If you Google “Lib Dems say no”, this is the result you get. Beyond the recent headlines on new runways you will see that this phrase is widely used in our campaigns. In the same search, click on Images to emphasise the point. One would be forgiven for thinking that this phrase is printed on our membership cards. This phrase is deeply conservative and does nothing to help with our problem of explaining what the Lib Dems stand for, something I recently argued we urgently need to do.
At the next election an opportunity to set that vision our will present itself. The issue at the next election won’t be about whether or not we should reduce the deficit; it will be about how we reduce the deficit. The lack of an answer to that question is in my view a large part of why the election of 2010 was so inconclusive and actually quite bad for Liberal Democrats.
As we approach 2015 the Conservatives will set out their approach and pitch for a Conservative majority government. We know what that pitch will be as we have put a stop to the more draconian elements of it during our time in government. Similarly, Labour will be attempting to set out their own platform which will critique the government and no doubt offer little by way of clarity or a compelling vision. The Lib Dem approach must be about more than just saying NO to both.
There are genuine problems with how things are done in areas such as welfare, immigration, health, pensions and housing. While our 2010 manifesto should be commended, for some it didn’t offer solutions to the perceived problems in these areas, but merely set out Lib Dem policy. The two need to be married so that policy addresses more clearly the problems we face as a country.
In 2015 we should be seeking to address these problems head on, with radical Lib Dem policies set in emotionally compelling and ideologically driven language. Alongside this we should be bold enough to challenge perceptions where they are inaccurate. 2015 will be no time for ducking a fight; phrases based on fairness stir no one’s soul and inspire only committed activists.
Conventional wisdom suggests that we must avoid the big issues to avoid upsetting Lib Dem voters and waverers. Surely it would be more upsetting to fight a tepid and uninspiring campaign which galvanises no one. Such wisdom also suggests we should be oppositional to capitalise on anger. As we discovered in 2010 where the air war goes truly national, our by-election approach to campaigning simply doesn’t work. The public will be looking at how we solve problems which exist in London, Truro and Wigan in one brush. 2015 will be similar. Public anger should be directed toward a solution not simply surfed for political advantage. We should leave those sorts of games to Labour.
An extensive study into policy platforms and positions during elections shows clearly that parties of government which adopt an extreme or radical position on an issue, do better than those which adopt more modest ones. By extreme I mean ideologically extreme and not a move toward the extremes of the political spectrum. I’ll explain this study and the opportunity it presents for us in 2015 in a future post.
* Chris Richards was a candidate for the London Assembly in May 2012 and is a Lib Dem activist in London.