Moving forwards as positive campaigners

If I took one thing away from the referendum campaign, it would be that voters and activists are being ever-more turned off from politics (high turnout notwithstanding).

People on the streets were reacting against the fearmongering, the negativity and the ad hominem attacks employed by many parties in the last few weeks and months.

Back in 2015, we learned that campaigns based on adding ‘brains’ or ‘hearts’ to other parties’ manifestos just don’t work.
My view?

We as Liberal Democrats need to energise ourselves and our communities with a positive, optimistic and internationalist message. And we need to be doing it from today, as many of us are already.

I want to put out a call to action: in the comments below, post your ideas for big, positive and inspiring campaigns our party can run on big ticket national campaign issues. Things to get young activists fired up, things to get new voters excited about.

Starters for 10:

We must continue making the case for engaging positively with Europe and the world to tackle massive problems like climate change, foreign wars and the refugee crisis.

We must work together to ensure new homes, new infrastructure and new power stations of all kinds are built apace.

We must reinforce our status as THE party for civil liberties, for personal freedom and for parity of esteem regardless of sex, sexuality, race or religion.

Lib Dems do amazing things when given the opportunity, from bringing the poorest out of tax and enabling same-sex couples to marry whom they choose, to championing local residents in devolved and local bodies across the country and leading the fight against human trafficking and animal poaching in the European Parliament.

I’ve seen first hand the loyalty that strong campaigns in local communities can engender from ordinary people, whether it’s residents who know they prosper every day under Eastleigh’s outstanding Lib Dem Borough Council or the thousands of people in southern Manchester who know John Leech has their back.

For my part, I’ve always been something of an inconsistent activist.

I’ve gone from being a paid organiser and enthused campaigner at the General Election to doing almost nothing for the locals this year and wearing StrongerIN red, white and blue for much of the referendum.

And I’d be lying if I said I’m sure I’ll renew my membership this year.

I think this is a horrible result for the UK. But however bad the campaign was, however blatant the lies and slander on the airwaves, we must be proactive and move forwards within this new era.

Let’s be positive, optimistic and internationalist Liberal Democrats and win new support in the young, hopeful and vibrant voter base we know exists, despite the result. Let’s be bold. Let’s set out our vision on its own merits and work hard to make it into a reality.

You tell me.

How should we move forwards as positive campaigners?

* Matt campaigns with the Southwark Liberal Democrats and was Eastleigh’s Constituency Organiser in 2015. He tweets about politics, mental health and social care @MattDolman.

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19 Comments

  • This sums up everything that’s wrong with the Lib Dems.

    What is the Liberal Democrats economic policy? What is the Liberal Democrats immigration policy? What is the Liberal Democrats physical security policy?

    Yes it’s nice to talk about freedom, refugees and everything. Without those three things in place that transforms the now defunct `old style Liberal Left orthodoxy` the party will just become a pressure group.

    Liberalism needs to be transformed. Lib Dems need to challenge their own assumptions and comfort zones.

  • As Europeans and internationalist we were surley never wedded to the nation state anyway. So we give up and look for where else we might qualify for citizenship. Let Farage and Co have this piece of land.

  • Good post Jane.

  • As now an independent I was happy to join with Coventry Lib Dems and Greens “Stronger in” campaign. All our efforts were hampered by a national campaign which lacked vision and passion. It was simply the worst campaign with which I have been involved. It was all top down with no helpful information just a supply of glossy leaflets which were at best counter productive. We were not linked to the two former MEPs who spoke on our behalf at meetings in Coventry.

    After decades of Tories treating the EU as something to be bullied into submission it is not surprising their lead in the campaign was uninspiring and dominated by overblown scare stories.

    The only surprise was the closeness of the result – I expected it to be nearer 55 to 45%.

    I did send an open letter to David Cameron on 31 May 2016 which demonstrates a better vision (and I am not being wise after the event)

    I will summarise it in a separate post

  • Ailsa Gaskill-Jones 25th Jun '16 - 10:59am

    Abridged version of an email sent to my local party this morning….”I am heartened by the LD campaign during the referendum. As a social media obsessive, people seem to have found our approach to the campaign positive and engaging and we certainly seem to picked up a good number of new members following the result which is brilliant news. There were also a few cancelled members who didn’t like Tim’s speech yesterday when he appeared to not wish to accept the democratic decision of the people and this highlights for me the very careful path we need to walk.

    As far back as Easter I was concerned about the tone of the remain campaign (irrelevant of the particular message we were trying to get across) and my concerns were highlighted that the Project Fear approach was going to do little to engage people who already distrust politicians are disenchanted and if anything this approach was going to bring out the bloody minded aspect of our nation’s collective personality.

    I suggested then that there needed to be something much more positive and whilst I appreciate this is all a bit Pollyana-esque, pink and fluffy this is something I think we still need to do if we are to attract some of the disenchanted remainers. For too long I feel politics (in all parties) has become a game of “look how awful they are, vote for us”, a rather depressing best worst option choice for voters. Is now the time to implement something different? In the wake of the awful, awful news of Jo Cox’s murder I shared Tim’s response on my Facebook page (because it was amazing and emotional and compassionate) and had Labour voters responding very positively. Yesterday I had Labour voters saying they put a huge chunk of responsibility for Brexit at Jeremy Corbyn’s door and will never vote Labour again. I have a friend who has always voted Labour, hated us (with a passion) for the coalition and is yet now contemplating joining the Lib Dems.

    I can see that the current climate provides us with a political opportunity. I think there is a well of people looking for something positive after a very dark few weeks all ways round and we are very well placed to be that.

  • Open letter to Cameron 31/5/16

    Our most valued international role has been that exemplified by the BBC World Service where we made a valuable contribution to international understanding.

    The xenophobic idea of leaving European Court is like Manchester United, leaving European competitions because they have had a couple of dodgy refereeing decisions . If there is a problem we should work with other countries to sort it out.

    There are things wrong with the European Union and we should work with other countries to improve it. This would have been more in the spirit of our historic role.

    This isolationist approach is strange as we are the best connected country in the world.

    We are in: The United Nations
    The Commonwealth
    The European Union
    NATO
    And many more

    Crucially – our language has become the international language.

    In popular culture the Eurovision Song Contest is now almost completely in English.

    We can be pivotal in world affairs. If we leave the EU our international standing is diminished

    We still receive grudging respect from other countries but the warmth and high regard is diminishing. The continual arrogant and small-minded approach by our leaders is having its effect

    UK was formed of different countries joining together Having to go through customs if we went to Wales or Scotland seems a complete nonsense to us.

    We led the world with the Industrial Revolution but would we have been so successful if we had restricted immigration between our countries?

    These are lessons we can pass on.

    Power has been concentrated in, Westminster/Whitehall, and the nations of the UK had powers increasingly taken away from them. Thankfully we now have devolved governments. We are addressing this democratic deficit within our own countries.

    The xenophobic approach gives our children the idea that all foreign countries, and therefore foreigners, are antagonistic towards us and should be treated with distrust. This cannot be healthy for our future generations.

    I urge you to base the campaign on Britain’s historic and valued role in the world as a well-connected mature democracy whose networks mean we can contribute far more to international relationships than our size and power alone permit.

  • Our experience in Coventry was that the local newspapers did not respond to anything we (cross-party “stronger in”) sent them and as far as I am aware generally ignored the referendum.

    BBC Coventry and Warwicks only got involved in last few days but then did a “Question Time” type debate and a few telephone interviews. All reasonably OK but too late in the campaign.

    Was this the same in other parts of the country?

  • David Evershed 25th Jun '16 - 1:11pm

    Lib Dems should dump the inward looking, protectionist EU policies.

    Lib Dems should adopt outward looking, internationalist, free trade policies which are Liberal traditions.

    The EU only represents 20% of the World (less without the UK). What a great positive message for our youth to open their eyes to the opportunites trading with the other 80% in China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, USA, Canada, Australia and beyond.

  • Matt Dolman 25th Jun '16 - 1:22pm

    Jane, you’re totally right! We have to grapple with those issues. Do you have any suggestions to start us off?

  • Matt Dolman 25th Jun '16 - 1:23pm

    David, I’m sure many here will be looking for new trade deals! What should our priorities be in the near term?

  • Tony Dawson 25th Jun '16 - 1:59pm

    “Back in 2015, we learned that campaigns based on adding ‘brains’ or ‘hearts’ to other parties’ manifestos just don’t work.”

    Quoi?

    I do not recall any such campaigns in 2015. Indeed, I do not recall any central campaign at all. Campaigning on what you really stand for works if you can get people to truly believe they can identify with you as an honest broker for their own interests. Clearly, that was not a ‘pitch’ which the central Lib Dem leadership either did or could do in 2015. But those liberals who can still honestly wear these clothes can still win elections.

  • A trade deal with Scotland might be a good place to start.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '16 - 5:52pm

    Matt Dolman

    If I took one thing away from the referendum campaign, it would be that voters and activists are being ever-more turned off from politics (high turnout notwithstanding).

    Er, yes. “Politics and politicians are bad” has been a constant line from the right-wing press. So what happens? Ordinary people stop being involved in politics, so politics becomes more elitist and right-wing. Since we are told politics and politicians are all bad by right-wing politicians, they follow it up with what they want: put everything in control of businessmen instead.

    A few years ago the right-wing press ran a major campaign about politicians being all bad, highlighting the thousands of pounds some of them were taking in dubious expenses claims. So, we put power into the hands of bankers and business elite types, and just how much do THEY take in expenses and payment? Not thousands but millions.

    A few decades ago the right-wing press told us that freedom and happiness would come from adopting Thatcherite economics. Er, it hasn’t, has it? Most people voting Brexit seem to be saying they did so precisely because of that. Well, doesn’t that suggest that when the right-wing press are blaming it all on the EU, it’s something of a distraction mechanism, and it’s worked hasn’t it?

    I’m afraid I haven’t a clue what to do next. To those who say “Politics and politicians are all bad” I always say “Ok, so who would you like to be in charge instead?”. Well? Run by bankers and businessmen? That is mostly what we now have. If you don’t like that, what?

    Yes, what?

    I mean it, what?

    What?

    Brexiteers, please tell me.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '16 - 5:54pm

    David Evershed

    What a great positive message for our youth to open their eyes to the opportunites trading with the other 80% in China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, USA, Canada, Australia and beyond.

    In what way did the EU stop us from that?

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '16 - 6:02pm

    Rob Wheway

    Power has been concentrated in, Westminster/Whitehall,

    No it hasn’t. Power has been passed from elected governments to international businessmen. As we have seen, they take control of business, milk it for personal profit, then close it down. And there’s nothing we can do about that. As we have seen, big business says “We’e the masters now. If you don’t give in to us, we’ll move our money and the jobs it pays for to other countries”.

    and the nations of the UK had powers increasingly taken away from them. Thankfully we now have devolved governments. We are addressing this democratic deficit within our own countries.

    No we aren’t. Who would want to be involved in any sort of devolved government now when the only job that would mean is deciding what to cut next because there’s no money because big business squirms out of being taxed?

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '16 - 6:13pm

    Rob Wheway

    We led the world with the Industrial Revolution but would we have been so successful if we had restricted immigration between our countries?

    Yes, and we also led the world in the industrialists becoming the new aristocrats. Even in the Victorian era this was a notable pattern: the children of the industrialists buying big country houses and the like and turning their backs on real enterprise, while continuing to make money out of owning things while others did the work.

    That was what Thatcherism was about, with its sale of council houses, pushing the idea that money-making was about owning property rather than work, and “Tell Sid” campaign, pushing the idea that money-making was about owning shares and being in the right place to be told the right things at the right time, not work.

    Our country is in a mess now because this is our culture, and so we find when real work has to be done, we have to get immigrants to do it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '16 - 6:24pm

    Ailsa Gaskill-Jones

    Yesterday I had Labour voters saying they put a huge chunk of responsibility for Brexit at Jeremy Corbyn’s door and will never vote Labour again.

    To be fair on Corbyn, he was never really in favour of the EU, was he?

    So shouldn’t it have been all those other Labour politicians who weren’t part of the anti-EU Labour left that Corbyn was always part of (and the SDP was formed in opposition to) that should have taken the lead and campaigned? Were they so weak they needed their leader to tell them how to do it?

    So far as I can see, since most of those who voted Brexit voted that way because they thought it was a vote against the sort of Thatcherite economics that has led to their lives being a misery, what they actually voted for was Corbynism. If I were Corbyn, I’d be jumping up now and saying “See, they voted for what I always stood for”.

    Since I don’t think most of those who voted Brexit support the right-wing Tory policies of Boris Johnson, then it seems to me the obvious successor to Cameron as PM is Corbyn. To me, Corbynism is the only logical way that Brexit can deliver what those who voted for it suppose they want: take control by large-scale nationalisation, a sort of North Korea but a bit more hip.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '16 - 6:25pm

    So you see, I answered my own question.

  • Simon Banks 30th Jun '16 - 8:27am

    Jane: it sounds like you didn’t read the 2015 election manifesto. That stands except where Conference has established new or different policy since.

    Matt: I agree about people being turned off by personal attacks and fear-mongering, though the fact is, some of the fear-exploiting worked. I’m not keen on the language of your heading, which sounds like “positive thinking” guff. Finding a way out of the proverbial creek depends on admitting you’re in it.

    It’s much more challenging to move backwards as positive campaigners.

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