At the heart of the strategy which David Howarth and I sketched out for the party in 2015, is a two-fold argument bolstered by the evidence in our pamphlet:
- That the Liberal Democrats suffer from having only a very small number of committed loyalists. This small core vote holds the party back, giving it only weak foundations on which to build.
- The solution is to be found in the sizable chunk of the electorate who shares the party’s values but doesn’t currently think of itself as Liberal Democrat.
There are many ways of fleshing out what those party values are (here’s my set, with varying lengths to suit your mood), but in the current political debates, it’s worth emphasising one particular aspect.
There are people who view themselves as centrist or moderate and would happily use that label who do share the party’s beliefs and we should appeal to. However, being centrist or moderate is not in itself the same as what being a Liberal Democrat means.
Indeed, as Nick Barlow’s excellent analysis highlights, those who describe themselves as centrist are often rather too authoritarian for Liberal Democrat tastes. By all means, we should try to win them over to what we believe – and insulting them is unlikely to be a good step in that direction.
But what we do need to win them over to believe something different, because Liberal Democracy is based on liberalism not authoritarianism.
That liberalism is enriched by other influences, and it’s why thinking we need to build a strong centre party is misplaced. We need to build a strong Liberal Democrat party.