Time for the Liberal Democrats to come out of the shadows

Share
Related Topics

The Liberal Democrats gather for their spring conference in Harrogate this weekend in the knowledge that they are, as so often, playing catch-up. With a general election looming, Labour and the Tories are going at each other with hammer and tongs. But the third party in British politics has been finding it difficult to make its voice heard and is slipping in the polls.

The Liberal Democrats gather for their spring conference in Harrogate this weekend in the knowledge that they are, as so often, playing catch-up. With a general election looming, Labour and the Tories are going at each other with hammer and tongs. But the third party in British politics has been finding it difficult to make its voice heard and is slipping in the polls.

On Monday, the Liberal Democrats outlined their economic manifesto, but there was little coverage in the media. It was drowned out by the row over the Home Secretary's draconian house arrest powers. Later in the week, we had the "war" over Margaret Dixon's shoulder and the state of the NHS. This quickly became a slanging match between the Government and the Conservatives, with the Liberal Democrats - once again - conspicuous by their absence.

The Liberal Democrats can expect no favours from either the Government or the Tories when it comes to publicity. Alan Milburn, Labour's election strategist, believes that the best way to galvanise support for his party is to raise the spectre of the return of a Tory government. The hope is that disaffected Labour voters, who might have been toying with the idea of supporting the Liberal Democrats, will remember where their loyalties lie and return to the Labour fold. If Mr Milburn is right, it suits the Government to play up the Tory threat and see the Liberal Democrats starved of news coverage.

The Conservatives have even more reason to fear the Liberal Democrats. Scores of Tory seats are under threat from the Liberal Democrats, including those of the shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, and the shadow Chancellor, Oliver Letwin. It would suit both Tony Blair and Michael Howard well if the forthcoming general election came to be seen as a two-horse race. That is why it is important for the Liberal Democrats - and also for anyone who wants a broader political debate - that Charles Kennedy's speech to the conference today gives his party a substantial fillip.

Of course, some would argue that it is actually in the Liberal Democrats' best interests to keep a low profile between now and polling day. By avoiding petty politicking, they can keep their integrity and gather protest votes from the Tories and Labour when the time comes. There is something in this. But they must not make the mistake of slipping off the radar altogether. The Liberal Democrats must strike a balance between being reasonable and being ignored.

The good news is that when the Prime Minister finally announces the date of the general election, the major broadcasters will be forced to give more coverage to the Liberal Democrats. Their party's profile will rise, and so too should their poll ratings. Another bonus is the fact that they have some genuinely popular policies, such as abolishing council tax and tuition fees, that clearly distinguish them from the other parties. And their principled opposition to Mr Blair's adventurism in Iraq has won them widespread respect. The Liberal Democrats have a potentially strong appeal. Now is the time for them to start exploiting it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?