What is going on with the Liberal Democrat media strategy?

This morning we have George Osborne all over the media talking about how wonderful it is that he’s able to give £2 billion to the NHS. Let’s bear in mind that Norman Lamb has been pushing for a cash injection for some time. All he gets is billing on the Liberal Democrat website for the months of tenacious evidence building and making the case for further investment.

I was quite pained to see Simon Hughes put out round the news channels on Wednesday to promote the Counter Terrorism Bill. While he was in the BBC News Channel studio, David Anderson was criticising the very plans that Hughes was defending. It seemed like a bit of a stitch-up. Nick Clegg has always set great store by David Anderson’s judgement. Anderson’s opinion of the Government’s plans to exclude people they think have been fighting in Syria for up to two years was pretty scathing.

Certainly, the Counter-Terrorism Bill doesn’t tick off very much from Theresa May’s Counter-Terror To Do list. That’s because Nick Clegg has put his foot down on her ambitions to monitor all our communications data. I think I can just about live with the IP matching but much of the rest of the Bill raises serious concerns for liberals. Any measures need to be proportionate, but I am concerned that any young Muslim man going anywhere might be stopped from doing so for up to 14 days on the mere say of a senior Police Officer. That can’t be right, surely?

In terms of presenting our case in the media at the moment, we are being left with too many short straws. The Tories are taking credit for popular things that we have been driving and we are being associated with measures that are anathema to the people who would naturally vote for us. We should be concentrating on making significant differences to this Bill that we can own rather than promoting it in its current, deeply flawed state.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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26 Comments

  • Paul in Wokingham 30th Nov '14 - 10:42am

    Travelling through London to work the other day I was handed Teresa May’s “run hide tell” leaflet. I don’t doubt that there is a real risk of a terrorist atrocity in London but this leaflet provides no useful information but explicitly stokes fear. Looking at it I was reminded of the mini tanks that were parked outside Heathrow in the weeks leading up to the Iraq War vote. This is just “Lieutenant Gruber and his little tank” by other means, intended to allow May to claim that anyone who votes against illiberal legislation is an apologist for terrorists.

  • Like you, I’ve been bemused by this morning’s announcements from Osborne.

    I had assumed that the press for £1.5bn extra and associated petition on the website was all part of a strategy based on a deal already done within gov for this money. So either the Tories have reneged on a previous deal, or have given us the run-around. Either way, I feel like we have egg on our face this morning.

  • A Social Liberal 30th Nov '14 - 11:10am

    Caron said

    [quote]Certainly, the Counter-Terrorism Bill doesn’t tick off very much from Theresa May’s Counter-Terror To Do list. That’s because Nick Clegg has put his foot down on her ambitions to monitor all our communications data. I think I can just about live with the IP matching [b]but much of the rest of the Bill raises serious concerns for liberals[/b][/quote]

    Given the emboldened part of the quote above, it would be much better if Clegg stopped bigging the bill up and denounced it for the illiberal, authoritarian garbage it is. Will there be a three line whip on this? Will Lib Dem MPs be forced to vote for aspects of this bill which are a direct contradiction on what liberals are supposed to believe in?

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th Nov '14 - 11:19am

    Caron Lindsay

    ‘ The Tories are taking credit for popular things that we have been driving and we are being associated with measures that are anathema to the people who would naturally vote for us.’

    Very well said Caron but this has been going on for four years. The most cringeworthy moments for me involve Danny Alexander justifying austerity measures and sounding like a Tory. I don’t notice Osborne sounding like a Lib Dem – ever.

  • The Lib Dems want to be part of the system not change it – this is the result.

    As to media strategy – what happened to the Co-Chairs system that was there in the early coalition which was meant to give the party spokespeople who weren’t in government – so they could articulate a party position rather than a government one?

  • Stevan Rose 30th Nov '14 - 1:42pm

    If it wasn’t in the written agreement then it’s a party policy not a Coalition government one. We should not be promoting Tory party policies. They can make the case to Parliament and win/lose on the merits of the case. After 4 years we still don’t get how Coalition government works; it can only work on those issues with consensus and is supposed to stop far right policies. There are two things we have only months to learn. 1. Say No to stuff not in the agreement and that is against our beliefs. And 2. Claim the Lib Dem successes back from Tories trying to look moderate. I despair.

    Proof the Tories are a lot smarter than us when it comes to working the Coalition, from the allocation of jobs to refusing to support Lib Dem measures on constitutional reform whilst claiming a need for government unity on things like tuition fees and anti-terror legislation. Cabinet Collective Responsibility does not and cannot apply in a peacetime Coalition situation but they’ve somehow talked Clegg into believing it does.

  • It’s not all about what the party pumps out into the media, it’s often about how editors on the different programmes perceive the story so HQ could send out a thousand messages explaining Lib Dem progress here and there, if the editors aren’t listening the message won’t get through. Osborne is the chancellor and the perception will be that if he chirps up on NHS funding he must be reported because he is, after all, the one where the buck stops financially. To an editor unless there’s some debate or controversy, the fact this was pushed more by the Lib Dems than the Tories isn’t really a story to them. It’s frustrating but that’s how it will be perceived. There’s also an inbuilt narrative now around the lib Dems which means trying to change it in anyway is really hard. The party needs to be far more aggressive with PR and marketing and think completely out of the box on it. No media outlet in the UK is inclined to give the lib Dems carte Blanche coverage and faced with that, the party has to find new ways of communicating and getting heard in the mainstream.

  • Olly Grender 30th Nov '14 - 2:47pm

    I only worked in Central Govt for a year on a maternity cover. It is hard to describe just how much the machine (let alone the dastardly Tories) all works itself to the bone to promote the person at the top of their bit of the operation. It is possible that the reason Nick was out and loud in his Autumn conference speech about additional spend on the NHS and mental health in particular is that he had his sights firmly fixed on the Autumn Statement and used this as part of the negotiation. It will not have been lost on many that he has travelled the length and breadth of the A1 and A303 in order to identify with anything likely to come out of the Autumn Statement on those issues. But here’s the thing so has Cameron. This is the moment in the run up to the Autumn Statement when there is a scramble to own some of the announcements and it is bloody tough – even though without exception we come up with the best policies every time. Frankly if Osborne right now announced tax relief on Morris Dancing after a massive LibDem campaign in favour – it is Osborne who would get the headlines. Yes, it is annoying, but this is where every member counts. However we communicate, social media, telephone, chats in the supermarket/doorstep or a leaflet through the door. After all it is the single minded communications from every part of the party which still means that people recognise that we are the party who delivered a tax break, or no tax at all, for people on low/middle incomes. I LOVED when working at No10 that every bit of the party joined in the fight to own that policy, it kept me going in the toughest moments. That is what we need to do now. I would ask that everyone reads between the lines and amplifies as much as possible anything claimed as a victory over the next few days before the Autumn Statement (whether you are an arch critic or a wholehearted supporter). I’ve only responded to the Osborne bit not the Terrorism part of Caron’s post. On that, I am not as familiar with the details yet, it is normally a case of “you should’ve seen where the Tories started on this and how much we’ve improved”. The danger of Grayling in the studios on a story like that is you will see similar appalling scare tactic rhetoric of the kind espoused by Cameron from Oz, with none of the points about the rule of law that are being applied, e.g. involvement of magistrates. Frankly if I was in Govt communications I wouldn’t allow Grayling out to describe anything on my behalf. (on all this I am only speculating because I am no longer working for LibDems in Government and therefore don’t have all the info).

  • Tony Greaves 30th Nov '14 - 4:47pm

    I think Olly’s comments tell it all really. A complete disaster for four and a half years and the worst five months still to come. It’s a bit late for remaining Liberal Democrats to start complaining. Perhaps you should all have given more support to all the people who have given up in disgust.

    Tony

  • Olly Grender has probably forgotten more about Liberal Democrat communications than I could ever aspire to know.
    However, the way in which government (civil service) communications works should not have come as a shock to anyone who is serious about the politics of government.
    That is why whoever is a Secretary of State is important.
    Did Clegg and his closest advisors not realise this in May 2010 ? Did they not notice that the Tories were quietly surprised and not a little amused when Clegg settled for so few Liberal Democrats in senior government positions?

    The handing out of junior ministerial jobs in this coalition has also made the Liberal Democrat leadership look lame, flat footed and naive.
    For example David Heath was dropped into a job just in time to be the minister for shooting badgers; Don Foster had the joy of being appointed minister just in time for justification of the bedroom tax; Paul Burstow was already a health minister but was not part of the decision to have the biggest ever top down reorganisation of the NHS even though just weeks earlier he and the rest of the party had signed up to a coalition agreement that said “No top down reorganisation of the NHS”.

    Notice a pattern here?

    As Helen Tedcastle comments — this has been going on for four years.
    As Stevan Rose points out – Clegg has been convinced of the doctrine of Collective Cabinet Responsibility, whilst the Conservatives have not been constrained whenever they have wanted to pull the media rug from under his feet.

    But what would I know of such things? I am a fan of Morris Dancing.

  • Stevan Rose 30th Nov '14 - 5:06pm

    “you should’ve seen where the Tories started on this and how much we’ve improved”.

    And that is your biggest mistake Olly. You should’ve seen where he Tories started on this, had a snigger behind your hands, and let them try and get it through Parliament on its merits. If it wasn’t in the Coalition Agreement then it isn’t Coalition policy and you support or not based on principles. Which is exactly what the Tories did on constitutional reform. As a senior member of the party, you should be telling the Leadership that if they don’t want to carry the can for a Tory policy they have to say no and disassociate themselves instead of doing some minor tinkering. I’m 100% for the Coalition as per the Agreement. 100% against the leadership going off-piste for Tory benefit. Parliament decides on the off-piste stuff, not 20 or 30 people in the Cabinet room.

    When you say “yes it’s annoying” it’s mainly annoying because it is our leadership who are letting the Tories take credit for the good stuff whilst shrugging shoulders at the policies we should be opposing with every breath. Why aren’t you, as a leading figure in the General Election Campaign, telling the leadership this?

  • paul barker 30th Nov '14 - 7:00pm

    A substantial minority of Party members opposed Coalition from the start, some openly but most not. Where were they at the Special Conference ? They kept quiet then & waited for The Coalition to fail. Being a minority partner in Coalition is bloody awful & we should not pretend there was some other way to do it, some way to outwit The Tories & charm a hostile Media. Such an alternative never existed.

  • Martin Land 30th Nov '14 - 7:33pm

    We have a media strategy?

  • Peter Andrews 30th Nov '14 - 9:45pm

    We have a strategy of any kind?

  • Stephen Donnelly 30th Nov '14 - 11:50pm

    The Autumn statement looks like it will be pure politics. Even the FT is describing Conservative economic policy as pointless machismo. Labour has nothing to offer, and a golden opportunity to make the case that we are the only party to be straight with the electorate has been missed.

    We are left floundering because we did not stake out a believable position on NHS funding early enough. Along with the the other parties we made vague claims, without explaining how much extra funding we would provide, and where the money would come from. Our claims ring hollow because our plans were hollow.

  • peter tyzack 1st Dec '14 - 8:52am

    whatever strategy we may have, however good, we are always at the mercy of the media, who are self-evidently our opponents. Unless and until we have the nerve to show the public that the Media needs some regulations then it will stay so, and we shall have an uphill job of getting anything like parity. Did anyone else notice that on one day last week the TV news, obliged to mention the Liberal Democrat point of view they reported that ‘the Deputy PM said ….’ no name and no Party was mentioned. just ‘the Deputy PM’… airbrushing us out.
    Apart from daily outpourings of media releases from every Liberal Democrat office across the country, the only thing that MPs, councillors and members can do to help is that whenever interviewed by TV or Radio we must ALWAYS use the phrase ‘speaking as a Liberal Democrat’.. and also NEVER in public refer to ourselves as ‘Liberals’ or ‘LibDems’…. otherwise, just keep sending out the releases.

  • Nigel Quinton 1st Dec '14 - 9:00am

    What Tony Greaves said.

    I bumped into another ex local chairman on the train on Saturday who has found better things to do with his time than campaign for a party that no longer seems relevant, and who could not understand how anyone in a senior position cannot see the idiocy of remaining in government, a strategy that will minimise even further the chance of returning more than a handful of LibDem MPs in May 2015.

    I was banging on doors on Saturday morning in a ward where we have all the councillors and just missed in 2010, and whilst there were a few loyal supporters who appreciated the efforts of our local councillors, and one who recognised how personally resilient Nick Clegg had been and how good the LBC broadcasts are (if only more than a few thousand actually tuned in) they were vastly outnumbered who were scathing in their views – and this was a sample that was supposedly overwhelmingly supportive.

    There is still time to ditch the current “strategy”, put in a new leader who will have nothing to prove and everything to gain, and give British liberals something to campaign for again.

  • matt (Bristol) 1st Dec '14 - 12:06pm

    There is no narrative now in the public mind for what the Liberal Democrats stand for, for what the main reforms and changes a Liberal Democrat party in government would drive for, and how this fits:
    – a) with the promises and proposals made in 2010 and before
    – b) with what has been done and not done in government and who is or isn’t responsible
    – b) with who the public think the leaders of the part are and what they stand for.

    At its most simple, I reckon most people would have associated the LibDems (in the past) with ‘PR’-type voting reform, opposition to the war on Iraq and a promise to raisr income tax where necessary.

    At the 2010 election we were noted in the media for our promises to cut tax credits and move to relieving income tac on the worse off, oppose rises in / scrap if possible student tuition fees, and the immigrant amnesty. There was some discussion of the pupil premium, but I;m not sure how many people took it in.

    In government the popular mind seems to think we have – failed to win an AV referendum (most people think AV is not PR and this has been presented as either a broken promise, a ‘selling out’ or a c*ckup) ,’sold out’ the students (debateable), and rolled over to the Tories on cuts to public services whilst claiming we’re stopping them from being worse. Some people I think may realise that we were involved behind the scenes in the income tax changes, the Scottish referendum, the failure to reform the House of Lords, and the free school meals thing. Oh, and 5 year terms (yippee) and ‘losing’ the EU ‘debate’ to Farage.

    So far, our promise for the next parliament seems to be to balance the budget and fiddle with income tax some more. Since the Tories are making similarish claims (or at least using similar language to make more extremee rightwing versions of our policies sound more sensible), there isn’t a lot of focus on the areas where we differ from the Tories, or on where we differ from all the other parties. In fact, I’m losing track of whether these areas in concrete policy terms (rather than aspirationally among our membership) actually exist.

    I can’t say we were wrong to go into coalition, I can’t say we have achieved nothing solid in policy terms, but I can see that people seem to see us as not likely to deliver on those policy aims they approve of due to either a lack of opportunity, well-meaning ineptitude, or at worst active malevolence.

    Some people are effectively accusing us of having become a ‘Tory-party lite’. This is the most damaging accusation as our protests that we have in fact prevented the Tories doing what they wanted to do only plays up to this assumption — we have nothing definitive, simple and clear to offer that is ours and ours alone and only we can do, that fits with who people think we have been in the past.

    For all these reasons – whilst I will still try to defend the party and its actions and I still think Clegg standing down now would cement the stereotyped image of incompetence and crisis and there’s no way he looks likely to – I oppose Nick Clegg, David Laws or Danny Alexander leading the party after the next election.

    I would personally prefer the party to leave the coalition before the Budget and ask for a threeline whip from its MPS in abstaining from voting on the Budget which I believe Geroge Osbourne will attempt to use for blatant, cynical electioneering, sertting out a direction of travel for a post-election Conservative Party and positioning for some nasty cuts probably aimed directly at vulnerable people.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Dec '14 - 12:46pm

    Caron Lindsay

    In terms of presenting our case in the media at the moment, we are being left with too many short straws. The Tories are taking credit for popular things that we have been driving and we are being associated with measures that are anathema to the people who would naturally vote for us.

    Yes, that is what being the junior coalition partner is like. Clegg and the Cleggies can’t say they weren’t told, because many members who have had experience of this sort of thing in local government, or who have thought about it and observed how coalitions have worked in other countries were making just this point from the start.

    Instead of adopting a defensive attitude which realised this is how it would be, and so done all that could be done to limit the inevitable damage, our leadership pushed the “it’s all wonderful” line, and the “our party has completely changed from how it used to be” line and the “we are proper politicians now, just like the others” line. Also the “we have become economic right-wingers, and anyone who doesn’t like that should get out and join Labour” line. Now, even those who are on the economic right in the party ought to have realised for tactical reasons we needed to go slow on that one, since we would inevitably be painted as having moved that way anyway. What we needed to do was make sure that the lines “you have just given up what you used to believe in and become Tories” couldn’t stick.

    The general public have not been able to grasp the distinction between “supporting the coalition” meaning “accepting it as the only stable government that could have come out of the Parliament elected in May 2010” and meaning “agreeing that all its policies are the best policies there could have been”. Most LibDems supported it in the first sense, many of us very reluctantly and only because we could see the likely alternative was worse. But we are all being attacked as if we supported it in the second sense, which I think almost none of us ever did. However, what comes out from the leadership often does give the impression of supporting the coalition in the second sense.

  • We made a calamitous decision (one of many) in not scrapping collective Government. In Europe negotiations within coalitions are often pretty public – people know what each parties bottom line is. I have no idea why we didn’t agree to this. We would have received a lot more credit if we did.

    In the last 6 months we need to be more vocal and simply do tit for tat trading – you want a new terror bill – that will cost you the bedroom tax and so forth.

    Clegg should have resigned last May, we are basically stuffed at the moment.

  • Well today the media strategy involved Stonehenge and this statement from Clegg — “What the Conservatives are saying is a complete and utter nonsense.”

    One assumes that the party leader would not ask our MPs to vote for “complete and utter nonsense”.

    So will there be a 3-line whip on Liberal Democrat MPs to vote against Osborne’s Autumn Statement ???

    Nick Clegg insisted taxes would have to rise in the next parliament.
    Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, he said:–
    “What the Conservatives are saying is a complete and utter nonsense. There is not a single developed economy anywhere in the world that has balanced the books and only done so on the backs of the working-age poor, which Osborne has now confirmed several times he wants to do.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/dec/01/nick-clegg-conservative-spending-plans-autumn-statement

  • Peter Galton 1st Dec '14 - 9:17pm

    We will never win the battle with the press. We only make the front page if its bad news. All the good things we do get stolen buy others.

  • To give a bit of context to this discussion about media strategy look back at this thread started by Caron on 10th June-

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/tales-from-the-federal-executive-the-one-where-we-discussed-the-elections-40796.html

    Can anyone point to any changes at the top of the party since the criticism of the media strategy back in June?
    If they have learned nothing in the last six months, why would we expect them to learn anything before March when the general election begins?

  • Leekliberal 2nd Dec '14 - 8:03pm

    Tony says ‘ Perhaps you should all have given more support to all the people who have given up in disgust’ Sorry Tony but while I am one of your admirers and lots of mistakes have been made , there is NO excuse for giving up!

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Dec '14 - 11:46am

    Leekliberal

    Sorry Tony but while I am one of your admirers and lots of mistakes have been made , there is NO excuse for giving up!

    Well, I HAVE given up. A number of things led to this, one of them being the leadership’s refusal to listen to the party over its concerns about NHS changes – even though those changes were in direct contradiction to what we agreed in the Coalition Agreement. Another was the Richard Reeves’ article which in essence told me “Get out, you’re not wanted in the Liberal Democrats, go off and join the Labour Party”. If Nick Clegg did not want to be associated with this message, which came from someone billed as his outgoing Director of Strategy, he should have made clear that he did not. I took his silence as consent. Nick Clegg doesn’t want me in the party, doesn’t value all the work I’ve put into it, therefore, tough, he isn’t going to get it from me any more. At the same time this article came out, Nick Clegg was interviewed in the Independent putting out the line that anyone who was critical of his leadership was some sort of coward who could not accept the reality of the 2010 situation. Well, sorry, but I have to THIS DAY defended the formation of the coalition as the least worst response to what the votes of the people and the electoral system gave us, and I can very clearly make a distinction between accepting this and thinking that Nick Clegg is doing a good job. What utter arrogance of the man to think he is so beyond criticism that he abuses and misrepresents his critics in that way?

    I am no longer knocking on doors and delivering leaflets, and I pay just the minimum membership fee to stay in the party. It’s just wasting time and money to do more while Nick Clegg stays as leader. When he stands down, I shall resume activity, at least if there’s enough decent people who haven’t been taken in by the “Orange Book” nonsense left to give us a leader afterwards who takes the party back to something like the one I joined.

  • I agree with rob and Matthew, and maybe go further with that reasoning. If you’re a Lib Dem and want the party to change, you’ve got to vote elsewhere at GE2015 because otherwise you’re supporting the Clegg regime and we could easily wind up with another 5 years like this.

    There comes a moment where the honourable thing to do is stop. Stopping isn’t the same as giving up, it doesn’t have to be permanent. It’s merely recognising that continuing to support MPs that do things you pledged to fight against is unacceptable. Some of the senior commentators on this site have kept Clegg in place whilst professing their social Liberal values and I regard that position as hypocritical.

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