A solution to the perception of the Lib Dems as a new nasty party: Time to get back to basics

It wasn’t long ago that Clegg claimed that we needed to own everything this government did. We couldn’t be in it and not own all the decisions because we wouldn’t get the credit for the things that worked but we would get blamed for the things which didn’t anyway. While this was a long time ago this hasn’t changed with Clegg asking Lib Dem ministers, MPs and Lords to vote for Coalition policies no matter how they fit with Lib Dem values. We are still owning everything and it is damaging the party.

You might say that we have differentiation now, which is true, but this seems to me to be Lib Dem politicians explaining how we are different to the public, but still owning all decisions the government makes. So we have tuition fees the Welfare Reform Bill, Health and Social Care Bill amongst others and we have owned the all while complaining about them in public. I understand why Clegg believed this was a necessary strategy but I wasn’t convinced. I even less convinced now and believe it is time to do something different.

Firstly, owning everything in government is clearly not working. In fact we could say that it is the opposite of working. We are owning decisions and Bills which no one in the party agrees with. This is a major reason why people are leaving or disillusioned with the party.

Secondly, there doesn’t seem to be any decision this government has made which will benefit the Lib Dems that we wouldn’t have owned anyway. What we are proud of in government are the policies which we have promoted for years. What we are ashamed of are the policies we have fought for years to only now support them on their way to the statue book.

Thirdly, what we had to offer when we came into government was our party, the values and the policies which stemmed from them and this should have been enough. Our views are not always mainstream but what we had was good enough. There is no benefit in owning anything extra and no one is giving us credit for doing so.

We might have seen Clegg calling the Health and Social Care Bill a Tory bill this conference so perhaps this is his admission that we do actually have to start differentiating what is what in government from now on. If we had called it a Tory Bill from the start perhaps our politicians would have been more sceptical earlier in the process? Perhaps we need to start calling other Bills Tory Bills. Everyone knows this is the case so let’s call a spade a spade.

We should own Lib Dem Bills rather than us having to argue that some ideas are ours. Watch how the Tories will ‘own’ the green agenda, the raising of the income tax threshold or the pensions rise. Watch how they will benefit from having us in Coalition with them. Differentiation needs to be wider than saying we are not Tories, it needs to show we are not Tories.

If Clegg wants to start changing public opinion about him and the party then he needs to start being more of a pain in the backside in government. Call a bad idea a bad idea and say we won’t support it. Call a Tory idea a Tory idea, even if it is a popular one. Our values are our values, even when they are not popular. Be proud of what is a real Lib Dem achievement and people might start listening again.

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7 Responses to A solution to the perception of the Lib Dems as a new nasty party: Time to get back to basics

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  2. externalities says:

    Perhaps it would have been better if the LDs had been concentrated in 2 or 3 departments rather than spread across Government. That would have made it much easier to say who ‘owns’ each policy. Something to consider for 2015?

    But this would probably still require us to vote through Tory policies; would weaken the two-party input that often makes policy better; and might make it harder for LDs to demonstrate general competence.

    • Hi Externalities, thanks for the comments and it is a very good point. You are right that may have been the case that we couldn’t demonstrate general competence but will we be able to do this in the current situation?

  3. Pingback: Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #266

  4. Malcolm Todd says:

    Feels right, *but* — doesn’t this mean either our MPs vote for something whilst declaring that they don’t agree with it, or else coalition becomes something much more like minimum government — nothing gets passed except what *both* parties support? Perhaps the latter’s exactly what you want (it’s arguably more democratic, after all) but it sounds a bit like US-style gridlock to me.

    • Hi Malcolm, thanks for the comments. I can see that it would be a worry that this would cause gridlock and maybe it would? But I am sure they can find enough common ground to work on to fill the time they are in Government together? I had a look at what they could focus on here http://solutionfocusedpolitics.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/what-would-be-a-success-for-the-lib-dems-in-2012/ and your thoughts on this would be welcome

  5. Peter Hirst says:

    I entirely agree. People are sick of spin. Some might not be able to speak their truth though that should not prevent those that can from doing so.

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