As I read the news, probably like you, I am astonished at the almost unending stream of bad news in the UK – before we even get to Brexit.
Over just the past few weeks we’ve seen debilitating and potentially life-threatening patient logjams in A&E Departments, not to mention non-urgent surgery being cancelled across the NHS in England during January. Rail transport is becoming dire with constant delays for commuters, despite rail fares in the UK being amongst the highest in the world. And what of crime? Law and order may not always have been a top policy priority for the Lib Dems, but Caroline Pidgeon has done much to highlight knife crime in the capital over the past couple of years; nonetheless there were a staggering 80 fatal stabbings in London last year.
Random, incomprehensible, inequalities also abound across the UK. Why is it in England that students pay tuition fees, when in Scotland no such fees apply? Also, how can it be that students are having to repay their loans at extortionate 6% interest rates? There are also no prescription charges in Scotland and Wales, only in England. How can that be right and fair? Don’t get me wrong, I am neither in favour of tuition fees or prescription charges, but it’s the blatant lack of a level playing field in different parts of the UK which is astonishing.
Other stories continue to paint the picture of a society in a state of degeneration: just one such item caught my eye in the Guardian this week: educational support for England’s 45,000 deaf children is reported to be “in complete disarray” by the National Deaf Children’s Society with a dwindling number of specialist teachers in mainstream schools. Such losses of essential services point to a degradation of our public life and values. The inhumane conditions in some prisons, reflected in high prisoner suicide rates, is another example of decline and disarray in the public sector. On and on it goes.
With such mounting bad news and the Government’s faltering and chaotic handling of Brexit, one would expect the population to be up in arms. How can it be then, that the Lib Dems are still at only 7% in the polls? A recent You Gov poll on 11th December put the Tories on 42 per cent, Labour on 41 per cent – and the Lib Dems on 7%. I know we have had some recent local lection gains, but these figures are still fairly incomprehensible. Can it really be that six times more people want to vote Tory than Lib Dem, with all that is going on?
Is it because we don’t have the policies – or because we are not getting our message across? I’m no political expert, but my suspicion is that it is not more media attention we need (although that would be good!) – but a clearer and stronger policy identity that people can understand and relate to. Like them or not, people know what the Tories and Labour stand for – the same still cannot really be said of the Lib Dems. To retain anything like a compassionate and decent society, we have to develop a USP, a brand, which acknowledges and reflects the priorities of the average person in the street.
* Judy works for a think tank in London, specialising in health policy