Monday, September 21, 2009

Forging a Progressive Alliance

One the day of the start of the Liberal Democrat Conference the Conservatives have launched a rather interesting tactical video. The video depicts a meeting between David Cameron, Eric Pickles and eight Liberal Democrats who have defected to the Conservatives. The message seems to be that if you are serious about politics, and about wanting a more progressive government then you should join the Conservatives. Indeed, in the email to publicise this, Eric Pickles is explicit in stating "I'm asking them to help form a progressive alliance to get rid of this failed Labour Government. An alliance built on our shared aims of personal freedom, a commitment to the environment, and a desire to protect the most vulnerable at home and in the rest of our world".

The featured defectors include Chamilo Fernando the youngest person to have been short-listed by a mainstream political party to be a mayoral candidate for London; Tarik Mahmood, former candidate for Rossendale Council and the seat of Uxbridge in 2005; Norsheen Bhatti, PPC for Chelsea and Fulham who recently courted some media attention for outspoken comments about Clegg's leadership; and Jeff Clarke who stood for Wirral West in 2005. They are an interesting group that, due to their backgrounds and ethnic origins, demonstrate diversity and openness. They are very much the embodiment of the concept of a progressive alliance, as are the reasons they give for their switch.

On a more critical note, beyond questions of the extent to which the video is scripted and more of an advertisement than a record of an event which are expected of such a promotional tool, this raises many questions about the state of British politics. It demonstrates the weakness of ideology, the fluidity of party loyalty and, perhaps, the hunger for having proximity to power as opposed to a party coalescing around an idea. It is leadership that matters to some, to others it is broad policy priorities; though this perhaps reflects broader society than just those within politics. It also perhaps indicates a further key theme for the Conservatives at the forthcoming General Election. While questioning the record of Labour they also seek to undermine the Liberal Democrats' support and attempt to reclaim the supporters they lost to the party in the South while also winning over previous Labour supporters who now lean towards the Liberal Democrat. This could actually be quite successful, particularly as the arguments are presented not by recognisable Conservative figures but by Liberal Democrat activists. Is it appropriate to ask for switching, well it has been done by all parties in marginal seats using derivatives of 'XXXX can't win here, so vote for... US'; this is a slightly More advanced version that may have resonance with those not fully sold on Clegg as Liberal Democrat leader, who recognise a sense of futility in the fact that the Liberal Democrats will not (or may never) form a government, and who buy into the compassionate, progressive Conservative project!

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