So the past few days have been even more disappointing than my private life. I know you didn’t think it was possible but returning one councillor in Southend whilst the UKIP took five seats in the Civic Centre coupled with only one MEP showed that the countries (and Southend’s) appetite for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats is not shall we say…on the rise.
However this isn’t the time to panic and nor is it the time to either change our leader or run away from the coalition. This is the time for us to not look at ourselves or our policies, but to look at how we can get people to both listen to us to believe in us once again.
Let me tell a story about my family. I was brought up in an Anti-Tory home. I was brought up to believe that they were the political devil. I suspect I wasn’t alone in this regard. Therefore the voting record in our household was quite simply vote for whoever had the best chance to beat the Tory. The sad fact though is that as a young person we only ever lived in an area with a safe Tory MP. In 1997 though Dr. Peter Brand won the Isle of Wight for the Lib Dems, sadly he was not a good constituency MP and he would lose in 2001 and ever since my local MP has been of the blue persuasion.
I knew of my brothers and younger of my two elder sisters political beliefs (both LD) and my mum was always left leaning but would vote on the Anti-Tory ticket. The one person I didn’t know about was my eldest sister. Well we spoke about this last night and I think she is a fantastic example of the type of person that we need to be speaking to as a party. She votes on the Anti-Tory ticket, where she lives that means Lib Dem. She was very angry with Nick Clegg for going into coalition with the Tories and wasn’t sure if she could bring herself to vote for his party again. On Thursday she voted Liberal Democrat.
She came to the conclusion that in 2010 the Lib Dems really didn’t have much choice but to go into coalition. The electoral maths didn’t add up for a Lib/Lab coalition and to get any form of left-sided coalition to work, it would need the help of all the minor parties and that realistically that wasn’t feasible. She also decided that she preferred the Lib Dems to be curbing the right-wing of the Tory party instead of letting them run wild. She can see the economy picking up and business at her place of employment doing ok. So whilst she was angry that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems helped keep the Tories in power, she could see that the only other option was for a second General Election where the Tories would have likely won a majority and that was a worse idea in her mind.
My eldest sister isn’t what you’d call overtly political but she reads the newspaper and watches the news, she’d what you’d probably call the average voter, unlike me who reads political blogs, watches political TV all the time etc. and yet she could see that given the options – having the Lib Dems in a coalition was the best way forward given the alternatives.
My sister is exactly the type of person that whilst angry, could still be receptive to the party. She has no problems with EU nationals working in her place of employment. She can see the benefits of freedom of movement and trade across the EU, she probably isn’t what you’d call a passionate European but thinks that the pros outweigh the cons. She is someone who is essentially an Anti-Tory but who can understand that the real world sometimes beats out ideology and when it does, you go for the best option available.
There is no doubt that she would have preferred a Lib/Lab coalition, as would have I but sadly the maths didn’t allow that to happen. I suspect had Gordon Brown not called Gillian Duffy a bigot that the maths would probably have allowed that coalition to form. Alas we shall never know.
Plenty of people are angry and I won’t lie when I say plenty will just not listen any more. However many still will and many will begrudgingly acknowledge that what happened in 2010 was the best option available. They may not have liked it but when given the realistic options available then they start to understand why it happened and that the Lib Dems didn’t just sell their soul for ministerial cars as the lazy rhetoric dictates.
As a party and as activists we need to decide whether to embrace what the national party are doing or not. In some areas of the country activists seem embarrassed by the national party and in others they are proud of the rise in the tax threshold, the pupil premium, the triple lock in pensions etc. – it just seems there is no cohesive strategy and that it is left to local parties, who are often split themselves on the coalition and how to handle it to decide how to campaign. This seems like a mistake and doesn’t lead to a clear vision of what the Lib Dems stand for.
Until we decide on what our clear vision is and everyone is on board I fear that what we say won’t get through. However I definitely feel that once everyone is on board and sings from the same hymn sheet then people will listen.
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