Friday, February 02, 2007


The Lib Dems Need More Votes. From Where?

Three months tomorrow there will be important elections in Scotland, Wales and local government. This week, Liberal Democrat spirits have been raised by several opinion polls showing a sharp rise in support for the party. I don’t set much store by opinion polls, good or bad, but there’s been one consistent element in them for several months now that should concentrate Lib Dem minds. Labour increasingly reviled; the Tories off the bottom of the pit but stuck far from victory; yet much of the ‘sod ’em all’ vote going elsewhere than to us. How can we get more of it? And is it entirely bad that we’re no longer an all-purpose dustbin?

When the other parties were unpopular, it used to be that the Liberals and then Liberal Democrats would pick up most of their disgusted ex-supporters, with ‘Others’ barely registering. Now polls suggest that ‘Others’ are gaining support somewhere in the mid-teens. Of course, this is a huge aggregation of different parties, often venomously opposed to each other rather than presenting anything like a united voice, but precisely because there are so many ‘anti-establishment’ choices on offer, we’re no longer the automatic home for protest.

This is not entirely a cause for distress. If we no longer attract any old protest votes on any old thing, it isn’t just because they used to have nowhere else to go. In part, it’s because we’ve been more successful. We have many more MPs, they generally say things after engaging brain first, and we run local councils up and down the land with decisions over billions of pounds of public money, as well as being in coalition government in Scotland. We also have in Ming a Leader whose image is of authority and gravitas rather than being particularly exciting or ‘an ordinary bloke’. All these elements combine to make us look more establishment, so obviously we don’t get so many anti-establishment ‘give them all a kicking’ votes. Yes, I know; we get more ‘credible’ in one way and we lose our ‘street cred’ in the other. Isn’t life tragic? Added to that, we’ve gradually earned more of an ideological profile, which is bound to turn some people off. There are now plenty of ex-Tories and ex-Labour supporters who know that we don’t sympathise for their reasons for abandoning their old homes. Good.

Undoubtedly, quite a few votes are going to parties based entirely on blaming other people and looking after ‘our own’: UKIP and the Scottish, Welsh and British Nationalist Parties. Liberal Democrats have to find ways to counter their nasty, narrow-minded arguments, but we’ll never compete for that ‘people outside our group are the root of all our problems and we should kick them out’ vote – unlike the Tories as Mr Cameron starts to sweat over the fragmenting of his core vote, chant three Hail Margarets before breakfast and bash immigrants, or the Labour Party, of which even Austin Mitchell said yesterday (hat-tip to Lib Dem Voice):
“Perhaps we’ll win enough National Fronters to compensate for the loss of the many liberals this has alienated. I don’t know. But I do know how I feel. Ashamed.”
I wrote last year about the rise of voting on green issues and the slow creep upwards of the Green Party. The Liberal Democrats have impressively honed their green message in the last year through the most practical, costed policies for a Green Tax Switch ever published by a British political party. Unfortunately, at the same time the Conservatives have created a brilliant piece of spin to claim they’re environmentally friendly, despite being quite the reverse in practice, while the Greens continue successfully to capture headlines by dint of being called ‘Green’, despite their earnest intentions yielding no practical answers. Despite the increasing competition on this ground, though, of all the disllusioned voters these are the ones likely to share similar views to ours. We should go after the green-minded.

Stick ‘Green Action’ on Every Leaflet Ever

There remains a very practical way for us to appeal to environmentally concerned voters that is uniquely suited to Liberal Democrat campaigning strengths. If you want a short, simple, clear, cheap way to get across our big message in your local area, every time you mention any faintly related issue, stick a ‘GREEN ACTION!’ flash on your FOCUS next to it and get the added value of local campaigns all showing the same national principle.

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