Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The end of the 'Nice' Party

My theory of what is behind the demise of the Liberal Democrats over the past 18 months is that it has had nothing to do with the leadership of Ming Campbell. I believe the reason that voters turned away from the Party, causing their poll ratings to nearly half from 22% to 12%, was because of the way that Charles Kennedy was treated when he was removed from the leadership.

Support for the Lib-Dems comes from many different strands. There is a hard of core of old-fashioned liberals who actually support liberal policies. There are those who vote for the Party because they don't support either of the other two parties. There's the protest vote of those who want to make their voice heard and see voting Lib-Dem as making that statement, and then there are the votes it attracts because people believe that it is the 'nice' party in the world of hard-nosed politics.

This was very much the case in Burnley where Labour and the BNP were fighting out a series of by-elections after the 2002 and 2003 local council elections. Labour were unpopular but still held the lion's share of the votes in these wards, the BNP were the challengers along with the Lib-Dems. Labour's campaign against the BNP was quite ferocious with as many as eight anti-BNP leaflets being distributed, and as Labour and the BNP slugged it out, the Lib-Dems picked up support from those people who were alienated by the intensity of the contest.

"The Lib-Dems are okay, they seem to care" one chap told me on the doorstep. He probably couldn't name one Lib-Dem policy but the Party's 'gentle and nice' facade had temporarily won him over.

But that image was undermined by the way Charles Kennedy was hounded out of office. People with a drink problem do seem to attract some public sympathy, probably because we have all over indulged at one time or another. Kennedy was quite a popular figure and to see him treated in such a way by people who were meant to be his colleagues left a bad taste in the mouth of anyone who had followed the saga on TV. In the eyes of many, after treating one of their own in such a manner, the Liberal Democrats were not the nice party any more.

And now it has happened all over again, this time with an old and respected politician. Who needs enemies with friends like Vince Cable, the Party's deputy leader. His interview on the World at One yesterday was the signal for the jackals to stop their circling of the prey and to go in for the kill. Within a matter of hours Ming was gone, so devastated by his treatment that he was unable to face the press.

Politics used to be about political parties with different policies. Now it's about political parties with the same policies. The only difference between Labour, the Tories and the Lib-Dems will be the media savvy and celebrity status of their leaders. That's why the Lib-Dems ditched Ming Campbell, because to compete they need someone more charismatic for the media.

And all the while, out of the spotlight, there's a silent revolution going on. There's not a day goes by without the British National Party recruiting another, ten, twenty or even fifty new members. On most Thursdays over the past two months, voters have been turning to the BNP in increasing numbers. As Britain's fourth political party, our current target is to become its third, and the continued exposure of the Liberal Democrats as being anything but a 'nice' party will help towards that end.

There's some news from the frontline in the council by-elections the BNP is contesting on Thursday. Wayne McDermott, who is involved in our campaign in South Derbyshire in Church Gresley ward, says he was disappointed that the United Kingdom Independence Party candidate had his nomination papers refused because of duplicated signatures.
" We were gutted they didn't stand because we would have thrashed them, and that would have increased the number of UKIP people now joining the BNP. I can't believe they didn't have a spare set of nomination papers. We had three sets ready just in case there might be a problem."

Wayne reports that the campaign is going well with the response on the doorstep very favourable. Labour have been out in force for the past two weeks and the battle looks to be for second place between the Tories and the BNP.

There was a mistake on yesterday's blog. The Waltham Abbey by-election is not this Thursday but next, 25th October 2007. Apologies for the error and I can quite honestly shift the blame to www.votewise.co.uk which is still showing the contest as taking place on the 18th.

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