Ok so the conference wasn’t the unalloyed success that everyone hoped for. Our main problem is that, in the words of Tim Farron, we `tend to be on the right side yet end up coming third` (ie people think we’re erudite, deep and intelligent) yet won’t vote for us due to a lack of `electoral credibility` or because they’re turned off by a lot of policy talk.
So often we’re used by the system as the change outliers doing the thinking for other parties, like a huge policy think tank. We think that what happens at Conference is exactly equal to what happens on the ground.
Guess what – most of the people we need to win over now don’t think like that. As someone who has a hand in what people are thinking out there (by asking about 300 people a week) I can tell you it really doesn’t make much difference.
Last night I did some of this work. In a couple of defence wards where we hold the Council, did well at the Euros AND regularly communicate to the electorate with strong Cllrs we are GAINING votes from Labour and from the erstwhile non-voters.
One soft conservative voter was persuaded by Clegg’s speech – another who described himself as `old labour to the core` has turned to the Greens. I doubt whether we could have had him anyway.
Do I think the Party is being all it could be – no. We must be sharper in our priorities. We must target even more effectively. We must be even more intelligently aggressive against Labour and Conservatives. Our watchword should be that we ask the questions they daren’t ask and have the solutions they daren’t offer. Should the Tories duck the issues we must say boldly they are FRIGHTENED of making decisions.
Locally, the Tory candidate has criticised the new recycling bins despite the local Conservatives being in favour. He has said that there should have been more consultation and perhaps others shouldn’t have been put into the scheme. He fails to say that those that don’t want them don’t have to have them. Or that trying to fulfil everybody’s desires in a scheme that is run throughout the whole of Greater Manchester would require a lot more money exponentially and thus a potentially cap-breaking increase in the Council tax.
In iconic important by-elections we are winning – Cheadle (Stepping Hill, Cheadle and Gatley), Sutton (Nonsuch), Withington (West Didsbury) – more importantly still we are GAINING votes from other parties and erstwhile non-voters. On the ground where we fearlessly put forward our positive yet hard-headed message we are winning.
The only thing that’s changed is that now there’s a need for doorstep canvassing as never before. Where we have ordinary or extraordinary people talking to the electorate people are turning to us. What’s more, Labour are finding it extremely difficult under such circumstances and need to find more than `just a Labour candidate` – they have to find the personalities now just like the Lib Dems. In campaigning that provides a level playing field.
The Conservatives also find it tough in these circumstances – after Iraq, expenses and the bailouts people are wanting a lot more than `we’re not Labour` and when we engage them in a real competitive battle of ideas, policies and campaigning people are listening.
Don’t forget – in key elections in seats we need to win where there’s a real ding-dong battle with the Conservatives we tend to GAIN votes.
So, my advice is just keep up the good work on the ground, leaflet delivery, surveying and doorstep streetwork.
Where we work we win!