Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Negative positivism

The Lib Dems have today unveiled their campaign strategy for the forthcoming election. Although the headline on the advert proclaims there are "10 Good Reasons to Vote Liberal Democrat", in reality, it offers one. They aren't Labour or the Conservative Party. Claiming to provide the REAL alternative in British politics, their advert is in fact an attack job on the policies of the Labour government, with some Lib Dem ideas tacked on as an afterthought. If I was in full deconstruction mode, I'd point out how significant placing what they oppose above what they propose every time was.

For all their rise in popularity, there is little of the Lib Dem programme that really seems to strike a wider resonance. I suspect if the average informed voter was to sum them up, they'd be the anti-war, anti-top-up fees, anti-ID cards party. In a climate where Labour and Tory alike are distrusted by the electorate, it will win a few votes. But, in the same way that I suspect that Michael Howard's political correctness campaign will be a temporary corrective, I do not think that this sort of campaigning - negative positivism - will succeed in making the Liberal Democrats an electable force.

An Englishman in Philly points out all the negative comments made by the Liberal Democrats in the past few days regarding the Conservatives in particular - but they are just the same against Labour. And they are equally keen to personalise politics, for Charles Kennedy remains a popular figure in the country, and by focusing a campaign on him they stand to gain rather than lose.

I wonder how long this hypocrisy can go on. Whilst the two main parties continue their bunfights and remain heavily unpopular, the Liberal Democrats seem to be a nice, cuddly alternative. And having heard a large number of their front-bench spokespeople in the last few months, I'm also fairly sure that they aren't too far away from having a coherent platform to put to the population. One problem they may have is that I get the impression the average view of the LibDem activist and the LibDem MP may be quite far apart. If they can succeed in unifying the two, they could actually have a properly positive contribution to make to British politics. Whilst they insist on positioning themselves as "not the other guys", there's not much chance of a return to reasonable debate.