I was thinking I might make it all the way to Conference before I found myself blogging about Lib Dem things again, but just when I thought I was out, the anonymous briefings drag me back in.
Yes, the world’s most inept performers of political mood music are back, and still pushing their ‘vision’ for the future of the party. It’s a struggle to work out which is the most depressing moment of the story, but I’m going to pluck for the realisation that if someone other than Vince is leaking ‘Momentum for Moderates’ it means that not only has more than one person heard that phrase, it means none of them responded with ‘are you going to call it Inertia?’
Like Home Office civil servants pushing ID cards, Liberal Democrat apparatchiks are pushing their solution-in-search-of-a-problem, the registered supporters scheme. Having ruled out the party’s traditional ways of getting support like developing eye-catching radical policy or having a dynamic and engaging leadership that connects with the public because they’d involve doing some actual work and political thinking, we’re instead left with a marketing gimmick imported from abroad that’s had a debatable level of success when it’s been tried in other British political parties.
Anyway, I’ve discussed this all before and probably will several times again if the membership are going to be presented with some actual proposals rather than leaks in the near future. What’s got me annoyed today is an anonymous source eager to give some ‘advice’ to an MP:
Meanwhile (Layla) Moran is instead being talked up as the next party president, when Sal Brinton’s term comes to an end next year.
“She’s only been an MP for a year so the advice that Layla has received is that she should go for party president first,” one party source said. “It’s quite a good route in, especially if you’re a local campaigner type rather than a policy-driven statesman type person.”
Let’s break this down, shall we?
First, one common response to the ‘let’s have a non-MP as leader’ suggestion has been ‘hi, have you met the party presidency?’ It’s a high-profile position in the party that’s regularly been filled by a non-MP and has an important role in shaping and leading the future direction of the party. If we’re eager to promote non-MP talent, then perhaps giving the party presidency the sort of financial and logistical support that would allow anyone to take it on would be a way of doing that.
(There’s also the case that when MPs have taken on the role in the past, we had a lot more than 12 of them, so one of them spending their time on party business was easy to accommodate, which I suspect it wouldn’t be now)
But of most interest here is the final line, that going for the Presidency is good “if you’re a local campaigner type rather than a policy-driven statesman type person”. There’s a nasty level of condescension behind that and the assumption that Moran is just a ‘local campaigner type’ and oddly, I can’t remember any similar suggestions being made to Nick Clegg when he was preparing his leadership bid after having been an MP for about as long as she has been.
(The very cynical part of me notes that certain party grandees started banging the ‘wouldn’t having a leader who’s not an MP be good?’ drum around the point when it became clear that the two leading candidates for next leader were both women. The rest of me would like to believe that’s just a coincidence.)
The other interesting part about that quote is that I was at Social Liberal Forum conference a couple of months ago where I saw Layla Moran give the Beveridge Memorial Lecture (you can read it here or watch it here) in which she talked about radical reforms to education and proposed more policies and ideas for policies than our “policy-driven statesmen” have managed between them in the past year. I’m sure the source was far too busy going off and being important somewhere to notice that, but it seems to be that putting an actual teacher in charge of the party’s education brief is doing more for it than all the clever wheezes about supporters’ schemes and the like.
And is there a rule that to qualify to be a ‘source’ for one of these stories you have to have little knowledge of the party and politics generally? Because when you get people saying things like:
“Are we a German-style FDP party like [Nick] Clegg wanted, a sensible moderate party of government, or are we a [Charles] Kennedy-style SDP-style protest party?”
it suggests to me that it’s that person who doesn’t know who they are and might need to think over some things rather than opening their mouth to the press and revealing their lack of knowledge of the party. Leaving aside the whole confusion of Kennedy and the SDP (or see Andrew Hickey on that) the ‘protest party’ of 1999–2006 that certain people in the party like to denigrate had more MPs and consistently higher poll ratings than the party had managed before or since and was also in power across the country, gaining councils and council seats, as well as being part of the Scottish Government throughout that time. This was a time when Liberal Democrats were making a difference throughout the country, a big difference from the consistent loss of councils and councillors throughout the Clegg era as long as the belief that local politics didn’t matter as long as ineffective bums were kept on ministerial seats.
Yes, the party needs to change and it needs to inspire people to back us and vote for us again. We aren’t going to do that by pitching ourselves as ‘Momentum for moderates’ or any other sort of Sensible Centrist process stories, and the sooner people stop thinking there’s a piece of magic that will revive us if they reverently incant ‘Macron’ and ‘Trudeau’ enough, the sooner we can get on with being a radical and liberal party again.