Friday, 25 July 2008

Glasgow East Where Next?

Jeff had accused me of sour grapes* even masking my true feelings in humour about last night's result in Glasgow East because I posted this. Well all I can say it is easy to be a winner, not so easy to be a good winner (last night we didn't see one IMHO), but hardest of all is to be totally blown away by things going far worse than you anticipated. However, what I have done all day has been reflected on what other bloggers have said (yes I even painfully read my regular Nats) and looking to see just what happened. To do that takes time both to compose and, as it turns out, to write so bear with me.

I'll start with Scottish Tory Boy who if anyone had reason to gloat over some of my comments in recent days it was he. However, all he said was, "Yesterday I posted this suggesting that the Lib Dems would finish fourth and it seems that I was spot on with my prediction but I certainly didn’t envisage them losing their deposit but that is exactly what happened." Magnanimous in the small victory he had and greated appreciated for that. I still think that Ian Robertson was a stronger candidate that Davena Rankin however she was very cleverly packaged by a smart Conservative team. I can't recall whether it was two or three times that I saw her drag poor Annabelle Goldie off to some gym or other. End result she did appear to have more clips on TV news buletins than Ian seemed to manage; even last night in the clip of me talking to him, I have since been informed, he wasn't even in the frame.

Kezia Dugdale and the Two Doctors both offered congratulations to the new MP for Glasgow East. Although Kez's picture of John Mason makes him look like the Peter Pan of Parliament (that is a joke btw). She says it is time for reflection for the Labour party as indeed is the sinking to fourth and lost deposit for us Liberal Democrats.

Ideas of Civilisation sums things up thus:

"It's striking that the Tories moved from fourth to third in the Glasgow East election (albeit with a slight reduction in their voting share); this could suggest that people are growing more comfortable about voting for them again. Of course it could also focus minds that the next UK election will be between Labour and the Tories and not Labour and the SNP, meaning Labour would gain from this. An alternative view is that the Lib Dems were the recipients of protest votes against Labour, which have now transferred to the SNP."

It's that summation of us that draws my attention most and you'll forgive me if I don't quote any of the partisan Nat bloggers. I think, indeed hope, that the Lib Dems have grown up in the 20 years that we have existed and indeed the 20 years I've been associated with them, off and on, to no longer be seen as purely a party of protest. The party has a core direction, message and ethos that many people come to not out of protest but principle. Sadly in the world at large we are still seen as the great by election machine of protest, that may well have been the way we won Dunfermline and West Fife in 2006 with Willie Rennie but wasn't how we went on to take the Dunfermline West seat in 2007 for Jim Tolson that was because we'd made a change.

Now a lot was made of the fact that yesterday was the tale of two Parliaments. The Lib Dems are fully aware of how to utilise that line, for eight years we were able to highlight the differences we had made in Scotland to the Scots and were offering the same changes to the English and Welsh. So the Nats of course emphasised the things they had so far achieved in their first 14 months of power. However, like Labour in Westminster and every government before them there will come a time when then can't deliver on something and the electorate will remember them for it and tire of them, that's life in democracies.

Dunfermline of course we won without a leader in Westminster this time we did not have a leader in Scotland. Now I'm not blaming our result of Nicol Stephen but his almost ever presence in Dunfermline was a mighty effect, sure Nick Clegg was up on a number of occasions but unlike Nicol he wasn't almost always around, even if us foot soldiers didn't see him all the time. The enthusiasm that the Scottish leader gave last time was infectious maybe because it was holiday season, and many had already booked to be away, and because t was sort election we never seemed to pick up momentum in the same way. Myself I was unable to take weekdays off at all through this campaign as I was covering for one or other of my colleagues for the duration.

The other thing about the timing of this election is that it appears that the leadership of our party is seeking to reappraise our message. Which makes it harder to get your message across as you not quite sure where it is going to lead yourself. Now Ian was a good communication in the two debates he came across really well, as well as on Newsnight, but he can only be as good as the tools and narrative he is provided with. Recently I was discussing this issue of where we're heading with fellow Lib Dems and one thing we seemed to agree on is where are our few key policies that the electorate can hang their coat on. Those few key things that make the Lib Dems stand out, not as a party of protest but a party of progress. Some of the ones we, indeed I, have stood on in the past are under review and may no longer be out identifiers. Some of the things I've spoken with passion on doorsteps, in this blog, at hustings about may be taken from under me, we need to be careful just what we replace them with, if indeed we do replace them.

As Kezia said Labour have to go away and reflect, the Lib Dems had already started to do that before this by election was called, maybe from reflecting it was hard to refocus on just what we were trying to say at this point. One thing we do have is our gut of what it means to be a Liberal Democrat, therefore I trust that if a major refurbishment of that narrative is going to take place that we will get it right, make it clear and stand out distinctive in the way we promise to enact it. We need to, we owe it to those who have come to us in the past and who still want the things we have promised to deliver in the past.

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