Deary me is Twitter not a load of old cobblers. Regularly mistaken as a social network site (the better description is “microblogging”) it is basically an opportunity to pour forth with whichever brain fart has just bubbled out of your head to your followers as if they particularly cared.
Obviously the people that use it are likely to be boring, self-absorbed me-monkeys or the terminally fucking deranged*. That’s why it’s important that the outbursts are kept to a limit of 140 characters.
You can of course now follow most UK politicians via Twitter. What politician is ever likely to miss an opportunity to bark random gibberish at their “followers,” in the mistaken belief that they all crave it?
But what Twitter can do is something those in the political world have been trying to do for many years. In distilling your message into a lot less than 140 characters you have a better chance of people remembering it and identifying with it for longer.
Soundbites aside, British politics at its most base level tells voters that Labour are the party of the working class and are committed to redistribution of wealth and that the Tories are the party of the middle classes committed to tax cuts. It tells us that the SNP want independence for Scotland and the BNP racial purity in Britain. That UKIP want withdrawal from the EU and the Green Party like the environment.
So where do the Liberal Democrats fit in all of this? Does pursuing ‘Liberal Democracy’ mean anything to anyone?
There is a theory that this basic failure of political articulation of what they are and who they are for forms part of the reason behind the Lib Dems massively disappointing set of election results in May.
Long forgotten now in the midst of coalition building and Lib Dem aspirations becoming government policy, was that despite the leaders debates and the enormous profile given to him, Nick Clegg managed to shrink his parliamentary party at the election from 63 to 57 MPs. A backward trend no Liberal Democrat leader has ever achieved and obviously not conducive to his 100 MPs in-two-elections target.
So the Lib Dems, unable to imprint their values on the minds of the British voter were left appealing only to Guardian readers and people who like to take photos of trains. In the face of a potential change in government everybody else retreated to what they knew best.
Notional Labour voters who had voted Lib Dem in the past as a protest towards tuition fees or Iraq saw a potentially divisive and naive incoming Tory government and went back to what they knew.
Notional Conservative voters, put off by years of Toxic Toryism and voting Lib Dem in the recent past as opposition to Labour, suddenly saw a chance for change and went back to what they knew.
So how do the Lib Dems change this? How do they get a loyal following that aren’t borrowed from the other major parties?
Well, a Twitter-like description of what the party stands for might help. It can’t be worse than the shopping list of policies in 2005 or the fairness agenda of the last campaign that, whilst worthy, will be picked apart by everyone claiming a coalition cut to be unfair on them over the next five years.
But what the Lib Dems really need to start doing is talking about who they are again. Why they exist. And if they didn’t exist, why we’d have to invent them.
This isn’t the same as sticking a dodgy bar chart on a leaflet and appealing only to the apparent instincts of people who used to vote for one of the other two, and then wondering why support peels away when you coalesce with a party half of your habitual tactical voters only voted for you to prevent coming to power.