Tim tries to lift the Lib Dems

This should be the Liberal Democrats’ time.  Labour has careened off toward self-inflicted electoral insignificance, and the Conservatives – who under Theresa May make public pronouncements about being on the centre ground – could in reality govern from wherever they wish on the political spectrum, such is their seeming dominance.  Dominance based on a majority of 12 in the House of Commons.  Small ‘l’ liberals unsure where to place their vote.  It should be the Liberal Democrats’ time.

And so to Brighton where Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has been rallying the troops.  He made every effort in his speech to talk about the Lib Dems as the natural home for those people disaffected by Labour’s current troubles and unsure of the future post-EU referendum.  And yet it still doesn’t feel like the party has reached its nadir.  Yes it has gained thousands of new members since June 23rd and yes it has won a handful of council by-elections, but the polls seem to suggest that voters are stubbornly avoiding the Lib Dems, and the recently announced boundary changes make some of their remaining eight seats look vulnerable.

Whether Farron is the right man for the job is neither here nor there.  A great leader of eight men still only has seven men behind him, and it’s not even clear they really are all behind him.  The road back to significance is surely a long one and starts with the Lib Dems’ strength at a local level being rebuilt.

Besides, there are signs that the Liberal Democrats aren’t really even small ‘l’ liberals, and therein lies the ubiquitous question for the party – what do they stand for?  Yesterday Farron said Lib Dems would put up taxes; not very liberal.  Farron is alleged to have difficulties with gay rights because of his religious beliefs; again not likely to enamour liberals.  When challenged by Nigel Farage that actually Brexit was about reaching out beyond the confines of a protectionist EU, Farron was unable to find a coherent response; Nigel Farage – of all men – was able to paint Farron as a small-world politician unable to see potential opportunities beyond Europe.

These troubles suggest the Lib Dems are not yet ready to resurface on the national stage.  Aside from the fact the British people gave a clear vote against the principle of coalition government in 2015, it seems the party that aspires to be in that position – as King Maker – has still not decided on its central message, and who it should be aimed at.  Pity those at the political centre of politics in a country so used to adversary as Britain.

Michael Stott

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search