Over recent months I’ve become more concerned that the Liberal Democrats no longer seem able or willing to speak to and for the whole United Kingdom.
It seems to me, we are appealing to an ever smaller constituency and even those people don’t seem very inclined to vote for us.
We should, in theory at least, have done much better in December’s general election. (Although there’s a big question mark around whether Labour and the Lib Dems should have agreed to the election in the first place.)
We were the clear Remain party, in favour of a second (or third, if we’re to be completely accurate) referendum on our membership of the European Union.
That was a popular position.
And I think Leave voters could intellectually understand it, even if they didn’t agree with it. We’d voted for departure in 2016, but not for destination the argument went.
But, then, we wrecked it by adopting the ‘Revoke’ policy, which may have been popular in liberal, wealthy parts of metropolitan London and the South East but in Leave constituencies like mine, Bosworth in Leicestershire, we were in effect patting voters on the head and saying, “I know that’s how you voted, but you didn’t really know what you were doing and we know better than you.”
What was our broader prospectus for Leave areas?
What did we have to say to those who’d voted Leave because they felt their families and their communities had been ‘left behind’ by globalisation?
Where was our flagship, eye-catching, easy to understand policy?
Beyond ‘Remain,’ what did we have to say? Yes of course we had lots of excellent policies, but what was our key ‘sell,’ such as, under Paddy Ashdown, a penny on income tax to pay for education?
If we had had a broader, easy-to-quote narrative for those parts of the country that weren’t metropolitan, university seats, then it could have counter-balanced our original ‘People’s Vote’.
But we didn’t. Instead, our message was: ‘we want to overturn the biggest democratic vote in British history.’ and ‘we know better than you.’
Through social media, we have ways of speaking directly to voters and we must use these tools to speak to the whole country. The Liberal Democrats should have an ambition to become one of the major two political parties in Britain. That’s a long term aim, of course, but we’ll never achieve it if we continue to reduce, almost by stealth, the number of people we’re seeking to attract.
That’s why, I’d argue, our social democratc tradition is so important.
Its focus on the bread and butter issues gain mass appeal. A strong mixed economy, including the need for co-operatives and profit sharing; well funded public services; reform of outdated institutions; law and order; devolving power to the lowest possible level; an outward-looking, internationalist foreign policy.
On these matters, we can build a broad coalition of voters of the centre and centre-left. Not middle-of-the-road, but seeing the whole road. The full vista.
The Lib Dem Social Democrat Group exists to promote this broad-appeal politics. We want to work with social democrats in our own party and others to build that progressive alliance which can see the rest of this century become the radical century, not yet another Conservative one.
We have big news coming soon, including plans to celebrate forty years since the Limehouse Declaration of the ‘Gang of Four’ in 1981.
This was a statement, made by former Labour Ministers Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers, that ultimately led to the creation of the Social Democratic Party and eventually the SDP/Liberal Alliance and finally, the modern day Liberal Democrats.
If we as a party were to truly embrace and harness both parts of our fine tradition, liberalism and social democracy, I believe strongly that we could and would have mass appeal.
There should be no limit to our ambition for our country and our party.
We can be better. We can do better.
We can win and then transform our country into the model 21st Century nation it should be. A beacon to the world.
Let’s do it!
Mathew Hulbert is an executive member of the Social Democrat Group (@SocDemGroup). Mathew Tweets @HulbertMathew