Labour’s new strategy to attract Lib Dem voters and what we should do about it
8 March 2012 3 Comments
Tony Blair seems to have made a bit of a return to British politics recently to give his opinion on how to steal the Lib Dem vote. He believes that the Lib Dem position is hopeless having run to the left of Labour in three successive elections, only to go into coalition with the Tories in 2010, they will be clobbered next time. He believes that Labour’s task is to ensure those Lib Dem voters who feel betrayed come Labour’s way and stay there.
Blair’s proposed method starts with a repeated insistence that this is nothing but a “Tory government”. Labour should constantly be reminding Lib Dems that they were once against tuition fees and for Europe – yet now sit in a government that has tripled the former and is hostile to the latter. Every day, runs the Blair advice, Labour should be asking Lib Dems: “What on earth are you doing in this government with these Tories?” The aim will be to put asunder the alliance of Liberals and Social Democrats that created the Lib Dems in the first place. (The Guardian)
Apparently Clegg has ordered Lib Dems to repeat the same line in all media appearances – “We’re doing the right thing” – so that we might win respect from voters. The question is whether this is enough to defend our votes and I suspect it is not. Being defensive usually results in people feeling they are not being listened to. Labour’s strategy is to exploit those who are disillusioned with the Lib Dems for being in Coalition with the Tories, and no matter how much you might think this is a ridiculous position to take, this is a reality we have to deal with. Blair is right in the fact that there are many things we can be attacked for so our question is what strategy can we take which will make people feel they are being listened to. Saying we are doing the right thing in the face of people saying we are not is not going to make people feel listened to.
There are a number of things we could do to make people feel listened to and the first is always the messenger. It does not matter what the message is if the messenger is not accepted. We have started to hear calls from inside and outside the party that Clegg is not the messenger and if this is the case then the party has 2 options – to accept this as the truth and that a) it can’t be changed and so get a new leader or b) ask what we can do to change it. As there aren’t many calls to get rid of Clegg right now I assume it is the latter. Which brings us onto the next point to get people to feel listened to which is to start accepting the criticism. Then make assurances of what we would do if Governing on our own (obvious I know but I don’t hear Lib Dem ministers saying this).
Repairing relationships is hard and it takes time to build up trust and trust is built up once people feel you will do what they think you will do. When asked why people don’t know what the Lib Dem message is Blair’s point is the same a Clegg’s – that subsequent leaders have said different things. The difference between Blair and Clegg’s points is that Blair sees it as a bad thing for the Lib Dems while Clegg sees it as a good thing to have moved the Lib Dems in the last few years. I suspect it won’t be a good thing anytime soon, people like to know where they stand and moving positions makes people feel uneasy (I realise that out movement may be more public perception than reality but that is what we are dealing with).
So we are under attack from the Tories and Labour and we need more than defensiveness. Perhaps we should get better at negative campaigning as the rule of thumb for this is that you should never use negative campaign tactics unless you have to because you simply cannot win by presenting positive information about yourself. These are legitimate negative campaigning techniques:
- Highlighting someone talking one way and voting another
- Highlighting someone not paying taxes
- Highlighting someone accepting campaign contributions from special interests
- Highlighting someone’s voting record as an elected official