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LV Link – Guardian Health Debate

By Andy Mayer
May 10th, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Comments Off on LV Link – Guardian Health Debate | Posted in health

LV Interview and Comment (at 4:25pm) on the Guardian’s live blog debate today between Mark Littlewood of the IEA and Evan Harris, former MP.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/blog/2011/may/10/nhs-reforms-live-blog

Where we back Norman Lamb’s caution on the health reform timetable and consider Iain Dale’s proposal that Nick Clegg should taken on a proper ministerial portfolio as well as the title of DPM.

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Things you wished you’d never said…

By Angela Harbutt
May 10th, 2011 at 1:07 am | 4 Comments | Posted in AV referendum, Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg said on July 5th 2010, in response the appointment of John Sharkey as chairman of the Liberal Democrats’ Fairer Votes Campaign

“I am delighted that John Sharkey has accepted this role.”

“This is a vital campaign for the country and I can’t think of a better person than John to run it for the Liberal Democrats.”

Ten months later, the website promoting fairer votes now looks like this http://www.yestofairervotes.org/

How did that one work out for us, Nick?

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Do we have a health plan?

By Andy Mayer
May 9th, 2011 at 11:45 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in health

I’m not entirely sure what the Liberal Democrat health plan is at the moment.

Party Conference appears to want an NHS run by Gaddafiesque committees of the people. Private providers will be permitted, but only if they make a loss and public sector staff are allowed to spit on them.

Baroness Williams feels they are being unduly kind in the concession of spit.

Norman Lamb is sympathetic to some market-based reform, but pegged to the movement of glaciers in Nepal, and then only if the party’s poll ratings recover.  

Nick Clegg is very cross. It appears he was fooled into signing the original reform proposals by a smooth-talking charmer called Nick Clegg. He is now consulting Chris Huhne and the Electoral Commission on whether he can sue himself for deliberate self-deception.

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After suffering an electoral reverse, principally we suspect as a consequence of flip-flopping on a daft pledge to support a dafter policy, we are now practicing somersaults without conveying any clear sense of what it is we believe or want, bar not being blamed for it. Whatever it is.

Opportunism has cost us votes… we need new opportunism.

I can quite understand why medical trade associations and some activists oppose the detail of Andrew Lansley’s proposals. NHS structural reform is like electoral reform, few really care, everyone has an opinion, very few of those opinions are informed, and whichever extreme in the debate you really prefer you only ever get to vote on AV.

Reformists are unenthusiastic, the No change campaigners are fighting dirty.

The BMA argument can be boiled down, very simply, to “Protect our cartel”.

Left arguments are largely about protecting the last redoubt of state socialism by whipping up fear of any change.

It is pleasing that Andrew Lansley is starting to take on those conservative interest groups. Previous tactics, avoiding all confrontation was unwise. It is a pity he is being left to do that without much support from colleagues in either coalition party.

I can understand Norman Lamb’s caution about big bang reform. It is surely sensible to test and prove new systems work than conduct a top-down reorganisation. Particularly in a hostile political climate. His position is not entirely what we want but is smart politics.

I cannot though understand the posturing by the party about ‘substantial changes’. It looks entirely contrived.

If it concludes in anything other than Nick Clegg stabbing Andrew Lansley through his evil heart as he stomps out of the coalition waving a flaming sword and carrying a photo of Nye Bevan it will not please the anti-reformists.

If as expected it concludes with some ‘minor concessions well spun’, no one will be pleased. A thousand authors will claim the credit. The Conservative backbenchers have already starting highlighting their own influence.

The Leadership I feel would be better served saying what it is they really want, and trying to get it.  Taking on their internal critics first by killing any notion the party’s extremely negative nonsense policy will become coalition policy. 

The position, concessions and compromises would then at least be clear and accountable.

Popular, probably not, but that ship has sailed. Right now the game is damage limitation.

Appearing to be undermined from both the left and right by talking up a process, not outcomes, unconvincingly, is not helping. What’s the plan Nick?

The humiliation of the YES campaign

By Angela Harbutt
May 8th, 2011 at 7:45 pm | 88 Comments | Posted in AV referendum

In any two horse political race, it is damned near impossible to poll less than 40% of the vote. You have to be spectacularly inept or obscenely unpopular to drop below this figure. For example, no Republican or Democrat Presidential candidate in recent US history has fallen this far. Even Barry Goldwater, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis – all famous for being electorally destroyed – managed to outscore the woeful YES percentage handsomely.

Yet somehow, the YES campaign managed to exceed even these extreme depths of campaigning ineptitude. It didn’t just lose. It was thrashed out of sight. It was humiliated. So appallingly bad has the YES vote been that any prospect of electoral reform has probably been obliterated for a generation.

The scale of incompetence by the YES campaign simply cannot be overstated. It is so vast and so staggering that it won’t merely fill column inches for days, if not weeks to come, it will be the subject of PhD theses for decades to come. It is unlikely that a wilful infiltration of the YES campaign by the NO side – at the most senior levels – could have resulted in a more calamitous result. The enormity of this professional political campaigning disaster is without parallel in modern British history.

All of this was predictable of course. In fact, it was pretty much predicted it here….last August. Most people on the YES side said the post was being overstated in its pessimism. If anything, it was far too optimistic. It did not say that the YES side would lose by more than a 2:1 margin.

The professional staff at the YES campaign should now apologise to their supporters. Don’t expect to see this happen, though. They are so producer-driven and blinkered and incapable of coalition-building that they will displace any blame to intangible, evil, external forces.

The preposterous Katie Ghose claims – even in her concession speech – that people were “shut out” of a national conversation about our democracy. How much more of a conversation do you want? Millions of pounds were spent, more media coverage was given to electoral reform than ever before and over 40 million people were entitled to vote. You get the feeling that Katie doesn’t really like democracy. In my lifetime, there will never be a bigger conversation about electoral reform. Following the conversation, only 6 million people agreed with Katie. And a fair number of them probably did so holding their nose.

This isn’t Katie’s fault, she insists. It is the fault of (a) the Murdoch empire or (b) the right-wing press more generally or (c) Conservative Party donors or (d) some other nebulous, ill-defined enemy of the people. No blame can be placed at the feet of Katie or the “movement” of democracy activists.

The truth is different.

The YES campaign was eminently winnable. But it ended up being run by readers of the Guardian for readers of the Guardian. Readers of this newspaper are about 1% of the voting electorate – and are also a statistically extreme group. Their views do not chime remotely with mainstream British opinion. There is no purist Guardian editorial proposition that could ever come close to winning a referendum in the UK.

From the outset, the YES campaign was all about the tiny coterie of people who feel strongly about electoral reform. The emphasis was on these people “having fun” and being invited to comedy evenings. In email after email from the YES campaign, the quirky behaviour of this “producer set” was celebrated and the “consumer set” ignored. So, some bunch of local activists who had written the letters Y, E and S in big letters on a beach were hailed as creative geniuses. Others were highlighted for running a particularly successful street stall. From the point of view of any observer, it was all about “them”(the micro-percentage of constitutional reform obsessives) never about “us” (the people). None of this self-indulgent madness won a single vote for the YES side, but it probably lost thousands.

Matthew Elliott’s NO2AV campaign took a totally different path. They realised who their base was and utilised them, but – quite brilliantly – reached out immediately to their key target electorate (essentially traditional Labour voters and supporters.) If Elliott had spent his first weeks in post writing to hard-core Tories about how marvellous and clever they were, he may have lost. He didn’t. He made it his number one aim to build a coalition with Labour and deployed his left-wing allies superbly. Ed Miliband was left looking like a weakened man who couldn’t control the more charismatic and compelling beasts in his party like John Reid. This ability to build a wider coalition from the outset, rather than retreat into the comfort zone of centre-right, free market politics was central to the NO campaign’s success.

In sharp contrast, John Sharkey and Katie Ghose failed to recruit or deploy a single, credible Conservative politician. In the absence of a senior Tory, they at least had Nigel Farage actively offering his assistance from the start of 2011. If there was a single, pro-YES populist politician who could chime perfectly with Mail, Telegraph and Sun readers, the UKIP leader was that man. Ghose and Sharkey should have ripped his arm off as he extended the hand of friendship.

Staggeringly, his offer of help was roundly ignored. Only with ten days to go was Farage prevailed upon by a desperate YES campaign to address some regional meetings. When he did, he was considered by most journalists present to be the star-turn.

I’m reliably informed that it took a furious letter from Farage’s office to the staggeringly complacent John Sharkey to trigger this involvement. I don’t know Nigel Farage particularly well, but I do know the Guardian and Independent are probably not his newspapers of choice. That meant he wasn’t “one of them”. The YES side wilfully ignored the one politician in the country that could appeal to the vote they desperately needed – radical, iconoclasts on the right-of-centre. This isn’t just incompetence, it’s an almost wilful determination to insist that the rest of the world thinks exactly as you do.

If there was one thing that nearly tipped me to voting NO (and I didn’t), it was the direct mail leaflet with the postal vote form. From recollection, the front page featured Joanna Lumley, Eddie Izzard, Tony Robinson, Colin Firth, Stephen Fry and other such celebrities. I may as well have been sent a leaflet saying “If you love the Guardian Arts supplement, then vote YES.” It showed a completely pitiful understanding of what most people – as opposed to most electoral reform professionals – care about.

This sort of mindset is reinforced by the entire YES branding. 10 hours after crushing defeat, the top item on the YES website was entitled “Are you ready to make history?”. It featured about a dozen hardened campaigners turning up in Trafalgar Square at 7am and unveiling a vast piece of purple bunting with the word “YES” on it. The video went on to say “We got our referendum and we say yes” (emphasis is mine). Note to wannabe communication professionals: if you use the first person possessive plural, make sure you aren’t using it to describe a handful of hardcore fanatics waving big pieces of fabric around at the crack of dawn. (I note now that website has been taken down – no doubt in some vain attempt to remove all evidence of the utter incompetence of those involved).

Possibly the nadir was the completely off piste broadcast showing hectoring “normal” voters wandering around with loud hailers shouting at supposed MPs for not working hard enough. As a slightly surreal opening scene to a new episode of Doctor Who, this might – just might – have worked.

As a piece of campaigning, it is perhaps the worst three minutes of material ever to be broadcast on primetime television.

John Sharkey is supposed to be a communications professional. Well, he might know what shade of green to put on the front of a box of washing powder, but he clearly has no idea about what to put on broadcast television in a political campaign. Never has a more confused, self-indulgent piece of rubbish made it to air in Britain. The YES campaign must have been “focus-grouping” themselves. And if you donated any cash – this is the sort of total garbage it was wasted on.

The lessons of all of this should be pretty clear. Never again allow a bunch of well-meaning, self-important Guardian readers to run a national campaign in which they talk to themselves and then blame their embarrassing naivety on external forces beyond their control.

And for anyone who cares about the future communications capabilities of the Liberal Democrats, that means making sure John Sharkey is kept as far away as possible!

Graphic thanks to Political Scrapbook!

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Time for a coalition narrative

By Simon Goldie
May 8th, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Comments Off on Time for a coalition narrative | Posted in Conservatives, Government, Liberal Democrats

All communication professionals know that if you fail to provide a narrative someone else will frame one for you. What is more, it is likely to be one that you don’t like.

After the bruising electoral verdict of 5 May, the Liberal Democrats are searching for a way to distinguish the party from the Conservatives.

As the party has already found, this is difficult.

It seems that the plan is to publicly say when they don’t support certain policies.  This was done over immigration and could be a template. It has been supported by the Conservatives too.

But done too much and voters will naturally ask why on earth are you in government with a party you have so little in common with.

Perhaps a better way is to develop a coalition narrative. The repeated messages would explain why the parties went into coalition, why coalitions sometimes disagree, how this new political arrangement is working and what it hopes to achieve.

Each party could keep its own identity but collaborate on this one area. To do so, a communication adviser from each party would have to work together to ensure consistency of message and help create a framework that allows disagreements to be aired in such a way that does not damage the government.

In all the talk of arguments and Ministers out of sympathy with each other one thing seems to have been forgotten. All governments face such problems. The Liberal Democrats and their coalition partners could turn this into a virtue by showing that people can have different views and still work together.

The public, I suspect, would much rather that happen than sniping, background briefings and the usual political shenanigans that occur when relationships break down.