Opinion: Don’t believe the Fraser-tendency

With Liberal Democrats in government, and a massive increase in the number of journalists coming to Liberal Democrat conference this year, you might think the press has a different story to tell this year.

In some ways they do. My first conference (as a teenager…) was the Llandudno conference that saw the launch of the Alliance. David Steel made his famous speech about “preparing for government” – and it has been used to mock at every conference since. Until now that is.

Some of the papers this time are looking at how much of our manifesto is being implemented. That is definitely new.

But one post-election meme in the coverage of every post-election conference I can remember is to tell the world how badly we are bound to do next time. Some journalist somewhere is always able to coin a few quid adapting (as Mark Pack pointed out) the Private Fraser approach to political forecasting (“The LibDems? They’re doomed, doomed!”)

It hasn’t always seemed unreasonable either. In 1983 we had failed to crack the mould. 1987 the way forward seemed to be merger – but everyone knew how difficult that was likely to be. 1992 felt different at first. But then Blair took over the Labour Party leadership, and we went back to being doomed.

After 1997 the view was that we had been fortuitous in gaining all those Tory seats and they all swing back to the Tories as soon as the economy hit trouble. This became a bit harder to sustain when IDS became Tory leader after the 2001 general election. But our post-election conference certainly was overshadowed by events elsewhere that autumn – and as Ben Chu points out in The Independent, by October 2001 our opinion poll rating was down to 13%.

After 2005, the Fraser-tendency had an open goal to aim at. Because we did seem to have missed our best ever chance of making a big breakthrough. We would never have such a favourable situation again, the press told us – even before the leadership issues arose. The press bought in massively to Cameron’s rebranding of the Tories. First we had the wrong leader. Then we had had too many of them. We faced oblivion.

And then of course it didn’t happen.

So when (for example) Simon Jenkins writes that we have “booked a ticket to oblivion”, Liberal Democrats will read it, shrug their shoulders. That was certainly the view in the conference bars yesterday, when I arrived in Liverpool. We have heard that one already.

Of course there is a lot of work to do, we have to be better at getting our message across,s and we are going to need to find new ways to campaign. But of course that is what we always say – and often do. And at least that Steel quote won’t be used against us again.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Anthony Aloysius St 19th Sep '10 - 2:40pm
  • On seeing the “Fraser- tendency” I was expecting to read about that other Scot with stretched vooooowels, Fraser Nelson, who’s only now realising we’re not all all doomed by the LibDems.
    Except that the same Fraser in today’s News of the World can’t help distorting the budget : “Why is Vat going up? To pay for Lib Dem demands – such as lifting 900,000 low-paidout of tax,” he writes in his weekly column.
    Really? If anyone reads this and sees today’s reincarnation in or around the conference hall will they remind him of his good friend, the Chancellor’s, estimate that VAT is expected to raise £13 billion in 2011 and that the first stage in the removal from tax of those in the lowest bands is being paid for by a modest rise in Capital Gains Tax, proposed by those sensible Liberal Democrats with whom he’s no doubt enjoyng a barrel of laughs.

  • Peter Welch 19th Sep '10 - 6:00pm

    Thanks, Nich and Anthony. Hope someone can fix that

  • Peter Welch 20th Sep '10 - 8:33am

    Thanks, Paul. And thanks for forwarding the link to so many people!

  • John Fraser 20th Sep '10 - 8:01pm

    @Paul Westlake,#

    “Others thought the Lib Dems were some sort of low calorie version of the Labour Party: some of our more over-the-hill members have the same view”

    If you are slagging off our former leaders such as Ashdown , Kennedy and to some extent Campbell who were proud to be a identified on the centre left please have the guts to say so clearly. If you are not please at least be clear about what you mean.

    ” “The Liberal Democrats exist to create a society where none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance and conformity”
    …. and there was me thinking that cutting poverty tended to put a party towards the centre left.

    Not sure what your phrase ‘low calorie version of the Labour party’ is supposed to mean either parhaps you can clarify that as well.??

    Very confusing commments but if you are trying to pretend we have not normally been a party of the centre left that premise seems to me to be nonsense. If you are confused by why the left wing press are slagging us off it is possibly becuase so many (including you ? ) in the party have suddenly denied our hertage.


  • Paul Westlake 20th Sep '10 - 10:52pm

    They’re not confused comments; they’re merely comments that you don’t like.

    Of course The Guardian has an axe to grind. It is the newspaper for people who do not like the private sector, the newspaper for people who think they should have a guaranteed annual pay rise regardless of their own performance or the state of their employer’s finances. Such people will soon be joining the world that the rest of us living, whether they like it or not.

    Have you read Paddy Ashdown’s autobiography? I think you’ll find that he began the process to the more economically liberal stance that the party has today. That stance is not so very different to other European liberal parties. It is entirely consistent with an enabling welfare state.

    Having spent the first eighteen years of my on a council estate in South Wales, I do know a little about poverty. From personal experience I know what helps people out of policy: that isn’t benefits, it’s education. South Wales has been slavishly voting Labour for a century, yet it is still poor. Even if we didn’t have a black hole in the finances and an ageing poulation, why would we want to carry on with a set of socioeconomic policies that have so demonstrably failed to achieve their declared aims?

    Although I didn’t vote for him as leader, I think Nick Clegg is a breath of fresh air.

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