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Individual freedom and power should be our distinctive Liberal Democrat identity

May 30, 2012 1:53 PM
By Daisy Cooper in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

It seems that every few days there is another soul-searching LibDem blog or newspaper article asking: "what do we believe in?" "What do we stand for?" "What's the coherent narrative behind the string of 'Lib Dem achievements in government'?" What we need to do is urgently define ourselves in contrast to - not in relation to - the other major parties.

What we need to do is build a strong national identity."Individual freedom and power" should be the phrase that the Liberal Democrats adopt to assert their distinctive identity for three reasons.

First, the phrase encapsulates our political ideology. Lib Dem philosophy derives from two strands of political thought: liberalism and social democracy. Liberalism is essentially about freedom. But untrammelled absolute freedom - a completely free market and an "everyone for themselves" culture - will entrench inequality based on wealth and privilege, and won't deliver our social goals. That's why we also believe in social democracy. Social democracy is also about freedom, but it's a 'positive freedom' - it requires positive intervention and policies to make sure no-one is left behind. There's nothing new here but this would be a simple and powerful way of communicating our beliefs to anyone who asks.

As a party, we also believe in "community politics" - the creation of a political system in which individuals, and individuals working through communities, take and use power. Finding a form of words and creating an identity that will capture our political heritage would project us as a party that is rooted in history and would help us shake off the perception that we've suffered for so many years (and which, despite being in government, I don't believe we've shaken off): namely, that we have no distinct identity and are simply the beneficiaries of protest votes from right and left.

Second, the phrase "individual freedom and power" is memorable. This is essential for building a strong national identity or "brand" over future years. But it would also be a 'flexible brand' that could be moulded into a number of strap lines. The absence of pithy straplines has rightly been seen as a barrier to conveying our beliefs and identity to the public. Straplines of the moment are often weak, easily forgotten, ridiculed, imitated or hijacked by other parties. Nor do they speak to the future. As a party we are failing to articulate and communicate our core beliefs.

The idea of individual freedom and power however could permeate every Lib Dem policy announcement, speech, and manifesto, and could be a 'litmus test' for every decision: • £10k tax allowance - for those who can least afford to pay, this policy gives freedom from the burden of tax, and power to control the money back in their pockets • Pupil premium - for those who, through no fault of their own, are bright but poor, this policy provides freedom from ignorance and poverty, and the power to achieve

Third - and most importantly - I believe that "individual freedom and power" is a powerful phrase that would resonate with everyone, could be quickly communicated on the doorstep, and which above all would inspire a new generation of Liberal Democrat voters.

By the time of the next General Election, we should ensure that no-one need ask "what do the Lib Dems stand for?" Instead, every household should know that the Liberal Democrats are the only party that stand for - and that will deliver - individual freedom and power.

* Daisy Cooper was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Suffolk Costal at the 2010 General Election.