Liberal Democrats a compromised brand

First published on Brand Republic on 22/09/11

It is Party Conference time, which really is a silly season.

I have never been to one and cannot imagine doing so. The tone of voice seems so false and obsequious, I think I would shrivel into a little cringy ball.

They are all over the media – to the extent that you can read the Party Leaders’ speeches in the newspaper before they orate them. I am not a PR man but idea of making the speech yesterday’s, rather than today’s, news has always seemed a rather bizarre tactic to me.

What is the status of our three main parties as brands?

And, as brands, do they have any integrity?

This week, the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg have taken to the floor. He said quite a lot of what I have been saying on this site for the last couple of years, not least that we are ‘a nation divided’ – the subject of my very first post. And I feel I ought to be nice as they have taken up the cause of my last post – even against the particular company I mentioned.

Their history is so confused and their current status so, well, accidental that the Liberal Democrat brand is difficult to pin down.

Of course, one can understand the words ‘liberal’ and ‘democrat’ but what is the underlying truth behind putting them together to add some meaning? It is all a bit of a fudge isn’t it? When you see the people at the Conference, they are so diverse and even rather bizarre that you wonder how they have all got together at all.

Perhaps, this – their sheer individuality – is the Lib Dems virtue. It seems there is an inclusiveness which overrides the bigoted tribalism of Conservative and Labour.

It could even be their opportunity. I can think of a number of areas where the Lib Dems could offer society more individual freedom (for which read ‘liberal’ and ‘democrat’) – but they cannot do this because they are fatally flawed.

‘We are in nobody’s pocket’, said Clegg ‘we are free to tell it like it really is’.

He claimed this is because the Lib Dems have no vested interests by which he meant they are free from Labour’s ties to the unions and the Tories ties to the banks – and both their ties to Murdochs.

But is this true?

I am afraid not.

By definition, as part of a Coalition Government, the Lib Dems do have a vested interest – and their vested interest is the Conservative Party.

We all know Nick Clegg is only Deputy Prime Minister as a result of expediency and tactical game-playing after the General Election last year – a position, disgracefully in my view, reinforced after the fiasco of the AV referendum in May.

‘The brave decision was to go into Government and not sit on Opposition benches throwing rocks at the Government. We put aside party differences for the sake of the national interest. People before politics. Nation before party’.

Sorry, Nick, but that is complete rollocks and you know it. You took an opportunistic punt, you held out for the AV referendum, you lost it and now, by your continued subservience to the Conservatives, you have given away the freedom of your ‘liberal’ party which, by your own admission, is all you have left.

I can prove this by what you yourself said in your Conference speech.

You were very soft about the rioters about whom you said:

‘In terms of opportunity, we are a nation divided …. odds stacked against too many of our children …. a deep injustice where birth means destiny …. So many of those who joined the riots seemed to have nothing to lose. It was about what they could get here and now, as if their future had little value …. offenders must become ex-offenders …. an end to the corrosive cycle of crime ….Effective justice. Restorative justice. Liberal justice. Reason not prejudice. Compassion not greed. Hope not fear.”

But did you say this at the time? No – you did not.

Were you compassionate to this rebellious minority? No – you were not.

Did you stand up to the clenched fist of our Prime Minister? No – you could not.

In today’s society, I believe there is room for a political brand that supports the individual, that can help build a society of plurality and, at the same time, cohesiveness, but I am afraid the Lib Dems are not being true to those values now.

They can’t be. Their vested interest (the Tories) is too overpowering. This is their fatal flaw and why, despite all Clegg’s pleading, they have lost all their integrity.

And why the Lib Dems are a compromised brand – and a waste of time.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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