When doing my series of posts at Christmas about the party’s challenges for 2011 one issue I picked up on was using members and supporters as a campaigning resource:
The party is not exactly short of opponents to overcome when it comes to implementing Liberal Democrat beliefs in government, yet we are not using the party’s grassroots strengths to help win those struggles.
The Conservative Party is, to take one example, split on civil liberties. Many key figures take a similar view to the Liberal Democrats, yet there are also many opponents of what a Liberal Democrat majority government would do. Public pressure has an important role to play in this, yet exhortations to write letters to local newspapers, online petitions, information about how to help key pressure groups – these are all absent from the party’s internal communications as if they only thing party members can be is passive outsiders to things their betters are off doing in meeting rooms in Whitehall.
Given how often I’ve said to others that criticism should be paired up with practical examples of how to remedy matters, I’ve written an example of the sort of email the party could be sending out.
Before I give it, I should say in fairness to those who do the party’s emails that the last major email to come out from the party – last week’s message from Evan Harris – was in my view much better than many of the others in the last few months. Hopefully that is a good sign for the future. However, this example email comes to mind because the lack of such emails (whether from political parties or campaigning organisations) is a point I made at the Netroots UK conference at the weekend – far too much campaigning is about treating the public as cannon fodder to make up the numbers rather than really involving and empowering people.
That said, here’s my example:
From: Vince Cable
Subject: How YOU can help sort out the banking system
Like me, you’ve probably been appalled at the huge financial costs of putting right the mistakes bankers made.
Sir Howard Davies, former chairman of the Financial Services Authority, director of the London School of Economics and a financial establishment man through and through – he’s not wide-eyed left wing anti-capitalist! – puts the final cost of recapitalising the world’s banks at £10 trillion.
The Bank of England – another stalwart of capitalism – puts the costs of the extra debt and lost growth at £150,000 for the average British adult over his or her lifetime.
These are eye-watering sums. And these are the calculations made by people right at the heart of our financial establishment.
Some bankers realise that these sums mean the banking system must never be the same again.
But too many come into my office week in, week out saying, “We’d love to change, but you know…” If we could repay debt with banker excuses for why nothing much should be done quite yet, we could be a very rich country!
Sorting out our banking system doesn’t have to be about what the bankers do, what the regulators do or what I can persuade George Osborne to agree.
It can be about what you do. Right now.
That’s because the biggest reform we need is to separate out the normal, traditional banking for individual customers and businesses (called retail banking) from the speculative investment side of banking. Retail banking needs government under-writing; casino banking does not.
Many bankers do not want this separation to happen. But you can make it happen – by changing your bank account.
Visit our special campaign website www.MoveMyMoney.com to find out if the bank you use for your current account or for any savings mixes up both retail and speculation. If it does, the site also shows you how you can easily move your money to a bank or building society which only does retail banking.
Some bankers may not want to split retail and casino banking.
But it’s not there choice: we can make the split by all of us taking our retail banking away from them.
Please visit www.MoveMyMoney.com now and move your money.
Now there’s quite a lot that could be said about that email draft. It’s not a perfect draft by any means, and it’s an approach that is completely against the norms of how ministers behave.
But it illustrates the wider point: if as a party we believe – really believe – in community politics, there is so much that can be done to help individuals have power over their own lives and the shape of their communities. There is so much too that can be done to see members and supporters as a way to help bring about reforms, rather than as a passive audience awaiting the outcome of the next round of coalition negotiations.
If that’s what we really believe.