Radical and different: our proposition to voters

As a party, we get increasingly defined as one of the ‘3 main parties’, and accordingly lumped together with Labour and Tories as being the same. This view is encouraged by Cameron’s foolish “we’re all the same really” message (as that’s really what the voters want to hear Dave. Let’s not even bother debating policy anymore, eh?).

It’s a consequence of our increased success, but as a result we need to remind voters that we are the radical alternative to the Lab/Con status quo, and that we are most definitely not offering more of the same. If I was designing our manifesto for the next General Election I’d therefore design it to make us as distinctive as possible, and to enable voters to easily understand our different proposition. I’d base it around 5 goals for what we’d achieve in power, or campaign for in opposition. Our 5 reasons to have MPs in Westminster. We would:

  • Devolve power: Shift power down to local government. Make community politics the most relevant for people. Encourage and stress the importance of participation to increase legitimacy/accountability. One of the accepted responsibilities of citizenship should be an engagement in one’s local community. Allow individuals to have a greater say and control in the areas which affect their lives.
  • Reform Westminster: With power shifted down, we should then cut size and scope of Westminster. Reform voting system to stop super-majorities. Encourage real debate and freedom from whips. New legislation to go through ‘Beta’ trials, where it can be tested, reviewed and amended. All new laws reviewed after 2 years to see if achieving aims and reworked if not. Government shouldn’t be scared of admitting when changes to their own legislation are needed, or when laws have failed.
  • Review and repeal unnecessary legislation: Roll back interfering and illiberal laws – people should be free to live as they please, so long as they are not harming others – government’s role should be to ensure protection from that harm. Establish a ‘freedom from interference’ convention in public services (for example, give education the same autonomy as the NHS), freeing our public services from central government interference. Politicians need to accept that there are limits to what they can and should do.
  • Hold a referendum on EU membership: Allow the public a say. Campaign for ‘in’, with a strong voice at heart of EU, but an EU reformed so it only deals with the appropriate supra-national issues (climate change, security, trade, etc). The open debate would dispel myths once and for all – all 3 main parties would campaign for a yes to EU membership so the media hype and scaremongering can be confronted and dealt with. We can then begin a proper, constructive relationship with Europe.
  • Create a fairer tax system: Change taxation with a view to cut it for most. Apply convention that individuals know best how to spend their own money. Lift millions out of income tax. Increase on high-earners and polluters with a view to cutting it for most. Scrap and simplify state benefits as a result.

While we have a complete set of other important, distinctive policies (notably scrapping tuition fees and extra money for early years education), I think these 5 aims would best define how we are different, in an easy to understand manner and should therefore be at the forefront of our proposition to voters. They show our different approach to power, and this is what makes us unique.

A Liberal Democrat Britain would see changed power relationships at every level; from parish council to international organisations. In a media environment where we are too often dismissed, I believe our approach, our narrative, is more important than individual policies. Campaigning for a referendum on EU membership would shake up people’s perceptions of the Lib Dems, forcing them to look at us again and see a party offering something truly different, at a time when people are disillusioned with business as usual.

Our goal should be to create a Britain with a vibrant local democracy, where community politics is key. Central government should reduce in scope, focus on where it’s needed and become more responsible when law-making. There should be less top-down solutions imposed, with individuals empowered, encouraged and crucially trusted to instead create their own. This is why we are different from Lab/Con, and this is why we are better. We now need to make that message as distinctive as possible.

Laurie Eggleston is a prospective council candidate in Southwark and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Laurie1984

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13 Comments

  • I honestly don’t think the Lib Dem’s localism is a vote winner. It might be a good principle to work towards, but I think it’s far too abstract and parochial an argument to be given a prominent place in a manifesto. In my experience the only people who really give a fuck about local government at the moment are the people directly involved in running (and running for) it, and this tends to give them a skewed idea of how much it matters to everyone else. It should matter to everyone, and maybe one day it will, but that’s not going to happen by being a manifesto pledge.

    Your EU referendum proposal is idiotic both in principle and in practice though. In principle because you couldn’t possibly win it, in practice because it is so transparently just an attempt to recover some ground after your disgraceful record on Lisbon. Really, it’s like a petulant child whining “you just don’t love me anymore so I’m running away from home” to mummy when caught doing something naughty.

  • Malcolm Todd 2nd Jan '10 - 2:16pm

    @Iainm – how on earth do you reach the conclusion that a referendum on staying in Europe can’t be won? Yes, the EU is unpopular, but there’s no great tide of opinion in favour of withdrawing. Everyone wants it to be reformed, but a referendum campaign would see every main party swinging behind staying in and fighting for reform. Unless and until one of the major parties reverses policy and campaigns for withdrawal (and not necessarily even then), it’s very unlikely that the No campaign could come out on top. (Even the tabloid press would undoubtedly advise their readers to hold their noses and vote to stay in.)

    Whether it’s right in principle (or politically wise) is another matter. I was briefly a fan of the idea, but now I think it’s odd. There’s no point holding a referendum on not changing anything, which is what a “stay-in” referendum would be. If we don’t want to pull out of the EU, we should fight for that as a position, and not propose a referendum on no-change. Only if there is a majority in parliament for changing our status (i.e. withdrawing) would it be right to demand a referendum. In other words, “no withdrawal without a referendum” is a sound policy; “referendums every so often on staying in” is not.

  • I’m afraid I’m going to have to agree with Iainm here. These reasons to elect more Lib Dem MPs appeal to me as a constitutional and civil liberties wonk, and I do think they’re important for us to stress – but not as the prime objective of four of a top five reasons.

    My top five reasons to elect Lib Dems into Westminster would be:
    – Fairer taxes, saving the average family £700
    – Sensible about crime – effective community sentencing to reduce reoffending and save money on prisons
    – Cleaner politics – making votes count, transparent expenses, and giving people the power to sack their MP
    – Happier society – treating people as citizens not suspects, and dismantling the intrusive Big Brother state
    – Greener planet – providing real incentives for people to go green while still enjoying the good life

    If only sensibler were a word, so my five reasons would all have comparatives!

  • David Blake 2nd Jan '10 - 7:12pm

    Dave —- the thing is that both Labour and Tories could agree with your five reasons,

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jan '10 - 8:54pm

    Agreed too with the criticism.

    More power to local government always sounds good, but people aren’t interested. They are hardly interested at all in the power they do have through it. All councils, for example, have supposed to be consulting all year about reforming their governance, but on many cases response has been almost zero. There has been almost zero press coverage of this issue. While the smart may say “Ah, that’s because local government has so little power”, most ordinary people don’t know that. My experience is that most people who aren’t highly politically aware tend to assume local government has far more power than it really has. So how can it be he case they aren’t getting involved because they think it can’t do much when they (wrongly) suppose it is hugely powerful?

    Reform Westminster – ditto. Constitutional refrom remains supremely boring for 99% of the population. Going on about it is not an election winner.

    Review and repeal unnecessary legislation – er, yes … tell us the details. Otherwise this sounds like so much waffle. It sounds like it might involve spending time going through the law books finding all those old laws people have forgotten about and formally repealing them. Is this really an exciting priority for an incoming government? A closer look at Laurie’s words suggests that’s not what he has in mind, but ok, this vague ‘freedom from interference’ sounds fine in theory. In practice, it leads to screams of “postcode lottery”, “something should be done”. You want to be the minister responsibe when the first dead kid comes in as a result of the repeal of some “unnecessary” health and safety legislation?

    Referendum on EU membership – populist but silly. Most people have little idea on what the EU does, and their opinion is a mixture of kneejerk reaction and what Murdoch et al tell them. UK Independence is more at threat from the global finance industry – look at the wholesale buying up of British companies and transfer to foreign ownership (which will close them down rather than the heartland), or the bankers threatening to leave and pull the plug unless we kowtow to them etc. Funny how the supposed defenders of “UK Independence” don’t go on about this and instead bang on about petty EU things, half of which they’ve made up. Think they’re trying to hide something?

    Cutting tax for most people – again, details please. If it means much more tax on the rich, wait for the screams of anguish or the threats to pull the plug – well, don’t wait, we’ve already had that from the bankers over something piddly copared to what would be necessary to REALLY tip the scales in a way the poor would feel. Otherwise, well, tell us what spending you’re going to cut to pay for it. And not the usual “there’s inefficiency in local government, let thenm find the cuts”. Does Laurie know what happens when that’s the line passed down from national government – as it has been much of the time from 1979?

    Anyway, I’ve just read the tag at the bottom of the article – best of luck in May, Laurie, come back and tell us what you think when you’ve spent a bit of time finding out what these things are really about.

  • David Allen 2nd Jan '10 - 9:55pm

    David Blake,

    No, the big parties cannot reasonably claim they support Dave Page’s rather good “top five reasons”.

    – Fairer taxes – well, not from the Tories with their inheritance tax abolition for millionaires, not from Labour who scrapped the 10p rate.
    – Sensible about crime – not from two big parties who compete as big-mouthed populist hard guys.
    – Cleaner politics – what, do you expect the prime offenders to lead the reform?
    – Happier society – dismantling the intrusive Big Brother state – oh, come on, it was Labour and the Tories who created it!
    – Greener planet – well, to be fair, this is the only one of Dave Page’s five issues where we have not established a clear lead. Ed Miliband did try his best at Copenhagen. Cameron’s one genuine brave stand has been to oppose the Heathrow third runway. If we are to regain leadership, we urgently need to recapture the urgency and commitment Chris Huhne displayed two years ago when he announced the “Green Tax Switch” policy, which has since been unduly diluted. That said, Dave Page is right to say that green matters, and has to be a big issue for us. Bigger than localist rhetoric, bigger than unnecessary referendums!

  • Stanley Theed 2nd Jan '10 - 10:03pm

    I fear that the majority of voters do not read manifestos. Although other issues will be debated during the general election campaign, the election will surely be dominated by the economy, the parliamentary expenses scandal and to a lesser extent the continuing saga of the illegal invasion of Iraq. On each of these issues we can put both Labour and the Tories in the dock together, where they should be. The Tories are already trying to wriggle out of any responsibility for the latter. What would the Tories have done different to Labour on any of these issues? We should, of course, give voters positive reasons to vote for us in our manifesto, but no matter how good our policies may be, the trick will be to convince the electorate that a large Liberal Democrat presence in parliament after the election will be for the better.

  • Laurie Eggleston 3rd Jan '10 - 10:03pm

    Thanks for the comments – glad to have started a discussion on this!

    @Dave Page – agree entirely with the merits of all your policy priorities, however as David Blake points out, they are all things that Labour and the Conservatives would say they strive for. We’ve reached a point where we all seem to have agreed on the End, now we just argue about the Means to get there, and who can be the best managers along the way. How do we therefore make ourselves distinctive enough so that people really know what we are for?

    I appreciate that localism is a vague concept to some voters, but I want us to be able to say: “we want to dismantle Government power, and rebuild it around community politics”. Totally take the point though that as a council candidate I may be a bit focused on the importance of local government! But since it’s what we excel at (just look at how many big cities we control), we should promote it.

    As readers of this site, we’re all aware of the sense of our policies. But assume for one minute you are a voter with zero interest in politics. You won’t read manifestos, and you won’t spend much time analysing the different claims to who can be the greenest party. You want to have the parties summed up easily in one sentence (i.e. Conservatives are for the rich, Labour for the poor, Greens for the environment, BNP for racist morons, etc). What are we for? You could argue we’re for the poor too, but if that’s the case we should be explicit about it and try and replace Labour.

    We can’t be for ‘everyone’ as we end up being for no-one. I’d therefore argue we are all about community politics: individual freedom and empowered localism; for all those who want to be able to make a difference in their community. For those who see things they know are wrong and can’t stand it. We should be the party that will fight to break down the bureaucracy and barriers preventing people from improving their world. And I don’t believe that is a difficult concept for people to understand.

    That’s my view, but I’d welcome reading other suggestions on here!

    Cheers.

  • Laurie, I can’t remember where I first read it (it may have been Alex Wilcock’s blog) but a good description of the Lib Dems is being “for the underdog”. This encompasses the poor, since poverty is disempowering, but also covers our commitment to a more equal society from electoral reform to human rights.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Jan '10 - 9:10pm

    Laurie


    I want us to be able to say: “we want to dismantle Government power, and rebuild it around community politics”.

    Yes, but what Government power? Government doesn’t have much power, that’s the issue. Power is now largely in the hands of private companies. Some would say – and claim it’s very liberal – that that’s good and should be more so, education and health care and the like should also be done more by private companies. Then we can all pick and choose and that;s real freedom and if we can’t afford to pay well mumbledy mumbledy – ah, what we need is even more free market policies and that will solve those problems.

    Your big line is “the council should be running more things”. What things? Are people so in love with their councils that they’d support this line?

    I’m not opposed to localism, but I think it’s much more complex than you suppose, and simplistic “let local government do what national government does now” won’t achieve much unless you have a lot more to say on wider issues. You haven’t said anything about the huge imbalance of power and the shabby consequences we now face in the current economic situation over the way our country has been allowed to grow over-dependent on a very centralised financial services industry. How can you think you are saying something of interest to the voters when you say nothing that tackles the big issues of our time? That was issues in the plural because you say nothing about the environmental crisis either.

    You say “You could argue we’re for the poor too, but if that’s the case we should be explicit about it and try and replace Labour”, but don’t you realise we aren’t living in the 1960s now? The days when Labour was “for the poor” are long, long, gone. Most people who are poor don’t even think of Labour as for them. They think of all politics as against them. The very idea that democratic politics is the way to challenge the dominance of wealth has been lost. It has been lost by a mixture of Labour abandoning them, and the Murdoch press etc cleverly putting across that agenda.

    You say “We should be the party that will fight to break down the bureaucracy and barriers preventing people from improving their world” but that’s what the Tories say. Modern Tories say extreme free market politics does that, they say reducing the power of local government does that, they see local government as just that sort of bureaucracy that stands in the way of “individual freedom”. Where do you stand on this issue? What you write was so vague and wishy-washy, I didn’t know. I thought you might be another of those trendy free-market “Liberal Vision” types, the sort who aren’t content with the fact that we have two Tory parties in this country now and want to turn us into the third.

  • Laurie Eggleston 4th Jan '10 - 11:06pm

    @Dave Page – like it! Not heard it before.

    @Matthew – I think whatever I say you won’t be convinced. Suffice to say, I don’t want local government to replace national government. But I would like to see a great deal more decentralisation and open government. Less rule by targets and statistics. People should be encouraged to be active in their communities – instead they just feel disempowered, like they’re shouting at a brick wall.

    Jenni Russell sums it up better than I do here: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6974016.ece

  • Laurie Eggleston 4th Jan '10 - 11:08pm

    Hmm… totally screwed up the html there.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Jan '10 - 11:42pm

    Laurie – why do you say that whatever you say I won’t be convinced? Look – I’ve been a member of your party for over 30 years, I did the job you aspire to do for 12 years in a borough near yours. It’s always been one of my main concerns within our party that “we need to remind voters that we are the radical alternative to the Lab/Con status quo, and that we are most definitely not offering more of the same”.

    I’m writing from experience – and from anger at the way politics has gone in this country so much in favour of the rich elite, and from anger at the anti-politics movement which has so aided the rise of the right and which is funded by the power of wealth to do that. Am I on the same side as you or not?

    Recently I know I’ve been very critical of the party and its leadership, but it’s because like you I want our party to be “the radical alternative” and I find too much sloppy thinking at the top, wariness about attacking the post 1979 consensus, Westminster-oriented thinking instead of thinking that is really in touch with what is happening on the streets. I think we could be riding at the top of the polls now, I’ve tried to say in various ways how I think we could be there, but I’m getting the impression no-one’s listening. The drift towards “real liberalism is being extreme free market” worries me intensely, but I’m fed up of attacking it, putting the case against, and finding no-one’s with me.

    Sure, there’s a bit of me (a lot of me) which always wants to put the opposite case to what everyone else is saying because someone needs to. But, I don’t like Labour, I despise the useless far left in this country, it is their uselessness that has allowed the right to flourish, and the Greens as beneath contempt. So where else have I to go? I want our party to be saying the things that I think will lead it to win and that I think this country needs. Right now it seems to me we have an open goal, but we aren’t kicking towards it.

    I read what you wrote, I felt your heart was in the right place, but I also felt you just weren’t getting what has gone wrong with our country and what needs to be done to put it right, and also that you were a little too willing to use the lines of the extreme right so-called “libertarians” even if you didn’t realise it.

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