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Backing the wrong horse

Several of my friends were standing for election to the Estonian Parliament.

Estonian politics are quite tightly defined. In many ways the cross party debates that take place in Estonia are mirrors of the debates that take place within the Liberal Democrats in the UK- so dominant is the Liberal strain of thought in the Estonian body politic. Two parties: Reform and the Centre Party are members of Liberal international, while the leading right wing party also defines itself as a classical liberal party. Even the Social Democrats espouse overtly liberal policies.

The outgoing coalition was between the Centre Party and Reform, with the support of the smaller, conservative and agrarian party, the National League (Rahva Liit). In fact, although ideologically liberal, the Centre Party is dominated by the populist personality of its founder and leader, Edgar Savisaar. So, while Lembit Opik was able to persuade the Centre Party to join the European Liberal group, in fact Savisaar is a law unto himself- the most polarising personality of Estonian politics.

Perhaps then we should not be so surprised to see that Reform achieved such a strong result- overtaking Centre as the largest party and increasing their vote by 10% and their number of MPs to 31 in the 101 seat Parliament. It was a spectacular result, and has been greeted with delight and astonishment in Liberal circles across Europe. An overtly freedom driven agenda has proven very popular in an election where turnout was the highest in a decade.

It is a triumph for Reform Prime Minister, Andrus Ansip, and one for Liberals to enjoy across Europe.

Meanwhile the united Isamaa-Res publica Liit- the Conservatives- saw their support fall, although admittedly not by as much as had been predicted. Despite pulling out all the stops and being well funded from abroad, the IRL were firmly beaten in to third place- gaining not much more than half the number of seats they won last time- and were lucky not to be overtaken by the Social Democrats.

David Cameron had a big role in the IRL campaign- appearing in their party election broadcasts. Several of my Estonian friends asked who "the bald English Conservative" was, and found it a little irritating that the Conservatives were telling Estonians what was good for them. I agreed, since that is what the Conservatives keep trying to tell the Brits, and I find that just as annoying.

In any event Cameron backed a losing horse.

Meanwhile I can congratulate Igor Grazin, Maret Maripuu, Meelis Atonen, and Imre Sooaar on their solid re-election for Reform. Congratulations too to Mailis Reps of Keskerakond. I was also pleased to see Tivimi Velliste back for IRL and Sven Mikser back for the Social Democrats.

A great result for Reform- who can now choose whether they should continue to work with Edgar Savisaar- after all a two party coalition would have a comfortable majority- or construct a weaker coalition with other parties.

All of that is still to come, in the meantime we can savour the moment- a Liberal Prime Minister, a Liberal Party winning the vote and the runner up being a member of LI too: more than 57% of the vote between these two parties and 60 MPs!

Palju onne Eesti Reformerakonna!


Joe Taylor said…
Thankyou for that article - it's nice to know that there is a small corner of Europe that's forever Liberal.

It gives me hope for having a Liberal prime minister in this country one day. Now that would send shockwaves around the world.
Anonymous said…

Taking you up on your points in answer,

1) It is trite to say the Lib Dems went with principles. They may well have done. But then they weren't exactly risking a lot were they. The red top press would give you a kicking regardless. So nothing to surrender by opposing the bill and quite a lot to gain possibly. The reverse was true for the Tories.

2) You pass over the Religious Hatred Bill. A triumph orchestrated by the Tory chief whip.

3) If I'm on shaky ground arguing Cameron is more libertarian than you think, you must heve fallen thru the ice already Consul arguing Cameron is the same as Reid. To do that, is to ignore all the above. I repeat if you wish to debate the libertarian agenda do not do a black and white view of the world, and say all your opponents are therefore the same. It ignores reality, and puts up backs when you might on some issues have made common cause.

Last but not least Consul did the mask slip this weekend at your conference. Equidistance abandoned in favour of becoming the rural wing of socialism. The party that is bringing us a Big brother state propped up by the "Libertarian" Lib Dems. An olive branch to Socialism, none to libertarian Tories. Deal already done between the two old men from Fife smells like it. In case that riles you, consider some of the stuff Ming was deploying from the platform. Since he is happy to dish out personal vitriol then for what he is about to receive in return may he be truly grateful.

Finally Consul, it was political foolishness of the highest order. Read the excellent PBC article on this. You have at once thrown away potential Tory voting support in your battles with Labour, and written the Conservative PPB on you for them. If you really want a change, then really vote for it, vote Conservative. The cat is now out of the bag.

James said…
Well Lepidus, I know that you would like to beleive this story, but the press have got this totally wrong: and I am no more rural socialist than you are!

When I talk about Liberal pinciples you are always dismissive, but the fact is that our core values are not negotiable- no matter what. I think that the Tories pay too much attention to what sells and not enough to what is right.

The religious hatred bill was a success for the Conservatives and I applaud that (even while I am deeply suspicious that it was a simply a tactical victory, rather than a principled one).

If you find the Reid-Cameron comparison inpropriate, fine. But what about Michael Howard, who would have done everything Reid had done, with knobs on (and who initally supported ID cards) OK a Change of face has taken place- but it will take more than that to convince me that the seeming change of policy is more than simple opportunism.

I don't care about coalitions: and all Ming did was set conditions before we would even think about talking to Brown. What I do care about, and what I want to see is a government that enacts as many Liberal principles as possible. I want an open system, based on a real Freedom of Information Act and full accountablity for decisons tht cost taxpayers money. I want to see a bonfire of regulation and a reduction in tax. I want to see home rule for England -or its regions or counties depending on what the voters vote for- within a full constitutional setlement.

My party has policies for all these things: where's the Tory beef? We may be only a few months from an election and the cowardice of the Conservatives in putting forward any ideas at all is truly remarkable.
Anonymous said…

Please don't say you really believe that guff about an election this year. Labour are BROKE. They are 8-10 points behind in the polls. Given Gordon's notoriously cautious nature even if they had the money they would need to be at least that far ahead in the polls before he even contemplated cutting and running. So back on planet earth that is one thing we can safely agree wont happen this year at least agreed.

Re Howard he was under enormous pressure to buckle on the security issue at election time during that parliamentary ping pong. He did not, so cut him some credit. True enough he was a fan of ID cards, but in the Tory party that placed him in a group barely large enough like the old Liberal Parliamentary Party to fill a London taxi.

Re Ming I backtrack, you are not a rural sociaist but Ming's speech stirred the old suspicions about cf "I am a politician of the left." True he gave GB condition, but he did not even make a pretence at balance by doing the same for Cameron. Labour MPs will now do what they always do and presume you will always back them regardless. Paul Linford certainly believes that. As the PB article pointed out. One of the great opportunities for your party next time was persuading Libertarian Tories to lend you support in Lib/Lab seats. Why would any sane Tory Libertarian do that now.

As Iain Dale points out Tory MPs in Lib/Con seats would like to kiss Ming at the moment. I imagine though Nick Clegg will be spitting blood. Months of work on his libertarian agenda undone. All in all Cicero disappointing. I had presumed Labour were alone in their love of the big state. It seems perhaps unsurprisingly though that Ming is closer to Simon Hughes than to David Laws. Where will you go from here, up for any more Parliamentary seats.

Peter Pigeon said…
Bizarre comment on the speech in which Ming said that we were going to 'harness the market' and were 'not a tax and spend party'.
James said…
Lepidus- it does not really matter when the election actually takes place- but it could be any time.

When are we going to see the beef from the Cameroons?

As for the Lib Dems- the "mis-presentation" will be solved. We will see what happens in May.
Anonymous said…

In theory I could win the national lottery at any time, and an election this year is about as likely! Perhaps you can address my other points, especially the PBC point.

James said…
Lepidus, I think you are more interested in the tactics of politics than I am!

You interpret the political debate as a question of positioning versus Labour, and to be honest, Ming's mistake- which I beleive will be corrected- is to accept that this is the question. Liberals or libertarians have a distinct and definite agenda which has not been well catered for by the Conservatives (and certainly not by Labour).

This is why I talk about Liberal ideology so much- if we accept the logic of Liberal principles, it then becomes 1) pretty clear what we stand for 2) pretty obvious what our policies are and 3) very difficult for the other parties to speak for us.

I constantly ask you (and others)what Tory principles and policies should be based on- and I don't get any response except "you'll see later, the election is not near enough yet". I repeat: I think that this is dishonest. Right now voting Conservative is not for a change- it is just to change Buggin's turn on the political pendulum: without a minimum ideological clarity then any politician's career, including David Cameron's, will end in abject failure.

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