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Why you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspapers about the Lib Dems

December 28, 2017 2:12 PM
By Caron Lindsay in Liberal Democrat Voice

It's the annual "Trash the Lib Dems" day in the national press with gloomy analyses in both the Times and the Guardian. When the papers do SWOT analyses of us, they do tend to omit the strengths and opportunities and focus on the weaknesses and threats. We can quite often do that about ourselves, too, and talk ourselves down. There is no doubt that we face some pretty intense challenges in 2018, but there are signs of a plan coming together to meet them and also that the political environment is changing.

The Guardian tells us that we are facing a "fight for our political future". People have been writing us off for pretty much the last century and we are still hanging in there. I've lost count of the times in my political lifetime that we have been told we are doomed right through from the disastrous election of 1979 to the present day.

Jessica Elgot talked to senior grassroots figures, academics and anonymous party sources about the party's future. They cite our low poll rating, low staff morale, the departure of senior staff and the enormity of the political task ahead to regain seats as the main challenges facing us. They didn't mention some key positives such as Vince being absolutely everywhere. He is doing so many broadcast interviews, and going to places you wouldn't expect, like Nigel Farage's show where he did a good job. He is breaking out of the echo chamber and positioning himself where he needs to be when the Brexit thing falls apart.

The Times has an article with similar themes (£) suggesting that Vince has failed to spark the Lib Dems into life.

  • Sir Vince, 74, has struggled to turn his political experience into increased support for his party, which is polling at about 7 per cent, according to YouGov.

  • An attempt by Sir Vince to encourage the party's 11 other MPs and 100 peers to engage with each other to devise fresh policy ideas has yielded lacklustre proposals so far.

  • The "clusters" initiative, which refers to grouped areas of policy, has been nicknamed the "clusterf***s". One insider remarked: "Like most things Lib Dem, there's a lot of talking, but nothing ever comes out of it."

You have to remember that Vince was elected just before the Summer parliamentary recess. He's effectively had about 3 months since Conference so it's very early days. He's only just got his full team in place but even in that short space of time, he has increased his visibility and profile. He's doing work on two key areas, Brexit and tackling inequality, both of which are intertwined. You can't stop Brexit unless you come up with a plan to tackle inequality and give hope to people on low incomes who feel that they are constantly struggling and you can't tackle inequality unless you stop Brexit. There simply won't be money around to mend the holes the Tories have ripped in the safety net. It's also important in getting back those social democrats who have left us for Corbyn, the SNP and Greens.

This year's election came too soon and our anti-Brexit message was a bit too equivocal to make much of a difference. The lesson from the part of the country where we did the best was about having a short, concise message that you stick to at all times. We are getting there with the "exit from Brexit" riff. Our election campaign was much too equivocal about Brexit but it's becoming much stronger now.

Neither of the articles mention the sheer quality of our parliamentary party. We have 3 former Cabinet Ministers in Ed Davey, Alistair Carmichael and Vince himself. We have 3 former ministers in Jo, Tom and Norman. While Tom's role was more behind the scenes as a deputy whip, Jo and Norman carved out distinctive policy area in equality and mental health. Of the new intake, media savvy Christine Jardine is putting in some strong performances. Layla Moran and Wera Hobhouse are both making an impact on the crucial issues of education and housing. Stephen Lloyd is all over the Tories on social security and Tim Farron and Jamie Stone have the huge experience of leadership and 12 years in the Scottish Parliament between them.

Strong and CableThe Times piece suggests a rift between Jo Swinson and Vince Cable, citing the fact that they don't often appear in public together as evidence. I think that a is utter bollocks, to be blunt. They certainly appeared to have had a different perspective on the sexual harassment stuff but in the end of the day, it's Jo who is representing the party in the cross party talks at Westminster. You don't send someone you disagree with to do a sensitive job like that. Those two worked incredibly well together at the then Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and have the sort of relationship. I also detect a very strong intent at the very top of the party to get it right. Ken Macdonald's new disciplinary processes to be debated at Conference should give the party more confidence in our systems.

The last few months have been about laying some organisational and strategic foundations to advance the party over the course of the Parliament. We remain the only anti-Brexit political movement across the whole of the UK. Unlike the SNP in Scotland, we don't have another agenda in all of this.

We need to work our socks off to make sure that our unique message is heard and to show that we have the talent, the infrastructure and the ability to mount a serious challenge to Brexit and to present a vision of our more fair, free and open society.

We are in much better shape than the newspapers make out. That's not to say that the road ahead is a flower strewn path through the sunny uplands. We are up against it but we're fighting our way out and up. Rumours of our survival and growth are greatly underestimated.