Liberal Democrats have taken a pounding across the Labour supporting media over the past few days. Article after soundbite condemns the welfare reforms which come into effect from now. It’s been a clever, co-ordinated onslaught which seems aimed at demoralising Liberal Democrat members and activists rather than opposing the changes themselves. After all, I haven’t heard Ed Miliband promise to repeal any of them. And we have to remember that it was the Labour Government who introduced Local Housing Allowance – the Bedroom Tax of the private sector.
Where have the Liberal Democrat MPs and key figures been?
That Labour would use today to have a go at us was obvious, yet there seems to have been little attempt from the leadership to support grassroots activists and members who are out on the streets today, campaigning in the local elections. It’s not going to stop people campaigning but it’s fair to say that it makes people a bit more apprehensive. Where are our key cheerleaders like Tim Farron and Paddy Ashdown? Surely these popular figures should have been out there in the media making the case for what we are achieving in Government. Danny Alexander’s piece in the Sun, reported on here over the weekend, and Steve Webb’s Guardian video are crafted for the public, not the sensibilities of Liberal Democrat members, many of whom feel deeply uncomfortable with the measures. Where are the people talking about how we have held the Tories back from doing even worse. Remember if they’d had their way, Child Benefits would have been stopped after two children and under 25s would have lost their Housing Benefit. We need to make sure that we put out messages which resonate with our members and the people who voted for us in 2010.
The relative silence of our leaders and often indifference to members’ feelings is not helpful and contributes to the disconnect I talked about the other day in my Letter to the Leader. Those on the ground need both ammunition and moral support, which means that the leadership needs to be more sensitive to concerns.
A number of councillors have also told me that they feel that information on the welfare changes came too late to be of any use to them – they had already faced an onslaught in their Council chambers.
We can’t just lie down and wait for these co-ordinated media attacks to pass – we need to be out there asserting ourselves. Nobody else is going to do it for us. We should have had a series of press releases, interviews and tweets lined up in advance, especially as this is just a month ahead of a critical election.
There is good news to tell
There are many good things happening only because of our involvement in this Government. We have a lot to be proud of and we mustn’t lose sight of them in the darker days. Here are just a few:
- the ending of child detention for immigration purposes;
- shared parental leave, revolutionising the workplace and giving parents real choice;
- extending talking therapies for mental health and including mental health in NHS mandate;
- giving the biggest cash rise ever in the State Pension reforming the system to benefit many women;
- the greatest transfer of powers to Scotland in 350 years, leading the way in building a consensus on further devolution and Mike Moore’s careful work on the referendum process;
- giving extra money to disadvantaged children through the £2.5 billion pupil premium;
- expanding nursery education for the 2 year olds who need it most;
- the Green Investment Bank and support for renewables;
- investment in rural broadband;
- Nick Clegg’s £1 bn Youth Contract which is helping to get young people into work or training;
- meeting our front page manifesto pledge of raising the tax threshold to £10,000.
There are more here.
All across the party, stalwart activists and councillors are getting on with it, doing what they always do, steadfast, conscientious community politics. Their job is harder because in many cases they’ve lost helpers and members. While there have been great steps forward in the quality of internal communications in recent years, and organisational changes at Liberal Democrat HQ have been implemented well, today shines a light on the gaps that remain.