So yes. Rather a bludgeoning title but it stems from what a lot of people think. It seems that a significant number of people believe the Lib Dems to be the choice when there is no point voting Labour because they can’t win or a protest vote against Labour if they are doing something badly. For many people voting for the Lib Dems isn’t about voting for the Lib Dems per se – it is about voting and voting for someone who they don’t dislike.
Mark Pack wrote the piece entitled Why the defection of Brian Sedgemore is still relevant over the weekend and it talks about the defection of a Labour MP who was standing down but who had no obvious place in the Lib Dems because he was on the left of Labour who are a party who are naturally to the left of the Lib Dems anyway. So in one swoop he dramatically moved across the political spectrum not because he felt that the Lib Dems were the best home for his political views but because he didn’t feel Labour were any more and he wanted a political home.
So are the Lib Dems just the home of the dissatisfied Labour voter or are they an entity in their own right? Well that is what we are going to find out in the upcoming years. The Lib Dems as a party have shown that they aren’t just an alternative against the Conservatives but they have also shown that they are also a grown-up party who aren’t just happy to be the nice ineffectual people sitting their swimming in their own idealism and ignoring realism.
It will be down to the people to decide whether the Lib Dems are a protest vote or whether they actually are a party in their own right. The party have taken a public hammering because they didn’t step the Conservatives doing some things but what if Labour had wanted to do some things that weren’t popular and the Lib Dems were in coalition with them? Would the public perception be that they were ineffective in that situation as well? Of course it would. If the Lib Dems had sat on their hands and done nothing in the aftermath of the hung parliament then would people say the Lib Dems are cowards who say the right thing but don’t have the guts to make any decisions? You bet your bottom dollar they would.
The reality of the situation is the Lib Dems were in a no-win situation. Whatever they did it would be seen by a not insignificant number to be doing the wrong thing. Some people say that a party with just 57 MPs shouldn’t have a say on government policy and yet on the other hand people complain that they don’t do enough. Same situation and two very different viewpoints but the third way of the Lib Dems are doing just about enough is not one many people subscribe to.
Sometimes you sit there and listen to people talking about politics and what the Lib Dems have done and then within the same breath they are being blamed for not doing enough. The truth of the matter is the country didn’t know what it wanted in May 2010. The country didn’t believe in Gordon Brown but they didn’t really want David Cameron either. It is certainly the first time in my lifetime where the country clearly didn’t want either party.
I know 1992 was close but when push came to shove the public liked John Major. They trusted him even if they didn’t trust the people around him. In 2010 the public didn’t trust Gordon Brown and didn’t like David Cameron. However the country needs a government and therefore the Lib Dems due to being the third party would have to be involved in some way – either in a coalition or as part of a confidence & supply agreement.
The problem with confidence & supply was all about timing. The banking crisis had left the economy teetering on the edge and without a strong stable government the city was going to go into meltdown. The Lib Dems were damned either way. They either stuck their head in the sand or they didn’t. They chose not to and this didn’t sit well with a lot of their voters who were basically ABCs (Anyone But Conservatives) and any tie-up with the Tories was not what they signed up for. I struggle with this viewpoint a lot because the numbers didn’t add up for any other outcome.
This is why the Lib Dems need to appeal to voters on who we are and not who we are not. The Lib Dems are not just a protest vote if you don’t like the Tories and they are the best alternative where certain people live. They aren’t just a protest vote if someone is unhappy with Labour. The Lib Dems need to build up support for themselves and their policies. Relying on people voting Lib Dem because they are the best party to defeat someone else isn’t a ringing endorsement and will lead to what has happened – the moment the Lib Dems actually have to do something then a not insignificant number of their voters will be angry.
The Lib Dems are not the Anti-Iraq War party. They are not the Anti-Tuition Fees party. They are not the ‘Well-they-aren’t-the-Tories-or-Labour party. The Lib Dems are a party with a diverse policy on many issues and shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into one policy. I have for a long-time held the belief tat if people read everyone’s manifestos and voted on them without a name on it to identify the party then a lot of people would vote Lib Dem just on the strength of their policies.
It must be said that the Lib Dems are not a brand name like Labour or the Conservatives. Most people buy Heinz Baked Beans because they know what to expect and don’t get supermarket brands because they are skeptical about the unknown. The same is true of the Lib Dems. They might not like Labour or the Conservatives but they know what they are going to get and sometimes fear of the unknown leads us to return to the safety of what we know. Can the Lib Dems make the hard decisions? Well now we know that they can. That is something we didn’t know before and is a significant difference. Everyone likes the sweet toddler who does nothing to rock the boat but teenagers are a different kettle of fish. The Lib Dems are now going through their teenage phase and are rapidly growing up. Soon they’ve be a fully-fledged grown up political party that people will judge on what they do and say and not because of what others are doing and saying.
To answer my own question. The point of the Lib Dems are to provide a viable third way. They aren’t about gimmicks and being something they are not. The Lib Dems are the party of the middle ground. The party who believe that people shouldn’t be punished for being poor but nor should they are being rich. When it all comes down to it we are all the same and we all deserve the same basic chances and opportunities in life. That is basically what the Lib Dems are in a nutshell. They don’t hate the rich or the poor. They don’t work for one part of society over another. They believe that no matter your background you can do amazing things.
We are all individuals. We are all different. What we all deserve though is to be safe, to have health care available for free at the point of contact, to have the opportunity to be educated to a good level and the chance to grow as people throughout our lifetime. That is why I’m a Lib Dem. They don’t care if you are rich or you are poor, if you are black or you are white, if you are straight or if you are gay. They just see you, a living, breathing individual. If you believe in people having the same opportunities in life and not being punished because of their background then you are probably at least liberal leaning.
If the Lib Dems can show the electorate what they stand for and not just tell people ‘vote for us because we aren’t them’ then in the long-run they’ll be in a much better place. The problem is though in the short-run negative politics hits home. If only we as a nation, as an electorate sat down and listened to what politicians said and did instead of going on media soundbites and historical allegiances then maybe the country will get exactly what it wants in a government. Voting for someone because they ‘don’t like the alternatives’ is not a solid footing for any government. Alas I fear negative and scaremongering politics isn’t going anywhere soon and that my friends is where I shall leave you for this blog post. Sad but true.