Do you know how to change the sports team that someone supports?

A crowd of Lego figures - CC0 Public Domain

Pick your favourite sport.

Now pick your favourite team or, if it’s a sport for individuals, your favourite sports star.

Next think of their deadliest rival.

Now imagine I decide to try to persuade you to switch from your hero to their deadliest opponent. What sort of arguments are going to work?

Practical arguments could work. But only a bit. I mean who is going to switch their allegiances because the average ticket price to see that rival / enemy / nemesis is £5.38 lower?

You’ll probably also be fairly immune to personal failings of your favourite. A drink drive conviction, even if it followed the death of a pedestrian in an accident, isn’t going to move many. Something really serious might at least get you to decide to stop cheering your favourite, such as a conviction for child abuse. but it’d have to be pretty serious.

Even if I manage to wow you with just how much more tactically smart that rival / enemy / nemesis is and get you to grudgingly appreciate their brilliance, it’s still not going to get that far if your favourite is also that of your friends, neighbours or colleagues. That sense of community and identification which comes from supporting who you support is a very heavy anchor holding you back from change.

The reason for pointing all this out? This is much how political party loyalty usually works too. Yet the sort of political arguments deployed in an attempt to win people over are often of the ‘but our tickets are £5.38 cheaper’ type. They can work were loyalty is weak and choices are finely posed.

Long-term political success requires a deeper and more durable shift in loyalty and self-identity. When a party has it, it makes it remarkably resilience to bad times. Look at what happened to Labour in 1983 or the Conservatives in 1997. Completely mullered, and yet yet vote shares above what the Lib Dems and post-1945 predecessors have achieved even in our very best years. And still hundreds of MPs.

To grow, parties have to win over more of those fans. That’s why important as pointing at potholes is to Liberal Democrats (and the practical improvements which flow from pointing are substantive, practical improvements to people’s lives), it’s not enough. We also need to secure attachment to the party that isn’t just based on things we do which others can do too (yes, non-Lib Dems can point too) but also based on what we believe that others don’t.