Thursday, March 05, 2009

Don't call us, Gordon

Vernon Bogdanor suggests in today's Times that Gordon Brown, if he is to avoid a "new Conservative century" should now reopen the discussions with the Liberal Democrats that were terminated after Tony Blair decided to ignore the Jenkins Commission. Bogdanor, who was David Cameron's tutor at Oxford, argues that the recession, although underlining the validity of Social Democratic ideology is in fact undermining Labour, the Social Democratic Party. Bogdanor's solution is to "reunite the left" and that the Prime Minister should talk to the Liberal Democrats.

Well sorry Vernon, the Liberal Democrats won't get fooled again.

The Labour Party has had nearly twelve years in office. During that time they have presided over a period of substantial erosion of our civil liberties. They have conducted an illegal war, they have failed to understand that the boom was not "an end to boom and bust", but rather the prelude to the biggest bust any of us has ever seen. They did not create public accountability, since their version of the "Freedom of Information Act" is a toothless and politically partial farce. They have centralised local government on shadow regions, despite a firm rejection of that policy in the only referendum that was held. They did not hold a referendum on PR, despite making a manifesto commitment to do so in 1997. In short the Labour government has been almost the antithesis of what Liberalism stands for. Labour has also betrayed the explicit commitments they made to the Liberal Democrats concerning the reform of the voting system that they glibly made in their quest for power.

Now Labour is clearly headed for a massive defeat that- ironically enough- may only be mitigated by the unfair and undemocratic voting system. However, I can not feel any regrets. I do not have any confidence in the competence of Cameron's Conservatives, but for the wider electorate the hope- however weak and unfounded- that Cameron offers is a lot more attractive than the reality of today's tired and pusillanimous Labour government.

The Liberal Democrats recognise that if the Liberal agenda is to be enacted, there is no use relying on anybody else to do it for us. Labour is not- if it ever was- an ideological party, it is a pragmatic vehicle for power, so too is the Conservative Party to a great extent. However, the "Labour movement" that created the Labour party no longer exists. The massed society that spawned the Labour movement itself no longer exists. There is now no ideological agenda behind the new Labour project- only "whatever works".

In 1979, when Labour last fell from power, the extreme left-wing of the Labour movement seized control, and it was only with their defeat and the imposition of the "New Labour" project by Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Campbell et al that the party regained its electoral credibility. Even then it was a very close run thing. In 1983, the Labour Party only just squeeked into second place, ahead of the Alliance. The ultimate defeat of the left by Blair replaced Militant Tendency entrism with middle class entryism.

Yet Blairism was not Liberalism. It was centralising and authoritarian. It was based on the certainties of a cult - and their heroic determination to stay "on message" was politics as monologue. It is a lesson that David Cameron has learned well.

A swing to the Conservatives has histroically damaged Liberals. Yet the past 12 years has tripled the Liberal Democrats' representation in the House of Commons. Even a substantial setback will probably not take the Liberal Democrats down the the levels of the 1980s. The party will retain many of its seats even against the head.

Relative to the Labour losses, the Liberal Democrats will probably be more resilient. In that sense, as the political pendulum swings back from the Conservatives by then it could be the Liberal Democrats who can finally gain enough support to enact their agenda in national government. After thirty years membership of my political party I still have my eyes on the prize. I think it would be crazy to compromise our ideology and principles by shackling ourselves to the political corpse of the Labour Party, which has already demonstrated its ill faith and bad will every time we have entered into discussions with them.

Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy, Robert Mclennan have all talked to Labour- even taken cabinet commitee places. Each time Labour broke faith.

Labour would do the same again, no matter how desperate thay may be. Whereas the Liberal Democrats should keep their eye on the next political cycle and get ready to destroy the husk that still remains of the modern Labour Party.

7 comments:

Liberal Eye said...

Well said!

Labour of the Blair/Brown years has been terrible in every department but I doubt they will be electable ever again after the economic troubles coming at us have done their worst.

Newmania said...

think it would be crazy to compromise our ideology and principles by shackling ourselves to the political corpse of the Labour Party

I agree with this but as long as it remains a Party with no real business men in it or any working classs support it is bound to remain vanity politics.
You do not have an ideology or if you do it is a closely guarded secret
The only distinctive feature I dsicern is an antipathy to marriage , the nation and in general the emotional ties that people are sustained by.

Is that it ?

Cicero said...

Oh Dear- three in a row from Newmaniac. Did your reading stop at Ladybird book 3c?
If you want to know what Liberal ideology is, perhaps you might read JS Mill "On Liberty"- a first edition of it is the badge of office of the president of the Liberal Democrats. You could also read Hayek's "Why I am not a Conservative" or Popper's "The Open society and its enemies" or Joseph Stiglitz or several others that I have recommended on these pages.

Alternatively you could just flail around in ignorance as usual making controversial but actually pretty stupid comments. The ideology-free party in British politics right now is the Conservatives. Unprincipled in opposition they would be incompetent in government.

As for a "government of all the talents"- compare Vince Cable, PhD in Economics, Chief Economist at Shell, with George Osborne- political toady. Chris Huhne, founder of IBCA and self made millionaire with say Caroline Spelman, another political toady. David Laws, head currency trader at Barclays- millionaire before he was thirty with Nick Herbert, yet another political toady.

The Conservstive front bench is just as much a part of the political class as Labour's- and will continue the same failed approach to government.

The Liberal Democrats actually benefit from the fact that it is so difficult for them to get elected: that is why most of them have had full and successful lives away from politics too.

Newmania said...

.Yes these are all texts that were used by the Conservative Party but chiefly only as a weapon against socialism in the 20th century when they confronted the Liberal Party as well as the Labour Party both committed to collectivist solutions. You will recall that the Liberal Party were not to be found when the Miners were opposed or when Nationalisation was being rolled back or when the inexorable growth of the state was reversed during the Thatcher and Major period . Nor have they ever said anything about reducing tax that even admits it as a perennial policy objective and can usually be found on the fence when the subject arises .In fact the Liberal Party was a regional oddity until refreshed by the socialist SDP
Hayek and Popper would be mostly un-known to and if known disliked by Liberals who , as you may recall , are the large majority where I like ( Lewes) as they were in Islington.( Incidentally I am greatly relieved that Hayek is not a Conservative ).
While it may be difficult for the Liberals to get elected for any individual it is comparatively easy to make progress for that very reasons. Hence the existence of professional political class at the top with almost nothing in common with the rank and file who are more interested in animal rights than making a living. Your example belong to this class and Huhnes, for example selling his think tank skills to banks is not what I had in mind by business , perhaps it is good place for an elite to come from .
I meant the sort we work for and the sort that supports the Conservative Party, the same sort that has been treated like lepers for years and now is suddenly important ,a sort that has nothing in common with the Liberal Party who are teachers usually , or social workers .

Its interesting that there is an elitist instinct and that is rather of a piece with Liberalism as you conceive it . Actually as Party it has no narrative of the state and the individual and gets into a mess ideologically There is an emphasis on 18th century rationalism , hence anti religion , anti Nation and a barely suppressed loathing of “Populism “ and therefore democracy.If your religion is "rationlaismn " it folows that a few individuals with better minds should be able to "manage " affairs. This would not be the Conservative view

I would love to be controversial but I fear I am an ordinary , hobbitish sort who only says what almost everyone thinks slightly louder. You are away with the fairies but you seem to enjoy yourself and do little harm

Cicero said...

Well, as usual, Newmania, you are just arguing with yourself. You are saying what you would *like* to be true about the Liberal Democrats, rather than engaging with what we are actually saying.

As a 30 year member of the Liberals and Lib Dems I genuinely find it funny that you think you know more about what my party feels and thinks than its members do. Trust me, you really do not, otherwise you would not come out with such utter nonsense.

For example, and just as a clear point of clarification, by definition Liberals are anti-Collectivist. You would not find one genuine Liberal Democrat who would not strongly disagree with the whole ideological basis of Socialism.

As for your personal sense of vicimisation- it is frankly bizarre for a Conservative to complain that they are somehow a repressed and ignored minority- if only!

I find that being patronised by you Newmania quite brightens my day. I mean I know that the Conservatives pride themselves on being the stupid party, but you really do owe it to yourself to get out of your "Hobbit hole"and go and see the big wide world.

Newmania said...

What I say about the Liberal Party is a view that has been expressed by Nick Clegg amongst others as they frantically persuade grumpy lefties to tack right in an effort to remain electorally viable. As we know the Party preferred the leftish Huhne not to say the far leftish Charles Kennedy .
I don’t think any reasonable person would deny that the Liberal Democrats have usually accepted more of the collectivist influenced idea of freedom . “Freedom to “ ,whereas Conservatives retain more of the negative “freedom from”. Conservatism in this sense has far more in common with JS Mill.
JS Mill had no post Marxist conception idea of allotting resources to individuals in order to enable them to express freedoms .He was a political theorist who drew a distinction between freedom and licence , that freedom which hurts others or takes their freedom, Conservatives would generally approve . Crucially he thought private property and the right to exchange as you wish was an inevitable and essential part of Liberalism. This is why it was called a “Bourgeois” ideology by the left in that it appeared a sugar coating for Capitalism .
The Liberals problem then revolves around the “Free market “ which is at once a conclusion to Liberal thinking and yet disliked by the many who have accepted the Marxist insight into “Power “ to express freedom which the state may enable . Extending JS Mills ideas into “economic licence “ and thereby into socialist territory is a sly and anachronistic trick allowing socialist answers from individualist ideas . JS Mill wrote in opposition to sovereign power and would prefer this country to be more like the US . The Liberal party have generally looked to the social democratic models of Europe with their collectivist ideas and weakly accountable democracies .

We are all post Marx and Post JS Mill so in practice it’s a matter of emphasis but for Party a committed to “rationalism” and “universalism”… it tales a determined effort to look the others way when the doctrinal core is so obviously feeble .

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.