That Lib Dem health petition: good idea, modest execution

As this Parliament comes to an end, the official Liberal Democrat operation has been slowly waking up to the fact that being in government doesn’t stop you campaigning outside Parliament to change government policy. If ministers are arguing within government for a policy change, adding in grassroots campaigning for that very same policy change not only increases the chance of securing it,* it also raises the likely political credit for the victory if it comes.

It was way back in 2011 that I pointed out that (somewhat to his chagrin, triggering a fun little exchange on Twitter) John Prescott makes an excellent role model for the Liberal Democrats in one respect:

Embracing the campaigning power of members and supporters would not only boost the party’s impact on government, it would also give members and supporters ways of feeling involved, committed and motivated – and to see how Liberal Democrat presence and pressure can make a difference.

It is also the route by which a much stronger data culture can be built up in the party, valuing the accumulation and good use of data such as email address lists.

Understandably, Nick Clegg may be reluctant to walk out of a meeting with a Conservative Cabinet Minister and send out an email asking people to lobby that minister, but with more imagination there is much the party – and in particular via the President, not in government – can do to campaign rather than watch.

John Prescott is not every liberal’s first choice as a role model but the campaigning he did on banker bonuses whilst Labour was in government was a good example of how being in power does not have to kill grassroots campaigning for national objectives.

So it’s very good indeed to see Norman Lamb launch a campaign for an increase in health funding in the Autumn Statement, including an online petition.

Less good that the petition is noticeably absent from pieces such as his guest post on Lib Dem Voice, which – even worse – is about him making demands rather than about him wanting people to join in a campaign. Less good too that although there is a link on the front page of the party’s website at time of typing, it’s hardly an obvious, enticing one.

Campaigning is good.

Good campaigning would be even better.

But you can help remedy that by signing and sharing the petition yourself.

* Usually. There are a few honourable exceptions where ministers have been working hard for a particular policy in government and made the right judgement call that a party grassroots campaigning would have hindered success. But those are the rare exceptions to a usual diet of campaign neglect.

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