Lessons from the Liberal conference
So what are the lessons of the Liberal conference?
First up, get a bloody autocue already. We could have a blogger whipround. Out of all the speakers I saw on TV, excepting Ming’s big finish, all of them were very obviously reading off a bit of paper. Danny Alexander’s entire TV appearance consisted of him staring down at a script; not good. Nick Clegg was little better. The best performance was from a ginger Scottish guy called Kennedy; concise, punchy, addressing the crowd not the lectern. I wonder where we found him?
And if you can’t remember your whole speech, memorise the bits you absolutely can’t leave out; then just deliver those. In fact, even if you can memorise the whole thing, you ought to do this anyway. As a party, we badly need editing.
Secondly, the big media is not our friend. BBC coverage ruthlessly edited out everything substantive, self-described liberal Simon Carr of the Indy issued a succession of poisonously hostile pieces moaning about the practice of letting delegates ask questions (imagine!); the reason is firstly that no-one on our side scares them, and secondly that no-one on our side seems to make it easy for them to fall over the news.
Thirdly, we need to define the enemy, and this has never been easier. Here they are – The Party of Control. Labour thinks everyone can be zapped into being better people, the Tories think the poor can be zapped into immobility while the rich clean up. The various Nats want more zapping of various kinds; UKIP wants more police power. We are the only party that doesn’t want to zap everyone. Of course, the big issue here is that administering more control always empowers the administrators and the people who can game the system; and this is generally either the rich or the unscrupulous.
The nature of big, complex systems is that the more fiddling you do, the less likely you are to get the result you desire. Set the incentives and infrastructure, then keep grubby fingers out; we’ve learnt this in fields ranging from environmental sciences to computing, behavioural psychology to industrial management, central banking to the military art.
Fourthly, we are the party against stupidity, and we have practical solutions. Where the Tories think what everyone needs is a toff, and Labour thinks what everyone needs is a public-private surveillance system, we should be the ones who guarantee to hold our plans lightly and trim to reality.
Finally, we need a short slug of principles; and how about these?
1. It’s better to fiddle less
If you want to save fuel (and we do), tax it; don’t build a mass surveillance system.
2. People know what they are doing
Respect the professionals; encourage anything that gives people more autonomy and control of working life
3. Fat cats are as bad as bureaucrats
What else are they – except an unusually egregious species?
4. You can’t rig the facts
Presentation, “sending a message” – it’s all crap. We should be keen on real evidence-based policy; the kind where the evidence changes the policy.
5. The best treatment for poverty is money
What Daniel Davies said!
6. “Freedom from” and “freedom to” are inseparable
This is where it all lines up; we’re here to defend negative liberty and extend positive liberty.