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28 Comments

  • John,

    some of the answers to your questions about those who protest for the right or wrong reasons might be found in the Searchlight report Fear and Hope

    The report’s key argument is that traditional class-based, left-right models of British politics still have some relevance, but they need to be understood alongside “a new politics of identity”, in particular:
    “The politics of immigration, a politically active issue in the decade past, has morphed into a politics of culture, identity and nation.”

    Within the identity-defined “new tribes” into which society can be divided, two groups in particular are deemed to be of importance:

    • Identity Ambivalents (28% of the population)
    These people are less financially secure and less optimistic about the future. They are more likely to be working class, to live in social housing and to view immigration through the prism of its economic impact on their opportunities and the social impact on their communities. Muslims and other BME (Black Minority Ethnic) groups are more prevalent here as are the largest single segment of those who identify with Labour.

    • Cultural Integrationists (24%)
    Generally older and more prosperous than other groups, many are (or have been) professionals and managers. They are more likely to view immigration as a cultural issue with concerns about the impact of immigration on national identity and about immigrants’ willingness to integrate. This group forms the largest segment of those identifying with the Conservative Party.

    Together, these two groups comprise more than half the population and they should, according to the authors, be considered “the mainstream”.

    Jon Cruddas MP writes in the report’s foreword:

    “The real floating voters, primarily ‘identity ambivalents’ – appear to be on a journey away from all major parties. This poses the very real threat of a new potent political constituency built around an assertive English nationalism…
    “The core message of hope contained within [the report] is that people share a common sentiment, a search for a common life even – built on a desire for belonging and security, which does indeed create possibilities for an optimistic ‘new politics’ but only if the mainstream political parties step up. “The jury is out. This is a profoundly important text.”

  • Eddie Sammon 7th May '14 - 7:41pm

    I agree. The point about the “protest” vote holding up in local government is a good one.

    My complaints at the moment are that Nick is saying we are no longer a protest party, but he seems to have turned us into an EU pressure group party instead. Perhaps the party of IN thing could have worked if we weren’t also trying to be moderate, but it seems contradictory to try to be both.

    Regards

  • “I am not sorry to have lost the support of the grumpy and irrational,but I am sorry if we adapt so well to the corridors of power that we appear no longer to be the home for the dis-enfranchised, the poor, those who want a better politics.”

    The most encouraging post i’ve read hear in the last 4 years. Will the call be heeded by those disposed towards dismissing the disenchanted as merely angry, unrealistic or irrational?

  • *here

  • Stephen Hesketh 7th May '14 - 8:48pm

    “We used to describe ourselves as a radical party.”
    Indeed we did, but today we are portrayed by our leader as a philosophically meaningless ‘centre party’ and by Jeremy Browne and his like as needing to become more ‘authentically’ liberal by adopting ever increasing levels of neo-Thatcherite economics and (carefully selected) 19th Century Liberal thought.

    And the country becomes ever more centralised, the gap between the rich and poor and between old and young becomes ever-wider such that the electorate are so unimpressed by current adversarial, sound bite, professionalised politics … that many don’t bother to vote, even in protest. A sad trend driven ever-forwards by our ‘free’ press who cynically manipulate almost every news story in pursuit of sales rather than truth.

    However, even a cursory examination of the preamble to our constitution demonstrates that we are a radical reforming party and one quite at odds with the adversarial sub-Thatcherite politics staged by an increasingly elitist closed shop of legal-financial-journalistic professionals.

    The values set out in our constitution are, I would argue, the values to which most Liberal Democrat members would aspire. The party needs to get back to policies reflecting our philosophy; socially liberal, green, egalitarian, cooperative, decentralising, empowering and Internationalist.

    Not only does that sound more like authentic 21st century Liberal Democracy but also a range of values more likely to appeal to both the young and the young in spirit. A perfect home for votes in protest against where we find ourselves today.

  • Hang on. I think I know who took that photo!

    I think I might have been protesting about something at the time! 🙂

  • Paula Keaveney 8th May '14 - 7:42am

    So encouraging to read something like this from John.

  • “There are some obvious flaws in this lazy but consoling analysis.”

    That’ll be the “lazy but consoling analysis” put forward by our leader. Ho hum.

    The reason why the protest vote is so large at the moment is very much due to squeezed living standards, which are not due to government policy, rather to trends in global food and energy markets and in the UK labour market. The only way we can court this protest vote then is to offer false hopes of miracle cures (Miliband: borrow and spend more, beat up private enterprise and the markets; Farage: blame it all on foreigners and leave the EU).

    What I am most concerned about is not the protest vote. We have lost that and won’t be getting it back while we are in government. What I am worried about are the other voters.

    Looking at our dismal 8% Yougov polling rating (8%), we have kept barely a third of our 2010 voters. Just over a quarter have gone to Labour, while 14% have gone to Labour and 7% to Green. That makes up almost a half of our vote. But 17% have gone to the Conservatives and 18% to don’t know. That is over a third of our vote that is either going to the other party in government or not to any other party i.e. not a protest vote. Getting those voters back on our side by the next election, plus a few of the defectors to other parties, would bump us up to 16% or so and help us save a large number of MPs. This is the most realistic objective we face at the moment, but a catastrophic Euro and local performance on 22 May is likely to put us further away from achieving even that. At this stage, I am not very hopeful.

  • while 14% have gone to UKIP, I mean

  • John Pugh says “The choreography of Westminster now serves to portray us as part of the political establishment”. Well -er-no. We actually became part of the political establishment when we (with overwhelming consent from our members) became part of the government of this country. Of course we must try to retain as much as possible of the “agin the government” appeal which we were able to exploit in the days when we looked like the party of permanent opposition. We must also keep earning the reputation of our councillors as the best workers for local people. However our leaders cannot and should not try to pretend they are not responsible members of the Westminster administration with all the difficulties and compromises that go together with the successes.

    Iain bb says “OK folks, we are on the side of the governed not the government!” No – we are both now and must make the best of it.

  • It is possible to be in Government and not part of the establishment.

    Indeed, it’s a pretty common factor amongst the most effective politicians – with Margaret Thatcher being the classic example of a politician who remained seen as ‘an outsider’ from the status quo and an apparent challenger of ‘the system’ despite winning three General Elections.

    The opposite of protesting is not ‘being a party of government’, it’s complacency and conservative acceptance of the status quo.

  • Peter Chivall 8th May '14 - 12:14pm

    I am hopeful that the results in our active Wards, where we are not seen as part of a Tory dominated establishment (including their complacent Labour opponents) will help us to hold on to most of the seats in Local Government that we are contesting. In many of our ‘paperless’ contests, by contrast, we quite expect results of 4% or less.
    Sadly, in the Euros, we are too easily identified with the establishment, despite the hard work and radicalism of of our MEPs. I fully support the concept of the ‘Party of IN’ campaign, but it inevitably became identified with the ultimate establishment figures of Team Clegg. While I know we may be able to achieve wonders with sophisticated campaign techniques, I fear the results will leave at least half of the UK with no LibDem MEPs.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 8th May '14 - 12:59pm

    I like this analysis of the outcomes of protesting because it also shines a light on the early years of coalition. Why were we LDs not protesting in Government about the policies of Mr Cameron? Why were we so rosy in a garden? Suddenly, due to a good call, our team could really protest and bring in what we need in Britain – a LD way of thinking. But for 2-3 years, that top team [so-called but not in my name] followed Mr Cameron’s wishes, was subjected to the protests of LD party members, to the protests of the [anti LD] media, to the protests of [anti LD] polls….

    Then gradually it began to leak out that we were actually protesting, even in government, to the terrible decisions [for LDs] made by our coalition partners. Of course we are a party of protest – against the benefits to inheritors of the lands granted by William the Conqueror [if you don’t know this one, ask me], against every law that doesn’t seek to protect all citizens against the money-rich autocracy of England. We are still the party of protest if we stand for equality of outcomes of all kinds. We are NOT Tories – I protest if you think we are.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 8th May '14 - 1:08pm

    I’m a member but the log-in system has changed today

  • Tony Dawson 8th May '14 - 7:44pm

    @Eddie Sammon :

    “My complaints at the moment are that Nick is saying we are no longer a protest party”

    Wasn’t that just an attempt to stop Lib Dems protesting about Nick? 😉

  • Eddie Sammon 8th May '14 - 8:23pm

    🙂 perhaps!

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th May '14 - 7:24am

    The line “we must stop being a protest party and start being a government party, then we’ll gain a whole load more votes from people who up to now wouldn’t vote for us because they think we’re not serious” has been used for as long as I have been a member of the party (35 years), and longer than that, judging from the records and what others have said. It’s always been used by people on the right of the party to try and push it in a more right-wing direction, and whenever they have had their way, we have lost votes, not gained them.

    Clegg and those who are surrounding him and dominating how our party is presented to the public going on and on and on and on and on and on and on about us being “in government” is part of this. It’s a phrase that seems to be repeated, and is often central in every Clegg speech, and comes up in the words we are told we must use and in pres releases and so on. I think Clegg and the Cleggies really did suppose at the start of the coalition that him standing up there on the government side in Parliament, and him standing alongside Cameron as “Deputy Prime Minister” would cause some big rush of voters to us. Then when it didn’t, they kept pushing this line about “mid-term blues as we are now a party in government”, thus digging the hole deeper. Members of the public read this as “they’re just another bunch of politicians, in it to get power for themselves and that’s it”. They read it as us being in full support of this government, even though this government consists largely of Conservative Party people and has policies that reflect that.

    It was a difficult hand to play, but Clegg has played it badly even allowing for that. We needed to get the message across that we accepted the verdict of the voters, which gave us a Parliament in which the current government was the only stable option, but that doesn’t mean what we have is our ideal. We’re not going to play the Beppe Grillo game of leaving the country in a mess by refusing to accept agreement with any other party and so making no stable government possible – in that way, we are serious politicians. However, there is surely a lot wrong with politics in this country, including the distortion of the electoral system which gave us this government in which we are so weak and the Tories are so strong. So there is a lot to protest about. Of course we should never have given up on that, or given the impression we had given up.

    The Liberal Democrats ARE the party of opposition to the idea that politics is forever the Labour and the Conservative parties swapping places as government and opposition. We are the party of protest against that. We SHOULD also be the party of protest against the centralised model of politics that gives us, with the model of political parties as being all about their leader dictating from the top. It is VERY important that we combine this with being a liberal party, because parties of protest which don’t have that basis of liberalism almost inevitably turn nasty. We should also be the party of protest about the dominance of the power of wealth in this country, and the continual growth in inequality that has been happening since 1979. How could anyone except a dyed-in-the-wool Tory deny there is a need for protest against that? We are a party of protest against Labour because Labour’s arrogance and complacency, stemming from its belief that politics will forever be it swapping places with the Conservatives, have meant it has failed to stand up for those in the country who aren’t rich and powerful, failed to provide a mechanism whereby their voices can be heard, failed to show that working together in the democratic system can get things changed. Labour just thought the votes of these people would always come this way, so they didn’t need to work on them.

    We need to have a different and decentralised view of politics and economics we are pushing, not just “cleaning up Labour’s mess” (which ignores the extent to which the mess in this country goes back to Thatcherism and Labour accepting its ideas), and not just pushing a few token social liberal things like gay marriage which the power of wealth doesn’t mind us doing because it isn’t affected by them. Our position with this government should always have been “OK, we’ve had to accept it as it is what you voted for, but we want to offer you something different if you’ll give us the chance by giving us many more MPs”. As I keep saying, the argument that it’s not what the people voted for because the Tories only got 36% of the vote in 2010 was destroyed when the people voted by two to one in favour of “No” in 2011 after the “No” side said the distortion which gave the Tories so many more seats than their share of the vote was the best thing about the system.

  • Simon Banks 9th May '14 - 1:52pm

    We need to be the party of the EFFECTIVE protest vote.

  • “Don’t we want those on our side who protest for the right reasons?”

    I think you want people to vote for you full stop. When was the last By Election where you kept your deposit? Will you beat the number of MEP’s achieved by the BNP last time in two weeks?

    To get them to vote for you you have to provide them a reason. You have failed in govt, and are on the wrong side of public opinion on the two issues which dominate the political agenda, Europe and Immigration.

    You have to accept retreating to a narrow base of Europhiles, or change your policies. Or you could change the electorate, I guess?

  • simon,

    The last by-elections Lib Dems won :

    EAST CAMBRIDGESHIRE DC, SUTTON : April 24, 2014 – LD Lorna Dupre 523 (50.9%; +27%)
    WANTAGE TC, WANTAGE CHALTON – April 10, 2014 – LD Jim Sibbald 559 (39.9%)
    CHIPPENHAM TOWN COUNCIL, HARDENS AND ENGLAND – March 27, 2014 -LD Terry Gibson 354 (51.60%)

    Most Lib Dem byelection wins have been gains this year. I wouldn’t say the current recovery is failure in government at all, and by the general election I think more people will take that view. Furthermore, Europe is on the agenda because UKIP are forcing it to be – by the General Election much of the impetus behind this interest may of fizzled out.

    I loathe Clegg, but the idea of someone like Farage having any power might be enough to make people see the Lib Dems in a more positive light. At the moment UKIP have a lot of novelty factor, but there’s enough Kippers that are clearly off their rocker to shoo off a good amount of potential electorate in the next 12 months.

    There’s enough time for a backlash, don’t count your chickens!

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