Liberal Britain – five wishes of a liberal outsider
Treachery – whither Liberalism now?
You may be aware there is a saying that “a week is a long time in politics”. Well, seven days after the country voted to leave Europe and it has been the longest ever week in my political memory, filled with more treachery than you can shake a stick at.
“Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!” – Kenneth Williams` famous line from the film Carry on Cleo – could have been used by either Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson about their `nearest and dearest` (sic) political colleagues. What a bunch of self-seeking, infantile, dis-connected politicos we appear to have been infested with in recent times. Ah, that feels better, to get the poisonous invective out of my system in one sentence.
But, really, it is surely time to rid the body politic of such invective after such an upheaval? So, there you have my first wish for a more Liberal Britain – but, before I list my five wishes more formally, let me explain the elements in the headlines of this blog post.
“Liberal Britain” – this is probably my overarching wish, that we should be working for a Liberal Britain, with both a small `l` and a large `L` (so that makes six wishes altogether!) My sad refection is that I am not very hopeful it will come true, but it does not stop me wishing it fervently. I suppose we might manage to get a bit closer to the small `l` version, but the large `L` version may remain a distant misty aspiration. I remain ever the optimist, however.
“five wishes of a liberal outsider” – I have many more wishes, but I am limiting myself to the most important five for the moment to keep the blog post within readable bounds. Also, I am a liberal (and ex-Liberal) outsider in the sense that I have been in Brazil for five years and that has given me a very different perspective on my home country than I had. Furthermore, I am no longer a member of the Liberal Party, having stopped paying my membership fees back in 1998, though I would like to be able to renew my connection if it turned again into the party I once knew and loved.
I fought four general elections and three European elections as a candidate for the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats and I spoke on many platforms during the original European referendum in 1975, so I feel a certain entitlement to the right to offer advice, whether or not such advice is welcome or heeded!
“Treachery” needs little explanation in view of the happenings in respect of the Labour and Conservative Parties, but there are two other forms of treachery bubbling under the surface which need to be brought into the light of day. The first is the sense of “open-season” the bigots have apparently opted for following the Leave vote and the unhealthy and totally ILLIBERAL public abuse they have directed towards immigrants.
This has clearly followed the lead of sections of the media whose front page headlines and the lies they have told in their articles have given free-reign to sadly deranged neo-nazis. The newspapers concerned need to clean their act up NOW and steps must be taken to control the hate speech and actions of the bigots at large.
The other underlying treachery that needs to be heeded and defended against is the backsliding of those politicians who firstly opened Pandora`s box and promised to act upon the democratic wishes expressed by the voting public until the voting public surprised them by putting more crosses in the Leave box than the Remain box.
Cameron solved his problem by passing the poisoned chalice of Article 50 to the next leader who he thought might turn out to be a Brexiteer. Boris undermined his own position by writing his column in a newspaper suggesting we could all have cake to eat, but having eaten it, somehow, the said cake would magically stay on the table. And Gove clearly didn`t have the wit to realise the chalice was poisoned anyway, so relieved Boris of the fate of falling on his own sword by stabbing his best friend in the back and sipping delicately out of the chalice. Theresa May has declared boldly that the peoples` expressed wish will be implemented and she will appoint a Brexiteer to negotiate the exit arrangement so she doesn`t get the blame for the raw deal that will ensue.
“whither Liberalism now?” – apart from my poorly hidden wish to revive the word “whither” into the English language (I think it is a lovely word, worthy of revival), this part of the headline is perhaps the most important of all. I would love for Liberalism to merit a come-back with both large and small `L`s and the five wishes expressed below represent my collated wisdom. I have recently celebrated an advanced birthday and it is axiomatic that wisdom comes (should come?!?) with age. Don`t you agree?
1 So my first wish is that this country, our country, our land should once again become the land of the poet Clemence Dane, the wise land – “the peoples` England, the welcoming land”. Let us stop treating the word “immigrant” as a pernicious expletive. Just note the first two verses of the poem which show us to be a liberal land of mongrels…
In the beginning the people came to the island,
trampled the sands, climbed the white cliff to the Down,
British and Roman people, Saxon, Norman and Dane,
their predestinate toil was to drain the marshes and till the soil,
conquer the forest and build the town.
Then came exiles who fled from death,
hunted Huguenots, Jews from Spain, to the wise island,
drew sobbing breath in the easy air and smelt the May
sweet as a kiss on a summer’s day,
and wept – and worshipped the land.
(to hear the poem in full read by Noel Coward go here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1F44iUIwuI – by the way for the purposes of this blog please imagine the wise land includes ALL the lands of the United Kingdom.)
2 My second wish is that politicians of all hues will respect their electors and, more than that, will treat their aspirations seriously and with respect. To be fair, there are signs that Theresa May actually meant what she said about working to bring about the expressed wishes of the voters. So, perhaps we should encourage the Conservative leadership contenders to quietly talk to each other, put their egos back in their pockets, hand the baton on to Theresa May, without a three month hiatus, to become the interim Prime Minister. She should then appoint Chris Grayling as the lead Brexit negotiator, with a cross party negotiating commission of Brexiteers, including Gove, Johnson and the Labour leavers, who will get the best deal they can to present to Parliament.
The various parties, including the two split halves of the former Labour Party, UKIP and a reinvigorated Liberal Party, should then have six months to put together their manifestoes in the light of that proposed deal. Then we should have a general election under a multi-member constituency, proportional representation, voting system to determine the make-up of the next Government which will implement the wishes of the people as then expressed at the ballot box.
By the way, you should realise that I am not so naive as to believe this will actually happen in this exact way, but it is what I wish should happen! In the absence of this wish coming true you need to refer to my next wishes in the face of `real politik`.
3 My third wish is that all politicians will realise that the key significance of the very distinctive geography of the Leave voters clearly represents a fundamental breakdown of trust in politicians to listen to people. A large motivation for voting Leave seems to have been based upon neglect in spreading the benefits of British economic success within Europe fairly amongst the population at large. The rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer. In the off-colour words of my youthful rugby songs on the bus…
It’s the rich what gets the pleasure
It’s the poor what gets the blame
It’s the same the whole word over
Ain`t it all a bloody shame
A truly Liberal society would see this for what it is and do something about it. I also have to say this seems to be rather clearly what Jeremy Corbyn has been saying for the last year or more despite the excoriation of his fellow Labour MPs.
4 My fourth wish is that the Liberal Democrats focus their attention on a forensic examination and revelation of the lies that were told during the referendum campaign and the lies that will be told by politicians as we move forward. As I write this I understand that there is to be a rally tomorrow (Saturday 2nd July) of Liberals who will say clearly that they wish to work to remain as part of the European Union. Having voted to remain, part of me applauds this sentiment, of course, but I think it would be a counter-productive strategy to pursue putting that front and centre as Liberal Democrat policy.
Of course Liberals should continue to support the successes of Europe, in both economic and environmental and social policy terms, but it should not become the prime message of the Party, otherwise it will be greeted in the same way that Proportional Representation came to be greeted. “As you would expect,” the media would say, if they bothered to say anything about it, “the Liberal Democrats are banging on about Europe”.
There is a saying in Brazil – “just because you are rich enough to have a watch, you don’t have to keep flashing it on your wrist, but if someone wants to know the time, just tell them the time”. Liberal Democrat policy should be to continue with the European dream, of course, but the focus of Lib Dem publicity should be to expose the lies upon which the Leave side based their campaign and the depths to which a biased media fell in creating the myths they did.
5 My fifth and final wish for the moment is that Liberal Democrats will combine with their colleagues in the European Parliament and across Europe to expose all the BAD things about Europe. Because Liberals will be recognised as the best, the most earnest and the truest supporters of the European Dream, we will be given most credit for exposing the European nightmares, without seeking to destroy the liberal basis for the Dream.
We must focus on the extent to which Europe has somehow become a protector of Big Business at the expense of individuals. We must stop the craziness of spending taxpayers` hard earned money on subsidising rich farmers across the continent. We must tighten up on securing environmental benefits for all against the lobbying of the auto industry or big Pharma.
As I finish, let me comment briefly on a suggestion I saw over the last couple of days, that, if there is an unsuccessful leadership challenge against Jeremy Corbyn and he reassumes his position leading to a break-up of the Labour Party, then angry former Labour MPs might be welcomed into the Liberal Democrats.
Whilst there may be some individuals who have Liberal hearts beating under their Labour Party skins and might be welcomed as individuals, there should be no such max mashup. The Blairite wing of the Labour Party (for it is them to whom I am referring) represent for me a very ILLIBERAL, centrist seeking, Tory-lite group with whom a very long spoon should be used to sup. Frankly I guess Corbyn feels rather the same about them as I do.
In terms of Party Strategy, as well as working hard in those key Tory/Lib Dem marginals where we may have a hope of unseating incumbent Tories come the election, I would advise mobilising activists around the country to head for those constituencies which voted most heavily for Leave. Even in the heaviest Leave voting areas there are at least 25% of voters who chose to Remain. They will be pretty pissed-off with the Tories, they wont touch either wing of the Labour Party and wouldn`t be seen dead voting UKIP.
In these areas there should be a concerted effort to create viable Liberal Organisations because, to be frank, I guess they are pretty weak or non-existent. They should trained up to maximise local activity over the next three years, gaining confidence with occasional local authority by-election wins, so that they are then well-placed to take advantage of the share of the vote that has no home with the Tories, nor Labour, nor UKIP. It will, no doubt, be an uphill task but I believe it could pay dividends by showing that at least someone is prepared to listen to their needs and aspirations.
If you like the idea – please feel free to pass it on! If nothing is done from the centre those constituencies will not be able to thrive, but with central support and training they could provide the breakthrough that breathes life back to Liberalism.
And, finally, in between writing these words I have been watching the football tonight and I have to say “Well done Wales – fabulous game, excellent result, well deserved. Brilliant. 3-1 against Belgium, well played. Good luck next week too.”
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Hmmm…. I’m not sure those Danes just came over to ‘work the land’. Now they’re the nicest people in the world, but back then … ‘from the terror of the Norsemen, oh Lord, deliver us.’
The author’s wish that Liberals, or someone, should straighten out the EU is commendable. But … the problem is simple: the original EU, France and Germany and some smaller Nordics, mainly, was at the same cultural and economic level as the UK. Working-class Germans did not want to come to Britain to work. But once the Eastern European countries joined — and pulling these countries towards the liberal democratic order is the greatest achievement of the EU — things changed. To the metropolitan elite, having a Polish plumber and a Romanian delivery van driver and a row of the local Sainsbury’s taken up with exotic foods just makes life more interesting. But the Northern proletariat thought otherwise. They’ve never liked mass immigration, and now they had a chance to say so, without being branded as ‘racists’.
The lesson here, I think, is: people can’t jump over their own heads, culturally. The desirable goal of a united human species raised to high economic and cultural level, shedding the horrible nationalist, tribalist, religious divisions that are just accidents of genetic and cultural drift as our species spread out from Africa, can’t be achieved by shoving ‘diversity’ down people’s throats or pretending all cultures are equally lovely. It’s a work of generations and crucially must be underpinned by economic and cultural upward levelling.