Politics:: articles since 2015 General Election
Ideas or leaflets?
Something that stays with me from Mondays East Midlands leadership hustings (6 July) was Tim Farron saying that under him, our arms would ache with the quantity of leaflets we have delivered, while Norman Lamb pointed out that our pounding at the polls was not through any lack of leaflets, and that he wanted us to do more to stimulate liberal ideas, as the party had done in Jo Grimonds time.
I shouldnt over-do the contrast: more activists deliver leaflets than write articles, so maybe Tim was right to focus there at a hustings for party members. But if we are to hit above our weight, we need to be coming up with the game-changing ideas which are then taken up elsewhere.
A shocking article a few months back in the Cambridge Evening News showed someone surrounded by all the election leaflets they had received (from all parties), and suggested that the deluge was a form of harassment.
Leaflets matter, but there has to be something of value behind the slogans and sound bites. We need to be more than Labour-lite and Tory-lite.
Kirsten Johnson said something along these lines on Lib Dem Voice a few weeks back, suggesting that we need to be on a y-axis and not just on the same plane as Labour and the Conservatives.
Our history and mindset does enable us to take up a creative space that is distinct. Bringing that to the fore is vital. In hindsight, perhaps one of our failures in the last election was to be too focused on what we might bring to a coalition, probably with a much harder negotiation because we would have fewer MPs, so we held back from things that were truly distinctive.
Here are just a few possibilities:
- Taxation: is it about the rich versus the poor, or wealth re-distribution versus trickle-down? What we are lacking is the voice that says a good taxation system is about generating opportunities which are good for everyone. The familiar language is rooted in past class rivalry, not future possibility. Not being enslaved by poverty goes in a rather different direction of opportunity and possibility at the very least, it is about improving peoples lives without attacking those who have been more successful or fortunate. Pushing that home, Nick Tyrones analysis of a recent opinion poll suggests Labour have a big problem for 2020, losing to UKIP the traditional supporters who feel trapped and fear the alien, and to the Tories those who aspire to more. There are interesting possibilities if we can reframe the debate.
- Europe: Nick Cleggs linguistic skills made a very positive impression on our European partners. In the European Parliament our MEPs have made a very rich contribution it is a major loss for the Parliament to have them replaced by members of UKIP whose saving grace is their poor attendance record. Can we shift the debate from Euromyths to showing the real understanding we have of the value of the EU?
- NHS: Were used to arguments about lack of resources, to rumours of privatisation, and, on a good day, to the need to include social care. Norman Lamb has been making good points about the need for cross-party support for changes, to stop new governments gratuitously tinkering with the NHS. But where is the bigger debate about increased life expectancies and new treatments, which are both good but push up costs? Housing and transport are also affected by people living longer. Can we do the big thinking that explores how these relate not as covert cost-cutting or tax rises, but as a way of celebrating the positives and working out how to pay for them?
- Immigration: Can we explore the value of migration, which is something richer than fearing the alien or pushing for an open-ness that gets dismissed as naive? At the very least, the internationalist instincts of the Liberal Democrats offer a way to talk of migration as improving international connectedness, from which we all stand to gain.
- Climate change: As others either scare-monger or bury their heads in the sands, can we explore the value of moving to a zero carbon economy? That is about being responsible over CO2 emissions, but is also about living in a sustainable balance with nature, conserving petrochemicals for uses where they are needed, and being at the forefront of developing renewable energy.
Some leafleting is vital, but we also need the creative thinking which engages on other levels, and can enable us to punch well above our weight. I want to find myself looking in The Economist, The Guardian and The Independent and seeing Liberal Democrats quoted as sources of the ideas we are being encouraged to take up.