Someone of immense wisdom* suggested to me the other day that the Liberal Democrats are at their best when the three drivers of Party activity - organising, campaigning and thinking - are all heading in the same direction at the same pace. In order to do that, you need people in each of the three strands who understand the value of the other two, and who are influential enough to make it happen.
I have to admit to a sense that, to some extent, the campaigning strand has dominated in recent years, leading to a situation where we have become better and better at conveying messages, whilst simultaneously getting worse and worse at developing the messages to be conveyed. Yes, we can deliver dozens of leaflets, but what goes in them? Is it enough to be simply against 'them', whoever they might be? What are we offering that makes us a better choice, that demonstrates how we will put our principles into action?
And so we have seen the rise of groups based on ideas, first Liberal Vision, who have never really broken out from their perceived libertarian box, and now the Social Liberal Forum, who appear to have struck a rather sharper note if reports of their conference this weekend past are to be believed. I am still to ascertain what it will lead to in terms of a communicable message, but it is early days yet.
Meanwhile, the organisational branch of the Party continues its long trek towards constitutional perfection, seemingly oblivious of the impact of mounting regulation designed to cover every circumstance imaginable, whilst failing to reflect the struggles of small, fragile Local Parties, barely able to run a slate of candidates at local level, let alone take seats and win councils.
It is time to bring the three Liberal Democrat tribes together, for each to start thinking about the impact of its actions on the others, so that we can build a better machine, capable of surviving the next General Election.
Of course, that assumes that we can all come together. My dilemma is one, I suspect, that is shared by many within the Party. I worry that the social liberals are a bit too 'warm and fuzzy' on questions of economics, yet the economic liberal voice is, as I put it, 'as warm and human as a thrown knife'. And you can't really sit on the fence between the two - there's quite a lot of intellectual territory between them, albeit with the odd areas of overlap.
So, neither a social liberal or an economic liberal shall I be - at least, for now. I'm keen for the debate to go on though, if only so that I can be a small, still voice pointing out that it's about more than just ideas, or campaigning, or structure. Which reminds me, there's something that I want to do...
* Yes, that would be Ros...