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….