Once again "Lepidus" issues a challenge for this blog to respond to.
His basic point is that: "Manchester Withington [was] probably the most extraordinary Lib Dem result of all time. Bigger swings have been achieved, but really only in By-Elections. Tory vote drops by a third, John Leech elected.
Take two: Islington South close marginal, Lib Dem vote rises but so does the Tory vote! Result: Emily Thornberry MP.
That is is why Withington was won and I(slington)S(outh) not. There are scores of seats up the Country where Labour's machine has atrophied, with decent Tory votes but with the Lib Dems having surged into second. The Tory votes in such seats will indisputably be key as to your seat count. I bet Lord Rennard thinks so. Agree do you not......."
But actually it seems self evident that I do agree, and we need to ensure that we can get votes from both Labour and the Conservatives. The point I am making in my rant is what we need these votes for.
The battle for power in British politics has become a struggle for the supposed centre ground, with focus groups dictating the positioning of party policy. I believe that this has been entirely corrosive. I think that it is incumbent upon political leaders to have some moral backbone and to set out clearly their basic credo. This is why I have been so contemptuous of David Cameron thus far: his refusal to outline basic policy principles is a fraud against the electorate, since either he has such principles, but refuses to speak up because he fears that they may be unpopular, or that he has no such principles, in which case he is a moral pygmy.
The standard response from the Conservatives has been- I paraphrase- "stating policies is too much a hostage to fortune, and opens us up to attack from our enemies".
My response is that if the Conservatives have so little confidence in their own ideology, then perhaps they should pack up now.
I have considerable confidence in Liberalism as an ideology- I believe that the debates in our party are eliminating a lot of the waffle and injecting a properly Liberal demand to set limits on the size and role of the State. I believe that the Liberal agenda of Freedom and Personal autonomy are things that are necessary to our society, and that furthermore they will, when properly set-out, be popular too.
Once I might have said that the Lib Dem agenda, as an explicitly free market based ideology, would be more attractive to otherwise Conservative voters. Historically, the Liberals and the Liberal Democrats gained more when Conservatives were weaker than when Labour was weaker: so stronger in the two 1974 elections (19.3% and 18.3%), but falling back in the 1979 (13.8%) when the Tories surged to power. It was only in 1983, after the creation of the Alliance, that ex-Labour voters seem to have come to the Party in bigger numbers, and even that surge- to 25.4%- was blunted to only 22.6% in 1987. Subsequently the party changed its tactics in order maximise seat gains, but as a result the party remained below 20% until the 2004 election, when it received 22%, despite an increase in the Conservative vote- only the second time in my lifetime that both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat votes increased significantly at the same time (the other being 1983). However, the big question now is how bad is the disillusion with Labour? Although anecdotally, in such places as Wycombe, Labour are clearly in deep trouble, there is no polling evidence of a general rout of Labour.
What does this mean in the current political climate? Firstly I believe that we should not say too much about the programmes of the other two parties, but speak positively of our own agenda. However the blurring of the traditional Tory-Labour boundary, as a result of focus-group led politics, clearly may allow the Lib Dems to gain support from ex-Labour supporters, in a way that has hitherto been more difficult.
So far, so conventional.
I am beginning to think that some less conventional thinking is called for. The gradual decline in electoral participation rates, I believe, is our democracy beginning to show its age. The systems that we use are primarily 19th century in origin and the political system, including the parties, may be reaching a critical point. The are predicated upon ideas of the exclusivity of political decision making. Part of this blog is explore some of the issues that we will need to address, at a time when unexpected challenges are beginning to emerge to the general conventional wisdom about liberal, democratic States. Thus I think that ideas of personal autonomy and freedom will assume considerably higher significance as technology- including blogging- changes the nature of the political debate and potentially changes the nature of political decision making.
Thus the role of ideas, what might be called ideology, may prove to be of lasting significance, even while political organisations weaken still further. The internal compromises of party political policy making lose their emphasis in the more open forum which technology may provide.
On the other hand, technology may threaten our personal autonomy, with invasions of privacy on a scale that will be hard to control, unless the principles of freedom and privacy are built into the very structure of our political systems- and it worries me that too many politicians fail to understand, still less to grasp, the nature of the issues that we will have to address. Cameron has had an opportunity to demonstrate that his agenda engages with these future challenges: so far, no dice. It may well be that he can simply ride the political pendulum to power, if he does, though, he will be a failure. He needs to lead a moral and political debate, to demonstrate the credentials of his leadership: so far he has failed. He shows all the failings of his PR background, with no sign of a deeper understanding. Gordon Brown has such a moral agenda- as indeed, to be fair, has Tony Blair, its just that his principled stand turned out to be Iraq, where he was completely wrong at almost every level.
We can see that Brown will be different from Blair, but not necessarily better. He will continue to expand the state and to believe in micro-management. Liberal Democrats will oppose him with renewed vigour: Brown is an anti-Liberal. I don't even know what Cameron is, and as time passes, I don't much care either- he lacks the moral courage to speak out anyway.