Make It Happen: A Note of Caution

The Lib Dem blogosphere is buzzing with excitement about Make It Happen (pdf), which has indeed attracted some press reaction to it, as Stephen discusses. To this I just want to add my own paranoia. Here goes…

Lib Dem bashers frequently claim that we try to out-Tory the Tories in Tory seats, and that we try to out-Labour Labour in Labour seats (thus giving away their own belief in the natural order of things, and the specific tenet that there are only such things as Tory Voters and Labour Voters, “really, you know, deep down…”). Which is one of those analyses that’s so half arsed, it’s a good job nobody spends too much time thinking about it, or it’d fall apart. Because a moment’s thought reveals that the way to take a seat from a Tory is to bleed them of a few voters (if they happen to actually have more than 50% of the vote), and then persuade Labour voters, Green voters, etc. that to get rid of the Tory, they could do worse than vote for you. Now, I hate that idea, to be honest, but needs must as the Devil’s Very Own Voting System drives.

FPTP requires that you build a coalition. Every government which has gotten itself elected successfully has understood this. Every now and then, you can build a groundswell around a genuine point of ideology (eg. Thatcher?), but mostly you win by being moderate and sounding competent. The question for Nick Clegg here is, is this a time when a genuine feeling in favour of low tax is going to be big enough to drive voters his way. And, two years out from an election, there’s no point in me or anyone else making predictions about that.

But the point for Dave Cameron on this is that he long ago committed himself to the de-toxifying of the Tory brand, and he knows he couldn’t say what Nick has anyway, for exactly that reason. So if I was a Tory who subscribes to the idea that the Tories will win the next election on moderate-ness, not on hard Toryness – like, say, Iain Dale – then what would I try and do right now? I might start shouting long and hard about how Nick Clegg is leading his party into “a radical tax-cutting platform [that] has left the other two parties gasping”. I would say that it “marks the triumph of the so-called “Orange Booker” tendency”, and I might write something like:

He hasn’t just pledged a reduction in taxes; he has promised a cut in public spending, too. Admittedly, it is only £20 billion, a mere three per cent of total government spending, but it’s a start. And it’s a damn sight more than any other politician has had the guts to do.

The bonus point of selling the idea that the Lib Dems have now become the party of the government spending cut enthusiast (which Iain tries to do whilst not quite sounding like he’s actually saying he’s agreeing with us), is that part two of that narrative is to be used in debates:

“The Lib Dems now want to cut taxes, before they wanted to raise them. YOU CAN’T TRUST THEM!”

The amateurs are trying to jump to this step before they’ve done the groundwork of establishing that we are now a party of rabid taxcutters. But the professionals are letting this sink in for now, and just chipping in with their usual chippy bollocks about “yes, well, the Lib Dems can say what they like, etc….”

Can we not run headlong towards the idea that we’re now the party of a radical tax-cutting agenda unless we really are? Because as far as I’m aware, conference hasn’t passed anything other than the policy of cutting income tax at the low end so we can introduce LIT and implement the Great Green Tax Shift.

I hate to be a buzzkill and that, and I understand the imperative to get media coverage, I’m sure it’ll be good for the poll numbers and thereby for Nick’s narrative, and I’m not knocking that, really I’m not. But let’s not get carried away with all the media and start letting people put words in our mouths.

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