Reaching out to the right is the only way forward for the Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg proposing to dumb down the NHS reforms

Nick Clegg tried to win sympathy for his amendments to the NHS reforms, but this approach is not working

The reason for the Lib Dems’ collapse in support last year was because they had failed to reach out to the right.

This may sound ludicrous, given that they’re criticised for being too right-wing, but hear me out. Throughout the Labour years, they relied too much on support from disaffected Labour voters – so obviously if they go into coalition with the Tories, they are going to be disliked by a lot of their voters.

Of course, they also made a stupid pledge about tuition fees which they knew they wouldn’t be able to keep if they went into to coalition with either party, rightly angering their voters – but that was just part of a wider thing about them being too left-wing.

You can’t blame Nick Clegg for this, as he actually brought his party closer to the centre than it had been since the Liberal-SDP merge (God knows where the party would be now if Chris Huhne had been elected leader). But since the AV referendum/local elections this May, he has adopted a new strategy – trying to show that they are having some influence in the government and are not just propping up the Tories.

Given his party’s main source of criticism is the perception that they basically are just propping up the Tories (though that’s not entirely true), this is an understandable idea. He followed it through mainly by trying to dumb down the NHS reforms, which worked, but didn’t work – as public opinion of him and his party is still at an all-time low.

I think he and the Liberals just need to face up to the fact that most of the left-wing votes they’ve lost are gone and he won’t retrieve them any time in the near future. Instead, Clegg needs to see this as confirmation of the need for him to continue shifting his party to the market-liberal centre. Or does he really want to just spend the rest of the term trying to win back left-wing votes, when at best this will only benefit him in the short-term and at worst it will not deliver any meaningful progress?

The way to go for the Lib Dems is to change into a proper liberal party that embraces economic liberalism (good for wooing right-wing voters) as well as civil and personal liberties (good for wooing left-wing voters). They need to build on the reasons why people switched from Labour to them, but also make the party attractive to Tory voters as well. If any of them need inspiration, this blog kept by classical-liberal Lib Dems, supporting tax cuts and a limited government as well as personal freedom, might be helpful.

They’re already on this path unintentionally. Before the AV vote, an ICM poll showed that less than a quarter of Lib Dem voters would put a Labour candidate as a second choice, compared to 31% who would rather put a number 2 against a Conservative candidate. The Liberals’ second-preference support from Labour voters had plummeted from 51% at the last general election to 16%, and they were now second-choice to more Tory voters than ever before.

This is what they need to build on. Going into coalition government with either two parties was always going to be dangerous for the Lib Dems, but perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad if they had been a genuinely centrist party – reaching out not just to the left but to all corners of the political spectrum. And maybe that’s the lesson they need to learn from this, because in the near future, they’re far more likely to win new votes from the right than win back old votes from the left.


What if I were Prime Minister?

What would change if I was Prime Minister for the day? Well there’s not much you can change in a day. Come to think of it, the UK Prime Minister can do countless things, from appointing quangocrats to starting wars, without Parliament’s consent, so I suppose I could do quite a lot – unless my Cabinet colleagues kicked up a fuss (which for me is the killer because some of them would).

Personally, I would  try to decrease the power of the Prime Minister and of the government, and hand it over to Parliament. Of course that doesn’t go far enough. If I could be Prime Minister for, say, several months, I would attempt to devolve much of the rest of it to local councils, although Parliament would gain back other power from me withdrawing Britain from the EU (IF I succeeded – but that’s a big if with our politicians).

If I managed to do all that, it would go some way to making the Prime Minister look more like, say, the US President, who can’t get his way all the time, and can’t really do anything without the backing of Congress – or in many areas, simply can’t do anything, because that power is given to states or local authorities. I wish our Prime Minister had that little power. The country would have a smaller government, it would be more democratic and it would be better run – because it wouldn’t be entirely run by David Cameron.

Now there’s a bonus.

P.S. Then again, you can’t really blame David Cameron because he’s too busy; he’s taken too much on. Maybe if he gave some of his power and responsibilities away he would be a better Prime Minister. Who knows?

Smaller is greater

What is the smallest thing near me? Well obviously, everything is made up of tiny particles, so in a sense “everything” is the answer. If this wasn’t the case, nothing in the universe would work. And of course we are continually discovering that these tiny particles are made up of even tinier particles and quarks may actually be supersymmetric strings or whatever.

If all this is true then great; small is great. And, as a more general point, being small is what makes things – at least a lot of things – work.

For example, computers are more useful, and easier to use, because they are a lot smaller than they used to be.

Most people would rather read a reasonably small, short blog post divided up into small, short paragraphs, than a long sea of words with no spaces in between.

Smaller countries, particularly in Europe, are generally happier ones. Appreciating, finding satisfaction in and reminding yourself of all the little, daily good things in life, makes you happier than if you want everything to be BIG, or if you adopt the attitude that you’re either number 1 or you’re nothing.

Also, excuse me for politicising the question, but if a country is small, has a smaller government and if that government devolves its power to smaller, local authorities, things in that country work better, and the country is wealthier and happier. Why is Switzerland far wealthier than the EU as a whole and the second happiest country in the world? Why is Hong Kong wealthier than China, Singapore wealthier than Malaysia, and the U.S. GDP in excess of $14 trillion?

Answer: because all these countries are either small, have small governments and enthusiastically devolve power, or have a cultural mindset that sees small as beautiful. Or all three in the case of Switzerland.

Whether you’re talking about politics, ways of life or science, small is great and beautiful. That’s all I have to say.