In politics, plaudits without power are worth nothing

After the last miserable five years of press coverage for Lib Dems, the last five days of journalists acknowledging the positive influence of our party in government have been blissful.

Like the first warm and sunny spring day after a long cold winter articles praising Lib Dems for putting a brake on the Tories, promoting fairness and blunting Tory axes have come thick and fast.

Articles have appeared recently in The Economist, The Independent and Politics Home to name a few. The occasion has been the publication of ‘Coalition’ by David Laws coupled with the Tories abject failure to govern either fairly or effectively without the Lib Dems – something I’ve written about.

Andrew Grice writing in The Independent  conceded

‘Mr Clegg was right, and the restraining hand of his party helped to blunt the Tory axe’

George Parker acknowledged in Politics Home the  role played by Lib Dems in

‘providing stable government in unlikely circumstances over five years and – quite often..saving the Tories from saving themselves’

At last, we think to ourselves, the press are seeing the Tories for what they really are –  nasty, welfare-cutters. Finally those misguided journos are giving us the credit we Lib Dems deserve – for stopping them!

Where were these articles a year ago?

Might they have stopped a Lib Dem wipeout?

Unlikely. Quite simply, politics doesn’t work like that.

How comforting, how seductive, above all how easy it is to sit at home retweeting articles between Lib Dem supporting friends comforting ourselves counting our blessings and polishing our halos.

I’ve done my fair-share of cheerleading of Coalition achievements and renouncing our achievements also does us no favours but we must be careful not  to let celebrating our party’s past glories become a lifestyle choice.

We are a living, breathing political party not a historical society for the Preservation of Liberal Principles.

Like the lottery winner who finds his missing ticket in their jeans pocket the day after the eligibility period has expired, the last few days have been enough to make most of us want to run screaming to the nearest council offices and demand a recount.

However, we live in a winner takes all electoral system. We must avoid blaming the electorate. There are no prizes for second, third or fourth. We gambled and lost and in British politics there are no refunds.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate our achievements. We absolutely should and clear which ideas were ours  and which definitely were not.

We’ve overcome the hurdle where voters didn’t take the Lib Dems seriously because we had never been in power. Now it is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party facing that credibility gap.

Without power, we are nothing

Power is for spending not hoarding, says David Laws in his new book.

I agree. However, we spent what political capital we accrued in government and in so doing we ran up a massive overdraft.

Now is the time to start paying in once again – to show British voters what voting Lib Dem will give to them: hard-working, community champions with an inbuilt suspicion of elites and entrenched establishment power.

We are in politics not to be something, but to do something. Not to be grand but to do grand things, said Tim Farron in York at our Spring Conference.

Having power in itself if not important if you squander the opportunity to make things better.

We are a political party and not a pressure group. We exist to change things or we are nothing.

Now we are in opposition we must use our time wisely: to develop new policy, support liberal causes and set out clearly what we would do differently in government next time.

As Westminster outsiders once again and we must use our new status to rebuild trust with the public and that way our electoral base.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  said Kierkegaard. Food for thought for Lib Dems.


One thought on “In politics, plaudits without power are worth nothing

  1. What’s not been clear yet in Tim Farron’s message is what the Liberal Democrats learnt during their 5 years in office with the Conservatives. Lots of Liberal Democrats experienced life either as ministers or as special advisers and should now have a detailed understanding of Whitehall. What’s happened to all of those people who held ministerial office/special adviser posts? How are they supporting your party at a time when your income is much lower as a result of having few MPs and even less media coverage?

    One thing that the Liberal Democrats could be doing is hosting public meetings on specific policy issues – or perhaps encouraging friendly non-political organisations to do the hosting then inviting politicians from across the political spectrum and the public to take part. At least that way local democracy’s profile is raised in places outside of normal local government circles – which as I can testify from Cambridge is a bubble.

    Finally, with the rise in membership following the shock of the election results, has that new membership made an impact in terms of presences in local areas? Whether it’s people writing into newspapers, new social media users to people delivering leaflets, are the Liberal Democrats sticking to safe wards or are they reaching out on the back of new policy areas?

    Finally, digital video – something which you pioneered several years ago. From my experience, online videos allow people to see the faces and hear the voices of activists, candidates and holders of elected public office in their own words – and at a time convenient to the viewer. Unlike tweets and facebook posts, youtube videos have a much longer ‘halflife’ – so any videos on local recurring issues can be ones that people can come back to again and again, without needing to add extra content. Are activists being trained how to use their mobile phones to create video footage of things like ward walks?

    Food for thought.


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