Stuck in a rut – but we can break free

Mark Thompson asks why we’re not doing better in the polls.   As he observes we are in the worst financial crisis in most people’s living memory, the government is deeply unpopular and out of ideas, politics itself is in crisis and politicians are seen as remote and untrustworthy;  yet for all this the Liberal Democrats are stuck at only around 20%, in the polls.  Clearly, something is very wrong.

The difficulty as I see it is that we have got stuck in a rut, winning a measure of success as a (largely) protest party, but with little idea of how to get out of the rut.  So, where are we going wrong and what do we need to change?  

There is so much one could say on this subject that I will confine myself for now to just two things that we should stop doing.    In a later post (or maybe posts) I will consider things we should do differently.

Firstly, we should stop complaining about the unfairness of the media and the voting system.   Of course they’re unfair (what do you expect?) but if we use that as an excuse it  becomes all too easy to stop right there and never get on with the things we can do.   If we had a coherent understanding of where the the country was at and what we would do about it, we would certainly get reported.  Vince Cable has shown that this works; unfortunately he is seen as a sage distinct from the wider party.  The conclusion is surely that developing a compelling narrative is a top priority; once this is done the ‘media problem’ will solve itself. 

Secondly, we should stop being so complacent.  After the last general election and yet another bad defeat, the Tories debated briefly what their strategy should be.  They all agreed (after debating in very much these terms) that it came down to a straight choice between (a) a radical reform of their platform, and (b) a ‘one more heave’ approach.   Almost without exception Conservatives from all wings of the party understood from the outset that the ‘one more heave’ strategy was, in fact, a hiding to nothing and that they had to change, distasteful as it might be to many.  The issue for the ensuing leadership debate was then what sort of change and, as we now know, that was won by Cameron.   His platform?  An superficially greener, more liberal interpretation of Conservatism based on an accurate perception of a gap in the market created by the weakness of the Liberal Democrats rather than on any ideological conviction.

Contrast this with the response of the Liberal Democrats;  we had no debate but just blithely assumed that, of course, it was back to ‘one more heave’;  it’s what Liberal Democrats do, it’s what we’ve always done.   In doing so we effectively surrendered any chance of winning the forthcoming election preferring instead to reheat and represent policies that voters had just rejected by a large margin.  Only now, belatedly, are we beginning that debate.  (Which makes me think that the election after 2010 might at last be the breakthrough). 

As Mark hypothesizes, this is the best chance we have had in decades.  It’s up to us whether we choose to throw it away or run with it.


2 responses to this post.

  1. […] LiberalEye has an interesting take on the “if Labour’s so unpopular, why aren’t the Lib Dems doing better in the polls” debate, suggesting the party is stuck in a One More Heave rut and need to find our own Cameron-style change of direction. Share this story with your friends: […]


  2. Posted by plumbus on 14 October 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Its possible that most of your points will look irrelevant & silly by the W/E so I wont reply now.


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