Sunday, 29 May 2011

Mettle and muscles

A necessary period of reflection following the disastrous AV Referendum, albeit with the (very small) consolation prize of being a resident of Hackney which succeeded in securing the highest "Yes2AV" vote in the country. 

My own modest campaigning efforts which included a stint on a stall in Broadway Market, revealed the difficulty in explaining the intracacies of the proposed (inferior) AV system to voters, but also a disinct malaise amongst the electorate, many of whom seemed unmotivated and unmoved to even vote. Despite the best efforts of representatives from all main parties, the media succeeded in reducing the whole debate to an anti-Clegg issue - and that's without the dirty tricks, lies and confusion created by the No2AV campaign

However, as Dr Mark Park so eloquently puts it in his article, it's not time to abandon one our fundamental policies (one of four). We have been campaigning on electoral reform for an exceedingly long time (as this blog is testament to). The issue has never been one to light up the doorstep or letterbox with either interest or enthusiasm. We came so tantalisingly close to actually having a debate on our political system, but somehow we blew it. 

On a personal level, I never thought the slogan, "Make your MPs work harder" was any good - or even accurate in terms of its assertion. I have always believed LibDem MPs (and LibDem Peers) work incredibly hard. At the same time, it's a great shame that the media has been handed a "Golden Scoop" award for their stories on MPs Chris Huhne and David Laws.

As an issue of fairness and equality, electoral reform transcends traditional Party political boundaries and should therefore rightly be broadened out to beyond ownership and identification with any one individual party. As Unlock Democracy highlights in a recent article on the lessons to be learned from the referendum, a Citizen's movement is needed. The basis of any such movement already exists across the various entities that campaigned for a change to our voting system and other important constitutional reforms.

Meanwhile, the LibDems in Government have an ideal opportunity to continue pressing not just for constitutional reform, but on the other key platforms that formed the basis of coalition conditions and agreement. But we need to make it absolutely clear that we will not - and cannot - sacrifice our principles and policies where no such an agreement even exists. This is perhaps what Clegg means by "muscular libralism". 

Alongside any new 'flexing of muscles', I for one would like to see a whole new strategy and approach to our communications policy as a party. We need to be smarter, clearer and considerably more articulate in getting our messages and policies across to the electorate. We cannot rely on the traditional media to give us a fair hearing or to report without bias. And we must try to win back the younger electorate, many of whom feel so deeply disappointed and disillusioned with our stance on tuition fees (another policy that we failed to get across properly).

It is absolutely clear that electoral support for our traditional two-party system has diminished considerably in the post-war years - despite the considerable set-back in the recent local government elections. We have previously fought our way back from way back in the polls but it has always been from a position in opposition. We now have the opportunity to really demonstrate our mettle and our muscle!