The non-existent Lib Dem message: What people will remember and forget about the Lib Dems in government
23 May 2012 5 Comments
Come 2015 the question will not be what have the Lib Dems achieved in government, it will be what will people have remembered they did in government and will this be enough to make people vote for the party? The party fight an unfair battle with no media mouthpiece on their side and one response has been to keep our heads down and wait until ‘people are listening to us again’. This is a dangerous strategy that will fail.
Remembering is not the negative of forgetting, remembering is a form of forgetting – Milan Kundera
When Kundera wrote these words he did not realise that they would go on to become psychological fact. Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist and Nobel laureate, has recently given a talk on the subject at TED in which he talks about the experiencing self and the remembering self. Many experiments have been conducted to conclude that there is a difference. What people experience at the time is not the same thing as what they remember but what they remember dictates how they feel about the experience. This is important for the Lib Dems for a number of reasons.
What people will remember of the Lib Dems in government will be more important that what they experienced during the time in government and that their remembering of what happened is influenced by many factors outside of their own experience. It is the reason why Labour continually misreport and print lies because they know that these tactics affect how people remember their experience. You hear Labour politicians talk about the pain people have experienced because of government policies but they were doing this even before a single cut had been made. This is a tactic to get people to believe something that is not true but when they come to remember they will be influenced by the rhetoric. Remembering is therefore not the opposite of forgetting, it is a form of forgetting; what people remember will not be an accurate and reasonable recall of events, it will be a haphazard, inaccurate recall based on limited information and large amount of feeling.
When it comes to influencing how someone will remember something Labour has an advantage to getting their message out, which is support through other institutions such as newspapers and unions who amplify the message. If you have read the Guardian since the general election you will know that it is a very depressing read because of how bleak the journalists seem to think this country is right now and how this is as a result of government policies. It is no wonder Clegg’s approval rating is so low.
The Lib Dems were slow to counter inaccurate information which meant that such inaccuracies can embed which then become part of the memory. Nick Clegg last year talked about no one listening to politicians at the moment but he believed they would again in the future and so the party could talk to people then. This will be too late. How people remember will have formed. This is the reason why the political narrative is so important because it influences how people remember. If we have a plot to link events over time, it is much easier to recall what happened than the reality, which is not so logical. Labour’s message is simple: this government made the wrong choices and so cannot be trusted with the narrative for the Lib Dems being that they sold their principles to go with the Tories, changed their opinion to gain ministerial seats, let people down and continue to let the Tories do nasty things. The Tory message is simple: they made the right decisions to fix Labour’s mess. Their narrative for the Lib Dems will be that they had to make us change our minds, they tried to work with us for the good of the country but the Lib Dems have held us back doing what is necessary. A different message to different target audiences, and we need to speak to both.
So when it comes to 2015, it won’t matter so much what we have done as it will what people can remember what we have done. When we champion our achievements people don’t hear it now because it does not chime with their remembering of what has happened, which makes us liars in their eyes. When we come to champion what we have done in government in 2015 our message needs to land on fertile soil. To do this we need a strong, clear message. We need to keep plugging this message at every moment we get. We need to find an angle that people will listen to. If we don’t we will end up where Kundera predicted:
We die without knowing what we have lived – Milan Kundera