Saturday, 22 April 2017

Three condundrums the Lib Dems need to solve to breakthrough

I was as staggered as anyone else that Theresa May has called a general election in June, especially given her assurances that she would do no such thing, though I can see the logic.

On the one hand, it does provide Tim Farron with what he has been asking for – an immediate second referendum on the style of Brexit (and again she said she would do no such thing). On the other hand, the result may be a forgone conclusion – not because a great majority of the nation backs the government, but because of the slow and inexorable decline of the Labour Party.

There is a suggestion that we now have three conservative-looking parties ranged against each other. One is embracing a different future but lacks the skills, ideas or open minds to manage it. The other wants to revert back to the world in 1945. The third wants to revert back to the world in 1980.

Or does it? That is the question this blog post poses. Because on the face of it, this election provides a unique opportunity for the Lib Dems to shove Labour aside, because they have apparently no opinion on the main issue of the moment.

As a lifelong Liberal, I am obviously excited at the prospect, but three barriers loom in the way, and they are intellectual ones. To reach their potential and become the official opposition – which the Lib Dems could conceivably do – they will have to solve three conundrums that will otherwise frustrate them.

1. How to bring the Liberal Brexiteers back into the fold.
The unaddressed challenge for the Lib Dems is that their former strongholds, especially in the South West, came out strongly for Brexit last year. That implies a powerful constituency of Liberal Brexiteers, who were not beguiled by the promises of the leave campaign but still have a visceral dislike of supranational bureaucracies. This seems to me to be both reasonable and Liberal. Somehow the party needs to be able to speak understandingly and inspiringly to the Liberal Brexiteers as well as the Liberal Remainers. That is a difficult balancing act and it requires them to look closer at the motivations of those tempted by Liberalism – not for a flirtation in one election but as a meaningful lifetime commitment (this is my interpretation of the so-called 'core vote strategy').

2. Speaking for the consumers of services, not the professionals.
Until they unexpectedly became responsible for some of them in 2010, the Lib Dems had little to say about public services. One of their difficulties go back to the merger of the Liberals and Social Democrats in 1988. They have many roots in common and the Liberals always included a strong Fabian wing (they used to call them Whigs). The difficulty is that it confuses the party’s message on public services: social democrats tend to back professional judgement and processes. Liberals prefer informality and individual variation – perhaps especially when it comes to education. Somehow the party has to shun public services run for the benefit of the staff (Corbyn) and public services run for the benefit of the operators (Southern Rail springs to mind), and to articulate an approach that represents the users and the ignored and put-upon consumers of public services.

3. Speaking for and to the nation as a whole without compromising their message.


One party is looking for the enemy within, the so-called ‘saboteurs’. The opposition is so divided that their enemy really is within. The nation is seriously divided too. The Lib Dems will need to hold to their clear position on internationalism but still somehow speak for the nation as a whole. This is particularly so when it comes to economics - the nation knows that the old assumptions of economics are now over. We have dysfunctional and over-centralised banks, and tackling that is as good a place to start as any.

If they can do that, and the other two, then I predict an extraordinary result.

See my new book Ronald Laing:The rise and fall and rise of a revolutionary psychiatristGet ahead of the Mad to be Normal film when it comes out!

Subscribe to this blog on email; send me a message with the word blogsubscribe to dcboyle@gmail.com. When you want to stop, you can email me the word unsubscribe.

4 comments:

JohnM said...

I would add to those - a bit of mischievous controversy! I've always believed you have to use greater force against itself. Our manifesto should include measures 'for the defence of democracy'. Watch any BBC news and we are unlikely to be mentioned. Even the IRA used to have the 'respect' of the restrictions on its reporting being mentioned. So then broadcasters should be obliged to remind viewers and listeners that they are not reporting on the activities of 'other' political parties campaigning in this election because of the proportion of votes cast at the last election. Why note, I'm just sayin'...

Lidl Janus said...

JohnM's right, if for no other reason than that the biggest story about the Lib Dems right now is Tim Farron's squeamishness about butt sex. It's a bad story in both senses - neither improving anyone's standing, nor being particularly entertaining.

Anyway, my prediction is that the Lib Dems improve without really breaking through. I think 2015 was a bit too big a hit to recover from within two years, whatever they did.

Conall Boyle said...

"Speaking for and to the nation"

What 'nation' would that be? Again, I ask you David, why do the LibDems cosy up to the Unionists esp. in Scotland?

Barney said...

The real problems as I see them are,

1 - The party system itself, which results in what some refer to as an elected dictatorship, where MPs can be told which way to vote, giving the occupant of 10 Downing Street an effective dictatorship on important issues.

2 - The fact that every candidate is fully vetted for loyalty to the treasonous banking cartel rather than to the Nation. This is why we now have three Tory parties with not a ha'porth of difference between them.

The candidates are pre-selected and we're invited to choose our next oppressor, but who do we choose? It's like being invited to choose one or other of the Kray twins. Some might say it's equivalent to choosing between Hitler or Mussolini. Either way, we're screwed.

WE don't get to choose the candidates. "They" do, and "they" tell them which policies to impose on the rest of us. We only get to choose what we hope will be the lesser of the two (or three) evils we're presented with.

Nobody ever asks us what we want, and when we do get a chance to tell them, as in Brexit, they ignore us, tell us we don't understand the issues and carry on doing whatever they were going to do anyway.

I'll vote according to my conscience, but with no real choice, we're going to be stuck with Teresa May for another five years whether we want her or not.