Moving from the flat foot to the front foot: How to deal with the Lib Dem surge

April 18, 2010 9:41 am

Theo April 17By Darrell Goodliffe

Let’s be quite honest: Labour has been flat-footed in it’s response to the recent poll surge by the Liberal Democrats. The national response has alternated between a dismissive shrug of the shoulders on one hand, or on the other rather desperate looking ‘love bombing’ of the kind tried by Alan Johnson and Lord Adonis recently. Gordon made a big mistake in the debate letting Nick Clegg off the hook, especially with regard to the economy and in his constant repetition of “I agree with Nick”, which furnished the Liberal Democrats with a ready-made slogan which they have gleefully tweeted and spread across the internet rapidly. Also, Gordon has now boxed himself into something of a corner: if he turns viciously on Clegg it will look opportunistic and, in another way, desperate.

The dismissive response is wrong and would badly misjudg the mood of the nation and the electorate which is febrile. It is neither convinced in sufficient numbers that Labour deserves a fourth term nor is it convinced by the official opposition all of which makes the territory ideal for the third party. So, while the ‘bounce’ may lose some of it’s edge, I’m afraid it’s here to stay and something Labour has to address if it wants to secure that fourth term. It’s all very well producing endless stats based on uniform national swing but that fails to factor in the possible loss of voters for Labour in Labour-Conservative marginals which could cost us seats in some cases. There is also the possibility that the new bounce for the Lib Dems will embolden people to turn to other smaller parties.

Aiming for a hung parliament, which is the unfortunate impression Brown gave in Thursday’s debate, sends out all the wrong signals to the electorate which, in its volatility, will respond positively to firm guidance and strong arguments, not plea bargaining. If a hung-parliament arises then, of course, ‘love bombing’ becomes appropriate but right now that is something for events yet to decide.

So, what do we do?

First, there has to be a recognition of the numerous fundamental similarities between Labour and Liberal Democrat voters; both, broadly speaking, have progressive aspirations which they feel are not met by conservatism, small and big C. This gives Labour an ‘in’ but on the other hand it also presents a challenge; it means that has to positively prove it’s a worthy vessel of those aspirations and discredit the Lib Dem claim that they are. One thing doesn’t work without the other; this is why the ‘love bombing’ strategy is so disastrously wrong-headed for an election campaign, all it does is legitimise the Lib Dems’ progressive credentials – the impact of which can be seen in the “I agree with Nick” fiasco. While some Liberal Democrat policies do have strong progressive intentions in some cases they are flawed by execution or method of delivery. The much-vaunted tax cut, for example, has it’s redistributive effect nullified by the cack-handed way the Lib Dems want to implement it and the attendant scrapping of things like the child trust fund. Behind the veneer of a principle of fairness (and a policy which sounds fair) lies the genesis of a policy which still puts more money in the hands of those higher up the income scale because it gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

Dismissing them as “ridiculous”, as Bob Ainsworth has, shows how the required strategic vision to deal with this challenge is desperately lacking. In dismissing them so, Ainsworth effectively dismisses large sections of the electorate in the same terms. Labour has two opposition parties that it needs to fight; if it gets this issue wrong then it could be a game-changer. Failing to get to grips with the Liberal Democrat surge, failing to take it seriously, could – and, if things don’t change, possibly will – cost Labour this election.

Comments are closed

Latest

  • Featured Scotland Why Lamont left – and what happens next?

    Why Lamont left – and what happens next?

    Johann Lamont’s resignation was a surprise, if only in terms of timing. Politicians – especially party leaders – rarely resign in newspaper interviews released over the weekend. Yet it seems this decision had been coming for a while. This was not something that transpired over a matter of days, but weeks, months or even years (depending on who you speak to). Lamont has made the right decision to step down. She was facing increasing fire both internally and externally, and didn’t […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour “can indeed win”: Blair denies doom-mongering

    Labour “can indeed win”: Blair denies doom-mongering

    The Scottish Labour Party is not the only headache for Ed Miliband this morning. The Telegraph’s front page doesn’t make for the best reading either, running with the news that Tony Blair predicts a Tory victory next year: However, the story is not all it seems. The only quote The Telegraph supplies is from an anonymous source who claims that the former Labour PM made the prediction in a private meeting with them: “The Conservatives will be the next government […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Scotland Johann Lamont resigns as Scottish Labour leader

    Johann Lamont resigns as Scottish Labour leader

    Johann Lamont has resigned as leader of the Scottish Labour Party with immediate effect. She told the Scottish Daily Record: “I am proud of what we have achieved over the last three years. We held Alex Salmond to account” But was critical of some Scottish Labour colleagues, saying: “colleagues need to realise that the focus of Scottish politics is now Holyrood, not Westminster.” The BBC also reports Lamont accusing some in the party of trying to run Scotland “like a branch […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Labour shouldn’t offer cosmetic solutions for our education system

    Labour shouldn’t offer cosmetic solutions for our education system

    Until told otherwise I am going to assume that all teachers have a deep and noble interest in the education of children and young people in Britain. There is, then, no need for them to put their hand on their heart or a bible or a framed photograph of Nicky Morgan and swear an oath to education. I mean how would that go exactly? “I solemnly swear that I absolutely have not fallen into teaching because it’s guaranteed work and […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour MP receives vile anti-semitic messages

    Labour MP receives vile anti-semitic messages

    The Jewish Chronicle have reported that Luciana Berger MP and Louise Ellman MP have been subjected to anti-semitic tweets. Following the conviction of Garron Helm, who sent anti-semitic messages to Berger on Twitter – last night she faced further verbal online abuse. Messages sent to Berger included one that used the ‘jude’ – which in German means Jew. Another read “Only two places for Jews. The desert or in hell with their father the devil. #ExpelLucianaBerger” Berger has not responded to these […]

    Read more →