Last Friday Lib Dem HQ sent out an email to parliamentarians, PPCs, council group leaders and other office holders about our party’s new message script. The full email, if anyone is interested, can be found herehere, courtesy of the Liberator.
Aside from the immensely
catchy wordy message of “the Lib Dems are working to build a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life” (complete with an incredible 16 sub messages), a key point was this:
The Labour Party can’t be trusted to manage the economy.
The Conservatives can’t be trusted to build a fair society.
Let’s never go back to the way things were, because Labour can’t be trusted with your money, and the Tories can’t be trusted to build a fair society.
But there’s a massive problem with this strategy.
Everyone knows that the leadership’s goal is to position us as fairer than the Conservatives and more economically competent than Labour. There’s nothing wrong with that idea. There’s certainly a big gap in British politics for a party viewed as meeting those criteria. But the problem is that the message chosen to try and achieve this will do almost nothing to achieve it.
Polling shows there is hardly a single policy issue on which we are the party most trusted by the public. And on the two big issues of fairness and the economy, it is the Conservatives who are trusted most on the economy and Labour who are trusted most on fairness.
But what is the wisdom of a strategy where we ignore the party viewed as most competent on the economy and just criticise the credentials of the party no one trusts on the economy anyway? Or where we ignore the party viewed as the fairest and just criticise the credentials of a party hardly anyone believes is fair?
Polling has shown, time and time again, what we all know already: If people want fairness they vote Labour. If they want economic competence then they vote Tory. And we will never change that if all we do is agree with the Tories that Labour are rubbish with the finances and agree with Labour that the Tories are rubbish on fairness. All we’ll do is end up reinforcing existing perceptions of the Tories as being unfair and Labour as being incompetent – and this will do almost nothing to boost trust in us on either of those counts.
If we want to be seen as better on the economy then we need to attack the frontrunner – we need to call the Tories out on economic idiocies like wanting to leave the largest market in the world, or thinking that the best way to boost the economy is to abolish worker protection laws and increase the amount of uncertainty and fear amongst consumers.
And if we want to be seen as better on fairness then we need to attack the frontrunner there as well. We need to call Labour out on 13 years where the gap between rich and poor got bigger, where ordinary people saw their incomes stagnate and where Labour regularly demonised the sick, the disabled and the unemployed to win Daily Mail votes instead of doing anything to tackle the problems facing the poorest in our society.
Now, admittedly, we can’t criticise the coalition’s economic record without criticising our own. But we can publicly criticise the more idiotic economic ideas put forward by the Tories as the damaging nonsense they are. And we can definitely criticise Labour on their appalling record of completely ignoring the poorest in society, while taking their votes for granted.
If we were to do that then we still might not be seen as being better on the economy than the Tories and fairer than Labour – but unless we try to achieve that then there is no way we will ever make any significant progress towards being seen as fairer than the Tories and more competent than Labour.
* George Potter is the Secretary of Guildford Liberal Democrats, writing in a personal capacity.