Left Out Liberal

A left-wing/liberal look at the UK's General Election of 2005.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Lib Dems - The Real Alternative?

Charles Kennedy today is to unveil his party's slogan for the forthcoming General Election - "The Real Alternative". It is a reasonable comment to make, but unless they can start making headway in the polls over the next few weeks - getting consistently above 20%, they are always going to look less than that.

Charles Kennedy consistently comes out as being the party leader most people would trust. You could argue that that's because he doesn't get enough exposure, but that will be put to the test once the election is called and the equal access to the media becomes enforceable by statute.

As I have said in the past, the Lib Dems probably are the "best" alternative for disenfranchised, ex-Labour, social democratic and liberal voters like me. But we cannot afford to vote Lib Dem if that would risk a Conservative candidate taking the seat. So they are the best of the bunch. But are they a "real" alternative?

I don't think so. There is no chance they're going to get above 100 seats, and 80 maximum is probably more realistic. Most evidence shows the more people who vote Lib Dem, the more Tories get in through the back door. That's a problem of the electoral system, and it shows that they can never be a real alternative, unless 50% or more of the population is prepared to vote for them. So voters must think strategically, and take into account the most likely person to topple a Tory. They are still a dangerous party, and their organisation is much more widespread and resourceful than the Lib Dems. They can create headlines with ease, as we have seen in the past few weeks over immigration. The Lib Dems do not have that power.

If a party cannot get credibility with the media, then it is always going to struggle to get people to listen as they can't find the message in the first place. They must professionalise themselves... bring in strong and charismatic speakers to the front bench, who can hold their own in three-way debates, and ensure that they get their opinions across. People still have the stereotype that the Lib Dem speaker can be safely ignored as they always have "crazy ideas" for this country. But that is what people thought of Labour when Michael Foot was the leader.

Things can change. The Lib Dems can become a real alternative if Labour and the Tories continue to converge towards the centre ground. They will be able to act as a party that presents a real difference. It requires time, and the right balance of spokespeople. But it will have to be a target for the General Election beyond this one.

In the meantime, a few extra seats won't hurt anyone.


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