Over on Comment is Free…

My take on the Ides of Ming

Gordon Brown last week perfectly demonstrated the dangers of letting tactical considerations dominate policy. The Liberal Democrats have been doing the same thing for years, largely out of the media glare. The truth is it has served us well, leading us to triple our MPs in 15 years. But with both Labour and the Conservatives now resurgent, its limitations are all too clear to see. I can’t help but suspect that the same obsession with tactics, and dismissal of strategy, is what is largely behind this scapegoating of Ming.

I wish they’d used my headline though: Death by Focus Leaflet.


  1. It’s very heartening to see Lib Dems (finally starting?) to discuss these issues. I always called the Lib Dem style the “brute force” approach to campaigning. You simply flood an area with leaflets and, eventually, you’ll win that seat. Doesn’t always work but with enough local support on the ground and the right candidate you can even steal a number of MP seats, not just council seats.

    Sure it got us this far, but there’s just no comparison to a coherent identity and strategy that people, across the country, members or not, can understand and relate to in a meaningful way.

    If we don’t know what the end goal of a Lib Dem government would be – what the country should be like after we’d been in power for 5, 10 and 20 years – then how on earth can we ensure all our policies fit together not just to make it happen but to demonstrate to people exactly what kind of country we actually want?

    With that… agh I hate using the word ‘vision’ but, with that, it’s possible to actually build a base and genuine positive electoral support rather than the negative ‘not tory’ or ‘not labour’ support we have at the moment.

    A new leader won’t fix those problems though, unless they’re elected with a mandate for serious reform. But doesn’t the Lib Dem Party structure effectively prevent any sort of coherent identity and strategy being imposed on the party from the top down? Surely each branch will carry on doing it’s own thing regardless and the leadership has to try to be as accommodating and unconfrontational when they suggest national policies?

    I do worry that the Lib Dems are systemically locked into the kind of localised ‘brute force’ campaigning that’s got us as far as we have?

  2. When I read

    “It’s all very well to sit back and assume the media would not pay attention, but these days that shouldn’t have to matter. We have hundreds of thousands of supporters’ email addresses and tools such as YouTube and Facebook at our disposal. We have an active blogging community which, if prompted, is capable of making noise on the party’s behalf. I’m sure that if the party’s communications team put their heads together they could come up with even more effective ways of putting their message across. If the party made more noise when it has something to say, it would have legitimate grounds for complaint when the media failed to report it sufficiently. Sulking gets us nowhere.”

    over at CommentIsFree, I thought maybe what the LibDems need is s Lib-Dem oriented community blog along the lines of Daily Kos. What are your thoughts on that?

  3. I don’t think we need one to be honest. Labour Home have gone for that approach and it has not been particularly successful.

    A commentator said a couple of years ago that the difference between the online campaigns of the Republicans compared to the Democrats is that the Republicans run in packs while the Democrats organise in hives (such as DailyKos). We could argue ’til the cows come home about which approach is better, but its fair to say that the Lib Dem model has very much evolved more long the Republican model and is not entirely without merit.

    But compare CCHQ’s attitude towards the blogosphere with Cowley Street’s. Okay, Mark Pack helps to edit Lib Dem Voice, but the communications department ignore us. CCHQ know that one of the main audiences of blogs is the media and they’re very good at using them to make political weather.

  4. The point is that Daily Kos got around the clueless Democratic Leadership Committee and forced them to perk up and listen. Now most Democratic Congresspeople )or their staff) have accounts on Daily Kos. Cowley Street is not going to lead something like this because they like to control what goes on.

  5. Yes, Daily Kos is effective because it essentially allowed the grassroots to go over the heads of the DLC and unite and organise on their own terms. The Democrat’s biggest problem was a leadership that was utterly divorced from their activist base. If Clinton wins I suspect there’ll be a continued need for Daily Kos for quite some time.

    Lib Dems have, I think, quite the opposite problem which is that the activists have the party by the nuts and have collectively engineered it in a way that is miles away from representing mainstream liberal thought in the UK.

    We then blame our leaders for failing to effectively consolidate all these random policy streams into a single coherent set of ambitions and goals for the country as a whole that people can understand, relate to and support.

    A blog community that was aimed at liberals in general and just happened to want the Lib Dems to sort themselves out into a credible mainstream liberal party could be effective, but the odds of making such a site work and attracting the kinds of readership enjoyed by Iain Dale are very low.

    Maybe start with a Shami Chakrabarti fan club and work from there..

  6. Charlotte broadly hits the nail on the head. To be fair, I think things have been improving and we have much more coherence, much more of an idea of where we want to go, than we did 2-3 years ago. I also don’t think it is “miles away” from mainstream liberalism, or even that such a thing as “mainstream liberalism” exists.

    But the underlying problem of an activist base that is overly concerned with tactics and simplistic policies you can plonk on a leaflet is, as she suggests, simply not one that the Democrat Party has had to deal with. Indeed, the web activism could even end up manufacturing the same problems we have in the US.

  7. Surely we need both a coherent strategy and effective local tactical initiatives? At present, because we lack strategic direction and the motivation it would provide, it is increasingly difficult to attract new members/local activists making our traditional tactical approach less effective.
    But don’t let us not get too hung up about our long term vision for a Britain under Lib Dem control – we need power first and the first step is to focus on disrupting the Tories. Clear policies on the environment, taxes, Europe, immigration etc could provide us with a distinct alternative to the Tories and help drive them back to their traditional divisive values.

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