What do we say now? The dilemma for the three losing parties

For the clear losers at the election - Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP - new leadership and new policies won't be enough to turn the tide without new ways to communicate with the electorate.

What do they say now? asks Warwick Smith of the three losing parties
What do they say now? asks Warwick Smith of the three losing parties
Indeed, during the campaign, many of us commented that all of the parties were talking only to their core supporters and not reaching beyond their comfort zone to bring in new support. 

To rebuild, all three parties will need to develop their appeal beyond that core vote. 

To change their policies and appeal to achieve that, they will need to understand an ever more fragmented and disparate population. 

Lord Ashcroft’s post-vote polling gives some clues to the size of the challenge that this fragmentation poses. 

It shows that those who voted Labour are between 25 per cent and 40 per cent more pessimistic and nervous about the future than Conservative ones. 

So to win Labour has to speak to more people with different views, maintaining their connection with the pessimistic, while changing their tone, style and messaging to embrace the language of aspiration.

If Labour has a tough fight then the Liberal Democrats have a mountain to climb. Not only did they lose most of their seats but the remainder are scattered over the country, lacking the critical mass that groups of adjacent constituencies can deliver. 

Having been tainted by coalition, their traditional strength of incumbency no longer delivers. You’d expect this most local of parties to build from its local council base, but this will also be a huge task – they now have fewer than 2,000 councillors, compared with nearly 4,000 in 2010.

They have to reinvent themselves, re-embrace liberalism, and take a clear philosophical position. Nick Clegg failed to win success by positioning himself between Labour and Conservative ideology. 

That pragmatism lacked the authenticity that had been one of his key strengths, and an attribute that all aspiring winners must embrace. His successor will need to lead a party of in-touch, local campaigners; but it will be a long, hard road.

Meanwhile there is UKIP. With four million votes but only one parliamentary seat; did UKIP succeed or did it fail? No-one knows, so the obvious response was for Nigel Farage to resign then rescind that resignation two days later. 

This encapsulates UKIP’s communications problem. It has failed to become a broadly based party and remains the cult of Farage, a soap opera about the ups and downs, loves and hates of its leader. UKIP took more Labour votes than expected and built a solid second place in many part of the North. If it is to capitalise on this it needs a wider range of talent to go alongside the anti-establishment mantra.  

More immediately UKIP will need to address the European negotiation and referendum. Does it set out what the UK should be demanding and expecting or does it condemn the whole process as a fudge from the start?

Warwick Smith is managing partner of public policy at Instinctif Partners

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