Would that it were as simple as asking for a leader to resign–as if that would change everything–as some people have (wrongly) said that I have done. But it isn’t. And I don’t feel in any way that I am being evasive or woolly by not asking for a change of leadership. What I am asking for is a root and branch review of our campaign strategy.
Let’s examine the facts.
We have just suffered a disastrous set of results in the Euro elections and continue to lose seats at the local level in council elections. At the same time in the most recent British Social Attitudes Survey, by far the largest group of people in the country identified with Liberal Democrat values, over values associated with either the Conservative or Labour parties. So there is a seeming contradiction here.
In addition, we are a pro-European party, yet received less than 7% of the national vote in the European elections. This despite almost 60% of people, in recent polls, favouring remaining in Europe but with significant reform. Another seeming contradiction.
So what are we doing wrong, as a party? Why are we not communicating what we stand for effectively?
On the huge plus side, I have no doubt that we did the right thing going into coalition and that we have achieved a large part of our manifesto in coalition, after decades in the wilderness. We have been a responsible party of government and have learned a lot that can further equip us in the future as a serious political party, able to take tough decisions. We have had to compromise and a lot of policy decisions are not ones that we would have taken had we governed alone, and, boy, have the media delighted in exposing those policy areas, to the near exclusion of the policy areas where we have made a positive difference.
But on the negative side, people still seem to struggle to understand the values we espouse and many think, at best, that we have sold out, and at worst that we are there merely to prop up a Tory Government.
With 11 months to go to the General Election and after being almost wiped out in Europe, we must take stock and look at what we are doing wrong and how we can improve. It’s almost like we have entered Government, so have had to change the way we behave and act as a political party, but have remained with an outmoded style of campaigning that more suits the old party—the one in political wilderness.
Of course, part of the root and branch review of strategy must look at the leadership. That is only rational. But it is by no means certain that the conclusion of the review would bring about a change of leadership. In addition, we are a democratic party, and have to take lots of views into consideration.
So what I say is: bring on the review. And as soon as possible. I think it is the only sane and rational thing to do in this set of circumstances. Then we will be able to work our what is the best thing to do in the interest of the values that the party was created to embody.
Values that most people identify with but still do not understand in which party they reside. This is our current, over-riding challenge.