Opinion: Liberal Democrat messages

Liberal democratsCongratulations to Ryan Coetzee and his team for giving us the official new Government policy of a ‘Stronger Economy and a Fairer Society’.

The problem with a really good line like that and similar advertising slogans such as “It’s Good to Talk” is that they become not just commonly accepted and universally recognised but they also become generic. As such they completely lose their power to influence choice or differentiate one product from another.  “It’s Good to Talk” ended up not only promoting BT but also selling a lot of mobile phones for their competitors. I know – it was my budget as the Sales & Marketing Director that paid for the campaign.

We now need to change the focus from the slogan itself, which is rapidly becoming “motherhood and apple pie” to repeatedly claiming ownership of the idea and the credit for setting a common agenda for all the parties.   And we must address how we will make this a greater reality in the future than any other party.

Let me start with the slogan – for the Liberal Democrat Party this now needs to be given a twist – “A Fairer Society built on a Strong Economy”.

We retain ownership and association of the concept whilst changing the focus onto the word “Fairer” which we already own in voters’ minds more than either Labour or Conservatives and on which we can maintain effective differentiation.  Labour are the party of ‘equality’ – an unrealistic ideal that reduces everyone to the lowest common denominator and which has proved disastrous in the past for those that have tried it. Whilst the Conservatives remain the party of ‘privilege’, protecting the rich and fighting for vested interests, out of touch with reality, divorced from everyday life.  Elections are about choices, simple choices.

Vote Lib Dem for a Fairer Future; a practical achievable goal being campaigned for by real people in a decent democratic party who fight for and serve their local communities. Simple, decent, honest and still hungry to do more.

We need to go into the coming election positioned as a campaigning party with radical ideas based on the sound principles of liberal social democracy determined to work towards giving the country a Fairer Future. It is on that offer to the voters, not our record of achievement in Government that we must base our campaign.

And most importantly we have to use ‘Fairness’ as our defence for all the decisions and compromises we have had to make in Government as partners in Coalition with a party with whom we have fundamental differences of opinion.

* Mike Biden is an Executive ordinary member in Winchester. A lifelong supporter of the Liberals, he has become an activist since his retirement. His career saw him in senior corporate positions in Sales & Marketing and as a Chief Executive.

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  • “… enabling everyone to get on in life.”

  • daft ha'p'orth 10th Jun '14 - 4:15pm

    ” claiming ownership of the idea and the credit for setting a common agenda for all the parties”…
    Does one want to claim credit for the agenda of Labour and the Conservatives, if they use the word ‘fair’ to implement whatever horrors they come up with next?

    Just as you suggest in your article, there are many differing interpretations of what constitutes ‘fairness’. Despite being pro-‘fairness’ in general, I may or may not agree with the practical definition of ‘fairness’ used by any given party at any given time. The success of this slogan for the LDs depends on how many voters believe, in the words of Inigo Montoya, that the word means what the LDs think it means. Be warned: the use of ‘ ‘Fairness’ as a defence’ to justify ‘decisions and compromises’ of an unpopular nature is likely to reduce that number fairly rapidly…

  • daft ha’p’orth Which is fairer – to subsidise those who already have an education and a place at University or those deprived 5 – 7 year olds who may not otherwise ever learn to read and write properly? There was no money left. Tuition fees or Pupil Premium? I’m happy we made the right call. Since the “bedroom tax” came in over a hundred thousand families which were living in completely unacceptable conditions of over-crowding have been able to move into a larger property because an older couple have been willing to exchange their home for a smaller one now that their children have flown the nest. As you say – fair to whom? Don’t believe our enemies and political opponents, we must get out there and make our case and present our defence and stop being so naive as to believe every attack made against us.

  • Stephen Campbell 10th Jun '14 - 4:32pm

    This party, like Labour and the Tories, now appears to be run by ad-men and PR wonks with no experience of the real world to speak of. I’m sick and tired of constantly being told what to think by these people who try to sell us all things we don’t want. How about this party starts speaking in plain English instead of mealy-mouthed soundbites that, frankly, could have come from any other party? Employing these people, who usually have no idea of what poverty is like or know how it feels to vote for a party which says one thing and then does the other, just furthers the disconnect between the Westminster Bubble and the average voter. Are these also the same people that constantly patronise voters such as myself and tell us we’re “not getting the message” and that Liberal Democrats should “shout louder”? How many lost deposits, how many elections coming at 2.6% will it take until this party realises that it is not the fact we don’t “get” your message but, rather, the fact that we don’t like the message and those giving us said message?

    I thought these people were supposed to be clever?

  • daft ha'p'orth 10th Jun '14 - 4:32pm

    @Mike Biden
    Yes, I accept that you think your definition of fairness is the right one. Anyway, we will find out what the general public thinks of the slogan, sooner or later; I think it’s a little risky, but Coetzee is clearly good with it. Good luck to you.

  • Mike Biden “There was no money left. Tuition fees or Pupil Premium”

    There is NO money coming in from tuition fees as no-one pays til they graduate and get a job over a certain salary. And some graduates will never pay for their tuition.. And yet money has been found for the PP anyway so clearly there was ‘some’ money?

    In any case money was ‘found’ for all sorts of other things eg the AV Recerendum, NHS reorganisation, the Jubilee celebrations, lending to Ireland, tax cuts for millionaires and for everyone earning above 10k. So it’s blatantly untrue that ‘there was NO money ‘.

  • Stephen Campbell 10th Jun '14 - 4:57pm

    @Mike Biden: “There was no money left.”

    No? No money left..? But there was plenty of billions left for an NHS reorganisation which the public did not want and were told would not happen. Plenty of billions for Iain Duncan Smith’s so-far failed Universal Credit. Plenty of billions to give the highest earners a tax cut. There’s plenty of money for HS2. Again, billions.

    So. Plenty of money for the coalition’s pet projects, but supposedly no money for the one firm pledge this party made to the electorate…and then swiftly broke. And you wonder why nobody is voting for your party any longer?

  • Stephen Campbell You clearly like the messages from Labour and the Conservatives better than those we are putting out. You probably believe much of what UKIP is saying when in truth there is virtually nothing they say that stands up to investigation. In politics people do not vote for the best MEPs – those that worked hardest, negotiated major improvements to the Fisheries Policy, cut regulation of Small Businesses, won Financial Regulation that protects the City of London – major achievements – but all counted for nothing in the European Election. If the election was an efficient and free ‘market’ we would have won a landslide. We didn’t. The people that won just had empty slogans based on inaccurate information and no record to defend. Words matter. Precise words that resonate in the real world with real people. My daughter had a good grasp of “fairness” at the age of 6 and raged against the world whenever she thought it “not fair!!”. It is simple, understood by a child and the research shows it is the one parameter on which in the voters minds we are better than the other parties. Let’s stick with it.

  • @stephen campbbell Tuition fees was not on the front page of the Liberal Democrat manifesto – introducing them was Conservative policy – we made that policy much fairer than they proposed and the result is that more kids from deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds are now going to university than before. If given a choice students actually prefer to be on the new scheme rather than the old one. So stop parroting our critics message – unless of course you are really a one of our opponents?

  • daft ha'p'orth 10th Jun '14 - 5:19pm

    “unless of course you are really a one of our opponents?”
    Reds under the bed…

  • @Mike Biden
    Well according to the IFS children from poorest 30% of households will pay significantly more under the new fees system than under the previous one. I doubt they think that is ‘fair’.

  • Tony Dawson 10th Jun '14 - 5:37pm

    @Mike Biden 1

    “Tuition fees was not on the front page of the Liberal Democrat manifesto”

    Who, among the electorate (and even among most of the commentariat) ever gave the slightest bit of interest in whether anything was on the front, back or middle of ANY party manifesto? These documents are left overs from the 1920s, largely for geeks and with little bearing upon real elections or real politics.

    What people DO know is that a certain leading politician signed a PLEDGE about tuition fees. A pledge is a promise: something you will ALWAYS do, regardless of what ever else happens. That is why you make a PLEDGE rather than just say: “I support that.”

    Then the people know the same politician made a video (millions of them watched it) saying “No more broken promises, my lot will be different, that is the big reason why you should vote for me and my lot.” And a lot of them did that. You see, it was pitched well and they believed it. Which is why they reacted so badly when the Lib Dems appeared to be able to throw away a promise so easily.

    The lack of public trust in Nick Clegg has virtually nothing at all to do with the tuition fees issue itself (outside of the student generation who feel particularly betrayed). It is all to do with the trust agenda, made far worse by the ‘rose garden’ pitch which completely contradicted the attitude towards the Conservative Party ‘pitched’ in Nick Clegg’s pre-election speeches, interviews and broadcasts.

  • David Allen 10th Jun '14 - 6:24pm

    “daft ha’p’orth Which is fairer – to subsidise those who already have an education and a place at University or those deprived 5 – 7 year olds who may not otherwise ever learn to read and write properly? There was no money left. Tuition fees or Pupil Premium? I’m happy we made the right call. ”

    As Reagan and others put it, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing”.

    Sadly Reagan is largely right even when it is the truth which you need to explain. He is doubly right when what you are trying to explain is (as Phyllis and others have commented) at best a tendentious half-truth.

  • Hello Mike I have found the article interesting and see that you and Stephen do not agree, I take your point of things the LibDems have done and that you are proud of the . Stephen is making a fair observation that money is spent on things many of the electorate don’t want or need the fact that you disagree about the fairness of that does not mean that Stephen saying he is sick of being told what to think or that’s it’s that he just not hear is a fair point.

    In my opinion the fact that the electors don’t like the message means that it could be a good thing for potential politicians to ask themselves why not.

    I admire LibDem voice for allowing debate I think that as Stephen is expressing his opinion it shows the formula is working and I never read anything suggesting he is specifically Labour or Conservative it seems maybe a party doing what people wish for if not illegal is a sign of a mature wealthy nation

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Jun '14 - 6:58pm

    Mike Biden – With respect.

    The issue with fees of course is neither access nor fairness, but debt. Attempts to rewrite this clear history grate an awful lot. And I suspect that you don’t need me to tell you that. But it is worth dwelling here on why fees has proved such a big, big hit because to my mind, ‘fairness,’ goes right to the heart of it.

    I am often surprised by the way that the young are not considerably angrier than they are. It may well be that many young people have not yet fully realised what a terrible generational deal they are getting. Fees is not a problem per se, but they are symptomatic of a severe generational divide. The message is clear – we will borrow £2bn+ to make sure that granny sitting in her bubble-priced house gets a fuel payment cheque but university students are getting loaded with debt.

    The very existence of ringfences in government spending tacitly is an unfairness. The NHS and pensioners (and foreign aid) have been protected and the only implication of this is deeper cuts for everyone else. We can all speculate on the politics here, but I am yet to hear any compelling economic justification for this. It surely hasn’t been justified on the basis of fairness. It is perhaps worth noting that to Nick Clegg’s credit he has been one of the few to at least ask the question about ringfences.

    In years to come the generational divide may well be a defining issue and there are any number of flashpoints. It is not totally clear that the younger generation worship the NHS in the way the old do.

    The author of the article would do well to ask how fair the future can be when one generation has had mortgages eroded by inflation and the next is loaded with debt any is left basically to pay other people’s mortgages by BTL. What is fair anyway? Is it fair to say ask those who got a right-to-buy discount to chip in a but with the capital value they got from house price hyperinflation?

    Fees is a glimpse of the generationally loaded politics of the future. And from where the young stand there doesn’t look like a great deal of fairness. Fees needs to be seen as the most grisly symptom yet of the problem that is generational division.

    Here’s a thought by the way. One point often overlooked about debates on fees is that the new system will be considerably more effective in the event of a sharp increase in graduate earnings. How about looking for ways to drive up earnings?

  • @Mike Biden
    “There was no money left. Tuition fees or Pupil Premium? I’m happy we made the right call.”

    It’s looking increasingly like the new system is costing the government more than the old one – so the new fees are actually reducing the amount available for other things, like the pupil premium.

    David Willetts had some interesting things to say yesterday about how graduates are “the engine of growth” and pay vastly more in tax over a lifetime than non-graduates :-


    So just what problem are tuition fees attempting to solve exactly?

    @Little Jackie Paper
    Excellent points about the young being on the wrong end of some real intergenerational unfairnesses. The same applies to pensions. Life expectancy has not just started going up recently – the supposed unaffordability of pensions should have been easily predictable decades ago, but nothing was done. The older generations continued to retire early on excellent pensions while condemning the young to a future of working until they’re nearly fit to drop and then drawing a derisory pension. I don’t know why the young don’t get much more angry about this – I guess it’s because young people don’t even think about their own old age much, since it’s so remote.

    Of course, old people are much more likely to vote than the young, so I don’t see anything ever changing.

  • Stephen Campbell 10th Jun '14 - 7:37pm

    @Mike Biden: “Stephen Campbell You clearly like the messages from Labour and the Conservatives better than those we are putting out. You probably believe much of what UKIP is saying when in truth there is virtually nothing they say that stands up to investigation.”

    Actually the message I like the best these days is coming from the Green Party.

    “. If the election was an efficient and free ‘market’ we would have won a landslide. ”

    Once again, it’s all the fault of the electorate (or the system) and nothing to do with your Party or its actions in government versus the actions you promised us before the election, is it? There seems to be this almost religious belief by some in this Party that only you know the One True Way and all the other parties (and voters) are heretics.

    “My daughter had a good grasp of “fairness” at the age of 6 and raged against the world whenever she thought it “not fair!!”

    The problem with this is that if the electorate truly thought of your party as “fair”, they would not have deserted you, would they? Try telling the disabled person who was wrongly stripped of their benefits that paying for HS2 is “fair” while they are forced to go to a foodbank. Remember all those NHS workers and patients both Liberal Democrat and Tory parties wooed in the 2010 election, promising no top-down reorganisations? Do you think the person who was forced into further debt by the Bedroom Tax when there is no alternative, suitable property to move to is “fair” ? To the electorate your party by and large seem incomprehensibly out of touch and divorced from modern life.

    “So stop parroting our critics message – unless of course you are really a one of our opponents?”

    I am one of your opponents. Now, at least. I voted Liberal Democrat from 2001-2011. I gave up around the time when the NHS “deforms”, Bedroom Tax and secret courts were passed. I vote Green now.

  • “I am one of your opponents. Now, at least. I voted Liberal Democrat from 2001-2011. I gave up around the time when the NHS “deforms”, Bedroom Tax and secret courts were passed. I vote Green now.”

    Well said and you didn’t even have to mention “tuition fees” or “no more broken promises”. How anyone actually believes LibDems own the word “Fairer” in voters eyes after recent election results is amazing. I also voted LibDem in 2010 and I don’t think it was very fair of them to lie to me to get my vote.

  • Axtually I think you will find that the brand of “fairness” that resulted in the bedroom tax and IDS’ s unworkable universal credit fiasco belongs to the Tories, Or at least I hope they do .

  • After 4 years of a LibDem/Tory coalition


  • Call me crazy but I want to talk about something other than our current wobble.
    I just compared the average of the last 6 Polls (not including tonights) with that of the previous 6; – Labour down 1%, Tories up 2%. Thats over 4 days roughly.
    Of course that sort of change isnt going to happen every 4 days, its mostly the unwinding from the effect of The European Elections. It does though, bring closer the next Labour crisis.

  • I think the party is in a very unusual position now. I don’t remember a mainstream political leader having so obviously lost the confidence of a substantial section of his own party – whether it represents a majority or not – and having soldiered on regardless in this way.

    Can Clegg sustain this for another 11 months? I can’t see how.

  • It is on that offer to the voters, not our record of achievement in Government that we must base our campaign.

    Well I hate to disappoint you but I will be judging this party on the offer it made to me before the last election and what it then did subsequently.

    Do you really think that the electorate is going accept you saying, well never mind what we did in government because ‘Look we are putting forward a new kind of politics, where you can trust the Lib Dems to be fairer’

    If you are then words fail me….

  • @steven campbell @malc Thanks for your responses. I hear you. Clearly Nick’s apology for the broken promise was not enough, even though it is unprecedented in British politics. What do you want us to do? How do you want the LDs to change. Why do you spend your time commenting on LDV blogs? I am listening so what do you have to say? Be good to see you both writing blog pieces and not just negative comments.

  • Mike Biden

    Political slogan writers sometimes have to think ahead. It is quite common for graffiti to be used as a political weapon. Remember the rather witty adjustments to some of Cameron’s posters in the 2010 election ?

    How difficult would it be to amend posters with the slogan “Vote Lib Dem for a Fairer Future” ???

    I can think of a number of simple changes of one or two letters that would reduce the whole campaign to ridicule.

  • @Stephen Campbell

    You have stopped voting for this party because a four-fifths Tory government is too Conservative for you. What I wonder will you do when, after decades of work and a fair amount of luck there’s a four-fifths, say, Labour government that the Greens have made a miserable little compromise with?

    The very idea of having a third party in British politics depends on retaining and building on the experience this party has endured in coalition. The red team won’t be any cuddlier, and the Green Party, even setting aside their illiberal approach to problem solving and the question of competence, isn’t going to be any better off if they ever build up to holding the balance of power.

  • @John Tilley Of course but I don’t think we would use all the words! It is about images mainly. But there is a debate as to whether we stick with “Fairer Society” simply because ordinary people do not use the word “Society” – we can use “Britain” or “Future” but our problem is that to often we use the wrong words. Farage is brilliant at picking up the words people actually use and then parroting them back to them – that is what a populist does and we have to make Liberal Democracy popular -to do that we must use the words and phrases of the people. And it is not our slogans that really matter but what we say in interviews etc. My point is that our current slogan has in some ways been too successful. We need to move on, keeping the focus of “Fairer” which works for us and learn to use it both offensively and defensively. Critically “Fairer” gives us our strongest differentiation with the Tories, who manifestly are not about “Fairness” but “privilige”.
    Your point is valid and I hope those in charge realise that “Opportunity for Everyone” is an open invite to graffiti artists to mock us.

  • Mike Biden

    “I hear you. Clearly Nick’s apology for the broken promise was not enough, even though it is unprecedented in British politics. What do you want us to do? ”

    As a fairly long standing LibDem voter I want the man who lied to me to resign as party leader and don’t want him replaced by someone else that lied. If that happened I think the people of this country may start listening to the LibDem message again. Your plan for fighting an election campaign by ignoring the LibDem record in government, but concentrating on sound bites “fairer society” “fairer Britain” “fairer future” is difficult for me. After 4 years of being anything but fairer it seems little more than a con and I’m pretty sure that’s how much of the population will see it. However, you are the guy with a history in sales and marketing so maybe it will work, but it’s not for me.

  • daft ha'p'orth 11th Jun '14 - 7:17pm

    the Tories […] manifestly are not about “Fairness” but “privilige”.
    And yet if one searches conservativehome.com one finds all sorts of articles about ‘fairness’, on subjects such as being ‘properly rewarded for[…] effort and ability’, ‘ensuring that the jobless aren’t sitting at home doing nothing’, and ‘ensuring that people who are out of work aren’t earning more than people who are in work‘ (benefits cap). There are also survey results on there suggesting that 63% of people say that “fairness is about getting what you deserve”, while only 26% say that “fairness is about equality” (i.e. ‘me first, I’m special’ is totally fair). Elsewhere on that site, ‘fairness’ is equated with ‘compassionate conservatism’. There’s also a page on conservativehome dismissing ‘fairness’ as a ‘notoriously subjective concept’….

    The Conservative response to your remark would probably be along the lines of ‘[a] sense of fairness is actually far more deeply held by the British than the dislike of inequality – they don’t mind someone being rich, so long as they deserve it’. Then they would probably suggest that promotion of class hatred is itself unfair.

    So in short, whilst according to your philosophy you’re not wrong, many Conservatives would disagree.

  • The reality is that the insane energy policy promoted by Ed Davey is driving the UK towards being a third world economy. The madness of closing down efficient, low cost power stations and replacing them with highly expensive, useless wind farms is proving to be the disaster that all normal people expected. It does not matter how many millions of these monstrosities that Davey installs at our expense, blighting the landscape, destroying our tourist industry, reducing the value of nearby property and causing the massacre of bats and birds and maybe even human illness, when the wind is not blowing, there is not enough electricity to satisfy demand.

    So, what is the solution? Stop installing useless wind turbines and use low cost, reliable, conventional power generation?

    Mr Davey has several solutions, each one much worse and more insane than the problem. Such as paying lucrative stand by rates to investors who cover fields with dirty, polluting diesel generators connected to the grid. These will kick in when the grid is unable to meet demand, resulting in even more wealth for their rich owners.

    Then, because our energy crisis is potentially massive, Mr Davey is going to use even more of our money to pay big industries to shut down when the grid is under pressure. Just think of that for a moment. A factory that produces goods for export will be paid enough money to stop manufacture in order to prevent the lights going out generally. This will apply across the country as required. This is vandalism of our industries and our economy on a massive scale.

    Note that the most severe cold is witnessed in winter when we have high pressure over the UK. High pressure is associated with no wind. Our useless wind turbines stop at the very time when demand peaks.

    Now, this word “fairness”, how does that fit into this energy policy?

    Let’s see. The wind farms are owned by wealthy land owners. Solar panels are installed by people with the appropriate land or sufficient roof area. Diesel generators require investment and factories or fields in which to locate them. Factories that are shut down do not require their workers during these periods.

    So basically, this policy makes the rich much wealthier. The poor do not own their roof or fields or factories, yet they have to pay a lot more than before for unreliable, increasingly unaffordable electricity.

    All these policies fleece the poor to reward the rich for providing completely insane and wasteful schemes. In the meantime, the green levies and inefficient power generation is driving thousands of poor people into fuel poverty. More and more are dying each year because they cannot afford to heat their homes. This, in part is also due to EU policy which regarded price increases as a good way of reducing demand.

    The Greens will point out that all of this is justified because of climate change. Let us dispense with this meaningless term. Our climate is always changing, that is what it does. Activists realised that “global warming” had lost its impact when it stopped 18 years ago, so they rebranded the alarmism with a new all purpose title that is literally applicable to all weathers. Even the IPCC has started back pedalling away from their computer modelled projections of huge temperature rises and now confirm that the various extreme weather scares have no supportive evidence.

    History will look back on this as a period of great madness, groupthink hysteria, insane energy policies, destruction of competitive industry, relentless promotion of mindless dogma and fleecing of the poorest in our society to make others wealthy in order to enable a political fig leaf that conceals energy policy and green insanity.

    I hope that Lib Dem activists who cheer for their Mr Davey think carefully about these matters. If you doubt my words, please investigate. Google “diesel generator” and “grid” and you will find that his policy has spawned masses of companies eager to milk the taxpayer. Probably the first one you will see after the many adverts is Flexitricity, whose logo is “Unlocking Smart Grid Revenue”. There is nothing wrong with these companies. Their intention is summed up in the logo. I question the policy that makes them necessary.

    Managing such madness is not easy and by no means cheap. Imagine the old grid with a number of low cost, reliable output power stations. Now imagine the shambles of windmills, solar panels and fields of diesel generators and factories prepared to stop production. Leaving the obvious insanity aside, how can such a variable grid supply and demand be balanced?

    The answer is to throw more of our money at the problem. Mr Davey is keen to install 56 million smart meters in our homes at a cost of approximately £14 Billion . This is another EU directive that the BBC may have forgotten to publicise. You will shortly get a letter from your utility company suggesting that your old meter may be too old or unsafe or maybe not accurate enough and they want to replace it. This is Mr Davey implementing the EU directive. Even ultra green Germany refused to take part on the grounds that the scheme was far too expensive.

    Lib Dems for a Strong Economy with Fairness? I find the Lib Dem energy policies completely unacceptable for the reasons outlined above. Check out my claims, please.

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