Liberal Democracy – which way forward?
It has become clear in the last 24 hours that my hobby horse suggesting Tim Farron should stay as leader has been hobbled by the jockey declaring he was “at peace” with his decision, reported to me by Keith Watts from an unnamed third party with access to Tim himself. So time for me, indeed, for all of us, to move on.
Or, at least, for me to change my hobby horse! Maybe you can guess the new pony from my title. Those of you following the various threads where I have been commenting on FB may have seen a comment I made reminding folk that I have recently celebrated my 70th birthday. So I am in no mood to be patient with whatever change is necessary in the Liberal Democrats to make us an eminently electable party again.
Readers of my recent blogs will also know that I am in favour of the party becoming more “radical”, so I thought I should try and indicate more clearly where these thoughts may lead. My starting point for this post was to seek a definition of the word “radical” so we can be clear we all have the same understanding. There were two main definitions.
1 Radical – “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.”
Synonyms for this definition included – thoroughgoing, far-reaching, wide-ranging, extensive
2 The second definition was more politically oriented – “advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social change; representing or supporting an extreme or progressive section of a political party.”
Synonyms included – progressive, reformist, revisionist,
With me so far? The words I favour, that have the most meaning for me are “far-reaching, wide-ranging, progressive and reformist”. So, where will these words take us? And how does all this relate to our leadership problem?
I have already argued against becoming a “Centre Party”. Doesn`t affect the fundamental problems of political discourse in the UK and whilst it may have some appeal now that Tories have moved rightwards and Labout leftwards it will keep us excluded under the First Past the Post (FPTP) system as happened a couple of weeks ago. Of course part of our `far-reaching` change should be to change the electoral system but this is generally perceived to be in the self-interest of our party so is not helpful in elections. As I have been told on the doorstep often enough “Well, you would say that wouldn`t you?” Include it but don`t push it – should be a `given` for all potential leaders.
In order not to be accused of missing something important we need to be forthright over Europe, more so than we were in the GE campaign. We should adopt as our position “to revoke article 50”, which is a pretty fundamental stance, and propose to “lead the campaign to reform the EU” along with Guy Verhofstadt. BTW, I`d vote for him if he was standing in our leadership election.
You probably already know I am opposed to both nuclear weapons and nuclear power and I will argue the case for each opinion in more detail in another blog later. Suffice to say the old Liberal Party was opposed to both and the Green Party is opposed to both, so the Liberal Democrats have moved away from my favoured position and I dearly want my party back please. For reasons I will expound on another time I see these as vote winners for the kind of progressive party I wish to be a member of. And I believe they will be radical enough to attract votes from the younger demographic we need for future proofing the party.
Despite some mention in the 2017 manifesto and a brave effort by Tim to articulate the party`s stance on climate change, this aspect of Liberal Democracy has suffered over many years by being downplayed by various party leaders rather than becoming the centre-piece of Lib Dem policy. I have no idea of the number of iterations there may have been of the party`s Preamble to the Constitution since I left in 1998 but I was delighted to see the retention of the following paragraph for which I claim majority ownership. Not all the words were mine but I am proud to have been responsible for the final version of the paragraph…
“We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms.”
With respect to this current blog post I take the view that Sustainable Development should become much more clearly the root of our economic policies and I would strongly advocate that the Green Liberal Democrats should, as a matter of urgency, take the lead in instigating a full-blown review of all Lib Dem economic policy areas to make them fundamentally Sustainable. Whoever is the new party Leader should be caused to focus on this area to future-proof the party.
After the hottest June for 40 years is anyone going to argue against this?
As well as the climate change sustainability I just referred to we also need to focus on the sustainability of equity in our economic policy areas. The reliance of many working people on the existence of Food Banks has exposed the Tories to much criticism. The Labour Party, however, has managed (with some justification, to be honest) to lump the Lib Dems in with the Tories because of our role in the coalition and we suffered much in the recent election because of this. The moderating effect we undoubtedly had on Tory austerity cuts were never fully appreciated and we may get a little recognition in hindsight, but we should not rely on this happening anytime soon.
However, of more significance, was the move towards a rather right wing “economic liberalism” which appears to have been significant in encouraging many in the Tory party to see the then Lib Dem leadership as “rather like them”. Richard Grayson`s 2010 article in the New Statesman is illuminating (see goo.gl/SAN2tn). It is now clear that we need to have a significant debate in the party about an effective income and wealth redistributive strategy sooner rather than later.
I rather favour reaching a position described by one person on a FB thread – will have to paraphrase because I cannot just find it again to copy and paste! – as, “if you want to get rid of poverty you have to look no further than the Liberal Democrats because they are the only party to have worked out how to do it!”
I know it is a tall order but we have to be redistributive in radical ways. These need to be Liberal rather than socialist and libertarian rather than authoritarian. They clearly need not to follow Orange Book lines, which rather poses a major difficulty, given that the likely contenders for the party leadership, all have significant Orange Book links.
My key economics question for the hustings, therefore, might be “Are you prepared, now, to foreswear your previous attachment to Orange Book economics?” and see if they can think on their feet.
OK – I think this article is as long as I dare make it without trying your patience, but I will surely return to the theme of what it is that will make the party as radical as I would like it to be and as radical as I think it should be.
In conclusion I was reminded this evening of the words in a Joni Mitchell song – “… you don`t know what you`ve got `til its gone… “ by reading the following article in the HUFFpost goo.gl/Y61qn3 just highlighting what a good Liberal guy Tim Farron is. Thank you Tim.
I struggle to see the difference between your views and those of the Greens. Of course, the Green Party didn’t exist when you first embarked on the political trail, and I wonder whether you’d thought of supporting the Greens rather than swimming against the tide in trying to radicalise the LDs.
BTW, belated happy 70th birthday – I’ll be there in October!
Good to see you the other week. Sorry we didn`t get time for a longer chat – we should look into getting a game of golf together when the weather warms up!
One of my longer term goals is to persuade the Green Party to amalgamate with the Liberals but there is considerable baggage which may prevent either party from accepting the other. The key problem facing the Green Party is that FPTP discriminates even worse against them than the Liberal Democrats. My other problem is that I am a hopeless optimist!!