Libdems: To Decline or Thrive ?
By Steve Bolter
To Decline or to Thrive?
All political parties try to find goodies to offer at election time, but to win elections needs more than top-of-the-pops goodies, wrapped in the party colour. The names of the Labour and Conservative parties imply their relative stance. Their policies get high exposure in the media.
The Lib Dems need more than pop goodies. They need policies that differentiate them from the two mass parties that define themselves (and their splinter groups) by their positions on a left right spectrum. Labelling ourselves as at the centre of their spectrum is the last thing we should do.
Because Lib Dems work for all sections of society, they get labelled as centrist, but politics cannot be reduced to positions on a left right axis; the centre of which is moveable by the extremists.
The Party's name expresses the tension between the freedom of the individual and the collective will of the people or demos
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The Party needs to explain itself, not just with a list of policy highlights, but also by explaining the principles we apply when making policy.
Between elections, we need not only to be true to our principles; we must explain how we use them to build our policies. We need to avoid being accused of being illiberal, undemocratic, or even un-green. Public statements, including motions, must be designed to minimise the risk of misinterpretation; and we must be ready to defend potentially controversial policies before they are announced.
At Elections we have to select policies to feature - balancing importance, topicality and the appeal to people who share our values.
The whole Word is facing damaging climate change and environmental degradation, which needs international action to prevent catastrophic and irreversible change. It is also facing the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In Europe, the EU 27 and the UK have been under strain. European political and economic success is leading to a loss of common vision, both intrinsically and by us becoming a target for economic immigration, intensifying selfishness and xenophobia..
Thus in 2019 the United Kingdom faced:
Man-made Climate Change and other environmental degradation pollution, biodiversity loss, resource depletion), mostly driven by the "developed World" but, so far, affecting the "third World" most;
Loss of influence and economic disruption caused by the Government's determination to remove us from the EU without an agreement that would allow free trade:
From 2020 it continues to face A and B, but also faces
A viral pandemic which originated in Asia, but is affecting the world.
To attract voters, nationally of locally, the Lib Dems have to show their guiding principles can lead to the best solutions for the current situation, in a way that inspires confidence in the Party's ability to address the problems of the future.
Of these problems, A is by far the most important. Without the responsible engagement of all the major nations, unstoppable global heating could wipe out civilisation as we know it, generate famine and wars; and eventually wipe out humankind.
Most of the media portray B, leaving the EU, as if it is just about short-term economics. Leaving the Government's way will be a major blow to the economy in the short and medium term, but the EU is about much more than trade. The EC / EU has achieved half a century of peace in western Europe, and, overall, a good influence on the rest of the world. Leaving without a close, formal relationship with the EU would cut our influence in the world, making us rule takers, not leaders. We will not influence decisions on adapting to climate change, or decisions on coping the level of mass migration and wars which climate change will generate. The effect on long-term wellbeing at home and abroad is more important than short term economics.
C, the COVID 19 Pandemic, which has resulted in death and disability in tragic circumstances. It has disrupted the whole life of the nation, destroying jobs and ambitions. However, its long term effect will be smaller than from major climate change, pollution and war. We must remember we are mortal. The species lives on, not the individual. The principal long-term effect of COVID-19 is likely to be a slight reduction in life expectancy.
It is my opinion that the order importance for the campaign was A B C - Climate, Europe, Pandemic
In 2019, mass demonstrations; media coverage of Greta Thunberg, school strikes and the antics of Extinction Rebellion; plus some wonderful wildlife television by David Attenborough - brought awareness of the need for action against climate change and biodiversity loss to its highest level ever.
It was our best time ever. In Conservative facing seats Labour and Green sympathisers were promising to back us.
However, despite pleas from experience door knocking activists, the Lib Dem campaign team gave climate change and sustainability little exposure. Climate was relegated to section 5 in the 2019 Election Manifesto. As the election approached, not only did the climate crisis take a back seat, the EU did too. The argument for remaining (in or) close to, the EU and the policies we would pursue with it, gave way to titillating, but not vote winning, speculation, personalities and posturing.
It was little wonder that when knocking up in the rain of Election day, many of those who, only a few weeks previously, had promised me they would vote for us, told me they had changed their mind.
For the much of 2020, Covid-19 "news" (very little of which was new) has dominated the media. The climate crises seemed to have been put in the background.
The Lib Dem hierarchy conformed. September's Federal Conference Agenda was littered with motions on or referring to COVID-19. Even the motion principally on Environment, was entitled F21 "A Green Recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic" and contained the assertion "i) Excluding the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency is the biggest issue facing the UK and the world. THIS IS UNTRUE. Without strong action, the climate emergency will kill many times more than this Pandemic and could lead to the extinction of humanity.
Federal Conference Committee refused to accept any of the amendments that would remove that statement, or to accept a separate vote on it, thus removing the opportunity to restate the important emphasis the Party places on green issues.
CoP 26, that us the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, will be in Glasgow from the 1st to the 12th of November 2021. Unless we can ride the revival in media interest in the fight against a catastrophic rate of Climate Change, we will lose any chance of being taken as major party with an important message.
Green Liberal Democrats need to continue to discuss scientific evidence, the principles of the way forward, the available technology and innovative propositions; but must not neglect our role to educate. We need to do more to help ordinary members, campaigners, councillors, MPs and Party post holders understand our existing policy and to spot greenwash or groundless claims.
The Party has the best Climate policy, better than the Green Party, better than Labour, but announces it in badly expressed motions and then hides it away.
Parliamentary Party members and staff, the Federal Board, the Federal Policy Committee, Federal Communications and Elections Committee, The Federal Conference Committee, Headquarters staff and Regional leaders - need to pull together to promote policy in a way that will exploit the 2021 resurgence of public interest in Climate Change and other Environmental issues such as Biodiversity, Farming practices, Antibiotic misuse, Pollution and Resource depletion,
In the Green Liberal Democrats, the Party has a reservoir of interest, enthusiasm and expertise, available for tasks from policy development to proof reading, yet, even with an HQ staff shortage it was underexploited in the run up to the 2019 election.
The GREAT NEWS is that THINGS ARE CHANGING. There is much more contact between Green Liberal Democrats and Westminster.
To pull ourselves up, we must all pull together. To pull us up we must not just look for popular "centre ground", we must exploit our strong, practical stand on the Environment that differentiates us from other parties.