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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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.