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The Liberal Democrats are the most interesting of the big three by a mile. So why are they doing their best to disguise it?

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2010 at 10:35 pm

David Weber

Well, why are they? Over the last decade, the Liberal Democrats have built up their reputation for unique policies. During the early boom years, they were the only party to support a 50% tax on the rich. Along with this, they are the only party to have previously committed to policies as radical as a negative income tax (only cosmetically different to the Greens’ infamous “Citizen’s wage”), the only party to argue for a complete overhaul of council tax, the only party to argue for real devolution of policy in health and education, and the only party to commit to a huge rise in the income tax allowance. They’re the only party to (wrongly!) commit to abolishing tuition fees, too.

You may not agree with these. I certainly don’t agree with the detail of many of them. But you can’t deny that they show genuine differences, and far more consistently so than the policies of the big two. When the Tories talk about localism, they hedge their bets, paying lip-service to it one moment (helped on by Caroline Spelman’s lovely belief that it’s ok to trust councils now, because “We control over three times as many councils as our rivals put together”), and talking of freezing council taxes the next. The Tories talk about freeing education in one breath, by adopting Swedish policies, and talk about cutting funding for all teacher trainees with thirds. In an age characterised increasingly by (sometimes erroneous) claims that politicians are “all the same”, and “elections don’t change anything”, the Liberal Democrats have done their fair best to buck the (media invented) trend in recent years. So why has no-one noticed?

It could be demonstrated, rather aptly, by their election slogan, released today. It could be used as a textbook slogan in the future of How Not to do These Things:

“Change that works for you. Building a fairer Britain”

Let’s start with the full stop. Bad idea. The Tories election poster was derided for featuring a comma inbetween the first half, which had the word “cut” and the second, which had the word “NHS”, the idea being that people wouldn’t bother to read past the comma and would only notice “NHS” out of the second half. But at least they didn’t use a full stop. The full stop transforms what should be a snappy slogan into what appears as two separate and distinct pieces of information — a chunky slogan, to say the least.

So now let’s go further, and look at the two pieces of information contained therein. The first is: “Change that works for you.” What does this remind you of? It reminds me very strongly of two things. The first is Barak Obama: “Change we can believe in”. Which was all very well for him, but a) he was running in America, rather than the UK, and b) He might as well have been running here given how much his slogan was heard. Both of which count against the already dubious notion of it’s having a second round of success. I am sure that before long people will be utterly sick of the word “change”.

…given how much the Conservative have been using it. “Vote for Change”, “Year for change”, “Now for change”, have all punctuated headlines with the Conservatives in. In picking a slogan only cosmetically different to those used by David Cameron and Barak Obama, Clegg is almost asking to become invisible. The only way he could make it worse is by adopting — sorry, adapting — Labour’s slogan for the second half of his slogan…

“Building a fairer Britain”. Sound familiar? That’s because it is: “A Future Fair for all” was Labour’s recently released slogan. But at least that had the benefit of palendromic alliteration (I was dying to say that). I’m also pretty certain that “Building Britain’s Future” was a slogan coined by Labour for some initiative or other a year ago. Clegg can certainly earn big brownie points for being green here, as the amount of recycling is impressive.

But the Liberal Democrats really will not gain from this type of nonsense. I remember my History teacher talking about the party some years back; he argued that all it did was to sit in the House of Commons lambasting either side without offering anything new. Views like his are probably more commonplace than the party would care to admit, so why are they doing their level best to encourage them? If the Lib Dems want to be seen as credible king-makers, they need to convince people they are a real alternative, rather than simply more of the same.

Clegg may have been told this slogan would strike a chord by convincing the public that he offered a perfected version of the imperfect promises made by both parties. If so, his PR advice must count as slightly worse than David Cameron’s adman.


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