Opinion: Our liberal identity crisis

Does anyone know why the Liberal Democrats exist ? It’s an important question.

IPSOS/Mori research in 2012 into voter perceptions found that 64% “don’t know what the Liberal Democrats stand for these days” (57% for Labour, 44% the Tories). This was echoed even amongst party supporters, with 41% of Lib Dem voters unclear (42% for Labour voters, 37% Conservatives). “Our polling now shows that the Liberal Democrats have the toughest task telling voters what they stand for”, the report concluded.

We need to acknowledge that our party has an identity challenge nationally, and blaming the coalition would be too convenient. We have long lacked an over-arching and meaningful explanation of our purpose, and it has limited our ability to build a core vote.

The Lib Dems have a long-standing commitment to freedom, fairness, localism, internationalism and the environment. Yet we have failed to combine these in a distinct and motivating explanation of who we are. Instead we have often left the communication of our values to local parties – who capitalise on the binary voting system and the prejudices many voters have against one or other of the larger parties to position us locally as ‘not that lot’. We also harvest votes in many places through sheer hard work and candidate personality – qualities divorced from the party’s core messaging. In government, we now find ourselves with the sort of national profile we’d previously been denied. And many voters attracted to us through localised positioning feel confused or betrayed by what they now see. It’s not so much that the Lib Dems have changed – more that we were never clear about who we were in the first place.

The party’s current attempt to address this is the ‘stronger economy, fairer society’ mantra. However – this is more of a positioning statement than a genuine political purpose. A time-specific continuation of the ‘not them’ positioning, which does little to articulate our over-arching purpose. It also makes us reliant upon reference to the traditional weaknesses of other parties for our own sense of purpose.

One way to communicate our purpose in a distinct, meaningful and motivating way could be to present Liberal Democracy as the pursuit of a cause : the cause of community. I believe a huge opportunity exists for whichever party can articulate its core purpose as the empowerment, encouragement and development of strong local communities.

Liberal Democrats like to think that ‘community’ is our territory, but there is limited evidence to support that – even where we’ve been in local authority control for years. Despite our rhetoric, Lib Dems have done little to meaningfully deliver on localism whenever we’ve been in power.

Now that we’re in government nationally, we are likewise implementing top-down decisions instead of genuinely encouraging localised solutions. There are few policy challenges to which credible community-based solutions could not be advanced amongst the range of possible answers.

As a Party, I believe our instinct and purpose should be to promote community-based solutions at all times and at all levels. A genuine and constantly demonstrated commitment to community empowerment would provide the distinct, ownable and motivating reason that voters currently lack to support the Liberal Democrats. Without such a clear and meaningful cause for our party, large numbers of the electorate will continue to be oblivious as to why we actually exist.

* Steve Bradley is councillor for Vassal ward, Lambeth.

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81 Comments

  • I genuinely don’t get why people think that Liberalism is difficult to define. I mean yes, one can argue about the finer points of it, and about how to do it, and liberals LOVE to argue, but REALLY surely we can all agree that liberty is good and we want to promote it?

    Of course, the fact that many within the party think that liberalism by itself isn’t enough to fight for is possibly part of the problem here :/

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec '13 - 3:51pm

    Jennie

    I genuinely don’t get why people think that Liberalism is difficult to define. I mean yes, one can argue about the finer points of it, and about how to do it, and liberals LOVE to argue, but REALLY surely we can all agree that liberty is good and we want to promote it?

    Yes, but how does that make us distinct? Who in any mainstream party these days would say that liberty is NOT good or that it should not be promoted?

    The distinctiveness comes from what we think “liberty” might be. The declaration in our constitution that it means a society where “none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” distinguishes us from those who claim “liberty” means “none shall be enslaved by state legislation and taxation” and insist that no other form of enslavement can exist.

  • I think the case for saying that we have an identity crisis is much less persuasive than levelling the same charge at the Tories or Labour. The Tories are at least two parties, fighting like rats in a sack, while Labour’s identity crisis is writ large every time someone dares mention the word “Blairite” in a Guardian article. The comments flood in in their thousands.

    What we do need is a clarification of our values:
    Distributors of power to people? Yes, in contrast to the Tories who want to leave it in the hands of the rich, or Labour who would give it to the central state or to bodies like the Trade Unions. After the debacles of the AV vote and House of Lords reform, neither of the other two can be trusted to deliver any kind of meaningful reform of our system unless they are forced to by the Lib Dems.
    Egalitarian? Certainly, unlike the Tories, but willing to look deeper at the causes of inequality and not just reaching for the sticking plaster of ever increasing benefit spending like Labour;
    Anti-state and public ownership? Not if we’ve got any common sense about us. We should be a pragmatic, evidence based party on this score and not lean on lazy assumptions like some Orange Bookers who automatically parrot received ideas about how the state is some kind of monster to be beaten back at every turn. It is not.
    Internationalist? Yes, but not starry-eyed about the need for hard bargaining with our partners or the need for change in the EU.
    Green? Without a doubt, and more so than the other two parties, but not without consideration of real world implications for whatever policies we come up with.

    We are a progressive, pragmatic, reformist, egalitarian party. We may have been bloodied by the realities of having too few MPs and too little money to do some of the things we wanted in 2010, plus we have been hampered by having to work with a party whose very aims are often nearly the opposite of our own, but given those very severe limits, we’ve achieved some real miracles. I think we should hold our heads up and be proud.

  • Maximilian Wilkinson 9th Dec '13 - 3:59pm

    Stronger economy, fairer society.

  • Grammar Police 9th Dec '13 - 3:59pm

    I’d love to see the results of this poll from before the Coalition (I suspect it might have been worse!)

  • Steve Bradley 9th Dec '13 - 4:00pm

    Hi Jennie,

    I suspect that if liberalism was that easily understood then we wouldn’t have poll responses like the one above, nor such a small core vote !

    For me the problem is that liberty/freedom is neither distinct nor ownable. Is there any political party in Britain which is saying it is against liberty ? Even facsists tend to assert that they’re about liberty/freedom.

    Liberty/freedom can be used to mean very different things. UKIP will claim that they are the true standard bearers of British freedom and liberty. Some on the right would argue that small government, reducing welfare etc equates to liberty for those who work hard over those they view as scroungers. American Republicans broadly believe that liberty is guaranteed by owning a gun. And the Scottish Nationalists would no doubt argue that a yes vote in next year’s referendum would provide genuine Scottish liberty. Yet I suspect most Liberals would take an opposite view to all of the above.

    So the problem is that there is no single, unifying or ownable version of Liberty. It can mean very different things to different people. Part of the problem is also that we have never clearly and consistently articulated to the public what the Liberal Democrat definition of liberty is either.

  • paul barker 9th Dec '13 - 4:08pm

    An interesting peice; I have 2 immeidiate thoughts.
    Community is fine for the “Democrat” side of our values buts its actually in tension with the “Liberal” part. Liberalism is primarily about inviduals creating themselves, thats often working aginst community.
    There was a really extreme example in Bristol when an authentic, self-organised Community decided that what it needed most was a “Wicker Man” style Human Sacrifice.

    Secondly, arent all 4 major British Parties in the middle of an identity crisis ?
    The SNP are facing the question of what they are for after the Referendum. Yes or No, that seems to complete their Historical function.
    The Tories are back to agonising about Europe/UKIP/Immigration/Decontamination etc & Labours ongoing struggles with The Co-op, The Unions & the fall-out from Falkirk are symptoms of a deeper uncertainty over whether they are simply a Party or a Movement.

  • James BLESSING 9th Dec '13 - 4:22pm

    Liberalism is about creating the conditions within a community for the individual to succeed at whatever they are capable of and underpinning their attempts to reach their goal.

    Democracy is (in the LibDem sense) the direct or pure form of the term and is about everyone taking part in the process of deciding what happens (something the parliamentary party needs to remember on occasion and conference regularly brings up) and one area where I think we need to continue to press hard in terms of explaining that local areas need to make decisions that affect them. Its also something that needs expanding on in terms of Europe, whilst LibDems are pro-Europe we should still be be proudly displaying our localist tendencies and the devolution of decisions to most appropriate power size.

    There is no tension here until you start putting power to decide higher up the tree than actually needed…

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec '13 - 4:35pm

    Maximilian Wilkinson

    Stronger economy, fairer society.

    Again, that is useless as a statement of what makes us distinct, because what party would say it stands for a weaker economy or a less fair society?

    It depends what you mean by “stronger” and what you mean by “fairer”. Different people would differ quite radically on that. I don’t regard it as “fair” if one person starts off life with a huge advantage over others due to inherited wealth. But Conservatives would regard it as fundamentally unfair to tax inherited wealth to do something about that – to them inherited wealth is sacred.

  • Richard Dean 9th Dec '13 - 4:44pm

    I tend to agree with the 64%. I have no idea what makes LibDems different, apart from their ability to adapt in coalitions – by which I am not being critical. Maybe the approach to the EU? Other parties also value liberty, and value democracy.

  • @ Richard Dean
    “Other parties also value liberty, and value democracy.”

    No they don’t. They really don’t. Only as much as they serve the limited ends of their existence and keep their grubby mitts on as much power as possible.

    The Tories don’t value democracy because they want to see it limited and distorted by our current voting system. Likewise Labour, who pay lip service to reform in order to try to appear progressive, but actually detest the very idea.

    And if you think Labour values liberty, look no further than ID cards and child detention for evidence on that one.

    I am astonished at the level of defeatism and lack of inspiration shown by some of the comments here.

  • In response to Steve Bradley people, if they did not do so a few days ago, might want to look back at what Bill le Breton wrote in LDV on 4th December. It included the following;-

    ” Because we do not live in a perfect world it is hard work stopping people and groups taking power from you and aggregating to themselves and exploiting it. That is why Liberals organize and act together to ‘take it back’.

    Liberal Action is the campaign to help people take and use power in their communities – be these communities be their neighbourhood, or their workplace, or co-operative, or the local school- in short, all the communities to which you belong. It has never better been explained than here.

    This is why it does not take place in some mythical Centre Land where the noble ‘empowerers’ are lauded. It takes place right beside you NOW. It lives down in the street, outside your window. It is omnipresent. That is, wherever people combine (in movements) to take and use power for themselves. It is a perpetual process of campaigning because illiberal forces are always at work trying to take that power from you and your neighbours and your work colleagues and your fellow electors, which they crave.

    It is through this beam of light that we can see the true worth of the ‘ideal’ that “none shall be enslaved by poverty ignorance or conformity.”

    But (and this is where we part company with economic liberals) it is not just freedom from, it is freedom to,

    This is why Liberals know that power is taken and kept from individuals and their communities by those Giants (Beveridge, for effect, called them Evils): Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness, Disease,

    Liberals therefore organise and work with others to fight against these Giants with the same vigour as we fight against those that swindle power from you. “

  • @ James Blessing

    Liberalism is about creating the conditions within a community for the individual to succeed at whatever they are capable of and underpinning their attempts to reach their goal.

    I like that, but I would alter it to say: “Liberalism is about creating the conditions in society for individuals and communities to succeed at whatever they are capable of and underpinning their attempts to reach their goals.”

    We are not just about individuals, but about communities of individuals working together for the common good.

  • @ John Tilley

    “This is why Liberals know that power is taken and kept from individuals and their communities by those Giants (Beveridge, for effect, called them Evils): Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness, Disease,

    Liberals therefore organise and work with others to fight against these Giants with the same vigour as we fight against those that swindle power from you.”

    Except at the moment, we are letting the evil of “want” run roughshod over some people at the moment through carelessly implemented benefits reform and in our defeats on electoral and House of Lords reform we have let the power-swindlers (mostly Tories, it has to be said) get away with it yet again.

    Alongside our achievements, these are major defeats.

  • Bill Chapman 9th Dec '13 - 5:28pm

    RC wrote “We are a progressive, pragmatic, reformist, egalitarian party.” That’s a spot-on definition of the Labour Party’s philosophy. Will there be a defection soon?

  • Jonathan Hunt 9th Dec '13 - 5:33pm

    Time was when mere mention the word Community would elicit a round of applause at any Liberal Assembly. Then came Thatcher’s Community Charge, and seekers after passing popularity had to find fresh buzz words.

    Yet Steve’s use of the words freedom, fairness, localism, internationalism, environment. empowerment, encouragement, development of strong local communities is a good start. We all have our favourites.

    What we lack is a coherence that links all these noble thoughts, a form of joined-up writing that has long eluded us. Purists may outlaw ‘empowerment’ claiming we should take or seize power, not be handed little bits it by those who hold it, as Bill Le Breton did recently in these columns.

    As a onetime sympathiser with Proudon-influenced Anarchism, I joined the Liberal 40 years ago because, in part, I was attracted to power-to-the-people ideas in the original Gordon Lishman-Bernard Greaves pamphlet on Community Politics.

    But it was the philosophy rather than the techniques of community politics that I supported. Yet the party has taken up the techniques and largely ignored the philosophy. The line I best remember of any manifesto was a commitment to “reducing decision-making to the lowest possible level consistent with efficient administration”.

    That should be in the 2015 document. With it the amended slogan: Fairer Economy, Stronger Society. Or better still, Fairer Economy, Stronger Community.

  • The Liberal Democrat party suffers from trying to combine market liberals that don’t fit into the Tory party, and social democrats from the SDP, along with a bunch of social liberals. Anywhere outside of the UK, this sort of coalition would be seen as too broad to work coherently as a party, but the party mechanics of this country instead encourage strange bed fellows indeed. (And neither the Tories nor Labour are short of their own internal idiosyncrasies.)

    The party is suffering an identity crisis because Clegg and co. have, being dedicated Orange Bookers, catered to the market liberal elements of the party and left the social democratic elements high and dry; the occasional bone tossed in that direction has not stopped the centre-left of the party abandoning it en masse for the Greens and Labour. (Let us briefly mention the tuition fee fiasco to underline that it has also created for them a deep and lasting credibility problem, which only makes selling the Orange Booker vision all the harder to anyone outside of that particular group.)

    It’s not really enough to say that you support “liberalism” or label yourself as a liberal. In this day and age, that path leads you down many different roads: UKIP will proclaim it seeks to protect our economic liberty by getting us out of the EU, while left-wingers who fight poverty will also call themselves liberal because they seek to create greater freedom from want. “Liberal” has become as broad and as unspecific in meaning as the word “good” (or, in some circles, “bad”). Sure, “good”, but good _how_? Sure, “liberal”, but liberal _how_?

    So the party needs to find a vision of “liberty” to support that is at least consistent and specific in meaning. The broad umbrella of liberalism is not enough to rally around anymore. Not in the UK where, by and large, liberalism suffuses all the parties to a certain degree, including the Tories and Labour.

  • “Community based solutions” is what scares me. Labour technically back this. We are different because we believe in democratic accountability (so not free schools then) and liberty (so not community-based if it goes against our core values). Neither party believes that.

    The Conservatives and Labour parties favour different kinds of oligarchy and, whilst I personally find Labour’s equality promoting oligarchy more than the Conservatives business based oligarchy, I am not satisfied with either.

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Dec '13 - 5:59pm

    @ Steve Bradley
    Yes it is an important question and I look forward to reading the responses.

    I just hope that posters clarify what they mean when they use abstract nouns like “liberty’, ‘freedom’ etc., by giving concrete examples, of what they mean. For example,I don’t think that liberty and freedom are such noble concepts when they are utilised in a way that allows the strong to exploit the weak.

    As an ordinary voter who has not achieved the academic level that is clearly evident amongst many of your Liberal Democrat members and activists, I offer myself up as a guinea pig.

  • Exactly @Jayne. Liberty of the individual must mean freedom from not just the state, but also the relentless ownership of wealth and other sources of power.

  • Pretty much in agreement with everything RC has posted above.

  • ‘The party’s current attempt to address this is the ‘stronger economy, fairer society’ mantra. However – this is more of a positioning statement than a genuine political purpose. ‘

    That is the case if you just focus on the ‘stronger economy, fairer society’ part of the statement- but you’re missing the most important aspect of it. The full statement is:

    ‘A stronger economy and a fairer society enabling every person to get on in life’

    That ‘get on in life’ bit is where the crux of our Party sits- it’s about opening up opportunity so that people can freely make the choices that matter to them. This might be by, for example, a focus (as we have done in Government) on early years education and making sure there is a level playing field for schools through the pupil premium, or by helping create the strong communities that allow people to collectively work to improve their area.

    This, at least to my mind, sets us apart from the Conservatives- who expect people to lift themselves up by the bootstraps but are content to maintain the obstacles in peoples way (be that, to steal a phrase, poverty, ignorance or conformity) or Labour- who (in admittedly simplistic terms) see collectivism as the sole way to improve lives.

    I think in many ways the ‘enabling ‘ phrasing is just an evolution of the ‘you can do what you like’ part of the classic Mills philosophy. The ‘Stronger economy, fairer society’ is the ‘providing it doesn’t hurt other people’ bit. It’s restating what we have believed since the Liberal Party first existed- but trying to put it into a modern day context.

    I think the main reason people don’t know what we stand for is that we spend too much of our time allowing ourselves to be defined by events rather than going out and selling our message clearly. The key is to go out and sell it now!

  • Maximilian Wilkinson 9th Dec '13 - 8:07pm

    @Matthew Huntbach

    I believe that this is a branding issue. You are perhaps overthinking this poll.

    If somebody asks us on the doorstep what we stand for, we should tell them ‘a stronger economy and a fairer society’. After that point, you can back it up by telling them about any of the things we’ve done to create a stronger economy and a fairer society.

    If we keep telling people that’s what we stand for, after a while they will know what we stand for.

    Whether they choose to agree with what we say is another matter entirely, but that’s immaterial to this poll.

  • @ Bill Chapman
    “We are a progressive, pragmatic, reformist, egalitarian party.” That’s a spot-on definition of the Labour Party’s philosophy. Will there be a defection soon?”

    No it most definitely isn’t and no there won’t. Labour isn’t progressive, it isn’t reformist and it sure as hell isn’t pragmatic, given its record in wrecking the economy and the public finances.

  • @ Bill Chapman

    Any Labour members who subscribe to those values should be joining us.

  • Steve Bradley says: “We have long-lacked an over-arching and meaningful explanation of our purpose, and it has limited our ability to build a core vote”. Actually, up until we went into coalition in 2010 and reneged on the student fees pledge we had been doing an excellent job of creating a core vote. The combination of a massive expansion of higher education and an obviously illiberal Labour Party meant that there was space in the political spectrum for a party that stood for social justice, individual freedom, trust in people’s innate sense, and internationalism: that was us. Our leadership comprehensively pulverised that core support within a few weeks, appearing to believe that most of it consisted of voters temporarily “borrowed” from the Labour Party.

    After the Second World War the Liberal Party dwindled to virtual extinction, and was kept alive by a few brave stalwarts who were prepared to endure the ribaldry and scorn that being a member often entailed. Jo Grimond attracted a new generation into the party, and my generation was inspired by the theories of community politics and rebuilt a presence in even the most unpromising areas of the country. The first time I stood for the council I remember telling the small group of activists that it might take twenty-five years before we achieved success: it did! Maybe that was a reflection of my lack of political skills, but in a ward that had been derelict since the 1920s we made sure that at every election after I first stood there was a Liberal candidate. 2010 was the first time that I really sensed that there was a substantial core vote of people who had grown up voting for us and who identified themselves automatically as Liberal Democrats. No longer. In much of the country we are already back to the 1950s, but without even the stalwarts to carry on flying the flag.

  • Graham Evans 9th Dec '13 - 11:14pm

    Surely the definition of a core voter is someone who sticks with the party through thick and thin, even when disillusioned. Those who in recent years may have regularly voted LD but have now switched away from the Party were therefore ipso facto never core voters.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec '13 - 11:33pm

    Maximilian Wilkinson

    If somebody asks us on the doorstep what we stand for, we should tell them ‘a stronger economy and a fairer society’. After that point, you can back it up by telling them about any of the things we’ve done to create a stronger economy and a fairer society

    But it doesn’t MEAN anything. As I’ve already said, it’s words no-one would disagree with. So it sounds just like typical politicians’ waffle. This sort of thing is a TURN OFF to the voters. Do you honestly think they will be impressed by party members acting like automatons, just repeating whatever is this week’s meaningless slogan handed down from on high? No, NO, NO!!! This idea that once you’re in a political party, you have to throw your brain away and your personality away and just follow the party line, say whatever the leaders tell you to say is a disaster. It originated with the Leninist model of political party, but now it seems most people think that’s how all parties are, because it’s also the model of party forced on us by elitist types who want to run them as they want to run big business – top down, the bosses in control, all done by glossy advertising, no real human spirit left in it.

    People are FED UP with that sort of thing, They are YEARNING for something different, something more human, politicians who don’t appear to be products manufactured by some marketing machine. That is why we need to get back to political parties as they used to be – vigorous local associations of real people who work together but on a co-operative basis, not on a top-down basis. People who talk like their fellow human beings, people wjo say what they mean, not people uttering plastic political slogans made up by their bosses.

  • Graham Evans – I thought it was a generally accepted consensus view that there are overlapping “pools” of defectors, those who change their minds politically, or for more selfish etc reasons, who are clearly not your definition of core voters, and those whose party moves away from them ideologically. Surely what Tony Hill has said falls into that second definition, so defining them as core voters, but what they have been “core” about has changed. Otherwise all you are talking about is party tribalism, and surely you can’t be wanting to encourage that?

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Dec '13 - 11:45pm

    @Graham Evans
    It is always important to define terms.

    I would define a core voter as someone who voted for the party because they shared the party’s espoused values. Using this definition, one could argue that it wasn’t the core voter who switched from the party but the party that switched away from the core voters.

    Your party leaders promised a new kind of politics. I don’t think we got it.

    definition,

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Dec '13 - 11:59pm

    @ Matthe Huntbach
    Oh so very true.
    Yearning is such an apt word in this context.

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Dec '13 - 12:02am

    I’m sorry Matthew , I didn’t mean to type your name incorrectly. I find that sort of thing disrespectful.

  • As a non-aligned bod (with some interest in politics), I find this fascinating. What is also fascinating is some of the more in depth polling (rather than the headline grabbing figures). Reading the comments, it seems apparent that even among activists there is little consensus on what you are supposed to be about, rather it’s more a list of words that could mean something or nothing (in the words of Matthew Huntbach, ” … it sounds just like typical politicians’ waffle.”).

    When you look at YouGov polling (as an example), you’ll often see various questions that are probably intended to drill down into what voters really think (as opposed to how they say they will vote). An example of this is the poll from November (http://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/ljqmwhlo0n/YG-Archive-Pol-Sun-results-181113.pdf), it asked the question “Here is a list of problems facing the country. Could you say for each of them which political party you think would handle the problem best?”. As you would expect, most of those intending to vote CP or LP felt that their respective Parties would best handle the problem. However that wasn’t the case for prospective Lib Dem voters, of the 8 headings only 1 had above 60% (education) and 3 were below 50% (asylum & immigration, Law & order, unemployment).

    So instead of trying to come up with some abstract definition of what you stand for (which is probably of more interest to LDV die hards than the standard person), couldn’t you campaign on something more relevant to the voters (especially prospective voters) and that most of you can agree on (hopefully!!!), e.g. competence (“look, we’ve been in Government and didn’t screw up the Country”). I honestly thought that this would be the course of action that you would take when the coalition was formed and that, by now, your poll ratings would have started to creep up. Instead you seem to spend a lot of time squabbling over social/orange book things (which, to quote Matthew Huntbach out of context, ” is a TURN OFF to the voters”).

  • Richard Dean 10th Dec '13 - 3:44am

    I suggest that the correct answer to the doorstep question is “you”. Anything else is plain wrong, IMHO.

    We stand for the person we are talking to. We want to represent that person. We then need to ask that person what he or she feels and wants, and we then need to describe how we will go about delivering that, allowing time for questions and expanding the topics under discussion. Then we need to provide a leaflet, ask for their vote, ask whether they might like to join the party, and/or help, and explain how.

  • RC 9th Dec ’13 – 5:05pm
    Except at the moment, we are letting the evil of “want” run roughshod over some people at the moment through carelessly implemented benefits reform and in our defeats on electoral and House of Lords reform we have let the power-swindlers (mostly Tories, it has to be said) get away with it yet again.

    I agree with you RC.
    These are major failures of the Clegg mob. Failure of Lords reform is Clegg’s own personal failure and it is enormous; he has blown the best chance in a hundred years. Once we have got rid of Clegg and his like, then we can get back to fighting Beveridge’s evils. Whilst he is still there we are in a political cul-de-sac. A Clegg-de-sac.

  • Maximilian Wilkinson ‘a stronger economy and a fairer society’.

    Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec ’13 – 11:33pm
    But it doesn’t MEAN anything.

    Matthew Huntbach s right – this slogan is meaningless. If “a stronger economy” means anything to Clegg’s inner circle, it means getting back to the Casino Banking we had before 2008, where the rich got richer and richer and the rest did not. Nothing to do with Liberalism at all. Nothing to do with a farer society.
    Maximilian Wilkinson might just as well repeat the slogan from Orwell’s 1984 – IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

  • Chris_sh 10th Dec ’13 – 1:23am
    Reading the comments, it seems apparent that even among activists there is little consensus on what you are supposed to be about,

    Chris_sh, you should not confuse the people commenting here in LDV with “activists”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec ’13 – 11:33pm
    we need to get back to political parties as they used to be – vigorous local associations of real people who work together but on a co-operative basis, not on a top-down basis. People who talk like their fellow human beings, people who say what they mean, not people uttering plastic political slogans made up by their bosses.

    Yes Matthew, I agree. Step one is to get rid of Clegg and his bunch.

  • Maximilian Wilkinson 10th Dec '13 - 8:01am

    Matthew, John and others,

    I think you have misinterpreted what I’ve said.

    I was merely seeking to answer the question raised by the polling data.

    Of course, stating the phrase is not going to cut it as a way to describe everything we stand for. That much is obvious. However, when seeking to define what something (anything) stands for, a short, sharp phrase is very useful.

    Could it perhaps be the case that our support has been restricted by long-winded definitions involving complicated language and concepts intellectually inaccessible to the masses?

    Max

  • Maximilian Wilkinson 10th Dec ’13 – 8:01am a short, sharp phrase is very useful.

    OK Maximillian, how about this one –
    “none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”

    Short and sharp enough ??

  • tonyhill 9th Dec ’13 – 10:24pm
    2010 was the first time that I really sensed that there was a substantial core vote of people who had grown up voting for us and who identified themselves automatically as Liberal Democrats.
    No longer. In much of the country we are already back to the 1950s, but without even the stalwarts to carry on flying the flag.

    tonyhill sums up in two sentences the real and substantial damage done by Clegg.

  • Steve Griffiths 10th Dec '13 - 9:18am

    John Tilley

    “you should not confuse the people commenting here in LDV with “activists”.

    The tragedy is that many of us commenting here were dedicated activists until the party’s change of direction. We would like to be active once more, to tramp the streets, to canvass, to deliver, to fund-raise, to fight elections, but airy-fairy meaningless motherhood-and-apple-pie mantras like “stronger economy, fairer society” isn’t the spark that will re-light the old flame again. The people who would regard themselves as the libertarian left are still out there; they just don’t currently have a political home that wants them.

  • jenny barnes 10th Dec '13 - 9:25am

    What Steve said.

  • Graham Evans 10th Dec '13 - 10:37am

    We may not approve of tribalism but that is in reality the essence of the core vote of both the Conservative and Labour parties. Their core vote is not based on policy. This has been demonstrated by the recent polling which suggests that many Labour voters actually support Tory policies on welfare, immigration, law & order, etc. , but step back when they are told these are Tory policies. Similarly, many wealthy members of the Asian community continue to vote Labour even though their views on policy issues much more closely align with those of the Tory Party. Policy therefore only has a strong influence on the margin, but this is unfortunately the small pool in which LDs fish and in that pool that there are many other competitors.

  • Steve Griffiths 10th Dec ’13 – 9:18am
    The tragedy is that many of us commenting here were dedicated activists until the party’s change of direction. We would like to be active once more, to tramp the streets, to canvass, to deliver, to fund-raise, to fight elections, but … …
    jenny barnes 10th Dec ’13 – 9:25am
    What Steve said.

    I agree with Steve Griffiths , jenny barnes , Jayne Mansfield, Tim13 , tonyhill, RC, and of course with Matthew Huntbach.
    We must get rid of Clegg and those around him before they kill the party.

  • andrew purches 10th Dec '13 - 11:38am

    The Party’s image problem is one of not even knowing ourselves what exactly we are all about. No longer are we a party of protest, and what we are agin, and being in government has not helped to resolve this issue either. The Liberal Party of old, before it became a bolt hole for the more right wing tory Empire Loyalists by having an electoral pact with the Tories – that led to the formation of the National Liberal and Conservative Party in the thirties,was always right of Centre in its political manifestation and was more Whiggish than Whig. The Social Democrats however had no real motive at the outset of their brief existence,other than to be against Clause Four and the Unions control of the Labour
    Party. They didn’t seem to like Harold Wilson much either or the labour mafia in local communities. In merging the two party philosophies together, such as they were, did not do much more than create a “none of them image”, and little else. We do need a simple straight forward punchy philosophy to appeal to the majority of the electorate, and particularly to the young, who tend more than most to despise us for our compromising actions in coalition.
    When last canvassing at the general election three years ago, I was asked by one voter to let him see the Party’s manifesto. I returned with the whole caboosh, and left it with him. I saw him again a couple of days later to reclaim it, and was greeted by the comment that he did not want the “bleeding Bible, and I still know nothing about you are going to do for me” That sums it up really_ we need to appeal to the individual voter, and not to any one community as such. And more and more,average man and woman could not care that much for the concept of community,particularly with the middle orders. And,lastly, are we “Liberals” or” Lib-Dems ” or what ?

  • chris j smart 10th Dec '13 - 11:56am

    I joined the Lib Dem party because it was the only one that stood for principled, evidence based policies agreed at conference and decried the slogan ridden yahoo politics expressed so admirably in PM’s Question Time . I applauded the pledges so freely given to abolish tuition fees. I fully supported our position on protection of the NHS from radical reform. I’m against secret courts and support the Guardian in exposing GCHQ and illegal operations of the security services. I disapprove of privatizing viable, profitable services such as the Royal Mail and HS1. I see no long term benefit to the economy or the electorate of resurrecting the housing bubble rather than building more houses. In short, in my probably very naive opinion, I support a Liberal Democratic party that no longer exists. I tried to watch our leader at a recent PM’s Question Time and had to switch off to avoid further injuring my health. I hang on to my membership in the forlorn hope that sense if not principle will prevail and return soon.

  • I think Andrew sums it up perfectly.

    There is the problem that we have for too long defined ourselves and allowed ourselves to be defined as ‘none of the above’.

    Another problem is that we never give a clear narrative to people on who we are and what we are about. When I was campaigning in 2011 for a local council election (where we got wiped out), the first thing which struck me was that our focus was 4 pages of block text on very specific issues and actions. The Labour focus was half a page of block text and some emotive pictures. The Tory focus was 10 of the laziest bullets on broad issues that had no real substantive weight or link to the local community.

    The Tories won.

    Why? It is simply because they made a message that was easy to engage with.

    I think that we have no major problem defining ourselves, per se; we just struggle to express ourselves in a clear and concise way.

    The leadership’s slogan – regardless of your feelings towards it – goes some way towards solving that. It does not matter if the other parties would not disagree with it, what matters is they do not say nor focus on it, we do.

    That being said, I have noticed the leadership themselves using that phrase far less often recently, so who knows, maybe they, too, disagree it is not working.

  • Some interesting points here. I disagree most with paul barker’s assertion that community as a value conflicts with liberty. Community is not something the SDP brought to Liberals’ attention. Jo Grimond reminded us that individuals do not achieve self-realisation in a vacuum and that we are social beings. To be free, we need to relate to others positively. Yes, there are occasions when A community will restrict liberty – for example when a close rural or small-town community will ostracise someone for different sexuality or sexual mores – but individual liberty does not undermine community, if only you remember that proviso of John Stuart Mill’s about not hurting someone else. Our value of community means people associating freely and co-operating for shared goals. That’s been at the heart of Liberalism since Gladstone and you might argue since the Levellers. This helps to explain our commitment to power being exercised at local rather than national levels. Certainly some communities are not entirely a matter of free association, but more and more they are so, as people become more mobile (so if you don’t like the village, you can move) and to change your religious beliefs or union membership is more plausible and accepted.

    Like some others I query whether the confusion over what we stand for is new. In the old Liberal days you kept hearing “You don’t have any policies,” This of course was rubbish, but quoting several of our policies to these people didn’t help. They didn’t really mean we had no policies. They meant they didn’t understand the essence of what we stood for: the Tories were for protecting the interests of the well-off and for demonstrative patriotism; Labour were for the welfare state and working people; even the nationalists were for Scottish and Welsh independence; but we were for something harder for them to define.

    The party constitution has some excellent formulations – liberty, equality, community and that “where none shall be enslaved” passage. Pity we don’t use them in much of our membership-recruiting material.

  • David Allen 10th Dec '13 - 1:10pm

    Here we are again. Half of us say that Clegg and his allies have wrecked our party – and whether or not we are “right”, it is undeniable that Clegg and his allies have created a sea change. The other half of us spread across a spectrum from enthusiastic support for the Coalition, to excuses, to grudging support.

    Someone above said we had a “branding problem” (to which I’m inclined to say that if you think politics means branding, then that’s your problem.) Well, yes. A bit like the problem of calling yourself “Toilet Duck” and then demanding to be shelved with the poultry!

    When your statements say one thing, your actions say another, and your beliefs are supposed to be something else again, then yes, you have a hell of a branding problem. How do we suppose that the poor old voter will keep up with us?

    Pithy slogans work if people can see you putting them into action. We haven’t created a stronger economy and we have turned our backs on creating a fairer society.

    “Step one is to get rid of Clegg and his bunch.” says John Tilley. Well, it would have worked if it had been done two years ago, in response to the tuition fees debacle or the NHS debacle or the AV debacle or the House of Lords debacle. To do it now, sadly, would only look like desperation to the voter.

    Frankly, what we need to do is to get hammered in 2015. A mediocre performance with 30 seats will only see Clegg’s National Liberals melt into the Tory Party. A dire performance with our failed parliamentarians wiped out is what we need. Then we can build a new movement.

    I know that few who have “careers” in local politics are likely to accept that analysis. However, it is probably what will happen. Something similar happened in 1987, and in the end, it was our salvation. Like the desert in an Attenborough nature documentary, we needed the wildfire!

  • AC Trussell 10th Dec '13 - 3:40pm

    After reading all of the above I thought- I may as well give-up supporting the Lib/Dems and join the Russell Brand lot!
    Then I thought of the 10K tax break; the Pupil Premium: the parental leave: the dropping of ID cards: a historic cap on bankers bonuses, limiting them to a maximum ratio of 2:1 of their salary (in the EU ,abstained by Tories); ending child detention; .giving every 5, 6 and 7 year old a free school meal daily; .giving 15 hours free child care to all 3 and 4 year olds and 40% of 2 year olds ; delivering the biggest ever cash rise in the state pension,etc, etc.
    There are some things that were done wrong I’ll admit – the “bedroom tax” is theft- if there is nowhere to go- they should be compensated until there is a place suitable.( The Lib/Dems should have helped these people)

    But sopping the Nasty Party having total control is a very big plus.

    So I am not giving up like you lot. Some of you do sound like you belong to the Russell Brand party.; if you can’t get all you want you throw your rattle out of the pram! I think Nick Clegg as done well considering the incredible opposition from the Media supporting the other two parties; only reporting the negative side of a Lib/Dem story or not at all!

    So: “Does anyone know why the Liberal Democrats exist ? It’s an important question.”

    I exist. I believe in a life free from control by the State and Wealth. It may be near impossible but I think that a Liberal and Democratic movement is the only one heading in that direction.

    What other choices have I had in life;
    Labour- the worker’s Party.
    Sounds OK until it discovers that there are more than workers and work in this society. Throughout my life I’ve noticed that it doesn’t seem to work. People in that Party seem to belong to an ideology that lacks empathy and is unwilling to compromise. It seems to be a party of the past; when “the struggle” was obvious, and they didn’t have to think of running what they were struggling against, As for there understanding of business just look at their “price freeze”. They could loose investment in our future energy – they may already have done!
    So that’s a no-no!
    Conservative- It’s all in the name isn’t it?
    This is also a party that lacks empathy and is unwilling to compromise. I have noticed over many years that they really are “The Nasty Party” just look at the disgusting tactics during the AV referendum. They are also more interested in their ideology than the individual person. Just look at their tax break for their selected few!!
    So that’s a no-no!

    So I choose the party closest to my ideal:The Liberal Democrats: believe in a life free from control by the State and Wealth and will use empathy and compromise to achieve this end.

    Don’t give up yet- we’ve only just started. It’s a bumpy road when you are making a new path!

  • AC Trussell 10th Dec '13 - 4:04pm

    I forgot to add; I think the reason it is difficult to describe the Lib/Dems is because they are pragmatic(and apparently the most intelligent- next to the Greens- I think?) and can change to fit when the situation changes. This is being realistic- but the individual is/should be the central reason for being.

  • Any political party in office has to make uncomfortable choices. A government in a recession will always be in a hard place; for a minority party in a coalition during a recession it is even harder. Whilst I can be thoroughly disappointed by a lot of what has happened, and nothing more dispiriting than the AV vote, I do not wish to be in the group of supporters for whom involvement in government is an anathema.

    It is hard to point at much that a Labour government would not have done, so why buy into their version of events?

    The Liberal Democrat party will be up against it at the next election. In such circumstances rather than dilute identity the Party needs to assert its position on core issues of liberal values, democracy and internationalism (including the EU).

  • The most remarkable thing about the Lib Dems in my opinion is not just, as Steve Bradley says: “We have long lacked an over-arching and meaningful explanation of our purpose” which has limited our ability to build a core vote; it is rather that the party went out of its way to nix the emergence of any such explanation. As Simon Titley noted earlier this year: “there was effectively an embargo on any sort of ideological debate within the Liberal Democrats after the party was created by the merger of the Liberal Party and SDP in 1988. “ I remember that period only too well.

    http://liberator-magazine.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/the-rise-and-fall-of-economic-liberalism.html

    Even now policy-making revolves to a substantial extent on identifying themes that poll well and then finding sound bites to express them that also poll well. Chris Rennard has been quite explicit about this. Hence also Clegg’s repeated insistence on anchoring the Party right in the centre which denies the possibility of leading meaningful change and offers only the chance of an alternative management – not something I would get out of bed for.

    If this is leadership it is only of that sort that involves finding a parade and getting to the front of it with a megaphone. It is particularly worthless when the existing paradigm of government has failed as is patently the case at present.

  • David Allen 10th Dec ’13 – 1:10pm
    Frankly, what we need to do is to get hammered in 2015. A mediocre performance with 30 seats will only see Clegg’s National Liberals melt into the Tory Party. A dire performance with our failed parliamentarians wiped out is what we need. Then we can build a new movement.

    And you were accusing me of suggesting something that – ” would only look like desperation ” ???

  • ‘Liberalism’ can mean so many things that confusion is guaranteed unless we keep what we mean straight in our heads. Most would agree that liberty/freedom is core but even that is, of itself, not a tight enough definition. The common distinction between ‘freedom for’ and ‘freedom to’ does nothing for me. It is, I suspect, the modern equivalent of arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    But asking: “whose freedom ?” hits an analytical jackpot. For it turns out there are two diametrically opposed answers that correspond to the deepest political rift imaginable.

    The first answer is that it is freedom for people, individually and collectively. That is what Lib Dems have historically believed. Others (in Labour for example) may share much the same objective but not see freedom as an essential part of the formula for delivering it. That I can live with (well, to a point) as long as the motives are honest.

    The second answer is that it freedom for ‘capital’ (sometimes expressed as ‘companies’ or ‘investors’). Ten seconds of introspection will confirm that capital is indeed what leading Tory powerbrokers intend to be free (although interestingly, often not the ‘One Nation’ faction of their membership). They often bang on about and if challenged they will say that, for instance, capital must be ‘free’ of any regulations if it is to create a thriving economy. Implicitly they are relying on the thoroughly-discredited trickle down ‘theory’ – propaganda would be a more accurate term.

    Two current examples illustrate the divide. Firstly, the Lobbing Bill. This has three main sections which regulate ‘consultant lobbyists’, community organisations and trade unions. Big corporations are not regulated by it. It’s freedom for ‘capital’ on steroids, impossibly onerous rules for everyone else and it takes us a long, slippery step away from traditional civil liberties.

    Secondly, the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) which MEPs authorised the Commission to negotiate a few months ago. It’s presented as ‘free trade’ (implication: ‘free’ = good – so park your brain) but really it’s about making an end run around whole areas of national regulation which might impede companies’ ability to increase their profit, even if they want to descend to the gutter to do so. This is to be backed up by an Investor-State Dispute Resolution (ISDR) system which will allow companies to appeal to an international tribunal over the heads of national governments. Again it’s freedom for capital to do whatever it wants with minimal or no regulation. Meanwhile, people are to take pot luck with the trickle down not to mention the fallout from the regulatory race to the bottom this sets up.

    In a sane world the Tories’ subtle but complete redefinition of ‘freedom’ would have long since been exposed as self-serving clap-trap; it is a measure of the failure of modern liberalism that it has instead penetrated senior Lib Dem’s thinking and that we officially support both these offensive measures.

  • Max Wilkinson 10th Dec '13 - 7:08pm

    @JohnTilley

    You wrote: OK Maximillian, how about this one – “none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” Short and sharp enough ??

    Short, but not so sharp.

    I bet if I asked 100 people whether they cared about having a strong economy or freedom from ignorance and conformity, most of them would tell me they cared more about the economy.

    You may say this is all a load of nonsense because it’s just saying cheap things that anybody could agree with. I would contend that, when it comes to gaining an electorally useful identity, that is immaterial. We have to define ourselves as being a party that deals with issues people care about. It’s not so different to filling your Focus leaflet with news about potholes, parking and graffiti, rather than Lords reform, proportional representation and human rights.

    Max

  • So here we go.
    “If somebody asks us on the doorstep what we stand for, we should tell them ‘a stronger economy and a fairer society’. After that point, you can back it up by telling them about any of the things we’ve done to create a stronger economy and a fairer society”

    I really hope the party members don’t do this unless you are in a safe LD area, personally I would just close the door without further ado, you probably don’t understand the anger but believe me it is still there. But don’t cater promises to individuals that rhetoric is dead I can assure you, the fairer society issue will kill the party if you pursue it, because one thing it is not; is fair, nor have you made it any fairer.
    And no; I will not suggest what you could say.

    “Frankly, what we need to do is to get hammered in 2015. A mediocre performance with 30 seats will only see Clegg’s National Liberals melt into the Tory Party. A dire performance with our failed parliamentarians wiped out is what we need. Then we can build a new movement.”

    I believe this is what is needed to clarify the voter’s position regarding the party, but I can guarantee there will be statements by those in the party along the lines of… “It could have been worse” or “we have done better than expected” no matter the result.

    The party cannot separate its self from the actions of government and if you try to you will dig the hole deeper, the MPs of the party have voted for or abstained on some issues which does not disassociate the party from those issues no matter what the members think… the LD MPs are the front line of the party, the clearest point of focus for the public onto the LD party.

    I think the party is heading for a defeat a loss of seats that will hurt, I have already said on previous threads how bad I think it will be, but the other point I have posted about on other forums is the MPs who may leave the party as they see no future within the LD fold, and no I don’t think any MPs will go across to Labour (I think labour would refuse) but I can see at least one to three who may walk to blue after the next GE or go independent before finally blue if they retain their seats of course, and yes I did say after the GE, that is of course my opinion, they may walk before the GE and give the choice to voters…

  • Max Wilkinson 10th Dec '13 - 7:19pm

    I might add, as an aside, that if we look to the comments on this website to find out what we stand for (or against), we would become very confused.

    In the three(ish) years that I’ve been reading this site, various people have suggested the following: more CCTV, less CCTV; more state surveillance, less state surveillance; more house building, more protection for greenbelt (one person even suggested enforced population control as a means to protect fields!); the scrapping of Trident, the maintenance of a nuclear deterrant; more airports, fewer airports; deeper public spending cuts, increased public spending. And the list goes on.

    Is it any wonder the voters don’t know what we stand for?

  • David Allen 10th Dec '13 - 7:50pm

    John Tilley,

    Well, I see your point. But I’m sorry, I have been trying through these columns to make the case for Clegg’s ignominious exit for the last three years and more. A lot of people have come round to that view, but not enough of them have stayed to fight, and so we haven’t won it. I now think that until after 2015, it is a lost fight.

    It is the voters who would see it as a desperate act, were we to change the leadership at this late stage. Having “happily” stayed with Cleggism for over three years, with all the harm that has been done to so many in Britain, we could not credibly now say that we had suddenly discovered our real principles. The voters would not believe us. They would think we were just trying to save our skins with an election coming up. They therefore wouldn’t vote for us.

    So there we are, stuck with an election in 2015 at which we will get mauled. After that, we can all repent of our mistakes, just as we did in 1987, and we can probably ditch Clegg and co. Clegg may choose to split the party, since he will cleave to the Right whatever the result, and this time he might only take half of his diminished band of MPs with him. The “poorer” the result, the better our chances of ditching the Cleggies for good and all. Yes, I’m talking about a desperate situation, but I’m not desperate to kid the voters into supporting the mess our party has become. I’m desperate to see it change.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Dec '13 - 8:19pm

    There is no identity crisis. The leadership’s vision for the party is a centrist one and if you don’t agree with this it doesn’t mean there is an identity crisis.

    Centrism is an honourable strategy and blends moderation with radicalism. Moderate solutions won’t work for radical problems, just like a moderate amount of work won’t do if you are late for a deadline. The leadership is blending moderation with radicalism.

    Regarding the community stuff: this to me just looks like paying lip service to family. We need to have balance.

    Regards

  • Liberty
    Equality
    Fraternity
    Not broke
    Dont fix

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Dec '13 - 10:18pm

    A C Trussell: “I think the reason it is difficult to describe the Lib/Dems is because they are pragmatic.”

    As an outsider, it seems to me that the opposite is the case; and this is one of the main things that makes me not support the Lib Dems. (One random example: while other parties have successfully tackled the problem of the gross under-representation of women in Parliament, the Lib Dems carry on doing nothing because they fear doing so would be against their principles.)

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Dec '13 - 10:38pm

    Stuart, principles are pragmatic. You just have to combine them. If the left wants to abandon principles and just focus on short-term results then you end up with the Soviet Union and taking away all freedoms just to achieve the final goal of equality.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Dec '13 - 11:27pm

    I don’t want to left bash, I’m interested in ideas from the centre left and particularly the libertarian left that Steve Griffiths would like to see more of. Extremes just make people fearful, unless they are very good ideas.

  • “…..because what we stand for is letting people have a meaningful stake and say in the world they live in.”

    But that is NOT what is happening, and not even close. The people of this country are sick to the back teeth, because not only do they NOT have a stake or say in their lives, they believe (with very good reason), that the present Westminster ‘crew’, actively BLOCK any meaningful stake or say in what happens in their lives. And the three years of Lib Dems being active at the government table, has simply reinforced what the public already believed. Which is… ” Yep,… those Libdems,,.. all talk, but just like the rest of those lying ba***rds , once they get a sniff of power, and a chance to give themselves an 11% pay rise !!. ”
    I wouldn’t like to be the LibDem canvasser walking up the drive ready to counter such venom, with “…but,..but were creating a,… Stronger economy, and,..and,..a fairer society.!!!”
    Good luck with that.
    Hence the popularity of Russell Brand’s statements, and the rise of UKIP. Let me let you into a secret. Only the certifiably mad, would want Farage as PM, but UKIP voters see Farage as a kind of Guy Fawkes, and the UKIP movement as a kind of crowbar to shove Westminster off its complacent and self-serving foundations. There is a massive amount of anger below the surface out there, and you ignore it at your peril.

  • Max Wilkinson 10th Dec ’13 – 7:08pm
    I bet if I asked 100 people whether they cared about having a strong economy or freedom from ignorance and conformity, most of them would tell me they cared more about the economy.

    OK Max, I am prepared to take your bet.
    I think people can understand “Freedom from poverty” very, very easily,
    The only reason they are interested in “the economy” at all is because they want that freedom

  • David Allen 10th Dec ’13 – 7:50pm
    I have been trying through these columns to make the case for Clegg’s ignominious exit for the last three years and more. A lot of people have come round to that view, …

    I retired a couple of years ago. I was not at liberty to make my views too public before then. I then took a vow of “no computers” for a couple of years. I read books and spent time in my garden. Whilst never enthusiastic about coalition with either Tory or Labour I kept quiet out of loyalty to the party after membership of more than 40 years.
    Recently, I received an abusive e-mail from Ed Davey. I had written to him complaining about his miraculous conversion to nuclear power, despite everything he had said as a candidate in 4 general elections.
    As he is an MP in the Borough where I had played some part in building up the local party so that Ed Davey could step into the seat at his first attempt, I thought it reasonable to register my view. He has a different view of how a party member should behave – it seems to be something along the lines of membership of a fan club.
    So I thought to myself – “Sod it – if this is how I am treated for being loyal and keeping quiet maybe I should try something different.”

    You were ahead of me David – I apologise for being late, but I am with you now and with all the others in LDV and elsewhere who are working to take our party back.

  • If there is an identity crisis, it surely is not helped by things like secret courts, pushed through without regard to what the membership thinks. The author of a Lib Dem Blog which won Lib Dem Blog of the year in 2012 has now left the party. If the party will not stand up for civil liberties, what is it for?

  • Just two things from Mill:

    “A government cannot have too much of the kind of activity which does not impede, but aids and stimulates, individual exertion and development.” [So not Tory then.]

    “A state which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands – even for beneficial purposes – will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.” [So not Labour then.]

  • I think that what distinguishes us from the other parties is that as liberals and democrats we are seeking power in order to ensure that power is used properly in the public interest, is properly dispersed with adequate checks and balances, is not used to oppress the weak, and is not abused or corrupted by or for vested interests.

    The other parties are seeking power in order to accomplish a separate purpose of their own (protection of its supporters’ vested interests, nationalism, redistribution of wealth etc, protection of the environment). The end can justify the means (even if that means excessive aggregation and abuse of power). Hence the importance of our role in coalition but also the importance of being clear about our role, and not getting bogged down with temporary policy objectives which can undermine our commitment to liberty and democracy.

  • Matt (Bristol) 13th Dec '13 - 10:54am

    I know I’m coming late to this discussion, but I would submit that there was, until early in this coalition, one thing that bound together the economic left and right of the party and that was the instinct that their somewhat contradictory definitions of ‘liberalism’ both included room for constitutional reform and devolution of power to smaller units of government across the nation; which is one of the things the original post is getting at in the rather woolly but admittedly appealing language of ‘community’ and ’empowerment’. All sides of the party were broadly in agreement that many decisions about the economy were better made at a lower level of government than currently, in a regioallised or locallised way, even if they were not in agreement about what those decisions should be.

    The problem is that three actions of the coalition government kiboshed this and left the party wrangling over what ‘liberalism’ is without any clear way forward:
    1) The AV referendum; Labour could not politically back it (although that was a hypocrticial position), the Tories sabotaged it and LibDem voters were not sure whether they really wanted it enough.
    2) The failure of Lords Reform and redistribution of seats; there was then no significant measure of national reform left which validated the LDs as the party of consitutional reform and the result of the wrangling seems to be a desire not to go there again this parliament.
    3) The ongoing trumpetting of the City deals and elected mayors as devolution in action – a) this was largely a Tory policy; b) this is not a national reform that devolves power to the local government in a consistent way, this is the giving of privileges by the centre in return for good behaviour and I sense the party (with the exception of its leader) is ambiguous about how much it wants to trumpet this as a meaningful reform that moves things forward.

    The party’s approach to constitutional reform now seems to be, ‘well, we tried it, it didn’t work, the country don’t like it, maybe won’t try again in the near future’. This apathy and lack of direction (maybe it’s just a tactical waiting for the results of the scottish referendum but I doubt it) has created a vacuum that the party doesn’t know how to fill.

    The LDs under Kennedy were the party of fairer taxation by increased income-based taxation, of opposition to foreign wars, and of consititutional reform.

    The LDs under CLegg in 2010 were the party of the pupil premium, fairer taxation by raising the minimum threshold for income tax, of a graduate tax to replace tuition fees, of scrapping or postponing Trident, and of consititutional reform. Cable’s abilitiy to point out faults in both the Labour and Tory plans for economy further boosted the party.

    It seems that the LDs in 2015 will seek to be the party of a more vaguely defined ‘fairer taxation’ by what mechanism is not clear (probably further rises to the minimum level, possibly a mansion tax as well), of further measures intended to appeal to families, and of absolutely nothing to say about constitutional reform. I can’t see the manifesto having much to say baout regional government, about devolving powers to lcoal councils, or any other reform measures either.

    I guess I am ultimately a democrat more tha I am a liberal (although I’m not saying I’m not a liberal); what excites me is not philosophical debate about how to protect liberty (although I don’t in principle wish to diminish it), it is structural reform of and extension to the nation’s democracy, which I guess does provide communities with the . Neither of the other two parties have shown longlasting enthusiasm for this, and when they try it, they have often introduced further flaws into the system.

    The LibDem right and left cannot hold together without the common agreement on consititutional reform,a dnwithout a new vision on the issue, they will bicker and fall apart.

  • David Allen 13th Dec '13 - 1:21pm

    John Tilley, thanks for your comments. I haven’t given up, quite the opposite in fact. I only argue that the strategy now has to change.

    Within the diminishing bubble that is Lib Dem activism, the Cleggies have managed to hold on like grim death, thanks to an unholy alliance between true Orange Book believers, the full-time careerists at the national level, and what we might call the part-time careerists at local level. I hasten to say that our local activists and councillors are part-timers whose largely unpaid work in their communities often makes them the salt of the earth. But because they tend to take a don’t-rock-the-boat attitude, in the interests of temporary self-preservation, they can become a substantial part of the problem.

    Outside the bubble, of course, our voters have left us in droves, the majority of the nation now actively dislike us, and large numbers of activists have also turned elsewhere or given up in disgust. Therein must lie our strength. Fighting inside the Lib Dem bubble has proved to be a losing effort. Fighting outside – I hope – can tap into a groundswell of support for the real centre-left politics associated with Charles Kennedy and earlier leaders, and with the best from other parties too. We can win in 2015-2016!

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