Liberal Democrat Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander holds up the Lib Dems "budget box" during the party's spring conference at the ACC on March 14, 2015 in Liverpool, England. Photo: Getty Images
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How can we trust the Lib Dems when they don't know if they're yellow or orange?

Colour confusion.

Labour are red. The Conservatives are blue. Ukip are purple. The Greens are, well, you know. But what colour stands for the Liberal Democrats?

Look to Danny Alexander, for example, and it might appear a simple answer: it's yellow. Above, you can see him holding that yellow briefcase he had specifically made for his awkward damp squib of an "alternative" Lib Dem budget.

It's hard to define what colour something really is from just one photograph - for a host of reasons - but chances are that briefcase adheres to the official Lib Dem internal style guide, which mandates that the primary colour for party materials should be Pantone 1235C:

(Pantone is a company that produces standardised colour reproduction systems, ie, a way to define colours more precisely than "a sort-of goldy-yellow".)

This precise tone of yellow was introduced in 2009 as part of a party-wide branding exercise; but look through any photo archive, and it's clear that the Lib Dems still don't know what colour they are.

Look through the merchandise available on Lib Dem Image ("the official supplier of Lib Dem party branded goods, gifts and campaigning products for over 14 years") and it's a riot of orange and orange-related shades. Badges? Orange. Bags? Black and bright yellow. Car flags? Slightly darker orange. Rosettes? Slightly lighter orange. Stickers? Black and Halloween orange.

Lib Dem conferences seem to change colour from year to year. Compare 2015...

Photo: Getty Images

...to 2014...

Photo: Getty Images

...to 2013...

Photo: Getty Images

...to 2012...

Photo: Getty Images

...and so on and so on.

Go to a Lib Dem rally, too, and it's hard to miss that the big diamond placards that the party has handed out to activists for years come in a range of yellow-to-orange colours:

Photo: Getty Images

This crisis of brand identity is even referenced (subtly) in the design of the party's website:

Maybe this inconsistency is deliberate - maybe it's an unconscious representation of how much success the Orange Bookers are having in internal party discussions. And perhaps it's just because the Lib Dems are good-natured, go-with-the-wind types who know that both the SNP and Labour have their own tones of yellow, and avoiding confusion is sometimes more important than brand integrity.

But the question remains: if a party has no integrity in its brand, how can we trust it to have integrity in government? Hmm? #makeuthink

UPDATE: We have been informed by a party insider - who wishes not to be named - that the logo for Liberal Reform (a group within the party that "promotes four-cornered freedom in the Liberal Democrats – personal, political, social and economic liberalism") contains four shades of yellow-orange:

We're through the looking glass here, people.

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.