It’s time for LibDems to use the most potent word in the political lexicon

 

I’m a new Liberal Democrat, though I’ve called myself a social democrat for more than forty years now. In my youth I was an activist tribal Tory, but cast them forever from me before I was 25. Since then have been a fellow traveler of the soft Left, but now, as of three weeks ago, I am one of you.

I realised after 23rd June that it was time to properly join in the fightback for the sort of political values I’ve long held and that are at the heart of the LibDems.

Given 5 minutes I could give you an erudite and historically pretty accurate explanation of what the LibDems stand for.  That’s roughly four minutes thirty seconds too long. Like or not, brevity, clarity, simplicity and ruthless consistency are the vital elements of winning in today’s febrile communications world.

I know a bit about the art of communications, having worked in newspapers and spent 35 years in advertising and PR. Indeed, I spent ten of those years with “Mrs Thatcher’s favourite ad man,” Tim Bell. My value was probably that, not only could I make money, but that I saw the world through different eyes from the great majority of my personally delightful but unforgivingly Thatcherite colleagues. I was never, thankfully, invited to be part of anything with a Tory party label on it, but did relish helping the Yes to Europe campaigns in Malta and Sweden win their respective accession referendums.

I learned many things in those advertising and PR years. The most fundamental is the question asked of all new clients. They were told they could give only one short answer to the question, what do you want to be famous for? This is a standard ad man’s question and asked in the knowledge that most people can articulate only a tiny number of perceptions of a brand, organisation, product or service.

No adequate substitute

I’m a classist when it comes to brand, and I believe that brand and reputation are the same thing and that we can learn a great deal from how great brands manage, adapt and nurture brands to reflect changing market conditions, but maintain their essential values and personality.

For me, the most impressive brand I know is something that few would recognise if they saw it, not many understand what it does and hardly anyone ever holds or touches one. It’s a silicon chip called Intel and its success is based on two words – Intel inside. If it didn’t say Intel consumers wondered if they were being sold a lesser technology.

In the language of the ad man, the buyer is given permission to believe that Intel is a brand for which there is no adequate substitute.

So, I began to bend my mind to how the LibDems might sum up their offer to the voter in a simple, differentiating, emotional and rationale phrase of explicit and implicit benefits and values. How can the party give the voter permission to believe and to believe there is no adequate substitute?

A fundamental truth

After long walks through the Kentish countryside I lit on the germ of an idea that I offer to you here. Like any communications idea worth its salt its rooted in a fundamental truth about its subject – the LibDems – and is very simple.

I am talking about freedom. It’s a word the LibDems should own in the way that Intel owns Intel inside.

Liberals have championed the freedoms of democracy for longer than any other British political movement and that tradition continues. From the great Reform Act to fighting apartheid and standing up for LGB rights; the freedom to trade, to run a business for profit, to travel, speak and gather in support or protest. The freedom of a woman’s right to choose, the freedom of decent conditions for workers, the freedom of civil and human rights, the freedom of internationalism. The freedom from want in old age. The freedom from starvation in unemployment. These are freedoms to and freedoms from. Responsible, constructive, progressive freedoms that give the individual liberty which checks the power of the state but not the benign state’s ability to act.

Indelible authenticity

The Right has learned the value of endlessly repeated mantras. It colonised the idea of independence throughout the EU referendum. We can’t allow them to colonise freedom. They will distort, abuse and traduce the most precious thing we have.

The posture of the LibDems should perhaps be to offer the indelible authenticity of LibDem commitment to real freedoms – the freedoms that others would diminish – and combine it with an appeal to a new optimism based on new policies.

The Liberal Democrats – the party of freedom is an idea that makes my heart beat a little faster. It is after all the foundation stone of the LibDems and of how millions in the country see Britain, especially the young. It must be our job to develop policies that give the young of all abilities and all ambitions real reasons to believe they live in a Britain of broad vistas and great opportunities. And a young Britain that holds out the hand of freedom to others, that seeks to build a newer world; more open, more enlightened, more creative, more enterprising, more happy, more visionary, more free.

* Martin Roche is a member of Canterbury Liberal Democrats

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73 Comments

  • David Evershed 20th Nov '16 - 1:02pm

    Martin you are absolutely right that the Lib Dem message needs to be simple and based around freedom – a point I have tried to make myself on Lib Dem Voice and elsewhere.

    I would just add to your list of individual freedoms, freedoms for businesses – free markets and free trade.

  • John Peters 20th Nov '16 - 1:14pm

    Isn’t the association between Freedom and Freedumb a bit of a problem? You already have Lib Dem and Lib Dumb.

  • Lib Dems, the party of freedom and E.U. membership! Sounds like some species of oxymoron.

  • Brilliant!

  • paul barker 20th Nov '16 - 1:28pm

    I really like “The Party of Freedom”. Given that Brexit is the big issue of the next few years I would like us to use “Stop Brexit” as part of our branding somehow, its a policy thats unique to us & one that (mostly) unites us.
    Our present position is great but I dont see how it can be put into a 3 or 4 word slogan.

  • All words will have some negative spin, but I do think that the notion of freedom is more tangible and therefore meaningful than “liberal”, and with less baggage.

    Here in Scotland “Freedom”, sometimes “Freedumb” has been used pejoratively to paraphrase the unthinking nationalists whose main objection to the union seems to revolve around the idea that the Scots are subjugated victims of the oppressor English, and independence campaigners are akin to Nelson Mandela, and should channel William Wallace (the film version) and that FREEDOOOM from the oppressive English is more important that whether or not we’d be able to afford decent public services.

    Nevertheless, if you use freedom in a meaningful sense, and remember that the freedom to make profit shouldn’t over-ride the freedom of workers to go home at the end of the day knowing they can afford the rent/mortgage and with all of their fingers and toes. Our freedoms are inter-related, and so long as we are able to successfully communicate that, then it’s a useful term.

  • This is a well argued piece and offers a value missing in other parties. The current winners are those that shout obscenities,lies,half truths and keep repeating them so that enough people begin to believe them, which leads to some people using social media to express opinions which these lies are based on.
    To have a party which has a strap line of freedom, is a breath of fresh air in a smoke ridden political environment, but the party then has to ensure that its structures and utterances continue that move forward and we dont always do that.

  • Tony Greaves 20th Nov '16 - 1:45pm

    “…and in all spheres it puts freedom first.”

  • Tony Greaves 20th Nov '16 - 1:46pm

    “Freedom is a word I seldom use…in the morning…”

  • Tony Greaves 20th Nov '16 - 1:48pm

    “And before I’d be a slave / I’d be buried in my grave / And go home to my lord and be free.…”

  • Give me Liberty or give me death.

  • Laurence Cox 20th Nov '16 - 2:15pm

    Freedom is symbolised by our logo (Libby). Does Martin Roche think that we have failed to get this across to the public?

  • Laurence – I think the answer is Yes unfortunately – or a least in the powerful manner in which Martin is suggesting.

  • John Littler 20th Nov '16 - 2:22pm

    The EU does mean Freedom

    Freedom to travel, study, use free health services, settle, retire, buy property, run a business or work.

    Also, freedom from exploitation or dangerous practices at work, excessive pollution, from poor food standards, from overfishing and the decay of the environment.

  • John regardless of those other freedoms, though I can study in most countries of the world if good enough to gain entry to their universities, and I have travelled to many countries outside the E.U. with very little hindrance, I actually feel safer with a visa system than the Schengen area idea.
    You surely cannot be suggesting that the E.U. has protected us from overfishing or in it’s current form could ever do so? The E.U. fisheries policy has been an absolute disaster, both in it’s attempt to protect and conserve fish stocks and in any form of equitable distribution of fishing rights and quotas across the E.U. I have many friends who are passionate supporters of E.U. membership, none would ever use the fisheries policy (or agricultural policy for that matter) as an example of success.
    I think even most governments recognise this, they are just terrified of the consequences of reopening the treaties in any attempt to reform the policy.

  • Martin, this is an excellent idea, as Liberal Democrats we should reclaim the word freedom. Of course LibDems have always stood for freedom; it’s written in the preamble to our constitution. We know this, we assume the public know this but we don’t state it enough.

    The right have, over the years, misappropriated the word but to them freedom is limited to the freedom to profit and retain wealth, reguardless of whether that enslaves others. ‘Small government’ freedom is all about the privileged and those with means. It offers little to the majority who will never find themselves in that position but, somehow, has convinced many that this is the most important freedom. Grammar schools, for example, are being sold as improving opportunities despite them reducing opportunity for 75-80% of pupils.

    We should be championing true freedom; not only the freedom TO gain wealth but freedom FROM poverty, conformity and ignorance. I have long felt that nobody seems to be arguing why the NHS and welfare state are as important today as when Beveridge argued the government should fight five ‘Giant Evils’ of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.

    Of course some LibDems may think differently, they may find this vision at odds with their own ideals of Liberal Democracy or the May think it’s simply stating the obvious. This shouldn’t be about how we, the faithful, see the LibDems but how millions of voters see us. Our single figure poll ratings tell me that’s something we need to work on.

  • Martin Roche 20th Nov '16 - 4:20pm

    Thank you all who have commented. Some have mentioned other freedoms and I’d agree with all. My thought on freedom is predicated on whether or not we remain in the EU. We have to be realistic (whilst still fighting) and be ready for the worst. The Right is winning hearts and minds and is fighting a rational and emotional battle of ideas that are economic, social and cultural. We surely must have a big core idea that is universally understood and is something nobody is against (or extremely few). Except it has to be build on firm policy foundations. I’m afraid to say that I don’t think the public sees very much at all in most political logos. Except perhaps UKIP. It’s use of the £ is empathy with the instincts of its supporter and a constant reminder of what it was against. Logos work when the behaviour of the organisation/product is so well articulated that when people see a the relevant logo they immedately associate it with the values, benefits and personality of the real thing; it’s a clue to all a brand is. I am a bit of a political junkie, but never knew that the LibDEm bird is about freedom. Freedom is an elemental word of such emotional force that across the world people fight for, go to jail for it, stand in court for it, sign petitions and a thousand other things. When many of you involved here fought apartheit you knew what you were fighting for and what did Nelson Mandela call his book? Long walk to Freedom. Freedom is an exceptional word of enormous power. But like all things power has to be exercised with great care.

  • nvelope2003 20th Nov '16 - 4:46pm

    Paul Barker: If you use the slogan “Stop Brexit” and Brexit became a success while the EU collapses what would you do then ? Campaigning to remain in the EU is one thing but tying the party to EU membership at all costs might destroy it like promising to abolish tuition fees and not doing it almost did.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Nov '16 - 5:15pm

    Martin

    Welcome , and terrific to have you with us , as is your articles main argument . The issue is ,what we mean is freedom, liberty , but not a free for all and libertarianism. It is the latter ,presently, and more than ever, people are , correctly objecting to. As you well know , New and old Labour had that as an article of faith and policy. And then went down an altogether different route !We , as social liberal or social democrat variations need to show that we know the difference between these !

    Self indulgence is not self expression. It is , in “on Liberty “, of our greatest Liberal, John Stuart Mill, The Harm Principle that guides us and must , to see that, where the free for all is libertarian self indulgence ,that harms the freedom of another to ,as the American constitutions most liberal tenant says, life , liberty , the pursuit of happiness ,that does no harm, we , step in , as individuals or society.

    As a Liberal, my freedom to breath clean and natural air , is more important than the free for all that was , the libertarian self indulgence of another person having the right to blow fumes at others not smoking !

  • I’ve been looking for freedom. I’ve been looking so long. I’ve been looking for freedom, and still the search goes on…

  • Right with the article, up until the actual suggestion. I don’t think freedom is either differentiating or a simple concept. The Liberal Democrats had a brand – built up over years, they were for people who valued education, cared about the environment, local decision making, who want less inequality and good public services. That brand was utterly trashed by Clegg and co, mostly deliberately as in tuition fees.

    Liberals need to set out their stall as being for the majority, not the mega rich, they have the Tories, not the trade unionists, they have Labour, but the vast majority, people one might almost put it in the same words as Mrs May – getting by etc

  • Alastair Thomson 20th Nov '16 - 7:48pm

    There’s much with which to agree in this piece. The echoes of FDR’s Four freedoms speech of the 1940’s still resonate for me (freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear). The question I have though is how to distinguish the freedom Martin describes from the wholly unattractive attractive ‘f-yo’u, individualistic libertarian ‘freedom’ of the Alt-Right?

  • “The Party of Freedom” works for me. We can only hope that the party is listening and will use it. (I like Liberty but I expect Freedom is a better word for today.)

    @ David Evershed

    No way should we say we support free markets, we should only support regulated markets, because today without regulation the buyer is nearly always at a disadvantage. Freedoms need protecting.

    @ Paul Barker

    And no to being the party of stop Brexit. Being the party calling for a referendum on the terms before we leave the EU is a much better policy (if only if we were sure it could be done). By 2020 it is highly likely that we will have left the EU and there will be no votes to be gained in opposing something that has happened.

  • I like the idea and the sentiment behind it but you’d need to do a lot of polling. I suspect the public thinks the Tories are the part of freedom – free markets, freedom from taxes, small state etc – and a message cutting across that may not work. But if it were possible to reclaim “freedom”, which sums up what liberalism is all about, it’d be a great opportunity.

  • Ian Hurdley 21st Nov '16 - 7:45am

    @Martin
    I think this is a really powerful contribution and one which we should all take to heart. Not only does it encapsulate in a single word what we are about, but also it provides a source of coherence for all our campaigning. Under this banner we can talk of ‘freedom from’, ‘freedom for’, ‘freedom to”, etc. Different messages for different situations but all underpinned by the one fundamental pledge.
    Thank you.

  • ‘Freedom from fear’ is the greatest freedom.

  • Simon Banks 21st Nov '16 - 9:07am

    Oh dear, the Intellects got in early on this one. One silly pun and someone who believes freely agreed co-operation in international bodies restricts our freedom while a centralising, illiberal Westminster/Whitehall government doesn’t – and of course, freedom for refugees is none of our business, right?

    Well said, Martin. Freedom is indeed at the root of our values.

  • David Garlick 21st Nov '16 - 9:59am

    excellent piece which links into the need for the creation of the Party’s ‘vision’ for the future. That must be based on Freedom and offer hope and self worth to those currently believing they are losing out in having a voice / control over their lives.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Nov '16 - 10:20am

    @ Martin Roche,
    You are an expert in a field that I know nothing about so this is probably presumptuous.

    At first I thought excellent, but as the comments came in, it reminded me that it can’t be assumed that everyone has the same idea of what freedom is, let alone whether it is a good thing.

    I am basically liberal, but the first thing that comes to mind for me when freedom is mentioned is freedom from want. Personal experience feeds into the meaning I give to the word. For example, I don’t believe free markets which I believe liberal democrats embrace necessarily offers this. In fact, I am in favour of protectionist policies for the nascent industries of developing countries. I believe that all developed countries became the wealthy countries they became by first pursuing protectionist policies and that developing countries should be allowed to do the same.

    I therefore wonder whether the Liberal Democrat Party would be opening themselves up to the sort of criticisms that have been raised on here, where one persons freedom equals another persons captivity, and thus interminable arguments on the meaning of an abstract term like freedom.

  • Denis Loretto 21st Nov '16 - 10:50am

    While it would be good to be able to focus on a single word I wonder if that is really feasible. Freedom after all can mean freedom to exploit people and worse. Maybe we need two words – freedom and fairness.

  • We are in trouble with words that have lost their integrity. UKIP also speak and write about ‘Freedom’. Even the word ‘Liberal’ is now used by some as a kind of expletive, especially when linked to ‘elite’ or ‘metropolitan’ or both. Even the words ‘democratic’ and ‘democracy’ are in trouble since the referendum. And as for having something quick and slick, like ‘Freedom’……..beware. We need careful, thoughtful conversation with people. There is no substitute.

  • Michael Berridge 21st Nov '16 - 12:17pm

    Welcome to Canterbury Lib Dems, Martin. I miss them!
    – Freedom: As a translator of classical CD booklets I cannot help remembering the motto applied to lifelong bachelor Johannes Brahms, “Frei aber einsam” (FAE) – free but lonely.
    – What being a Liberal (Democrat) has always meant to me: As a sixth-former I concluded that the Liberal Party was “the thinking man’s party”. (Yes, I know: man or woman … but this was 1959). Trouble is, not enough people think, as we see in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. From memory:
    Brian: You’ve got to think for yourselves.
    Crowd (unison): We’ve got to think for ourselves.
    Brian: You’re all individuals.
    Crowd (unison): We’re all individuals.
    Lone voice: Except me.
    Perhaps that lone voice was a true Liberal. Like the university student who still wore a jacket and tie to lectures when the 1970s uniform was T-shirt and jeans.

  • Matt (Bristol) 21st Nov '16 - 12:56pm

    Using the word is not a problem.

    Defining the word – and particularly in politics, defining how other people are heard when using the word – is the problem.

    I would say we have a relatively good reputation, still, as the party of personal freedom, and – to an extent – as the party of democratic freedom (although the Tory-UKIP-SNP battering-ram of symbolist direct democracy has made this territory more debated than previously).

    The other issue I have as a hypocritically puritanical grump, is that our current marketing culture tends to interpret freedom as ‘freedom to consume and be entertained as you choose’.

    But this is a freedom only extended to those who have large amounts of disposable income, or are building up a legacy of real or imagined debt to be constrained or oppressed by in future, or are not dependent on public services which are increasing less able to offer anything other than phoney freedom.

    Once advertisers have pre-defined freedom for us in this way, using the word without redefining it, puts ourselves in a strait-jacket.

  • @Caracatus I’d be interested to know what or who you mean by “Trade Unionists”? I’m in a trade union, as are most of my colleagues. The same goes for most teachers, doctors, nurses, and academics? Do you really mean to exclude this group, or were you just thinking of people like Bob Crow? I assure you, most people in trade unions are not like that.

    The trade union movement has done a lot of good for this country and our freedoms, and should be nurtured by this party, not attacked. Nor should Labour be the only party who is seen to have respect for the workforce and our right to collaborate with each other to improve or maintain working practices and conditions.

  • David Evershed 21st Nov '16 - 1:14pm

    Tony Greaves

    Donovan sang …

    Freedom is a word I rarely use
    Without thinkin’, mm hmm

  • Sue Sutherland 21st Nov '16 - 1:15pm

    Freedom not a free for all as several people have said. Jayne, Liberalism is about balancing freedoms which is what you are describing. One person’s freedom should not mean another’s captivity, poverty or ignorance. The leaders of the Brexit campaign and some of the press had the freedom to lie, which resulted in some who voted Brexit, voting in ignorance. We don’t need interminable arguments about what freedom means but we do need those arguments about its practice.

  • First of all, welcome to the Liberal Democrats Martin. Since our image has, I would claim, been the biggest problem for the party over the years, I personally welcome the input from someone who has years of experience in advertising. Incorporating expertise in a field of human endeavour is always the best route to success (whatever Michael Gove might say)

    Not that the party image is a bad thing – its just not strong enough. Out of government we tend to be ignore and out opponents can say ‘well, what are they for’ and not be contradicted. In coalition, we were targeted for being some kind of adjunct to the Conservative party, and again our opponents could derogate the party for ‘propping up the Conservatives’ without fear they would be contradicted.

    Compare that to the Labour Party whose purpose ‘for the working man’ stayed in act over 13 years of government when the wealth gap increased.

    So far, so much in agreement, we need a selling point… I’m just not sure about ‘Freedom’.. Its a good word, not doubt about that, but its just so widely used, often in situations that are not what the party is about. Farage no doubt thinks in terms of Freedom from the EU. Some people might value their ‘freedom’ to live well away from people of a different colour’. Donald Trump, among others, like to have Freedom from paying Taxes. The Freedom Association’ in the UK is a right wing group’. The Dutch ‘Party for Freedom’ even more so.

    The truth is Liberal democrats support many freedoms, but we don’t support other (see above) and explaining that while using the word seems problematic to me. Of course the ones we don’t support a ones that basically interfere with other freedoms (the freedom from racial abuse, the freedom from poor health via a state funded NHS through Taxation) but that is not so easily explained by just bandying around the word.

    Don’t get me wrong, the Party needs a sharper image. I just see problems with reliance on this word

  • I’ve been thinking along similar lines, but I think it needs a little more thinking through in order to fly. What for example should be the strapline?

    Idea successfully run up the flagpole, but now needs fleshing out. The strapline and other aspects of this identity probably need to encapsulate this idea of freedom, balanced with the freedom from harm concept, and the idea of cooperation that gives us our pro-EU position and international outlook.

    Somehow we need to incorporate our Beveridge-influenced commitment to ‘freedom from…’ too, which will help establish the credentials needed to attract support we should expect to gain from the centre-left.

    Not easy, obviously…

  • Richard Underhill 21st Nov '16 - 1:57pm

    During the Slovakian Presidency of the EU (now) the European Movement in West Kent had a dinner. The guest speaker mentioned the “Velvet Revolution” in which (the former Czechoslovakia) threw out their Communist rulers without violence (learning from Romania). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velvet_Revolution
    I asked about the “Velvet Divorce” in 1993 and the effect on trade between Slovakia and the Czech Republic as Slovakia is in the euro and the Czech Republic is not. He said that the Visegrad Four (including Poland and Hungary) meet informally and frequently at ministerial level to co-ordinate policy without formal agendas.
    Put diplomatically, the free movement of people is seen differently by people who have been under authoritarian governments. (The Nazis and the communists imprisoned whole nations, which is not the case now). This is not for them primarily about immigration, it is about freedom.
    http://europeanhistory.about.com/od/historybycountry/a/Velvetdivorce.htm

  • John Littler 21st Nov '16 - 2:46pm

    Tynan, there are a lot of myths about the EU.

    The EU has pulled up the SNP government for doing too little to protect the endangered migratory Atlantic Salmon as they are the only country allowing it to be trawled at sea.

    The EU has prevented overfishing in the way that it occurred on the Grand banks off Newfoundland Canada.

    The fishermen moaning about Spanish and others fishing in British waters ignore the fact that UK fishermen sold them the licences.

  • Charles Lawley 21st Nov '16 - 2:50pm

    I think everyone who is complaining that “freedom” being ambiguous is missing the beauty of Martin’s original point. What does being “the party of freedom” mean to you? To anyone? Regardless, freedom is a positive concept and one we want to be associated with, even if my idea of freedom is completely opposite to someone else’s. It also implies the alternative is not freedom (which Labour definitely aren’t and Tories are moving further and further away.)

    By embracing freedom, you’ll be attracting left wing social liberals and right wing Thatcherites.

    The beauty of “Brexit” was that it was abstract, it could be anything. It could be single market access, it could be WTO deals, it could be starting from scratch. It could be no immigration, it could be limited immigration, it could be more immigration from more countries. Where as Remain was a very concrete concept.

    I work in PR too and think Martin is on to an incredible idea. Well done!

  • Three things:

    1. We’re not a party of brand specialists and mostly work in jobs that don’t require adhering to brand guidelines. I think the emphasised “the” in “the party of freedom” is crucial and you are going to have your work cut out getting people like me to stick to it. I recommend baseball bats and, for these purposes only, a diversion from liberal principles.

    2. What are you telling us for? Send it to Tim Farron, Sal Brinton and the “Your Liberal Britain” people (http://liberalbritain.org/contact-us/). The latter have been trying to get something snappier than the Lib Dem consitution:

    The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

    I think the party of freedom works perfectly with that preamble. The preamble fleshing out just what we mean by “freedom” and the slogan opening the conversation to that and:

    3. The individual aspect of the freedom. The slogan will, undoubtedly, raise compllaints that we want “Britain” to be “controlled” by the “EUSSR” and “we” should stike out for British freedom. Which would enable us to explain that the “freedom” sought by the autoritarians is, in fact, the freedom of HM Government, the freedom of large corporations, the freedom of those in power not the freedom of you and I. The authoritarians may talk about “freedom”, but we’d be enslaved under it. Ergo, we really are the, party of freedom.

  • Maybe getting to the essence of the sort of Freedom that is being talked about and borrowing from the French in part Equality ( Egality), maybe augmented with Opportunity.
    the party of ‘Equality and Opportunity’
    Run that one up the flag pole.

  • @Charles Lawley
    “I think everyone who is complaining that “freedom” being ambiguous is missing the beauty of Martin’s original point”.
    I agree Charles, although as I read everyone of the comments above, I found little to disagree with also
    For what it’s worth, I going to throw something else into the debate here, namely that Advertising, PR, Marketing, Sales etc are generally skilful professions for a reason, they are also *not* politics.
    Politics by it’s nature tends to get bogged down in detail (it has to to come up with workable proposals and policies).
    But that is not what we’re talking about here.
    This needs people who are skilled at seeing the ‘big picture’ and what the public need in order to ‘buy into’ a philosophy
    Maybe politicians are not the ones who should be attempting to solve this issue.
    Maybe the route of a fresh pair of eyes, an independent marketing company coupled with rigorous market research is what’s needed?

  • Lynda Glennie 21st Nov '16 - 4:04pm

    Freedom is a beautiful word but you might need a prison or a police state to give it punch. I love the social democratic notion of social market and social justice and prefer the words, like the guy above, equality, opportunity and collaboration – for the workplace and the EU.

  • Martin Roche,

    Brand management is not my patch but a leading brand consultant once gave me her favourite definition: “A compelling promise, reliably honoured”. I really like that.

    The difficulty for the Lib Dems is that they have no consensus about what the “compelling promise” part of ‘freedom’ should cover as some of the comments above illustrate. Is it about individual freedoms as you propose or should it include corporate freedoms and “free trade” as David Evershed (first comment) says? These are not the same thing at all.

    In practice the Lib Dem promise is a confused muddle of identity-related stuff plus anything else prefixed “free” even when it’s clearly just being used as lipstick on a pig. The Conservatives also promise freedom so this sort of confusion is highly toxic; product matters in politics just as much as in consumer goods and the whole point is to differentiate the Lib Dem position.

    Then there’s the little difficulty of the “reliably honoured” part of that definition. Tuition fees are the obvious example but far from the only one. It’s going to take a lot to get out of that hole. Meanwhile it’s fine for the Brexit campaign to encourage everyone to imagine their own preferred interpretation: they only have to win one vote then they can fall apart. That doesn’t work for a political party which has to be consistent – reliable.

    FWIW I’m with you – ‘freedom’ should be interpreted in terms of individuals. However, I would like to see two additional thoughts worked in somehow. (1) Traditional – e.g. as in ‘ancient freedoms’: most people are (small ‘c’) conservative so that has potentially wide appeal. (2) Some sense of freedom being embedded in a community context. Absent that it can degenerate into a narcissistic devil-take-the-hindmost philosophy and I don’t think that’s what most Lib Dems want although some Conservatives do; it would differentiate Lib Dems from the “there is no such thing as society” Thatcherites.

  • Apologies – Philosophy wrong choice of word – Gordon, your absolutely right, Brand Management/identity is what this is about, that the public can clearly relate to and feel good about – like the ‘Intel Inside’ used above.

  • Gordon Lishman 21st Nov '16 - 8:48pm

    The bottom line of freedom is freedom to be yourself. With that goes the confidence to be yourself; recognition by others of that freedom; and giving people the encouragement and the tools to develop themselves into the best they can be.

  • Julian Heather 21st Nov '16 - 11:21pm

    I think Charles Lawley, above, is on to something in supporting and building on Martin Roache’s excellent post, by pointing out that everyone loves the idea of freedom, that it has very positive vibes, even when it comes to people who want the freedom to make loads of money, and are happy to trample on others to do so. Those people also certainly have a very positive view of “freedom” !

    However, in reality, Liberal Democrats would want to balance freedom with some limited controls over untrammeled freedom, ie as Lib Dems we would all agree that you should have the freedom to do what you like in life, just as long as you don’t hurt anyone else in the process. Or frighten the horses, for that matter !

    This is what Charles wrote, above, and he explains the attraction and power of the word “freedom”, and why it works so well:

    “I think everyone who is complaining that “freedom” being ambiguous is missing the beauty of Martin’s original point. What does being “the party of freedom” mean to you? To anyone? Regardless, freedom is a positive concept and one we want to be associated with, even if my idea of freedom is completely opposite to someone else’s. It also implies the alternative is not freedom (which Labour definitely aren’t and Tories are moving further and further away.)

    By embracing freedom, you’ll be attracting left wing social liberals and right wing Thatcherites.”

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd Nov '16 - 12:36am

    No, I don’t think so. As soon as I read this, Martin, I thought of all the freedoms I would deplore, such as the freedom of rich capitalists to exploit their workers, the freedom of oil magnates to deny climate change, and the freedom generally of the powerful to exploit the weak. The Party of Freedom? Contributors immediately thought of ‘No way should we support free markets’ and ‘We need to protect nascent industries in the underdeveloped world.’ What are ‘real freedoms’? Black Africans under apartheid, Eastern Europeans under the Soviet Union, they knew, as do women under Daesh or people trafficked and enslaved today. We ourselves don’t have that certainty, we have the complexity of freedom from… and freedom to… and, basically perhaps, one person’s freedom denying another’s. We can’t and shouldn’t try to claim a magical beautiful certainty in this. But Martin, you are so welcome to us, please use your skill and experience again to enhance and proclaim our greatest word – LIBERAL.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 22nd Nov '16 - 7:35am

    Katharine Pindar, I think the sort of freedom we should be focusing on is the freedom of every individual – the freedom to live life to the full, the freedom to fulfill their potential, and the freedom to make whatever lifestyle choices they wish. But there should always be an important condition to this – People have the right to make whatever choices they wish, even choices that others may regard as wrong choices, so long as these choices affect only themselves. But they do not have the right to make choices that will harm others

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 22nd Nov '16 - 8:12am

    I agree that we should focus on freedom – the freedom of the individual – because that is what makes our party unique.
    The Green Party, for example, agrees with us on some issues. But their favourite slogan seems to be “For the Common Good”. The danger of that approach is that the rights and freedoms of the individual come to be regarded as less important than the “common good”.
    Central to our liberal philosophy should be the belief that nothing is more important than the rights and freedom of each precious individual.

  • Hi Katharine
    I would suggest that the issue with Liberal as a “brand” is that most ordinary people don’t use this word or understand what it means?
    The whole point of a brand is that it needs to be immediately identifiable to your ‘customers’, they can subliminally associate the branding message with the values you you want to get across and it illicits and emotional response in them which makes them want to take action (a call to action if you like).
    I would suggest that outside of politics/this party, Liberal simply does not work.
    If it did we wouldn’t be having this debate.
    Crucially ‘words’ that people use everyday and instantly understand are much more powerful – that’s one reason why ‘Intel inside’ works so well.

  • Cont’d
    Interestingly a quick definition search of the word Liberal comes up with :
    Free (man)
    Free from restraint
    Respectful of individual rights or freedoms
    Open to new ideas
    Favouring individual liberty free trade & moderate political & social reform

    Interesting the most common word (idea) here that the public would clearly and simply relate to appears to be Freedom?

  • Peter Watson 22nd Nov '16 - 12:24pm

    Reading this thread and a parallel one about whether or not Labour crashed the economy, it appears that once Lib Dems move outside the anti-Brexit echo chamber, the divisions between the right and the left of the party are unresolved. Perhaps it is more explicit in a discussion about Labour, but even here, defining the word “freedom” shows a divide between an emphasis on “freedom to” and “freedom from”.
    “Freedom to” seems to be more associated with the economically liberal right wing of the party, and “freedom from” seems to be more associated with the socially liberal left wing of the party.
    A recent thread raised the notion that the party lacks a vision, and, however well-intentioned, I don’t think that being the “party of freedom” is sufficiently unambiguous to provide that vision.

  • Hi Peter
    Quick question – if not freedom then what?
    Surely the point of a brand to have a word that illicits an emotional response whilst giving the maximum flexibility ( freedom from and freedom to etc – can wrap your own vision around it depending on your place in the party) thus giving the maximum chance of spreading the net as wide as possible – left and right as mentioned above, the gain a call to a action?

  • Matt (Bristol) 22nd Nov '16 - 3:16pm

    I take more instinctively from a ‘social democrat’ vocabulary, but if I was restricted to the language of freedom only, I would say our common goal on right and left of this party is ‘freedom: shared’.

    We all recognise that it is not enough for an individual – or a group of individuals – to ‘free’ themselves from constraints by their own personal power or wealth or privilege, yet by doing so cause active harm to others, or fail to further the freedoms of others.

    We all aspire to a political system where there is a collaborative, democratic effort to debate and define what freedoms need to be prioritised by our nation, and then to work to share the benefits of those freedoms across society.

    We just have an enormous range of (sometimes contradictory) opinions about the requisite mechanics to bring all that about.

  • Neil Sandison 22nd Nov '16 - 3:20pm

    As we move to a more authoritarian ,nationalistic ,protectionist hard right agenda in the western democracies .A party that stands up for liberty ,equality and fraternity will stand out as a beacon of freedom .Lets stick to our values and not be frightened to speak out and stand out from the baying mob led by fake leaders with populist agendas .
    Lets never be afraid to speak truth to power as progressive liberals

  • Ian Hurdley 22nd Nov '16 - 4:24pm

    As numerous comments have pointed out, ‘freedom’ can be defined in many ways, some desirable, others not. But the point surely is not just to repeat the word in the hope that people will look at it the same way we do; that is the job of campaigning going forward. We have been accused of trying to be all things to all men, saying one thing here and something completely different there. What the word freedom does is give us a simple, unifying theme around which to build everything else. A few examples;
    – Lib Dems are free FROM the constraint hand of vested interests
    – Lib Dems believe that local councils should be free TO make the decisions which affect only the local community
    – Lib Dems are committed to fighting FOR a vigorous programme of house building that allows people freedom from the fear scourge of homelessness.
    Thus, everything we stand for can be placed in that context, the Party of Freedom.

  • I agree with Peter Watson: the problem with ‘freedom’ is that it’s one of those words which, like ‘fair’ and ‘liberal’, are so flexible in interpretation and have become so widely used and abused that, paradoxically, they are not very useful at all in a stand-alone sense. You might know precisely what you mean but your listener probably doesn’t. Only when these words are hedged about with qualifications and amplifications and illustrated by a track record can the listener know what the speaker means.

    For me the easy way to distinguish is to ask whose freedom is sought. Thatcherites often self-describe as liberals (I would say ‘neoliberal’) because they want maximum freedom for business arguing that this will lead to economic nirvana. As the record shows this is nonsense but it does vastly enrich a handful of powerful insiders (bankers, big company directors and their lieutenants) who therefore continue to support this zombie economics and the political programmes that depend on it.

    The medieval landscape was dominated by vast castles from whence privileged hereditary elites ruled the peasants. Today those stone castles have been replaced by equally unchallengeable edifices of government bureaucracy and corporate power which rule ordinary folks’ lives – and make a seriously bad job of it! That is what I think people want freedom from. Hence in their own way Brexit and Trump each represent a growing rebellion against the failed establishment. I really don’t think many are interested in a theological debate on the niceties of ‘freedom’.

    The opportunity for Lib Dems is to lead the assault on those castles. That should provide the “compelling promise” I mentioned in my earlier comment and the PR people could surely summarise it with a suitably snappy slogan. Unfortunately, there seem to be a critical number of individuals whose only ambition is to take over running the castles on behalf of the existing management. In the US that would be Obama and Clinton; here … well, you decide.

  • Matt (Bristol) 22nd Nov '16 - 4:59pm

    Gordon – rhymes with ‘air’?

  • Stephen Hesketh 22nd Nov '16 - 5:36pm

    “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals …”

    Fair, free, open, liberty, equality, community, poverty, ignorance, conformity. There appears to be quite a lot of social and economic fairness in that mix as well.

    As other have pointed out, freedom can, and usually is, abused by the powerful.
    A Social Liberal vision of freedom must include fairness, internationalism and sustainability … “Free and fair, Open and sustainable”

  • John, you are right that quotas were sold to Spanish and others. Yes not all countries pull their weight in relation to the agreed policy, however the crux of the problem is it doesn’t work… Too many vested interests too much intransigence. They had to have a number of emergency revision’s in order to ensure that we didn’t get local extinctions of some species. Just the fact that boats have to throw away perfectly good fish, because they would be over quota is a disgrace on many levels. I think you will find that the industry and most governments view it as not fit for purpose. Problem is there is no consensus on any workable change.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Nov '16 - 8:00pm

    @Mike S “if not freedom then what? Surely the point of a brand…”
    I genuinely don’t know, but I would suggest that the party should define and communicate a clear purpose and vision and then find an appropriate word, rather than do it the other way round.
    No British party would say they oppose “freedom”. UKIP might want freedom from Europe, the left might want freedom from oppression, the right might want freedom to oppress: can Lib Dems be the party of all these things?
    I think Stephen Hesketh is pointing in the right direction. The vision for the party should be inspired by the preamble to its constitution, which should also serve as a “scorecard” for individual policies and goals since they will often require compromise between one person’s freedom and that of another.

  • In regard to last comment should have added that the fact that recently bans on the dumping of certain by catch species are being implemented is a good thing and not before time. Anyway way off topic perhaps another thread, another time john?

  • Stephen Hesketh 22nd Nov '16 - 8:39pm

    @Peter Watson 22nd Nov ’16 – 12:24pm
    “Reading this thread and a parallel one about whether or not Labour crashed the economy, it appears that once Lib Dems move outside the anti-Brexit echo chamber, the divisions between the right and the left of the party are unresolved.”

    I totally agree Peter and believe an overriding desire to hide our genuine differences in economic values and economic vision of a fairer, freer, more sustainable society is resulting in us avoiding saying anything distinctive in the area of economics, taxation, the growth of inequality etc i.e. on the fairness side of freedom and fairness balance.

    This results in us being anchored firmly to 7-10% in the polls. It’s a vicious circle. We must appear united to be successful and yet to remain united we have to avoid saying anything in those value areas where we have the distinctive social liberal democratic vision required to get us back up to 20% plus. The values supporters historically knew us for and clearly await us returning to!

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd Nov '16 - 12:16am

    Peter Watson and Stephen Hesketh – yes, we should start with the Preamble to our constitution, and since it begins with balancing the values of liberty, equality and community, I believe we can develop a shared economic vision now that will be more satisfying to social liberals than in past years. As for freedom, as has been well explored here, it is far too wide and often misapplied or misappropriated a concept to be a one-word theme for us, though by all means let us explore and promote the kinds of freedom we believe in, as Catherine for instance suggests. Mike S. – hi, Mike – for me, who also has a communications and marketing background, it is a mistake to try to reduce our profile and our message to a ‘brand’ at all. It just doesn’t work for complex political parties, so I don’t see LIBERAL as a brand either: but that word conveys a glorious idea of which we can more vehemently claim ownership.

  • @ Stephen Hesketh
    “yet to remain united we have to avoid saying anything in those value areas where we have the distinctive social liberal democratic vision required to get us back up to 20% plus. The values supporters historically knew us for and clearly await us returning to!”

    Perhaps the problem is deeper than that and after nearly 8 years of Nick Clegg and before that the pressure to move to the centre-right has resulted in there no longer being a large majority of Liberal Democrats who are “Social Liberals” rather than “Economic Liberals”. Perhaps the majority does not see the importance of having policies to reduce inequalities and ensuring that those less well-off have all the freedom that the well-off have.

  • Matt (Bristol) 23rd Nov '16 - 11:27am

    Michael BG – I suspect it is not that there is an opposition to reducing inequality but it is likely that a significant grouping in this party:
    a) Consciously or not, accept to an extent the premise of ‘trickle down’ economics, in one way or another (ie it is theoretically possible for us to all get rich together)
    b) See social justice and social equality as being at least partly promoted by self-education, by identity politics, and anti-discrimination campaigns, as much as through economic measures (ie it’s about a change of mindset as much as about structural change)
    c) have implicitly accepted the concept of ‘equality of choice’ (i.e. – as long as there is a theoretically plausible range of options available from the state or a commercial provider, economic and social drag-factors that implicitly restrict the viability of these choices are downplayed)

    I don’t see this as ideological, but as an acceptance of the wider culture we have all been living through these past 30 years; you could define these people as ‘soft economic liberals’ – there is no active, crusading belief in the power of the free market, but there is a lack of active will to challenge free markets unless any equalities created by them are so marked as to be unavailable.

  • Matt (Bristol) 23rd Nov '16 - 11:38am

    sorry, unavoidable.

  • Peter Arnold 23rd Nov '16 - 1:27pm

    How about “Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity” as the strapline?

  • Phil Craxford 23rd Nov '16 - 3:35pm

    Even if you choose a single word this would have multiple meanings drawn from it. Although I appreciate the idea of being smarter about the way you present your values it would be difficult to come up with something that couldn’t then be subverted in some other fashion which might lead to the kind of message management that new labour were so criticised for.

    However, as a practical solution how about simply allowing everyone here to put up a list of single words they feel best sum up their sentiments and then these could be ‘up-voted’. The order of the 3 top words could then be voted on again to produce a strapline. (Although – Liberally, Liberal McBoatFace) would not be allowed.

    Fundamentally though, I believe you have to set the context first usually via a well publicised set piece speech, a core pick up the baton and infuse that in the population then the strap line becomes the ‘battle-cry’.

    So firstly, we need a platform on which to make that initial case that can lead to a ‘sea-change’ in the thinking. If anyone else has ideas on how we might do that please bring them forward.

    Excellent and thought provoking post by the way.

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