Monday, 26 May 2014

The issue with messaging and the messenger

First off let me just say I am still IN! Yes in my sporran are still Euros from a train trip I took the other weekend down to Dublin to the seen the finish of the Giro d'Italia's visit to Ireland. I'm also glad that for the first 10 years that I lived in Scotland I worked in a job that would not have existed here were it not for freedom of movement across Europe allowing us to operate a pan European, multi-language contact centre all under the one roof. I'm pleased that unlike five years ago we were able to talk about European issues on the doorsteps or phones, unlike last time when we were overshadowed by the expenses excesses of MPs.

However, while the message in principle was good the general public didn't get it, or didn't want to listen. Why?

Go back four years and what was the mantra we were shouting out, what was our hashtag. Then it was #IagreewithNick yes on the back of it being said in the first leader's debate we turned it into a personality cult. Is it any wonder that four years later after not delivering on a number of issues that voters did agree with Nick on that they no longer agree with him. But it goes further than that, they not only no longer agree with him but they no longer trust him, and as a result they no longer listen to what he has to say.

It didn't take long for me to realise that we had a trust problem. In the lead up to the 2011 Scottish elections I got a lt of correspondence from people who had voted for me in 2010 and some even in 2005. Some of it said that while they still trusted me they would only vote Lib Dem if I was standing. As you imagine I replied back and in the run up to the election personally vouched for the Lib Dem candidates in my area to everyone who had contacted me.

Then we have also had the other mantra that where we work, we win. But this has been twisted a little bit this weekend into there are areas that we hold and have worked hard and maintained. The implication in saying this is that others have not been working hard, pounding the streets, delivering leaflets, knocking on doors, ringing the phones. Of course that is just not true. So there is now a disconnect between HQ and those who for months, years and decades have been carrying out the work for the party.

The leadership even last night was dismissing the number of signatories on the LibDems4Change letter. Paddy Ashdown said on Sunday Politics that there were more people who liked Lib Dem Friends of Cake than had signed the letter. Well Lib Dem Friends of Cake joined Facebook at Conference in 2011, indeed the day after my birthday, after a discussion in the conference bar. It took two and a half years to reach 360 likes*, the letter at time of writing is now equal to that in a little over 3 days.

However, while there was focus on one of two of those who had signed the letter who may no longer be party members the spokespeople ignore something that the Guardian pointed out:

"include 45 sitting Councillors, two council group leaders and 33 former Councillors, including one former council leader. [Five] prospective parliamentary candidates, 22 former parliamentary candidates and seven chairs of local parties are also signatories."

As this was the figures from this mornings print edition these were some of those first 200 or so that the leadership were dismissing.

In other words you are talking about the hard working and committed members of the party, many of whom are used to getting people's response on the doorsteps and phones or unsolicited through emails and social media from their constituents and local residents over many years. They are also highly likely to have been at the special conference in 2010 to vote in favour of the Coalition Agreement. These are people who face the public daily from outside the Westminster bubble.

Now I know that there are many within my party and circle of friends who disagree with me, but as we entered the election on the catch phrase I agree with Nick, but that message is still remembered but no longer resonates with many of those who voted for us we have an issue. The issue is the messenger, it concerns me the number of times in the last four years I have heard I'll not vote Lib Dem again until you have a new leader and this has been borne out in poll, after poll, after poll.

Yes there are exceptions and well done to all of those who have bucked the trend, but we should not dig into our trenches, we should be a party leading the advance and walking into the sound of gunfire. But at the moment the bullet in our own guns, our message, is not having the impact because those in the field are not prepared to listen to the message as they don't agree with the main messenger. They don't agree with Nick.

It is sad, but having seen the reactions over the last few days I think many of us know that something needs to be done.

I think the reaction of Eamon Gilmore Ireland's DPM and leader of the junior coalition partner this afternoon to losing half his vote down to 7%, losing all three of his MEPs and many of his councillors was telling. It had parallels to the situation the Liberal Democrats faced but he realised it was time for him to go, although it seems he was persuaded by his parliamentary colleagues. But he also said "Where we have done well we must built on that, where we have not we much look at that." This is only part of that he said but it is in marked contrast to what our own leaders are saying ie nothing needs to change.

I know that many fellow Lib Dems will not agree with this and that is your right. But can we please stop hurling personal insults at each other over this disagreement in direction from here on.

* They have since added about another 90 thanks to Paddy's publicity.

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