Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Giving us a national Focus too...

. Lynne Featherstone published an excellent article on Liberal Democrat Voice looking at ways we can enhance our media presence. I think it is especially relevant as I get the impression that there is a feeling of frustration about how being 'ahead of the curve' is not putting us 'ahead in the polls'.

She focuses on us using what we have to get the message across and there is nothing wrong with that; however, for me there is one glaring omission. I have mentioned in several places that during my first AGM of the local party the possibility of a regular column in Focus dedicated to national policy should be a regular feature was raised.

I think this is an excellent idea and am badgering people about it; to me it is about more than simply getting our message out there on tax cuts but also about a joined-up approach to our campaigning. As a party of local government the Liberal Democrats are a tour de force yet, come the next general election, most of us expect the party to lose seats. If I maybe allowed to say so I think there is a slight problem that we tend to think of 'local' and 'national' politics as almost separate entities.

So, how can we bridge the gap?

It strikes me that Focus is a place where we should be bridging the gap. We need to make people who want to put an 'x' next to our councillor candidates next to our Westminster candidates too. Realistically do we want to be the party that people think are nice to have in town halls but when it comes to national government it is either Labour or Conservatives?? Part of our credibility gap lies here and we need to be addressing ourselves to people who are happy to have us govern locally but when it comes to national politics are not ready to make the leap.

Lynne focuses on the tax cuts issue because that is the issue of the moment and one where we should have lead the debate but I have to ask in all honesty, did we really?? Were we perceived as leading the debate?? I don't think we can have been because our poll ratings show we simply have not picked up any credit in terms of increased support. I have been told in correspondence with our national issue that 'tax cuts maybe a stand alone subject' but that Focus content should 'give strong local examples'. Why can it not be the other way around?? I appreciate the need for local issues to be reflected in Focus but why can they not be given a national context?? Ok, so this won't be for every article but why should we not being trying to link what we do locally with our national policies and narrative??

The shelf-life on the tax cuts issue is running down and I expect it to peak and fade after the pre-Budget report. I think there is an urgent need to address how we 'join-up' our campaigning and thinking even after the tax cuts issue has faded. I have also been told by the national office that it ' is good to get some national content into Focus' and that it is 'nice'. However, I feel it goes much further than that and it is actually necessary given the above. If we are being told that there is not enough 'time' to produce standardised content (something which I find hard to believe as writing 200 words takes me about 15 minutes, if that) then I feel that this is something that we could have somebody specifically responsible for; Focus is important, it is our public face.

Apart from the outreach benefits it will also help give coherency to our national structure and therefore our national message. Maybe, if she is reading this, this is an issue that our new president could address. Joined-up thinking and campaigning is going to be an important part of avoiding being squeezed by the 'big two' whenever Gordon finally decides to take the plunge and go to the polls.

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