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Goodwill towards the Liberal Democrats is growing, and so it should

by derekdeedman on 5 December, 2016

By Katharine Pindar  in Liberal Democrat Voice, Mon 5th December 2016 – 1:11 pm

“More than 2000 years ago, so the story goes, angels sang ‘Goodwill towards all mankind.’ It’s a sentiment that Liberal Democrats can generally support. The point I want to suggest, however, is that the British people feel an increasing goodwill towards us, which seems likely to grow and enhance our electoral chances.

The first essential was that we should be seen and heard. Now Sarah Olney’s magnificent victory has given us the media coverage that dispels the 18-month myth of our irrelevance.

The next essential was that the image projected should be an attractive one. For the voters of Richmond Park and Kingston it obviously was, and for us Lib Dems the sight of the beaming faces of victor and Leader together in front of the cameras was a delight.

Image is vital for success in politics, but what did that image amount to for the public? What, for a start, was the new MP saying? “I knew I was a Liberal – I believe in openness, fairness, compassion, working with our neighbours at home and around the world”, Sarah said in her acceptance speech. She spoke of the rise of anger and bitterness in politics, and pledged that “We will stand up for the open, tolerant, united Britain that we believe in.”

These words resonate for Liberal Democrats, but what would they mean to the majority? They are the favourite words of our Leader –‘ Open, tolerant and united’ is what he wants Britain to be. They clearly aren’t words that immediately put bread on the table. Their power lies entirely in the image they evoke, which is their meaning. But is this a winning image?

I believe it is, for the following reasons.

  1. The almost equal split of voting for the Referendum did not mean that the country is split in two halves in its beliefs and values. Remainers and Leavers are not two distinct tribes.
  2. The tolerance that is part of our DNA means that, despite being strongly pro-EU, we Lib Dems do not simply identify with the 48%, or regard the 52% as adversaries.
  3. British people are not given to fanaticism. Angry passions were stirred up in the Referendum campaign and the flames are still fanned by extremists, but the majority doesn’t participate. After all there were many people who weren’t at all sure which way to vote, because there were decent arguments for either side behind the shouting.
  4. So the splits in the Conservative and Labour parties may be understandable. But since the Far Left and the Far Right continue to dominate the debate and highlight the splits, neither main party can appeal to the vast majority.
  5. Since the momentous question of the country’s relationship to the EU cannot be immediately settled, there is continuing doubt and anxiety among British people. The rise of authoritarian populism in parts of Europe and in the USA enhances the sense of change and crisis. The vast majority of the British public isn’t fervently political at all, but can’t avoid the headline stories.

So, to this uneasy populace, we Liberal Democrats present a new, hopeful image. We offer a clear vision of what we want from Europe, as neither main party can do. We suggest a moderate and reasonable way forward, the ‘soft Brexit’ approach which is gaining popularity, and we want a referendum on the terms eventually agreed.

In truth nobody can tell yet whether a ‘soft Brexit’ is possible, whether Article 50 can be withdrawn once evoked, or whether a second referendum will make sense in the end.  We can’t prevent the continuing insecurity. But meantime we go on working out our home policies to tackle unfairness and inequality, improve health and housing and education and the conditions of life for ordinary people, while keeping our internationalism and openness to the world.

These are valid reasons why we may hope for growing goodwill. We have no need of slogans to show what we are worth. For in the end our strength is in the image we convey: that we are likeable, that we are like you, and we will do our best to help you.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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