The Dissenter's Voice

The ocassional comments, opinions, rambling and rants of a liberal dissenter in New Labour's Britain

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Time to be bold

So now we know.

We have two leadership candidates who are articulate, passionate and credible. Both, in their differing styles are able to make the LibDem case effectively and persuasively. For me that has never been it doubt, though I must admit I find Nick´s ´human friendly´ style more engaging, however, this election isn´t just about presentation it´s about direction - inwards or outwards.

Chris has certainly had a good campaign so far, despite running on a remarkably conservative programme he has managed to paint himself as radical champion. Chris has been very effective so far in playing to the internal LibDem gallery, a natural temptation in a leadership election. However, although being popular amongst the activist base might work to win a leadership election is not enough for the party to fulfil its potential. If we are to break out of our rut in the polls then we need persuade new groups of people who don´t think of themselves as LibDems to support us. Deluding ourselves that they don´t support us because they simply haven´t heard enough of what we´ve said before is the road to no where. We need to make ourselves more relevant to their lives.

I believe that Nick Clegg understands this in a way that Chris´s campaign indicates he does not. However, Nick needs to start articulating the need to change more clearly or the momentum of this race will shift away from him. Nick has fought the frontrunner´s traditionally cautious campaign so far. He has set a positive optimistic tone and laid out the principles by which he wants to lead the party, that´s all well and good. However, what he hasn´t yet done is to define clearly the scale and urgency of the task ahead of the party, or the danger of closing in on ourselves and ignoring it.

We can´t afford to forget the political reality in which we find ourselves. David Cameron has firmly parked his tanks on our lawn, while Gordon Brown is busily trying to win back those Labour supporters lost during the Blair years. We are being savagely squeezed in the poll, averaging between 12%-16%. This is simply disastrous, even if we were to gain a couple of points from this level, we would still lose 20 or more of our MPs, a third of the Parliamentary Party wiped out. We desperately need to pull the liberal diaspora scattered across British politics to back to us. The idea that the way to do that is more of the same, simply restating our programme a little more sharply, a little more clearly is absurd. We need a leader who understands that, and is not content for the party to standstill, while it is overtaken.

Just over half way through the campaign Nick now needs to strike a bolder, more aggressive note. Having spelt out a positive message about himself, he now has to explain how his approach differs from Chris´s. He needs to define the choice the party now faces. Chris´s left-leaning campaign has largely set out the battle lines for him. He should now engage. Simply put, do we carry on talking to ourselves, rehashing our last 3 manifestoes, with a new coating of competency or do we reinterpret our values so that they are relevant to the world as it is today rather than the 1980s?

Nick´s campaign has seemed a little hesitant to engage on this ground for fear of being accused of being rightwing, however he now needs to throw away the caution. The choice is more than a simple one of left and right, it is between looking back, staying with our comfort zone and moving forward to reclaim into the liberal mainstream of British politics. If Nick now moves decisively to define that choice I believe he will maintain the momentum in this election and win.


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