The Lib Dem 2010 general election campaign: punching above our weight

by Stephen Tall on May 6, 2010

Much of the focus, understandably enough, has been on Nick Clegg’s TV debates performances boosting the party’s standing. But actually that’s not what has most impressed me about the Lib Dem campaign: it’s been the disciplined professionalism shown by Lib Dem HQ.

Let’s start off with the two key campaign themes … Change that works for you, and Building a fairer Britain. They received a fair amount of derision when they first appeared – and yet they worked, and worked well. (I wonder if we’ll read that in the next issue of Liberator?)

First, by recognising that this would be a ‘change election’. Obvious enough, I know – and yet it’s the Lib Dems who have been seen to most clearly represent change at this election, with the Tories being forced into defending the status quo.

And, secondly, by emphasising the fairness inherent in the Lib Dem manifesto, and showing to former Labour voters that Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and rest of the Lib Dems can be trusted to deliver a progressive agenda.

The four key themes – fair taxes, a fair start for children, a fair and sustainable economy, and fair and clean politics – were memorable, distinctive and coherent. This is especially important stategically given the party’s stated ambition to replace the Labour party as main challengers to the Tories.

Even before Nick’s first TV debate the Lib Dems were polling at 27% according to ICM, unheard of for the party. That’s a tribute to local campaigners up and down the country putting in the legwork. But let’s not underestimate the way the national party has punched supremely above its weight in this campaign, especially considering the financial warchest the Tories have at their disposal.

Just one example: while the Tories’ expensive ‘Cash Gordon’ online campaign imploded in a day, the Lib Dems’ viral Labservative campaign was a huge success that underlined a key election message for the party – that this election was the moment for the public to shake things up, to challenge Labour and the Tories’ 65 years domination of the political scene.

Small wonder that when Populus asked earlier this week which party had enjoyed the best election campaign, the Lib Dems scored 37%, compared with the Tories’ 19% and Labour’s 7%.

And, yes, there was ‘Cleggmania’, too. Nick’s assurance, fluency and confidence throughout the campaign was quite remarkable. It provided the party with a credibility on the national stage it has all too often lacked. Yet in man ways it was simply the natural fulfilment of a robust, invigorating and professional campaign: it wasn’t the exception, it was the rule.

Of course there were mistakes along the way, most notably getting bogged down in hung parliament speculation when the party was riding high in the polls. And of course the party being incessantly smeared in the rightwing press has taken its toll.

Yet one hour from polls closing the Lib Dems are alone in being able to look back with pleasure and some pride on the last four weeks. I don’t know if we’ll get the results we deserve. But the party certainly got the campaign it deserved.