How many signs do we need that things aren’t right? With reports for the second year in a row of a reduction in the number of candidates standing for the Lib Dems as local councillors we have another piece of information which is perhaps more worrying than the reduction in poll ratings. So perhaps we need to consider this very carefully and what we need to do to start to reverse this trend.
Back in 2011 the Guardian ran a piece which stated that the Lib Dems were fielding the fewest number of candidates for the local elections than they had since 1999, which was 4.6% fewer than compared with the 2007 data. Fast forward a year and now in 2012 the Independent is running a story that the party is fielding fewer candidates than in recent memory. However, I haven’t been able to find matching data to make a true comparison so it may or may not be factually correct. Despite this, the sentiment is probably correct as the article states there is anecdotal evidence that some candidates are standing as independents, and this is certainly happening in my area.
This is more worrying than the poll ratings for a number of reasons. This is not least because it says that those who understand the party the most, those who believe in the values of the party, those who realise that compromise is necessary more than most are the ones who are disillusioned and that this is having a practical impact on the ground. If we are to go back to basic principles of politics we can make an assessment of where we are now. To be successful in politics we need to do the following:
- To gain power
- To keep power
- To increase the number of people who vote for you
- To increase the number of positions of power
- For people to perceive the use of power as positive for the country and its citizens
- For history to perceive the use of power as positive for the country and its citizens
We have no ability to influence the last point, for more on this see here. So if we take the facts we are looking at a reduction in poll ratings:
Poor performances in by elections e.g. March 2011 Barnsley 4.18% and March 2012 Bradford 4.59% (I acknowledge we got 31.9% in Oldham and Saddleworth in Jan 2011 but we still didn’t win), reductions in members and now reductions in people standing as councillors. Assessed by the criteria for success in politics you could say we aren’t doing very well. I would also go as far as saying that the public (or at least those who have voted for us) do not perceive the Lib Dems as using their power in a positive way for the country and its citizens.
What this Coalition is not doing for the Lib Dems is demonstrating our values. What the Coalition is doing for the Tories is demonstrating their values. People are not going to vote Lib Dem for making compromises, small changes to Tory legislation, or being pragmatic in difficult circumstances.
People don’t vote for what you do, they vote for why you do it.
There is no ‘why’ for the Lib Dems right now, not in the eyes of the public anyway. It is even hard for us to explain some things to people. I was knocking on doors today and a student answered the door and said he wouldn’t vote Lib Dem again. I could have got into a discussion about the policy, but then the government policy isn’t the Lib Dem policy (which is the opposite) so we as a party don’t believe in the policy we implemented but stating party policy then seems ridiculous having just been responsible for implementing a policy. The Coalition at times is making us look ridiculous and if there is one thing that will lose you votes faster than anything else it is being made to look ridiculous.
Out of all this we can make at least one assumption, which is that what we are doing isn’t working and as Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So the question we have to answer is this: What can we do which will demonstrate our values? What we have been trying hasn’t worked. Differentiation isn’t working.
Clegg could show some leadership in the cabinet reshuffle later this year by changing how we operate. We are currently spread very thinly over the government departments, hence our inability to demonstrate categorically our influence to the public. How about concentrating ourselves over fewer departments or even taking over 2 departments completely? We need to show who we are. I for one know that what we are not, are excuses for bad policies and bad politics, but this is how we are perceived. It needs to change if we want people to stand for us in local elections, join the party or vote for us.