There are always things just beyond the horizon that are going to dramatically change everything. We’re told that fusion power is coming soon, that Richard Branson is almost ready to deliver (relatively) affordable space tourism, or that Blake’s 7 remake is definitely going to be on TV in the near future. And now, alongside all those promises, we can be sure that the Liberal Democrat revival in the polls is just around the corner. Definitely coming any day now, you’ll see, the polls will change and all will be good.
As ever with confident predictions of things that are just around the corner, there are a few problems that need to be resolved first, and can’t just be swep under the carpet and forgotten about. For the Liberal Democrats, these come down to two broad problems.
The first is illustrated by the interesting phenomenon at the last two general elections of Liberal Democrats telling themselves — and anyone who would listen- that everything was going to be all right, the party always polled badly going into a general election, but there’d be a surge during the campaign which would make everything all right. From a certain point of view, it was a sound theory, missing only the fact that all those election surges of the past had come when the party was generally an unknown quantity to most of the electorate, disappearing from view and appearing new again when the media focus fell on it once more. The party lost that obscurity by joining the coalition in 2010, and media coverage now just reminds people of that, rather than presenting them with a generally blank slate. Where Liberal Democrats were once insurgent challengers from outside, now they’re insiders and part of the established system. The party finds itself in a double bind here — there’s little popular support for a party of Coalition-era nostalgia, and those who want to return to insurgency have not yet found a way to make the public forget or ignore that the coalition years happened.
The second problem is that even when the party can get people to listen to it, it has little to catch their attention, partly because it has too much to say. I’ve discussed before the problem with the party’s policy process, and the specific problem here is that it doesn’t generate big ideas. It’s all well and good to have long and detailed policy papers on…