Liberal Democrat Branding and Relevance

Mark Pack recently addressed Hounslow Liberal Democrats on his views concerning growing party support. During his talk he focused on branding and relevance
Listening to Mark I was reminded of the work of Michael Porter and his approach to strategy development. Porter in the 1980s determined that there are only three possible strategies that any commercial organisation can adopt – Low cost, differentiation or focus (market niche). Within a focus strategy, a low-cost or differentiation approach can be adopted.
According to Porter, what is fatal for any organisation is to get stuck in the middle. Essentially, organisations must seek cost leadership or they seek to be differentiated – they cannot seek both successfully
In considering Political Parties – mainstream national parties can compete in the centre ground for a broad swathe of voters. They do so by offering a broadly similar suite of policies slanted somewhat towards their core voter base, as perhaps all the mainstream parties have done in recent decades.
The alternative strategy of differentiation requires being associated with a particular focus or representation of a sufficiently wide segment of the electorate.
The conservatives are associated with maintenance of the status quo, playing it safe with lower taxes, spending and borrowing and a focus on the interests of big business and finance (Capital).
Labour aims to represent the many with a focus on workers’ rights, higher spending, taxes and borrowing and be the party of the unions and the working classes (Labour)
Liberal Democrats have a rich heritage. The party’s principles are universal in nature and stand the test of time. However, the neutral political stance of the party has too often brought the Liberal Democrats into a bland space. Fighting for the middle ground, with only somewhat differentiated policies can appear to lack relevance.
We need to be able to reposition ourselves as a party that seeks radical change in overturning the duopoly of Conservatives and Labour that has brought about such disillusionment in British Politics. There is a need to be associated with change in voters’ minds with a positive stance on borrowing for investment to transform our economy; social justice and fair taxes. Becoming the party of small and medium-sized enterprises with a focus on the third essential factor of production ignored by both Conservatives and Labour – Land.
The principle policies required in delivering this change would be Land Value Capture (based on reform of the  1961 Land Compensation Act) that would form the basis of housing policy, coupled with fair taxation of rent-seeking activity as the basis of an economic reform program to address inequality and public service provision.

This would see us clearly differentiating ourselves from Conservatives and Labour and avoid falling into Porter’s trap of getting stuck in the middle.
Next month will see local elections nationwide and potentially EU elections where new challenger parties will enter the fray. It is clearly important that the party is able to seize the opportunity to regain momentum and deliver a unified message based on conviction politics for a post-Brexit UK (in or out of the EU).

* Joe is a member of Hounslow Liberal Democrats and Chair of ALTER.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Richard Underhill 10th Apr '19 - 9:19am

    In the local elections borough councils should be challenged on any postcode lotteries.
    An example has been researched by Moneysaving expert Martin Lewis on council tax discounts. Carers in England have been wrongly told that these discounts do not exist, but Wales has been simplifying the system by, for instance, providing a common application form. Those affected are on social benefits and have dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s or a stroke,
    25% off is worth about £400 and can also be backdated from the first diagnosis.

  • Richard Underhill 10th Apr '19 - 9:24am

    69% of councils gave the wrong information. Proper information is needed. The law in Wales is identical to the law in England. The Minister is James Brokenshire.

  • Joe Bourke call for us to be “a party that seeks radical change”, but then advocate a policy of borrowing for investment, social justice and fair taxes and becoming “the party of small and medium-sizes enterprizes”. There is nothing radical about that.

    He wants a focus on land. He should know that land was taxed in the past and is taxed today. In the past it was the main basis for taxation, so hardy radical.

    We have a core value – providing the conditions in which everyone can have equal freedom, and as much freedom as possible while not restricting the freedom of others. These conditions do not exist today and they have become worse since 2010.

    For me the two most important areas are removing everyone in the UK out of poverty so no one is “enslaved” by not having enough money to live at the poverty level. And the second is ensuring everyone who wants to work has a job.

    To achieve the second the government has to be much more active in the economy and I think it should aim to achieve 3% annual growth each and every year. To achieve this government spending has to increase and the money targeted at the poorest in society by increasing benefits and the poorest regions and those regions with the highest levels of unemployment. To me this includes providing either free training to anyone who has been unemployed for more than 6 months so they can apply for vacancies which exist in their region or providing a job guarantee to those who are likely to find employment, once their region’s economy recovers, so that their employment skills are kept up to date.

  • One way of rebranding would be to change the name of the party to the European Liberal Democrats. I don’t agree with Richard Dawkins about much, but I believe he suggested something similar.

  • Joseph Bourke 11th Apr '19 - 12:21am

    Michael BG,

    small and medium size enterprises are the key to UK employment growth and economic growth

    SMEs and the Economy:
    – Small businesses accounted for 99.3% of all private sector businesses at the start of 2018 and 99.9% were small or medium-sized (SMEs).
    – Total employment in SMEs was 16.3 million; 60% of all private sector employment in the UK.
    – The combined annual turnover of SMEs was £2.0 trillion, 52% of all private sector turnover.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Apr '19 - 1:13am

    This is typical of Joe, whose efforts regarding land value tax, I , though in fact without his enthusiasm for it, have developed an admiration for, though as yet unsure on the tax!

    More of our fellow members could do with is amount of dedication to something in their fibre and essence, apart from Brexit.

    I do not think in this instance, re branding is much effected by such policies, if even our equally committed David Raw, the only person on here as committed to something apart from Brexit, as Joe, in his case , for equality, does not yet appear convinced , as this policy is so complicated to initially get excited about it, I think something more straight forward would be more to do with an improvement in our branding, even if this might advance our economic justice.

  • A challenge is that our influential media prefer divisions and extreme positions. For us to make the centre ground a safe place from which to campaign, the media need to change too. Social media can play a useful part in this transition.

  • Joseph Bourke 11th Apr '19 - 1:12pm

    Dn Manley,

    “One way of rebranding would be to change the name of the party to the European Liberal Democrats.”

    Fintan Otoole iwrites in the Irish Times “It was never about Europe. Brexit is Britain’s reckoning with itself”

    “…Brexit is much less about Britain’s relationship with the EU than it is about Britain’s relationship with itself. It is the projection outwards of an inner turmoil. An archaic political system had carried on even while its foundations in a collective sense of belonging were crumbling. Brexit in one way alone has done a real service: it has forced the old system to play out its death throes in public. The spectacle is ugly, but at least it shows that a fissiparous four-nation state cannot be governed without radical social and constitutional change.

    European leaders have continually expressed exasperation that the British have really been negotiating not with them, but with each other. But perhaps it is time to recognise that there is a useful truth in this: Brexit is really just the vehicle that has delivered a fraught state to a place where it can no longer pretend to be a settled and functioning democracy. Brexit’s work is done – everyone can now see that the Westminster dodo is dead. It is time to move on from the pretence that the problem with British democracy is the EU and to recognise that it is with itself. After Brextinction there must be a whole new political ecosystem. Drop the dead dodo, end the mad race for a meaningless prize, and start talking about who you want to be.”

  • Joe,

    My point here was that I can remember both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party being advocates for small and medium businesses, therefore what you are calling for is not radical, plus it is not unique. I am in favour of central government giving financial support for businesses in the regions of the highest unemployment for them to be based there and to employ people who were not working. I am not sure you are advocating such targeted support.

    From your link there is:

    “In 2018 there were 1.4 million employing businesses and 4.3 million non-employing businesses. Therefore, 75% of businesses did not employ anyone aside from the owner(s).”

  • Peter Watson 11th Apr '19 - 4:15pm

    @Michael BG “Therefore, 75% of businesses did not employ anyone aside from the owner(s).”
    It would be interesting to know how many of those are what most people would recognise as “businesses” and how many are contractors operating through personal service companies in the sort of disguised employment that IR35 attempts to target.
    A quick look at the page linked to suggests that there could be 0.5 million “non-employing” “companies”, which might represent an upper limit for any such figure.

  • Michael BG, Joe Bourke – Michael, the vast majority of British manufacturing and tech firms are SMEs. This especially the case for no-name upstream suppliers in the manufacturing value chain. Big business tend to be in service sector, and big manufacturers are mostly foreign firms, like the Japanese carmakers. Besides, SMEs tend to have difficulty in getting access to bank lending and capital markets. So, the objective of promoting manufacturing and technology and the objective of supporting SMEs are congruent. Yes, I agree with Michael that all parties have a platform of supporting SMEs. We, however, can make ourselves distinct by having policies and strategies to help them SCALE UP, become new stars instead of being SMEs forever. Anti-takeover laws should be established prevent potential stars from being snatched by multinational giants before they can even scale up.

    Joe Bourke, Michael BG – Joe, I will say I agree with Michael regarding the 3% growth target. In real life Donald Trump did make use of that 3% growth rate to great effect in 2016. However, I would rephrase Michael’s idea into “raising long-term growth rate to 3%”, because from our current position it is impossible to raise UK growth to 3% within 5 years without jacking up household spending and debt expansion. Growth must be sustainable and driven by productivity growth, manufacturing and tech, exports and capital investments. I will add another goal: cutting merchandise trade deficit in half by 2030. Both export promotion and developing domestic manufacturing supply chain (a “sexy” paraphrase of import substitution) will be part of our industrial strategy. I will also levy VAT in a way that would curb imports (I) rather than domestic consumption (C). Finally, there should be policies to raise UK Investment as % of GDP to over 20%, in line with most of our OECD peers. The current UK investment level/gross fixed capital formation is only 17% of GDP, which is behind almost every OECD member.

  • I am not opposed to providing better support to start-ups and SME. I thinking having a National Bank which would lend to the marginal business opportunities which commercial banks do not lend to would be a good idea. However funding a job guarantee scheme is a higher priority for me as is targeting government spending into the poorer regions with the worse unemployment figures.


    We are not an anti-trade union party.

    I wrote to the working group on “A Fairer Share for All” call of them to change our policy so that we aim to build 99,000 new social houses in the fourth year and 104,000 in the fifth, then increase each year by 6,000 to reach 122,000 in year eight and increase by more after this reaching 136,000 in year 10, and 167,000 in the 14th year which is the Shelter annual target.


    I think politicians have been talking about increasing manufacturing production and so reducing our imports for years. As far as I can tell they haven’t found a successful way of achieving this.

    I think you are mistaken, 3% growth can be achieved while not increasing the National Debt to GDP ratio and by increasing government spending there should be little need for consumer debt to increase. Consumer spending is a good thing.

  • Michael BG – when I read through all manifestos from 2010, none of them talked about trade deficit. The Libdem manifesto in 2017 has zero mention of manufacturing.

    And with the current environment, no, we cannot achieve 3% growth within 5 years, not until the Brexit outcome is clear. Pre-Referendum scenario is possible, but now it is not. Businesses are cutting back/delaying investments due to uncertainty, and many are actually having contingency plan for relocation. About government spending, well, a divorce bill is waiting. Extra growth can be generated by targeted spending in poor regions, but not to 3%, not now. And with the current low-productivity nature of the British economy, you cannot jack up extra consumer spending without jacking up extra consumer debt. The most effective way to actually drive up the whole growth trajectory is to raise total national gross fixed capital formation as percentage of GDP to over 20%, the OECD average level, and it must be driven by non-residential investments to actually affect productivity. But then, the current climate is discouraging business investments, and while government investment can make up some of the reduction/cutback/delay, it cannot replace business investment as the main engine. Good luck improving long-term growth with the current piss poor level of national investment of just 17%. And, none of the main parties actually mentioned the country’s low level of GFCF in their manifestos.

    The National Bank, well, the Libdem manifesto did talk about expanding the British Business Bank (BBB), but by how much I don’t know. I think we can separate the corporate/business lending arm of the now state-owned RBS and merge with the BBB, as this will give us a much bigger National Bank without creating extra bureaucracy. I mean separating because the current RBS funding is still from household deposits, while a National Bank must be funded by issuing government-backed bonds.

  • Thomas

    “Rebalancing the economy” is code for encouraging more manufacturing and our 2019 manifesto does talk of this. Also on page 41 we stated, “Build on the Coalition’s industrial strategy, working with sectors which are critical to Britain’s ability to trade internationally, creating more ‘catapult’ innovation and technology centres and backing private investment in particular in green innovation”. This implies increased manufacturing and clearly implies exporting more.

    When businesses reduce their investment Keynesian economics calls on the government to increase its spending to ensure aggregate demand does not fall. Economic growth is forecast to be 1.6% for this year, therefore the government could increase government spending by 5/6th of 1.4% of GDP which is about £24.8 billion. It could use some of this to fund the Liberal Democrat benefit reforms and restoring the national Council Tax Benefit scheme and increasing the amount of benefit for each child to £84.13 a week, some for the NHS, some for local government, some for social care and if there is anything left over then some for a job guarantee and training schemes as I set out above in the regions with the worse unemployment and some for investing in businesses in the poorest regions.

  • Michael BG – “Economic growth is forecast to be 1.6% for this year, therefore the government could increase government spending by 5/6th of 1.4% of GDP which is about £24.8 billion. It could use some of this to fund the Liberal Democrat benefit reforms and restoring the national Council Tax Benefit scheme and increasing the amount of benefit for each child to £84.13 a week, some for the NHS, some for local government, some for social care and if there is anything left over then some for a job guarantee and training schemes as I set out above in the regions with the worse unemployment and some for investing in businesses in the poorest regions” – if so, our borrowing plan is £100 billion, we can increase to £125 billion. Simple, but we must ensure that these loans are long-term and with fixed rate at current low rate to prevent any future rate hikes.

    “clearly implies exporting more” – export more is not enough if imports rise faster, so it must be increase exports and cut imports, the latter of the phrase has been ignored by all parties. Developing domestic supply chains to produce components and inputs currently imported will reduce imports. VAT on largely imported consumer products (but no VAT on British substitutes) will reduce imports. Discourage British people from having vacation abroad also reduces imports. Of course Libdem should only choose my first policy about supply chain, the third one is just joking.

    I would also add takeover/foreign investment law and corporate governance reforms. The former is to block potential Chinese bids on our key national assets. Our European peers have already made their moves. Meanwhile, the latter is to discourage shareholder “activists” a.k.a corporate raiders (remember that Conservative “hero” Lord Hanson). You know, those corporate raiders never have similar “success” (dismantling large industrial conglomerates and sell off assets a.k.a asset stripping) outside Anglo-American economic system. Plus, the current Anglo-American corporate culture of maximizing shareholder value has never done anything good for our country since 1980. Rather, it was a key factor that hastened the dismantling of our native manufacturing base (GEC, ICI…). I am sure that BASF would have been split up long ago if it was operating under the Anglo-American system.

  • One more thing, the Business Secretary must be prioritized over the Treasury, which often has a tendency to oppose interventionist industrial policy, in order for any industrial strategy to succeed. I mean, the grip of the Treasury over Industrial Strategy must be weakened, and the Busineds Secretary must be empowered.

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