Targeting Plus: how we can rebuild the Liberal Democrats

As a follow-up to last year’s pamphlet on building a Liberal Democrat core vote, over the summer I wrote a new pamphlet: How to rebuild the Liberal Democrats, now in an updated second edition.

Packed with fifty-three specific recommendations, it’s a more direct hands-on guide to what changes the party needs to make in strategy, organisation and activity not only to recover but to build a better, more durable and then more successful party than we have managed in the past.

The Targeting Plus strategy it sets out rests on four pillars: building a core vote, increasing capacity, a different model for local party development and innovation.

It has now been updated slightly in light of the lessons from the Witney and Richmond Park Parliamentary by-elections, along with a couple of other additions in response to earlier feedback (for which, thank you).

Here is How to rebuild the Liberal Democrats in full for you to read:

UPDATE: Reinventing the Liberal Democrats (by Jim Williams and Mark Pack) takes this set of detailed ideas, adds some more, and turns it into a strategy for the party. As for the continuing importance of targeting, see this video.

One response to “Targeting Plus: how we can rebuild the Liberal Democrats”

  1. This is an extraordinary piece of work, although I feel it misses major points.

    Listening to the Sunday Politics programme Bournemouth street vox pops, people were asked to suggest an animal that portrayed the LibDems and why. Of course we cannot tell how large the sample was and how it was edited down. Also, there is an inherent degree of humour invoked. But the impressions broadcast by punters generally conveyed pointlessness, weakness, vagueness, a lack of direction and just rolling over. Cats and kittens seemed to be the biggest reference and Labradors also featured.

    Clearly some of this refers to being in junior coalition with the main enemy, the Tories, highly toxic to most LibDem voters in the days of 20 odd percent support. It struck me how little information was getting to the public about LibDem achievements at the time or since. Was it a deliberate policy always to refer to 1-3 government items so as not to overload people with information? It gave people the impression that very little was achieved for propping up a right wing government. I would have expected a list of achievements to be published. If there was one, where is it?

    Even on headline LibDem achievements such as near doubling of the basic rate income tax threshold, not enough was done to secure that in the public’s mind this was a LibDem policy, while the Tories claimed it and suggested that it was put through by their leadership in the Treasury. Quotes from Cameron in the 2010 election campaign saying it was a good idea but unaffordable should have been hammered and hammered while referring to the £70 bn they have now allocated between top rate tax thresholds, Bank levy, large Corporations ( having received a far bigger cut than small companies) and the estates of the rich dead. This issue should still feature to illustrate that the Tories are only interested in helping a rich minority and this plays very well with the public now.

    For the LibDems to get back into people’s minds, they need to be distinctive, bold, radical and offering a big vision. It has to be simple enough for most people to grasp, but with a medium level of information available for the politically interested to take hold of, as well as having the policy paper details behind it. Instead, the party policy lists published in the serious papers were mushy and indistinct and nothing grabbed anyone.

    I read the LibDem Industrial Policy papers and nothing grabbed me that I could remember or break down and recite simply. It was centre right market orientated vagueness, the stuff of technocrats. In a world where FPTP voting puts a monopoly of mainstream rightwingery into the Tory Party, I do not see why the LibDems should be promoting a soft version of it. There is no electoral base for free market liberalism outside of the Tory Party and there is little of the real world to support that largely fantasy policy position since the 19th Century. The miffed outgoing UK diplomat who headed Trade policy said “there is no such thing as free trade”

    I am very encouraged by Vince Cable’s re-positioning of the LibDems as a centre left party which is it’s only natural environmental space at least until PR voting arrives, mentioning Industrial Policy and economic aspects such as productivity and re-investing in Britain, as well as the Single Market and Customs Union.

    Unless and until the UK economy is modernised and re-structured, the dissatisfaction with politicians, the political system and parties in general, will continue. With brexit, when it actually lands this is likely to get worse.
    The LibDems under Vince need to be re-invented as the party to re-build Britain. I would point to Co-operative Capitalism of Germany and the Nordic Countries, which has produced some of the highest living standards in history and strong social benefits such as better quality healthcare for all and higher pensions. It helps to have real examples int he world to point to.

    In promoting the expansion of manufacturing, that would tie in with promoting the regions, with Regional Assemblies for England. Training could be further expanded and tie in with employers needs and the education system, as in Germany and could support people who would otherwise be laid off during recessions, as in Germany. This reduces the depth of recessions and allows firms to be ready to expand when the downturn ends.

    Further reform on Industrial finance would help and greater government support for industry in depressed areas would make better use of poorly employed labour and available empty building space in the regions, while reducing over development in London and the South_East. The Tory laissez faire attitude to regional policy has caused a disastrous imbalance in the UK, with a lack of transfer payments even compared to USA. The UK has 8/10 of the poorest regions in Northern Europe and lower GDP per head than Eire.

    Infrastructure spending has to be increased in the north of England and the regions outside of London/SE, such as the east/west railway linking northern towns. The Tories toyed with it but will not deliver and are still massively expanding London instead.

    The structural imbalance in the UK economy with the UK’s 6% balance of payments deficit causes the Treasury to have to borrow in now more expensive foreign currency to make that up. To counter this, exports should be promoted much more aggressively, such as with overseas trade show support and grants to overseas advertising.

    The Tory solution to promoting business is mainly with tax cuts. The downside of this is that there is little incentive to expand or to move to regions to make use of resources there. Instead, tax cuts tend to make companies just expand their dividend to shareholders without needing to risk investments. The UK’s lower Corporation tax rates have encouraged low investment as a proportion of National Income, compared to Germany and France and other major industrial countries and the UK’s large companies are sitting on a lot of cash while Investment is low and falling. They claim the low Corpn Tax rates bring in more money, but what happened is that declaration of profits were moved to the years after the rate cuts and some economic growth is continuing.

    What inward investment and much domestic investment that there is into the UK tends to re-enforce the UK’s old class based rentier attitudes. It goes into limited supply property and land, bidding up the price and making it harder and harder for most people to be able to afford to live. This is no longer sustainable and has gone far too far and has to be reversed to cool the property market and I like Vince’s announcement of a Wealth Tax. Banks have largely decided that they do not wish to invest in industry and instead take the Bank of England Quantative Easing funds and invest in land, property, speculations and various financial instruments. Should we allow this to continue?

    I do not understand why the productive areas of the economy of labour and companies pay the taxes, including the poorest earners, but holders of large land holdings do not? Large properties are also undertaxed after the rates were replaced by Council Tax with it’s top band set at something like an executive 5 bed home with nothing extra paid for a mansion.

    Untaxed Land has inflated the value of it, making it difficult to purchase by farmers and I would suggest taxing it for personal use, with a tax break for farming as productive and for strategic food production.

    Of course, a lot of this is in Labour territory, but the LibDems did prosper a great deal wore when they were perceived as to the left of NeuLabor in general. What the LibDems need to do is to forge a combination of business friendliness and economic expansion with caring attitude to society’s needs, but with economic and fiscal competence.

    This last point is the weak point of the hard left running Labour. Corbyn/McDonnell love spending so much that wish to spend £250bn on Industrial expansion and £250bn on infrastructure ( 10 years) all on extra borrowing on top of all the other borrowing to give every union the pay rises they ask for. This is such a massive figure that it would be impossible to spend without it mainly going on overseas construction companies, overseas labour and into inflation and likely higher interest rates. It would be likely to cause another International bail out and extreme austerity after that. Previous old Labour had the late 70’s IMF bail out, Brown mismanaged the 2008 bank bail out and let them effectively off the required lending levels inherent in the deal. Then there is the Corbyn’s support for the Venezuelan regime which even under pressure, he will not renege on.

    What is needed is a muscular liberalism, supply side incentives and support to business expansion, regional support, training, finance and infrastructure instead of just tax cuts, with taxes shifted towards property, wealth and land. But it needs to differentiate with Labour in economic competence, clarity and realism.

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