Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Liberal Democrats need fewer policies and more ideology

In my final House Points column for the party newspaper, I urged my fellow Liberal Democrats to enjoy being in government. But my impression is that most are still not that happy about it.

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.”
Of course, there are some more substantial achievements in the document, such as the scrapping of identity cards. But these examples give a fair idea of the sort of Liberal Democrat policies that are being implemented.

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.


Nic said...

Having a firmer ideology will better explain the why? This post by Matthew Gibson over on solution focused politics explains people vote for why you do it not what you do or what you plan to do.

dreamingspire said...

Suggest: get to grips with the Information Society and its consequences of 'please do what the people want, and do it with us - and remember that now we can broadcast what you do and about what you don't do, and what we think and do in response'. Works in Scotland, is starting to work in Wales. And the same pleas have triggered the Arab Spring (not that we are likely to have to do it that way).