An Obama organizer’s beer-fuelled rant to Lib Dem activists

Huge thanks to Lib Dem Voice for inviting me to speak at their fringe event on Saturday about lessons from the Obama campaign. It was my first conference and truly great fun – everyone I met was unfailingly friendly and welcoming. So apologies for the following ill-informed ranting!

As a longstanding member of the US Democratic party and the Regional Field Director heading up Barack Obama’s absentee voter efforts in the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia, I’m still in the process of getting my head around how British politics works. Fortunately, I have a lot of friends – both Labour and Lib Dem – who have been helping me figure it all out. Still, I came to conference with one simple burning questions. It’s a question that will probably seem incredibly naive and out of touch to most of you.

I wanted to know, given that this country is clearly crying out for change, with a Government that has lost sight of its core principles and an opposition party whose core principles are out of step with what the country needs, why the Liberal Democrats are not the frontrunners for the next general election?

Well, in some ways I understand this less now than ever. Certainly some of my assumptions about what’s been holding the Liberal Democrats so firmly in third place turned out to be wrong.

Is it a lack of talent? No one who heard Vince Cable’s brilliant, sensible and timely remarks on Saturday afternoon could say that.

Is it that the party is impractical, head in the clouds, too idealistic, too far from being a credible party of government? It turns out, the exact opposite is true – I saw plenty of evidence of the kind of robust, detailed policy thinking and pragmatic understanding of delivery that makes sense for a party whose greatest strength is in the area of greatest impact: local government.

Is it a lack of activism and volunteer enthusiasm?  Well, I’ve seen the faces of a lot of disenchanted activists lately, but they were wearing red badges, not yellow. I’ve spent a lot of time lately talking to Labour party activists, Councillors, even MPs and PPCs – they are demoralised, low-spirited and a bit lost. The people I met this weekend in Harrogate by comparison are refreshingly confident in their ideas, bolstered by the need to defend civil liberties and speak plain sense on economic issues at a time when no one else seems willing to.

No. There’s only one thing I saw at conference that at all explains the perpetual third place position of this party. (Well. Two, counting all the yellow. The hideous, jaundicey, unflattering yellow…)

But fundamentally – there is only one thing holding you back. And that thing isn’t lack of ideas or ability, it’s lack of ambition.

What is it, exactly, that you hope to achieve in the next election? Would any uptick in the parliamentary party be good enough? Would you be happy just to pick up the odd Council seat here or there?

If that’s all you want then fine – good luck to you. If you genuinely don’t mind that much whether, at a time of national breakdown,  the Conservative Party  of all people are given the reins of Government, then I guess that’s your judgement. But I think you’d be letting this country down.

I suspect, though, that you do mind. That you would mind a lot. And I think you should tether some of that anger, frustration, and clarity towards something a bit bolder than a mere incremental improvement in your electoral outcome.

Barack Obama won the American Presidential election because he identified early on that this was going to be a change election. An unpopular government, a declining economy, rising inequality and a general air of corruption and decadence in the capitol meant that voters were crying out for another choice – something more than a perpetual see saw between Bush-ism and Clinton-ism. Something bold, inspirational, and new. Sound familiar?

Unless the Liberal Democrats start taking themselves seriously as a national party, they will be depriving the voters of precisely the thing they most need and deserve at this moment in history – a chance at change.  Here’s a short list of things I heard at conference that I’d rather not hear any more of.

“I know we should be doing X, but we haven’t got the money.” Where do you think money comes from? You’ve got to ask for it. If you think you really are the party to change the country for the better, and if you can persuade others that you’re right, and if you ASK them for it (an important step that) the money will come – in 10s and 20s but also in 100s and thousands.  Britain needs a big change, so why would you think small?

“We thought we’d win Government once, but the polls turned out to be wrong. We don’t want to make that mistake again.” For heavens sake, that was 20 years ago. Get over it. A whole generation of your strongest supports was in diapers then.

“We’re really more of a local government party.” Correct me if I’ve misunderstood this, but wasn’t the whole point of your strategy to prove that you could deliver at the local level so that you would be trusted nationally? You’ve done it. You’re delivering great local service North, South, East and West. Time to kick phase two of the master plan into action, don’t you think?

“My local party doesn’t let me do anything except deliver leaflets.” What do you mean, “let you?” Are you really waiting for someone else to tell you what to do? Hold a pub night to talk politics with your non-political friends. Run a fundraising pledge drive on your Facebook page. Call your Mom – has she thought of joining the party? Ask your co-workers – have they thought about how they’ll vote in the next election? It’s not good enough to canvass on Saturdays, you’re going to have to get creative if you want to make this happen.

That’s if you really do want change to happen. If this is an intellectual exercise for you, a chance to hang out with some mates and drink real ale while complaining about the government, a kind of socially conscious gentleman’s club, then so be it. But at a time of national crisis I would expect a lot more than that from the bright, engaged people I saw at Harrogate this weekend.

Everyone I met at conference wanted to know how the Liberal Democrats could learn the lessons from the Obama campaign. Well, I’d start with first principles. Remember, Barack Obama’s campaign slogan was, “Change we can believe in.”  It’s that second half you need to work on.

Karin Robinson is Regional Director of the Americans Abroad for Obama campaign in the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia.  She blogs at Obama London. You can read her reaction to Mark Pack’s “7 things Obama got wrong”, and her initial thoughts about a party called the Liberal Democrats on her blog.

We’d like to thank her again for making our inaugural fringe event so worthwhile!

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This entry was posted in LDVUSA, Op-eds and The Independent View.


  • David Heigham 12th Mar '09 - 12:06pm

    After 50 years as a Liberal then LibDem, I guess Karin Robinson is right.

  • An excellent article – one of the best I’ve read here. I’ve just read the section in Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” where he describes the fundraising he had to do for his Senate seat – $5 million before the primary (just getting selected!) and another $15 million or so to get elected. And that was in Illinois alone – although its population isn’t that far off the UK.

    However, one of the things which he points out in this chapter is that money tends to go to whoever is seen to be the victor – and that’s our real problem nationally, although not always locally where we hold the seat.

    It’s also belief that we can do it, and make the change – I think in a way we’re still scarred by Steel’s Llandudno speech (“return to your constituencies and prepare for government.”) But we can govern – as Karin says, we do it locally, and we’ve also done it nationally in both Scotland and Wales.

  • Can Karin come and work in Cowley Street please?

  • Actually, a more salient comment is one from Howard Dean which Karin quotes on her blog – “They have a problem that is a lot like the problem my campaign had – their supporters are typically young, highly educated middle class kids. How do you reach beyond that?”

    Whilst I’ll take the compliment about being young and highly educated (I’m 35, I’ll take them where I can!) it is relevant. It’s easy, for example, for Labour to revert to what’s left of its quasi-socialist roots to attract the working class vote, and the Tories to keep their low tax, low regulation policies for the wealthy, but we don’t have one base from which we can build.

    Thatcher realised this, and targeted the aspirational working class (or the C2s, as they became known.) Her policies – low taxation, council house sales, poll tax – were designed with them in mind. She even made points about the “housewives shopping baskets.” Blair realised this too, and New Labour’s policies reflected this under his regime.

    But we’ve not really reached out beyond our traditional core support, and never really tried to. Where we do, we get accused of being “all things to all men” (which I always thought would actually be quite a good thing for a political party!) It does mean targetting certain policies at certain groups of people – and if that means that the message which is emphasised in a Tory seat is different to that in a Labour seat then as long as they don’t contradict, where’s the problem?

  • A good post and one that inspired me a little (yes we can and all that) but I think it misses two fundamental points.

    the first is the media’s attitude towards the LibDems.

    Journalism works on a ‘versus’ basis- ie this guy says one thing, this guy says another.

    Therefore the arguments are always portrayed by the media as ‘Labour v Tories’. The only time we get extended media coverage is when those two parties agree, then the press needs another view and so we get the coverage.

    What is more it needs to be a fundamentally different view- even Vince Cable offering detailed and clever policy doesn’t get real national recognition because at the end of the day the ideas are to complex, too subtly different to bother writing about- much easier to go with the ‘government is brilliant’ Labour line Vs ‘The Government is terrible’ Tory line.

    The second is the inherited politics- both the Tories and Labour have a strong base of people who support them ‘because my mum/dad supported them’. These people are not interested in politics and do not pay much attention to it, instead turning up at polling time and placing their cross in the same place their parents did. Often they are voting directly against their own interests but without contacting them we can never get this message across.

    I would love to say I could think of a way out of these problems- but I can’t. I would argue the second problem can only really be overcome by time…waiting until we too have a core group of ‘always have always will’ voters.

    As for the first one- changes to rule in PMQs may help a bit, but ultimately it would take a fundamental shift in the attitude of the media- anyone know how to make this happen?

  • Hey, if we had the enourmous amounts that Obama had to splash on his campaign (contrary to popular myth mainly from Wall-Street giant companies), we might we be getting somewhere, until that day I’d rather stick with what we’ve got.

  • David Allen 12th Mar '09 - 4:43pm

    The amalgam of comments so far roughly adds up to: Well, it would be nice to break the mould, but it just isn’t on. I can imagine Karin’s blood pressure rising!

    In my view, the only point of being in a third party is that you have higher ambitions. If you don’t have something really big and distinctive to offer, which might mobilise a mass movement, why not just join one of the two big parties?

    So OK, it’s not so easy. As Mark Wright points out, you can come up with a very valid “unique selling point” like principled opposition to the Iraq war, and then what happens is that your opponents eventually get round to shooting your fox by adopting a simuilar view. Just a pity so many people had to die first. Nevertheless, we were a force for good, and we shouldn’t ignore that. But we now have to move on.

    One of my objections to populist tax cutting is simply that it isn’t distinctive enough. Any party could offer it. It doesn’t really help the voters identify what our spirit and purpose is about. It’s just a gimmick. A third party won’t make the breakthrough with gimmicks.

    Now let me see, is there anything going on in this world of ours which is really earth-shattering, which we could base a mass movement on? Er, local government pavement repair policies? Try again.

    Er, how about the fact that our global civilisation is on the point of collapse due to a resources crisis? Do we agree that this sounds a little more promising, chaps? And how about the fact that our financial system is also looking very sick and that the nation seems to trust our Mr Cable above all others as the man to sort it out?

    Er, shouldn’t we perhaps have a real shot at the big time, on the basis of these two rather large issues?

  • Brilliant article. Lib Dems – just get on with it and work smartly. I started off in a black hole with a group of 5 activists – when selling wind-fall apples was the extent of fundraising. Recently someone I didn’t know gave me a £1000 for our local campaigns(legitimately of course!) and I hadn’t even asked. We got 27 Cllrs elected and have a truly fantastic MP in Lynne Featherstone – and if we campaign effectively should be able to take over the Council next year.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '09 - 9:43pm

    Hmm, “there is only one thing holding you back. And that thing isn’t lack of ideas or ability, it’s lack of ambition” sounds can-do, but it’s one of the boss-class’s classic lines. The corollary of it is “If you’re not a stonking rich banker like me, it’s because you lack the ambition I have”. Or “it’s you’re fault you’re poor, so don’t expect us to do anything but shit on your heads, it’s what you deserve for being losers and you know it”. Attitudes like that explain why the USA is such an unequal country, but the poor largely accept the rich dominating them.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '09 - 9:54pm

    Next issue, “the market is always right, if you’ve got the best product, people will come flocking to you”.

    No, it doesn’t always work like that. People don’t make finely judged balances the economic theorists like to imagine. One strategy is “I’ll take brand X because everyone else does”. Even if a product looks good, people are suspicious of it if it isn’t that popular.

    Another strategy is “I’ll take brand X because I always do”. People don’t like to change, they like the familiar, if something has worked ok they may stick to it rather than exploring something new.

    In both cases, the underlying issue is that most people can’t be bothered to think too much about choice. It makes sense instead of thinking just to go with what everyone ele goes with, or what you always go with.

    One way of breaking this is with massive advertising campaigns. We can’t afford that.

    But a subtle way of getting round this is to try different marketing techniques, ones which don’t have a big in-you-face national impact, but are based on people picking up something fun and useful and themselves doing the work of passing it on. “Viral marketing” as it’s called. We do something like that, we call it “Focus”.

    Another way to deal with the prohlem of limited advertising resources is to go for niche markets. Concentrate your efforts where you know you’ll do well. Maybe even make it a bit of a sales pitch – your product may not be the most popular on the market, but your choosing it indicates you’re a clever and superior person. We do that, we call it “targeting”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '09 - 10:01pm

    OK, so this was really what the issue was in the 1980s between the Liberal Party and the SDP. The SDP was new and naive and though people would naturally come flocking to it, it was just a matter of doing the right sort of conventional campaiging. They thought the Liberal Party was just lazy or “sleepy” or lacking ambition for not having done that.

    The Liberal Party had people who’d built up an expertise in the third party game, and knew it wasn’t an easy one to play. They were in for the long game, but had to put up with the SDP telling them they’d got it all wrong.

    People might like to recall how many seats the SDP won in 1983.

  • There is a subtle difference between American party politics and ours. The system in America encourages individualism. Someone like Obama can simply decide three years out that they intend to lead their party to victory at whatever level. And give it a go.

    Our system is not structured that way. Our parties are certainly not.

    If Obama had been a Lib Dem, he would have been told that his ambitions didn’t fit the party strategy and he had to go and work in a held or target seat fifty miles away. He would have been told (despite evidence to the contrary) that there is only one way to win elections (and it wasn’t his). He would probably have taken his ambitions to another party or, as so many do, into business or academic careers.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '09 - 10:30pm

    Steel’s “Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government” well illustrates the danger of pretending we’re going to win a majority when the polls show that’s unlikely. It just makes us look like another bunch of politicians who are only interested in power, and who will lie their heads of to try and get it.

    That’s our problem – if we look like just the third brand in the market of bunches of typical politicians, we aren’t going to get anywhere. We have to make a virtue of being different, of not playing the same game. One of the things we could do is to re-invent the idea of a political party being primarily a network to bring ordinary people together so they can win power in politics, and NOT about it being a vehicle to promote its national leader. So how about e.g. a party political broadcast on the theme “join us, and we’ll help out you in power” rather than “vote for us, and we’ll take oower”? Much else could be done on these lines, but it requires imagination and people at the top of the party who aren’t the sort of “sell the brand” PR people who think they know how to play the politics game, but don’t.

    Do not despise those responsible for the “uptick” in Parliamentary seats and the “odd council seat”. In many cases they have broken Labour-Conservative duopolies which looked set in stone. I am proud to have had an involvement in two such cases, LB Lewisham, and earlier Norwich (I wasn’t so prominent there, but was constituency secretary for a couple of years when we won our first council seats). What we have shown is that very ordinary people can change the political scene by their own efforts, can change the idea that “X always wins here”, can show that “it isbn’t worth voting, you can’t change anything” is rubbish. Cherish those who have succeeded here, don’t tell them they’re lacking in ambition, and that they aren’t taking their politics seriously, and that their problem is they don’t believe in themselves. And use them to sell the idea, that yes, we can change things by our local action.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '09 - 10:44pm

    Martin, what you say about Obama and our party is rubbish, because many of our MPs and council leaders are people who have done just what you say – set out to build the party up from almost nothing to winning in their patch.

    The one problem is there isn’t a paid political career. Of course people take their ambitions into business or academic careers. What else are they to do if they have bills to pay? There’s no money in being a party activist. Unfortunately, success for our party often does require not only someone who can put in the work, but also someone who for whatever reason can afford not to have a standard job.

  • Matthew,

    Yes, back in the 1980s, SDP people like myself had a lot to learn from the Liberals about how to run an effective local campaign. Thanks largely to Focus etc, we have made quite reasonable gains over the past quarter-century, but no breakthrough.

    The SDP, like Obama, said “yes we can” break the mould at national level. It nearly worked. Had Owen not sabotaged everything Jenkins, Williams and Steel had worked for, it might very well have worked.

    Let’s not, however, argue the toss as to what the SDP did or didn’t get right in the 1908s. Let’s think about what we could get right, right now!

    You become more constructive in your later post, with your thoughts about “a network to bring ordinary people together so they can win power in politics”. I agree, a form of community politics updated for the 21st century could have some legs.

    However, “We can influence what your local council does if we all act together” is, sadly, just less and less true these days. The truth is often that local council officers are more and more determined to ignore inconvenient things like public opinion, councillors, etc. They prefer to act like quangos. In any case, many of their powers have been stripped from them. “Focus” and lobby all you like, they’re just not listening.

    Local Focus-type campaigning is important for us, but it may be becoming less effective, and it’s surely not enough on its own. We must learn from Obama how to think positive about winning nationally.

    You suggest that we shouldn’t dare to “look like another bunch of politicians who are only interested in power”. Well, Obama was pretty open about his overarching desire to win the damn thing, wasn’t he? Did the display of naked national ambition do him harm? Or did it make him look more serious, and hence more worth voting for?

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Mar '09 - 10:12am


    The SDP was a typical example of what is known in political party systems study as a “flash party”. This is one which appears very suddenly, instantly gains a lot of support from people who see it as the answer to their dissatisfaction with the established political party system, but dwindles fairly quickly when faced with the realities of power and/or practical organisation. It’s worth reading academic studies of the many such parties which have appeared in various countries over the years as there does seem to be a very standard pattern of how they rise and fall.

    Yes, the SDP did nearly work, but for it to have worked it would have required a general election in 1981.

    The reason I recall it now is not out of sour grapes, but because it really does have strong parallels with what Karin is saying. I certainly recall the optimism and enthusiasm of the SDP’s members when it was founded, their certainty that what they were offering was what the country wanted, and their belief that the reason they would succeed when the Liberals, had in their eyes failed, was that the Liberals lacked ambition.

    I recall too there was an attempt to re-capture that mood when the Liberal Party and SDP merged, trying to give the Social and Liberal Democrats as then was a flash party image, and that fell very flat.

    It is important to learn from the mistakes of those days, otherwise we shall be condemned to repeat them. One thing I feel is that the greater public cynicism about party politics now means any attempt to do what the SDP did would fall flat – a bunch of Westminster politicians saying “We’re starting a brand new party, want to join us?” probably would get a “oh, their just another bunch of politicians, in it for themselves” response rather than the “wow, this sounds good” response which, yes, the SDP did get. My great fear is that if a successful flash party were to emerge in Britain today, it would be not social democratic but fascist.

    As I’ve said before, you’re misreading what I’m saying if you think “We can influence what your local council does if we all act together” is the end goal. Winning local elections in places where the other parties had assumed they were safe should just have been an illustration of “yes we can”, which was then taken forward to other things, and not where it stopped. I actually very much agree with you that the Focus tactic has become stale, and we need to find ways of capturing what worked with it but not orienting it so closely just to winning and holding council seats.

    I’m not sure what we can learn from Obama, the political and cultural system in the USA does seem so different. One of the things seems to be that the conventional party system is so weak that in effect every presidential election involves the formation of flash parties to push candidates through the primary system. There does also seem to be a lack of cynicism in the USA which finds it easier to take the “yes we can” triumphalism – remember this same lack of cynicism also means the success for people like the televangelists who I’m sure would be laughed off as ridiculous by most Brits were they to try the same thing here, so it’s not always a bad thing. It could be our safeguard against fascism (Orwell thought it was why Hitler would never have succeeded in Britain – we’d just have laughed at him). When I saw the pictures of those Obama rallies, I wondered if we could ever get anywhere like that number of people out to public political events here in Britain.

    We should recall that in the leadership election last year there were many people putting forward Nick Clegg as someone so obviously charismatic and with a winning personality and a drive for power that once he was our leader, our poll support would boom. Clegg would in effect be our Obama (Obama wasn’t yet Obama then, of course). Well, you’re a Clegg-sceptic, so I don’t think you believed that, and I didn’t either.

    Finally, remember Kinnock’s Sheffield rally? Reading the Wiki article on it:

    reminds me that it was an attempt to do what what you seem to be suggesting – a brash American-style “we can win” approach. Maybe that style does work for USA presidential elections. We know how it was received here.

  • Another of our problems is not being able to grasp the opportunity and kick on from there, be it locally or nationally. We’ve done it in some places – Dunfermline springs to mind, where we went from third place with the “Labour always wins” mentality to holding both the Westminster and Scottish seat in less than two years – but usually it’s a bit like passing a football to Michael Owen three yards out, only to see him do his best Jonny Wilkinson impression.

    We also have a basically lazy media. In the US, the newspapers are generally factual with no overt political bias (though some are more liberal or conservative than others) and the TV much less so (Fox News) but here it’s the opposite. It’s also much easier for journalists to take the two sided argument than try to explain three (or four, in Scotland and Wales) options.

  • Maurice Richardson 13th Mar '09 - 1:23pm

    Yes, refreshingly bold comments. I have always believed that our LibDem party is too afraid of upsetting people. For example we have played down Europe, when we should have been saying “you are all idiots, with your Little Britain attitude. Look where it has got us, with the pound sinking. If we had joined the Eurozone you would all have had your pounds converted to one and a half Euros to the pound. See you much you have all lost. If you had had the sense to vote Libdem you would all be better off. And, by the way, we wouldn’t have been in Iraq, except perhaps with our European partners as traders in a more peaceful world. Tony Blair plus the Tories (together with many Labourites who were too scared to support the LibDems when we opposed the illegal war) have robbed us of billions of pounds which could have been spent on worthwhile projects. And when you look at our buildings protected by concrete blocks, remember whose fault it is. Then let the thought come into your tiny little minds “As the LibDems were right about those things, shouldn’t we believe they will be right in the future” and VOTE for them?

  • Liberal Eye 13th Mar '09 - 2:41pm

    Well said Karin.

    For as long as I can remember too many have taken refuge in convenient excuses – blaming the media for bias or FPTP for unfairness or whatever. Stuff that.

    However, we do have to have a clear answer to the electorate’s unspoken question: “How would THEY run the country?” Unfortunately even this has been infected by that same lack of ambition with the answer too often given: “It’s difficult so let’s gloss over it.”

    Fortunately I think this is just beginning to change. It’s about time!

  • David Allen 13th Mar '09 - 6:06pm

    On Matthew’s comments about “flash” parties: Logically, if a party is to make a breakthrough from small-time to big-time, it must either happen quickly (your “flash” party) or slowly. There are certainly examples of “flash” parties which do make an early breakthrough, for example the Israeli Kadima and, sadly, the German Nazis. In fact, I find it rather harder to think of many parties that have successfully done what we are now trying to do, that is, to grow slowly over decades until they reach some sort of tipping point that brings them to power. The Labour movement last century, I suppose.

    The history lesson on how to make yourself into a successful “breakthrough” party seems to be that you must have at least one of three things: (1) a big issue (e.g. the Nazis), (2) a big political personality (e.g. Kadima), and/or (3) a growing class support base (e.g. the Labour movement 1900-1950). Once you can work that trick, it seems to me to be a secondary question as to whether you try for power in one big heave or via a long slog. Except that if your slog is too long, you may lose sight of why it is that you are slogging!

    For the SDP, I guess the main appeal was based on the personalities, along with a reasonably clear answer to Liberal Eye’s question (“How would they run the country?”). Steel’s advice that the Gang of Four should form a new allied party, rather than joining the Liberals, was no doubt intended to bolster their appeal as personalities. It was a worthy gamble.

    Arguably, Obama tried a similar gamble and succeeded. Maybe we should try something similar again. Are you listening, Vince? And no, I am not suggesting that our Vince would benefit from a glitzy Kinnock-style rally, or indeed from the more rational but still rather high-octane form of campaign that Obama led. Looking like a leader doesn’t mean shouting about how strong you are. That’s something Clegg has to learn. It does mean exuding quiet confidence and a sense of purpose, a bit like Supermac, or Clement Attlee. Or Obama. Or Vince.

    However, I suspect we shall stick with the present leadership, and it may be that the performance will improve. After all, it did after the first two years with Paddy.

    Then, going back to the history lesson, I don’t think option 3, to identify a massive class-based support group, is going to work for the Lib Dems. So we really have no alternative but to go for option 1, i.e. to identify one or two big issues that we can make our own. The voter will ask him/herself “why vote Lib Dem”? If the best one-line answer they can find is “well, Cllr Joe Bloggs did well to get the drains fixed”, then we shan’t pick up votes at national level.

    Civil liberties? Important, but not a mass-movement election-winning single issue, I would suggest.

    Financial recovery? Yes, it’s a big enough issue, and it plays to Vince’s strength. Can we take ownership? Yes, if we link foresight and understanding (Vince) to competence, care for ordinary people not bankers, and responsibility. Not freebies and giveaways.

    And a green New Deal? Yes, if we show the proper sense of urgency, capability, and moral purpose. Our opponents all use the language of morality, right and wrong. It’s about time we did more of that too.

  • Anthony Berent 14th Mar '09 - 12:06pm

    David Allen, in his comment, raised the question of how we answer “why vote Liberal Democrat?”. If I understood what was said at the fringe meeting, in the Obama campaign the canvassers’ answer to this was to tell the story of their participation. I.e. they would not say “well, Cllr Joe Bloggs did well to get the drains fixed” or even “we will make the tax system fairer” but “well, I am supporting Obama because…” and then explain their personal reasons for spending hours or days knocking on doors in all weathers for Obama.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Mar '09 - 11:11pm


    The argument that; “We were optimistic in the past and look where that got us” is not particularly compelling when you consider what the alternative might be, ie we should be pessimistic and limited in our ambitions.

    I am arguing for a careful use of resources and realistic planning. Sorry, but I think that’s what will bring us victory rather than naive “all we have to do is clap our hands and believe we will win, and we will win”.

    Now look, during the time I was a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham, we went from 3 councillors to 17, and we went from the position where we were the squeezed out third party in Parliamentary elections to the position where I think we have a good chance in two constituencies. So don’t accuse me of lacking the will to contribute to the growth of this party or the knowledge of how we can win.

    In fact part of what I am saying is motivated by anger at those who accused those who were winning of being “sleepy” or “lacking ambition” and who then utterly cocked things up and lost where we could have won.

    All the places I know where the Liberal Democrats have done well have involved people picking it up and doing it under their own motivation. I do think what we need is a national leadership which recognises this, encourages it, and builds the party around it, so the national image of the party is built around the idea of it as a network of activists rather than the conventional model which is based on the party as the tool of its leader who hands down policy to members who are litle more than brainwashed salesmen.

    I don’t like the idea of basing what we do too much on the Obama campaign, because that was a campaign based just on electing one all-powerful leader, not on shared power and dispersed development of ideas. Sure, the USA presidential system forces politics to be like that, but it’s not a form of politics I like.

    We’ve already had one very ambitious leader in this country who thought he was so right that he turned his party into a personality cult for him, and invented an excuse for going to war because he thought it was such a right thing to do and his own ambition would make teh war work and we would all come round to his point of view on it. I’d rather be ruled by people who are wise, respectful of others, and honest, than by people who are ambitious.

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