Often debated here and elsewhere have been attempts to distill the nature of being a Liberal Democrat down into something simple and easy to understand. A couple of years ago, Alex Wilcock asked for suggestions to get it down to 150 words, but even that generated lots of different visions and visions.
Today, however, I think Jennie Rigg has solved it in a couple of sentences of her post on Lib Dem Voice suggesting a reading list for new members. It’s buried right down in the footnotes, but I think it’s a perfect insight into the party’s culture:
If you go for candidate selection, one of the questions you will be asked is “is there any part of party policy with which you disagree, and if so why?” If your answer is “no, I agree with all of it” you will be looked upon with deep suspicion.
Jennie has an aversion to writing for Lib Dem Voice but it’s clear to me that this is a ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ issue. If she can so easily define the party with two sentences, how many other deep-rooted issues could she solve with a casual remark?
So, Lib Dem Voice took the route of the Literary Digest as their survey got the result of the presidential election completely wrong. They predicted that the first round results would be 52% for Daisy Cooper, 30% for Sal Brinton and 18% for Liz Lynne, with the actual result being 47% for Brinton, 27% for Cooper and 26% for Lynne. That’s one candidate given almost double the votes she actually got, while the other two are underestimated by about 50% each. Basically, as a prediction of the result, it’s not much better than a random number generator would have been.
So, we’ll have a quick pause for a ‘told you so‘ because that prediction felt wrong to me for the reasons I set out there – the LDV surveys come from a skewed sample that isn’t a balanced representation of Liberal Democrat members. Yes, I know they like to put various disclaimers on them, but those disclaimers always come after a headline that says ‘Lib Dem members think‘ (or something similar) which means the first impression is that this poll represents all members. Indeed, if you just look at the headline – and that’s all you get on the LDV Twitter feed and on other social media – you don’t get any disclaimers, and just get told ‘what Lib Dem members think’.
Now, we often get the claim that these surveys have shown similar results to other surveys of Lib Dem members undertaken by polling companies, so I went looking for the evidence on that. As far as I can see, this is based on a few questions from a few years ago (and Mark Pack’s FAQ on it that people point to is over two years old too), so hasn’t been done on a significant scale or recently. Pointing out that something was vaguely accurate a few years ago does not magically make it accurate now – especially when there’s a very big piece of evidence (the Presidential survey) that says it’s not.
This matters because the LDV surveys and their results are taken seriously by many people, and they could well be giving a wrong impression about what party members think. As it stands, people are being told that Lib Dem members overwhelmingly continue to support the coalition and think the party is on the right track, but what if they don’t? If the people being surveyed aren’t representative of the wider party membership, why are their views being presented as if they are? The most recent piece of comparable data suggests that using the LDV poll as a guideline to what members think isn’t accurate, and it’ll take a lot more than pointing at something from a few years ago to change my mind.
Lib Dem Voice have produced a remake of the old ‘where is the British West Wing?’ posts of a few years ago by asking ‘where is the British Borgen?‘
(The answer to that question is ‘waiting for someone to forget the poor ratings previous dramas about politicians got or for someone to come up with a good story’, by the way)
However, the part that struck me (from Alistair Campbell’s tweet that kicked it off and used repeatedly in the following discussions) is the idea that there aren’t ‘pro-politics’ dramas on British TV. The problem with that belief is that there are lots of incredibly political dramas on British TV, it’s just that they’re not about politicians. Campbell et al believe that ‘politics’ solely relates to ‘what we do’ – usually white men in suits arguing with each other – whereas politics actually covers a much wider range of interactions between people and power.
For instance, Jimmy McGovern’s stories are usually intensely political, showing what effect the system and its policies can have on people, but they rarely feature actual politicians. Spooks – particularly in the early series – often addressed the fundamental political issue of where the balance between liberty and security should be struck, and how dangerous it can be to give the state too much power. Even Holby City and Casualty have regularly shown the effects of changes to NHS policy over the years.
‘Political drama’ does not have to mean ‘drama about politicians’ – indeed, making it about politicians can get in the way of making a political point. The old adage of storytelling and scriptwriting is ‘show, don’t tell’, and a political drama needs to show the effects of the policies it’s looking at. Those effects aren’t normally felt within the corridors of the power (except sometimes changing who gets to walk them) but they are felt outside Whitehall and Parliament. Great storytelling is about great characters and the way they deal with the world around them, and the story of someone dealing with the consequences of a political decision and how it affects their life is normally a much more interesting story to watch than the debates that led up to that policy being enacted.
Politicians forget that they’re just a part of the political process and that their little bubble of process isn’t the entirety of it. Britain has a long and fine tradition of drama that’s pro-politics, and doesn’t flinch from showing the effects policy has on people’s lives. To ignore that, and imagine that politics is only important when it’s about politicians is another reflection of how the practice and the reality of politics are becoming completely separated in this country.
I was thinking about Alarm Clock Britain today. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t remind you of an idea that’s hopefully long dead (though I have visions of people in the DPM’s office doing the occasional head-desk interface when Clegg decides he wants to try and push it again) but something prompted me to look up a couple of my old posts on it. Those, of course, reminded me of what’s probably the most vapid, soulless and content-free article ever published on Liberal Democrat Voice, but if anything, that’s got even funnier with the benefit of hindsight.
I know it’s not really fair to pick out old predictions and mock them, but it’s an article by a Nathan Barley-wannabe, and it’s amusing. But which of these two is your favourite?
Unfortunately and eventually, Labour is going wake up to this reality itself and will inevitability ditch Ed Miliband and for a David Miliband who, during the labour leadership election, was proved by various polls and focus grouping to emotionally connect.
Becoming closer with News Corp should be key to this as they are the gatekeepers and have a direct phone line to ‘Alarm Clock Britain’.
I like the first, partly for the fact it sounds like a random word generator attempting to sound like a human being, but the second – advising the party to get closer to News Corp and its ‘direct phone line’ surely wins.
Sadly, Mr LeVan-Gilroy has not shared any more of his thoughts with us through Lib Dem Voice since then, but maybe he’ll return in the future.
Not sure if anyone’s mentioned this before, but a thought occurred to me that there might be a flaw in the way the Lib Dem Voice Golden Dozen, specifically the seven most popular links, is compiled.
Those top seven are based on the seven posts that receive the most click-throughs from the Lib Dem Blogs aggregator, which purportedly reveals the seven most popular Lib Dem blog posts of the week. However, having noticed the sort of posts that get included in those seven, I’m not sure it’s an accurate reflection of what’s popular.
Consider this – as bloggers become more popular and well-known with consistently good posts, they’re more likely to become a regular read for people. Thus, their sites are more likely to find their way into people’s bookmarks and their RSS feeds are more likely to be subscribed to. However, that means that when a blog becomes popular and well-read, no matter how good a blog post is, it’s less likely to be clicked through to from the aggregator because it’s already been read before the reader visits there. While taking the top 7 from the aggregator may help give a boost to blogs that are otherwise little-read, it’s not necessarily showing the top reads amongst Lib Dem bloggers.
(By the way, this isn’t intended to denigrate any of the work the LDV team or Ryan at Lib Dem blogs do, it’s just a thought I wanted to put out there, no doubt entirely as a justification for why I’ve never featured in the Dozen…)