Long before the Barnsley Chop was felt by the unfortunate Dominic Carman, an increasing number of Liberal Democrats have been murmuring about the longer-term effects of the coalition on our electoral chances in 2015.
That murmur is now a whisper among those who focus four years ahead and feel queasy about our longer-term survival. Putting the Party First does not mean opposing the coalition. Quite the contrary.
We should trust those in government to get on with it, while keeping to the agreement and other pledges. The 2013 Review will be the proper time to voice concerns and make corrections. In the meantime, we must start thinking ahead.
Putting the Party First is a matter of reaching priorities based on realistic judgments. Going to the electorate pleading the part Lib Dems played in the coalition government is a No-no. So too is defending the coalition above all else.
Party First means concentrating party resources on devising and producing radical and redistributive policies designed to demonstrate distinctive differences.
After five years of austerity and falling living standards, voters will be hungry for policies that offer hope, fairness and prosperity. Which is why we must challenge the Federal Executive’s strategic business plan. It consists of two main themes:
• Promoting credibility in Government to ensure the Coalition is judged a success.
• Developing an effective master narrative to support that line.
For if we continue to depend on the coalition to win votes, we are doomed. The purpose of this government is to do unpopular things to reduce the deficit. And we are also way off course on the FE’s narrative.
It neglects to say that Liberal Democrats have gone into government to ensure the nation has stable, united government to deal with the deficit, and avoid a series of inconclusive general elections.
We have done this, the narrative should continue, as our patriotic duty, and regard it more as noble sacrifice than gaining any party or personal advantage. A little more hesitation and spin when rushing into alliance last May could have resulted in a different public perception.
Most of us support the coalition, but wish to draw a distinction between government decisions and party principles. The government may succeed in its aims. But who can forecast whether the deficit will have fallen sufficiently by then – and how are we to measure it?
Even if it does, there will be few votes in saying ‘Please sir, me-too sir, we were part of it’. Voters are ungrateful creatures. They rarely want to know what you have done. They want to know what you are going to do.
We should take our cue from Labour in 1945. It did not have to claim success for being the junior partner in the great coalition government. Instead, it offered a health service and welfare state in the most radical programme since the 1906 Liberals administration.
That lesson alone shows why we must change the party’s priority now, while continuing to support the leader and our ministers. Liberal Democrats can have a brilliant future after 2015. Provided we really do Put the Party First.
Jonathan Hunt is a freelance journalist and a party member in London.