On Thursday, Nick Clegg heard my name for the first time when one of my questions was put to him by Helen Duffett (Internal Comms Manager, Liberal Democrats). ‘Q: Also, many party members have asked why the webinar is held in the day when many of them are at work, school, University etc… ‘ – in truth when I heard my question being asked I cringed slightly but it was ok and the reply I received was reassuring – this was a free slot in the diary and there are plans for further webinars and these will be held at a variety of times to ensure as many as possible get a chance to take part.
In fact, I think the concept of the webinar demonstrates a lot of what is good within the party, the idea of communication with party members, the regular emails from Tim Farron, Simon Hughes, Nick Clegg, Vince Cable keep us informed. However, the party is in danger of extinction within a decade and we are at/nearing yet another cross-roads; the strategy the party adopts in the next few years will determine its outcome in the next election. I shall attempt to give some thoughts on this whilst reflecting on recent (and not so recent) events, announcements etc.
First, I’d like to reconsider how this Coalition came about; the electorate voted in a General Election and delivered a hung parliament. The distribution of the seats was such that no party had an overall majority. Out of the three largest parties only two combinations were available to reach a working majority, one of which was Labour and Conservatives which was never going to happen. This left a choice for the Liberal Democrats to go into a rainbow coalition which would still not have had a working majority, or go with the conservatives. There was little choice in reality, coalition with the conservatives was the only realistic option which was viable in the longer term which had been given by the electorate.
Now, as it goes it’s not been that surprising that the Liberal Democrats have borne the brunt of a lot of anger especially because of discrepancies between our stance pre-election and then in coalition. However, it is clear that coalitions change the game and there was little if any appreciation as the campaigns were launched by the respective parties that the end result would be a hung parliament.
However, we are now two years in and its time to start thinking about the next election, especially in light of our performance in local elections it is imperative to ensure we play it right and regain some voter confidence to exist as a credible party in the 2015 parliament. (I must at this point recommend a very insightful and well written piece by Alex Wilcock – http://loveandliberty.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/happy-birthday-to-libera-tory-coalition.html)
Now, since the disappointing local election results a number of things have come up from various party members including some insightful analysis of our current position and how we need to progress…
Lembit Opik – Called for a splitting of roles between party leader and Deputy Prime Minister (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-17974194), Lembit managed to highlight a clear issue that the iberal Democrats have with the current set-up; invariably when it comes to Parliament or government business it ends up being Cameron speaking on behalf of both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats as Nick is Deputy PM. Lembit argues that the role of Party leader and Deputy PM need to be separated. Whilst I think he has highlighted an issue I believe Lembit approaches it from the wrong angle – if the roles were separated the party leader wouldn’t be in government and that wouldn’t make any sense whatsoever. We do already have an advantage in that Tim Farron as President of the Liberal Democrats is able to voice disagreements we have with government policy without breaking the doctrine of collective ministerial responsibility which is not possible for Sayeeda Warsi in her position as she is in the Cabinet. However, we need to ensure that Tim utilises his role to the maximum, yet its all very well having someone vocal against government policy all the time but there needs to be some substance to it and there also needs to be active contributions from all our MPS – we don’t see enough of capabe MPs such as Julian Huppert, Jo Swinson, etc – if we are to be seen as a party which is a credible choice at the next election we need to keep rolling out all our MPs and getting them recognised as credible leaders of a future government as chances are we might end up with a coalition next time too and we need as many MPs as possible. Therefore, it is important for us to get a strong liberal rhetoric out there and clear explanations of the work our party is doing in government.
Councillor Lester Holloway has written on this topic:
What the Lib Dems need to do to win London
‘’London is essentially Liberal. I know election results don’t necessarily bear that assertion out, especially after Brian Paddick only managed to garner a paltry four percent in the recent mayoral elections. But consider the evidence. Large parts of the capital are cosmopolitan rather than Socialist, positively bohemian in parts, and increasingly European. Added to that, many of the African, Caribbean and Indian communities are a mixture of the aspirational, entrepreneurial and socially-progressive that is neither hard Labour nor ultra-Conservative.’’
He also provides 10 key objectives which he proceeds to outline further…
1. Democratise the party
2. Get classy
3. Pair successful parties with neighbouring ‘black holes’
4. Embrace technology
5. Crunch the numbers
6. Ensure that BAME communities are represented at all levels
7. Engage with BAME-specific issues
8. Recruit BAME leaders
9. Calling a Tory spade a spade
10. Be more women-friendly
It’s a very strong analysis and I recommend it to anyone interested, now I shall attempt to provide my own blueprint for the future for those who are still awake having reached this far! Some or maybe all of these things may already be being done, however, these are areas where I currently think there is a deficiency within the party and something needs to be done:
Local, Local, Local
- In the aftermath of our local elections we should be putting as many resources and time as possible into supporting local parties, helping to build them up and building up party members. I have seen mention online by those such as Greg Judge that we should be going out and finding everyone who voted Liberal Democrat as they are all potential members of the party and future leaflet deliverers, callers and candidates
- This principle should also extend to selecting candidates, whilst I appreciate that there are a limited number of areas where we have a god chance of gaining seats, we should attempt to ensure that candidates who are selected should be local as much as is possible, at least from the region – one of the biggest things that is wrong with elections is candidates who are parachuted into a constituency
- We need to begin working out where we stand on certain issues when it comes to the next election – what will we stand for? In particular, how will we win back the votes and the confidence of the student vote? How will we get the votes of those who have suffered from a loss of a job, are unemployed etc who will be likely to turn to Labour in protest against the incumbent government… we can’t keep blaming everything on Labour – it doesn’t wash with the voters after two years in government and its getting old…
- There needs to be a clear and obvious method for party members to influence policy (at any time of the year – not just Conference), to have a say in the selection of candidates locally and nationally. There needs to be much stronger explanation of how things work given to new members, this should include aspects such as conference, policy making procedures and how members can get actively involved with the party.
- We need to identify the party’s core values and we also need to flex some muscle and stand out from the other parties. One of the problems with politics at the moment is that there is too much of the parties all occupying the same policy – we need to put forward clearly what the liberal democrats stand for as the Tories (most of them) are more liberal than Tory, and the Labour party definitely aren’t socialist.
- These people are the future of the party, yet LY doesn’t feel like an intricate part of the party, it needs to be brought in. It was good for many LY members to get their questions answered in the recent Clegginar but there are issues with the extent to which people are involved. Whilst there are a lot of opportunities for those voted onto the LY Executive there should be efforts to help LY members and maybe learn some lessons from the structure of Young Labour…
- The strength of local and regional parties across the country is disproportionate; there is a very strong party in the East Midlands, yet in the West Midlands I’m not sure I’ve noticed anything. Similarly, there is a relatively strong local party in Edgbaston and Selly Oak in Birmingham, yet in my home town of Billericay I’ve hardly heard of the party. We need to develop a structure which ensures each region has a strong regional party, and this in turn focuses on helping local parties develop and nourish support, this is how we know we can win seats and how we need to approach the electorate again.
- The process for selection of candidates for elections should be open to all – until we lower the barriers to getting selected then we will not be able to claim that as a party we represent a strong cross section of society, we need a wider range of ages, colours, etc represented but this shouldn’t be forced, it will and should occur naturally as long as the selection process is easily accessible and open to all – at the moment I feel it is too secretive, unknown and therefore off-putting for potential candidates because they are not ‘in’ with the party. We need to make sure that we can be a party where anyone can enter and there is no clique; all members should feel comfortable with getting involved in all areas of the party.
Use of Technology and Resources
- Ministers and MPs should make further use of the Webinar technology, it was a good chance to quiz Nick and in future there should be a mixture of sessions with both members and with the public.
- We need to ensure we use resources effectively – therefore local parties should develop good relationships with those nearby so that during elections they can team up to hit each ward together – many people working together will help keep morale high, give a good impression of a strong party to voters and will make the job easier for all rather than candidates needing to do much of the work on their own.
- Also, many of the electorate are on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, utilisation of these technologies, YouTube and other social media is imperative to keep contact with middle age voters as well as getting back in touch and engaging with younger voters. This is where we can get in touch with the future members of the party.
Westminster Party – Future Focus
- I do think that Lembit had a point, however I think it is better dealt with in another way. We need to start developing policy and consultations with members to begin structuring our views and manifesto for 2015 and its never too late to start… Nick and Tim should appoint one or two MPs or party members to lead a series of consultations, reviews and enquiries into policy for the party at the next election… We also need to ensure Tim keeps sounding the horn for the party disagreements with the coalition as well as getting more MPs out onto the airwaves, especially Julian Huppert and Jo Swinson.
- We also need to start a new rhetoric, we need to stop apologising for stuff – otherwise we will seen to be the party that makes decisions and then continuously say they didn’t want to do that and apologise. Lets lead discussion and debate and talk about what we have achieved and how that benefits the country.
- Most important of all lets get moving on the economy, and in the next speech Nick and the Ministers should push for growth measures, we need to be seen to be in contact with what voters are looking for and the issues which really are pressing. I’m in favour of House of Lords reform as a general concept, however, proposals so far are far from conclusive and approach the issue from entirely the wrong angle however thats a subject for another post…
Someone in the Clegginar asked for more flamboyance from the party, Nick seemed hesitant, but I say go for it… part of politics is presentation and personality… and we need some uniqueness…
Please do comment below if you have got this far… I’d be interested in hearing your views on what the party needs to do to regain voter confidence…