Friday, May 13, 2005

The last Election Points

Next week my Liberal Democrat News column will spontaneously regenerate to become House Points again.

Lessons to learn

It’s post mortem time. To begin with Labour, a lot of people have got overexcited. A majority of 67 is more than comfortable by historic standards and Tony Blair is not going anywhere in a hurry. He will be around to thwart Gordon Brown a few times yet. And if Brown ever does become prime minister, many will find the experience less enjoyable than they expected.

Across the Commons, the Tories cannot agree on a strategy. Should they skip a generation? They tried that and got William Hague. Should they ask their members? They tried that and got Iain Duncan Smith. Should they go for a safe pair of hands? They tried that and got Michael Howard.

It seems to be coming down to a contest between David Davis and Liam Fox, with the sensible people left in the party searching desperately for a candidate who might have wider appeal. And the bookies report a surge of support for William Hague. Watch this space.

The Tory crisis is as much about strategy as leadership, and the Liberal Democrats have a lot of strategic thinking to do too. We are promised a review of policy, but it is important that we first understand what is wrong with the current system.

The problem is not that Conference asserts itself and passes policies the leadership does not want. It is that Conference will support almost anything that is put in front of it. We do sometimes seem to take our policies as a job lot from pressure groups. That is why we find ourselves supporting bans on fairground goldfish or wanting to criminalise a single parental smack. But this does not happen at Conference. It happens long before on the working parties that Federal Policy Committee appoints.

And when we get good policy, we don’t use it. The report on public services by Chris Huhne’s group was the best work the party has done for years. Yet its emphasis on local decision making hardly featured in the campaign.

We need to think about what it is that Liberal Democrats believe and who we speak for. The months after a general election are the one time a party gets to do this. When we have done it will be easier to make good policy.

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