The Personality of a Party

I grew up in Doncaster, where the Lib Dems didn’t have much of a presence. I couldn’t have told you much about the Lib Dems, except one of them dated a Cheeky Girl. But when the first General Election that I could vote in came along, I did those online quizzes that told you which party’s policies you most aligned with, and kept getting Lib Dem. So I looked a little bit into the party, thought they seemed okay and cast my vote.

Years later, angry in the aftermath of Brexit and wanting to channel my energy into activism, a friend who was a member linked me to the constitution. I read it and thought “I share these values” so joined the party. But most voters aren’t going to read the constitution nor even do policy quizzes, so how will they discover if the Lib Dems are the party for them?

In marketing, the strongest brands are those which have a personality. People choose the brands they identify with, often as a gut feel. The gut feel of the Tories is that they’re the party of stability and looking after themselves, the gut feel of Labour is that they’re the party of the working class and the gut feel of the Greens are that they’re the party that cares about the environment. Although as the 2019 election showed, the gut feels for the largest two parties are changing.

What is the gut feel of the Lib Dems for the average voter? I suspect it’s either nothing or perhaps in areas where we’re locally strong, one of “working hard all year round”. If Mark Pack is right and we need to build a national 20% core of voters, we need to clearly express a personality for people to form a gut feel, and agree with the personality expressed by our messaging and little-by-little come to the realisation that they’re a Liberal Democrat.

I watched the most recent PPB and was disappointed. It spends the first 75 seconds saying “we’re for everyone” which no-one can relate to strongly. I’d love to know the brief for the video, and the intended impact. Did we measure that impact? Was it successful? We’re a party that makes good use of data, so I hope we did.

Much of our campaigning is issue based, but we need to layer this in our communications alongside our values and identity. When Labour say “we’re the party of the many, not the few”, it’s not quite enough to point at a chart and say “but our policies help more of the poorest in society”, nor is it when the Tories claim financial stability for that to go unchallenged. We need to be unapologetic and distinctive in our values, so people think to include us in their gut reaction to those messages from our opponents.

We have a long time to build up a national image, and this can run concurrently with our local issue-based campaigns once campaigning restarts. With over a year’s wait for a new leader, we can’t rely solely on the personality of a leader to set the tone. The party needs its own personality. And with a post-election surplus available for special projects, we even have the funds for the party to run a national campaign that communicates our values and brings new people along with us. Otherwise we risk being forgotten nationally as just the “Remain Party”.

* Chris Northwood is a Lib Dem campaigner and future council candidate in Manchester

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6 Comments

  • We’ve whispered too long. We need to shout.

  • This seems to be reasonable to me. However I do think that there is something missing in the analysis. That is resources. The Labour Party obtained most of theirs from the Trade Unions – at least until Tony Blair. This was not just money, but people with the enthusiasm to work for them, become candidates, and so on. The Conservatives got most of theirs from the rich. The Liberals were at one time supported by industrialists and many people such as self-employed.
    This is of course a huge over-simplification.
    When the party went through periods of growth in post war years the resources were largely the members. Winning in local government was a result of enthusiastic people finding out that they could make a difference – they could win seats.
    However this meant that when members drifted away then the resources disappeared.
    We need a party that will take democracy seriously. This has to start with how are party is run. In our age of instant communication, there is a means of involving everyone. Decisions being taken by small groups, and then sold to others are part of the stage we were at in the nineteenth century.
    We need a party which allows members to jointly work together to build a different country.
    We are at present in a crisis of democracy. I wonder where we can look to move towards a society where we can look for ways of moving towards finding ways of organising ourselves to ensure we don’t destroy our home.

  • Julian Tisi 6th Apr '20 - 9:44am

    A good article but I wonder what you believe should be the gut feel for our party? What is the one thing our party says to the voter?

  • Hilton Marlton 6th Apr '20 - 10:36am

    Great article Chris. As you point out, not many will read the constitution. We have the best ‘product’ on the market, but the worst advertising. Most voters in the UK are somewhere on the liberal spectrum, but they don’t even know it. Time to get the best advertising agents on board. Thats where we should be spending large amounts of federal money.

  • Good article Chris. Its a perennial problem with this party I’m afraid. We’re just not good with the broad brush! Most of our people would rather spend months on a committee, fine-tuning an obscure policy area, than coming up with a simple slogan. But you’re right. We need to change that if we’re to get anywhere.

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