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.

Now let me quickly clarify something, to avoid any confusion. I am not saying that there is no reason to vote Lib Dem, or that I do not know why I am a Liberal Democrat. Nor am I denying that there is a strong philosophical, political and intellectual case for liberalism. There are good answers to all those questions, but they are beside the point. Most people – the “mass publics” that Converse wrote about – do not base their political judgements on complex arguments or abstract ideas, and they do not hold consistent ideological views. Rather, they rely on intuition and feeling, and their votes are an expression of themselves and how they feel about the world.

And I can’t for the life of me sum that up for Lib Dem voters in a few words.

Think again about that last sentence in the quote above. You don’t need to agree that the Conservatives are responsible or that Labour care – it doesn’t matter whether those judgements are correct. The point is that (by and large) we have a good idea of what people are thinking and feeling when the vote the way they do. (And just to be clear: No, people do not vote selfishly).

So here’s my question to you. Why do people vote Lib Dem? Not our members, or our supporters; not the people who have directly interacted with the party; and certainly not activists or those with a developed understanding of political philosophy. Not you. But the two million of our 2.4m voters in 2015; the six and a half million from 2010. What would have been their single sentence, eight or nine word answer to the question “Who did you vote for and why?”

I’m not interested in specific policies or socio-economic conditions. And I don’t believe for a second they would use abstract nouns. You and I might talk about “freedom” and “social justice”. They don’t.

I think this may be the most important question we need to answer. Because if we don’t know why people vote for us – if we don’t know why they would vote for us – then we cannot hope to win their support. We can design the perfect policies for our time and fashion a narrative that is rich and compelling, but if we cannot give the voters an simple, intuitive, emotional reason to vote for us, they won’t. And the next election might be our last chance.


* Tom Papworth is a member of Waltham Forest Liberal Democrats

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  • Vote Liberal/Lib Dem and you care for individual rights.

  • Alisdair McGregor 24th Aug '15 - 12:07pm

    Vote Liberal Democrat and you want less government interfering where it isn’t required, and more government activism where only it can do the job.

    A Liberal Government isn’t the Hammer of a Labour (especially Corbynist) grand-state interfering government, nor the Axe of a Tory cut-at-all-costs government.

    A Liberal Government would be a rapier, or a scalpel, of finely judged precision application, achieving its aims directly, with finesse and power at a point, and none of the collateral damage of either of the big government approaches of Tories or Labour (and yes, before anyone says anything, the Tories are big government too).

  • If you vote Lib Dem you believe principles are more important than power.
    If you vote Lib Dem you reject both privilege and exclusion.

  • Roger Roberts 24th Aug '15 - 12:16pm

    ”By liberalism I don’t mean the creed of any party or any century. I mean a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, an attempt to comprehend otherness, a commitment to the rule of law, a high ideal of the worth and dignity of man, a repugnance of authoritarianism and a love of freedom.” HERBERT KRETZMER London, Oct. 28, 1988

  • In a similar vein to Stephen Tall, as Jo Grimond said “A liberal should be on the side of the governed, not the governing,” and most of our voters signed up for that right up to 2010.

    Sadly Nick didn’t find a way to make that work when we were in government, indeed he looked more like a loyal insider than many Conservative MPs did, and on occasions even more than David Cameron; for example his campaign message for the EU Election in 2014 clearly said to people “I’m on the side of the Eurocrats” even if it’s not what he meant.

    Getting it all back will be impossible until voters see we have accepted that and so can have some real confidence we won’t let them down again.

  • “I voted Lib Dem because I am a ______ person”.

    For 2015 I reckon the blank would be best filled in by ‘moderate’, ‘reasonable’ or ‘open-minded’.

    In 2010 we also got most of the ‘caring’ vote Labour had lost after Iraq and all of the ‘angry’ vote that both major parties had stoked up. Those voters have now gone elsewhere.

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Aug '15 - 12:25pm

    Fairness – Balancing Liberty, Equality and Community.

    I do also support Ian Hurdley’s comments of 12:07

  • Max Wilkinson 24th Aug '15 - 12:25pm

    Two good contributions already from Martin and Stephen.

    I think part of the problem with our identity is related to our biggest asset: community politics. We are excellent at representing local wards and constituencies and sticking up for local people. However, that rather dilutes our political philosophy.

    Here’s my go:

    I vote Liberal because they’re a party that helps communities and individuals fight against authority and power, whether that power is the Government or the private sector.

  • Stephen Howse 24th Aug '15 - 12:32pm

    Duncan says:

    “I voted Lib Dem because I am a ______ person”.

    For 2015 I reckon the blank would be best filled in by ‘moderate’, ‘reasonable’ or ‘open-minded’.

    – Can’t disagree with that. Maybe add ‘tolerant’ to the mix, too.

    I am a Liberal Democrat because I am a liberal, and I am a liberal because I primarily believe in people, not systems or institutions.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Aug '15 - 12:38pm
  • Eddie Sammon 24th Aug '15 - 12:44pm

    In order to go back to “lay man’s terms” I would probably go back to 2010 when I endorsed, with great difficulty, Gordon Brown.

    I was basically a Blairite, even if I didn’t know much about it. I remember feeling antagonised when Alistair Darling introduced the 50p/52p tax rate, but I felt I couldn’t look my family in the eye and endorse someone who wanted to cut nurse’s pay whilst cutting inheritance tax (Tory manifesto 2010 and actually 2015 too).

    I travelled temporarily rightwards on economics a bit for a few years afterwards, but back then I saw the Lib Dems as an irrelevance and basically wanted to vote for someone who didn’t antagonise me and that I could feel proud to admit my support for.

  • Max,

    I like your definition actually! Although I suspect that for many 2010 voters the reason was “I like that new Nick Clegg chap! He sounds really trustworthy…”

    Richard, could you explain what the Winchester result in 1997 has to do with why people vote Liberal Democrat please?

  • “I am a smart, sensible, informed, responsible and broad-minded person”

  • I voted Lib Dem for many years but currently don’t but am in the persuadable category depending how things work out elsewhere. If I stop to think how I would describe the party currently it is as follows:-

    Positives: Well-meaning, caring, decent, intelligent, articulate,
    Negatives: Naive, sanctimonious, ineffective

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Aug '15 - 1:32pm

    Vote Liberal Democrat and you want to give people more control over their lives.

  • Hey Tom,

    What a great article. I think the sad reality could be that many people who aren’t involved directly in the party vote Lib Dem mainly when they know the ‘caring’ party have no chance (if they’re Labour), or the ‘responsible’ party have no chance (if they’re Tory) in their particular area. That’s why coming third (or worse) in so many areas in 2015 will make it very difficult for us make ground in 2020.

    Beyond the tactical voting, I would hope people vote for us because we support the people and not the institutions/systems/elites that govern their lives and tell them how to live. I do hope that we can put forward a liberal set of ideas/policies that protect people of all creeds from the tyranny of the state – a ‘live and let live’ agenda that I know a huge group of the population agree with. Things like:

    – Drug decriminalisation
    – Taking these poor desperate refugees fleeing war and finding them somewhere to live
    – Ending the exploitation of workers with a proper living wage and rights to a work/life balance
    – Ending state/media/corporate intrusion and the erosion of civil liberties
    – Decent affordable housing that isn’t a racket for the richest to make a packet out of the rest of us
    – Voting reform and the disruption of privileged institutions like the House of Lords

    Very different from the Tories or Labour!

  • Nick Collins 24th Aug '15 - 1:48pm

    “fair-minded, tolerant, generous of spirit”

    Interesting. Why are those attributes so often conspicuous by their absence from this site?

  • @ Nick Collins

    Have you read the comments on LabourList, ConservativeHome and the like? I think the comments here are generally broad minded, tolerant and generous of spirit compared to other political forums..

  • I think the article is correct in concluding that there has to be a simple reason for following and supporting a party.

    The comments include many definitions we can sign up to in a detailed list. But the challenge in this article is to limit the definition to an all-inclusive single word or phrase which is central. The more general the phrase, the more it should include a wide section of support from the electorate.

    To answer the question for some: the reason why more LGBT people used to support Lib Dems was to gain equality.
    Equality is like caring – it includes those qualities which are “both facing outwards to others and also inwards to protect the individual” – so it includes needs, principles and much more which political parties should espouse.

    However, equality and caring are also words which several other parties support. That doesn’t mean we have to run away from these principles – but make them strongly central and add our other details as fits the time. After all elections respond to the circumstances of time and need but the basic philosophy of a party remains the same.

  • Nick Collins 24th Aug '15 - 2:12pm

    @ Gareth Wilson

    That may well be so; but it’s not saying very much, is it?

  • I voted Lib Dem because to me they embodied one thing : principles.

    Sadly principles were replaced by power.

  • Ian Hurdley 24th Aug '15 - 2:48pm

    If you vote Lib Dem you support a voice for the voiceless

  • I voted Lib Dem because I am a ______ person


  • The six items on Gareth Wilson’s “Live and Let Live Agenda” may not all be items which Labour currently subscribes to, but they are all, I suspect, policies which Jeremy Corbyn could very happily sign up to. Since Jeremy Corbyn, however decent a person he may be, is certainly not a “liberal”, Gareth’s “Live and Let Live Agenda”. whatever its merits, is clearly not going to be sufficient to define what is distinctive about our own ideology/political position, and our on-going difficulty will be to convert the excellent statements of principle enunciated elsewhere on this thread by e.g.Max Wilkinson and Matthew Huntbach into specific policies which are truly our own and which will distinguish us both from Tories and Labour.

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Aug '15 - 2:57pm

    I think before I joined the party, my reasons for voting LibDem in 1997, 2000, and 2005 were boradly similar and were:
    – The LibDems are not satisifed with how things are and want to change them.
    – The LibDems want fairness and a better process in which people are heard better.
    – The LibDems don’t want me to be governed from London by civil servants.
    – The LibDems come up with ideas the other parties don’t.

    In 1997, I think I would have had a subtext of ‘…and Labour can’t win here’ (‘here’ being Bracknell Forest). In the middle two elections I was more sure of myself as aLibDem voter. But by 2010 I would have added ‘… at least, that’s what I think they want, but I’m not sure’, but Nick Clegg’s stand on a possible immigration amnesty reassured me (as for me, that = fairness).

    I am meeting people who never voted LibDem preivously but voted LibDem 2015 as they feel LibDems represented continuity, reasonablenesss, and not ranting and raving or grandstanding (Labour and the Tories having both failed in these respects).

    I respect that, but am still not sure how that appeal – which is not very emotional and somewhat detached – is compatible with the 90s generation’s ‘I want change but I don’t want the change the Labour party is offering’.

    I think there has also arguably been a split in what the emotional appeal of ‘fairness’ means for LibDem voters. I wonder if those who felt ‘fairness’ was about outcome are more likely to feel wary of us that those who mean fairness to be about process (and we are probably a minority).

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Aug '15 - 3:02pm

    ‘us that those’ should be read ‘those of us’

  • paul barker 24th Aug '15 - 3:26pm

    Because I want to be free & I want you to be free too.

  • I’ve only just joined the party, after having voted Lib Dem and before that Liberal for most of my life.
    The reason for my vote – because the Lib Dems care about Fairness for all – I don’t think any of the other parties do.

  • David Faggiani 24th Aug '15 - 4:36pm

    This is a fascinating piece/conversation. It’s something I think a lot about.

    I vote Lib Dem because I’m stubborn, and wouldn’t give my many. many Labour-voting friends the satisfaction of caving in. Kidding, kidding…. kind of.

  • For a lot of people it would be: “they certainly made a big difference running the council here.”
    But in terms of the abstract thought-sentence you are looking for, I think it wd be something like: ‘they just seem to be more fundamentally decent. and NICER than the others.”

  • Peter Sigrist 24th Aug '15 - 5:02pm

    If you want a new members’ view, this is what Dom Ellis and Lexi Rose managed to capture from 20 or so new members at the last London #LibDemPint:

    We have had lengthy discussions in our newbie Facebook group (which is open to everyone) on this very issue. I, for one, think the key has to lie in the concept of ‘liberalism’ but, rather than talking cerebrally about freedom, we need to show what this means through coherent positions on the issues ‘normal’ people care about – immigration being top of the list.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Aug '15 - 5:36pm

    Peter Sigrist 24th Aug ’15 – 5:02pm
    Yes, but immigration is not really one issue, it is two or three.
    There are the Immigration Rules, decided by our parliament and capable of adjustment according to demand.
    There is the United Nations convention on the status of refugees, signed in 1951, improved in 1967 with an optional protocol and adhered to by all member states of the European Union as a condition of entry, basically a sophisticated reaction to Nazism.
    There is the Human Rights Act, mainly applicable to UK domestic issues, but also affecting immigration issues such as marriage and refugee issues in the right to life, prohibition of torture and prohibition of slavery. For me this is a red-line issue. If there were a special conference and the negotiators had failed to deliver on this we should say no.

  • stuart lambert 24th Aug '15 - 6:20pm

    Vote Lib Dem because you believe in personal freedom, economic liberalisation and behind and beyond all of that, the ineffable yet human principle of fairness.

  • Alex Feakes 24th Aug '15 - 6:43pm

    A good observation about this point Tom. My ha’peth worth:

    “Vote LIb Dem because you are / I am a _______ person.”


  • Arthur Snell 24th Aug '15 - 6:54pm

    “Vote liberal democrat to take power from corporations and politicians and return it to the people. ”

    I believe that in an age of considerable impatience with power (whether governmental or corporate) the Lib Dems need to be seen as the party that doesn’t want power unless it can use it to increase democracy (through localism, regionalism and electoral reform) and return that power to the people.

  • Peter Sigrist 24th Aug '15 - 6:55pm

    @Richard Underhill. Your comment could begin “Yes, and…” because we seem to be in complete agreement.

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Aug '15 - 6:58pm

    stuart lambert 24th Aug ’15 – 6:20pm
    “Vote Lib Dem because you believe in personal freedom, economic liberalisation and behind and beyond all of that, the ineffable yet human principle of fairness.”

    Stuart, I think you are going to have to define ‘economic liberalisation’. The Liberal Democrats are not a party which supports what people normally mean by this term!

  • Ben Maitland 24th Aug '15 - 7:02pm

    I fully agree with the premise of the article – and like other readers could suggest a few terms to fill the magic missing gap (tolerance and giving power to people would probably be my own favourites) but that’s not really the challenge. The problem is that people outside the party – and particularly those outside the political bubble – struggle to define us. That’s a major shortcoming, but I don’t see the solution lying in spending a huge amount of time trying to find ever more clever ways to define ourselves – that just leads to self indulgent naval gazing that won’t get us anywhere. People in the real world will judge us – and define is based on what we do and say in response to the seminal issues and events that face us. Peter Sigrist is entirely right to mention immigration in this regard – this is absolutely the fundamental issue of the moment facing the UK, our partners in Europe and the world at large and it’s an issue that is crying out for a strong liberal voice that challenges the failed and inhumane received wisdom that the other major parties are clinging to, and which is causing immense suffering and pain. If we respond to such as issue in line with our core principals – and indeed underlying sense of right and wrong – with bold, liberal grounbreaking ideas and solutions then we can make a real difference and help address that suffering. And if we can do that, then people all across the country will start to understand who we are and what we stand for.

  • stuart lambert 24th Aug '15 - 7:09pm

    @stephenhesketh Economic liberalism – a belief in markets over State-control, in localising business as much as globalising it, in entrepreneurialism and in the power of technology and innovation to drive sustainable, low carbon growth. How’s that?

  • Paul Holmes 24th Aug '15 - 7:31pm

    @stuart lambert Surely if Economic Liberalism believes in markets over State control then it cannot also believe in ‘localising business as much as globalising it’ since unfettered Global markets will usually win out over localised ones -as with the current furore over milk prices?

  • stuart lambert 24th Aug '15 - 7:55pm

    @paulholmes it’s a good question, and one that I suspect is deliberately taking my point to the extreme in order to challemge it, which is healthy. But I disagree. Firstly, getting out out of the way of business and letting markets do what markets do best is inarguably liberal (as opposed to authoritarian) so I hope we’re aligned on the fundamentals. Once that is accepted, there’s no reason you can’t have local interests operating in tandem with global ones, it simply takes the appropriate amount of oversight (as opposed to Statist regulation: the ambiguity here is what leads you to deploy the word ‘unfettered’, which of course I never actually used. For an example of how local employment, regional policy-making and a high-tech global export market can work harmoniously together, the German Mittelstand model is an interesting one to examine. Of course, Germany hasn’t got all the answers but I do find its mixture of political federalism and economic globalism conducive to the free market, *liberal* economics and global thinking that I’m talking about.

  • Peter Sigrist 24th Aug '15 - 7:57pm

    @Paul Holmes When I read what @Stuart Lambert writes, he urges markets “over” state control; localising business “as much as” globalising it. These are both qualified comparisons. Yet, in order to find fault with Stuart, you identify (in the mathematical sense) “markets over state control” with “unfettered global markets”. But Stuart was clearly not arguing for “unfettered global markets”. Do you think it is necessary to draw this identity in order to overcome Stuart’s position? Or could you have argued against it slightly more fairly by arguing that state control is preferable to markets? I’m genuinely interested because I find a lot of Lib Dems equating liberalism with state control and I’m struggling to find that meaning in the word itself or, indeed, the history of the party. From what I have read, Beveridge was at pains to warn against the illiberal effects of state control. Are regulated markets not the liberal ideal?

  • Stuart Lambert 24th Aug '15 - 8:09pm

    @benmaitland 100% with you on the dangers of navel-gazing. We can all be guilty of that. But we do need to be aligned and consistent with the position we’re putting forward to people. As is apparent from many of the BTL comments on LDV articles (not least this one), even our own membership struggles to agree on a clear definition of ‘liberalism’…

  • Max Wilkinson 24th Aug '15 - 8:14pm

    I think we should declare Arthur Snell’s vision the winner, then work forwards from there.

  • Andrew Hollyer 24th Aug '15 - 8:20pm

    For those not voting Lib Dem as the lesser of two evils I would equate their choice with them being, if I had to choose one word, optimist people. If liberalism is about freedom then imv that comes from an optimistic view of human nature, that people are basically good etc.

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Aug '15 - 8:36pm

    Tom, you are being very generous to our political opponents, “Vote Labour and you are a caring person; vote Conservative and you are a responsible person…”.

    You are also being pretty restricting in your views of how people think about their politics and the myriad of reasons real individuals would actually cite. I will however have another go:

    Do you believe in genuine fairness? The freedom to be who you – are who you want to be; in equality of opportunity AND of outcome; that democracy, tolerance and environmental and economic sustainability are vital – locally, nationally and globally. If you believe in enlightened Liberal principles rather than narrow ideological dogma – then you have just found the party for you – The Liberal Democrats.

  • Stuart Lambert 24th Aug '15 - 8:47pm

    @stephenhesketh you make a good point re ‘fairness’. Anyone in the street would agree with you if you simply asked, ‘Do you believe in freedom? And do you believe in fairness?’nyone in the street would agree with you if you simply asked, ‘Do you believe in freedom? And do you believe in fairness?’

    Those two founding values are all we need. They are in the constitution. They are inarguable. They are universal.

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Aug '15 - 8:56pm

    Gareth Wilson 24th Aug ’15 – 1:36pm
    “… I would hope people vote for us because we support the people and not the institutions/systems/elites that govern their lives and tell them how to live. I do hope that we can put forward a liberal set of ideas/policies that protect people of all creeds from the tyranny of the state – a ‘live and let live’ agenda that I know a huge group of the population agree with”

    Quite like this Gareth. I do however think you miss out the ‘tyranny of the markets’. Didn’t this have a wee something to do with the global crash and the subsequent austerity measures ordinary citizens are having to deal with. Meanwhile the rich and super-rich essentially pocketed the QE monies and escaped the pain.

    As with your ‘live and let live’, fairness is a key value which resonates with anyone from the centre/centre-left of British politics and remotely likely to vote Lib Dem.

  • @stuart lambert I don’t think my use of the term unfettered markets is any more taking your point to an extreme than is youroriginal false dichotomy of markets versus State control -as if it has to be one extreme or another with no stages in between. Purist economic liberals do see it that way of course but I can never understand why given the innumerable market failures of modern times.

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Aug '15 - 10:07pm

    I really do need to watch the tiny text!

    Should have read: ‘The freedom to be who you are – and who you want to be’ …

  • Stuart Lambert 24th Aug '15 - 10:43pm

    @paulholmes then I’m not sure what you were disagreeing with in the first place, as I expressed no desire for one extreme or another: I said “markets over State control”, i.e. I expressed a preference for a position that skews towards the former over the latter. And I don’t think that’s a contentious stance… unless you believe in a skew the other way (Statism over markets)? That would be a very curious position for a liberal!

  • I agree with Simon Oliver and David – “….. because I am an intelligent person”. That would be a decent thing for people to think voting LD expressed about them. Lots of the other suggestions above are too convoluted to be appealing.

  • SIMON BANKS 25th Aug '15 - 9:42am

    In the first place, it’s clear that while the theory of expressive voting explains a lot of votes, it doesn’t explain all, and the balance between expressive and selective voting is not constant. Otherwise we would never have won Tory seats through Labour tactical votes and UKIP would have won Thurrock and Thanet South this year. Much effort by successful Liberal (Democrat) campaigners like David Penhaligon, Paddy Ashdown and Sarah Teather has been devoted to persuading people that their votes could make the difference – and collectively, of course, they do. Otherwise you end up with the nonsense that no-one’s vote counts in an election, so how do you get a winner at all?

    Tom’s question, though, underlines how and why we ruined ourselves over the last few years. “I’m voting Liberal Democrat because they’re reasonable, moderate people” just doesn’t express anything many people feel and nothing anyone feels passionately.

    So thinking about Liberal Democrat voters I’ve met over the years, not activists? You care. You listen. You get things done. You’re different. But those are the things people say, and may not adequately express their thinking and emotions. Before 2010 we did appear to be developing a core vote, as opinion surveys that covered far more than voting demonstrated. Our voters were for civil liberties, for openness (for example, pro-immigration and not anti-gay) and wanted more equality of wealth and power. I would add that most of them liked the idea of free bottom-up co-operation to achieve things and cared about their local or other communities. Putting that more simply, our expressed core values of liberty, equality and community had communicated themselves. Liberal Democrat voters tended to be independent-minded and to care about the environment, education and caring. Sometimes they were slightly cussed.

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th Aug '15 - 10:38am

    GIven that I read something a while ago that suggested women were more likely to vote LibDem than men, it would be interesting to know what more women think about this very male-dominated thread (with all due respect to Louise Ankers).

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th Aug '15 - 10:41am

    Oops, sorry Helen Flynn!

    Personally, I don’t think ‘progressive’ is a meaningful term to the wider public. But yes, if there was a split in the Labour PArty, I strongly suspect that the Blairite wing would look to use ‘progressive’ as part of the labelling of any SDP mark 2.

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th Aug '15 - 1:20pm

    Simon Oliver: to me there is a problem with your very succinct idea of ‘vote LibDem and you are intelligent’ (which probably does describe at least some of of our voters’ self-image and also may epxlain why Dav uses the phrase ‘supercillious’).

    I’m not saying yo’re wrong, in fact you may have put your finger on a key LD narrative that is the one thing that might help us create a coherent narrative between the foundation of the party and now.

    But whereas (if true) Tom’s summaries of Labour as ‘caring’ and Tory as ‘responsible’ are things almost everyone applies to themselves, ‘intelligent’ is something people worry about not being and can believe firmly that they are not, to their own detriment.

    I also believe that many people I know (particularly older poeple, but not exclusively) use ‘intelligent’ as code for class and gender barriers. ‘I’m not clever like you’ can mean ‘I am not middle class like you’, or ‘I don’t feel in control of my life and the fact that you seem to be scares me’.

    I think we do send out that message – Lib Dems think about things, Lib Dems care about ideas, Lib Dems ask why things are the way they are, LibDems make decisions based on the evidence… it goes on. And I like that, and I am one of those peoople and I want that way of politics.

    But what we may be saying to some people in code, all the time is ‘we are not like you; we are only for X social grouping’.

  • Peter Watson 25th Aug '15 - 1:32pm

    “Why do people vote Lib Dem?”
    In elections at a national and local level, the last few years made it clear that many people voted for Lib Dems because of what they are not (not Labour in some places, not Tories in others, and not SNP elsewhere) rather than what they are.

  • Stephen Hesketh
    24th Aug ’15 – 8:56pm
    At risk of getting off topic.

    “I do however think you miss out the ‘tyranny of the markets’. Didn’t this have a wee something to do with the global crash and the subsequent austerity measures ordinary citizens are having to deal with.”

    I think you are anthropomorphizing.

    “Meanwhile the rich and super-rich essentially pocketed the QE monies and escaped the pain.”

    If it is directed by someone it is not a market, this is direct government intervention. In this case government trying to push up consumer inflation by buying in the asset market, but being surprised when the inflation hits the asset market much more than CPI.

  • Back on topic:
    “Vote LIb Dem because you are / I am a _______ person.”

    At its best: inclusive and tolerant
    At its worst: risk averse

  • Helen Flynn

    “If there is the one thing we must hold on to, it is being the progressive party in the UK. It wraps up everything we believe in: a green future, social justice, education as being the major driver of social mobility, internationalism, etc, etc. If we can own “progressive” and keep bashing on about it, we are in with a chance of a brand that people can own and identify with at the ballot box.”

    I would take the opposite view, banging on about “progressive” is about as meaning less to most people as I can imagine. Most people, have a view about what thye expect to mean by terms like “fairness” an d often accept others will disagree but think they will not be too far apart, very few people would have a very formed view of what “progressive” meant and certainly wouldn’t expect anyone lots of other people to have a similar view.

    The term is just seen as polito-babble. It is a long way from sensible competent running of local government which can be people’s first experience of the LibDems.

  • Paul Kennedy 25th Aug '15 - 1:59pm

    Surely the point about being Lib Dems is we refuse to confirm to simplistic stereotypes?

  • Morwen Millson 25th Aug '15 - 2:08pm

    I love the ‘because I am an intelligent person’. I had a friend whose mother used to say, ‘all intelligent people are Liberals – that’s why there are so few of us,’

    Interesting conversation, thoughtful and challenging. Are the trolls on holiday?

  • I voted Lib Dem because the candidates were people of integrity. I also wanted a Lib Dem MP. It took thirty years of hard graft but that objective was achieved.

  • we need to demonstrate that our unique selling point is intelligence

    Ah, so the start of your pitch to someone who currently votes for another party is to tell them that they are dumb?

    Let’s see how that works out for you.

  • Paul Holmes 25th Aug '15 - 2:55pm

    @stuart lambert. Stuart, I wasn’t aware that I had disagreed with you? I simply asked you a question about the apparent contradiction in your definition of an economic liberal as someone who preferred markets but wanted localism too. Profit driven markets tend towards Cartels and Monopolies and towards economies of scale -or so I was taught as long ago as 1973 whilst more modern lessons on Globalisation show those processes at work even more. All of these processes work against localism and only State intervention can offer any counter to that -should a State want to try and do so as in the German example you then offered up for consideration.

  • I vote LibDem because I want freedom, justice and fairness for all.

  • AC Trussell 25th Aug '15 - 4:40pm

    The whole system -down the centuries, has left us with a choice of either giving your power and being controlled , by; the Money-People – the Tories or The State- Labour.

    As a Lib-Dem- I think the monetary system and the State should work for you. Helping every individual to be who they want to be.

    So all Lib-Dem policies should be designed with this in mind. The link should be emphasized and explained at every opportunity. Until the concept becomes a feeling about the Lib-Dems.

    Perhaps ; “Taking power from Big money and the State , and giving it to the individual” should be announced as a true “third way” when it runs through every policy.

  • Paul Holmes
    “Profit driven markets tend towards Cartels and Monopolies and towards economies of scale -or so I was taught as long ago as 1973 whilst more modern lessons on Globalisation show those processes at work even more”

    Different types of market will tend towards different structures (though most will prefer Cartels if they are not illegal) many things affect how strong the centralising/decentralising forces are, sometimes it matters sometimes it doesn’t (who is actually bothered about YKK in the zip market).

    The idea that one central monopoly will survive without protection often find it very hard to find many examples which aren’t government protected, you get dominant players but they are often very venerable.

    The state has to protect against monopolistic behaviour and intervene but the state is often a key cause of the large players being able to establish ans exploit dominance, sadly this point is not considered enough (in political circles in technocratic circles it is understood).

  • John Tilley 25th Aug '15 - 5:32pm

    The ASI mentioned in the first line of the original article is The Adam Smith Institute.

    This is what they say about themselves on their own website —
    “The Adam Smith Institute is one of the world’s leading think tanks. Independent, non-profit and non-partisan, it works to promote libertarian and free market ideas…”

    An article rubbishing Corbyn published by the ASI? What next, sand in the Sahara?

    The ASI rubbish Liberal Democrats and Liberal Democrat policies just as happily. Indeed they may use some of the comments in this thread to do so?

    Whatever else we are we are NOT a libertarian, free-market Tea Party.

    I always liked the Alex Wilcock one-liner which went something like —
    “Liberal Democrats — we are the people who will tell The Daily Mail to F*** Off.

  • AC Trussell 25th Aug '15 - 6:26pm

    I don’t believe in IQ tests but:
    2008 in The Guardian.: Greens beat Lib-Dems by one tenth of a percentile – Lib-Dems beat Tories by 48 times more!!

    Green – 108.3

    Liberal Democrat – 108.2

    Conservative – 103.7

    Labour – 103

    Plaid Cymru – 102.5

    Scottish National – 102.2

    UK Independence – 101.1

    British National – 98.4

    Did not vote/None o

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th Aug '15 - 11:44pm

    Jamie Stewart – equally, the comment that Labour ‘care’ could be taken as meaning the other parties don’t which is just as rude. I read Tom’s request as being to identify what LibDem voters most often self-identify as their main personal characteristic which chimes with their perception of the party (ie voting X means that I am X).

    But I think ‘LibDems listen to what I have to say’ would be a less class-bound way of getting over one aspect of ‘intelligence’. (Not sure that we are perceived as a ‘listening’ party post-Coalition, though – yet…).

  • equally, the comment that Labour ‘care’ could be taken as meaning the other parties don’t which is just as rude

    Well yes and no. Sure, some Labour people might mean by it that they care and anyone who votes Tory is a heartless evil bastard.

    But on the other hand it also allows for the possibility that in fact ‘caring’ and ‘financially responsible’ are two ends of a spectrum, and that there are trade-offs between the two, and the fact that you are more towards one and and someone else is more towards the other doesn’t necessarily say anything about your respective moral worth.

    Similarly if you see the Tories as being about ‘freedom’ and Labour as being about ‘equality’, you can see the trade-off between the two as a position on a spectrum. If you think that people should have maximum freedom to do what they want with their own money, and accept that means some will end up rich and others in poverty, then you vote Tory; if you think that people should be equal and accept that means the government stepping in and interfering to make it so, the you vote Labour.

    It’s not about who is necessarily right or wrong, it’s about, given that absolute freedom and absolute equality are mutually incompatible, which do you value more and what trade-offs are you willing to make?

    The problem with defining yourself as ‘intelligence’ is that you’re not saying that people who don’t vote for you are making different trade-offs about what they think are important, you’re saying anyone who doesn’t vote for you is stupid.

    And therefore you come across as thinking that Liberal Democrats are some kind of superior life-form to the rest of us, like you’re science fiction fans or something, and that if only we were smarter we would see that you are right about everything; the only reason we could possibly not vote Lib Dem is not because we honestly and rationally disagree with your priorities about how society should be organised, but we either are to dumb to understand what you’re saying or you need to explain it to use again, LOUDER and SLOWER until we get it and vote for you.

    And the big problem the Lib Dems have is that the party seems to be full of people who are perfectly capable of making that kind of statement without realising how insufferably arrogant it makes them sound, and how much it turns off potential voters.

  • A good question, this.
    I have never had much problem with summing up my notion of the LibDems in simple words.
    The main attributes, in my view, would be:

    I also have a few words which, to me, describe the opposite, things I’ll want to vote against quite actively.
    What LibDems aren’t:

  • What LibDems aren’t:

    You mistyped ‘popular’.

  • HONESTY is the top of my agenda when I vote!
    I hope the Lib Dems don’t fail me!!

  • Nick Russell 27th Aug '15 - 9:22am

    For some time I have argued that while Labour stands for Dependence and the Tories for Independence, we Lib Dems stand for Interdependence. I take this to mean freedom and fairness in a world where a state infrastructure helps everyone to achieve but is in danger of falling hostage to collective interests whether unions or corporations, and where individuals are encouraged to seize opportunities but not at the expense of their fellow citizens.

    As a brand consultant, I have been thinking along the same lines as Tom for some time, but would describe our problem as the lack of a pithy brand proposition and a tagline. We have clear and distinctive brand values as listed above but no proposition that is not defined by reference to our competitors. ( “We try harder” worked well for Avis when Hertz was market leader but this was unusual. By contrast, “the ultimate driving machine” for BMW chimed with what the owners of its cars wanted to believe, about the cars and themselves).

    I sometimes say to Labour friends that we are as egalitarian as they but much less collectivist. But I am very collectivist in terms of community activity and local initiative. Is this communitarianism, and if not, how do I describe it?

  • @Paul Holmes “Profit driven markets tend towards Cartels and Monopolies and towards economies of scale -or so I was taught as long ago as 1973 whilst more modern lessons on Globalisation show those processes at work even more.”

    But only if those markets are price-related. And even then there is a tendency towards homogenisation.

  • To democratise the political and economic realm so that everyone can fulfill their potential.

    Also, the Adam Smith Institute is crazy.

  • Andy Connell 27th Aug '15 - 10:28pm


  • Fairer, Stronger Communities where everyone looks out for and looks after each other, and at the same time cheers and celebrates individual success (as long as its not gained at the expense of others).

    The concept of ‘Fairness’ is so deep rooted in us all from when we are toddlers, it is I believe, probably the main universal value deep in the core of us all.

    People know intuitively and instinctively when something just doesn’t ‘feel’ right or fair

    This surely is the key to building a brand about which people can then say:

    ‘ they believe what I believe, they just feel like the right people to vote for’

    They will then be voting for THEMSELVES, as they believe what they see us as believing – which I think was what this article is hinting at?

  • To me several questions are being asked that should be answered honestly:

    1. What were the LibDems before 2005 – in broad terms a party of protest

    2. What were the LibDems whilst in govt – overtaken and over-ruled by it’s Parliamentary party whose ministers believed that the electorate would reward them for breaking their promises and falling in line with the Tories

    3. What are the LibDems now – still blaming other parties for their situation and believing that one day history will look fondly on the time of Clegg (yes, I know many on these boards think Clegg has been dreadful for the party, but enough senior LibDems are still peddling that line to the public)

    4. What are the LibDems for moving forward – hopefully, one of the leading parties promoting and supporting liberal-minded and caring policies.

  • I voted Liberal Democrat because I believe myself to be a tolerant and freedom loving person. There are so many people who describe our party, describe me, as a “wishy washy liberal” or a supporter of a party that “doesn’t know what it stands for.” That’s the boring perception that we need to overcome.

    If we stand out as the party that puts the rights and happiness of the individual first then we can win back support. Whilst Labour and the Conservatives trade blows on the philosophical economic direction of the country (which will certainly intensify if Corbyn becomes Labour leader), we can promote the causes that matter now such as helping migrants who have fled war-torn nations and assisting charities with their endeavours, support an ambitious housing programme including the rent-to-buy scheme, and intensifying our campaign for greater equality and particularly in closing the gender gap.

    The happiness of people should be every governments top priority. We’ve made a start in government by increasing funding for mental health, but we should explore other areas. Getting people active and eating healthy foods not just through advertising or subsidising supermarkets, but by helping community groups get people together in an environment where sport can be fun and something that can add to their lives. Asking people what they want to see happen in their local areas and being a conduit to making it a reality.

    In my view the Liberal Democrats should seek to be the party that lives by Joseph Addison’s words that the “three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”

  • Richard Underhill 30th Aug '15 - 9:48pm

    Tom Papworth | Mon 24th August 2015 – 11:57 am ” I could not give a simple reason why people vote Liberal Democrat.”
    ” … we have a good idea of what people are thinking and feeling when the vote the way they do. (And just to be clear: No, people do not vote selfishly).”

    Tom Papworth: please explain this to doorstep canvassers. What about the importance of ther candidate in a first-past-the-post election, or in the top candidates on a party list? In a council ward, such as the by-elelctions that Fant or Southborough North are contesting now, a lot of the voters know the candidate and make a choice on that basis.
    “No, people do not vote selfishly” is too simplistic for a think tank in this diverse and complicated world, but it is the argument most likely to be true, and if not, why do our leaders spend so much time and effort doing things such as reducing income tax? Paddy Ashdown wanted to increase income tax by one penny, and opinion polls supported the idea, but in the privacy of the secret ballot they did not vote for it.
    Thirdly, we do win or lose elctions by small numbers, Winchester parliamentary seat in 1997 by two votes., several MPs of different parties won or lost by margins of less than one hundred. In local elections this often happens. In PR elections the margin of the first over the second, etc, can alsso be small.
    If you then discount all the major factors you might be left with what David Steel said to a rally in Glasgow. As leader he said to the audience that they chose to vote for us because they do not like the two ugly sisters. Please count me in with the majority.

  • The happiness of people should be every governments top priority

    Increase the soma production!

  • J George SMID 8th Sep '15 - 12:37pm

    Mike S summed it up: people vote intuitively. (On the whole we do react intuitively, there is no time to analyse the myriads of decisions we need to make during a day).

    For intuitive reaction one relies on intuitive understanding. That can be rational or emotional.

    We have oozes of rational reasons why people should vote for us – indeed most of the comments relied on ‘reasoning’. (thoughtful, compassionate, caring, open-minded, individual, progressive …etc.) The problem is that such reasonings are also presented by other parties. But they have the advantage of instant recognition: If a Green voter says he is ‘caring’ we immediately understand what she/he is talking about. If a LibDem says that we are a ‘caring party’ the predicative value is zero.

    I agree with Tom Papworth when he says: I think this may be the most important question we need to answer. I tried to peddle similar ideas on LDV on 25. July but Tom defined it much better: the need for the public to recognise our identity ‘intuitively’ is of a paramount importance for us to move forward.

    The problem is known, but what is the solution?

  • Jonathan Brown 8th Sep '15 - 10:15pm

    I’ve got a one word answer to the question: Modern.

    Lib Dems are the party of the modern world. This isn’t a philosophical argument. This is about instinct. To oversimplify, I think most people can probably be divided into those who think of themselves as modern, and those who proudly say that they are not modern. Traditional, even conservative perhaps. For everyone who hears the term ‘modern’ and thinks ‘floods of foreigners, rip off Britain, don’t recognise the country I grew up in, etc.’ – they’re mostly not people voting for us.

    If people who associate modernity with freedom of movement, sensible, regulated market economies, multiculturalism, conusmerism, individual choice, etc. then I think we can class them as potential Lib Dems.

    You can apply this to narrowly political ideas like politics and elections. Those in favour of a modern political system (electoral reform, equal votes, scrapping the Lords, etc.) are – or should be – liberals. Those who like the unfairness of the current, archaic (or ‘traditional’) system, are not.

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