Leaked documents reveal that the Deputy Prime Minister has admitted that voters have no idea what his party stands for.And he apparently thinks that this is a bad thing, rather than a core part of the party's strategy thus far. Both Labour and the Conservatives have fairly clearly defined identities and a related tribal following, both of which the Liberal Democrats. This has allowed them to plough a peculiar furrow unencumbered with baggage, which has manifested itself in a peculiar brand of oppositional opportunism - taking a position in opposition to whichever party is in power and squeezing either the Labour or Tory vote into backing the Liberal Democrat candidate as the 'least worst' option to keep out the other side. While this proved very effective in building a good base of elected councillors and MPs, it was dependent upon the party being the 'safe' option and either being unable to make decisions that offended voters or to be able to blame others for them. Once you are a party of national government, then that option is no longer available to you.
He appears to have hired proper snake-oil salesmen too.
the ‘brand advisers’ hired by the Lib Dems have advised Mr Clegg to aim for a less principled approach towards political campaigning. They suggested that once a ‘strategic, long-term brand model’ for the party had been devised, MPs should discover ‘shorter-term themes, straplines and soundbites’ to ‘support short-term political expediency’. A presentation was illustrated by a diagram showing four different ‘audiences’, each of which should be given a different version of the ‘message’.
Anyone who has ever looked at the Liberal Democrats knows that this is exactly the model that they have employed over the years - delivering a message that the audience wants to hear and changing it to suit local conditions, even if that means delivering diametrically-opposed campaigns in different wards. The brand consultants have repackaged existing Liberal Democrat techniques and sold them straight back to the party. That's a kind of genius, really.
The problem that Clegg has is not that voters have no idea what the party stands for, but that many voters have now seen the party defined by their role in government and don't like how it turned out. Enough voters have a pretty clearly negative image of the party to render the brand toxic in their eyes - they don't have the brand loyalty. Referring voters back to the ending of slavery when the main issue in people's minds is the economy also indicates just how far away from reality Clegg is.
History teaches us that parties can only decontaminate their images once they are out of power. It took Labour over a decade to become a credible alternative choice to the Tories following 1979 and roughly the same timeframe for the Tories to clean up their public image - although their current performance is putting that transformation to the sword. History also shows that changing image also requires changing those who deliver the message - including the leader, which is why defeated Prime Ministers resign as party leader. If Clegg believes that he can reimage the party whilst he remains leader and the party remains in government, he's either going to be the first man to achieve it or he's deluded beyond comprehension.
I know where my money goes.