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Saturday 19 October 2013

A Party of Government or a Party of Protest?

I remain as bemused as ever by the use of the expression ‘ a party of government, not a party of protest’ by our Westminster representatives.

It is generally used to criticize the grassroots, when they kick up a fuss about MPs (or indeed Peers) actively supporting legislation which appears to deliver the opposite of party policy (although not, as we shall see, exclusively so).

The latest MP to use the term is of course Jeremy Browne in his interview in The Times, and ironically enough, the target of his ire on this occasion is not the membership but Nick Clegg. Apparently Jeremy’s sacking was a direct result of his trying to make the party look like a ‘Party of Government’ and his removal represents a swerve to the left, which is apparently where the Party of Protest lives…

I’d make a number of points about all this.

One of the problems all 3 of the main parties have is that the electorate increasingly sees them to all be the same. There was a time (up to around May 2010) when the Lib Dems were seen as rather different to the other 2 big parties, in terms of position, approach and tone. Indeed, we promised a different type of politics. People seemed to like it – which was why we gradually built a share of the vote. We have now lost that differentiation, largely as a result of our desire to be seen as a ‘Party of Government’ (like Labour and the Tories). The ‘not like the rest’ mantle seems to have been taken up, ironically, by UKIP. In polling at least, it seems to be working rather well for them.

Secondly, what is the point in being in government if you don’t deliver policies that reflect your central beliefs. There is of course a long list of stuff we have delivered in government – may I suggest that this is what will stand us in good stead come the next election, as will the long list of Tory initiatives we have stopped. Those things we have largely swallowed against our will are not going to benefit us, however much some may think we look like a ‘ Party of Government’. Sure, we may have HAD to do some of them to get some of the things we wanted to happen – but to pretend we’re glad of that would make us look like a bunch of hypocrites.

Thirdly, there is a touch of irony is there not that Jeremy, as a result of his fight to make us look like a party of government, finds himself removed from government. Surely there is a lesson there? I guess he didn’t get the differentiation strategy memo?

Finally, if we are to be seen as a Party of Government, I wonder if Jeremy (and others who use the Party of Government tag) will be as consistent should we find ourselves in coalition again, only with Labour? There is a tendency to regard the folk who populate the ‘Party of Protest’ as those from the SLF wing of the party, where the Liberal Reformers seem more comfortable with the Party of Government. Time may show us if this argument is more to do with political positioning than it is the good governance of Britain


  1. Perhaps the reason why all three political parties are perceived as all being the same is that they have all bought into the concept of the mixed economy with the state being responsible for about 40% of GDP. Consequently on the economy the differences between the parties are at the margins, and their room for manoeuvre limited. In opposition Lib Dems were able to project and image as being fundamentally different from Labour and the Tories by emphasising non-economic issues, but this is more difficult in Government, as governments are primarily judged on their economic success or failure. UKIP has the distinct advantage not only being in opposition, but in pushing a policy which few in the leadership of the Labour, Conservative, or Liberal Democrat parties, whatever the rhetoric, seriously support, namely withdrawal from the EU.

  2. Yes, I think all that's correct. However I also think UKIP have worked out that they have a great chance of securing votes from people who are less interested in their policies per se, but who want to vote for 'none of the above' - the classic protest vote.