Despite the existence of many political parties in the UK, why is our political landscape shaped mainly by two? And why will the Lib Dems probably never gain any real traction?
The answer is that, like many things in life, political voting is decided on by the vast majority of people by instinct not fact. This instinct looks for ways to protect and preserve the individual whilst sub consciously seeking security in belonging to a tribe.
Tribes find it as easy to define themselves by what they are not as by what they are, and they want this to be as simple an equation as possible. Over-extend the number of tribes that are "not like us" and the thing gets too complicated. The sub conscious likes certainty, likes binary, likes yes or no. Likes United or City, Arsenal or Tottenham. The sub conscious forces you to find a single enemy: God the Devil, and this is the optimal position for a tribe to have so that it can focus and easily manage its attack and defence strategies.Like any other form of prejudice it is largely automatic and irrational, and is characteristic of most democratic systems around the world.
Add to this the continued robust health of the British class system and this country neatly splits along tribal lines: the Haves, who gather in rural areas and affluent parts of cities, and the Have Nots who gather in the spaces in between. Those who cannot escape the Have Not world will continue to vote Labour for now: those who can migrate upwards may stay with their roots, or may alternatively seek inauguration into the tribe that reflects their new status. Some of these may be tempted to vote Lib Dem. Equally, some of the Haves may see the Liberals as a more moral or intellectually interesting option.
The vast majority of both Labour and Conservative voters are essentially opting for a strong tribal preference in the first instance, based on emotion, which is only post-rationalised by active thought further down the line.
Occasionally, as in Scotland a new force arises, but for it to successfully challenge the existing instinctive positions of the established tribes it needs to trump their version of "the meaning of life" with something simple and visceral, otherwise it stands no chance.Alex Salmond is not William Wallace, but he has made an excellent show of uniting the country behind "Freedom!". Note, this is an emotionally led appeal with a simple, clear swipe not at another party , but at another country, with enmities that extend far further back in time and scores that need to be settled with the auld enemy.
The point of Scotland is that the trump card is so powerful because it is so instinctual, not because it is logical. This leads to the issue with the Lib Dems and why they will struggle for votes.It is this: the Lib Dems are based primarily on intellectual rather than instinctive argument: they do not possess a simple strong appeal to the sub conscious. Indeed, rather the reverse, as it would not be too generous to describe them as "the thinking person's party". Further, they are stranded in the middle; even at a time when everything is converging to the middle ground, this is not a good place to be.
Thoughts for parties and their marketing. See also http://www.cambridgecomms.com/
All parties: don't put too much value on the logic of policy: find simple, visceral and emotional messages first.
Labour: watch out. Tribal adherence to the "working class" may have only half a generation of strength left in it, and is hugely at odds with the modernisers in the party. 20 years ago people were proud to be working class - all the focus groups that I have attended over the last 10 years show that this veneer is wearing increasingly thin - whilst working class solidarity might once have been nurtured strongly when UK manufactured things,that same solidarity is not engendered via the call centre or shelf stacking. Consider name change once and for all: Democracy is the word to own.Miliband is not the firebrand to make it work: drop him. Invest enormously in social media as the Tories still struggle on with fax machines.
Lib Dems: decide on who your enemy is - Labour or Tory - and forget the other one. Find a message that is essentially emotional: back fill it with as much intellectual as you like if the decide the enemy is Tory, and with as little as possible if it is Labour, as you will need to sit comfortably in the Daily Mirror.The alternative is to stay permanently in opposition, coalition or local government, a useful but scarcely ambitious strategy.
Conservatives: focus on pushing the Great into Britain.This is the natural heart of the Tory and is an appeal that resonates deep down in the psyche.Ensure that Great Britain is based emotionally on success as the central core.Own the territory of hard but fair play and forget other distractions. Ensure that every ounce of Olympic publicity*,every medal and every Jubilee cup has the word Tory stamped on it. Success is sexy, use it.Get digital and spearhead a strategy to recruit the 9 million (older) people not currently on line. Then call an election as soon as is practical.
* Update 16 08 12 ....and here it is: http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/news/1145540/bolt-farah-help-dcms-thank-britain-new-great-ads/