Tag Archives: party strategy

Southport and strategy

This is my personal view about the Southport Conference Strategy motion – what’s good and what can be improved.

There are four big ideas:

  1. A dual approach to politics. We are an insurgent party In our hearts and minds – we want to use political power for change and reform through government and by working with people to help them to take and use power over the forces that affect their lives. It means practical campaigns for our values, fighting the forces that diminish people’s lives and making modern liberalism into a political and social movement.  We should win campaigns NOW on local, national and international issues, working with people in other parties and outside conventional politics.  Our members should be on the streets, into social media and telephoning to win campaigns not just votes. Votes will follow successful campaigns; if they appear to be our main or only purpose, we’ll fail to win hearts and mind for liberalism, fail to win a mandate for radical change and fail to win big elections.
  1. A re-statement of the big ideas that define our core campaign themes: the open society, tolerant, pluralist and internationalist; a fair economy which challenges inequality; and helping people to take back control. We want a strong society, a fair economy, and communities where people find themselves as confident, powerful individuals.

These campaigns resonate with communities throughout the UK . We are not defined by Brexit, although we have important things to say to people on both sides. We have strong messages for people “left-behind” by globalisation and for everyone who wants more control over their lives. We are an inclusive Party, hearing and responding to the pain of many who feel that the EU doesn’t help them, and explaining why open, tolerant, internationalist society works best.

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Towards a party strategy

Optimists and pessimists alike can find plenty to feed on about the current state of the Liberal Democrats. Dramatic council by-election gains. Stuck in single figures in the opinion polls almost constantly for over seven years, with our best monthly average only 11%. A massive growth in party membership taking us to all-time record levels. A local council base that has been shrinking steadily since the peak of 22.3% of councillors being Lib Dem in 1996. A distinctive position on the big policy issue of our times, providing plenty of political space for the party.

The list could go on. What even this short sample shows is that the Liberal Democrats have huge potential, the need for us to successfully argue the liberal and democratic position has never been greater and yet we’ve not yet found a way to turn that into sustained success.

It’s a challenge to us all to work out how we can raise our game, be smarter in what we do, raise more money and involve more people.

Which is where the strategy motion coming up at Southport conference comes in. Any party member who can make it to conference has the chance to debate and vote on it. It’s not a strategy from on high, but one based on widespread consultation with members last year, including two all-member surveys and on which members get the final say.

It is also, quite deliberately, a strategy. It is not a manifesto, a vision statement or an HQ business plan. It is not the one magic document that contains all the solutions for what the party needs to do. We will also need, for example, great manifestos for future devolved and Westminster general elections. So don’t expect to find the answers to everything in the strategy motion – it is (just) our propose strategy.

It is also, as any good strategy should be, a deliberate choice of priorities. There are plenty of things that could be in it which aren’t. That is because to prioritise everything is to prioritise nothing. You will, I suspect, have some things you’d love to see in the list of organisational priorities which aren’t there. I can certainly think of some I’m tempted to add. But even in an organisation overflowing with money, staff and volunteers, let alone in the reality of the Liberal Democrats, you need to prioritise to make meaningful progress.

So what the proposed strategy does instead is to set out a clear political approach for us – one which combines the mutually supporting aims of electoral success with the broader challenge of making our society and political system more liberal – and then sets out what sort of organisation we need to achieve that and how to get there.

If we get that right, we can rise to the challenge that the news brings us almost daily and turn far more of what we believe should happen into political change that makes our country more liberal, more green and more successful.

The text of the motion is below:

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A vision for Vince

Our nation is at a crossroads, if we take the wrong path we could fall off the cliff. Britain lacks strong leadership, there is no clear vision and there is certainly no plan. Our country is confused, our people are perplexed and our neighbours think we are crazy.

And above all our governments have consistently neglected the prosperity of our people, the millions who everyday are struggling with unnecessary financial hardship; Promises have been made but there has been no follow through. We have been sold austerity as inevitable when prosperity is possible.

Politics for the privileged is no longer acceptable, the people want change, they told us that with the referendum vote, they told us that with the 2017 election. While the Liberal Democrats did not do nearly as well as we would like, we undoubtedly have  appealing values and policies but we just did not communicate the message clearly.

Our party has a huge opportunity but a very short window to make a big impact. The other two parties are in chaos, lacking strong leadership and direction. We must seize the chance, to make sure that more and more voters know what we stand for, and realise we offer the best way forward. For we are the party of common sense, of moderation but we are also a progressive party, with progressive fresh ideas, the radical centre, the real alternative.

We need a clear vision for our party, our country and its place in the world. Not with empty rhetoric but with real practical proposals that are inclusive and make a real difference to real people. A vision to unite our country, to create change, to move us forward with a clear direction, which will bring the opportunity of, shared prosperity for all.

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Paddy Ashdown writes…An essay to my party on the eve of Conference: Four dangerous ideas

So, here, as promised are four dangerous ideas for the future. Please be clear. I am not necessarily proposing these. Just asking why we are not even discussing them?

Dangerous idea 1

We are guiltily obsessed with student fees. The fact that we don’t need to be, because the principle is right, does not make life easier (how I wish we had called them a Graduate tax!). But now with the student loan debt rising, do we not also have to consider how we get better value for what students pay? If we have a tertiary education system which cannot be paid for without loading more and more debt on our young, should we not be looking at the system, not just at how they pay? We persist in the medieval practice of taking students to medieval ivy covered buildings, to receive their education in the medieval manner from minds, too many of which, when it comes to delivering education, are stuck in the middle ages. Yet distance learning was pioneered in Britain at the Open University when communicating with your tutor meant stuffing your academic paper in an envelope, licking it, sticking a stamp on it and putting it in the local post-box. Today the whole planet is into distance learning. Many of our own Universities make tons of money providing distance learning degree courses to students all over the world. But none of them are in Britain! If we were to convert at least part of our tertiary education syllabus to distance learning we might reduce the cost of degrees without diminishing their quality, give students more flexibility, force lecturers into the modern age, widen access and create a superb platform for adult education all at the same time. Why, beloved Lib Dems, do we allow medieval vested interests to preserve our ivy covered tertiary education system exactly as it is, loading more and more debt on students and preventing us from doing what much of the rest of the world is doing already? Just asking.

Dangerous idea 2

We have long understood that property owning rights are one of the foundation stones of democracy. Yet each of us, gives away our most intimate of property free and daily to the most powerful corporations, who make millions and millions from it.I am talking of course, about our personal data. Why do we Lib Dems not assert the citizens right to own their own data and to have control over how it is used? Why about proposing a law – perhaps a European one – which says to Messrs Amazon, Google, Starbucks etc, that they can use our personal data for their commercial purposes, but only with our permission and if they give us a share of the profits. Can you think of anything which would more alter the relationship between these masters of the commercial universe and the customers whose information they exploit for such enormous profit? Can you think of anything which would more empower the citizen in the market pace? Isn’t that what we Lib Dems are supposed to be about? So?

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Paddy Ashdown writes…An essay to my Party on the eve of Conference

I am getting old. Like most old men I have a tendency to be grumpy and claim that things aren’t as good as they were in the old days. Please bear this in mind when you read this.

I was trained as a Commando officer so I don’t know any other means of tackling a challenge than fix bayonets and charge. I don’t really do subtlety. Please remember that, too when you read on.

I am an enthusiast, and have a tendency to paint in large shapes and bright colours. What follows is Gaugin, not Canaletto. Please make allowance.

When you read this please finally note that I have been a committed and passionate Liberal since a canvasser knocked on my door forty-five year ago and explained what we stood for. That day, I put on Liberalism like an old coat waiting for me in the cupboard and I have worn it ever since with pride – come what may.

In all those long years I have never glanced to right, left or centre for a better political home for my beliefs than our Party – and that remains the case still. So please understand, if the words which follow offend, they are written with love.

So, now you have been warned, here goes.

There are good things – really good things – to celebrate as we gear up for Bournemouth. We have a multi talented Leader who deserves our whole-hearted support. We have 12 MPs in place of 9 before the last election. We still retain thousands of new members and we are winning local Council by-elections at a good rate.

But – didn’t you just know a ‘but’ was coming? – nevertheless, the biggest danger for our Party at the seaside next week lies in glossing over the existential challenges which now face us. Unless we are prepared to be realistic about where we are, return to being radical about what we propose, recreate ourselves as an insurgent force and re-kindle our lost habit of intellectual ferment, things could get even worse for us.

Consider this. We are the Party who, more than any other, represents the progressive centre in our country (I prefer centre left, but I am not in the business of dividing here). That space has never been more empty, voiceless, vacant and uncontested than it was in the last election. And yet far from filling that gap and mobilising those in it, our vote went down to an even lower base. Not in my life time have their been conditions more favourable for a Lib Dem advance in a General Election. But we went backwards.

Now, with Labour and the Tories spinning way to the extremes, Britain is polarised as never before and the vast sea of people who share our beliefs, find themselves voiceless and silent.

Not all of them, sadly, are Liberal Democrats or want to be. Many belong to other Parties and many, many more do not belong to any party – or wish to, with party politics as they are.

Politics in Britain is unsustainable in its present state. The moderate, majority voice of our country, which usually determines elections, cannot be left so unrepresented. If we cannot, or will not be the gathering point for these, the new left out millions, then who will and what are we for?

Twice before in our recent history, others have moved onto our ground– once with the SDP and once in the early days of New Labour. Both times we reached out to these new forces and prospered as result. These days we look hostile to this possibility. We will be at very grave danger indeed if this should happen again in the near future and we stand aloof.

Our reluctance on this front does not just threaten our future. It also contributes to the disfigurement of our national politics. If we are to fulfil our historic role at a moment when liberalism is more at threat than ever in my life, then we have to be less tribal, more inclusive and more willing to engage others than we have sometimes seemed in recent years.

What does this mean?

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Tough Liberal love

Without doubt, this was a tough election, and I wasn’t even in a lead campaigning role, let alone running. (I thought about the latter, and was approved; but I then campaigned in my home constituency of Sheffield Hallam.)

Gutted about our loss of Nick Clegg, I took to the blogs and comments on Liberal Democrat Voice over the past week to see how our national results were perceived across the party. Despite some celebration, they also demonstrate that there is much discontent, with rallying cries for radical centrism to “so long, liberals” alike. Evidently, tough Liberal love is in order.

It would make sense for us to take stock of the core challenges as the leadership bids begin. The new leadership and conference will determine the direction of the party: are we to continue the strategy of placing the Lib Dems on an axis of “value politics”, or return to decisions about left, right or centre? But besides direction, there are two other key themes which I think need urgent debate, too.

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Lord Tony Greaves writes…Where now for the Liberal Democrats? Part 2: What we do about it

Yesterday, I laid out the issues facing the party. Here is my analysis of what we should do about them.

I suggest there are four or five things that should now be priorities for the party as an organisation and a movement. They may look rather different from each other but I suggest that they gel together more than may be immediately obvious. This is not an order of importance – I think they are all equally important.

First, in view of the election result we need to insure against the threat of another General Election in the next 12 months or two years. The very survival of the party requires a presence in the House of Commons. That means making sure that the 12 seats we held will be held again – no more carelessness or complacency. It means a similar level of intensive continuous work and campaigning in the 25 or so seats that are realistic targets for gains in an early poll. And those seats need to build up their local organisation to a level where they do not depend on support from lots of people in the surrounding areas and beyond when the election comes.

Second, from a longer term perspective, we need to rebuild and recreate the party as a campaigning organisation and movement. Campaigning in recent years has been diminished to mean just election campaigning, and a lot of that is now done in an arid “painting by numbers” fashion. The campaigning that gives political activity its interest, its excitement, its achievements, and its fun (and who is going to do it for year after year if it’s not fun?) is campaigning on issues, on projects, on protests, on getting things done. Community politics. It’s something the party almost abandoned during the Coalition. And campaigning of this kind is not just about elections – they are part of it but only a part. It’s much, much more, and genuinely all the year round stuff.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarDavid Raw 21st Mar - 2:11pm
    @ Jennie sorry, Jennie lass.
  • User AvatarPeter Hirst 21st Mar - 2:11pm
    It seems anything goes as long as we leave the eu, thus fulfilling the will of the people. The government have got themselves in a...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 21st Mar - 2:05pm
    Oh, dear. here we go again. John Marriott is completely right. The post from Mr Morrison is flawed from the start by including a statutory...
  • User AvatarLiberal 21st Mar - 1:43pm
    @Lorenzo The idea would be to streamline the system so we'd no longer be electing 2 sets of MPs - 1 for the Assembly and...
  • User AvatarSean Hyland 21st Mar - 1:41pm
    Bill le Breton I resigned my party membership when Charles Kennedy was forced to resign. I didn't agree with the direction the party was heading...
  • User AvatarWilliam Fowler 21st Mar - 1:13pm
    We already have two sets of MPs from Scotland and Wales, the idea that what the country needs is yet another layer of overpaid politicians...