'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Monday, 19 September 2011

The Comments section of The New Statesman take no prisoners.

So my New Statesman piece was up for 10 minutes before I got the first complaint that I hadn’t revealed much about what Nick said to me, Nick Thornsby, Matthew Gibson and Neil Monnery in our 40 minutes with The Leader (as everyone seemed to call him) yesterday.

Of course not. I’m a blogger. I have to eke this stuff out.

So, dear readers of A View from Ham Common. You get first dibs.

My first question. Driven by the ad man in me.

Nick: you’ve spoken a lot in recent weeks and months about how we should use Liberal language more and more, and not the language of the left or right. However there is easy shorthand for the left and right – for example, say “high taxes, better public services” and people know that’s Labour. What’s our elevator sell – and why have we have we found it so hard to express it?

Nick’s off the cuff answer was

“ A Strong Economy and a Fair Society’

Now, my initial reaction was that I wasn’t big on this. The great thing about an elevator sell is that it’s not only true about you and a perfect encapsulation of what you stand for, but also that no one else can say it. Can we honestly say that Labour and the Tories couldn’t stick that up on their conference podium and defend it?

However, that was just a preamble. Then Nick got going. And it got better.

He talked about the Lib Dems wanting to stand for ‘The Head and the Heart’. That Labour can make the case for the heart but not the cool judgment of economic competence that drives the head. And the Tories might do the head bit, but can they credibly claim the heart?

Yet liberalism intuitively balances the two and can credibly claim to uniquely deliver them both. And this is a key difference. I heard later that this was a line he was using around conference a lot.

As a positioning, I think Head and Heart has got legs. Whether we can get people to listen to the message is a whole other ball game, but at least that’s a flag in the sand.

Nick then also spoke about individualism. The fact that it’s a disgrace that peoples life expectancy, life choices, job expectations can be driven by their circumstances at birth. He described it as almost a caste like segregation and that Liberalism should be a fight to say every child is given the chance to do great things.

So there’s the challenge. Head and Heart. Social Mobility. Combined in one easy to remember sentence.

I’ll get back to you on that when I’ve cracked it.

More later on WHY we struggle to say these things….


  1. I don't think the Conservatives have cracked the head bit either - they are quite often blinded by ideology, blinded by their emotions and belief of what they think is right - which they've based on their twisted rationality. This is true of Labour as well - the belief and ideology has changed.

    The Lib Dems can take a step back and say "hang on - what's actually going on." Even when we are incredibly emotional - we let science and the evidence lead us.

  2. Ah, good point, but I really meant the public's perception or understanding of what Tories/Labour stand for. Theresa May was right way back when she referred to the nasty party, in that they were seen as the party that would cut emotion from the decision.

    Interestingly - and I'm going to write about this - the reason the Tories and Labour maintain a rump of support is people voting tribally or from background - voting for the group they belong to. We don't have this tribalism - and attract support often for objective reasons based on like/dislike of policy based on evidence.

    It's probably short term way of attracting support but not a long term way of keeping it.

    I will try and be more erudite later. Probably over at The Statesman.


  3. I know what you mean but public perception comes from not the perception but their rhetoric of free markets and of taking the standard economic "rational" line, that we make decisions based on a cost/benefit analysis.

    Making those decisions lead to the "head" but not the "heart" analogy because it is a very cold/robotic way to make decisions.

    I would like to think we're where the behavioural economics is but i'm not sure even we're there yet.

    The tribalism thing is sort of covered in behavioural economics as making one decision and then base future decisions based on that on that one decision.