The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Political Chaos Theory - the Vicissitudes of Three Party Politics
by Tabman

Liberal Democrats have so often proclaimed the return of three party politics that some of us haven't yet noticed that they have really arrived. The next General Election is more likely than any since the 1920s to deliver a Parliament in which no party is near to having a majority of seats (although the aim of the Apollo Project is to maximse Lib Dem chances of achieving this).

This is the right time to look at the dangers posed by three-party politics, as well as the opportunities.

As always the party is full of people who argue that we should "reclaim our heritage". Quite right too! But what exactly is our heritage? My knowledge of political history is sketchy, but if I understand it correctly, our "golden age" (1906-14) fell before the extension of the franchise and saw us fuse a robust foreign policy with support for free trade and the establishment of a basic welfare safety net.

We were, in effect, the party of the middle classes with a conscience, on a platform that consisted of social justice and economic liberalism. Reclaiming our heritage would suggest that this is the direction in which we want to go.

During the 1920s - the last time we had real three party politics - there were four elections and we won around 300 seats, but only about 10 in all four elections. Labour benefitted from universal male suffrage and the keen political antennae of its leader who realised that under FPTP the Liberals had to be killed off.

The key point to garner here, is that there is an awfully deep tribal Labour vote that has never voted for anything else since the extension of the suffrage. If we base our strategy solely around replacing Labour we are on a hiding to nothing.

Many Lib Dems for whom I have great respect worry about "chasing the centre" and ignoring the 40% or so of non-voters. But basing a strategy on getting the disenfranchised to engage in politics given (a) the system we have and (b) an ingrained culture of civic disengagement is always going to be long term, and we run the risk in a voltaile electoral environment of fading away into irrelevance once more.

Perhaps it boils down to having a cohesive platform that says the following:

(i) To "our" voters - we stand for the principles that you have always stood for.
(ii) To Labour switchers - we will deliver social justice with integrity and without the interfering centralism you get from Tony. We will listen to you. We will stand up for Britain and for human rights but we will not pursue ill-advised foreign adventures
(iii) To Tory switchers - we understand your aspirations and will generate a successful economy. We will make sure public money is spent wisely and where it is needed. We can be relied upon to ensure that our priorities will be to the disadvantaged, but we will do this in a pragamatic fashion that does not ignore your wellbeing and safety.

Then we have to get behind our programme and sell it with confidence. We should not worry too much whether the other parties are encroaching on "our" turf, but spin it back as "we were right all along, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery".
posted by Apollo Project @ 9:42 pm  
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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.


The Apollo Project seeks to put together new ideas on policies and campaigning to help broaden the appeal and enhance the impact of the Liberal Democrats.

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