Rethinking long term Lib Dem political strategy: Towards returning the Lib Dems to the largest party in the UK

“The dark does not destroy the light, it defines it” (Brene Brown) in the same way that the political right does not destroy the political left (or vice versa), they define each other. The Tories and Labour are inextricably linked to each other through a symbiotic relationship. Some people vote Labour not because they like Labour but because the hate the Tories. The problem for the Lib Dems is that we were defined not by left and right but by not being Labour or Tory. Now we are in Coalition with the Tories we are no longer defined by not being Tory and hence we have lost a significant part of our definition. While we are in Coalition with the Tories the risk is that the lack of definition erodes the party identity to a critical point.

There is an assumption that the centre ground of British politics is where parties need to be to pick up the majority of votes and win elections. In terms of the left and right spectrum the current assumption would look like this:

But in actual fact the reality is that such a chart would look more like this:

When the results are generalised/averaged it looks like the majority of voters are in the centre because of the 2 peaks but the reality is that people are more divided than the generalisations appear. So Labour occupying the Left collect the majority on the extreme left, left and some in the centre while the Tories collect the majority on the extreme right, right and some in the centre. Historically, without the battle for centrist voters elections would be a dead heat. Tony Blair was very good at fighting for the centrist votes and paid little attention to his leftwing voters who ended up being very upset with him. David Cameron has emulated this approach and we see him in all kinds of trouble with his rightwing voters. Now we have the rise of other parties we see how the SNP has out flanked Labour to the left and UKIP out flanked the Tories to the right.

The Lib Dems were very upset that the General Election 2010 result was only 23% of the votes when the campaign had gone better than expected. If you assume most voters are centrist, such as in the first chart, then you will think there are more votes to be had in the centre but it may be that 23%ish is as high as the centrist voting block goes? Labour and the Tories can fight in the centre because they have the leftwing and rightwing parts of the party to anchor them. The Lib Dems have leftwing and rightwing factions and have the potential to not see eye to eye more than the factions in Labour and the Tories. This is because in the Lib Dems the factions span the left/right spectrum whereas the Labour and Tory factions span the left/extreme left or right/extreme right so still share a common framework of understanding.

Clegg has made it his mission to place the Lib Dems in the centre ground of British politics whereas Ming Campbell openly stated the party was a centre-left party while policy under Charles Kennedy placed the party as centre-left. Tony Blair has recently advised the Labour party on the fact that the Lib Dems have vacated the leftwing positions they took up in 2001 and 2005 to seek to collect these votes for Labour today. We can see the move Clegg has made in his comments that the Lib Dems are not a dumping ground for disaffected leftwing Labour voters, which makes some sense in the fact that we define ourselves as not being Labour (left) or Tory (right) but limits our electoral success in the fact that there are fewer people to target and the centre ground is a much harder place to fight in.

You could argue that the Alliance rode high in the polls in the early ’80s by sticking to the centre ground and indeed we were the highest polling party at one point. The context was that Labour had moved leftwards under Michael Foot and the Tories had moved rightwards under Margaret Thatcher leaving the centre ground unoccupied. However, many people who started saying they were going to vote for the Alliance were part of the left and right block of voters rather than the centre – the illusion was that they were all centrist voters. The result was Labour and the Tories moving towards the centre who regained their left and right voters.

John Bercow has recently said “It’s that people feel partly that the parties are still quite similar, and that perhaps there isn’t a huge choice, and partly they feel, well I said what I wanted and I voted accordingly but I haven’t got what I wanted or what I voted for two years ago” blaming low voter turnout on the fact that all 3 parties are fighting in the centre and so there is little definition of the parties. What many people wanted when they voted Lib Dem in 2010 was neither Labour nor Tory so the only way to have achieved that would have been to create a supply and demand agreement rather than go into a Coalition. Going in to the Coalition shocked many members and supporters because we were defined by not being Tory (or Labour) and the effect is still current.

Additionally, what has defined the Lib Dems in recent years in addition to not being Tory or Labour has been our Liberal stance which was well defined when Labour were displaying their authoritarian ideology. Now Labour are not in power, and we are governing with another party who wants to be perceived as liberal, there is less authoritarianism to define our Liberalism. So we have been hit with the double whammy of a lack of definition on the liberal front and the left/right spectrum leaving people to ask the question on the doorstep – what do you stand for? If we want to start winning back voters we need some definition. We need some darkness; some authoritarianism to demonstrate our liberalism.

We have never squared the circle of the Lib Dems being left/right economically. Our end game is the introduction of proportional representation and the creation of coalition governments as standard practice. This means we don’t necessarily need to define our left/right status and can work with either party in this new regime. As this is our end game (until we get it upon which things change) PR should be necessary in all Coalition negotiations/agreements. However, the chance of gaining PR has eluded the party for 100 years and while I hope we will get it in the next 100 years it might still be a long shot. A different strategy could be the one Labour performed on the Liberal party at the beginning of the 1900s and take over from Labour as a main party.

Vote share by party from 1820 – 2010:

Labour wrestled the voters away from the Liberal Party who were disillusioned with the party, who many felt had were not representing them. The Lib Dems today need to do the same – wrestle the disillusioned voters away from Labour and/or the Tories. The problem is that in the centre there is plenty of choice (or many would say no choice as all parties say the same thing) and even if you gain all the centrist voters this is not enough for the Lib Dems to win an election. We need to start wrestling the left and/or right voters away from their traditional bases.

To unseat the Liberal Party as a main party Labour placed themselves firmly to the left, created a firm voting base to work from, and moved from the left to the centre squeezing the Liberals into a small 3rd party. We have struggled in the centre ground ever since. In more recent days the Lib Dems made good progress placing themselves to the left of Labour and gained control of councils all over the UK, particularly at the expense of Labour in the North. We pushed Labour into 3rd place a couple of times in local elections because we were to their left not because we were in the centre. Now we are in the centre we are losing the councils back to Labour. These are not centrist voters; these are leftwing voters choosing a leftwing party.

Labour did serious damage to themselves in the 13 years of being in government with many traditional voters deserting the party. We seem to believe that if we prove to people we are a better alternative than what is already there then people will vote for us, but this is only half the equation, people have to be disillusioned with their current party to want to change. There was, and still is, appetite for a party that is not Labour on the left, but we no longer occupy this space and so we are no longer a viable alternative for these voters – they have turned either back to Labour or ‘Others’ such as Respect. While Labour fight on the centre they leave their left flank vulnerable, just as the Tories are vulnerable to UKIP on the right. It took Labour less than 50 years to overtake the Liberals and there are many in Labour who are openly saying that the Lib Dems would be cleaning up in elections right now if they weren’t in Coalition.

A mistake we have made, or certainly the leadership has made, is that we think we are playing the same game as Labour or the Tories. We are a much smaller party and people treat us differently. The rules for us are different. If we stand in the middle we can hope to get perhaps 25%. If they stand in the middle they can hope to get up to 40%. We could get 40% if they moved to the extremes but this is not going to happen. As a smaller party we need to be more responsive to the political climate.

Perhaps we need to think about our end game and the strategy we are running. FPTP will change but how long will it take to bring in PR? How long will it take to make Britain a more Liberal place given the current system? How important do we think it is to make Britain a more Liberal place? Perhaps we would have more chance of fulfilling our aims by targeting the left block of voters, wrestling them away from Labour and making Labour the 3rd party. We won’t do this by staying in the centre, there just aren’t the votes there and every time we enter coalition we lose significant elements of our definition, hampering our progress.

In Praise of the Daily Mail: Finding strengths in the Lib Dems

The Daily Mail write A prisoner of the Lib Dems? I’m afraid I take that with a very generous pinch of salt, Mr Cameron in which they have some praise for the Lib Dems which is worth reading:

For their part, the Lib Dems undeniably inserted some proposals in the speech which a Tory-only government would not have included, of which the time-consuming and potentially divisive reform of the House of Lords is the most obvious. Proposals to extend ‘flexi-time’ and corral giant supermarket chains into dealing fairly with their suppliers also have an unmistakable Liberal Democrat feel to them.

We CAN argue about whether this or that measure is Conservative or Lib Dem, but the overall picture is surely clear. As has invariably been the case throughout the Coalition’s two-year existence, the Lib Dems, though representing only one sixth of the Government in terms of MPs, get their way over a very much larger proportion of Government measures.

No less importantly, they exercise their power by what policies they keep out as well as by what they get in. They have vetoed reform to human rights law, as Mr Cameron rightly says, as well as plans to repatriate powers from Europe, which the Conservatives had promised to do in their election manifesto.

Why the budget shows good politics for the Lib Dems: breaking Westminster rules and sticking to the political golden rules worked

The Lib Dems tried to call the budget a ‘robin hood’ budget. If you said that to a member of the public today they would probably laugh in your face for the public perception is the exact opposite, whether this is true or not. But what has happened following the budget shows why the rules of Westminster do not work for the Lib Dems while sticking to the golden rule of politics does.

For all the complaints about New Labour and the spin machine, modern politics is still very much about spin. The Lib Dems attempt at calling the budget a ‘robin hood’ budget was the party trying to use the tried and tested methods of the larger political parties to gain air time in the press and gain credit within it. The fact that the public see this budget as a millionaires budget shows how our political spin machine just doesn’t work.

However, we should also ask why it is that the Lib Dems have not only stayed out of the firing line in the fall out from this budget but gained some praise. The Guardian reported the budget was a ‘victory for the Lib Dems’ and that they were ‘wiser than they were in the early days‘ while the Daily Mail reported that this ‘Conservative Prime Minister and his Conservative Chancellor produced a Lib Dem Budget’.

Some of the more contentious issues such as the so called granny tax, pasty tax and charity tax have resulted in the support of the Independent and not only the Guardian but also Polly Toynbee of all people. In other budgets it could well have been the Lib Dems who were in the firing line, so perhaps we should ask why this is not the case.

There have been many complaints that there were too many leaks and that this was the fault of the Lib Dems. It has annoyed Tory ministers and MPs. This is not how to run a government they complain. But these Westminster rules on how to run a government have not done us many favours and by doing something different this time, it did. The Lib Dems set out their stall early: further and faster on raising the income tax threshold, a tycoon tax, a mansion tax. This message was repeated and repeated and the necessary arguments within the party were had before budget day e.g. lowering the 50p tax rate. When budget day came everyone knew what was a Lib Dem measure and what wasn’t.

The so called charity tax pretty much stemmed from the Lib Dem proposal for a tycoon tax (a minimum amount of tax) and so as we had argued for this it was not a shock to potential Lib Dem voters. However, it was a shock to Tory supporters who didn’t see it coming. People knew the raise in tax threshold needed to be paid for and the hard choices were easier to understand for Lib Dem supporters than Tory ones. By leaking information, making our case known, and repeating this might not be seen as normal procedure for a government, but it delivered more of what the party wanted and there was less bad press towards the party as a result.

There is a golden rule in politics: no shocks and no surprises. By doing this, the party made sure there were no shocks and no surprises for Lib Dem voters. The Tories didn’t stick by this rule though and look how much trouble they are in. We have broken this rule too many times in this parliament and so we should understand it better than they do. If we want to survive this Coalition, we need to show people that we are true to what we say we are and make sure there are as few shocks and surprises as possible. It may not have been a good budget but it was good politics from the Lib Dems.

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.

Black and Ethnic Minority voting results: The good and bad news for the Lib Dems

Recently the results of the biggest comprehensive study into the voting habits of ethnic minorities ever undertaken in Britain were released. While statistics are difficult to make definite conclusions, it does make for some interesting reading for the Lib Dems for a number of reasons.

The 2010 Ethnic Minority British Election Survey (EMBES) was directed by Professor Anthony Heath, Professor of Sociology at the University of Oxford. The headline results, which you may have read, were:

  • 16% of ethnic minorities voted for the Conservative party at the last election compared to 37% of the wider population.
  • 68% of ethnic minorities voted Labour compared to 31% of the wider population.
  • Those of a Black Caribbean heritage feel the British political system has not treated them fairly the most.

But dig a little deeper and we find some interesting results for the Lib Dems. Overall we performed poorly in attracting BME voters as we gained only 14% of their vote compared to 23% for the wider population and generally we are performing worse than the Tories in attracting BME voters. However, we out performed on the votes from people with Pakistani origin gaining 25% of their vote:

The fact that we are performing worse than the Tories may be explained by looking at the attitudes of BME voters.

On the tax cuts versus spending question we find that every ethnic minority group is less supportive of greater government spending than the white British group. In this respect they appear to be less ‘left-wing’ than the majority, which contrasts strangely with their greater support for Labour but may suggest that those who do not have an affiliation to Labour are more inclined to vote Tory than Lib Dem given our position going in to the General Election. In further items covering different aspects of the left/right dimension there was either no significant difference between the majority and the minority, or the majority was more left-wing than the minority.

If we look at answers to the question of what is the most important issue facing Britain today we see that there are some differences between the majority and minority:

They are far more concerned about unemployment than the majority suggesting where to focus our campaigning efforts to attract this vote. Other things which are important to attract this vote would be improving opportunities for minorities and tackling oppression and discrimination:

It is also of interest to look at those who voted for the Lib Dems in terms of religion. We did best with those with no religion, what they classified as ‘Other’ and Muslims:

So there are some positive aspects to this study for the Lib Dems in terms of the fact that we have had a good result from the Muslim / Pakistani voters  but there is a lot of work to do to start attracting a wider share of the vote from BME voters. Labour has a large proportion of their vote despite the fact that ideologically they probably do not fit well with them. There are opportunities here to start taking the votes from Labour if we can get our message to BME voters that we think unemployment is a big issue and we are doing something about it, that we think that cutting spending is necessary and right and that we are addressing the barriers to opportunities for minorities.

The Tory strategy revealed: What the Lib Dems need to do to counter it

There is a lot of talk about the Lib Dem strategy and whether we have got it right. But equally important is the Tory strategy and how this impacts upon us. Here is the Tory strategy, which they call a ‘blended strategy’, which makes for interesting reading and has implications for a counter-strategy beyond differentiation – which the Tories consider to be a sign of weakness.

A blended strategy consists of appealing to aspirational working class Labour voters by focusing on their fears, for example by imposing caps on immigration and benefits. They then seek to attract Lib Dem voters and so use softer language that sounds pragmatic about Europe, reasonable on human rights and open minded on Lords reform.

This then works alongside pushing the Lib Dems aside when it comes to claiming credit for the Coalition’s record. This will be seen most prominently in them claiming credit for raising the tax threshold to £10,000, they say Mr Clegg can talk about it, but it will be the Chancellor who delivered it. This will be repeated in most policy areas. While the Lib Dems have made our strategy known i.e. differentiation, the Tories response will be to stick close to the Lib Dems on each issue, ‘like a persistent suitor chasing a rich widow around the dance floor’.

This strategy is of course mainly down to the Tories private polling. While many in the Tory party despise some of the positions Cameron has taken such as bashing the bankers, this isn’t because of an influence by Mr Clegg but because that is what they think the voters want. The Daily Telegraph quotes one Tory Cabinet member who said: “David would be doing all this even if Nick Clegg wasn’t. Differentiation is a sign of weakness. By embracing the Lib Dems, we place ourselves where the public is. And that is where we stand our best chance of winning in 2015.”

This makes sense from a Tory point of view. But what it doesn’t do is appeal to traditional Tory voters as the Daily Mail put it: Cameron must stop appeasing the Liberal Democrats and embrace real Conservatism. But as the Daily Telegraph says ‘he is prepared to suppress his inner Tory, in favour of a distinctly different kind of Conservative that his colleagues will not recognise’.

What this means for the Lib Dems is that no matter how much differentiation we make, they are prepared for this to continue to appeal to our voters. What we need to do is to produce a counter-strategy to this. We need to differentiate and we need to allow Cameron to follow us, but at the same time we need to tie this with the fact that his party won’t follow him. Show his party do not agree with Cameron, and therefore the Lib Dems, and we show the country a divided party with no authentic vision for the country. Show the Tories a leader out of step with his party and we increase the likelihood of a leadership challenge.

Cameron is probably right in that the public are probably more liberal and compassionate than his own party but his party do not believe this, which offers us an opportunity. ‘…but that wasn’t the core problem. The core problem was that voters looked at the Conservative Party and saw  people who didn’t understand what it was like to worry about running out of money before pay day arrived’ the Daily Mail write which is probably also true. But the important bit here is that the Tories do not believe in Cameron’s diagnosis of the problem.

We need to be more aggressive in distancing ourselves from parts of the Conservative Party and not just differentiation of the Conservative Party as a whole. Show the county they are divided. Show the country they do not believe in the positions they take to gain votes. Show the country they not liberal, compassionate, or in touch. This will make their ‘blended strategy’ much less likely to work and more likely soft Tory voters will vote Lib Dem.

What would be a success for the Lib Dems in 2012?

What would you consider to be our successes and failures since being in Coalition? These, simplified, will come to define us when it comes to the General Election. I recently looked at how each issue will be seen by the Tory and Lib Dem voters to show how we can look at each issue in a more useful way. A number of people got in touch and added to what I already had and the result is this:

While nothing can be done about what has been done and how it will be seen, we can think about future issues and how they will be seen. For a Coalition to work as smoothly as possible, both parties should focus on the ‘good for tories, good for Lib Dems’ box as this will be the easiest set of issues to negotiate and implement. This will be supporting small businesses, curbing bankers bonuses, and getting the economy growing again.

However, when it comes to the politics, each party will be looking to implement issues in the ‘good for us, bad for them’ box. The Lib Dems need to get smarter when it comes to this strategy and while it may be harder being the junior partner of a Coalition, it is still an important part of being in this Coalition.

Clegg and Cable have started well in 2012 and there needs to be some concrete wins from such moves. Charles Kennedy had some very good advice last year (here) where he believes we  are spread too thinly and so we should pick our fights and make sure we win them. This would be a good tactic and focusing on the top boxes would make sure this happened. However, what Kennedy fails to see is that not doing anything on some issues means that we look like we have reneged on our positions and so we are dragged into a fight we don’t want to have. The Tories are good at politics and we need to be aware that the more they continue to drag us into fights we don’t want to have, but have no choice, the more they are controlling the agenda and the more negative we look. One counter to this is to do it back. Raise issue after issue that they have to defend and so we control the debate. But this is dirty politics. It would be better to get all parties to focus on the top right box but I don’t think this will happen.

When it comes to 2013 we need plenty of things to go in the top boxes that we can campaign on:

Europe: If we are bold this is a chance to take 15% of Tory voters from the Tories

The Lib Dems have lost almost 50% of voters between elections only to pick up new voters to replace them. We have obviously been good at attracting new votes but not so good at retaining them. Now we are in Government it may be that this fact is our achilles heal? It is rare for a Governing party to attract new voters, let alone in significant numbers that we need. So what are we to do? Get more strategic.

The first Liberal party to be in Government that anyone can remember and we preside over a damaging position on Europe. But this gives us something to play with. We need to be more strategic over who we stand for and aggressively attract them to the party. We stand for all those in the country who want to see the UK as a strong member of the EU. We stand for those who believe in international co-operation to tackle issues which now transcend national borders. We stand for a strong EU in the world. So where are the people who believe this? Many already vote for the Lib Dems but many more vote for the Tories, Labour or the Greens. So helpfully we have a new poll which shows the views in the Tories:

Clearly those at the left end of the spectrum would fit well into the Lib Dems and they seem to match the 15% of Tory members who share Liberal Democrat concerns that there are dangers in being outside the EU’s inner group. So 15% of the Tory vote should be a direct target for the Lib Dems. We need to see some targeting of them in 2012.

So Chris Huhne’s call that the Tory right wants UK to be semi-detached member of EU was a good one. This focuses attention on the Tory position and gives legitimate fear to those who do not share this view with use of language such as ‘destroy the Union’. However, we would also be wise to take a critical stance towards the EU’s more ridiculous aspects to show that we are not anything-goes-EU plaudits.

It may be that 92% of the Tory party believe Cameron was right to use the ‘veto’ but 5% do not and 54% regard the veto as the start of Britain becoming “more detached” from the EU. This should be used to make those in the Tory party think about why they vote for the Tories. 15% of them should leave, they need to know why and where to go.

 

Have we all been complicit in collective naiveté? Lib Dems have underestimated Tory politicking and missed the real political narrative

As 2012 starts, the Lib Dems start on the defensive! Nick Clegg gives a defensive speech as if to get in their first, but looking at what he has said lays some fundamental miscalculations by all in the Lib Dem party. We need to get wise and we need to do it fast. The political narrative on which we are working from is missing a vital story strand that gives the Tories a distinct advantage and we have been scarily ignorant to it.

I am not prone to catastrophe thinking but we can’t ignore that what Clegg calls the ‘challenges’ we face. 14% in the polls is only not bad because we have been lower and we all hope that come the General Election in 2015 this will be higher. I think it will only get higher if we make it higher so we need to be thinking about how to do that. So I will be writing a few posts at the start of this year in an attempt to look at this. I am starting with some fundamentals – the political narrative by which the Lib Dems are basing the work we are doing in Government.

Back in May 2010 the political narrative was forming and it went like this:

There has been a financial crash, people don’t trust Labour with the economy, people are not sure about the Conservatives and more people voted for the Lib Dems. The result of the election was inconclusive resulting in a Coalition between the Tories and Lib Dems. They had to form a Government quickly, which meant sacrifices on both sides, for the national interest. Come the next General Election people will see that all decisions have been in the national interest, even if this has been hard on the Lib Dems. People will see that the Lib Dems have acted in the national interest and the country is in a better state than when they came to power. The Lib Dems have shown they are a grown up, responsible party. The Government was better with the Lib Dems in, than without, and so more people will want to vote for the Lib Dems.

Using this narrative we have made some very tough decisions, some of which have been disastrous for the party, but the majority in the party have seen these decisions as necessary and have supported those at the top – because we have believed the narrative. Clegg repeats this narrative time and time again. However, while this may be the dominant story there are sub-plots to this narrative that we have not taken into consideration and we have ended up being surprised as a result. By not acknowledging the sub plots we are damaging our chances of attracting the new voters we set out to in the first place.

This dominant political narrative led Clegg and the Lib Dems to ‘own’ Government decisions, even when they weren’t ours and we didn’t like them. It led us not to criticise the Tories even when we should have. It led us to take responsibility of decisions that were impossible to square with our views e.g. tuition fees. And more recently it led Clegg not to criticise Cameron for using the ‘veto’ at the EU summit (thankfully only to be booted up the backside by others in the party leading to a change in stance). So what are we missing if the narrative tells us people should be rewarding us for our brave and courageous decisions in the national interest?

The answer is Tory politicking, which they are very good at and pay a lot of money for, but which the formation of the Coalition has allowed them to stealthily continue an acknowledged sub plot of their own narrative. For the Tories the Lib Dems have always been a threat, slowly chipping away at their more centrist voters – the voters who give them majorities in General Elections. Cameron sought to actively destroy the Lib Dems as a result, through love-bombing. Since the formation of the Coalition people have forgotten that it is a stated intention of the Tory party to destroy the Lib Dems, but we should not be fooled, their tactics have changed, the intention remains.

The best way for the Tories to continue their plan has been to undermine the Lib Dems. It started with the formation of the Coalition. It was the Lib Dems who threw away their fiscal policy and changed track completely (on all major issues there was no compromise from the Tories). It was the Lib Dems who secured an abstention on a tuition fees rise, only to be given the brief to implement the rise – how could they not have voted for something they proposed? It was the Lib Dems who were ruthlessly attacked by the Tories in the AV referendum. It was the Lib Dems who were not consulted on the use of the ‘veto’ in the EU summit and potentially lied to following it making Clegg look a right idiot by defending Cameron straight after it (then to change his stance).

So how will it be that we will attract new people to the party if we are constantly undermined? How can we defend ourselves against this undermining if we don’t even acknowledge that it exists? We need to start by adding this narrative to our dominant story:

The Lib Dems have been a growing threat to a Tory Government. The Tories set about undermining the Lib Dems while in opposition to reduce this threat. Now in Coalition the Tories continue to undermine the Lib Dems in an attempt to extinguish the threat. The result could be such a reduction in support for the Lib Dems that a Tory majority is likely.

Using this narrative we can see that things make more sense. Clegg admits that we were ‘stuffed’ over the tuition fees issue but fails to see how we were stuffed by the Tories on the issue. The Lib Dems did not see the full extent of the threat from the Tories running up to the AV referendum and were surprised by the attacks. We need to wake up to the fact that the Tories are a calculating political machine who only want to rule on their own. When they say they would like to rule with the Lib Dems, it is an attempt to make the Lib Dems insignificant (if they are sympathetic to Lib Dem causes then why would they need them in Government?).

So a plea to all party members, supporters and ministers: We are under a stealth attack from the Tories, be prepared. We should check every major decision against this narrative, we should think about how else it could be done and think about who benefits that a decision is made in this way. We should think about how else we are being undermined and seek ways to counter it. This means not only defensive politicking, but also attacking. Come 3 years time we will be staring at a General Election and we can’t wait until then to change people’s minds.

This is a picture that shows why the Lib Dems are doing so badly and what we can do to improve things

Following the events at the weekend and for all who believe that Europe is important to Britain’s future having to wait, potentially years, to find out the consequences of the decision of one man under pressure from his own party, it is time to take stock of where the Lib Dems are in Coalition and what is going on. We have some fundamental questions we need answering: If we are implementing so many of our policies, why are we doing so badly? If we are having a bigger impact in Government than our polling at the General Election, then why have those who voted for us deserted the party? Now there are many simple answers to these questions but what we need now is something more helpful than what comes out of an angry ex-Lib Dem voter. We need to view this in simplistic terms and below is a very good way of doing this.

This Coalition is made up of 2 parties and we can therefore consider every decision in a very simple way: it is either good or bad for either of the parties, which means we could make a simple chart like this:

I have put a scale on both sides which gives us grades as to how good or bad an issue has been for a party (10 being very good and 0 being very bad). So if we take the decisions at the weekend we can say that it was probably very good for the Tories who need to both appease those on the Tory right and attract those who may be considering voting UKIP. It was a disastrous decision for the Lib Dems and I struggle to see how it could be any worse, so we could view this like this:

There are a number of voters who consider voting Lib Dems or Tories and we are both attempting to attract them. However, there are also many voters who would never consider voting Tory who would vote Lib Dem and on the whole there are some sizeable difference in values that makes our voter bases very different. We are both speaking to a pool of the same voters and at the same time different audiences. So if we start to chart what the Coalition has done we start seeing a very interesting pattern:

What is good for the Lib Dems is generally good for the Tories. In fact I struggled to think of things that the Coalition has done which has been good for the Lib Dems and bad for the Tories. I’m not saying that there isn’t anything, I just couldn’t think of any in the short time I had to put this together so please do let me know what you think and I will update the chart. Equally, what has been bad for the Tories, in relation to their audience, they have done their best to right it e.g. Forests and NHS. Again if you think of more issues for this box do let me know. But the point here is that on the whole what is good for the Lib Dems is good for the Tories, which may go some way to explain why having 75% of our manifesto implemented hasn’t resulted in an improvement in support. Equally, what has been good for the Tories has quite often been bad for the Lib Dems. We had to make significant concessions to go into Government e.g. cutting the deficit, increase in VAT, tuition fees etc. All of which we went in to the election with opposing views and so signing up to these has hit us hard.

So we can start to get a picture of what is happening here. We are taking significant hits by being in Government and we are not getting sole credit for implementing good policies. The question becomes what should our focus be on? Clearly the ‘good for Lib Dems’ and ‘good for Tories’ box should be the main focus in a Coalition. I then question why there has been such a focus on the ‘bad for the Lib Dems’ and ‘good for the Tories’ box?  Why do we allow them to have such a focus on this area? Should we not spend our time saying ‘no’ more to things in this box and trying to find more things for the top right one? Restraining the Tories does not register in the minds of the voters as this is a negative force which is unknowable. You cannot put it in any box; it is not a vote winner.

Whether any of this is actually good for the country will be decided in the future but we have our beliefs as to why the things we believe in would be good for the country and we need to be more forceful about what these are. We need to think more clearly about the effect these decisions will have on us. We need to start being more of a pain in the arse in Government. Say no more if it will hurt us. Tell people we said no. There are many things we can focus on which may be good for both parties and the more time we spend doing things we don’t like, the less time there is doing things we both like. Let us not waste our time in Government and get hammered at the ballot box too. If things continue as they are there will be a time when it won’t be worth being in Government.

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