Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Ten Months to Differentiate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th July, 2014

Clegg CameronI am one of those Liberal Democrats who firmly believes it was the right thing for the party to go into Coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, despite being distinctly centre-left personally. Besides, the LibDem special conference in Birmingham overwhelmingly endorsed the move. The Rose Garden political bromance was a bit too cordial, maybe, but it was an historic occasion that truly broke the mould, unlike the formation of the Liberal-SDP Alliance, which also aspired to do so. But the LibDems have suffered as the junior partner, as our continental Liberal colleagues warned us we would. On the up-side, we now have a whole raft of LibDem MPs with ministerial experience, and there have been some real wins for LibDem policies, alongside the better publicised policy losses. And we need to shout about those wins, in Focus, on social media, on political platforms and on the doorstep. We may be tired of saying “raised tax threshold, pupil premium, triple lock pensions” and so on, but the messages have still not got through to the average voter. At the same time, with the general election only 10 months ago, differentiation now has to be central to our strategy. You can be sure that Tory MPs will be doing it from the other side of the Coalition. All our LibDem politicians need to articulate clearly and simply what the Liberal Democrats stand for, again and again and again between now and next May. Only then will there be a chance that we can regain the trust of those who are by nature LibDem supporters but who have drifted towards other parties over the past four years. We have obvious differences from the Conservatives on a whole range of issues, from the EU to international relations, the environment to civil liberties. We mustn’t allow the experience of Coalition to make us toxic in the public’s eye. We have principles and policies that we can be proud of. So let’s stand up and proclaim them, and not be put off by any squeals of protest from Tory right-wingers, who hate the Coalition anyway.

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3 Responses to “Ten Months to Differentiate”

  1. Many thanks for this.

    The only thing I’d differ on is the assumption that the Tories have the same interest in differentiation vs the Lib Dems – I’m not sure they do. Their primary interest is to drive differentiation vs. Labour. And if they can make people believe that we don’t stand for anything different and that a vote for the Lib Dems risks Labour getting back in – while paradoxically showing LD voters can get most of what the Lib Dems are promising from the Conservatives – they will hit our vote much much harder than by driving differentiation.

    • Lib Dem voters won’t get much of what they want by voting Conservative.With the Tories- low or no state pensions, charge to use the NHS, high unemployment, high interest rates, no modernising infrastructure projects and poor state schooling (education cuts).

  2. Alex Macfie said

    We should have used the Euro election campaign to differentiate us from the Tories, by pointing out that the European Parliament is a “Coalition-free Zone”; that the two parties in the EP belong to separate groups between which there is no special relationship; that there is no agreement or working relationship of any kind between our MEPs (now MEP) and their MEPs; that MEPs of the two parties tend to vote in opposing positions.
    We should have held up the differences in positions taken by our MEPs and Tory MEPs as indications of the ‘pure’ Lib Dem and Tory positions, and thus of what we/they would have done in a single-party government.
    Instead what did we do? We just talked about being the “Party of IN”, when In/out is a domestic political issue: MEPs do NOT decide any country’s membership of the EU, they legislate for the EU as a whole. And we made ourselves look like we were uncritical supporters of everything the EU does, while giving a lot of free publicity to Nigel Farridge and UKIP. It’s as if we were to fight the next general election by picking a fight with Alex Salmond and fighting on a platform of uncritical support for whatever Whitehall and the government of the day ever did and was ever going to do.
    Our campaign talked a lot about what marvellous things the EU had done, but it did NOT relate ANY of them to what Lib Dem MEPs specifically had done to make the EU work better for people. We should have talked about specifically Lib Dem achievements in the European Parliament, and also about Lib Dem failures (i.e. where the European Parliament voted opposite to how our MEPs did — one topical example is how our MEPs voted against the Data Retention directive while the Tory and Labour groups voted for it). So it did not give people a reason to vote for Lib Dem MEPs, and that is why we did so badly. And we also missed the opportunity to start the differentiation strategy based on what we do in the one political arena where our elected representatives are free to promote the undiluted Lib Dem line on issues affecting the whole of the UK.

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