“We need to up our game.” As a Liberal Democrat, I endorse this message.

by Stephen Tall on November 7, 2011

The Independent this weekend carried a brief article reporting that Nick Clegg’s aides are urging the party’s ministers to be more ‘out and proud’ of the Lib Dems’ successes:

Nick Clegg’s ministers have been told to go on TV and declare proudly “I’m a Liberal Democrat” in an effort to improve the party’s poll ratings. Party strategists are demanding better “messaging” from politicians. It includes using the phrase “as a Liberal Democrat …” at every opportunity, and regularly uttering the word “coalition”, which research finds is popular with voters.

Aides to the Deputy Prime Minister fear too many low-profile Lib Dems are viewed by the public as “little-known Tories”, and need to hammer home policy successes, including raising the income tax threshold and the Pupil Premium. … “Labour have done very well with their messaging in getting everyone to argue that the cuts are ‘too hard and too fast’,” said a Lib Dem source. “We need to up our game.”

All of which seems sensible, even obvious, advice. I recall when I was ‘media trained’ by the party when I was a councillor that we were given very clear instructions to ensure we clearly identified ourselves as Lib Dems during interviews — never using anonymous phrases such as ‘the council is’ or ‘what we’re doing’, which leaves the viewer/listener none the wiser about which party you represent (or indeed whether you’re just a council spokesperson).

Over at his Liberal England blog, Jonathan Calder identifies two possible causes of recent Lib Dem reticence:

The first is that we are not used to being unpopular. When you are the third party, being ignored is a far more familiar experience. … The second factor is that we are not really sure what Liberal Democrat economics look like. In the easy years under Charles Kennedy our policy was essentially to jog along, spend exactly the same as Labour only on slightly different things. Those who now claim they are Keynesians were not generally to be heard warning of the need to cool the economy. Meanwhile some of the brighter young MPs were developing an interest in a more free-market approach, but the debate between these two tendencies never really took place.

The latter point may also explain why, even though Vince Cable is held in high public esteem for his economic sagacity, his ratings have rarely transferred into confidence in the Lib Dems’ ability to manage the economy.