Goodwill towards us is growing, and so it should

 

More than 2000 years ago, so the story goes, angels sang ‘Goodwill towards all mankind.’ It’s a sentiment that Liberal Democrats can generally support. The point I want to suggest, however, is that the British people feel an increasing goodwill towards us, which seems likely to grow and enhance our electoral chances.

The first essential was that we should be seen and heard. Now Sarah Olney’s magnificent victory has given us the media coverage that dispels the 18-month myth of our irrelevance.

The next essential was that the image projected should be an attractive one. For the voters of Richmond Park and Kingston it obviously was, and for us Lib Dems the sight of the beaming faces of victor and Leader together in front of the cameras was a delight.

Image is vital for success in politics, but what did that image amount to for the public? What, for a start, was the new MP saying? “I knew I was a Liberal – I believe in openness, fairness, compassion, working with our neighbours at home and around the world”, Sarah said in her acceptance speech. She spoke of the rise of anger and bitterness in politics, and pledged that “We will stand up for the open, tolerant, united Britain that we believe in.”

These words resonate for Liberal Democrats, but what would they mean to the majority? They are the favourite words of our Leader –‘ Open, tolerant and united’ is what he wants Britain to be. They clearly aren’t words that immediately put bread on the table. Their power lies entirely in the image they evoke, which is their meaning. But is this a winning image?

I believe it is, for the following reasons.

  1. The almost equal split of voting for the Referendum did not mean that the country is split in two halves in its beliefs and values. Remainers and Leavers are not two distinct tribes.
  2. The tolerance that is part of our DNA means that, despite being strongly pro-EU, we Lib Dems do not simply identify with the 48%, or regard the 52% as adversaries.
  3. British people are not given to fanaticism. Angry passions were stirred up in the Referendum campaign and the flames are still fanned by extremists, but the majority doesn’t participate. After all there were many people who weren’t at all sure which way to vote, because there were decent arguments for either side behind the shouting.
  4. So the splits in the Conservative and Labour parties may be understandable. But since the Far Left and the Far Right continue to dominate the debate and highlight the splits, neither main party can appeal to the vast majority.
  5. Since the momentous question of the country’s relationship to the EU cannot be immediately settled, there is continuing doubt and anxiety among British people. The rise of authoritarian populism in parts of Europe and in the USA enhances the sense of change and crisis. The vast majority of the British public isn’t fervently political at all, but can’t avoid the headline stories.

So, to this uneasy populace, we Liberal Democrats present a new, hopeful image. We offer a clear vision of what we want from Europe, as neither main party can do. We suggest a moderate and reasonable way forward, the ‘soft Brexit’ approach which is gaining popularity, and we want a referendum on the terms eventually agreed.

In truth nobody can tell yet whether a ‘soft Brexit’ is possible, whether Article 50 can be withdrawn once evoked, or whether a second referendum will make sense in the end.  We can’t prevent the continuing insecurity. But meantime we go on working out our home policies to tackle unfairness and inequality, improve health and housing and education and the conditions of life for ordinary people, while keeping our internationalism and openness to the world.

These are valid reasons why we may hope for growing goodwill. We have no need of slogans to show what we are worth. For in the end our strength is in the image we convey: that we are likeable, that we are like you, and we will do our best to help you.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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20 Comments

  • paul barker 5th Dec '16 - 2:08pm

    The Yougov political favourability Poll found 29% of voters viewing us favourably, the same number as Labour & 7% ahead of UKIP.
    That 29% represents the political space into which we can grow.

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Dec '16 - 3:05pm

    John,

    If you keep coming on this site so often you may get Stockholm Syndrome!

  • John Peters, you should get out more

  • John Peters 5th Dec '16 - 3:54pm

    @Andrew McCaig

    A timely warning, thank you.

    I’ll start regular testing and if I feel the need to virtue signal or place everybody I meet into a victim category I’ll hopefully have caught the problem early!

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Dec '16 - 5:40pm

    John,
    I was thinking that you might start believing in an open, tolerant and united Britain or something!

  • John Peters 5th Dec '16 - 6:11pm

    @Andrew McCaig

    Ah, my bad.

    Open? No, I don’t believe in the Ponzi scheme of everlasting population growth. It has to stop sometime.

    Tolerant? Okay.

    United? Okay, but not against people’s will.

  • Roger Billins 5th Dec '16 - 7:23pm

    The problem is not population growth in the U.K or migration from Europe but mass migration from areas of the world blighted by war and climate change. I urge John Peters to read Paul Theroux’ novel, OZone. This will only get worse unless we deal with these fundamental issues. It is laughable to think that the U.K can build a wall to keep these issues at bay not least because after Brexit there will still be an open border in Ireland. The only solution is for Europe to be at the forefront of fighting these twin threats of war and climate change, however difficult they may be. We should dust off the Brandt Report for a few ideas.

  • Paul Reynolds 6th Dec '16 - 7:37am

    ‘Goodwill towards all mankind.’ It’s a sentiment that Liberal Democrats can generally support. Shouldn’t it be ‘humankind’ and should we not define ‘goodwill’ ?

  • Watching Question Time last week, there seemed to be a fair amount of animosity towards the Lib Dems in Wakefield. The Lib Dems seemed to personify the out-of-touch metropolitan elite, as far as many members of the audience were concerned. I suspect you’d be as welcome sporting a Lib Dem badge in this West Yorkshire city as you would wearing a UKIP tattoo in Richmond.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 6th Dec '16 - 8:50am

    There may be “growing goodwill” for the Lib Dems among ardent Remainers, and this may result in electoral success in a few exceptionally pro Remain constituencies, such as Richmond Park.
    But unfortunately there very little “goodwill” for the Lib Dems among the 52% who voted Leave. On the contrary, there is considerable anger at a policy which is perceived as undemocratic. Have you ever heard anyone say they want to leave the EU, but also want a “referendum on the deal”? I’m afraid Leavers and Remainers alike recognise the “second referendum” policy for what it is – an attempt to prevent the result of the first referendum from being implemented.
    Even many (possibly most) people who voted Remain dislike the current Lib Dem policy. I do not wish in any way to detract from Sarah Olney’s achievement, but as about 70% of people in Richmond Park voted Remain, it does seem that quite a few people who voted Remain must have voted for Zac in the by-election, despite his support for Leave.

  • Hi Katharine
    Good article on the back of last week – I agree and support much of what you say.
    Just a few points.
    1. Despite our differences over the ‘Freedom’ thread last week can I just say, I have the utmost respect for you, it is nothing personal, just a difference of opinion. Your passion and commitment to the LD’s is obvious. Your kindness and values come through loud and clear 🙂
    2. You said: ‘the image projected should be an attractive one’ – agreed.
    At the moment though due to short term political strategy (which I agree with), it is only attractive to 48% – see Catherine’s excellent summary above.
    So, a narrative needs to be developed on 5/6 other themes which concentrates on costed policy development which appeals to the concerns of the other 52% as well.
    I suggest compromising with the electorate over immigration is a good starting point. Then we may be able to use the word united as well as open and tolerant.
    You suggest other themes which LD’s are clearly identified with.
    3. You said: ‘remainer’s and leaver’s are not 2 distinct tribes’ – agreed, but this is not the perception at the moment.
    What are the LD’s doing to reach out and build bridges – see point 2.
    4. You said: ‘We have no need of slogans to show what we are worth’ agreed, but that’s not what been suggested last week.
    The slogan (I personally don’t care what word/phrase is used at long as it works) is to reach the unconverted/uninterested through various digital/media channels so that many more people who have no interest in politics can feel a draw/emotional response to the LD’s.
    It’s a subliminal mass communication strategy – that’s all, to run alongside many other’s.
    5. the rest of your article as well as Sarah’s excellent speech I agree with generally.
    Thank’s for takin gah time to write it Katharine.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Dec '16 - 6:00pm

    Catherine, thanks for commenting – and disagreeing! I wanted debate, and you have put your finger on the ‘antidemocratic’ argument against us (though I don’t think we really have any idea of how many people are condemning us for it). I have struggled with it myself, and I blenched slightly when Sarah Olney told the press she was voting against Article 50; but then I thought, she is representing her constituents’ wishes in that, and anyway I feel – as I’ve suggested in earlier threads – that ultimately MPs must surely vote on this, not for what the party says, not for what their constituents want, but on what they feel is right for the country. ‘Oppose Brexit, it’s bad for the country’ in short, as my earlier piece demanded. Just to vote against A 50 because it’s going to be passed by a majority anyway would be a cop-out. But there is perhaps another reason to vote against it: the sheer uncertainty that the Government is going to get the concessions we all want if we have to leave, with the EU negotiator insisting again that the Four Freedoms are inviolate, and that Britain can’t have better terms out than it has in the EU. If only bad terms are offered, then our demand for a second referendum – either to accept the bad terms, or to remain in – becomes relevant: but what if Article 50 can’t be revoked, we can’t remain in? That is still a legal uncertainty. So if I were a Lib Dem MP, I would indeed vote against A50, because Brexit is itself harmful nonsense, and the majority of the country will I believe, though this isn’t the case yet, come to accept that. (And anyway, the Referendum was strictly advisory, etc!)

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Dec '16 - 6:16pm

    @ Mike S. – Hi, Mike! I did expect and hope for a challenge from you, so thank you! (and also for your friendly words, feeling is reciprocal in respect and regards). Point 1 is that if we are ‘only’ pleasing the 48%, that’s a big step up for a party with only 8% in the opinion polls. Of course we do need as you say the ‘costed policy development’, which I believe we are earnestly pursuing, and I agree with you (having long since come to that acceptance) that we do need compromise over immigration.
    At this point a visitor has arrived so I will have to halt! Will resume later…

  • Leekliberal 6th Dec '16 - 6:33pm

    @John Peters “Our views can be ignored, and our votes discounted, because in your mind we are not actually human beings.”
    If you think so little of us, just because we disagree with you, why bother to keep posting?

  • @John Peters
    Bit harsh John.
    Think many supporters of the Lib Dem’s – me included, don’t think this way at all, in fact very much the opposite.
    Think if you look at my comments on other threads today and over the last few of weeks, you’ll see a number of us recognising as many valid arguments for one side as the other, which is why I at least am not getting into “hard remain/hard brexit” fights, both of which I see as equally undesirable.
    I have spent considerable time and energy encouraging Lib Dem members to start to embrace the other side of this argument and develop policies across the divide.
    I do agree with you that the sooner that happens, the better for everyone.
    You’ll notice I have questioned the word ‘united’ above as something which is an aspiration at present. I have also argued over the past few weeks for compromises and for the fact that Liberalism begins at home.
    So, steady on – we’re not all blinded by idealism here.
    Some of us are pragmatists through and through.
    But this is going to be a drip drip drip I think as people work through the grieving process at their own pace, particularly if they were at one or other of the poles of this debate.
    Have a good evening John.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Dec '16 - 9:04pm

    Mike, to resume on your points to me – thank you – you say that where I state Remainers and Leavers (no apostrophes!) are not two distinct tribes, this is not the perception at the moment. You may well be right, but this is why I made it my first point, because I think it is really important that people don’t get into or continue in that way of thinking, which is such an over-simplification, taking no account of the diverse groups of people and their diverse reasons for voting as they did. I think this is a slide towards American thinking, as if British people are really democrats or republicans. And it is American thinking which has caused me to change one of my views, and I guessed you would notice it! I am no longer advocating proclaiming liberalism instead of freedom, having read now about ‘identity liberalism’ in the States, which seems to be something we wouldn’t want here.
    I was continuing seriously, but have started laughing, as I reread one of your final remarks – ‘It’s a subliminal mass communication strategy – that’s all, to run alongside many other’s.’ Dear Mike (the retired editor can’t help but ask!} why other’s? And whence the apostrophe in Thank’s, since simple plurals don’t need them? There you are – I don’t take your thinking any less seriously, I assure you. But can there really be a mass communication strategy which rouses emotional responses by reiterating in any form of media such bromides as ‘We are the party of freedom’? As you know, I can’t see it.
    But I wish, rather wistfully, that others would do as you have done and respond to this piece with thoughts about our party image and how it can be enhanced and promoted.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Dec '16 - 10:38pm

    Katharine , Happy St. Nicholas Day !

    I believe you are doing what must be done for the sake of our country and party, not speaking for a percentage but for all and anyone to be included.

    We must not promote views like that of our new mp voting against triggering the article as if policy. She can do as feeling and conscience and rapport in Richmond encourages. I would be voting for it , as should our mps if a referrendum is agreed on the deal. As it is unlikely we shall see what transpires.

    We must speak for all and with all who we represent and they and we are not defined by the issue of the EU.

    Or was British politics begun in june this year ?!

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 7th Dec '16 - 4:57am

    Katharine, Thank you for your reply. I’m sorry if my comments seemed a bit negative. There were many things in your article that I did like.
    I like the way that you emphasise that “Leavers and Remainers are not two distinct tribes”, and the way that you stress that we must not “identify only with the 48%, or regard the 52% as adversaries”. It is also good that you accept that “there were decent arguments for either side”.
    But I am afraid that the message the party has been conveying recently is that it is the “party of the 48%”. Even many people who agree about the EU, are put off by the way the party is beginning to look like a one issue party.
    Also, I think we should stop talking about the referendum being “only advisory”. This is the sort of thing that makes people angry. I realise that, legally, the referendum was advisory rather than binding. But at the time that Parliament voted to hold a referendum, they appeared to agree to regard the result as binding. During the campaign, both sides appeared to accept without question that the result would be implemented. It was only after the result, that the “only advisory” argument began to be used. To be fair, I have never heard Tim Farron use the “only advisory” argument. But too many people within the party are speaking as if the result can just be ignored.

  • John Peters 7th Dec '16 - 9:15am

    I would have replied earlier but fell foul of the environmental protection.

    @Leekliberal “If you think so little of us, just because we disagree with you, why bother to keep posting?”

    I came for Brexit, I stayed for the laughs, although sometimes I feel a bit dirty like a voyeur at a car crash.

    @Mike S

    Quite right, I do not mean to criticise Lib Dems generally.

    I think some Lib Dems are allowing themselves to be led by an exceptionally poor leadership to a political dead end which will do the Lib Dems great and lasting damage. Their choice. I am just an interested bystander.

    The anti-democratic views they are spouting is that which is feeding “Populism” throughout the EU. Their disdain for the electorate is palpable.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th Dec '16 - 12:04am

    Dear friends, and lonely hangers-on, I will be brief tonight owing to certain personal celebrations. Hi, Lorenzo, thank you for coming on board here. It seems our MPs have indeed voted against Article 50 being applied for, there being no guarantee of another referendum on the terms, but that debate is over. Anna Soubry apparently leads the new fight, on how much will be offered to the Commons as a Plan, but given the continuing Government divisions on the basics, one would guess, very little. Catherine, I didn’t think of your comments as negative. On our party’s possible backing for the 48%, I am sure Tim Farron would be against that (I remember his comments on his old mates in Preston who voted leave, understanding their viewpoint) and it really isn’t true, but I suppose there was so much ignoring of the minority earlier, and general silencing of them, that the turn-around now to expressing their views seems surprising, and alarming to the bigots. I do agree with you that it’s no good to harp on about the referendum being only advisory, as it clearly wasn’t intended to be so. Thank you, and goodnight.

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