Of all the post-Henley posts, I find myself most in agreement with Bernard Salmon - people will not vote Lib Dem (certainly sustainably) unless they know what we are for. That may not have been obvious before, but it is increasingly important now. Neil Stockley and I have been banging on about the importance of 'narrative' for some years now, with some effect but not much. I think it's time to express it in a different way, and like this...
The truth is that, at this precise moment of Lib Dem history, it increasingly matters that we are being squeezed intellectually. We certainly need a narrative that draws our values together in the form of story, but we need something more. We need an ambitious and far-reaching critique - either of the way our economy has been organised or of why our public services are grinding to a halt. Or both.
We need to express this in a way that can attract a wide cross-section of opinion-formers, and in such a way that it amounts to a crusade, and so rooted in Lib Dem values that our rivals can't adopt it for a decade. Nothing else will do. We are some way from this now, though Nick Clegg has touched on themes - just as Bernard did - that can provide the raw materials, about rebuilding human-scale institutions and busting New Labour's business monopolies.
This is hard. It means we have to articulate a critique of the status quo that is so new and far-reaching that it is bound to break out of the narrow news agenda of the BBC. It may make us seem irrelevant to the mainstream debate in the short-term. We will need an opinion-formers strategy to force our way back into the debate.
But we have to do it, because there is an even harder bit. If we can do this, we will hold our own against Cameron and benefit from the coming break-up of the Labour Party. But if we can't, and we fall back on the current combination of inserting minor policy suggestions into the media and then campaigning on empty, we have to grit our teeth in the face of the slow collapse of our support. That will pass slowly to a rival third force which, flawed as it is, is organised around a crusade. In other words, we risk watching cities going the way of Norwich and Brighton where Lib Dems were pushed aside by Greens.
To prove the point, I can predict the next handful of places to go the same way, but won't because it is a hostage to fortune. But I can do so privately, if I meet anyone in the real world...
Nottingham Symphony: The city in 1971
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