Saturday, 25 May 2013

Campaigning on the economy

Yesterday I received an email from Lib Dem HQ encouraging me to participate in a forthcoming national ‘campaign’* centred on jobs.    
Putting aside the question of how effective the Liberal Democrats in government are when it comes to employment, this prompted three thoughts:
1) In campaigning terms: this seems the wrong way around.  Liberal Democrats are doing (relatively) well in areas with strong local networks and personalities: that is what is sustaining support for the party nationally, rather than national messages supporting local networks.  So this feels like an attempt to hijack local networks, rather than empower them.
2) In liberal terms: a campaign about the economy that centres on national government doing things for localities seems odd.  There isn’t anything in the campaign materials about how local government (or businesses or civil society) can do things for themselves.   Which is strange because Liberal Democrats such as David Boyle have lots of really interesting things to say on the subject.
3) If the national party wants activists for a nationally-directed campaign on the economy, Spring Conference should have been allowed to debate the economy
So I’m puzzled by how the national party thinks this campaign will inspire liberals, let alone anyone else.
In contrast, plenty of people in the area where I live are motivated by a local (non-party-political) economic campaign.  This is in support of the Covered Market in Oxford.  Very briefly, this is a retail area whose tenants are mainly local businesses. The Labour-run City Council want to massively increase rents: they don’t realise or don’t care that this will simply result in local businesses being replaced by anonymous national chains (who will provide less satisfactory employment, and suck money out of the local economy, they may not even manage to pay their taxes).  The Council does have a challenge to balance the books, but don’t seem to be able to think creatively about supporting local retail businesses at all.  There is an element of ‘save this/save that’ to the campaign, but it is also articulating the value of local businesses, and catching a general mood of dissatisfaction with national retail chains – in other words a clear link between the local and the national.  This is the sort of economic campaign that liberal-minded people can get excited by.

*If a data gathering exercise with publicity stunts can really be called a campaign.

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