One of the flaws of Liberal Democrats is that we are all a little bit too fond of reasoned persuasion and evidence-based policy. We seem to believe that all we have to do is make the case for our stance and others will instantly flock to our cause.
Unfortunately, politics doesn’t work that way, especially not today. There’s plenty of evidence — that word again — to show that most people’s (if not everyone’s) beliefs are too deeply rooted to be swayed by reason. In any case, as Alex Marsh very sensibly pointed out this week, voters have more important things to worry about:
… most people feel they have better things to do in life than obsess about politics.
So if voters aren’t going to be persuaded by reasoned argument, perhaps it’s time for LibDems to tap into our emotions. Instead of asking people to look at the evidence, get them to sit up and take notice by the force of our passion for what we believe in.
When I read Alex’s piece, I started thinking about my emotional connection to liberalism. And I realized that the feelings and convictions that make me a Liberal Democrat are the same ones that make the tears stream down my cheeks in the darkness of the cinema (or on the sofa watching TV at home).
Those LibDem film moments
At certain points in certain films, I quietly crack up and weep helplessly. Not at the traditional tearjerker scenes when people die or fall in love, I can take all that in my stride. What turns on the waterworks, I now realize, is when I see a story culminating in a triumph of Liberalism.
What chokes me up is that moment when a plucky band of ragtag rebels triumphs against the odds, striking back against the powerful forces of totalitarian or bureaucratic conformity. It doesn’t have to be a galactic struggle for survival. It can simply be a local neighbourhood, battling against overwhelming power, that rediscovers its sense of community and identity.
I can’t help it when I see someone taking a lonely, courageous stand against mainstream convention, to defy discrimination or oppression — win or lose I can’t help blubbing when they make their final stand.
Most of all, that moment when someone who’s struggled against disadvantage their whole life finally reaches a point where everything comes together — and they find the strength and determination to step up and make their mark.
That’s when I give up the effort to control my composure because I know the tears are just going to come.
Don’t hold those emotions back
Now I’m not going to claim Liberal Democrats have a monopoly on compassion and empathy, or on weeping in cinemas, of course not. That would be tribalist, whereas we Liberals instinctively reach out to find common cause with others, even those who at first disagree with us.
Nor am I saying that we’re all snowflakes, melting down at the merest threat of injustice. Let’s be clear, I’m talking about tears of joy and pride, the gritty tears that well up when you experience something you’ve spent your life striving for. Whatever your political allegiance, if these same scenes bring tears to your eyes too, then you share the same core beliefs as most Liberal Democrats.
And in this era of emotional politics, we LibDems need to get back in touch with our emotions. We still need to make the reasoned, evidence-based case for Liberalism. But we shouldn’t hold our emotions back, because that’s what shows the world that we really mean what we say.
When we go out to campaign, we’re not doing it just to persuade people to sign up to our policies. We want to make a difference to people’s lives, to be able to celebrate bringing power back to communities, to speak up for the oppressed and to support everyone in realising their potential. This isn’t a reasoned calculation, it’s a passionate cause. We should wear our emotions on our sleeve.
It’s time to get in touch with your inner Liberal self. We won’t win the day with reasoned argument alone. Don’t be ashamed to feel the case for Liberalism — and to weep for joy and pride at each of its battles and all of its victories.