Tag Archives: conrad russell

Electoral Commission warns government over refusal to provide election freepost to Police Commissioner candidates

In the run-up to the first London Mayor election in 2000 there was a fierce stand-off between the House of Lords and the then Labour government over whether there would be a ‘freepost election address’ for the contest. This service, used for elections such as to the House of Commons and the European Parliament, provides for the free delivery of one leaflet from each candidate to each voter, providing a basic minimum level of communication to the public about the contest.

During the stand-off, the late Conrad Russell led an effective rebellion invoking rarely used Lords procedures. I remember talking to two senior peers, one Tory and one Lib Dem, as he walked down the corridor in the distance. “That’s the man the government is scared of,” one said to the other, and rightly so as the dispute threatened to derail the whole contest.

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged and | 8 Comments

Opinion: In praise of left and right

One of the interesting features of the debates provoked by last week’s analysis of Liberator’s latest assault on ‘the right’ of the party, and the Social Liberal Forum’s related critique, was the refrain in the comments of an old theme about how unhelpful the labels left and right can be in understanding the viewpoint of the person thus labelled. Indeed it’s a point of view that in part has defined Nick Clegg’s approach to answering questions on which way he is taking the party:

It’s not a matter of left versus right, but what is fair. – Independent, June 2008

There is some truth in this. In this party ‘right’ is often used as a catch-all pejorative meaning ‘they like liberal market economics, I don’t’, whereas ‘left’ occasionally gets the prefix ‘loony’ or ‘extreme’ to mean ‘they think they’re a liberal, I think they’re a socialist’. Externally any media analysis couched in the language of left and right is rarely intended to be helpful to the party, more a dog-whistle to put off supporters of the opposite point of view. The Tories call us ‘lefties’, the Labour party ‘right-wing Orange Tories’.

However in respect of giving some sense of where a Liberal Democrat commentator is coming from, whether their priorities lie more towards redistribution and social justice or towards aspiration and prosperity, these ‘inadequate’ labels are far more descriptive than most of the alternatives.

Take for example David Howarth’s thoughtful attempt to redefine social liberalism in Reinventing the State:

Sometime in the late nineteenth century, liberalism began to divide into two different streams. One stream, which came to be called ‘classical liberalism’… The other stream, which has come to be called ‘social liberalism’.

There are three major problems with his case. The first is that his definition of what social liberalism is, is so broad, that I can see no meaningful difference between it and plain liberalism, it doesn’t need the social tag. Indeed he is forced to develop ‘maximalist’ and ‘minimalist’ tags to show differences of emphasis between social social liberals and economic social liberals.

These all being hopelessly unhelpful and non-descript labels, what is wrong with simply using left and right to show emphasis and liberal to mean… liberal?

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , , and | 45 Comments

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