Sunday, May 08, 2011

Where next for the Liberal Democrats?

A sound thrashing efficiently administered, the public will now doubtless look to something else to keep them occupied for a while. In the meantime, we need to start thinking about where we go from here.

There are those who will call for the head of young Clegg, and I am curious as to why Sky News think that we should pay the blindest bit of attention to an easily gamed Twitter poll, but there you go. There are those who will suggest that we need to get our message across more effectively. But what is that message?

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceTo be honest, Nick is not the problem. Oh yes, he is a problem for some of our people, a lot more of a problem for a surprising number of people who aren't Liberal Democrats, never were Liberal Democrats and never will be Liberal Democrats, but I'd suggest that it is rather more of a question for us to decide upon, rather than allow the media and our enemies to drive the issue.

The policies aren't really an issue either. Most of the electorate don't know what the detail of each Party's manifesto is anyway, they operate on the basis of perception. Labour are for the poor, Conservatives for the rich, Liberal Democrats for... errr... not being the other ones. Alright, I simplify (a lot), but you get the idea. The fact that Labour might not be very good at protecting the poor and needy, or that the Conservatives aren't always particularly good at running an economy, is not something that exercises as many people as some of us would like to think it would.

So, what do I think we need to start doing?
  • Talk to people about things that matter to them. First though, find out what those things are. Sadly, they don't include interns, Lords reform or social mobility. They do include tax, crime, health and immigration.
  • Go back to first principles. We're liberals, not socialists or conservatives. We believe in individual freedom within the context of strong communities. That's not always easy, but it is what we believe in. Talk about building a better society, talk about giving people the tools to build it, talk about how we will protect those that need protection.
  • We don't have to change things just because we can, or because the media demand it. Actually, just managing things better can sometimes be the best thing in any given situation. Labour weren't wrong on everything. The Conservatives aren't either.
  • Talk about the rule of law. Actually, talk about rules and, in particular, using the ones we already have and only changing them if the ones you have don't work, not because you haven't applied them. Take immigration as an example. The rules about student visas work if you close down fake colleges. Asylum seekers can be dealt with effectively if you deal with them quickly and justly. The British people have no fundamental objective to allowing those in fear of their lives to shelter in our country.
  • Stop talking in terms of short-term advantage. Either we believe in something, or we don't. Trying to be clever, and playing one group off against another doesn't work. Creating artificial differences between ourselves won't impress the public, arguing coherently about the real ones is more likely to.
  • Hold up your hands and admit you're wrong when you are. We got tuition fees wrong. Live with it. Yes, the new system is almost certainly better than it would have been had we not been involved. But people think that we lied, and wriggling on the hook won't change that.
  • Work hard. As I've said before, credibility is hard won, and easily lost. It's time to roll up our sleeves and start rebuilding that credibility. It won't be easy. It certainly won't be fun. However, we have plenty of local councillors and activists who know what it's like to deliver leaflets on rain, snow and wind.
And actually, none of this stuff is particularly difficult, if you believe in it. And I believe that Nick does believe in it. So let's have the conversation, a genuine conversation where we talk about our hopes and fears for the future, where we agree on a way forward that takes into account what those of us on the ground, and those of us making the tough decisions that being in government entails, are actually experiencing.


Tim Oliver said...

I think this absolutely spot on - if this really is the 'grow up' moment for the Liberal Democrats, then this is an excellent list of pointers to make that transition.

Adam said...

Amen! We need to keep hold of liberalism as a political identity.

Anonymous said...

Face it: Nick Clegg is a laughing stock.

Mark Valladares said...


Firstly, if you're too cowardly to put your name to your comment, it probably lacks value.

Secondly, please read the post properly, particularly the third paragraph. If you don't like the Liberal Democrats, and you're the sort of person prone to making snide comments on the Internet, your opinion has less weight. On the other hand, those who expressed doubts, concerns or hostility towards Nick on the doorstep - and I did encounter a few - have been noted, and their views taken into account in my thinking.

But, you know, most people don't spend their time dwelling on the merits of individual politicians unless directly asked. On the other hand, they do have a pretty dim view of politicians full stop. And behaviour like yours hardly does anything to change that...