Passion not powerpoint

29 Nov

BirdOfLiberty-01_600px315pxSomething is not quite right about the Lib Dem message at the moment. That may seem like a statement of the obvious while we remain on single figures in most polls. But it is a bit of a puzzle.

Having talked it over with various party colleagues and read a few blogs in a similar vein, I am concluding that our official headline policies and messages are being framed from a restricted perspective.

The party leadership now sees politics through the prism of national Government – the current coalition and a potential post-2015 coalition. This is perhaps understandable, given that most of them are part of the current Government. This leads to an exclusive focus on how we might make a future Conservative Government a bit less nasty or force a future Labour Government to face up to deficit reduction. And there is an understandable fear of making a very explicit promise that we cannot keep if we enter a Government with either of them (the ghost of tuition fees).

Now I want to make it clear that I have been and remain a strong supporter of this coalition. I believe its record in delivering Lib Dem policies in our 2010 manifesto is quite remarkable and we stepped up to the plate when the economy was in crisis and stable Government was required.

But the forthcoming election will not be primarily about the record of the current Government. And most voters will not leap to the question of what policies Lib Dems might persuade the others to sign up to in coalition negotiations. Another coalition with Lib Dem participation may or may not happen (I don’t think it should, but that’s the subject of another blog). But the assumption that the Lib Dems will be a junior partner in coalition should not be the start and end point when trying to persuade people to vote for you.

The starting point should be liberal values, liberal passion and a forthcoming fight for liberalism. A clarion call to keep the liberal voice alive and kicking in our politics and in our Parliament.

Ironically, the need for liberal voices in Parliament has never been stronger. Nationalism – the right-wing, populist version in England and the centre-left, populist model in Scotland – is on the rise. We face the prospect of a vote on Europe, which is really about whether we are an open country looking to the future, or turning our backs on the world and looking to the past. We face hysteria on immigration which is losing connection with rational debate. There is also a newspaper fanned, anti-politics agenda which shows disinterest in democratic solutions and borders on nihilism.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives and Labour are moving away from liberalism, driven by their fear of UKIP. This is a capitulation to a party that stands for fear and not hope.

There are countries in Europe that have three main parties – a social democratic party, a conservative party and a nationalist/populist party – and no strong liberal voice. I don’t want Britain to become that type of country, and I don’t think we are that type of country.

This blog has been in gestation since Lib Dem members received an email last month from the Lib Dem Director of Strategy (I’m not picking on him, it was typical of the general positioning). It set out some uninspiring bullet points, with messages to mix and match for different segments of the electorate. It was mostly more of the same from our time in Government and just lacked oomph. Centrist, sensible but not very inspiring or liberal.

I’m now going to hypocritically provide a quick list of the issues and policies that I want to hear more about (my excuse is that I don’t want this blog to go on forever). Offering a fair deal on housing to young people, prioritising social care (particularly dementia), reforming the laws on drugs, rehabilitation of offenders, revitalising local government and city regions, investing in transport outside of London. And a passionate defence of the positive contribution that immigration makes to the UK’s economy and our diverse nation.

All big topics in themselves, but the key point is we need to talk more about distinctive liberal priorities and positions, underpinned by our unique liberal values.

To be fair, the Lib Dems normally take the right position in these debates and we have some good policies going forward. And to be positive about the national party, the current sustained campaign on mental health is excellent. It’s distinctive, it’s important, it’s fresh and it’s passionate.

But we need more of that. More passion and less powerpoint please.

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2 Responses to “Passion not powerpoint”

  1. Alastair Ross December 1, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    You make some very good points and I totally agree about championing the Liberal perspective in politics.

    I find myself driven to distraction by our campaign materials which seem to me both tired in presentation, and lacking punch in what we stand for. We have core values and we need to exhibit those clearly. And I will give credit to those who developed the message of “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society” because in four words that does convey a lot.

    But ours is not a halfway house between the left and the right. The press like to portray us that way because it saves them having to think harder but it is not where we are. Unfortunately we aren’t thinking hard enough either. It’s up to us to position ourselves clearly and not up to the press or our opponents to do it for us.

    When we create publications we need to check that the stories they tell link firmly to the values and aspirations that we hold dear. And we also need to ask ourselves why, when we produce and distribute so many bits of paper, others do better with the people. Perhaps the people don’t get us because we don’t explain ourselves in simple accessible ways that connect instantly. Instead we flood them with too many publications that are poorly aligned and poorly printed.

    There is a place for marketeers who understand how to get a message across. Other parties have clearly learned from marketing psychology, whilst so much of what we put out fails to match up to the quality and impact of what our competitors publish. What we need to do is learn how to meet and exceed those standards AND make sure that the message we present is the one that we as a party believe in. I would rather stand up for what is right and lose than stand up for the wrong things and win. And of course we should aspire to lead the people on the right things and win their trust and support.

    In the book of Proverbs is the message “where there is no vision the people perish”. We need to present a vision and show leadership and not simply offer a tawdry list of short term promises which may, or then again may not, be deliverable.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #400 - November 30, 2014

    […] 11. Passion, not powerpoint James King on King in Kilburn. The missing ingredient in our communications. […]

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