Thursday, November 02, 2006

New Liberalism

Over the past few months there has been an attempt by the British Conservative Party to paint themselves as somehow more of a "Liberal" Party.

David Cameron has referred to himself several times as a "Liberal Conservative". Many Conservatives have pointed to aspects of Thatcherism (even!) as Liberal in inspiration. The ideas of deregulation and limiting the role of the state do have some Liberal flavour, its true.

Yet the fact that Cameron can suggest anything of the kind reveals the essential flaw in the arguement. Even if the Conservatives once, briefly, embraced aspects of economic Liberalism, they never even understood, still less embraced the political philosophy of Liberalism.

The reason why Margaret Thatcher is, in fact, one of the least Liberal governments in Twentieth century British history is the astonishing increase in the power of the centralized state that she presided over. This poisonous legacy has continued under Blair- the "Imperial Treasury" has concentrated power into ever smaller cabals.

For Liberal Democrats, localism is not some gimmicky mantra, newly discovered- it reflects part of the very DNA of the party. Gladstone spoke of Liberalism being trust in the people, tempered with prudence, but the assumption was and remains that Citizens have the right to make their own decisions.

The fact that our electoral system does not allow Parliament to accurately reflect the will of those citizens makes a mockery of our democracy- and the fact that the Conservatives do not even recognize the problems simply underlines the fact fact thay are simply unable to understand what Liberalism actually is.

Liberalism insists on the rights of the citizen to be empowered over the organs of state- Conservativism has historically massively increased the powers of the state at the expense of the citizen, and Labour as a Socialist inspired party, does not beleive that the state can be malign anyway.

The current debate over what policies to adopt in the face of growing evidence for serious, human inspired, climate change has shown up the differences between the parties more subtly. Both the Conservatives and Labour are now following the Liberal Democrats and realising the need for taxes that alter consumer behaviour. The difference is that The Liberal Democrats explicitly argue that any green taxes must be revenue neutral- in otherwords, they must be offset by falls in general taxation.

New Liberalism is determined to limit the power of the state, and to make it more accountable. New Labour, by contrast introduced a weak freedom of information act, which has been watered down to the point that there is no presumption that information should be released at all. The citizen is not allowed to know the most basic information about how they are governed. This is truly a scandal.

By contrast, in Liberal ruled Estonia, virtually all government documents, including webcasts of cabinet meetings can be seen over the internet. Only operational military secrets are not wholly in the public domain. It is absurd that even the mother of Parilaiaments can not hold British government ministers to account in the way that any single Estonian citizen can do to their ministers.

Information Freedom is right of any citizen. It is a human right that within the law the citizen is free to live life without interference. This interference includes a right to privacy. At a time when more and more information is being collected by the state- citizens have no protection either to verify such information and correct it, if necessary nor can they delete any aspect of their increasingly compendious files. The future constitutional battles will include ever greater concerns over privacy. Liberal Democrats will be in the vanguard of the battle to protect the citizen from unwanted interference by an untrammelled state.

When we demand an end to poverty, ignorance and conformity- increasingly the emphasis will be on the third- the pressures on the citizen to conform will assume an importance that David Cameron does not even begin to understand.

The Conservatives may battle for what the perceive as the "liberal" centre ground. They do not understand that Liberalism is a radical reform movement- almost the opposite of what Mr. Camerons beleives it to be. Non-conformist, radical, and challenging of exisiting nostrums. The New Liberalism of the Liberal Democrats inherits the mind set of its Liberal heritage and applies it to the questions of the modern age. We are nothing to do with the opportunist posturings of the immature Tory leadership.

No comments: