Opinion: Time for Liberal Democrats to stop saying “No”.

If you Google “Lib Dems say no”, this is the result you get. Beyond the recent headlines on new runways you will see that this phrase is widely used in our campaigns. In the same search, click on Images to emphasise the point. One would be forgiven for thinking that this phrase is printed on our membership cards. This phrase is deeply  conservative and does nothing to help with our problem of explaining what the Lib Dems stand for, something I recently argued we urgently need to do.

At the next election an opportunity to set that vision our will present itself. The issue at the next election won’t be about whether or not we should reduce the deficit; it will be about how we reduce the deficit. The lack of an answer to that question is in my view a large part of why the election of 2010 was so inconclusive and actually quite bad for Liberal Democrats.

As we approach 2015 the Conservatives will set out their approach and pitch for a Conservative majority government. We know what that pitch will be as we have put a stop to the more draconian elements of it during our time in government. Similarly, Labour will be attempting to set out their own platform which will critique the government and no doubt offer little by way of clarity or a compelling vision. The Lib Dem approach must be about more than just saying NO to both.

There are genuine problems with how things are done in areas such as welfare, immigration, health, pensions and housing. While our 2010 manifesto should be commended, for some it didn’t offer solutions to the perceived problems in these areas, but merely set out Lib Dem policy. The two need to be married so that policy addresses more clearly the problems we face as a country.

In 2015 we should be seeking to address these problems head on, with radical Lib Dem policies set in emotionally compelling and ideologically driven language. Alongside this we should be bold enough to challenge perceptions where they are inaccurate. 2015 will be no time for ducking a fight; phrases based on fairness stir no one’s soul and inspire only committed activists.

Conventional wisdom suggests that we must avoid the big issues to avoid upsetting Lib Dem voters and waverers. Surely it would be more upsetting to fight a tepid and uninspiring campaign which galvanises no one. Such wisdom also suggests we should be oppositional to capitalise on anger. As we discovered in 2010 where the air war goes truly national, our by-election approach to campaigning simply doesn’t work. The public will be looking at how we solve problems which exist in London, Truro and Wigan in one brush. 2015 will be similar. Public anger should be directed toward a solution not simply surfed for political advantage. We should leave those sorts of games to Labour.

An extensive study into policy platforms and positions during elections shows clearly that parties of government which adopt an extreme or radical position on an issue, do better than those which adopt more modest ones. By extreme I mean ideologically extreme and not a move toward the extremes of the political spectrum. I’ll explain this study and the opportunity it presents for us in 2015 in a future post.

* Chris Richards was a candidate for the London Assembly in May 2012 and is a Lib Dem activist in London. He blogs at www.chrisrichards.org.uk

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  • Well, it’s pretty clear that no means yes for lib dems. No to tuition fees, no to broken promises….

  • Richard Dean 22nd Aug '12 - 12:27pm

    I agree that LibDems need a valid and inspirational vision AND credible policies and strategies to achieve it. No is not enough.

    Fairness should certainly be part of it; voters support that. Messing about with the system of voting should definitely not be; voters have shown they roundly reject that. The NHS is a minefield; repealing anything is likely to create even greater disaters. The economy may well be in a nosedive by 2015; we need to work out how to fix it.

    We will also need a robust, planned campaign that is flexible enough to be able to handle the rubbsih thay will be thrown at us.

  • Daniel Henry 22nd Aug '12 - 1:58pm

    I agree absolutely.
    We need to change as many “no”s to “instead”s as possible.

    Apparently even No10 wishes we’d bring more ideas to the table…
    I notice recently that some of our parliamentarians have made posts asking for ordinary members to contact them to give them ideas on particular issues. This is definitely the way forward, and if we could get this whole crowdsourcing thing going it could powerfully switch the balance over who is bringing the best ideas to the table.

  • Daniel Henry. I am interested in “Apparently even No10 wishes we’d bring more ideas to the table…”. In that case let me suggest a “Yes” policy for all those at No. 10 and beyond. How about “we, the LIbDems, suggest that HM Government repeals in its entirety, lock, stock and barrel, the utter mess that we like to call the NHS reorganisation of the Health and Social Care Act”? The answer to this must surely by a resounding ‘Yes’. This would not only be an act of incredible common sense it would also, hopefully avoid a catastrophy for the LibDems at the next election. Perhaps. Who knows, it might even dim the electorate’s memory of Shirley Williams and her late conversion and enthusiasm for Mr Lansley’s Bill (now Act).

  • Unfortunately, there is a total disconnect between a) the policies we espoused in opposition b) the policies we have accepted in coalition c) the policies activists would like us to enact d) policies our MPs are likely to accept.

    In the process, sensible compromise has been ditched in favour attempted, but badly botched, stitch ups which has, I believe, fatally damaged our reputation and exposed us as incompetent to even hold a share of power.

    At 60, sadly I’m not sure I will live long enough to see the party restored to its pre election state.

  • Peter Reisdorf 22nd Aug '12 - 11:07pm

    I clicked on the “this” hyperlink to see what you actually got and apart from this article there were multiple instances of “Lib Dems say ‘no to new runways’ “!!!

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Aug '12 - 12:09pm


    Unfortunately, there is a total disconnect between a) the policies we espoused in opposition b) the policies we have accepted in coalition c) the policies activists would like us to enact d) policies our MPs are likely to accept.

    I don’t think so. The problem seems to me the publicity mistake of grossly exaggerating what we are achieving and are capable of achieving within the coalition, which results in our modest achievements being discounted. It’s things like the “Rose Garden” and “75% of our manifesto implemented” line which have so hugely damaged us. Who is responsible for all this, and how can we get rid of them and put in place at the top of our party people with some common sense, political nous (a little study of balance of power situations in local government here and coalition situations in other countries would have shown up the traps we have fallen into), and knowledge of what really works with voters?

    With just one sixth of the coalition’s MPs (thanks to the electoral system which the people of this country supported by two to one last year) quite obviously we can have only a minor influence on it, just a counterbalance to the loony right of the Conservative Party whose moans about what we are stopping them form doing need to be seen to demonstrate we are having some effect. It seems to me that where we have pushed government policy, it has always been more towards the line that was in our manifesto. If we’d been honest at the start to say that’s all we can really do in a coalition where the distortion of the electoral system so weakens us and so strengthens the bigger party, we’d be better appreciated now – and perhaps we’d have won the argument to start the ball rolling for electoral reform in the AV referendum.

  • Daniel Henry 23rd Aug '12 - 12:53pm

    Lol DGN! Saying “yes” to the question of “should a say no” is still effectively a “no”.

    I just wish that when Lansley had first revealed his bill that we’d been straight in offering alternatives of the mark.

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