I get the impression that Guy Aitchison is getting frustrated with me. While conceding that the Lib Dems need to take more risks, I keep dismissing suggestions that we should do things like David Marquand’s idea about self-organising elections to the Lords (my response here) and Mark Littlewood’s idea about fielding a candidate in Buckingham (my response here). I’m really not trying to be difficult, so I will try to lay out what sort of “risky strategy” we should be taking.
I DON’T think it should involve electoral stunts like these. The problem is that people are bored of electoral, parliamentary politics which focuses on procedures and systems – what’s so radical about giving them more of the same? These are high cost, low gain proposals.
I sketched out the direction I’d like the party to take at the Campaigning After Rennard fringe on Saturday. I also wrote a discursive piece along similar lines for the Community Politics Today pamphlet published by ALDC a couple of years ago. I see the party having a key role to play in mobilising people to campaign for things such making the case for carbon reductions, campaigning for civil liberties and fighting against public services cuts, in areas where they are completely moribund as well as in their target seats. Fundamentally, it should follow the energy and enable campaigning rather than co-ordinating things from the centre. We’re talking about a MoveOn, MyBO, 38degrees type model here, but ideally one in which the leader played a central role – not in the sense of bossing people about and insisting that it’s his/her way or the high way – but in the sense of mucking in, encouraging and listening.
I was pleased to hear Steve Webb make some remarkably similar points at the Social Liberal Forum/Compass fringe meeting last night. Clegg should have gone to climate camp. He should have placed a central role when #welovethenhs flared up.
Fundamentally, he should have followed the advice of that notorious political chancer Mohatma Gandhi “There goes my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.” Gandhi is making an astute anti-intuitive point here. If you want to build a movement, which Gandhi most certainly did, and not merely be the big fish in a goldfish bowl, you have to meet them in the middle.
This is, it has to be said, a somewhat different tack to that adopted by Clegg this week. He’s spent a whole week trying to convince the world what a tough leader he is and how good he is at bringing unruly childlike activists into line. Leaving aside the question of whether this is really the best way to motivate your activist base, he’s ended up looking shallow and weak. Despite the press team’s best attempts to spin the Fresh Start debate as a collossal victory for Clegg (this is what we call being straight with people apparently), he has ended up looking foolish.
Either way, it is about a lot more than little clever-clever tactical maneauvres. We’ve been doing them for decades now and they only get us so far.