We mustn't be afraid to attack the opposition when they deserve it!
Many things are being written about the election we have just been through. I for one think this is great; everyone is engaged and wanting to examine what went wrong, how we can learn, what can we do next time. The key is that we’re all committed to rebuilding and giving it all we have again next time. This is really encouraging, so I wanted to add my own little insight and raise a few more questions for our campaign teams, local and national, to address.
My issue concerns the ever-dreaded ‘negative’ campaigning. It’s something we as Liberal Democrats really struggle with, especially at a local level. One of the biggest frustrations for me in all my campaigning roles I’ve held so far, is that the superb team of local councillors and candidates I’ve always worked with are entirely uncomfortable with praising themselves but even more so with blaming the opposition for things that they absolutely should be blamed for.
I can completely understand this attitude. By nature we Liberals want to make sure everyone is given a fair hearing. Our councillors have worked for usually decades at building up relationships of trust with their voters and don’t want to come across as using mistakes of others for political gain. All the reasons are very honourable, but after an election like the one we’ve just had, it is a bitter pill to see so many undeserving people elected who had made a mess of things and who now appear to have an even bigger mandate to make it all worse.
Even people who previously would have refused to outright blame the opposition for some money they wasted or some such situation are now in agreement that we have to start calling people out on things they do wrong. But we must be smart.
An interesting and unnerving aspect that I observed this time was the lack of direct attack on us from the Conservatives. We now know that they were very heavily targeting Lib Dem seats and votes. I know that I am not alone in having sat in hustings and listening to my Conservative incumbent praise myself and my party for our contribution to government. In Solihull next door, the Conservative machine was priding itself on its ‘positive’ local campaign and lack of personal attacks. On the doorstep, my councillors were being told what ‘lovely’ people the Camerons are. The generic literature we observed in our constituency had practically no ‘attack’ message.
Clearly there was a very strong attack message going on. We all know that the politics of fear, over the SNP, over the economy, over unknown chaos, triumphed. So how was this message being delivered?
My educated guess is via national media and extremely informed, specific and relevant targeted messages. The local teams didn’t need to get their hands dirty. They could busy themselves claiming credit for everything positive whether they deserved it or not, self-righteously criticising other parties who dare challenge them as ‘playing politics’ and styling themselves as lovely, community individuals.
We ignore this approach at our peril.
Originally posted in Lib Dem Voice here