Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Creating Demand

If the Libertarian Party is to become an entity that justifies media coverage and has a chance of keeping its deposit at elections, it clearly needs to attract a membership of several times its current number. There is a need to think hard at this stage as to how best to go about this.

One thing that is clear to me is that levels of disillusionment with politicians are currently very high. Even Polly Toynbee wrote earlier this week that "Loathing of politics and politicians [is] already reaching a peak, with disbelief of every fact and statistic, and support for any anti-politics gesture...". There is a 'gap in the market'. I fear, though, that the Libertarian Party is missing the opportunity that this public mood provides them.

It may not be a welcome suggestion, but I consider that a belief in the inherent rightness of libertarian philosophy is not going to cut it here - it is not going to give us the popular appeal we need to grow in members and, when we eventually do stand in a constituency election somewhere, win votes.

To do that, in my opinion we need to adapt our message in such a way that it concords with what people are posting to the blogs (read Comment is Free, Have Your Say etc), saying to each other in the pubs, writing letters to the papers. If we are trying to preach and convert to libertarianism, we are on a hiding to nothing. Politics, at least in the modern developed world, just doesn't work that way. People don't often change their opinions, even when presented with a very strong argument!

One particular area upon which I think that we need to compromise is on our position as regards corporations and free markets. Some of the recent posts on the party blog, particulary this one, have been at odds with the views of many of our existing members. Devil's Kitchen, through whom I joined the party, responded "I was going to comment on this, but then I realised that it was such a load of old crap that it would take all day and I simply couldn't be bothered.".

Although I agree with the positions taken in the posting concerned and its follow-up to a significant degree, and its philosophical consistency with our positions on other issues (e.g.), politically it doesn't make sense. There is quite clearly to me a 'left-wing' minority and a 'right-wing' majority within the party, and this is a potentially divisive issue, as some of the comments below the 'Reality Catcher' post indicate. Not only are a majority of the members 'right-wing', the party branding is 'right-wing' as well. It's hardly likely to attract a passing anarcho-syndicalist, and aside from that anarcho-syndicalists tend not to join political parties anyway.

If the Libertarian Party is to grow and begin to flourish as a political party, we need to concentrate on what unites us, not what divides us. To attract new members, we need to tap into the sentiments that are already out there and do it in such a way that people identify with us, not preach to them and expect them to change their minds. Discontentment with the political status quo is great, therefore the opportunity for us is right there. We should work with it - not let idealism get in the way.


Neil Harding said...

I can't believe you are not fielding a candidate against David Davis.

Surely this is a perfect opportunity to gain wider national publicity for the party? - a by-election fought solely on the issue of liberty is a gift to you. If the LP cannot put up a candidate here you are on a hiding to nothing. You only need a few dozen people on the ground and a £500 deposit to make a decent fist of it - if you cannot manage that, you might as well give up now.

QT said...

Neil: See here for the explanation of that decision, which I agree with.

Unlikely to be asked to join LPUK said...

Hi Ian,

An interesting and thought-provoking post.

Mind you, I would have to say that if the Libertarian Party is to reduce itself to merely a Radical Conservative grouping, then my first thought would be to say that it has no future.

At the moment, you guys have a clear opportunity to introduce genuine libertarian ideas into the nation's political debate but if, like the mainstream parties you claim to despise, you're willing to adopt right-wing populist stances to attract votes, then exactly what separates you from those parties?

In two years time, when we have a Conservative government that only someone of desperate naivete imagines will be anything other than quite sharply to the right of Cameron's current touchy-feely rhetoric, what exactly will be the use of a small pro-business, pro-"free market" party? I got out of the habit of voting for people hoping they'd turn left after they were elected eleven years ago.:-)

Aside from this, you're very far from being a hardline right-winger yourself, are you? If those arguments don't appeal to you, what makes you think they'll appeal to the Great British public?

I think the gentleman above has a good point, the suspicious-minded would wonder if you guys would have stood against a Labour rebel doing the same thing as Davis?