What a Tory cabinet minister said to me tonight: “I don’t know why you Lib Dems aren’t doing better”

by Stephen Tall on April 26, 2016

I don’t think this counts as name-dropping because I’m not going to say who it was. But, anyway, I was chatting to a Tory cabinet minister tonight, as you do, who was genuinely curious to know why the Lib Dems aren’t doing better in the polls.

“I mean, this government is giving you loads of free hits. And Labour’s so hard-left there’s no-one else around to be the voice of sensible opposition,” they said.

I defended my party. After all, we were ignored enough by the media when we were supported by 1-in-4 voters and had dozens of MPs. Life’s a lot tougher now with just eight (MPs, that is, not voters: things aren’t quite that bad).

Taking a sensible position on mainstream issues gets you ignored — it’s our out-rider policies, like Norman Lamb’s attempts to get cannabis legalised and Tim Farron’s calls for the UK to take in 3,000 child refugees from Europe, which attract what little publicity the Lib Dems still get. Worthy, important stuff. But not the bread-and-butter economy and public services issues which will decide how folk vote in 2020.

My ‘senior Tory source’ said they wouldn’t name the issues on which their party was vulnerable… before mentioning schools and the Conservatives’ daft plans for ‘forced academisation’ and abolishing parent-governors. “Champion parents,” they advised, “stick up for local, democratic accountability.”

To his credit, Tim Farron has spoken out against the Conservatives’ plans. But — as I’ve pointed out before, and will continue to point out — education didn’t make it onto the list of the party’s top seven priorities. Our education spokesman John Pugh’s contribution, Hard lessons from coalition, is more notable for its discursiveness than its solutions.

In any case, this isn’t just about my beef with the party sidelining what, for me, is the key, liberal issue: education. It’s bigger than that. My nameless Tory cabinet minister is right: given the gaping hole in the centre of British politics, we should be doing much better.

I think it’s too easy to pin the blame on the leader. Tim has probably the most thankless task in British politics right now. He’s set about it with his usual brand of energy and enthusiasm. It’s not cut through yet, but it’s still early days.

Inevitably, and largely understandably after last May’s trauma, the party has been inward-looking this past year (for example, the internal row over all-women short-lists). More importantly, we have felt keenly the lack of big-hitting talent at the top of the party, with most of our defeated MPs focusing on re-building their careers beyond politics. Add to that the loss of policy advisers and key party staff, and it’s not surprising if the Lib Dems appear a shadow of our former selves. We are.

If you were hopeful that I would finish with some gleaming insights, a prescription for headline-grabbing liberal initiatives that will give the Lib Dem fightback mainstream currency, I’m sorry to disappoint. This was never going to be easy. As far as I can see, there’s no alternative to hard grind, starting in local elections this May, clawing our way back.

Which is what I (more or less) told this Tory cabinet minister. For the record, (S)he Who Will Not Be Named wasn’t impressed and said we should hire them as a consultant. I said I’d rather have Lynton Crosby, but knew we couldn’t afford him.

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3 comments

no. not Lynton Crosby. The ends do not justify the means he would employ.

by Prue Bray on April 27, 2016 at 8:20 am. Reply #

I was (half) joking 🙂

by Stephen Tall on April 27, 2016 at 9:10 am. Reply #

We are not doing too badly in real polls, but the research organisations seem to be overcompensating for their failed estimate of our performance in 2015. It is also in the interests of the conservative-dominated media to downplay our chances in Wales, London and Scotland.

by Frank H Little on April 27, 2016 at 11:44 am. Reply #

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