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Sunday, February 27, 2005


Wanted - a new strategy

Another day, another opinion poll.

This time, it's Communicate Research in the
Independent on Sunday, where the headline figures are Labour 41%, Conservatives 34% and the Liberal Democrats 17%.

This poll confirms the trends indicated in the MORI and ICM polls a few days ago, of a Tory revival and a slippage in Lib Dem support.

Since the main movement in support lately has not been between the Tories and Lib Dems but between Labour and the Lib Dems, one assumes that what is happening here is that Labour is losing some support to the Tories over race-related issues such as immigration, while picking up Labour-Lib Dem waverers who are becoming scared of a Tory win.

The Liberal Democrats can at least console themselves with the thought that, at 17%, they are three points ahead of where they were at an equivalent stage four years ago. That, plus the party's famous ability to target and its tendency to advance during an election campaign, make the gloomy predictions of fewer than 40 seats somewhat far-fetched.

However, the point I made in my
earlier posting remains valid. The Liberal Democrats can no longer credibly talk of being the "only effective opposition" when the Tories are setting the agenda.

The Tories are playing a long game. Their strategy in this election is not to win (much as they would like to) but to re-establish their credibility as the opposition. Many commentators have observed that the Tories' emphasis on saloon-bar populist issues has served only to consolidate the Tory base rather than win many converts. They ignore the fact that this Tory media blitz has also pushed the Lib Dems into the background.

The Liberal Democrat strategy of replacing the Tories was doomed from the start and it should now be obvious that it hasn't worked. So what are we left with? It has been clear in recent months that the party is torn between its liberal instincts and populist temptations. Look at how it has dithered on a string of civil liberties issues, for example, not certain whether to support its MP Evan Harris's brave stand against the incitement to religious hatred law or whether to cave in to religious bullies. Admittedly, Charles Kennedy went to the trouble of
launching a five-point plan for civil liberties on 8th February, but he has since done nothing to follow this through.

If the party needs a new strategy, I wonder whether the leadership has ever considered Liberalism? It has a strong appeal to the educated, cosmopolitan and progressive-minded section of the electorate currently ill-served by the other two parties. Indeed, the decision by the Tories and Labour to fight it out on authoritarian right-wing territory has left a big space for Liberal Democrats to command.

Go on Charlie, why not give it a try?

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