Exploiting The Gap?

The Liberal Democrat party has seen a surge in new members and I am one of them. Will it stick or is it a blip? I joined the party – my first ever – when May called the snap election last year. My first experience of the party was watching the internal amount of squabbles and disorganisation. When challenged there is always an excuse for everything.

The Conservatives seem to be intent on destroying themselves as a ruling party, along with the entire country, by their incredibly vain, naive and arrogant handling of the Brexit process. This means that there is a fair chance that Corbyn, his Marxist chums, with the heavies in the slavishly sycophantic Momentum crew, to ensure compliance (Animal Farm anyone?), could well take power in the foreseeable future.

Some believe that as a population we need to suffer the financial recklessness of the Marxist’s money-tree to jolt us back into common sense. Those with no real life commercial experience, nor memory of the Corbynomics approach to government cannot understand why so many of us are terrified at the thought.

This doesn’t mean I want the Tories. I want a proper Liberal Democrat government. Although, I am a realist, because at this stage in the life of the party, when it ought to be poised to exploit the gap that is opening it is still irrevocably divided.

The impression I have as a politically engaged individual is that the party contains two distinct, any many iterations thereof, ideological groupings of either economically driven so called orange Bookers or the socialist style Lib Dems s who don’t agree with Labour but strike me that they’d be much happier in that type of ideological environment. The party is riven by differing ideologies. We share common views regarding the outcome of many things but it all falls apart when we discuss how to achieve them.

It is an admirable intellectual concept that we can and should all co-exist in this big group that is neither one thing nor the other. For the party is the place for thinkers: those that ask why, are comfortable with a greater degree of cognitive dissonance than many. However, it is more like a political social club where the main topic is debating, much satisfaction is derived from differences and occasionally fiddling with the levers of power.

This is the rub. There is a difference between this approach – many iterations over many years but all ultimately seeing Liberalism consigned to the side-lines in Westminster – and building a party with The aim of being elected into national government and being able to make a meaningful contribution ought to be the over-riding obsession. I still believe that some people are incapable of making the compromises that getting into power entails. It is all well and good to stick rigidly to finely honed, incredibly well developed, after much democratic debate, etc.  ideas but they absolutely ensure a side-line position. Politics is the art of the compromise.

The party made it into a coalition recently and instead of uniting behind this and using the presence of Clegg and co. as the thin end of the wedge ,the party decided to turn in on itself and bemoan the compromises made and then vilify the then leaders. In many quarters of the party you’ll still go a long way tutting about the coalition.

Whether it is the faction driven by a more hard-nosed economic approach or the socialists in the party, someone (both) need to go their own way. If the socialists split away I’d wish them luck and if the ‘Orange Bookers’ did so then that would be a good thing too.

Nonetheless, until the party can face outwards and focus on winning elections  – something that is impossible in the current state – I see no point in being part of it when renewal rolls around. The party today simply doesn’t do simplicity.

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Thinking The Unthinkable

A brief recap of the political landscape sees us in an unaccustomed situation. May screwed the pooch and lived up to her internal nickname of “Submarine” by saying something, disappearing and resurfacing going another way entirely. It seems this wasn’t as carefully crafted a plan as we all believed. According to Guido Fawkes, she caught Tory HQ on the hop. It seems she believed her own PR a little too much and now she is so power hungry and desperate she wants to risk derailing the Northern Ireland peace process by cosying up to terrorist sympathisers/supporters, despite the brickbats hurled by her lot at Jezza for saying some pretty commonsense things about trying to achieve a resolution to a conflict. Not the way I’d do it but he has been resolutely consistent, something you can’t say for many politicians.

On the other hand, Momentum seems to have spiked Corbyn’s tea with something strong that worked to jolt him into towing the party line. Albeit for a short time.  Labour  is attempting to spin this momentous second place loss – trailing by 56 seats – as the second coming of Christ. Corbyn hailed this as, “an amazing response from the public…I think it is pretty clear who won this election”.  One ought to recall a certain person writing in The Morning Star in 2010 decrying the 48 seat difference as, “disastrous for new Labour”. It is funny how power changes people. Nonetheless, he has a messianic following so one can’t ignore that.

Both parties want a hard Brexit for different reasons. Now Labour think they may have a sniff at actual power they are softening their stance somewhat. May hasn’t got the mandate she sought so she can’t just bundle the country over the nearest cliff as planned. In the meantime the EU are doing good cop bad cop with the chief negotiator making withering remarks whilst the new centrist president of France (Macron) smiles sweetly and alludes that the door to EU membership hasn’t slammed fully shut. That combination of Michel Barnier and Macron will have sowed enough doubt in the minds of sensible people in the Lords and Civil Service that we may be able to wriggle free. The nerves will be getting frayed. Although, there is no doubt that any re-entry will come at a considerable price, both in pride and money.

But back to my party of choice, the Liberal Democrats. The  wailing and gnashing of teeth over the departure of our once glorious leader won’t last long. Many nauseatingly sycophantic comments along the line of, “Tim walked on water and people just need to see what an incredible human being he is”, type thing. There is a recurrent theme here of people having so incredibly strongly held personal viewpoints that they are unable to step back and take a bigger view. Many, in the party rank and file LibDems, seem to function with no distinction between a Parish Council style mentality of ‘dog fouling on the green has to stop’ compared to  National Government issues. There remains a depressingly recurrent theme of trying to blame electoral failure/Farron’s departure or anything else  they don’t like on anything other than themselves. It is the Orange Book believers, the bitchy sniping fringes, Clegg, tuition fees, coalition and so on and so forth.  (Caveat – I am, apparently,  one of the bitchy sniping outsiders. Though, in my defence, I and others are devoting time to try and think how the dire state of the political centre ground  can be fixed.)

Those of us that don’t think the purity of the political soul comes just from the hard graft of pushing leaflets through letter boxes as the answer to every setback are not just corporate bully-boys/girls. We just take a more businesslike view of things. Measuring output and not input is how we look at things.Tim Farron has resigned as leader and that is a very good thing. He singularly failed to get any traction with the press or the electorate regarding Brexit,arguably the most important issue of our time. Say what you like about Corbyn having the air of a divorced geography teacher, at least he has stuck to his guns. I find him deeply distasteful but I respect him nonetheless. People knew who he was and if they had even heard of Farron it was usually because of one thing. Just prior to the election I was at a function and fell in to chat with a retired Brigadier General. Not that old and still very sharp. The talk turned to politics and parties. I told him I was a LibDem and he thoughtfully replied that they were an ok bunch but, and I quote, “I am not keen on that poof-hating god botherer you lot have let into the driver’s seat”. And that, ladies and gents pretty much sums up the public perception of Farron.

Given his voting record, Farron clearly isn’t a homophobe, but try telling that to people who consume mainstream media. He was incapable of deconflicting his personal views and political stance and had had two, count them, two, years to put this to bed and yet he couldn’t. Couple that with external appearance of the cheery carer to Corbyn’s miserable old man persona and he really didn’t cut it. This weekend gone he was obviously handed a loaded pistol, a shovel and told to take a solo walk into the woods, make peace with his god and do the decent thing. And so he did. Kudos. All told, a very liberal regicide.

The Liberal Democrat party is such a big church of conflicting viewpoints that it is too overweight with competing opinions to ever get airborne. By contrast, we make the Tories and Labour appear as ideologically tightly knit units. I think that we try too hard to accommodate too many different positions and it just doesn’t work. Our poor results speak directly to being overweight on too many different opinions and underweight on slick electioneering.

The Social Liberals are perceived as the left wing and the Classical Liberals as the right. I have formed the view that many at the extremes of the Social Liberal position are just Labour supporters in Liberal clothing, scared of the big bad Labour party. The Classical Liberals are definitely just right of the general centre ground and I heard them described as Tories who aren’t bastards. Either way, the tension between the two seems too high. They spend their time arguing amongst themselves rather than winning power.

The wider electorate do not perceive the Liberal Democrats as having a defined leader and nor can they repeat any policy much past the legalisation of cannabis. Corbyn is someone to get behind and to some extent May is the same, though wounded and about to be dispatched soon. It doesn’t matter if you are economically illiterate, do not realise how illiberal both are, you can just be tribal and support a team. Part of that is slavish and unquestioning support for the team when the chips are down. Hell, even the latest Panorama about what happened in this debacle of a General Election never mentioned or showed the LDs at all. Caroline Lucas even got a 10sec slot. Us, nothing. If the LibDems are to ever prosecute a liberal agenda they need recognition and media, however distasteful they may find it.

I think that we may need to do a reverse ferret (apologies to Private Eye for I dip liberally – geddit? – into their terminology) and consider another centre party. At this point many people recoil, gasp and point to the failed SDP-Liberal Alliance that preceded the LibDems. To successfully form a new party one would have to discard convention and do it differently from how it has always been done. Additionally, you need at least three other things for a successful party – good candidates, a good team and money, lots of it.

To take the last one first: Money. Political donors may claim their donation is ideologically driven and altruistically motivated, though that is a little dishonest. We all want something, be it a warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with supporting a shared ideology or  the time-honoured belief that donating to a party buys you influence. A new party needs to be treated like a start-up business with a great idea. Potential investors need to see a return. Their will be a period of burning cash, just like a start-up. When it succeeds you have to pay the piper so investors need to be chosen wisely because they will be microscopically scrutinised and require their return. Again, this needs to be carefully planned.

Whilst on the topic of scrutiny, any new party will need to have candidates.  Not in every seat but 5-10 (max) and targeted, mostly on LibDem seats. This may sound cruel, it ain’t personal, just business. Early successes are needed so that investors need to see the idea working, within the predicted timeframes.  There is a ripe pool of centrist candidates; from Chuka Umunna to Ken Clarke to Ruth Davidson and (gasp) George Osbourne. As an aside, no one seems to be enjoying May’s discomfort more than George. None of the aforementioned are in politics because they love campaigning in the rain, they are in it for themselves as much as anything else. A new party would need an attractive proposition, a plan even! If you ask a successful politician to give it all up and defect they need to see what is in it for them and their constituents. This proof of concept will work if we can back to the hilt a chosen few. The “Full Macron” will have to come later as we run a fundamentally different electoral system here.

Finally, planning. This is not about traditional reactive behaviour, it is treating the enterprise like a start-up business with big investors and lots at stake. A goal, a strategy, tactics and many what-if contingencies. Politics is a brutal pastime, the knives will be out. No planning equals no nothing. A blend of commercial, technical and political talent, people with contacts, people with a clear agenda for themselves. Being in at the launch can make or break them. No namby pamby clockwatchers. If the investment is right and the founding candidates are few then decent salaries can be paid to tempt the best talent away to the start-up. This is how business works. We are not creating a new market but rather trying to introduce a vastly improved product into an established and crowded market. We’ll need to test policy, cost policy, recruit, win backing and be pragmatic while all the time be mindful of our goal to introduce a purer liberal party that is unencumbered by the baggage of the existing one.

PS: This will take time. 18 months minimum to launch. Done under a decent cloak of secrecy. FWIW, I don’t think people have the stones to make this happen. This post is to just put the idea out there and get people thinking and talking. Perhaps it will, who knows.

UPDATE: Perhaps the Liberal Democrats need their own WtF? Rethinking the Democrats from within.

 

Time for a different approach?

There has been much talk of the Liberal Democrats failing to make any ground in the run up to this election. Like many others I joined up for a single issue and my belief that the LibDems simply could not fail to capitalise on their distinct position on Brexit. It seems I had misjudged their uselessness completely.

Having spent some (probably too much) time on a variety of LibDem forums it has become glaringly obvious that the LibDems are their own worst enemy. There is no central strategy, no evidence of any planning and no cohesion. The party is essentially a disparate group of people, many of whom are fervent believers and put in a great deal of effort. Imagine one hundred people in harness all pulling against one another. A great deal of redoubling of effort has gone on and the result is the same. An increase in effort with no change in outcome.

Being LibDems then most people are very pleasant to one another whilst all thinking that there is a different/better way to focus effort. Many do not feel encumbered by lack of knowledge of a topic and are happy to offer ill-informed and at times plain ignorant opinion that others are equally guilty of swallowing. If one contrasts this against the Conservative election winning machine it is depressing. The Tories may be toxic but when the time comes they manage to run with a modicum of discipline and focus that eludes the LibDems. In response many LibDems cite a ‘free-spirit’ vibe that they feels defines the party. That is as maybe but it is not going to win an election. Remarks like, “a solid second” are made. In UK parliamentary elections there are no medals for second place. Second is just the first loser. Bemoaning the unfairness of the First Past The Post (FPTP) System is no good. If you want Proportional Representation then the system requires change from within and that will only happen if they win under the present set-up. A game is being played whether you like it or not. Play that game, win at that game then set about changing the rules. Losing but consoling yourself that you remain on the moral high ground means that the party will never govern, but be relegated to the status of a disorganised think tank. To cap it all the leader, Tim Farron, may be a great guy though he lacks the charismatic leader qualities of Macron, Trudeau, Blair, Thatcher etc. You either have that or you don’t. Farron simply hasn’t got it.

There has been one superb article from Hugo Rifkind in The Times that describes very well the argument for a new centre ground party to emerge. Have this discussion with many LibDems and the amount of “yes but” replies is staggering. Funding, FPTP, no suitable leadership candidates within the ranks etc. All these excuses mean it is impossible: if they are listened to. A new party needs a great leader, funding and a bit of time.

If a start-up business approach was taken to forming a new party then it is a possibility. There needs to be a professional approach from the outset. This means a good team, a business plan and money. Rifkind observes that there are many disaffected Labour and Conservative heavy hitters that do not like the way their parties are lurching. They are career people and need to see a good proposition for themselves in much the same way as potential backers need to see an RoI. Why this can’t be pitched to potential backers in the same way a business idea is is beyond me. Capital wants a return and the added bonus of a political party is that it is selling a centrist ideology that I suspect many people will identify with. With the Labour party lurching to the left and insulting the electorate by being obsessed with itself in the form of infighting, whilst the Tories lurch to the right with the assumption of UKIP and their apparently useless stance on Brexit then there is a vacuum.

An economically sensible, environmentally and socially conscious middle ground party is something the current LibDems can never be. They are seeded with pseudo-marxists on the one hand and economically conservative liberals with a social conscience on the other. The two sides of this yellow coin will never see eye-to-eye. It is time for a new player.

Rarely has the political choice been so clear cut

Politics is ordinarily a highly nuanced topic and choosing can be difficult. However, the snap general election in the UK, coming so soon after the vote to leave the European Union has suddenly thrown the voting options into two very stark choices.

Choice one is either of the two largest parties in the UK. Presently: the Conservative party seems hell-bent on driving the UK into either a hard-Brexit or a no-deal scenario. Alternatively, you can could choose the Labour party which also has a pro-Brexit stance. Furthermore, the Labour party is in an organisational shambles. It is poorly led, riven with infighting and is in no shape to lead the country.

The arguments about the rights and wrongs of the decision to leave are behind us. The only thing left to exert any degree of control over is the way the leaving process is managed. As the Brexit vote is a reflection of a very narrow section of the United Kingdom electorate that got out to vote (note to the reader: this is what happens when you vote. Change. Not always for the good)  it signifies huge upset for this country long into the future, both economic and social.  This general election is all about installing a party that can help control the manner of our exit. Damage limitation.

For those of use that thought the UK should remain in the EU then either of the scenarios where the Tories win a huge majority or the Labour party gains power are unacceptable.

The only major party that has been consistently pro-EU has been the Liberal Democrats.

This election is all about Brexit, even the Tory Prime Minister said so. The only way to exert any control over the manner of our departure and our longer term relationship with the EU is to vote for the Liberal Democrats. It is that clear and simple.

I am aware that this is simplistic. Ordinarily you might not vote LibDem. This is about how you feel about our self-inflicted and messy break with the EU. For once it is a simple choice. Once the handbrake is on then we can attend to the regularity of day-to-day politics. If you are indeed a Remainer then the decision is a simple one.

(conflict of interest disclaimer – I joined the LibDems a few days ago for the simple reason outlined above)