Friday, 10 October 2008

Opik's (Magnum) Opus, or, Lembit's a Loughton Legend

Ok, enough alliteration. Besides, I must apologise to Jonathan Fryer for stealing the idea for title of this foray from his recent post detailing Lembit Öpik's visit to the Epping Forest Lib Dems.

I went along to said meeting, partly to meet a bona fide Cheeky boy Lib Dem MP, partly for the pizza, but mainly to hear what the candidate for party president had to say about the party's future in relation to the recent goings-on in the City.

And I have to say, I was both impressed and inspired. Impressed firstly that Lembit was humble enough not to bombastically make his case for the Presidency - instead he stuck largely to
(a) discussion of party policy regarding the deepening financial crisis and (b) how party members ought to go about spreading the word about said policies. Impressed also that when pressed to talk about his candidacy (albeit by a chap who rather bizarrely ended his question with an admission that he intended to vote for another candidate!), Lembit made positive remarks about his own credentials and outlook rather than disparaging the other candidates.

Which took him neatly back to (b) above - and a recurring theme throughout the evening - of the dangers of negative campaigning. Too often, as the Third Party, Lib Dems are heard to say how the policies, or worse still the candidates themselves, of the Other Two are wrong. Little is heard about how the Yellows plan to do better. Time has come, Lembit opined, to stick our necks out, stop triangulating or pussy-footing, and to make bold positive statements regarding solutions to the problems in the economy, housing, the environment and health that speak clearly to the progressive community. Oh, and to avoid using platitudes that fulfill an axiom given to us by Roy Jenkins, and discussed here by Martin Kettle, that

a politician is speaking nonsense if no sensible person could conceivably be expected to argue the exact opposite.

Lembit elaborated by encouraging those present to show, when asked 'What are the Lib Dems for?' how the party's policies are designed to improve, for example, the economy, rather than to show how the government's policies have broken it and how the Tories would be worse. That way we present ourselves as a viable alternative, not a talking shop.

The other main thrust of the evening pivoted around how the party's message ought to be spread. Working with Stephen Kearney, the Lib Dem candidate in the recent Henley bye-election, we were told how direct, word-of-mouth campaigning was the most effective way of recruiting for the LD agenda. Taking an almost viral approach to campaigning, by literally talking to the man in the pub, removes the obstacles of media bias towards the Third Party and is a proven tactic that has worked marvels for a certain Mr. Obama across the pond - so why not learn from this and speak to people one-on-one, explaining where we stand?

Bold and frankly overtly left-wing when it comes to opposing the Iraq War, unequal taxation and the housing crisis which (effectively) triggered our current economic woes, Lembit's policy positions struck me as exactly the kind of straight-thinking, progressive rhetoric the country needs as we head towards arguably the toughest economic times in living memory. Here's hoping the party can effectively spread that message in time for next year's European elections.

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