader means perplexity and not rarely a certain feeling of shame toward those whom they hitherto opposed. In the second case, there occurs a thing which, particularly today, often confronts us: in the same measure as the leader ceases to believe in what he says, his arguments become shallow and flat, but he tries to make up for it by vileness in his choice of means. While he himself has given up all idea of fighting seriously for his political revelations (a man does not die for something which he himself does not believe in), his demands on his supporters become correspondingly greater and more shameless until he ends up by sacrificing the last shred of leadership and turning into a ‘politician; in other words, the kind of man whose only real conviction is lack of conviction, combined with offensive impertinence and an art of lying, often developed to the point of complete shamelessness.

    If to the misfortune of decent people such a character gets into a parliament, we may as well realize at once that the essence of his politics will from now on consist in nothing but an heroic struggle for the permanent possession of his feeding-bottle for himself and his family. The more his wife and children depend on it, the more tenaciously he will fight for his mandate. This alone will make every other man with political instincts his personal enemy; in every new movement he will scent the possible beginning of his end, and in every man of any greatness the danger which menaces him through that man.’

  • Philip Rimmer, I am greatly reassured that you agree. The hole is indeed a deep one. Unless someone stops Clegg digging the party will be buried with him.

  • Paul in Twick, I checked on the meaning of “gemuetlichkeit”. Very appropriate.

  • Clegg does indeed sound like Blair. I did not ever trust Blair although millions were fooled by him. I am deeply worried by Clegg and his disastrous effect on our party. I was right about Blair, my gut feeling about Clegg is the same.

    Can somebody senior in the party PLEASE take him in hand before it is too late? This fake patriotism will be a disaster. Few people are fooled by it, as can be seen from even a quick look at the newspapers.

  • @Joe King
    Re: quote – interesting observation, particularly given the source!
    But then I think many just look at the ‘label’ society has attached to a person and fail to actually read what they actually said.

  • Bill le Breton 11th Mar '14 - 9:18am

    It is the ‘cry’ of the metropolitan elite, so we should not be surprised when members of it sound so similar. There is a taint of the culture of entitlement, filtered through a process of marketing that is supposed to help them express what ‘the market’ wants to hear.

    It lacks sincerity and is odious. But in its knavery there is something worse.

    Of course the great Michael Young – the social entrepreneur par excellence – warned us what would happen in his Rise of the Meritocracy. For those who have not read it, the piece is not in praise of this ‘rise’ it is a dystopian warning.

    This meritocracy is an oligarchy and Orwell taught us that we would find it wherever we heard doublespeak (such as internationalism dressed in the patriotism) .

    I think time will show this speech and others referred to above as classic paeans of illiberalism: more worrying than a little gemuetlichkeit.

    There is now an urgent need for a Liberal campaign against this elitism. I’d call it a campaign for radical change.

  • As if it has made any difference at all, we must stop self delusion.

  • @Joe – firstly, the EU can provide money to assist with the alleviation of the problems caused by floods – the Tories don’t want to apply (or make a big thing about it if they do) because it will defeat their overall argument. In any case, dredging isn’t always the answer (UKIP do like the simple solutions to life.)

    Secondly, I formed my political views in my late teens, growing up under Thatcher. 20 years later, they have changed very little – and when the facts change, I’m more than prepared to change my mind.

  • Steve Griffiths 11th Mar '14 - 11:25am

    For me at the end of Nick’s speech, I felt I had been subjected to a cosy ‘smoke and mirrors’ speech with little substance; the ‘smoke and mirrors’ being an appeal to a genteel type of patriotism, rather than bombast. Of the 3,570 words in the speech, the first 1,600 odd words, with the exception of the paragraph about his own family, could have been said by either of the three main party leaders (sorry four main party leaders, I was forgetting Farage and his ‘Alf Garnett’ Tories). Indeed I love the UK for those and other reasons too and few I suspect would disagree with it, but it was more ‘motherhood and apple pie’ of the “stronger economy fairer society” stuff, that seems to flow out of Lib Dem Towers these days. Ask a person who is disillusioned with the current politics, why he or she does not vote and usually the answer is “because they all sound the same – there is no difference in the political parties”. This type of speech simply reinforces that belief.

    Yes, I agreed with him on European membership; I am a Liberal and Lib Dem of some 35+ years campaigning (until recently) after all. I agreed with him about his fears on the rise of extremism across Europe. I suspect these things were meant for a wider audience – if they were listening. There was some self-congratulation of achievements in government (fair enough) and a few policy announcements. If these were also meant for a wider audience, he would do well to recall the Lib Dem’s recent records on policy pledges. The electorate might be ‘once bitten, twice shy’ this time.

    There was little else, other than a repetition of the phrase “The future, not the past”, around half a dozen times. I found this amusing from one of the main protagonists of wishing to see his party return to what has been referred to as ‘classic’ Economic Liberalism; i.e. for the Lib Dems, a return to ‘the past, not the future’.

    I was not particularly roused to arms by this speech, but was rather stupefied by an opiate of honeyed words about the UK. Afterwards, I remembered a phrase used by Joe Grimmond in his ‘Towards the sound of gunfire’ speech to the then Liberal Party assembly (now that was a rallying call to the troops!). In it he said;

    “… a Liberal Assembly comes together so that we may together fashion our policy, see each other, talk to each other as equals, take the pulse of the party, and feel the fist of the party when necessary.”

    I have often thought that recent Lib Dem assemblies have been organised deliberately NOT to feel that fist.

  • “People are trusting the evidence of what they are feeling on the ground”.

    I hope we should not take that comment too literally. We lost to the Elvis Bus Pass party last week.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 11th Mar '14 - 10:20pm

    Theresa, that was in an area of Nottingham where we wouldn’t expect to do well. I’m not worried by that. I am pleased that we are getting good responses on doorsteps in our key parliamentary and council seats.

  • Steve Griffiths 12th Mar '14 - 8:40am

    jedi

    Yes the party has become a narrow liberal sect with the (deliberate or accidental) jettisoning of the left. I point I have made on LDV before.

    Caron

    Surely the point here is that in order to progress and therefore stop the continuing shrinkage of support, you need to be getting good responses on doorsteps which are NOT in your key parliamentary and council seats?

  • Caron, thanks for the upbeat article! I was out leafletting yesterday evening – not necessarily what I would most want to be doing after a day’s work but pleased to have done it.

  • Simon Banks 12th Mar '14 - 7:05pm

    Steve:

    No it hasn’t. We’re still there and Nick Clegg’s careful positioning at Glasgow and York (accepting amendments he probably didn’t like) and the votes – just four votes short of restoring a 50p top income tax rate – show it.

    You are right about the need to revive activity and support in places where we aren’t strong, though. Understandably, a little over a year from the general election, the party is largely focused on seats where we might win, but as soon as that’s over, we need to devote attention to weak areas and local parties. The Liberal Party in the 1970s put a lot of work into establishing a presence in areas where we had none. The merger with the SDP filled in some of the remaining gaps. We now risk reversing that process, which would be disastrous in the long term.

  • Christine Headley 16th Mar '14 - 4:56pm

    The best thing about Conference was the light-touch security. Pass checked three times (still don’t understand why, but hey!) bag just looked at once. Knitting needles now allowed (as they are on flights). Thanks, Conference Committee!

  • Christine Headley, glad to read the info about knitting needles for conference. Rosemary was one of thousands who took part in the Internet worldwide campaign to get knitting needles allowed back on flights. She pointed out with some justification that there was no evidence of knitting needles ever being used as weapons of mass destruction.
    If we ever make it to conference again she will be delighted that she will be allowed to knit again; always good to take part in a subversive activity.

  • Nick Collins 16th Mar '14 - 8:24pm

    @ John Tilley. Knitting certainly can be a subversive activity. When I was in my school cadet corps, over fifty years ago, one unenthusiastic conscript was in the habit of bringing his knitting on parade. Few things are more calculated to undermine discipline in the ranks than the sound of a sergeant roaring ” D*** , put that knitting away”.

  • Nick Collins 16th Mar '14 - 8:26pm

    I am delighte d to see that my comment about knitting is regarded as so subversive that it is “awaiting moderation”. No doubt this comment is destined for the same fate!.

  • Nick Collins
    Your comment made it through! Another victory for the users of yarn. 🙂

  • Peter Hirst 19th Mar '14 - 9:14am

    It is important to remember that we are internationalist for selfish as well as altruistic reasons. We don’t think UKIP’s view of the world is credible. We would need to be internationalist even if we weren’t for many reasons.

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