At the heart of any political party must be big ideas and a strong message. The Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party before them have a long political history. In that time the party has had many messages and slogans. Perhaps one of the best was the one used by David Lloyd George in the general election of 1929. "We Can Conquer Unemployment" was the Liberal Party mission statement for their new Keynesian industrial policy. To sum up a difficult concept like liberal Keynesianism in four words is impressive. The Liberal Democrats today need to convey a similar sense of mission in the slogans that the party uses.
The current situation for the Liberal Democrats is utterly dire. In the recent Rochester and Strood by-election, the Lib Dem candidate received only 349 votes and 1% of the total votes cast. To put that in context the Green candidate polled four times as many votes. This has been described by the New Statesman as the "worst-ever by-election result for a main party." Clearly a lot of things will have to change in the Liberal Democrats between now and the general election in May 2015.
The first thing the party should do is to change its current slogan. The current slogan "Stronger Economy and a Fairer Society" is vacuous and doesn't explain to the electorate what the Liberal Democrats stand for. The slogan embodies a relatively bland and unimaginative centrist strategy. It is a slogan and a strategy that evidently isn't cutting through to the voters. Every politician outside of the hard right; from Communists to Conservatives seeks to create their own version of a stronger economy and a fairer society. Recently, the party has begun to use another slogan "Opportunity for Everyone" which is an improvement; however it's still slightly vague.
Ever since Tony Blair, British politics has been relatively vague and valueless. Parties are not seen to stand for anything by the general public. The politics of focus groups and pragmatism has replaced the politics of instincts and big ideas. Non-offensive and non-descriptive words such as "change", "strong", "fair", "forward" and "competitive" are often used in political slogans, however they seldom describe a single policy or a single objective of a political party.
The Liberal Democrats need a new slogan that embodies the radical heritage of social liberalism. Social liberalism aims to free individuals from social hardships such as poverty, ignorance, ill-health, unemployment, homelessness, disability, conformity, and climate change. A Lib Dem slogan should embody the values of social liberalism that gives Lib Dem activists enthusiasm and a sense of purpose. Currently, that sense of mission and purpose is missing in the election strategy being deployed by the party.
The preamble to the Liberal Democrat Constitution provides a superb social liberal mission statement. The values and ideas within it should inspire the party's strategy. Therefore, it is worrying that the values within the preamble have almost been entirely ignored by the party's current electoral strategy. Why aren’t we shouting from the rooftops that "no one should be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity?"
To succeed next year, Lib Dem activists will have to rally around a bold and imaginative slogan; one that embodies the true Liberal Democrat mission. In order to try and begin to recover our electoral fortunes before the next general election, we should scrap a “Stronger Economy and a Fairer Society” and produce a much more radical and ambitious slogan. A new slogan will help us to regain some of the progressive centre-left voters that the party has lost over the last 4 and a half years.
Here are my own thoughts on new slogans that the Liberal Democrats could adopt:
- “A Better Standard of Living for all”
- “Freedom from Poverty, Unemployment and Climate Change”
- “Defending the Liberties and the Rights of Everyone”
- “Delivering Power to the People”
- “Building a new Consensus”