Tag Archives: future strategy

It has to be about more than just Brexit in 2018

2018 is, for the optimists, the year when the wheels come off of the Brexit chariot for once and for all. The process of negotiating “the best possible deal for the United Kingdom” obliges the Government to face up to the brutal reality that the European Union has to hold together at all costs, and that means an outcome for us that is less good than the current arrangements. Then, as rational people, Conservative MPs will look into the abyss and realise how bad things might be.

I’m not so sure. Remember, most of them campaigned, with various levels of enthusiasm, …

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Get clever, get brave and reform to win

As the Liberal Democrats are about to take on a new leader, one question looms large. Why, in its various incarnations, has this mainstream political party failed to win power for almost  a hundred years?

While we blame variously the right-wing press, the voting system and so on, the truth may lay closer to the party itself that needs structural modernization in three distinct areas – mission, message and management.

With the centre ground deserted, we have been handed an open goal, but have yet failed to score. Unless we act now with fast, brave and clever leadership, that goal will be scored by others.

First, the mission.

After the referendum, thousands of new members joined, believing the Liberal Democrats would design a new, big picture vision for Britain’s future and they wanted to be part of it. Instead, they were told to deliver leaflets on issues such as pot-holes and speed bumps because: “This is how we do things.”

Many began drifting away.

At September’s conference, I asked delegates how they thought we could win government.  “I don’t think we want that,” summed up a long-standing member. “It would be against our values.”

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In need of an identity

I remember, many years ago, attending party conferences – then seeing reports about them, and wondering whether the journalists were at the same conference I was.

And I also remember hearing frequent suggestions that the Liberal Democrats had “no policies” even though the party produced painstakingly detailed policy documents that were debated and, by and large, adopted as policy at those very same conferences.

Perhaps people were suggesting the party had no widely known policies, or none that resonated with the public. But whatever the precise meaning, the claim that the Liberal Democrats had “no policies” seemed very strange to me then.

That was the early 90s, and things have changed. The party has even been in government, implementing some of its policies. So why do I mention it now? Well, partly because the Liberal Democrats haven’t been doing so well since being in government.

I used to think there was a mismatch between people’s perception and the reality. You’ve probably had the same experience: of seeing or hearing things about the party in the media – or, these days, on social media – that were just wrong.

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Liberal Democrats need a distinctive message

When I was blown up in Iraq I knew I had to join the Liberal Democrats. The party needs to find its purpose again.

There was a brief silence after the bomb blast. Then shouting, nervous laughter. The Iraqi policeman I had been meeting pointed at the shattered window and stammered, “Shay aadi,” a normal thing. We were both uninjured, but I learned later that several guards had died outside the building. It was 2005 and I was in a Baghdad. Car bombs were normal. As I left the building I noticed a severed, charred hand on the ground.

I was working on a security assistance project. I had been an “on-balance” supporter of the 2003 invasion and felt that it could leave Iraq a better place. But after the realisation that the coalition had lost control, I knew that we had unleashed a terrible whirlwind. The existence of Islamic State now is a direct consequence of the 2003 invasion and its aftermath.

Later that day as the shock of the bombing began to fade, I went online and joined the Liberal Democrats. This was the only party that had taken the correct stance on Iraq. It had done so in the face of media hostility and accusations of a lack of patriotism. But it wasn’t just about Iraq: in 2005, after eight years in power, Labour had done little to tackle inequality and continued to promote international finance as the best engine of economic growth; Vince Cable had started to raise concerns over the unsustainable credit boom as early as 2003. And Labour continued to cling to an unfair electoral system and an appointed legislature stuffed with cronies.

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The party of “I told you so”

There’s a strange mood on Lib Dem Voice, and perhaps in the wider party, and a sense of treading water. There have been a host of explanations for why the fightback hasn’t quite materialised and you only have look through this website to find some of them. I’d like to offer here my own two-penneth and also to gently encourage members not to fall into the traps we’ve readily accused members of other parties of falling into.

Let me give a personal example of this; my mother is a longtime Liberal Democrat voter who voted for Brexit. She even toyed with the idea of joining the party at the last leadership election. I doubt very much, despite my best endeavours, that she will vote for us again. Why? Because clearly we don’t want her vote. Look about Lib Dem Voice and you’ll find people saying that we are the anti-Brexit party and that if only Theresa May hadn’t been so cunning as to call an election now. Conventional wisdom at the beginning of the year was that the Lib Dems would become the party of Remain and Labour would fall between two stools. In fact that is still conventional wisdom, only with the Labour split on the issue pushed into the future. But we should be cautious about how far we push this for four reasons:

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We need to go into the next election with a different strategy

The key issue for me in the leadership debate is our strategy for the next election. My take is based on feedback from electors.

On the whole, our manifesto is sound (although I can’t help adding a quick pitch for the addition of the term time attendance policy for tourism constituencies & to exemplify our trust in people over government/commitment to family life). There are just two huge, key exceptions.

  1. Ditch the referendum on the deal.

Nothing in recent history, from the AV referendum to Brexit to the Scottish Independence Reernedum, gives cause to trust referenda. The electorate had already learned that …

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The future and practice of garage politics

Oh no! Here we go again – another year, another leader.  Still we cling, the drowning man, to a way of doing politics that is so very Noughties or perhaps even very Nineties – Eighteen Nineties even.

In response to the 2010/15 disaster we  devised a Board, which is frankly very ‘grown up’ but totally unimaginative in the light of the huge alteration to our reputation, status and standing, as well as being culturally inappropriate to Liberalism.

WANTED:  a politics for the 2020s or even the 2030s, shipped today.

We need to predict the future.   “Hey, if you want to predict the future, make it”?

Good advice. Who said that?

Steve Jobs.

You see, in 2015, I began to wonder how Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX would approach the problems we had.  Watch Musk on some wicked issues here.

People like Musk and Jobs disrupt entrenched thinking. That’s what we need.  

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Seizing the centre: the road ahead

Tim Farron’s unexpected resignation ends another chapter in a tumultuous period of politics. With the wave of populism that carried Jeremy Corbyn to a triumphant defeat and shook the Conservatives, how should the next chapter begin for the Liberal Democrats? The next leader should strike out for the centre ground, and it is the Liberal Democrats economic credentials that should take centre stage over our unimpeachable social liberalism.

To begin with another exit, the loss of Nick Clegg perhaps signals the chance to rehabilitate the Coalition government. In too many ways the contribution of the Liberal Democrats has gone unnoticed; the pupil premium has been a lifeline for many schools struggling with constrained budgets, whilst the British Business Bank is one of the most recognised achievements of the happily re-elected Vince Cable.

We ought to champion such successes, and link them to our future strategy. Between state-led nationalisation and short-term cuts lies our own path. Targeted investment, support and stimulation of local enterprise, and recognition of the changing nature of the British economy and its vibrant tech sector (albeit a sector beset by the authoritarian proclivities of the current government). Now more then ever, it is vital that all corners of the United Kingdom see that the government’s economic strategy works for them, and we have been too coy about the benefits that liberalism can bring.

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Liberal Democrats must seize the moment

Both the main parties are currently paralysed as political forces by their leadership battles. The Government is leaderless, the country at a standstill politically. This is our moment to assert our right to be heard as former and future political leaders, and force our presence on the airwaves and on social media. Moreover if the right-wing press will not accept our voice, this is surely the moment to invest in national advertising.

The week of the Chilcot report is the time to remind the country that it was the Liberal Democrats who opposed the attack on Iraq, along with a great mass of the public whose voices were also ignored. We should now claim again to represent the majority of the public, not by ignoring the result of the Referendum, but by acknowledging the many doubts that were felt by people voting either way, and pledging to try to meet the needs that were  ignored by their self-obsessed leaders.

While the politicians of the two main parties fight for supremacy, we, the united Liberal Democrats, must fight for the people. With a growing recession, we must fight to protect the poorest, demanding government measures to alleviate probable rising food costs, and extra rises if necessary in the Living Wage. We should demand investment for growth, so that jobs can be created that are not just short-term or on zero-hours contracts, and social security reform to stop penalising those least able to protect themselves. We must insist on more funds for the NHS, more integration of health and social care – and also a welcome and thanks to the immigrant doctors and nurses and care workers. We should demand more social housing and some re-introduction of rent controls. We must develop economic policies which highlight the scandal of excessive pay rises for top executives, challenge the power of sophisticated predators linking hedge funds with top Tories, and promote greater equality through taxation.

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What does the EU Referendum mean for Liberal Democrats

This vote has been a collective howl of frustration – at the political class, at big business, at a global elite.

These were Tim Farron’s words in his outstanding speech following the results of the EU referendum. It raises a question this party must answer – is this party simply part of that political class and global elite that the voters continue so clearly to reject? Are we, like other mainstream political parties, set in our ways, disconnected from the public whose trust the mainstream has lost, stuck in a mindset and language that is hopelessly outdated, and with no idea as to how to understand and empathise with the concerns of today’s voter, let alone find ways to address them? We like to think of ourselves as the outsiders, the challengers, those who question the status quo. But is this reality or simply self-delusion? Does anyone out there see us like that?

Liberalism is a child of the Enlightenment. It is founded on the principles of reason, openness and tolerance – all principles that have been soundly rejected in this referendum. What does this mean for our party? My own view is that we should not abandon these principles but we need to re-define them for a twenty-first century world. We glibly bandy about terms like “open” and “internationalist”, but what should these terms mean in today’s world? What should they be taken to mean by those at the lower end of the skills and income scale? Those who see such words as threats to their livelihoods rather than the aspirational connotations these words have for the cosmopolitan elite whose vision of the future has now been roundly rejected by the British public.

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We need to look forward. Let’s start with electoral reform

This is not a great day, the referendum is over. Remain lost. We can put away our posters, our hyperbole and our support for George, Dave and Jeremy. There is work to be done.

Perhaps more clear than a desire to leave the European Union. The result and accompanying commentary illuminates the stark divisions in our society. This was not just a no to the EU, its rules, and its immigration policy, it was a slap in the face of the political establishment. Yet the decision will not be an easy one to reverse, if possible at all. The recurring position of the EU was that out is out, to conspire through political back channels to return us to the union would be undemocratic and illiberal. Perhaps the only situation where this is possible would be if an election was called by the new Conservative leader before the activation of article 50, and the winning party stood on a manifesto on returning. Even still it is unlikely and our efforts would be better spent on working for a liberal, outward looking Britain moving forward than undermining the British public. 52% of such a large turnout is a mandate greater than that of most sitting governments.

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Moving forwards as positive campaigners

If I took one thing away from the referendum campaign, it would be that voters and activists are being ever-more turned off from politics (high turnout notwithstanding).

People on the streets were reacting against the fearmongering, the negativity and the ad hominem attacks employed by many parties in the last few weeks and months.

Back in 2015, we learned that campaigns based on adding ‘brains’ or ‘hearts’ to other parties’ manifestos just don’t work.
My view?

We as Liberal Democrats need to energise ourselves and our communities with a positive, optimistic and internationalist message. And we need to be doing it from today, as many of us are already.

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Liberal Democrats need to oppose this government with more passion and rage

Thank heaven we have had no major crises while our Government is weak and split. The lordly predecessors of the present set must have turned in their graves when Cabinet responsibility was temporarily abandoned, in defiance of historic practice. The ghosts should then have howled when leading Tories began to spit insults at each other and denounce the supposed lies of their colleagues.

Yet we are stuck with this Tory Government, in or out of the EU. This collection of sophisticated predators, who systematically promote the interests of their own kind and seek the further enrichment of the moneyed classes despite the deep inequalities in Britain, know how to survive.

Where was Iain Duncan Smith’s consciousness of his Government’s preferring tax cuts for the wealthy when poor and disabled people, hit by his benefit cuts, were struggling to survive? Those were the days when David Cameron’s response to Nick Clegg’s attempts to adjust the balance of taxation in favour of the poor was ‘But our donors wouldn’t like it’, and the reply to requests for more public housing was ‘It would only create more Labour voters’. Yet, only this year did Duncan Smith apparently find his conscience and notice that the parrot-cry of ‘We are all in this together’ was false.

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Reinvigorating Liberal Democrat campaigns

Despite a slight kick-start in the most recent elections we are still a long way off form truly having a #libdemfightback. If that is something we really want to do then we must start taking a real look at campaign strategy and the way we are fighting these elections.

For years now the Liberal Democrats have been running a campaign that, whilst it does reach certain people, it is not working as well it perhaps could be. Targeting strong seats is very sensible and admirable but if feel we are potentially missing out on capturing other constituencies.

Having lived in several London boroughs it is a shame I have not been visited by any of the local Liberal Democrats standing for Parliament or  local council. I believe our lack of presence may mean we aren’t reaching potential voters.

#LibDemFightBack must be more than just an ideology or a slogan. Targeting key seats is of course a great idea, but I think we can’t underestimate how much we can make an impact in other areas. I know we will not get immediate results and other parties are also on the streets as well. It will of course take more than flyers and canvassing and I think if we can have a strong and captivating message we can potentially meet and sway new voters and even new members. I am not entirely sure what the answer is but I think we must attempt to re-evaluate our approach and try new things out. Whether it is as simple as canvassing in areas we are weak or organising events, publicity stunts, getting digital or just re-thinking our messaging. Whatever form that may take I think we must continue to keep our message alive and positive in any new ways we can and try and get both members and non-members really passionate about the party and our policies.

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London needs a liberal narrative

Last week’s elections in England overall were rather encouraging, with a modest but heartening rise in the number of councillors and the gain of Watford Council. But one relative black spot, in which the Liberal Democrat decline of recent years continued unabated, was London, where Mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon polled less than five per cent in first preferences – a third of the average vote in the country.

That is no reflection on the quality of Caroline as a candidate. No-one could have worked harder and many non-LibDems said they thought she performed the best among all candidates at hustings. After eight years on the London Assembly, she really knew her stuff, and she had some attractive specific policies, such as a one-hour bus ticket and continuing the Olympics precept but channelling it towards the building of affordable homes. Nonetheless, Caroline is now the sole LibDem member of the Assembly (out of 25). Once we had five.

This is all the more disappointing when one considers that London did particularly well out of the post-May 2015 surge in members and that London Liberal Democrats fielded the most diverse and talented list of Assembly candidates ever. They really looked like our multicultural city and most of them worked their socks off. So what went wrong?

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What’s your vision for a truly Liberal Britain?

Your Liberal BritainWhat would a truly Liberal Britain look like, and what improvements would it bring to people’s lives? You can help shape the party’s vision by writing a post for Lib Dem Voice of around 500 words in response to that question.

We all know the Lib Dems exist to create a society based on liberalism and social democracy. We call it Liberal Britain for short. But what would it actually look like?

When I joined the Lib Dems last year, I knew that many of my friends didn’t know what the party stood for. Chatting with other newbies at Lib Dem Pint and at Conference in Bournemouth, we knew this was one of the reasons why last May was such a disaster. Talking together, we realised how hard it can be to explain liberalism: to really get it across to people. Liberalism and social democracy can seem abstract, philosophical.

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Moving beyond fightback

Have we reached the point when it is right to move from “fightback” to something more positive?

Talking of “fightback” made sense for a while after the election, when we bruised after an almighty pounding but were also experiencing a membership surge.

Even recently I have seen talk of “fightback” on web sites and in emails to activists in different parts of the country and even in literature going out to the public. I am thinking in terms of things inviting people to “be part of the fightback”, or proclaiming that the “fightback is on”, or linking “fightback” to having more members than this time last year.

The snag is that this can sound as if we are fighting back against our political opponents and against the electorate who deserted us. This might be compounded by grief over electoral losses. Though understandable, it is not a reason for people to vote Liberal Democrat. But we have a rich heritage and set of values, well-summarised in the preamble to the constitution. That, and the policies that flow from it, are well-worth voting for.

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Global thinking, Local vision – What the Liberal Democrats can learn from how Coca-Cola operates in Africa

With the exception of Cuba and North Korea Coca-Cola is sold in every country on earth. Altogether, 1.7 billion servings of their products (the group has a portfolio of around 500) are sold every day, and that number is increasing year on year. While Africa produces around 10% of the company’s total revenue and volume the group expects this to double in less than six years, meaning that by 2020 the continent will boast more Coca-Cola consumers than the US and Europe combined.

While the comparison of a political party and the sales strategy of a multi-national corporation on another continent may seem poles apart, Coca-Cola’s success story provides some valuable lessons for an organisation needing to re-launch its brand to overcome a number of barriers to reconnect with a disillusioned electorate. 

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Five New Year’s resolutions for Liberal Democrats #1

So, it’s the morning after the New Year parties. Everyone else in my house, including the dog, is sleeping off a fun evening of Monopoly in which the two teenagers comprehensively bankrupted the adults over some seven hours. I therefore have time to suggest a few New Year’s Resolutions for Liberal Democrats to see us through 2016.

Don’t let anyone put us in the corner

I don’t know about you, but I am done with caution and contrition. Sure, we were in government for a few years and we seriously screwed a few things up. You’d think we were the only party ever to make mistakes, but we also did a lot of good things for good, liberal reasons. It was our Deputy PM who insisted that a judge-led enquiry investigate phone hacking when the Tories wanted to sweep it under the carpet. It was our Business Minister who brought in shared parental leave. It was our schools minister who gave extra money to disadvantaged kids in school. It was our Climate Change Secretary who faced down the Tories and made sure money was put into renewable energies. It was our Health Minister who started the long job of reforming appallingly poor mental health services which left many without the treatment they needed. Whatever you might think of Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander, the Tories’ recent welfare proposals show exactly what they would have stopped. It took a while for Nick Clegg to come round to the idea that Theresa May’s Snooper’s Charter was ridiculous, but once he got there he stood firm, for years. Oh, and there’s the small matter of protecting human rights legislation, too.

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A Liberal Democrat Economy Group

Tim’s talking about the economy. And it’s great.

With George Osborne building an economy to benefit big business and Mr Corbyn swerving Labour towards “big state” nationalisations, there’s a clear big gap for the Liberal Democrats to be the Party of Britain’s creative talents, home-grown entrepreneurs and innovators, the self-employed and small business owners.

But we need to go further.

It’s increasingly urgent that Lib Dems present a distinctive economic agenda to underpin our social and liberal plans.

So the Party needs a new (possibly unofficial) Liberal Democrat group to raise awareness and to promote what the Liberal Economy means.

(That is a group about the Liberal Economy to be quite distinct from “Economic Liberals”, or for that matter Social Liberals, accepting input from either side or neither.)

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Occupying the Liberal Ground

In May 2015 Labour were flattened. The Liberal Democrats were washed away. Both parties stunned by surprise collapses and a Conservative majority the polls just didn’t predict was supposed to happen. But whilst the Liberal Democrats fight to rebuild and the Conservatives dig in to their newfound control of politics how can we prevent ourselves moving to join Labour in their denialist quagmire that elected Corbyn?

Corbyn is not a bad person, he is simply the wrong person. Labour’s denial is rooted in the incomprehension that New Labour was a runaway electoral success for the same reason that Ed Miliband was a flop – New Labour was a broad church, extending well beyond Labour’s heartlands on policy and was seen as pragmatic and efficient. Even the Iraq War could not dent that success, leading to another election win in 2005. Labour is delighted to have elected a “real” left wing leader but in doing so it has abandoned its chance at a broad appeal that brings in votes beyond the party’s core. It has abandoned the political centre where elections are won. It is the same reason the Conservatives have leapt out to adopt some previously left-wing causes such as the Living Wage, tax devolution and equality. Cameron and Osborne, bolstered by the mandate of a majority and a Labour Party fleeing left, are setting about building a political dominance not seen since the heyday of Blair.

The reason this is working is simple. The Conservatives have learned how to appeal and approach people who do not think the same way they do. They wrap their innately conservative aims in language and imagery that appeals to non-conservatives. They use their developing foundation as the party of pragmatism and security to push the entire social system to the right – whilst veiled in a centrist screen.

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It’s time to take on Labour

I recall a local by-election in an inner London area many moons ago. No names no pack drill although a few might work it out.

In that by-election we extensively campaigned by leafleting and knocking on doors. Our canvass was comprehensive and our campaign, by an excellent local community campaigner, was superb.

On the day there we had so many people that there wasn’t enough work to go round – thus, two people were telling on each polling station and knocking up was done by rota. Sounds brilliant doesn’t it – we must have won, mustn’t we? Well we came a strong 2nd behind Labour.

Who was the agent? Piers Corbyn brother of Jeremy.

It was similar to another national byelection. Again the same conditions prevailed. Again we came third to Labour.

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Core vote: A dangerous mirage?

Currently the need to establish a core vote seems, akin to motherhood and apple pie, to be so obviously a good thing that it cannot be questioned. However, at the risk of upsetting friends and others alike, let me raise some concerns.

Firstly, there is the simple truism that in a First Past the Post system you cannot win by playing to your core vote, even if you have one. That is a lesson Republicans and Democrats in the USA have to relearn from time to time. It is a lesson the Conservatives had to learn after Thatcher when Ian Duncan Smith, Michael Howard and even William Hague pandered to the right. It is a lesson Labour had to all so painfully learn after the Bennite manifesto of 1983 dubbed the ‘longest suicide note in history’. The Corbynistas may have to learn it all over again.

Secondly, how long does it take to ‘build a core vote’? The affluent Conservative core vote has always existed with the addition of a section of the working class following astute action by Disraeli from his passing of the Second Reform Act of 1867 onwards. Labour’s core vote –primarily lower income, urban and unionised- was uniting behind them over a century ago; especially after the Liberal Party collapse left the field entirely clear after 1922. How long would it take the Liberal Democrats to establish the loyalty of a similar core vote and at what cost? Some have suggested we should pursue our core even if it puts off ‘mainstream’ and/or floating voters. Really? We should fight elections not to try and win but to try and build a long term core vote?

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Andrew George writes…After Coalition with the Conservative…participation in ‘Progressive Alliance’?

Should we be ‘once bitten twice shy’? After suffering the disastrous electoral consequences of Coalition with the Conservatives, should the Liberal Democrats avoid the risks of participation in any form of ‘Progressive Alliance’ with parties of the centre/left?

This year’s General Election was a triumph of strategy for the Conservatives. With accusations sticking, Labour was unable to throw off the encumbrance of perceived incompetence, crucially of economic incompetence.

Arguably bedazzled by high office, the Liberal Democrats were perceived to be naïve; not so much falling for the logic of Coalition Government, but appearing to compromise too much in what appeared to the electorate like an ultimately deadly embrace with the Tories.

All the Tories had to do was to identify and then mercilessly target a few hundred thousand ‘swing’ voters in ‘marginal’ seats with their unmatchable wealth and superior arsenal.

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After Corbyn, what’s left with the Liberal Democrats?

There has been a tendency in recent years for the Liberal Democrats to define the party in relation to others. We will give a heart to the Conservatives and a brain to the Labour Party. Look left, look right, then cross.

There will be those who will argue that the election of a left wing MP to the Labour leadership means that the Lib Dems will have to keep close to the the centre. Any temptation to reposition itself on the left wing of British politics after leaving the coalition should be resisted.

Immediate reactions of this nature should be avoided as should any crass remarks about the ‘economic illiteracy’ of ‘Corbynomics’. Corbyn’s approach is rooted in serious economic thinking. Whether people disagree or not is a different issue but illiterate it is not. To that end Sal Brinton’s response to Corbyn’s election was both disappointing.

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It’s the Tories, stoopid

“Bye bye, new Labour”, “Death of New Labour,” “Red and buried,” (actually, that’s quite a good one, not often you find me saying anything complimentary about the Fail on Sunday). So scream today’s headlines. A casual assumption that the party is well and truly over for Labour, leaving the Tories in power forever.

I am not scared of socialist ideas suddenly being put into the public space. We need to have a grown up debate about them and as a liberal, I’ll utterly oppose anything that reeks of centralised state command and control, but it’s a perfectly legitimate discussion to have.

No, the most utterly terrifying prospect at the moment is the thought of the Tories getting a free pass. This lot make Thatcher look like a cuddly teddy bear. Another victory in 2020 and they could soon be making Sarah Palin look positively sensible. The Tories think they are going to walk the next election and that they will not have any credible opposition over the next five years and they will spend millions on demonising Corbyn in a manner which will make the Miliband puppet poster look like a puff piece.

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Liberal Britain?

Your Liberal BritainWe’re told that Britain is a liberal country, that Liberalism is mainstream. After all, every party supported same-sex marriage, the gender gap is narrowing, and even the class system is slowly, slowly, so painfully slowly on the wane.

The state’s attempts to impinge on privacy are rebutted time and time again – or have been up until now – we keep spending on international development even when we’re hurting at home, and each Parliament is more diverse than the last.

We have much to be proud of, and rightly so.

But in a truly liberal Britain, there would be as many women sitting round the directors’ table as men. The best students from our state schools and from our private schools would have the same chances on results day. Our police would look just like the people they work so hard to serve – as would our soldiers, as would our politicians.  

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The Lib Dems’ problem in a nutshell

On Thursday the ASI published an article I wrote about the Labour leadership election and the concept of Expressive Voting. This theory, developed by Geoffrey Brennan and Loren Lomasky in their book Democracy and Decision: the pure theory of electoral preference, offers a new explanation for the “paradox of voting”, the rationality-defying fact that people vote despite the improbability that their vote will make a difference.

Brennan and Lomasky suggest that individuals do not vote primarily to affect the outcome (which they know they cannot) but to express a preference; indeed, to express themselves. Much as we might shout at a football match on television or curse out loud when on our own, there is something inherent in the human psyche that wishes to express its opinion. What is more, the way in which we express ourselves helps define who we are, and enables us to feel good about ourselves.

As I explained in my article:

The crucial point here is that there is absolutely zero cost to expressing oneself any way one pleases at the ballot box, because one’s vote is hardly likely to matter. For the same reason, the only tangible benefit one is likely to reap from voting is that feeling one gets for choosing “the right” candidate. Vote Labour and you are a caring person; vote Conservative and you are a responsible person; vote UKIP and you are a proud patriot; vote Green and you want to save our planet…

What struck me as I wrote those words was that I could not give a simple reason why people vote Liberal Democrat.

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A positive light on the Labour leadership election

In case anyone hasn’t noticed Labour is in a spot of bother over its leadership election. Jeremy Corbyn looks relatively comfortable in his position as favourite to win and the other candidates seem to be busy bickering over who is best to challenge him for the position of Labour leader.  I’ve seen it thrown around that if Corbyn wins there’ll be a mass migration from Labour, or even that no matter who they elect they’ve got themselves into a flat spin and aren’t likely to recover.

I’ve also seen it thrown around that if that happens we’ll be the ones they’ll likely turn to, partly thanks to our new leader and partly due to the fact we’re seen as being nearest to Labour politically. I’d like to think that this is true; I’ve often thought that a large number of people who identify as Labour voters would happily support us if they were more aware of what we stood for as a party.

Firstly we need to remember that it’s almost certain now that the next general election will be in 2020 instead of the relative uncertainty of the past. Labour is still the second party in the UK parliament, even if their vote collapses like it did in Scotland they’re not going to lose their position in the Commons just yet. Arguably this is the best time for Labour to have this happen, early enough into the new government that it’s not impossible for whoever becomes leader to try and fix things. Five years is a long time, especially in politics, anything could happen and we can’t count on a weakened Labour. 

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Pay the top, squeeze the lot – the intuitive definition of Toryism

It is indicative that the ‘Welfare Bill’ made a news splash mainly for the Labour Party’s disarray “now we vote, now we won’t”. Otherwise no emotions shown or played, no questions, no strong public reaction. (With the exception of Tim Farron’s speech). The conclusion? Business as usual.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Labour is leaning left – we do not know the policies yet but the move is apparent. Whatever the result of the Labour leader’s election it will be ‘business as usual’.

What it shows is that Labour and the Tories are reverting to their stereotype. During my hustings as a PPC for South Holland and Deepings I argued that we cannot rely on ‘business friendly Labour’ and ‘working people Tories’. I reasoned that if and when they are put under pressure, if and when they have to make a decision in face of uncertainty, they will retort to their ‘intuitive reaction’: so the Tories will cut taxes for the rich and benefits for the poor and the Labour expresses preferences for Jeremy Corbyn.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 13 Comments
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  • User AvatarCJ 23rd Apr - 9:49pm
    Roland. And it's free.
  • User AvatarJohn Marriott 23rd Apr - 9:47pm
    No offence intended, Michael. It’s just that I find it vaguely amusing that some people appear to feel it necessary to hide their true identity.
  • User AvatarCJ 23rd Apr - 9:46pm
    Roland. Apologies but registration is simple and the site is an excellent resource. Please give it a go, the article (and others) are very good.
  • User AvatarOnceALibDem 23rd Apr - 9:24pm
    "now a member of the Liberal Democrats, Derek Laud" You should be honoured to have him. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4448790.stm
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 23rd Apr - 8:13pm
    @ Arnold, "Britain is, always was, and always will be divided." & " The real war is between rich and poor" I'm slightly surprised at...
  • User AvatarDavid Evans 23rd Apr - 7:48pm
    The simple fact is that those Conservatives are a corrupt, uncaring and fundamentally evil bunch who will say and do anything by pandering to the...