Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What are the Liberal Democrats for?

An occasional poster to this blog, "Lepidus" made the following comment:

"many Lib Dems will likely be elected on the back of "Tory Votes" as was John Leech, so you are wise to seek out Labour held seats, as they will be far the easier pickings. You have I think adopted the classic Lib Dem obsession with the Tories at the point when the easier pickings are elsewhere even if some like Gidley weren't hammering the final nail into their political careers themselves, hence your strident tones. Excuse my cynicism but if the Tories were more "ideological" in your view you would be lambasting them equally hard for being "extreme", come to think of it that makes you a perfect Lib Dem MP Consul! I look forward your new Philippics in the HoC."

Essentially, if I can paraphrase: basically "don't get hung up on Tories, it will be easier to beat Labour".

I think to answer the point, I have to step back and reiterate why I support the Lib Dems and not the Conservative Party, still less the Labour Party.

I am a free market Liberal- it is axiomatic that freedom delivers better outcomes than a command economy. Neither do I believe in social class as the first component of society and am therefore anti Marxist.

This already makes me far less likely to support even a Fabianite form of Socialism. Although clause four has gone, the intellectual roots of Labour remain in "the Labour movement" - an explicitly class driven set of groups. The result is that Labour policies in office have always tended to amass power to the state and to believe that this is a superior way to organise society.

I am profound sceptical about the power of the state as a force for good and, although Labour have tended to enact more socially liberal measures in office, the fact is that I reject their core ideology.

The Conservatives can be said to have two core roots. The first is closer to the Liberal identity as far as economic organisation is concerned. However, the second is to be socially conservative- a belief in certain long standing social models for behaviour, and a rather prescriptive code of personal moral conduct, including sexual conduct. For me this is deeply unattractive. It implies a moral judgment and control by the state over personal conduct outside of what is limited by law.

So, although I can share some Conservative points of view on economic policy, I reject a fundamental part of their core values.

So the positive features of the Liberal Democrats?

The Liberal Democrats are pro-individual in economic, social and political spheres. The core value of the Liberal Democrats can be put in two sentences from John Stuart Mill:

"That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant."

Or, if you prefer PJ O Rourke:

"There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences"

It is through this prism that I examine political discourse in this country and the world. For example, I notice from my long standing (over 20 years) relationship with Estonia, that the key to good government is simplicity.

I am ideological about this- and so, by the way is my party: almost all our slogans start with Freedom.

So, from high principle, down to low politics.

The basic principle of Socialism is dead- long ignored by Labour, but with the complete abandonment only coming under Tony Blair. Labour was turned by him into a power machine, designed to bring power to the Blair-Brown axis. It was extremely successful in doing so. The problem for Labour has been what to do with power once gained. Some of the Lib Dem agenda- independence for the Bank of England, devolution of power away from Whitehall has been adopted. Apart from that, this government has created legislation at a truly manic rate. Their view of power demands repeated "action". The command roots of Labour have never been more obvious- inheriting the centralised system of government from the Conservatives, they have turned Whitehall into a machine to impose their will on the state through incontinent and ill thought out law making.

Unfortunately- it has failed. It is too complicated, too top heavy and too expensive.

What is the Conservative response?

To try to turn their own party into a contending machine. The lesson they learned from Blair was that being fuzzy about core principles and focus on power alone. This is the only route, they believe, that might enable the party to become a contender for government. The coterie of people around David Cameron have no other experience except the "Westminster Bubble"- and they are deeply impressed with the use of power under Labour.

But even Marx knew: "history repeats itself twice, first as tragedy, then as farce".

Even if Cameron achieves power- his sole definition of success- he will fail in government.

The intellectual sloppiness of Cameron is shocking, his whole approach is based on giving the electorate what they say they want. It is the exact opposite of the kind of politics of principle that great leaders must espouse. There is ultimately no future in Cameron's Conservatives, because there is a vacuum at the very heart of his ideas.

So, that a long way of answering Lepidus.

What about the implications for the future?

It may well be that Labour's implosion comes before that of the Conservatives, after all the intellectual bankruptcy of Socialism is more long standing, but the steady decline of political participation shows all is not well anywhere in politics.

Liberalism is a simple vision, but it is a powerful one. I believe that the radical changes that are coming in our society will demand wholesale reform of our political system. The death of political parties might be part of that, and for many people, not in the least unwelcome. In the face of wrench changes, where information technology could challenge the very concept of freedom as we know it, I see no coherent vision except in the idea of freedom above all things- that is Liberalism.

In is far as I may be said to be in politics at all, I am in it to articulate a vision.

This vision is: to increase Freedom, to ensure Justice and protect Individuality.

If Labour or the Conservatives could articulate such a vision for political renewal, then I would take them seriously- but they do not and can not- they fight yesterday's battles with yesterday's weapons.

Does that answer your question, Lepidus?

5 comments:

anon said...

Given these are your beliefs, why on earth is your pen-name (or whatever you call these things) "Cicero"?

Anonymous said...

*applauds*

Well said.

I think this is why Labour and Tory members don't understand the LibDems. They view everything through the prism of getting power and accumulating it (with a few notable exceptions)

They accuse the LibDems of wanting PR just so we can get more power, which is far from the reality.

Anonymous said...

Much has been made of Labour's abandonment of socialist economic policy over the last decade and a half. Far less attention has been paid to Labour's entirely unshaken commitment to socialist thinking in every other aspect of policy: centralisation, managerialism, intervention, bureaucracy, stunted gesture politics, military posturing.

vaba cymru said...

What worries me is that the LibDems are not a united party, and is not even united in philosophy. Liberalism and social democracy have many contradictions and this unhappy marriage creates so many "wings" in this party. For the party to really succeed, it must solidify its liberal roots (settle questions relating to taxation and size of the state) or else end up fighting for the same political space on the centre-left as New Labour and Dodgy Tory...

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