Put People in Power!

Networked peopleDevolution is boring. Nobody understands it. Nobody knows why it is important. Above all, nobody cares. Why on earth should Liberal Democrats consider put devolution front-and-centre?

At an Autumn Conference event run by a centrist think-tank, Radix, a floor member asked Norman Lamb a question. She said one word that stuck: powerless. The three most successful electoral campaigns in the Anglosphere in the last 10 years are, to my mind: Trump, Vote Leave, Obama.

Agree with them or not, they had two things in common. They were positive campaigns (whether or not you believe America is now great again, or we’ve taken back control/£350 million a week for the NHS, or that, yes you…er…can). And they were about power. Or more specifically the feeling of empowerment.

Sure, if there’s an election tomorrow, an Exit from Brexit should clearly be our message. But what about after Brexit? Whether it happens or not, our case to the public should be this – your lives are worse because politicians in Westminster make decisions about you without you.

Nick Clegg argues in How To Stop Brexit that “Nigel Farage should be your role model…for his sheer bloody-minded refusal to give up.” I would go further and say it was his ability to attach the issue of immigration to everything. Alex Salmond did the same with independence. We should do the same with devolution.

Why can’t I find a job? Westminster politicians don’t care about you – we need to put people in power. Why are GP waiting times so long? Westminster politicians don’t care about you – we need to put people in power. Why can’t I afford a house? Westminster politicians don’t care about you – we need to put people in power.

It sets us apart from both Labour and the Conservatives. It is a something that unites rather than divides Liberal Democrats. As stated in Reinventing the Liberal Democrats: how to build the party for tomorrow (p4, para 3), “we must make sure the public know what we stand for”. Whether we do this through city regions or regional assemblies, our message should be clear – Put People in Power.

* Rajin Chowdhury is a junior doctor specialising in anaesthetics and critical care. He has been selected as Sheffield South East parliamentary candidate

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  • Peter Martin 24th Oct '17 - 9:41am


    Yes very good. Positive campaigns will always have the advantage. The Remain campaign had very little that was positive to say about the EU. The message was really quite uninspiring: The EU wasn’t quite so bad or quite so undemocratic as its detractors made it out to be. We didn’t have to sign up to the dreaded euro or be part of Schengen. J-C Juncker does have his good points and his mother loved him! etc etc.

    There is, though, a bit more to it that just “putting people in power”. Sure we can do that, but then what? Just How are the problems you highlight going to be fixed? And How are you going to answer the inevitable question of where the money is going to come from?

  • The notion that either the Leave campaign or the Trump campaign was a “positive” campaign is ridiculous. Both were entirely negative campaigns based on rubbishing the current state of affairs and painting a grim picture of the future. Both appealed to people’s worst instincts, petty nationalism and xenophobia.

    The fact is the negative campaigning works, and a positive campaign which fails to counter a negative one (and also fails to do some effective negating of its own) cannot win except where it already has built-in majorities.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Oct '17 - 1:02pm


    Yes to much of this! Social Liberalism, with the more classical version at it’s roots, is indeed all about power. Power to the people , is an oft heard rallying cry of the father left, but it belongs far more to the actual result of too many of that view, power to the government. It is power to the people based on power to each person , we want.

    I was , in Labour as a youth and younger days , not crazy about the , actually , New Labour phrase, for the many, not the few. Why not, for each and everyone?! Are gay people not few, are we not for addressing their needs . Are ethnic minorities not few, by virtue of being a minority they are fewer, are we not for addressing those people too?!

    The few who are very powerful are being targeted in that phrase , and I agree with the aim, if not as much on the language. Some, usually now , increasingly, the top few per cent, have much of the wealth , and resultant power. Inequality is a real concern.

    Yet, foes of power in the hands of too few , themselves need to do , much more to assure that power is not just in the hands of the elites who run things, even in public services.

    In your area, the NHS, too much is decided and run by the doctors, administrators and politicians. Very little say, and , yes, power , is in the mouths and hands of , patients, and users of the service.

    Sorry , but that was even true in the strike by your branch of the service.

    There is little more powerless than being worried and afraid, when in need of an operation, cancelled.

  • ” I think British Democracy at the moment is really struggling to work” Rory Stewart, Guardian 3/1/14.
    There are people in all parties who understand that our political institutions are broken, but the answers are less clear. What would a truely democratic localism look like and how do we persuade those who do hold positions of power to give some of it away ?

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Oct '17 - 8:08pm

    ‘What are the Liberal Democrats for? We are for *empowering individual people*. That is all we need to say. It is, our golden gate to open to that future when the British people will have faith in us again.’
    Those were the closing words of a piece I wrote, Open a golden gate to grow power, published here on July 8 this year. It was about another way to Put People in Power, Rajin, which you might like to consider besides devolution, because the ideas surely go together. Thank you for this latest exploration of ideas we value.

  • Katerina Porter 25th Oct '17 - 10:37pm

    One step towards some power would be PR. In the constituency where I live my vote in a Westminster election is always a wasted vote. We have PR in other elections in Britain, but the argument against for Westminster is that it is too complicated…………………

  • Peter Hirst 26th Oct '17 - 2:52pm

    Why is it that we don’t value our democratic rights? Perhaps the poor quality of citizenship education in schools breeds apathy from an early age. Direct democracy is an extension of our human rights and quality of life. In an age where we become more powerless, exercising our fundamental rights to vote on a variety of issues and not just at election time is empowering. We just need to sell it. It might even move us from ever more consumerism.

  • Simon Banks 24th Dec '17 - 6:29pm

    The Liberal Party laid heavy stress on devolution and in February 1974 with the slogan “Take Power, Vote Liberal” it got more votes than the (Social and) Liberal Democrats have ever achieved, though far fewer seats than in 1997-2010. What has happened since? The general population has got more pessimistic about political change. The merger with the SDP (and maybe the change from Thorpe to Steel before that) led to devolution getting a lower priority. Actual devolution in Scotland and Wales without any in England took some of the fervour out of the devolutionist camp. And the one we could do something about: we seem to have lost the ability to express these things simply and forcefully.

    We could make a start by being more devolutionist in our own party. At present increasing standardisation and reduced local choice seem to be regarded as good business practice.

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