Nick pledges to seize the Liberal Moment

You can tell it’s a pre-conference week… on Monday, the Lib Dems’ deputy leader Vince Cable launched the party’s response to the fiscal crisis, while today Nick Clegg has published a major pamphlet with think-tank Demos outlining his thoughts on progressive politics. Titled The Liberal Moment it’s available for download as a PDF dcument here.

Nick also has an article in today’s Times setting out his ambiton for the Lib Dems to replace Labour as the progressive party at a national level. Here’s an excerpt:

Today I am publishing a pamphlet, The Liberal Moment, in which I make a simple argument: in the same way that Labour eclipsed a tired Liberal Party almost a century ago, the Liberal Democrats now offer a new rallying point for a resurgent progressive movement in Britain, replacing Labour as the dominant force of progressive politics.

This may sound a little self-serving from the leader of the Liberal Democrats. But history teaches us that when the ideological reflexes of a political party are out of step with the times, it will be overtaken by parties that understand the world better. In the early part of the 20th century, the Liberal Party was unable to respond coherently to great social change and the challenges of war, and lost its place to a Labour Party that, with its collectivist instincts and focus on the emancipation of working people, had far better answers.

Labour deserved to win against the Liberals then. I believe Liberals deserve to win against Labour now. Because Labour’s basic reflexes — central state activism, hoarding power at the centre, top-down government — are the wrong tools to meet the challenges of the modern world. We live in a society where people are no longer rigidly defined by class or place, no longer trapped by a culture of hierarchy.

You can read the article in full here.

His views have even earned the praise of The Times’s leader writers:

Mr Clegg is entirely correct to seize the moment. It may seem, and indeed it is, presumptuous for a party scoring only 18 per cent in the latest poll to claim that it can overhaul Labour and become the main party of the Left. Yet Labour has rarely been weaker, rarely more vulnerable. So this is certainly the time to outline the Liberal case for, as Mr Clegg puts it, “a new alignment of progressive politics”.

Mr Clegg’s initiative may end in failure beyond, perhaps, taking a few Labour seats to compensate for ones lost to the Tories. But there are two ways that it can be crowned with success.

The first is through a sort of soft merger. By identifying his party as part of the Left, the Liberal Democrats can build alliances that will come in handy later. If the Conservatives win the next election, Labour and the Lib Dems may make common cause, a tactical alliance with strengths in different parts of the country. Out of this might emerge a new, more liberal, Left.

The second route to success seems, at the moment, more unlikely. If Labour reacts to its political problems by retreating to old ideas and its base, the Lib Dems could overhaul them.

In either case the correct strategy now for Mr Clegg is to stake his and his party’s claim to leadership. He has done so with élan.

You can read more about The Liberal Moment on the Lib Dem website here, and at Nick’s leader’s website here.

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6 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Sep '09 - 11:35am

    But no, this is wrong.

    Just look at the second paragraph quoted from Nick. Can we seriously accept that what Ramsay MacDonald was saying was a more coherent response to the challenges of the time than Lloyd George’s Yellow Book?

    No. So Nick’s reasoning is clearly wrong here, it’s a shallow analysis, sloppy thinking, what one might expect from someone who hadn’t looked deeply into it and was just repeating the sort of things people say.

  • Liberal Neil 17th Sep '09 - 12:09pm

    “the Lib Dems’ deputy leader Vince Cable launched the party’s response to the fiscal crisis”

    No, he launched his response to the fiscal crisis. It was clearly labelled as being his, and not the party’s, response.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Sep '09 - 1:55pm

    Neale, you seem obsessed with this idea of “progress” without having any notion of where you are progressing to.

    You say “the old solutions just don’t work”. Is that so, or is it that we have been conditioned to think that way? We often seem obsessed with the idea that something new is automatically better, and so reject things which work perfectly well on the grounds they are “old”.

    You say “You cannot run countries for the vested interests of a powerful minority, and expect economic, social and environmental progress”, but what do you mean by “progress”? If you mean change from what there was before, then we have had precisely that – our society has been run more in the interests of a powerful minority with vested interests, and it has greatly changed because of that. Nick Clegg’s paper talks of the Conservative Party as being opposed to change,but that is clearly nonsense as the defining factor of the Conservative government of 1979-1997 was the huge changes it was prepared to push on the country. The argument then, and it was carried on by New Labour, was that if you run the country in the favour of the vested interests of the rich, they will get richer and so will everyone else through the productivity involved in their getting richer. Why is this not “progressive”? It certainly meant lots of changes.

    You say “The system has to work for the majority. Going Left cannot deliver that.” Why do you suppose that? Isn’t the definition of the Left that it explicitly works for the majority? As opposed to the right which uses the argument above, which is that looking after the minority rich will benefit the majority in the long run.

    You say “Going backwards (to the Tories cannot either). We can, however go forwards”, but who defines what is backwards and what is forwards? Part of the problem is that there are often vested interests who define “forwards” as moving in their direction, and then use “forwards is good, backwards is bad” to push what they want even though they have no positive arguments for it giving real benefits. Seizing the definition of “forwards” is their substitution for those arguments, it is often a marker for a weak case.

    If I am standing still, any way I move is forwards. If I have been pushed in one direction against my will, “forwards” is carrying on it that direction. I’d rather have somewhere I wish to go and define “forwards” as moving in that direction. So where is it we wish to go? Let’s talk about that rather than just “forwards” which is meaningless without a context.

  • Nick glossed over the Liberal Party more than doubling it’s number of MPs in 1923, only to lose most of them in 1924. Odd that, given his “strategy” is about doubling the number of Liberal Democrat MPs.

    Matthew is quite right, the yellow book was much better than Ramsay McDonald. Labour didn’t really “win” until 1945, largely on the Beveridge report, which the Liberal Leader rather down played in favour of Free trade.

    I wish Nick had a) chosen a better title and b) stopped the endless Lib Dems set to replace Labour/Conservative
    delete according to latest polls nonsense. (N.B. even doubling the number of Lib Dem MPs would still leave the Lib Dems as the third largest party) Far better to concentrate on Liberal Democrats returning to Government.

  • Bill le Breton 18th Sep '09 - 5:59pm

    As Bobby D warned us in Talkin’ New York, “Some men rob you with a fountain pen.”

    The point made above about the comparison between Ramsey MacDonald and L-G’s Yellow Book tears into shreds the central rationale of The Liberal Moment, leaving us, and especially those in the seats we hold and our targets, with the dire consequences of having thus presented our opponents and the political media with the ammunition to say be have abandoned equidistance.

    But no wonder; you cannot express yourself authentically if you are all the time seeing things in terms of others. I bet that The Yellow Book did not bother once to mention other parties. It was a document full of confidence and vision; personal confidence and personal vision.

    The fiction that The Liberal Moment regurgitates of progressive v conservative politics was penned and peddled in Labour’s high command in the mid-Nineties to both pacify (literally to stop attacks from) Paddy/us and to encourage as many as possible but especially those who had left Labour to form the SDP to defect back into their ‘new’ Labour Party.

    It was taken up and peddled further by certain Liberal Democrats to persuade Paddy to work with Blair and Labour when an overall majority did not seem possible, and to prepare the way for their own defections into Blair’s big tent when that majority in fact transpired and rendered coalition unnecessary.

    That this meme is again doing the rounds four leaders later is proof that it still has the power to dazzle Social and Liberal Democrats and that there are still folk about who have reason to use it. Those who took the immensely courageous step to leave the Labour Party and form the SDP cannot be blamed for too often seeing things in terms of how it relates to Labour. But it is a chain that hobbles and binds. It makes the prime task of leadership, that is authentic expression, impossible.

    And authenticity is further weakened if you let others write the strategic/visionary stuff for you. (See acknowledgements in the Clegg pamphlet and compare with the absence of such acknowledgements in ‘Tackling the Fiscal Crisis’ so obviously written by Cable himself).

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