OK, after too long away from this post series, I’m starting them (and the Time Machine and Cerebus) posts up again, assuming my aching hands allow me to. For those who don’t remember, a few months ago I started a series of posts on what Liberalism is, what direction it needs to go in in future, and what the future direction of the Lib Dem party should be.
I’m starting those posts again now, and I’m going to spend the next few posts in this series talking about how Liberalism is distinct from the current political orthodoxy — as I said in my last post in this series, Liberalism is only in the centre if the top of a pyramid is in the centre of its base, and one of the things I want to do more than anything in these posts is to explain where Liberalism departs from the current political consensus.
So before I go into that, I need to look at what the current political consensus is. I’m going to talk below about what I think both the Conservative and Labour parties — and the centrist, moderate, elements within the Lib Dems, for that matter — have agreed on for at least the last twenty years. Please feel free to disagree or correct me in the comments — what I’m doing this for is so everyone’s on the same page in the future essays.
As far as I can tell, every government in my lifetime, and almost every prominent politician has believed:
That there is little wrong with the current political system — that we “need to get people engaged”, but that the way we are governed should be tweaked at best. Those tweaks should, ideally, be cargo-cult copies of some out-of-context aspect of the US system.
That political power should be centralised, and controlled by as few people as possible. Prime Ministers should be de facto Presidents, cities should have elected Mayors with power over Councils.
That house prices should be kept as high as possible.
That taxes on wealth should be lower than taxes on income.
That the highest form of humanity consists of “hard-working families” — family units consisting of two adults, both working more than forty hours per week, and a small number of children — and that any minority groups only have rights in so far as they wish to approximate being a hard-working family.
That the rights of those minority groups should be decided based on the opinions of self-appointed “community leaders”, rather than on any basis such as equality or fairness.
That as far as possible economic power should be concentrated in the hands of monopolistic rent-seekers — that lip service should be given to the concept of markets, but that that lip service should never get in the way of the smooth transfer of state assets to monopolists (with state liabilities, of course, remaining with the state). Any laws to which those monopolistic rent-seekers object must be altered.
That immigrants are the current accepted scapegoat, and thus must be punished at the maximum level possible while still ensuring a steady flow of them.
That mental illness doesn’t exist in any sense worth caring about.
That any limits to the power of the government over the individual are irritants that must be removed.
That the government has a right to all possible information about anyone it wishes to know about.
That it is the proper place of the government to interfere, not only in behaviours which are actually harmful to others, but in activities which are only harmful to the individual, or which cause no harm whatsoever but which others disapprove of.
That the primary purpose of education is to prepare people to be workers, with a distant secondary purpose of inculcating “British values”, and that there is no third purpose.
Not all governments have held all these principles to the same extent — the 1997-2001 Blair government went against a couple of them, as has the coalition government to a greater extent than it is ever credited with (largely because for many of the rest of them it’s gone even further than previous governments), but I think that’s a largely accurate description. Next time, in a week or so, I’ll start looking at the Liberal alternatives to some of those positions.
A few comments and additions:
“That political power should be centralised, and controlled by as few people as possible.” And particularly by individuals: single member constituencies, party leaders, ministers. It wasn’t always like this: when Parliament first took over executive power in the 1640s, it was exercised by committees, not by ministers. (And at that time most constituencies were multi-member.)
“That taxes on wealth should be lower than taxes on income.” And that the system of income taxes and benefits should be structured so that middle earners are set against everyone below them instead of everyone above them.
Military interventionism: Britain can and should solve other countries’ problems by armed force. This is probably related to the belief that Britain is somehow more important than most other countries.
Moderate monetarism: Although the government shouldn’t annoy monopolists by regulating markets (except the housing market), it should influence the money supply to manage the risk of inflation and recessions. The Thatcher and Major governments preferred the hard-line monetarist policy that inflation must be defeated at any price, including causing recessions or making them worse, thus Norman Lamont’s “if it isn’t hurting it isn’t working”. This was very harmful and didn’t actually work: when Lamont said that, we had high inflation during a recession. Blair and Brown fudged it by claiming that if only the Bank of England could find the correct interest rate under the given circumstances, we can have sustainable growth without inflation or recessions. This hasn’t worked either, but the consensus still seems to be in favour of it.
You’re correct on all of these, as far as I can tell. I say as far as I can tell because I have less than no understanding of monetary policy…
I only did economics at A level, which only gives me slightly more understanding than none. I think monetary policy is a tricky one because there doesn’t seem to be a simple answer that can be derived from Liberal principles. Although it’s very hard, and perhaps impossible, to get it right, it’s easy to do unnecessary harm by getting it too wrong. But I suspect a complete laissez faire policy would also be harmful.
Gav, didn’t you used to be a Tory?
I got better.