A liberal conspiracy?

I approach this guest article for Liberal Democrat Voice with some trepidation, not least because when I introduced the launch of Liberal Conspiracy a few months ago, it was greeted with some scepticism amongst Lib Dem bloggers. Jonathan Calder called it “a conspiracy against Liberals”, Joe Otten calls us the Lefty Conspiracy and, at worst case, Alix Mortimer said it could be “a plot to draw Liberal Democrats towards Labour”.

There’s no doubt British politics is an incredibly tribal affair and this is reflected in the fact that all our prominent political blogs are tightly aligned to specific parties. The over-arching philosophical question we face, by defining ourselves as being of ‘liberal-left’ persuasion, is the tension between statists and liberals on the left, which Duncan Stephen explored here. I’m not afraid of exploring these issues, and neither is it meant to be a “wedge”, as Charlotte Gore called it.

Instead, I approach Liberal Conspiracy from two positions: first, that most people are more interested in policies, values and ideals more than the party advocating them. The trick, of course, is to develop and debate good ideas. Secondly, to focus more on how political parties can be pressured, through online organising, to support those values and ideals (of liberal-left persuasion, of course).

Crucially, those ideas and policies are not necessarily party aligned. Our first campaign, against Home Office proposals to raise pre-detention charge to 42 days, is supported strongly by the Lib Dems, of course. We’re now gearing up to raise profile of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which potentially poses a threat to abortion choice and offers the pro-choice lobby to propose more progressive policies. Also upcoming – pushing for electoral reform. In all these cases, the issue matters more than the party supporting them.

There are two points to make here. The Liberal Conspiracy position is somewhat inevitable given that both Labour and the Tories have been exchanging clothes over the last 10 years, and focused more on marketing and spinning their ideas than staying true to traditional values. If political parties have become promiscuous with their ideas, there is no reason why voters shouldn’t also become promiscuous with their choice. Arguably, the parties were only following voter trends anyway.

My second point is that there is, and should be, space for progressive activists and voters of all stripes to come together to push specific policy agendas that help make Britain a better place. To be honest, I don’t care which party gets into power as long as they have Good IdeasTM. This isn’t to deny that people are attracted to parties on the basis of ideals and values, but to say that being more promiscuous may stop parties taking votes for granted and fight hard for their (leftist, liberal or conservative) corner.

My feeling is that campaigning and discussing issues rather than simply party politics is more likely to attract a bigger audience and grow the blogosphere. Though I may be wrong. It’s still early days.

* Sunny Hundal is editor of the online magazine Asians in Media and founder of the thinktank New Generation Network.

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18 Comments

  • Norman Scott 19th Feb '08 - 11:14am

    It’s a thoughtful piece Sunny but I think you need to consider that party politics in part exists precisely because wise groups of non-aligned sages having thought-provoking debates is not generally engaging outside student debating societies. Anymore than it’s interesting to watch 22 gentleman pass a ball around mid-field before politely coming to a consensus over who should score a goal.

  • Liberal Conspiracy would be a more interesting project if it was really about building coalitions, rather than just continuing the struggle and perpetuating the left-right divide.

  • Not so much a specific point, more of a comparison to dear old Ming and the coalition question, which will forever haunt any third party.

    Unlike Tristan, I’m not bothered about labels, but I am bothered about compulsory dogmatic tenets of faith associated with those labels by which you are then measured – it is this artificiality which leads to opoositional politics, undermines any serious hope of coalition building and is ultimately to the detriment of long-term policy aspirations.

    In using a defining term (ie ‘left’) you effectively exclude all compromise on your collaborators terms, whatever they may be and however much you are in agreement. It’s a form of blackmail and it gambles your chances of success against getting all your own way.

    In the end you’ve got to decide whether action is primarily motivated out of a desire to make a difference, or designed to gain power.

    You yourself commented on LC that politics is about power. I disagree, it is ultimately about the impact had on people.

    On the subject of the upcoming Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill you claim (over at LC) to wish to defend the concept of the rights of the woman, instead of clearly stating the human being is uppermost in your thoughts – the aim is the same, but the bureaucracy should never overwhelm the individual.

    There are so many areas where the exertion of influence can be decisive and ought to valued more highly for the contributions that are made without the trappings of officialdom.

    Look at the recent example of Northern Rock, where the eventual decision was first voiced on LibDem benches. This was followed up by a concerted (maybe concentrated is a better word, as it’s been almost a one-man-show) campaign of arm-twisting and pointed commentary to make sure the inevitable happened, all the while flying in the face of the taunts of conventional wisdom and political acceptability, but it is such an enormously large sum of money (60% of the annual budget for the whole NHS and who knows how much more) that strong leadership was needed.

    To put it concisely: the ends never justify the means, because the ends are determined by the means.

  • For the last 50+ ywears I have watched lively young socialists turning themselves into depressing Tories as they age. (Yes, in the 1990s a group of them took over the Labour Party amd changed its policies into Tory look-alike.) The thing I like about Liberal Conspiracy is that I seem to see some youngish socialists there finding their way into liberal ways of thought.

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