What happens when the third party works – but doesn’t win?
A strongly argued post by the Norfolk Blogger, Nick Starling, has been picked up by several in the blogsphere for the way it powerfully sets out the dilemma facing the Lib Dems.
Reflecting on the massive changes in the political scene Nick notes that Cameron has “turned around the fortunes of the Conservative “brand”, removed the tarnish from it and has stopped people feeling embarrassed to be openly Tory. This is no little achievement and deserves praise and recognition.”
Looking back to Crewe & Nantwich and Henley where there were massive Lib Dem operations he pointedly observes “…it is clear, therefore, that the long held Lib Dem view that “Where we work – we win”, is not always going to be the case” – a view that has major strategic implications for the party.
Nick goes on: “The new strategy for the Lib Dems must be about winning seats of Labour. This has, in the past, seemed like a very low priority, and the party has to wake up to the fact that it is possible to win from Labour from a long way back (just look at Manchester Withington in 2005 as an example). I remember speaking to a Lib Dem member of staff who worked in Cowley Street in 2003 and made reference to the Blaydon result in 2001, which saw the Lib Dem candidate destroy the Labour majority and make the seat something of a potential marginal. When I asked what chance we had of winning it in 2005 his answer was “None, we have better targets”. this spoke volumes about the attitude of the Lib Dems to targeting Labour seats. There might have been “better targets”, and indeed there may have been organisational problems in the constituency, but my opinion, right or wrong, was that if Blaydon had been a Tory seat more effort might have gone in to sorting the organisational problems.”
The problem with Nick’s argument is that it runs against the instincts of many activists. We see it here on PB where some of the most furious anti-Tory rhetoric comes from Lib Dem posters – not from Labour ones. To them any let up in the fight against the Tories could be seen as a betrayal.
In terms of the general election this debate could be crucial – for if the Lib Dems are able to pick off more than a handful of Labour seats then it could have a major impact on not only the outcome but on the way Brown’s party seeks to pick itself up after the likely defeat.
As a Lib Dem myself I’ve long felt that the long-term objective must be to reclaim from Labour the position as the main party of the left. It might be getting one step nearer.