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.