The head and the heart

The reasons why people choose the Lib Dems.

I asked Nick Clegg yesterday at conference for some shorthand for what we stand for. What is the liberal language we should be using in our everyday conversation? What's the elevator sell?

I rather like his answer.

"We should answer the call of the head and the heart."

By which he meant that we should deliver the fiscal rectitude the country needs (and Labour can't claim to have delivered) and also ensure that the life chances of every person are never blighted by the circumstances of their birth - everyone should have an opportunity for greatness. The 'caring' territory that the nasty party (not my phrase) would struggle to own.

Now, I'm presuming that core Labour and Tory supporters have nipped straight to the comments section (go on, knock yourself out). But to everyone else, 'the head and the heart' deserves a closer look than just a face value evaluation.

As Nick reminded me, as a party we don't have that cultural reserve of supporters who vote Lib Dem out of a sense of tribal loyalty, choosing us out of an intuitive sense of supporting the group they come from. Of course there is a core of supporters (puts own hand up, waves) who passionately believe in the principals of liberalism. But then there is also a large group who see how we as a party choose to express those principals through policy, and then decide to support us (or not).

Both of these groups have therefore found objective reasons to choose to support the Lib Dems. We don't have that base who support us out of a kind of visceral sense of belonging, which both the Labour Party and the Conservatives can boast.

So ensuring that we follow both 'the head and the heart' means that we deliver policies that both match the creed of liberalism, and the sense of fairness that draws supporters to the party.

We should be a party of hope, not fear and ensure that every child is given the chance to do great things.

You can shout all you like about whether we're delivering or not. I expect you already are.

But as a sentiment to take away from Birmingham, it's a standard I'd happily be held to.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which has been named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496