Why #Libdemfightback Has To Go and Why Community Politics Won’t Work

There was a time when #libdemfightback was used in all sincerity. We had a huge surge in membership, the public were displaying their sympathies for our electoral defeats and after the emergence of pernicious policy, there was a greater appreciation for what we did in government.

Back then, #Libdemfightback was almost a hymn of hope, a sign that things could only get better. But now, I yearn for the days when #libdemfightback was simply stale. Now it’s just embarrassment used more often as a punchline than a sincere statement.

A year has dragged on electorally speaking and despite the sympathies, the boost in membership and some brief absolution in the eyes of the public, we’ve stagnated in the polls. Nowadays, you’re lucky to see any Liberal Democrat politician make it into the news and no matter how loud we shout, we always seem to be drowned out by something else. It’s very easy to get lost in the Liberal Democrat political bubble, especially in an age where algorithms tailor you information feed to your browsing history. Although our timelines may be cluttered with victories and activity from Liberal Democrat MPs, to everyone else, we’ve fallen by the wayside. What we don’t need at this point, where a lot of the public views us as an irrelevance, is a slogan that can be so easily turned against us. Worse than this, we don’t need a slogan that makes us appear desperate, clinging onto every small boon and declaring it a great victory.

Far from looking like a resurgent party, this makes us look like a sinking ship and unfortunately, the public doesn’t vote for sinking ships.

One of the pieces of evidence people dredge anytime the ‘fight back’ is questioned is our performance in local by-elections. Unfortunately, I don’t buy it as a concept.

These small victories may be valuable as small boosts in morale, but if we’re going to win small skirmishes but lose our larger battles, it will all be for naught. This is just a sad fact of politics, one that will be exacerbated once we face the recent cuts faced by opposition parties.

Furthermore, one has to consider our track record in previous Local Elections. We haven’t had a net gain of councillors in Local Elections since 2008. Even at the height of our popularity as a party, and through Cleggmania, we’ve been bleeding seats in these elections. I’m afraid there is a very reasonable fear that we simply haven’t made enough impact on the country at large to do well in the next election, and extrapolation from previous years shows that 2016 probably won’t bode well for us either.

Hopefully I’m completely wrong. I want to be proven horribly incorrect, but I think that basing our resurgence on community politics may be a misled ambition, especially in larger elections. Which leads me nicely on to our ‘Pick a Ward and Win It’ scheme. This recent initiative seem to be based on acquiring so-called ‘local champions’ to the party and winning seats on their personal appeal. But let’s be realistic about this – there are only so many of these characters out there, and even fewer who would join the party.

What has to be remembered is that we’re still, unfortunately, a rather toxic brand. We’ve even had cases of candidates actively stripping the Lib Dem banner from their campaigns and running as independents. What we are signalling with this scheme is not that we’re a party for the local community – it’s a signal that we need people to fight our battles for us and win in spite of a big yellow, deadweight we place around their ankle.

This was intended to be rather an optimistic article and how we need a change in direction, but I think that if we’re to evolve and grow as a party, we need to do some quite serious probing into ourselves.

I appreciate that this may be part of a long term plan to win back the public trust on a local level, from which we can dispel a lot of the negativity from our party. But I feel this can be far more easily achieved with a solid, coherent policy platform and etching a niche for ourselves ideologically.

This will likely take some time to achieve, and hopefully we’re using this time to carefully consider our stance as a party and our place in British politics. But let’s not give off an air of inactivity by sticking to almost a year old slogan and make some moves to a solid platform. Let’s have some clear direction.

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7 thoughts on “Why #Libdemfightback Has To Go and Why Community Politics Won’t Work

  1. Well said. This is what a few of us were saying after conference. There is no strategy, no direction and a revert back relying on community politics. What are our messages? What do we stand for? What are the public voting for? If members have no clue, how is the electorate supposed to know?

    The media doesn’t want to know us. This doesn’t mean we can’t break through if we really want to. Get the leader and MPs on mainstream programmes, launching campaigns for big issues like the steel industry. Get topical. But we need a strategy and message first.

    The party is too inward looking, spending too much time concentrating on things like AWS rather than the reality of what’s happening out in the real world and getting a strategy and message together.

    Mark my words – it’ll be 2020, a few weeks before the General Election, when the party suddenly panics and needs to find direction. Since Clegg stood down we seem to be rudderless, even if he had become toxic there was a sense of direction. Not that the strategy under Coetzee was that good either – a single strapline and a message about tax cuts and that was it.

    The 2015 Election Campaign was horrendous, the messaging couldn’t have been more out of touch with the crazy ‘look left look right then cross’ rubbish, and panic set in doing things like a members skills survey 6 weeks before the election when it should have been done years before and the free help of members taken advantage of.

    You are right that the fightback period is over. It’s time for serious politics. Community politics is all well and good, but not enough. We didn’t even have a strapline at conference. So what do we stand for? What’s our mission? What is the electorate voting for?

  2. Think this is a very important point, and really well made.

    Pre election, any conversation on the lib dems would invariably involve some mention of tuition fees. Now people just can’t resist making unfunny jokes like “do they even exist anymore?” “lib who?” “aren’t they finished?” etc – which is obviously incredibly disappointing for us.

    I also agree that the way out of this is to focus on a few key issues where we can come together as a party, and clearly show what we represent. These in my mind would probably be social liberal positions on personal freedoms, privacy, minority rights, environmentalism, mental health, justice issues etc.

    We can then campaign and do our best to drive change on these issues – which itself will atract like minded people back to our party, while re establishing our ideological brand.

  3. LibDem Fightback had its role in the aftermath of May 2015, but should have been a short term slogan, running until say the Bournemouth Autumn Conference and then jettisoned/replaced. We badly need a branding which expresses what liberalism is about and what is in it for voters. I’m actually in favour of community politics, but we need to decide what we mean by it; and differentiate it from the glib ‘localism’ now being promoted by other parties. Fundamentally, it has be about ‘campaigning’ and not ‘electioneering’. This ‘liberal community politics’ should be a plank of our branding going forward. Our next step should be to adopt a fresh, values-based branding — this should hopefully come out of the Agenda 2020 effort which will report to the Brighton Conference — which can become an internal motivator as well as creating the external platform for earning electoral support.

  4. I still think we can be little bit more patient. The public in general won’t be very aware of Libdemfightback anyway, it’s more of an internal thing. The war won’t be won just over the airwaves, nor on the ground, it will be a mixture of both. But we will need to be creative to capture the public’s imagination. If the media are inclined to overlook us, we must create the narratives and the stories and Events that they can’t ignore. What do people still remember about the LibDems at their campaigning zenith? Probably still the Anti-Iraq War protest march? Though, with respect to ‘Fairer Society’ issues (and I think ‘(For?) Fairness’ should be our simple party strapline/motto), at the moment, all around the world, the story is about “The ‘Fairer Economy’, Stupid”. If we fail to challenge the very tenets of Austerity then we’re not worth our salt.

  5. Try not to overdo the “toxic brand” thing. It may apply to a minority of ex-Lib Dem voters and to very many more who were always implacably opposed. Do you really think that so many deserted us for the Conservatives because they found us toxic?

    Failure to register in the media is much more to the point. The Brexit referendum will have so many unpredictable repercussions that we will soon have to reassess anyway. If Remain wins, but not overwhelmingly, a high Lib Dems profile may become thoroughly damaging as a bitter backlash takes hold. Any forward planning needs to seek to avoid the flak. A Brexit win would work the other way, but be small comfort and even if Lib Dem fortunes rose as the UK’s went into steep decline, it would be better to avoid getting dragged into a hapless government that would flounder with the economic mess.

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