I expect that both Labour and Conservative strategy teams
are scratching their heads at the unexpected rise in Lib Dem support. They have
tapped into a reservoir of voter discontent with Labour, unease with the
Conservatives but a desire to see change. In 1997 Blair’s victory carried the
sense of a new dawn and Clegg has captured that same longing. So what to do in
the last 10 days?
Labour strategists have the hardest job. I suspect they are
right their only hope is that the economics debate comes to the rescue and ‘no
time for a novice’ convinces enough people to vote for them. The lacklustre
campaign is stuck because Brown is the leader they’ve all plotted against on
the grounds he’s an electoral liability.
Conservative strategists have the trickiest calls to
make, how much to change the campaign to respond to events and how much to keep
focused on the key themes. Nevertheless the prime problems remain the ones I
outlined in the first post.
Lib Dems must feel on a high but unsure what to do.
Nationally it is going well and if the worst the papers can find about Clegg is
what we’ve seen this week they’ve little to worry about. But do they have the
resources, candidates and infrastructure in the constituencies to encourage
people to vote for MP’s especially in areas where there are local elections?
I think this phase of the election is characterised by three
things. Aspiration, can the party leaders create a sense that they want to take
society in the direction people aspire to go? (Currently Clegg is in the lead
here, Cameron trying and Brown’s no where). Believability has taken something
of a hit over expenses but as the campaign draws to a close people will need to
feel that they are being offered a credible government made up of people who
are up to the job and can pull it off. (Currently it is probably a score draw
here because while the Lib Dem’s have a smaller team the economy is the
defining issue and Vince Cable is well regarded). Connection is needed because
people want to feel connected in some way to parties, Clegg’s debate
performance has created the impression that he’s normal and people can relate
to him whereas Cameron has struggled a bit.
So what to do?
If I was Clegg I would be trying to create a
movement, “I need your support to change politics and the country; to ensure
that we can work for fairness (by which I mean liberal values) and tackle the
economic problems together. It might take more than one election to manage it,
but whatever the result know this is what we are working for”.
If I was Cameron I would be pushing deliverability,
implicitly acknowledging that the Lib Dem’s were on to something, but saying, “the
time for talking is over, its time to set a new course; some things will need
to go slowly as we nurse economic growth, but we need to make a start. I want
to lead a government that empowers people, is realistic about the economy and
creates a sustainable future”. Meanwhile I would be researching examples of
Clegg and Cable over the last couple of years which fit Conservative policy
(eg: over the NHS and deficit reduction) and examples of the impact of Brown’s
chancellorship ready for Thursday.
My closing speech on Thursday would be, “if you are ill and the
Doctor comes to your hospital bed you don’t just want a diagnosis you want to
get better, you don’t need Gordon Brown using his best bedside manner to
explain that you are sick, or Vince Cable to eloquently explain you test
results you want a treatment programme that restores you to health – only I am
in a position to do that.”