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Lib Dem v. Tory (Round 2)

The Liberal Democrats stand for a distinct political ideology. It is an ideology built around both socially and economically liberal precepts. In as far as our ruling Labour government can be said to have an ideology at all, it coincides with Liberalism only incidentally.

Labour stands for pragmatism, and where it does not there is still a core of values that are collectivist and not individual. Sometimes people are prepared to claim the moral high ground for policies of social solidarity and redistribution of wealth. Liberals may argue in favour of equality of opportunity, we can not argue in favour- as Socialists do- of "and equal society". The reason is simple: Socialism does not work.

If one places equality above freedom, then eventually we get tyranny. This is why, while we may argue in favour of a more equal society as being a stronger society, the tools that we may use to gain -in our view- socially desirable outcomes must rest upon freedom above all else. As PJ O'Rourke says: "My wealth does not cause your poverty". Individual attainment of wealth per se is not immoral any more than higher skill in the arts or sciences or sport is immoral. It is this view that makes the chasm between Liberalism and Socialism.

In that sense, Conservatives and Liberals do have more in common in their basic ideology then either do with Socialism. Only Labour pragmatism permits even the idea that Liberal Democrats or Conservatives could co-operate at either local or indeed national level. Yet, paradoxically, this is probably why the venom between Lib Dems and Labour is a bit less than between Lib Dems and Labour.

Liberal Democrats already believe that we have won the intellectual argument against labour, and the level of pragmatism amongst many Labourites is such that the either don't recognise that the debate is what it is, or if they do, then they discount its significance.

Yet the Conservatives, despite assuming much of the language of Liberalism, are a more potent threat both practically- in the sense that Liberal Democrats fight with Conservatives over more constituencies- and also intellectually. Although in Scotland, the relationship between Tory and Liberal Democrats is generally cordial, in most other places it is actually quite bitter.

Paradoxically many Conservatives assume that Liberal Democrats are careerist opportunists. In fact, the fact that the Liberal Democrats have been generally out of power demonstrates the exact opposite. Given the difficulty of even getting elected as a Liberal Democrat- I speak with some experience- thee fact is that the party is not only ideological, but quite purist about its ideology.

Thus Conservatives, still thinking of the Liberal Democrats as leftists, may regard the likely Liberal Democrat commitment to reducing taxation as unprincipled opportunism. It is not. It is a direct result of the failure of Conservative pragmatism to recognise the logical result of Liberal principles. The collectivist imperative of Labour has created a highly inefficient public sector with an ethos that values equality of poverty and not freedom of opportunity. The taxes that support this are already too high.

Tory pragmatism- exemplified by George Osbourne- believes that electoral advantage lies in maintaining government expenditure. Liberal Democrats believe that it is now unacceptable to permit the continuing waste of money that much government expenditure is incurring.

The Liberal Democrat position, on principle, has not altered. Yet at the next election it now seems likely that the Conservatives will be closer to Labour. The Liberal Democrats will be alone in advocating a general reduction in direct taxation. It will infuriate many Conservatives to be outflanked from the right.



Fred Harrison said…
I'm not sure Lib-Dems have put their new tax message across yet. If asked, very few Britons would have paid much attention to Clegg's conference speech, and certainly wouldn't have absorbed the change of tack on taxation. As a matter of fact, I've found remarkably little discussion of it in the Lib-Dem corner of the blogosphere. I'm not sure the implications have sunk in.

And I have to say that, once they do sink in, I'm not 100% confident of unity behind a refocused low-tax, value-for-money Lib-Dem party. There are still a lot of sneers about "Orange Book" Liberals. And it isn't just Tories who regard us as Labour Lite; some of our own instinctively think the same way.

I agree with you completely that this should be a natural part of the LD narrative. But with our mixed heritage of liberals and social democrats, we have a lot of persuading to do before we can change the stereotype.
Tristan said…
I hope we can argue for a reduction in all taxation.
Indirect taxation should be against liberal principles, all taxes should be directly levied on the individual to avoid government disguising taxes through other means. Everything comes back to individuals, indirect taxation just disguises that.
Indirect taxation also tends to harm the poor most.
Fred Harrison said…
Some taxes have to be indirect because it's more efficient to collect from service or goods providers than from the end-user. In other instances, like the proposed Aircraft Tax, to replace the current Airport Passenger Duty, we want the service provider to be held accountable.

In general, though, I think the party's tax policies are headed in the right direction. My worry is that they may need to be even more dramatic to help us change public perceptions. And given current and foreseeable economic circumstances -- never mind the UNforeseeable -- that has to mean dramatic action on the cost of government too. This is an area Lib-Dems aren't accustomed to discussing. But we must.
Newmania said…
Liberal Democrats stand for an blancmange ideology divided against itself which contains element of collectivism and communitarianism enthusiastically emphasized whenever it suits them , (or has Simon Hughes left the Party ? ) .

It has the advantage of formlessness but the disadvantage of no stiff peaks . They have not stood for the individual against the state except on luxury issues such as ID cards, certainly not in the real arena which has been tax . Here they have usually been for higher tax burdens than either Party. The distinctive accentuation of the individual is not against the state but against the nation as in the EU and defense. This is the Party of Shirley Williams and the Beveridege Group not Gladstone.

“Socialism does not work “ Indeed not , and yet the modern Liberal Democratic Party is formed of the pragmatic socialists that left the Labour Party and those left of Conservatism in a number of ways . This is a fact and anyone who knows either at ground level will agree. It has not lead the fight against socialism and crucially has not endure the opprobrium of the “Nasty” Party. This would be unacceptable to the essentially conformist Lib Dem. This is why opportunist and liar will be accusations justifiably thrown at this latest bout of judicious re –branding and after the EU lies as well. How many times have I heard the arch ”Pragmatists”..say “ People are fed up with ideology “...HOW MANY TIMES !!!!!

P J O Rourke, for example is a Republican obnoxious in almost every detail to the Liberal Party. Tellingly he started as a motor journalist. Liberals hate motor cars , hunting , smoking , drinking and many freedoms not in tune with the particular authoritarian and exceedingly middle-class bias of the Party. Animal rights are as important as economic Liberty to them. Find a Liberal Commentator who has had anything to say about the issue of the state and the individual via his tax burden. You cannot.

Liberal Democrats took no part in the ideological debate with Labour
Others won the argument notably Margaret Thatcher and the New Right . You have contributed nothing and you are following along like a lost dog ...saying can I play, can I have a bone too? Where was your support for Thatcher ?
.The relationship between Tory and Liberal Democrats is a ‘quite bitter’,
due to the appalling local campaigning tactics habitually adopted by the Lib Dems where cynical opportunism is actually promoted centrally and every conceivable position adopted simultaneously. This essay is a sort of over-arching shimmy to the right and of a piece with the general inability to remember what you said yesterday.

Conservatives assume that Liberal Democrats are careerist opportunists because the competition for fame in the Liberal party is so much easier and access to Euro / media sinecures relatively straightforward . More importantly because it is the most exclusively middleclass Party and therefore the least connected with reality traditional loyalties and the most involved in free floating opinion. I think the assumption would be more that there was a lack of political principle and principle in a deeper sense of the individual psychology .It is the “fashionable “ Party

Thus Conservatives, still thinking of the Liberal Democrats as leftists, may regard the likely Liberal Democrat commitment to reducing taxation as unprincipled opportunism.

Was the commitment to raise taxes unprincipled opportunism then ? Which ...? You cannot say can you and that is your problem even if I believed the taxes thing which , in common with the country I do not

It will infuriate many Conservatives to be outflanked from the right.’

No it will make us laugh. The hilarious idea that bunch of bleeding heart Liberals will stand around carrying the can for the closure of public services and cuts is too magnificent to be missed. This is going to be great fun and while you sneak upstairs to try on mummy Thatcher’s old clothes we , the adults will be vastly amused at your antic and posturing .More please. What I enjoy is that the Party which thinks of itself as trendy now suddenly finds that it is the old ideas Party. Watery socialism , the EU , and single issue posturing pro unfettered immigration and multiculturalism just when it is being abandoned.

Your piece is no doubt well meaning but utterly fail to grasp the dynamic or political truth which is not a matter simply of re-branding and adroit re emphasizing but of history trust and momentum. You are like a little old lady who drives in all three lanes . This is not consistency it is a vacuous posing.
Fred Harrison said…
newmania -- Probably you need to resolve the internal differences in your own party before you try tackling ours. That's you isn't it who's been prowling the Tory blogs disputing your man Osborne's pledge to stick to Brown's spending plans? "A party that continues to binge on spending is hardly conservative," you observed at one stage some weeks back.
Newmania said…
FH- Similiar statements have been made by every incoming government I can think of certainly Maggie and Blair.I do not disagree with the politics of it.
As most Lib Dem voters are public sector Turkeys I suspect you will also end up a little coy about the stuffing you are toying with so nervously.It should be great fun to watch :)

God knows what Norman Baker will make of being the low tax Party... It would mean him and his local support saying you Newmania have been right for years and I have been talking rubbish .For once we would be agreed .

You see if you take where I am in what is now a swing seat ,Baker has a history he us a real person not a contantly reinvented "Position". Low tax.Baker".. would be a laughing stock.

Oh yes I am going to enjoy this
Cicero said…
Newmania- as often before, your emotions kind of run away and I can not easily follow your argument. PJ O'Rourke is not obnoxious to British Liberals at all, (he is pretty much a Libertarian, and there is a distinct influence on the modern Liberal Democrats from that quarter), though, of course he did start off as a Maoist! As for your comment "Find a Liberal Commentator who has had anything to say about the issue of the state and the individual via his tax burden. You cannot."

Well actually, this is the crux of the debate- the relationship between the state and the individual, and if you accept- as both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable certainly do- that the burden of the state is already too high, then indeed the logic is inescapable- and as I think that fh notes rightly - it is surprisingly uncontroversial within our party- at least so far.

Most of the rest of your comment is a rant, and is actually pretty much inaccurate. David Cameron is no Margaret Thatcher, but if he (or indeed she) had actually read Hayek's Constitution of Liberty, they would have found a pretty Liberal tract (With the last essay being called "Why I am not a Conservative".

You may wish that we were what you say we are, but "a wish is not a claim on reality". We have pretty strong debates, based on an increasingly crisp interpretation of Liberal thinkers like Hayek, Popper, Berlin and JS Mill. David Cameron following the Blairite Labour party now simply adopts whatever position he judges gives him political advantage- that is certainly not ideological, and some would say it is not particularly principled either.
Fred Harrison said…
Similiar statements have been made by every incoming government I can think of certainly Maggie and Blair.I do not disagree with the politics of it.

Well exactly. Just as Cicero suggests: "David Cameron following the Blairite Labour party now simply adopts whatever position he judges gives him political advantage." Thanks for anticipating his point and confirming it.
Newmania said…
FH -The difference is that when Cameron says some thing he will have to do it in Government or be called liar. Others take this rather more seriously than the Liberal party who have recently shown their ability to mouth jaw dropping twaddle with a straight face over Lisbon. He has tied the Party in although in operation it’s a little less watertight than it sounds. This is real politics

CS-Which is your favourite O Rourke .."Give War a Chance " ? ..would you also vote Republican in the US ? There is a point where the in ability to accept the simplest and most obvious fact is just boring CS not to say childish. Charles Kennedy was left of Labour and loved by the Party ,now you are going to be right of Conservative and your justification after years of pouring bile on Margaret Thatcher , who I gather you now admire , is that Hayek said this or that …most impressive .Reminds me of the sort of religious leader who quotes from the gospels to prove black is white . Hope you enjoyed it .

:Look at the almighty struggle over electing ‘Calamity’ Clog , look , for example, at the uproar when he was accused of wanting the reform the NHS ? Can you imagine a similar row in the Conservative Party ?,,
Actually Rachel Sylvester foresaw this latest manifestation of the Franchise.
……“New divides ….between modernisers and reactionaries . A Party that loves low taxes as much as gay marriage pro choice in health and education as well as abortion “ A Telegraph leader out it like this
“ ,..they are an uncomfortable alliance between social free market Liberals and left wing mavericks whose Libertarian impulse is cancelled out but their delight in extravagant public spending “..quite and actually they are both depending on when it suits . As the Conservative Party are only moderately cautious on abortion and happy enough with gay marriage its hardly requires a political party. AS Clog has had to renounce choice in education and Health even less so .
In that leadership contest Clog clarified his position on vouchers (No) health insurance ( No) and PR ( Yes) as Huhne triumphantly told the New Statesman …and yet you are going to cut taxes ….

Kinda out of step with what old Huhne has been saying docha think ?

La Sylvester also foresaw that this would not go down well with Liberals but I know (and so do you )how it will be sold . Chris Huhne recently told the NS that , the tax burden could be , Greener , slam the rich (red) but with a lower rate of income tax. (blue) In the same article he promises a new attack on poverty and applauds increased spending on…well just about everything. It turned out the plot would hit couples above £70,000 ie a teacher and a Policeman. If that’s what you admit to what in god’s name would the truth be with all those undertakings to cure poverty and so and so on. Huhne ruled overall cuts out … . But I’m sure Cicero`s songs is vastly more important

This is really the Liberals doing what they always do , Tacking with the prevailing wind , always running behind always in the way like a child holding its mothers skirts , Ma Thatcher in this case and with some motive impenetrable to others except to save their seats. You were Labour-lite and now you want to be Cameron lite … even if it were true all you can achieve is to let in Brown ..Your only truly distinctive position is being the only ultra pro EU Party…and this is hated in the country.

Hey ho another stir of the blancmange . I doubt it matters but for someone who follows politics its an insult to the meanest intelligence .
Cicero said…
Well, Newmania, lets keep it civilised shall we. PJ O'Rourke: The immortal essay "How to drive fast, on drugs, whilst having your wing-wang squeezed and still not spill your drink" is laugh out loud brilliant. Though O'Rourke self identifies as a Republican, his scabrous wit covers a lot of targets. He is a Cato Institute libertarian which does take a lot of its roots from classical liberalism, so many Lib Dems are closer to him than you think.

As for your badly taken comments about the Conservatives: yes I am pretty certain that you will be horribly disillusioned by Cameron- as heffer says in the telegraph this morning, he is an unprincipled moral coward. Uniformed by principle he seeks power soley for its own sake. He has no ideology, not sense of direction and will be a (slightly less successful) clone of Tony Blair. Why not read up what our party actual stands for instead of dumping a load of usually totaly inaccurate spleen on us.

Liberalism is a coherrent ideology, but Margaret Thtacher only took certain parts of Hayek and in office was usually contrary to Friedman. She was not a Liberal- the idea of a free market in politics was alien to her doctrinaire and authoritarian style, and in my view was the ultimate reason why her revolution led to three successive Labour victories.
Newmania said…
Well, Newmania, lets keep it civilised shall we.

Lets keep it honest then shall we . I have just read Cleggs rancid half truths on the deal you have done with Labour on Party funding which is for them too keep Trade Union funding under the guise of the political fund being allowed to contribute to other Parties.( NS) Its of a piece with the wish to give the electorate a referendum on the EU which magically meant they did not get one the intention . It’s the way every petty little move for immediate gain is dressed as some moral crusade that is utterly infuriating. The poll on Dale shows the Liberals will not support the Conservative Party so in effect they are Labour which makes this supposed discussion of taxes an exercise is disinformation.

He is a Cato Institute libertarian which does take a lot of its roots from classical liberalism, so many Lib Dems are closer to him than you think.

The Liberal Party has nothing to do with Libertarianism that I have ever noticed . Where were you on smoking , where were you on hunting , where have you been of freedom to express uncomfortable truth about immigration .Nowhere. Where were you in attacking the swollen state , where were you when it came to telling people that their lives were primarily their responsibility . Nowhere.

As for your badly taken comments about the Conservatives

Read it .Heffer is a licensed fool with highly fascist tendencies .He quotes Redwood who is himself a Cameron supporter , I have dealt with the paradoxical situation a Party aimed at tax cuts finds itself in. Cameron is usually attacked for being a secret Thatcherite which actually he is to some extent but then Thatcher was not the monster you Liberals invented in the first place . I expect Heffer is a hidden Liberal too is he? I think you`ll find he will vote Conservative despite his Yosemtite Sam act

Liberalism is a coherrent ideology

You underplay your hand its at least three and your views about Margaret Thatcher are a just so story to allow you to copy her polices without actually admitting to it.

Its taken about ten years for the COnservative Party to get some traction for beung trusted with the NHS , for example . Ten years spent attacking socialism and someone might believe a word you say about tax

Why not start now
Cicero said…
Well Newmania, as so often before you resort to insult and invective- and let your emotions over rule your brain.

FWIW I think that the smoking ban was a very marginal call- in the end the damage caused to non smokers was worse than the restriction on smokers, but many Liberals indeed did oppose the ban. On the hunting ban I personally did see it as gesture politics but can not get too angry about restrictions on cruelty- those who care about hunting did get angry, I did not much care.

I think you just miss the point I am making- Liberalism is based on JS Mill and those inspired by his ideas. Liberal Democrats are not careerist opportunists- if we were we would hardly be Lib dems would we? The party is founded upon an ideology and our debates are based around this ideology and not on our political position vis a vis any other party. I think it is entirely possible that the Butskillite David cameron will be more left wing than the Liberal Democrats next election- not because Liberalism has moved, but because the Conservatives, berefit of ideological anchors have made a pragmatic political judgement to take on the Labour spending plans- with all the implications that they cary for taxation. Lib Dems will not do this.
Anonymous said…
Newmania, you cheered me up immensely, with supporters like you the Conservative party will go a long way - a long way to oblivion.

Cameron will never have to put into action what he promises, because he will never get into government. And before you point me in the direction of current polls, please remember they are as volatile as the sample taken, and he is doing about as well as Kinnock was at mid-term, who got beaten by John Major!

Ideological debates are futile as they must all coexist under democratic conditions, what matters is how they relevant they are - the established duopoly of capital and labour are gradually being exposed as less responsive than the people power of freely associating individuals.
Newmania said…
BTW...You do know which politician the reborn spirit of Heath would have most in common with don`t you ?...Even sounds like him.

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