Friday, 23 April 2010

The Liberal Democrat reality

A certain amount of credit for this post lies with James over at Campaign War Room, after his post on the infamous Westminster bubble. This led me to consider the relationship between the bubble and what it might be that is driving the Liberal Democrat success in the electoral campaign.

Success, particularly in a campaign of this magnitude, is based on your ability to convince people that you have the best ideas in relation to the issues which they care about. A slightly clumsy explanation, but one which will serve for the purposes of this post. Please feel free to agree or disagree.

Traditionally a national campaign was viewed through the lens of the media, a media which is heavily fixated on the process of politics as it occurs within the Westminster bubble. As James rightly says:

"It has become something of a cliche but it is true that the public don't care about the process of politics. In my experience they take little interest in polls, and virtually none in strategy and how politics really works. That's not to say most people sit around reading policy papers - they obviously don't - and of course they are affected by image and presentation. But most ordinary people, when they do discuss politics, discuss issues. The way the media covers politics is therefore uninteresting to many."
However, this election has a new factor, one which no one could truly predict the outcome of, the debates. These are a forum which, whilst they have a great many rules, are not subject to the filter of the media. The candidates speak to the audience and the audience makes a decision. With approximately 10 million people watching each of the first two debates a substantial number of people are having their decisions affected by a direct contact.

Labour and the Conservatives are used to national campaigns, prepared for it, and have based their campaign assumptions on their understanding of national campaigns. The Liberal Democrats, having not won an election for decades, are not mentally geared up to winning a national election, they are used to fighting for individual seats and fighting hard. Hence their success in by elections in particular. I was lucky enough to be at an event with Peter Kellner of YouGov recently in which he said he felt this election felt more like a byelection than a national election.

In forming a strategy an awareness of the environment, based on as much information as possible, is vital. The Labour and Conservative campaigns have been based on an understanding of an environment which is not the reality of the campaign. The Liberal Democrats however, with a subtly different mindset have a closer instinctive understanding of how to behave.

This is being compounded by the fact that Labour and the Conservatives are, to paraphrase Clausewitz "wading through water". It grows increasingly hard to move, harder to find direction, and harder to react to external events. The tempo of the Lib Dem campaign continues to be high, operating at least at the same rate as the other parties, possibly higher. Note the skillful way the co-ordinated media assault was seen off in less than 24 hours.

If the Liberal Democrats are able to remain operating at their current level it will have a dramatic impact on the political landscape in the UK. Note the Ipsos MORI poll on marginal seats, and the 'hidden' YouGov poll for The Sun, both of which show that Liberal Democrat support is rapidly rising and evolving. Another two weeks of this will have a significant impact on the final election result.

This is all supposition on my part, it might well be utterly wrong, but it fits the situation as I see it. I hope, in time that more evidence will emerge one way or the other as I think there is a great deal to be learned from what is happening right now.


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