Why is this?
According to an email from Nick Clegg sent to party members yesterday:
The BBC estimates that we are implementing 75% of the policies of in our manifesto, compared to just 60% of the Conservative manifesto.(Matthew Harris has reproduced the whole message - and I hope that whoever sent it out will note that "thank you" is two words.)
So why aren't we more happy?
A look at the party document from March of this year, Liberal Democrats: Our manifesto in practice, may give us an idea. This goes through our manifesto from the last general election and lists all the points on which progress has been made.
Some examples of those points:
- Lib Dem Manifesto p.17 – “Better IT procurement, investigating the potential of different approaches such as cloud computing and open-source software.”
- Lib Dem Manifesto p.18 - “We will give people control over their pension by scrapping the rule that compels you to buy an annuity when you reach age 75.”
- Lib Dem Manifesto p.40 – “We will end Train to Gain funding for large companies,restricting the funds to the small and medium-sized firms that need the support.”
- Lib Dem Manifesto p.72 – “Reform the police, with a full review of the very restrictive terms and conditions for police officer employment.”
I suspect that we are not happy at this success because of the way Liberal Democrat policy is developed. As I and others have argued in the past, the problem is that it is essentially written for us be experts with little political input. So we end up proposing a raft of sensible reforms that would make Britain a better place, but do not make an emotional commitment to them. This also means that we struggle to establish a clear identity with the voters and to differentiate ourselves from moderate opinion in other parties.
Being a philosopher at heart, I want to call for a firmer Liberal Democrat ideology at this point, but the reality is that we are an exceedingly broad church, including as it does both libertarians and unreconstituted social democrats.
I am reminded of my experience of the prickly relations between the Liberals and the SDP during the 1983 election campaign. We could all support the slightly dull package of reforms that constituted our joint manifesto, but if we had dinner together and the discussion turned to political philosophy then it could soon become surprisingly heated.
So what we need are fewer policies and more ideology, but getting everyone to sign up to that ideology will not be easy.