The Liberal Future: Introduction

As regular readers of my blog may know, I am a member of the Liberal Democrats.

At the moment, saying that in public is scary — I’ve actually had death threats from people just because they disapprove of my membership of the party. The Liberal Democrats are not very popular, and I can understand this given some of the actions the current government, of which they are a part, have taken over the last few years.

So why am I a member of the Liberal Democrats?

That’s what I’m planning to explain over the next eighteen months.

Currently, we’re a little under two years away from an election in which the Liberal Democrats are almost certain to lose a large number of seats. It won’t be the wipe-out that many pundits are predicting — the chances are that there will still be roughly thirty-five Lib Dem MPs in May 2015 — but it will be bad.

Over that time, then, I want to look at what the party can do after that — what the future is for the Liberal Democrats post-coalition, what policies we should be looking at, and what we can do to build the party back up to the levels of support it had in May 2010, and further.

But more importantly, I’m going to try to do two other things.

You see, I’m a member of the Liberal Democrats because I am a liberal. And I believe that while the Liberal Democrats are a flawed vessel for liberalism, they are still the best hope this country has of getting liberal policies implemented and giving voice to liberal ideas.

But most people don’t actually know what liberalism is. Even though it’s possibly the most intellectually rigorous, defensible, political position of all the major strands of political thought in UK politics, the vast majority of people couldn’t explain what liberals stand for, in a way they could explain what a socialist or a conservative stood for [FOOTNOTE To make matters worse, of course, because liberalism is orthogonal to the left-right socialist-conservative axis that is used to discuss contemporary politics, one could be a liberal socialist or a liberal conservative. We will discuss this more in a future essay.].

Once one actually understands what liberalism is, the actions of the Liberal Democrats make a lot more sense than they do to many of the people who have been feeling confused and let down by the party over the last few years.

But the other thing I shall be doing is I shall be attempting to show that when the party has gone wrong — and it has made mistakes, at all levels, as all political parties do — it’s not been because it’s been “too right-wing” or “cosying up to the Tories”, but because it’s not been sufficiently liberal. I’ll try to show that the more liberal the party is, the more chance it has of success. I’ll look at liberalism and identity politics, liberalism and democratic reform, liberalism and drug laws, liberalism and the internet, liberalism and the environment, and try to show a coherent way of thinking about these issues.

But most importantly, I’ll be discussing liberalism as an ideology, and the benefits of having an ideology at all.

Currently, Britain notionally has three major parties — the Conservative party, supposedly conservatives who support capitalism, the Labour party, who are allegedly social democrats or democratic socialists, and the Liberal Democrats, who are liberals.

But for a variety of reasons, which I will look at, both the Conservatives and Labour have implemented essentially identical, managerialist, policies, which very few people support and which have proven ineffective, for more than thirty years. I’m going to argue that the best way to distinguish the Liberal Democrats from those other parties is to put forward a distinctly liberal agenda, and that we should not be afraid of appearing extreme.

Because, even aside from liberalism being (in my view) the correct set of ideas to make the world a better place, there’s also the fact that people respond better to conviction politicians than to managers.

Certainly in my own case, while I’m a liberal, I would far rather be governed by an actual socialist or an actual conservative, governing from socialist or conservative principles, than by a centrist managerialist like Tony Blair or David Cameron. Even if they do the wrong thing, a politician working from principles is likely to be more persuadable than one doing the convenient thing.

Incidentally, in this series of posts, I am going to be pretty much entirely positive about the Liberal Democrats. I do not expect the same from my commenters, but I do ask for respect. And in particular, I’d like not to have to engage in what-aboutery. I don’t want anyone to ask “Yes, but how can you support a party in a government that did X, Y and Z?”

You can safely assume that I am as aware of some of the problems with the current government as you are, and that I’m working within the party to fix them. But that awareness is because the two biggest political parties in the country, the unions, every national newspaper, many of the TV channels, and every major leader of industry has spent the last three years repeating, over and over, a list of talking points against the party. I think that putting my own little blog up against the whole of the media in the UK and saying “no, here I’m going to talk about the positive side, and not do my enemies’ work for them” is fair enough. I hope you’ll agree, and I hope you’ll find the posts, which will be coming up every so often for the next eighteen months, worthwhile.

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14 Responses to The Liberal Future: Introduction

  1. I look forward to this series. I’m sure I will learn a lot from it, and I’m certain that it will be helpful to have some clear statements of liberal principles getting a little exposure out here in the blogosphere.

    • Quint says:

      Yeah I’m as well, if anything it will be informative. I’ve always been somewhere between socialist and liberal, so curious to also see if Andrew can make me sway one way or another.

  2. TAD says:

    I’m essentially of the opposite thnking……I’d much rather have a pragmatic centrist in charge than an ideologue. I don’t want someone who digs both feet in the ground over every issues and refuses to budge. The Republicans here in America are getting like that, and it’s maddening. Democracy is built on compromise, not rigid adherence to ideology.

    • Quint says:

      Although I agree with you TAD, I think what Andrew is saying is that someone who follows an ideology might change his/her mind as they live and learn, while a manager is someone who is told to do things in a certain way and won’t budge as that’s what he’s being paid for. This is what the British call ‘towing the line’, I believe (I haven’t lived in the UK long enough to be that knowledgeable about it).

      • Richard F says:

        As aside: it’s “toeing the party line” (not “towing”) and it means confoming to expectations.

        The expression comes from (alegedly – Wiki disputes this) the House of Commons where there are lines drawn on the carpet in front of each of the two front benches. You’re supposed to stand behind that line when addressing the chair.

        (The two lines are said to be “two sword-lengths plus a yard” apart, alegedly to stop the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister engaging in duels across the despatch boxes)

        Hence “toeing the line” (i.e. standing with your toes touching it) means sticking to or staying within your Party’s position.

        (As opposed to “crossing the floor” which means changing sides.)

        • Quint says:

          Thanks, that explains a lot actually and makes complete sense. I was already wondering where it came from.

      • TAD says:

        In my experience, the ideolgues I’ve known have been completely close-minded about anything that differs from their beliefs. Anything or anyone who differs from their ideology is demonized.

        • Quint says:

          I’m not an expert in any way or form, but I think there is a major difference between how politics work the US to how things work in the UK. Most of this difference, I believe, comes from the difference in sheer size of the countries. As the US is such a big country diverging from ideologies becomes a lot harder as there are just so many people to contend with, whereas in the UK politicians have to adapt to new ideas as the general consensus changes, even when a party doesn’t want to change on any particular issue. The torries putting through gay marriage is a good example of this, although something that would be considered against their ideology they simply had to adapt or potentially loose a large chunk of their voters.

          • TAD says:

            The Tories are definitely more pragmatic then the US Republican party is. Gay marriage, as you said, is a good example of that. The Republican party is virtually incapable of adapting to anything. Which is a shame, because I’m with them on some issues (economics mostly), but I can’t vote for them because they’re still stuck in the year 1955 on so many social issues.

    • Holly says:

      “Pragmatism” and “centrism” can be ideologies, too, though, used to justify often selfish and Machiavellian ends. (Nick Clegg’s an awesome example of this at the moment, saying that he’s a pragmatist and anyone in the Lib Dems who disagrees wih him doesn’t really want to be in a party of government.) They don’t mean anything on their own, they’re contingent on what you’re the center of, i.e. who you’re compromising with. Yes democracy is about compromise but it’s also about having limits on what you will compromise. As great Americans like Alexander Hamilton and Malcolm X said, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

      • TAD says:

        I’m not sure what Andy means when he says, “A politician working from principles is likely to be more persuadable than one doing the convenient thing.” That doesn’t make any sense to me. Too often people become entrenched by their “principals” and refuse to consider any alternate viewpoints. That’s how it is in America right now, for the most part. It’s frustrating.

  3. Richard F says:

    Hey Andrew, this seems like an excellent idea.

    If you want any help/support/suggestions I’m more than willing to pitch in (subject to usual crushing workload fail)

    Do you have a plan or route map of where you want to go/how you want to get there?

  4. Tony Harms says:

    I found Andrew’s analysis of the NHS reforms very helpful and I am looking forward, as a Lib Dem member, to his view on Liberal principles. I have my own views of course but I think it’ll be better to allow Andrew to develop a comprehensive picture rather than dog every point to death.
    By the way, on Gay marriage the majority of Conservative MPs who voted, voted against it.

  5. Pingback: The Liberal Future: Not Left, Not Right, But Not Centre Either | Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

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