Political

The state of the Liberal Democrat brand that awaits the party’s next leader

Empty podium at a Liberal Democrat conference - photo copyright John Russell johnrussell.zenfolio.com

The latest JL Partners poll includes a batch of questions looking at the overall reputation of the main British political parties:

Below are some statements used to describe political parties. Which party is the following statement a better description of?

Party Conservative Labour Lib Dem Brexit Party Don’t know
Competent, capable 31% 27% 6% 4% 33%
Shares your values 27% 32% 11% 7% 22%
Out of touch 35% 22% 14% 13% 15%
Divided 23% 38% 7% 6% 26%

The usual care needs to be taken in looking at the cross-tabs, but there is a consistent pattern across the age bands for all the different descriptions. The younger a voter is, the better their answers are regarding the Liberal Democrats.

What’s notable is how overall the answers about the Liberal Democrats are the psephological equivalent of meh. Nothing to celebrate, but also not a cesspit of hatred either. Rather, the party needs both to grab attention and to come over as competent.

More on that in my recent podcast with Tim Bale on what opposition parties must do to be successful.

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3 responses to “The state of the Liberal Democrat brand that awaits the party’s next leader”

  1. Talking to voters, one of the reasons we don’t come over as competent is that many don’t know our track record in running the major councils that are or have been in the centre of the major government issues, services, etc. eg Portsmouth for defence, Milton Keynes for house building. So they think of us as competent on very local issues, and as having opinions on the bigger issues, but not having tested those opinions for real. Maybe we need some case studies and summary of that record, so we can say “bring the experience of Lib Dems in xxx to help solve that problem here.” to make the point that we have the know-how.

  2. The new leader must remember that people vote for the candidate/party that they perceive is best going to give them what they need/desire. Past experience tells us that most people have very little interest in politics unless a particular political decision impacts on their lives. Voters want an answer to the question “What’s in it for ME?” question and will vote for the party that best answers that question. This may sound cynical but is the reality we face as a party. How do we get enough people to go to the ballot box and vote for us as Lib Dem’s to put us in a position of power?

  3. This selection of results appears to supply some good insights into why, against all expectations during a period when both Tories and Labour are notable by their lack of ability to inspire the electorate, the LibDems are not flourishing as the great hope of the country to provide the leadership and vision to drive a centrist breakthrough. The ‘Don’t Know’ group may hold the key. It appears to consist of people seeking leadership, clarity of vision, and declaration of values that can overcome general perception of polarity and lack of relevance among the main parties to the needs and interests of the people and of the country. For LibDems there are, I think, two main messages. One is that the Party needs to present a clear, focused vision about what it means to be a LibDem, and how that vision can transform the country as it recovers from both the pandemic and the depredations of Brexit. We need to do no less than redefine what the UK means in terms of our place in the world, our common values, and what it means to be a citizen of the UK. Second, our new leader must waste no time in developing and presenting that clear redefinition as widely and as frequently as is possible. The worst alternative is to be seen as continuing to be out of touch with the electorate. This is a major challenge, however, because such a new set of messages do not give us much time to develop them if we are to embed them sufficiently to make a significant difference by the next General Election. Thus the new leader must hit the ground running. Fortunately we have two candidates who I believe can both meet this challenge, and so it is up to the rest of us to provide all the support we can. It will be a time for action, not deliberation.

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