FAO all leadership contenders: “Clever politicians push against the grain of their own party”

by Stephen Tall on July 10, 2015

The Times’s Philip Collins writes today about the political savviness of George Osborne’s sudden conversion to a higher minimum wage than promised by Ed Miliband (£9/hour by 2020, compared with £8/hour):

There are two lessons here for Labour. The first is that how a policy sounds depends on the tone of voice of the advocate. It’s not all about press bias. If Ed Miliband suggests a profits surcharge you get the impression he wants to foreclose capitalism. It smells like the distilled essence of his politics. When George Osborne says the same thing it sounds like an exception concocted to tempt Labour voters. Clever politicians push against the grain of their own party and therefore attract new supporters. The second lesson is that a reputation for economic prudence earns a licence to act. Mr Osborne does not need to beg anyone for his credentials as a fiscal hawk, so he can be permitted his fun with wage rates.

Note that sentence in bold.

Think of leaders who’ve achieved cut-through in the past 20 years. Tony Blair achieved it, reaching well beyond Labour’s 1992 core vote. David Cameron achieved it, reaching well beyond the Tories’ 2005 core vote.

The question for the Lib Dems will be the same: who can achieve cut-through in the next five years, reaching well beyond our 2015 core vote?

Or, as I put it a few weeks ago in my “Orange Booker” endorsement of Tim Farron:

Party members have a clear choice at this election as each candidate is from a defined wing of the party. Norman Lamb is a “Cleggite”, Tim an “SLF-er”.

(The “inverted commas” are deliberate as each term is of course a broadbrush descriptor — and, as I pointed out here, this contest has not been notable for Big Policy debate.)

Whichever of them wins will then have to work hard to unite the party, to deploy the talents of their opponent and those who supported him. That means either will have to find ways of tacking “right” — in Tim’s case — or “left” — in Norman’s — to bring folk together.

The Lib Dem problem of 2015 is, of course, harder than were either Blair’s or Cameron’s when they faced them (in each case at a time when their respective parties were fed up with being out of power and desperate/receptive to new ideas to transform their fortunes).

The first order problem for the Lib Dems is to re-build the party’s core vote — and there are a number of good ideas of how to do that in David Howarth’s and Mark Pack’s new pamphlet, Building a core vote for the Lib Dems: The 20% Strategy.

But there is always a limit to a core vote strategy for any political party which wants to win well enough to be in government.

Tim, who’s banked a lot of political capital in the past five years, is the candidate in the best place to “push against the grain” of our party. He’ll have to, if he wants to achieve cut-through with the wider electorate.