The Liberal Democrat leadership is in danger of committing a cardinal sin at their party conference in Birmingham. They are addressing their messages to delegates in the conference hall, rather than to the wider electorate.
The party’s chosen conference slogan this year is 'In government on your side'. This is a marked improvement on previous Liberal Democrat straplines which tend to use vague words like fairness, freedom and furriness in some random order. But it underscores the dilemma Nick Clegg’s party faces.
By striving to differentiate themselves from their Conservative colleagues in this way, there is a danger that the Liberal Democrats are saying that the coalition wouldn’t be as mean, grim or beastly if it wasn’t for their mild, moderate and temporising influence.
This isn’t a meme likely to appeal to a particularly wide slice of the electorate. If a voter pretty much approves of what the coalition is doing, they’re likely to vote Tory. If they don’t they will vote Labour or plump for one of the minor parties such as UKIP or the Greens. That’s why the Liberal Democrats find their poll ratings on the floor – having lost about half of their supporters since last year’s election – and are struggling to find any workable strategy to shift these numbers upwards.
The principal piece of political rhetoric communicated by LibDem high command so far is that they are antagonistic to reducing the 50p rate of income tax on earnings over £150,000. Danny Alexander has announced that he’s hiring another 2,000 tax collectors to make sure these 300,000 or so high earners pay their 'fair share'.
But the truth is that this is both an economically illiterate and a politically naive position.
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