I don’t mean that in a good way.
While I am convinced that Cameron will win the next election, I am also pretty well convinced that he is not actually up to the job. What he has been good at of course is PR. Making statements and finding messages that chime with the public and in doing so making it more acceptable for those fed up with Labour to switch to the Tories.
Cameron hopes to make political capital out of those sections of the public who are disgruntled and disenchanted. There are of course the naturally Tory voters who are uncomfortable with most aspects of modern Britain. But there is also a wider group he hopes to appeal to who are not naturally conservative but who are concerned about many aspects of modern life. A group that the Liberal Democrats should also be looking to for support.
It is clear that Cameron is reaching out to this group through his talk of the “broken society”. It is worth repeating what he says about this from today’s papers:
“I am going to be as radical a social reformer as Mrs Thatcher was an economic reformer, and radical social reform is what the country needs now. Just as Margaret Thatcher mended the broken economy in the 1980s, so we want to mend Britain’s broken society in the early decades of the 21st century … it’s dealing with the issues of family breakdown, welfare dependency, failing schools, crime and the problems that we see in too many of our communities.”
I believe the “broken society” story he seeks to tell is clever politics. It is a clearly “conservative” story but in a way that is “caring”. It also will speak to those voters who are looking for change. It could become a very powerful theme of the Tory election campaign.
What should Liberal Democrats do to counter this?
Well the “broken society” story only works if you accept that our society actually is “broken”. We should not. To accept this idea is to ignore all the many positive aspects of current British society and to deny the many areas of social progress that we have seen over the last decade. We should not ignore the problems we do have, but we should talk in positive, indeed in celebratory, terms about Britain and its people. We should contrast Liberal Democrat positivity with Tory negativity.
Having challenged Cameron’s underlying assumption, we should go on to say that what really is “broken” is our politics. We have a political system that is distant, unresponsive, bureaucratic, overly centralised, target driven and that fails to meet the needs and aspirations of Britain’s people. While our society is strong, it is our broken politics that is letting people down. As one side of the Lab-Con consensus the Tories are of course part of the problem and not the solution. Only the Liberal Democrats are committed to the reforms necessary to fix our broken politics.
We should make the fight for the votes of the disenchanted over the next few years a battle between the idea of the broken society versus the idea of our broken politics.
This content was originally posted on my old Process Guy blog.