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What the hell is “muscular liberalism” when it’s at home?

By Angela Harbutt
May 12th, 2011 at 8:58 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrats are living in dangerous times. Having taken a battering in the local elections and having lost  the AV vote in humiliating circumstances , I am sure that many headless chickens will be found clucking their way round the leader right now. And there is a danger that their squawking will both drown out the reasonable and distract the rational.  The squawkers will be advising on a new plan , a change of direction, a more muscular liberalism. The rational know that this is categorically NOT the time to shift direction, to move from collaborative politics to confrontational, from the selfless party, that put the country first, to the self-seeking petulant party. The rational will be saying it is, instead, time to shift gear.

Sadly it seems unlikely that those in charge of Lib Dem strategic communications will grasp this any time soon. They were singularly unable to capitalise on the Cleggmania of just over a year ago… sitting back and basking in the glory of unprecedented poll ratings, rather than doing anything meaningful to capitalise on Nick’s leadership debate performances, or move the party narrative forward. So they “stuck to their plan” and watched their fabulous poll ratings melt into disappointing election results. Arrogance or incompetence or both ?

They showed similar , if not greater, incompetance during the AV campaign – despite – as I have subsequently learned – an ongoing chorus of cries from those on the ground attempting to implement their shockingly bad campaign.Yet again they “stuck to their plan” regardless of the advice being given from all directions to change it.  Arrogance or incompetence or both?

Which ever it is, it is time for a clear out. Now is the time for Nick to get rid of the hangers on and incompetents that surround him, many of whom, frankly, have ridden on his coat tails for far too long.  No matter how much money they gave to his leadership campaign. No matter how much they may have supported him “on the way up”. No matter how good they once were. They have to go. Of course he can still invite them for Sunday lunch or summer barbecues but they have no place advising him on strategy or comms. They have been a disaster. That much has been proven.  

For there is nothing to suggest that those that have the leaders ear on comms have learned any lessons and will somehow magically get it right this time. Nick, (whose choice of the term “muscular liberalism” is about as dire as “alarm clock Britain”), seems to be in danger of being led down the wrong route again. I agree of course with the notion that the Liberals should be a distinctive force within the coalition (we have said as much here on LV many times) … but his emphasis seems to be  about “listing how his party has stopped a string of flagship Tory policies” and “having a larger say” in government. Is it really true that we need a larger say? A post on LV just a few days ago pointed out that, “according to the BBC …75% of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto (has been) implemented, with the Conservatives having only implemented 60% of theirs” .

No. We don’t need a larger say. We just have to get better at comms. Plain and simple. We need a louder, more effective, more consistent collective voice highlighting our plans and celebrating our successes (and not define success only in terms of stopping the Tory ones) . Look for example at our plans (and future wins we hope) for small business. How much did we hear about what Ed Davey has done – leading the fight in Europe on ludicrous maternity laws  .. How much do we talk about Ed’s plans to reduce employment red tape that, if implemented, will see sweeping pro-growth reforms to redundancy, tribunal and TUPE rules…What about Vince Cables announcement that he will review almost 22,000 business regulations with a challenge to Whitehall to justify those causing most problems.. or his proposal for a three-year moratorium on all new domestic rules for firms with fewer than 10 staff. That’s the stuff we are just not getting across. 

Please let us not forget that  Guardian/ICM Poll in March showed that whilst 35% of the nation believed the cuts are too severe, (down from 45% last November) , 28% believed the Coalition has got it right on cuts and another 29% thought the govt should cut deeper and faster.  People actually acknowledge the cuts are necessary (what ever Lib Dem activists might want to believe) and want the things that the likes of Ed and Vince are doing. That is what we should be talking about. 

Talk of “muscular liberalism” will switch the voters off – its just more “political speak” . We should be focusing on telling people how we are helping to make their lives better.And if we do want “muscular liberalism” then the form it should take is stopping George Osborne taking all the credit for Ed Daveys work – because looking at the news coverage you would think it was Osborne’s sweat and toil all over the consultation document on employment law reforms rather than Ed’s. No surprise then that people can’t see the point of the Liberals.

Sadly the comms people don’t seem to be able to see it either.  Only a few weeks ago their answer to the party’s poor poll ratings was to “rebrand” . Yep – that’s right – it’s not your fault – blame the bird. If only we were a better shade of turquoise/aquamarine/ochre… all would be well. Yeah right.

Nick has shown courage and conviction through out – it’s time for another dose of it. We don’t need a new logo, we don’t need to change direction, we just need some sane folks put in charge of comms.

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