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Those who scream loudest might not represent the majority – why the death of the Lib Dems has been greatly exaggerated

I have struggled over the past few days to write anything substantial. I just haven’t been in the mood as it were. I may go into this more in another blog but something that I have noticed recently is the amount of people with opinions. The opinions who read on the internet are nearly always those who are unhappiest. They are the most dissatisfied.

Those who are happy or those who are fine with things rarely kick up too much of a fuss but those who want to vent their spleen with do so more vigorously. I wrote a blog a couple of weeks back entitled 26 comments on why the Lib Dems are in big big trouble about comments on a Comment is Free blog post about how someone had chosen to leave the Lib Dems. The comments were scathing but the correlation between anonymous internet people and those you meet on the doorstep just isn’t there.

It isn’t just a political thing though. I lurk on the Digital Spy forums and there are a few threads I read a lot. One is the F1 discussion thread which I have read for many years now. At the moment we have both F1 on Sky and F1 on the BBC and the opinions are vast but mostly people are complaining about the bad points and not praising the good points. David Croft is too ‘shouty’ say many people but Murray Walker was shouty and we loved him. Ted Kravitz sounds a bit negative say a few whereas a few months ago when he was with the Beeb he was the greatest thing ever. Martin Brundle does too much, Georgie Thompson is pointless, Simon Lazenby is too formulaic and Damon Hill adds nothing. These are just some of the opinions that are floating around. All perfectly allowable but all of them negative.

They hated Jonathan Legard when he commentated to the point where people were openly hoping James Alen would return – and they hated him to. The only person they love is Ben Edwards who is now lead for BBC F1 and they do love him. If you say a bad word about him you are looked down upon. He has God like status. Many say they don’t watch it on Sky even though they have it and prefer to wait several hours and see extended highlights just because of Ben Edwards and how awful the Sky coverage is.

If I thought that this internet forum was an accurate representation of public opinion then I’d think that Sky was doomed. However their coverage peaked at 1.5million on Sunday for the Grand Prix despite being on in the morning and most people who I’ve actually spoken to about it are more than happy with Sky’s coverage. They don’t feel the need to say how great it is because they are content. Those that want more or don’t like Sky on ideological grounds are vocal in their unhappiness and this is something all us politicos must remember.

When it comes to politics those that are unhappiest will yell loudest but those people probably wouldn’t vote for you anyway. Like in many aspects of life politics is down to momentum. The Lib Dems got a groundswell of momentum after the first leadership debate in 2010 but that momentum couldn’t be sustained because the party didn’t have the funding or any media outlets. The other two main parties have more money and more media outlets who sympathise with them.

So for Lib Dems up and down the country who’ll be campaigning over the next few weeks is to find a way to build up that momentum and not believe everything you read in the newspapers and on the internet. Not everyone hates the party and the reception on the doorstep is generally positive and yu won’t be chased off with a broom with profanities ringing in your ears.

The internet has given us a screwed view of many things and one of the most glaring it is has given a forum to haters. Yes some will dislike us but many more will want to hear what we have to say. They may or may not like it and may or may not vote for us but most will actually listen. If I believed what I read on the internet I’d think that the Lib Dems had already punched a one-way ticket to oblivion but that isn’t the case and as long as we don’t fall into that trap ourselves then the future isn’t as bleak as what everyone says.

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  1. art art


    I agree with you that the ‘tribal’-ists are a shrinking group (particularly for Labour where many just don’t bother to vote at all any more). But I feel there are still a lot out there that get the 2 parties probably at least a hundred MPs each without having to work very hard.

    I don’t speak for the party at all (full disclosure – I’m a member but have never been active) but I would say that the LDs have acheived things in govt that should satisfy the l-of-centre voter that would otherwise not have happened. So you could abstain, which is your perogative, but you know the cost.

    And on the NHS, I imagine I’m in a totally different place to you : across Europe there is universal healthcare with better outcomes than in the UK and with major private sector involvement. GPs are already the private sector (I should know, my wife is one); they’re just good at hiding it. It doesn’t scare me in the least.

  2. Peter Bell Peter Bell

    Totally agree with your comment that many Lib Dem supporters were left of centre first and Lib Dems second. That would probably describe myself and until a coupe of weeks ago I was a Lib Dem member as well as voter. However, following my total dismay at the leadership’s position re the Health and Social Care bill I am now homeless. I have returned my membership card and although I will support and vote LD in local elections will not do so in GEs unless or until the party leadership changes.

    Where do I go? I have never and will never vote Tory. I am fearful of another Lab government. Do I waste my vote by spoiling my paper or hope that there is a green candidate or an independent whose ideals I support.

    Looking at recent voting intention figures the number of “don’t knows” is significant (ca. 20%). This is where I tend to disagree with your comment re legions of “tribal” supporters. I firmly believe that fewer and fewer people are “tribal”. Therefore imo. the party leadership should be more concerned with attracting these left of centre voters many of whom are now “don’t knows” rather than “forge a more classically distinctively ‘liberal’ profile for the party.”

  3. art art

    I think there’s a basic problem – a lot of Lib Dem supporters were (I use that word advisdely) making that choice as a left-of-centre voter primarily, who was supporting the Lib Dems because it was where they felt their politics was best represented on the day of the election. So they were ‘lefties’ first (I don’t mean that in any disparaging way) and Lib Dems second. As a small and relatively young party (in its current incarnation) the Lib Dems are never going to have the legions of ‘tribal’ supporters that you get with Labour and Conservatives (where people say “we have always been _-insert party name-_)”. Both Tories and Labour can rely on thousands of votes that are purely reflexive. The point was, in opposition before 2010, the voter had a choice of an opposition right-wing party (Tories) and an opposition left-wing party (LDs). So you could file a protest against the government whichever side of the divide you felt.

    There is a very small group of real Lib Dems who would probably reject the simplistic ‘left of centre/right of centre’ conception and of course these will stay loyal to the deeper values of the party. But with the LDs in government, if you are a vaguely left-wing voter disatisfied with the state of the world, why would you support the LDs when you have Ed Balls pretending that everything would be nice and simple if he was running the economy?

    On one level this vindicates Clegg’s decision to forge a more classically distinctively ‘liberal’ profile for the party. But I don’t see how that can flourish in our electoral system. Doesn’t mean I don’t support it personally, but I don’t see how it’s going to work.

  4. Martin Pierce Martin Pierce

    Moggy if only you were right! Look at BBC Poll Tacker and you’ll find LDs have been in range of 8-12% only since Nov 2010. Go back 20 years before that and you’ll find the party only rarely dropped into that range on any poll – through both Tory and Labour govts. I’ve been in the party long enough to remember that we used to think we could only do well when Tories were in power as a non Lab protest against them. In fact Alliance/LD support has been amazingly steady over 30 years – until now. 1983 23%, 1987 22%, 1992 18%, 1997 17%, 2001 19%, 2005 21%, 2010 23%. Unfortunately we now seem a long way below that, as last years locals and all the parliamentary by elections have tended to show

  5. The party has lost a slab of support that largely came on board during the Blair government that saw the Lib Dems as a safe Labour alternative. It was going to lose that support anyway once Labour was out of power and could get back to oppositionist posturing. So it goes. After the Labour victory in 1997 the party lost a slab of soft conservative support who liked to protest against the Major government. The Party’s opinion poll share is somewhere between 10 and 15% not desperately out of kilter with previous performance between elections. There are three years to the next General Election, a very long time indeed in politics, and by then the NHS won’t either have collapsed or been privatised and the elctorate will judge the coalition on the core issue of the economy.

  6. Trevor Trevor

    Andrew the ironic thing is, if you are right, the majority of those Lib Dem seats will go to the Conservatives and put them in power with a clear majority. Is that really what you want?

    Personally I struggle with the left/right view of politics anyway and although I am less enthusiastic in my support of the Lib Dems than I used to be I feel I have no-where else to go and certainly do not wish to see a majority Conservative government or a majority Labour government like the last one.

    I think Neil makes some good points and think the Lib Dems can still do well in some parts of the country where they can get campaigners out in numbers.

  7. Andrew Andrew

    Let’s agree to differ. My guess is that the Libdems won’t be completely annihilated in 2015 but you’ll no longer be ‘in government’. I’d put a tenner on there being between 10-15 Libdem MPs after the next general election.

    My guess is that you need to think about how many of your voters are (like me) left of centre and how many are (like Nick Clegg) are right of centre. I think you’ve probably lost those of us on the left completely so you’re main hope is that there are enough right of centre Libdem supporters remaining to get you your 10-15 seats. Otherwise, and I’m really not ‘screaming’ when I say this, your party is dead in the water.

  8. Andrew Andrew

    I’m not ‘screaming’ and I hate the way that people like you use that word to label those of us with genuine concerns. I formerly voted Libdem and while not a party member was sufficiently dedicated to the cause to deliver flyers and help with telling in 2010. I regret every single leaflet I delivered during those early morning. I feel deeply let down by Clegg. I am certainly not screaming. But I am very angry with your party. You should be more worried by people like me than by the ‘screamers’.

    • neilmonnery neilmonnery

      Did I say that you were screaming? What I said is that there is not a clear correlation between the views of people on the internet and those who you meet on the doorstep. People who are unhappy with comment more on the internet than those who are happy or those who are ok with the situation. I think that is a pretty valid point.

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