Friday 11 January 2013
We need to be able to 'conquer unemployment' again
Mark Pack has written a characteristically intelligent newsletter about the current positioning of the Lib Dems, around the idea of being a moderating influence on both sides. As he says, this has the advantage of being patently true and a good description of an effective junior coalition partner. But there is something about the combination of efficient economy and social concern which doesn't quite cut it as a political message.
Yes, it describes the effective position of the Lib Dems and the Liberals before them, just as it provided the message for the most successful of the SDP political broadcasts in the 1980s. What it fails to do is to explain what the connection between the two objectives is. It looks like compromise.
There are two reasons why, as Liberals, we should not be content with this as a narrative for the party.
First, it is the very opposite of a big idea. It may carry conviction among voters temporarily, but what it will not do is provide the party with the intellectual engine it needs to WIN - or to attract the activists of tomorrow, and the people who are prepared to devote their lives to cajolling the Liberals into power.
The second problem is that the words' efficient economy' covers up the basic problem which is that, not spending too much and being 'sensible' with the economy does not do justice to the traditional Liberal position on the economy.
It doesn't do justice to the emerging industrial policy that Vince Cable is presiding over. Nor does it do justice to the idea of a small-scale economy that can revive local fortunes from the bottom up, as Danny Alexander is beginning to develop.
The truth is that the Lib Dems badly need a central organising economic idea. They have survived for too long now on a bundle of issues around fairness and civil liberties, which - although important - are not winning reasons for government.
David Lloyd George, whose 150th birthday is coming up, used the slogan 'we can conquer unemployment' in the 1929 general election, using the ideas of John Maynard Keynes to provided it with its intellectual underpinning. Until the Lib Dems can say that again, they will just be a glorified pressure group.