Opinion: What should the new leader do in his first 100 days? #3

In less than a week, the Lib Dems will have a new leader – either Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne will have succeeded Ming Campbell. Lib Dem Voice is inviting party members to tell us what you think should be his top priorities. Paul Walter and Linda Jack have both had a go. Today it’s David Morton’s turn…

Paddy Ashdown once said that the first thing a third party leader had to do in the morning “was get noticed.” The media’s love of the two party consensus is well known but very real. As it seems that one slip in his first PMQs is what set Ming Campbell up to fail, our new Leader needs to set his own narrative within days. Indeed the 12 days of Christmas….

In the age of the sound bite and the photo op here are my five suggestions for compelling images that would grab attention, highlight social ills, and let us say what we would do about them. Assuming that at least one camera crew will follow our leader, here are some places he should go.

1. Do a night shift as a cleaner in the City of London. With inequality at Dickensian levels and insecurity rife because of the ‘credit crunch’ people are beginning to listen. Before Labour stole Tory policies on taxing non-doms those policies were ours. We need to reclaim tackling inequality as a Liberal issue.

2. Visit an injured service person. I acknowledge the potential for exploitation but the iconography of human injury is air-brushed from the public mind. The media keeps the grim death toll going but the real breaking of the military covenant is how we treat injured soldiers. If one were willing, the effect might be as useful in breaking taboos as Diana shaking hands with someone living with AIDS.

3. Chucking out time at Christmas. It sounds like a Daily Mail agenda but many of Britain’s town centres are now horrific war zones at weekends. The police are over-stretched, the taxpayer picks up the bill, and the vertical drinking chains collect the profits. A party leader, a shoulder-held camera, and an ordinary police patrol would highlight much misery.

4. Prison Works? (If it’s legal) have a Christmas meal in a prison canteen. Ask people tough questions about why they committed crimes and what they are getting in jail that will stop them coming back. The inevitable inmate who can’t read and write and who looks to camera and says this is his fourth time in and he’ll be back four more times will grab attention. If this isn’t legal use a prison visitors’ centre.

5. Make a foreign trip. (Unless of course either Sheffield or Hampshire floods). I think we can do better than huskies, so the new leader should make a speech about the recent Sudanese Teddy Bear incident before pointing out how much press coverage it got – and we have forgotten about Darfur. He then should get on the next plane to Darfur. Then go back and back and back regularly throughout his leadership. Paddy Ashdown made a name by being distinctive about Bosnia. We are an internationalist party.

Of course this isn’t exactly typical ‘Focus Fodder’ and will give some local campaigners the vapours. But it would be difficult to ignore.

* David Morton is Lib Dem Councillor for Headingley ward on Leeds City Council, and prospective Parliamentary candidate for Pudsey. He blogs at The Republic of Hyde Park.

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This entry was posted in Leadership Election and Op-eds.


  • Geoffrey Payne 13th Dec '07 - 5:18pm

    Chris @ 2. The policy of the LIberal Democrats is to support the minimum wage. At our last conference, we passed a motion to extend it to include workers aged 16 and above.
    See http://www.bookshop.libdems.org.uk/news/story.html?id=13175&navPage=news.html

    Does Labour support our policy? No sign that they do.

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