Does “Open, tolerant and united” fully project what the Liberal Democrats are about?

“Open, tolerant and united.” It’s the phrase you will hear in many Liberal Democrats speeches and press comments at the moment. It seems to be taking the place of “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society.” But is it what we should be saying right now?

It’s not a bad thing. You wouldn’t have found anyone saying that they actively wanted a weak economy and an unfair society, but here is evidence everywhere that some people  want us to be isolated, intolerant and divided. The referendum result gave a massive boost to those malevolent forces who thrive on fear and hatred and brought them from the fringes into the very heart of our political culture.  Being openly racist is becoming more acceptable and that’s something we need to be standing up against.

So, it’s ok to have those values at this time.  Openness – which to me encompasses co-operation, generosity of spirit, curiosity and willingness to listen. Tolerant means that we accept our differences and let everyone live life as they wish so long as it doesn’t infringe anyone else’s rights. United. Now, that’s a funny one. I don’t want a divided country like we quite obviously have at the moment. I don’t want my country to break up, either, however much I might have wanted to saw England off and cast it into the Atlantic on its own at around 5 in the morning of 24th June. But I’m not sure I absolutely want a united country. That’s a bit too conformist for a free spirit like me. I want a country where everyone lives together peaceably, with common values of freedom and generosity. I’m just not sure united is the right word when it’s our differences that help us learn and explore and succeed. 

But is that strapline enough? I’m not so sure. If we look at what has worked recently, it’s things like “Take back control.” That’s a compelling mantra if you feel you have no power. Stronger for Scotland was the SNP’s cry at the 2015 election, positioning themselves as the people who would stand up for Scotland against all comers. Their approval ratings on that was giddily high.  Obama’s theme was hope and change – and he’s delivered on more than Leave or the SNP.

It seems that people are motivated by promises of control and of change. They don’t like their lives as they are and want some way of influencing their future. They want something insurgent to shake up the system. The tragedy is that what they have ended up with  is the most ultra conservative government we’ve had in 30 years who will concentrate power in the hands of the comfortably off.

And, of course, there’s Boris, from his feathered nest at the heart of the establishment, getting behind the spawn of Vote Leave organisation called Change Britain. The problem is that their sort of change is not just, free or empowering.

And here we are, as a radical, insurgent, anti-establishment party that’s willing to challenge power and when we have it, to give it away. The councils we run tend to be more accountable to local people than any other. We want to shake up the political system to give people more say in who governs them. We want to give people more say in the public services they need.  We want to make sure that people have the tools that they need to make the most of the opportunities available. We have always wanted that.

In the current environment, I think we need more than “open, tolerant and united.” It’s ok as far as it goes but we need to preach beyond the choir.  We need to find a way of impressing ourselves on people’s minds as that  reforming, radical, establishment busting presence.  I hope that we get a flavour of our insurgency, radicalism and standing up for the British people into Tim’s conference speech and beyond.  We want power shared amongst ordinary people not concentrated in the hands of a few Tories hellbent on creating their socially divisive Torytopia. By projecting that ethos of power-sharing, generosity and collaboration, we can speak to those who currently feel that they have no power over their lives. Open, tolerant and united is unlikely  to move their hearts. We need to find something better.






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

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  • Paul Murray 11th Sep '16 - 6:17pm

    I’ve always had a problem with the word “tolerant”. It is a word loaded with conditionality – your “tolerance” is something that can be withdrawn depending on which side of the bed you got out of this morning. When applied to innate characteristics such as skin colour, gender or sexual orientation (for example) “tolerant” is simply not good enough.

  • Caron – I have to say, I thought “united” was meant to be a subliminal dig at Labour. “Everyone knows people don’t vote for split parties”. I am not saying I necessarily support that, just that that is what speechwriters using it are driving at.

    My favourite would be “Let’s hear it for regulation!” which I regard as a partial antidote to Brexit. And, for me, who was once described at a hustings as “a boring administrative type” it would be in character.

  • Phil Beesley 11th Sep '16 - 7:02pm

    The slogan scarcely matters. We want people to vote Lib Dem for the right reasons.

  • @paul murray: I get what you mean about “tolerant” but maybe for slightly different reasons. I just think tolerant is a bit weak. We should surely celebrate different cultures and the chance to learn from people and we should celebrate that we are a free country where people are free to live as they choose.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Sep '16 - 7:54pm

    To me we are the Radical Moderates, radicalism ,when necessary, moderation, when required. I never had a problem with slogans. New Labours , tough on crime , tough on the causes of crime , or , for the many , not the few, all worked well when backed up with, proof of the pudding , in the eating – hey, a slogan !

    Sir Peter Ustinov, a source of Liberal sense, had a comment that goes to the nub of Carons concern on too much unity:

    ” We are divided by our convictions, united by our doubts .”

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Sep '16 - 8:03pm

    I won’t be commenting as much because the Lib Dem project is going in a different direction to what I want and I’ve protested enough.

    But regardless of slogans: unless the centre-left and centrist remainers start standing up for Britain more the future of British politics is nationalist parties. Standing up for Britain is not just telling people that if they want the country to prosper then they must rejoin the EU.

  • “Open, tolerant and united.” ????

    In’Yes, Minister’ speak that is more of an aspiration than a statement of reality.

  • Stevan Rose 11th Sep '16 - 8:27pm

    Whenever I am unsure now I look to Alan Paton.

    ”By liberalism … I mean a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, an attempt to comprehend otherness, a commitment to the rule of law, a high ideal of the worth and dignity of man, a repugnance of authoritarianism and a love of freedom.”

    I think you have to combine the lot, even though it isn’t a three word punchline. Unfortunately it’s an aspiration and in recent months at various times and from various people there has sometimes been little evidence on this blog, an intolerance if dissenting views, an inability to comprehend the views of Brexiteers, the labeling of Leave voters as naïve and somehow incapable of seeing through the malevolent forces. People who are deeply concerned about the impact of uncontrolled migration are not all bigots and racists ( a minority may be).

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Sep '16 - 11:01pm

    Stevan Rose

    As one who regularly gets you and your stances , and gets along with you very well in our interactions here, I like what you just said, and am not surprised , but am enthused ,to see you quote Alan Paton, who I have mentioned on here at times, and whose definition and realisation of Liberalism I also greatly admire. Well done !

  • Lorenzo, we must have a beer one day!

  • Jonathan Brown 12th Sep '16 - 1:24am

    I’m not especially enthralled by this either. And the ‘united’ bit of it rather sounds like a hostage to fortune too. (I agree it sounds like a dig at Labour as well as an appeal to unionist Scotts, but I’d rather we focussed our appeals on making a positive case for what we believe rather than having a go at others.)

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Sep '16 - 2:23am

    Eddie Sammon

    Do not abandon our post ! Your views are welcome and needed , your contributions polite and measured. Eddie, our party , and it is yours as a voter for it, as well as those of us who are members, benefits from a range of ideas. Keep at it!

    Stevan Rose

    What a terrific suggestion , Stevan, yes to a drink together, and I look forward to it , thanks, yet ,no to a beer for me , I shall buy you one , make mine a tea, as I am a non drinker, and at times almost literally a tea totaller !

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Sep '16 - 2:56am

    Thanks Lorenzo. I’m not disappearing, just going quieter. The site should be a place predominantly for Lib Dem supporters, I think.

    Maybe Tim can win me back around, but he needs new advisers. He once said “As Liberals we are sceptical about all institutions, including the EU.”, but that approach seems to have largely disappeared. It’s not the only issue, but the latest example of what I see as a misguided core-vote strategy.

  • Bill Le Breton 12th Sep '16 - 9:27am

    It,s irritating when someone comes along and puts forward alternatives … So I’ll do just that, based on an audiences based approach and one suitable for where we are in in the process of rebuilding ie at step one:

    Working For You

  • @Caron: “United. Now that’s a funny one.”
    I assume Caron’s doubts here are to do with conformity. I have always liked the phrase ‘Unity with diversity’. This is ideal, since certain groups of people often like to impose their ways on others or even if tolerant in daily living, believe so strongly that their way is the only right way that they will take any opportunity to support a strong political group that seeks to impose that on everyone. The answer to that must be a strong democratic system that allows diversity.
    Debate over wording can go on for ever, but how about ‘Working with people, united in diversity’ ?

  • Matt (Bristol) 12th Sep '16 - 10:46am

    Basically, it’s still a split-the-difference slogan, just less overtly than SEFS.

    We need to be wary of this defining-ourselves-by-what-we-aren’t business – it still seems to be driving our thinking.

    The underlying message of both these slogans is ‘less nasty than the Tories but more competent than Labour’.

    The trouble is, in my area, where the Greens are seen as a viable alternative, the slogan achieves no differentiation from them in the popular imagination. I would go so far as to say that, in a Bristolian context, the slogan is useless, even if it has utility at a national (English) level.

    I am aware that the SNP are always as ‘tolerant’ and ‘open’ as people think, but I would imagine Scottish LibDems are thinking similar things to me… Welsh activists? Do you think could you go up against Plaid on this basis?

  • Open, Tolerant and United. I think most people would just smile and think who do they think they are kidding. Nigel Jones and Bill Le Breton’s suggestions are much better. It would be great if the Lib Dems could get back to working with – instead of lecturing at – the vast majority of the population.

  • David Evershed 12th Sep '16 - 11:26am

    We use Working For You in the local Buckingham party.

  • Sue Sutherland 12th Sep '16 - 3:08pm

    Thank you Caron for explaining the success of “take back control” to me. It’s so vague I couldn’t understand what was so compelling about it. Of course it’s a message for the powerless and a sign that if we Lib Dems put our principles into action and start sticking up for the little guy we will have a winning message too.
    You also describe us as a radical, challenging, insurgent, anti establishment party that challenges power and where we have it are willing to give it away. I’m certainly all for that, but, sadly our time in Coalition was the opposite of that and we looked like a party that wanted power at any cost and that was in awe of the establishment. I don’t think a simple slogan will undo that damage.
    In local government we may have lived up to that description and this may be why we have seen a bit of a resurgence in local elections, but somehow we have to show that the party has learnt the lesson of our brief time in national power. We do have grassroots insurgency in the form of Your Liberal Britain so there may be a convincing story emerging that the members challenge our own party establishment and win, but at the moment that seems rather unlikely.
    So as a slogan for local government elections I’d add a bit to Bill le Breton’s suggestion. How about Listening TO You: Working FOR You.
    But really we need our best advertising brains on this one.

  • Matt (Bristol) 13th Sep '16 - 4:10pm

    Liberal Democrats have a vision of a future where…
    You Are Welcome
    You Have a Say
    We All Prosper Together

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