How the Liberal Democrats can rebound from the brink of extinction in Wales
Simon Paul Hobson, approved Parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats
In my day, it was pirate ships and mediaeval knights. Today it is Ninjago. Watching my stepson assembling his latest LEGO set made me consider the ubiquitous nature of this brand.
Yet in 2003, the Danish toymaker came close to going bust. Faced with a changing games market, the faltering attention of children in the electronic age and the impact of this on the demands for their parents’ cash, LEGO almost disappeared forever.
The company reinvented itself to become relevant to children’s lives in new ways. Learning from its product failures, LEGO refocused on its core business of making plastic bricks. But the company also realised that customers wanted added digital interactions.
They constructed new stories, games and experiences. Partnering with franchises such as Star Wars, Harry Potter and the filmmaker; Warner Bros. Through bringing themselves to a new audience, and reengaging with current and previous fans, LEGO have regained their influence. Returning to their trailblazing toymaker status.
Over the weekend of the 21-22 October, the Welsh Liberal Democrats will host their members at their Autumn Conference in the ever-popular city of Wrexham. There are many similarities with LEGO in 2003 and the Welsh Liberal Democrats of 2023. Seemingly unable to benefit from the recent historical by-election victories of the party in England, the Welsh Lib Dems continue their drift into a confused lack of focus.
The party is absent from the political scene, an endangered species. And the loss of the Welsh Liberal voice would be a disaster for the nation. Wales needs a directional and convincing centrist voice. How can the Welsh Lib Dems, its ancestor Liberal Party once dominant in Welsh politics, regain the mantle of political trailblazer?
Understanding that change means taking risks
Faced with bankruptcy, LEGO brought in a new CEO. They imposed a ‘back to brick’ policy and restructured the company. The Welsh leadership campaigns with strategies, communication tactics and policies from the 1990s. Stale and hampered by the need for members to vote on every change, the party has lost purpose.
The Welsh Westminster parliamentary seats are of no interest to the London-based federal party and, therefore receive no support. Liberals across Wales want a party that they can get involved with. A movement that clearly establishes its vision of Wales’ future. Yes, new leadership is needed. Yes, the party’s constitution needs modernising. Yes, the Welsh Lib Dems must let go of London, becoming free of its ‘blue wall’ obsessed policies. Doing so would give the party the freedom to develop a distinctly Welsh Liberal identity.
Using data and not guesswork to back up decision making
The party currently has no understanding of which policies and issues are turning voters in Wales on or off. A new Welsh Lib Dem leadership must take time to run in-depth analysis of current policies and speak with the voters, understanding which of these policies they connect with, and to identify where innovation is required to write new ones.
Importantly, the party’s brand messaging and presentational styles must be brought away from the comical bar charts of the 1990s and into transparent and intelligent images suitable for the 2020s.
Engaging with the competition
The party has to experience the voter journey, putting the electorate first. As LEGO found, bringing the best ‘brand’ experience to the customer / voter is how to achieve more sales / gain votes. That might mean engaging with, or even borrowing from, the ‘competition’.
Sometimes, collaborating with other political parties is to the benefit of all. The Welsh Lib Dems must think of how they meet the expectation of the next generation of voters. This may be through ‘borrowing’ from others. The majority of those under 35 years sees the future of Wales as one in which the country is sovereign.
It is then sensible to move the Welsh Lib Dems to a position that allows the party to lead this conversation.
Keep the brand, business and behaviour aligned
LEGOs mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. The mission of the Welsh Liberal Democrats has to be to inspire people to build a Liberal Wales. In its current guise, the Welsh Lib Dems are failing at this mission. But if they take the time to bring in new leadership, with bravery and tallent, the party already has all the building blocks to succeed. Just as LEGO found, gazing at your likely extinction can be the catalyst for a trailblazing future. But first you have to realise that you are an endangered species.
Simon Paul Hobson is an approved Parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats. He is also a director of YesCymru. Simon has been campaigning for wildlife conservation and rural community groups since the age of 11. He is a mining engineer, and a former professional cyclist.
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