Author Archives: James Croft

The USA is a warning to liberals: Tell a new story, or die

Yesterday we learnt about the newly formed Lib Dem North American branch. Today we hear from one of their members.

In the USA, “liberal” is a dirty word. Conservatives have for years used the term to mean “profligate lovers of state-spending, weak on crime and devoid of moral values.” As such, even Democratic politicians shy away from the moniker and have done for decades. With Trump in the White House, and a febrile political polarisation infecting US politics, this dynamic has only sharpened: “owning the libs” has become the favourite pastime of conservative commentators, who seem to hate “liberals” more even than they love their president.

More recently, “liberal” and “liberalism” have come under fire from a newly-energized progressive left. When young progressive activists term Joe Biden a “liberal,” they mean it as a smear. “Liberal,” to this growing portion of the political population, means “centrist, reformist, non-radical, boring, and too willing to compromise.”

Those who champion radical changes to the US political system – healthcare for all, dismantling the mass-incarceration state, defunding the police – would never accept the label “liberal.” They feel let down by decades of leaders who compromised their principles for power, content to prop up massively unequal social and economic systems while accepting piecemeal reform.

UK politics is different: we haven’t slid so far. The UK is a less polarised country, and our right is not as extreme, populist, or racist as it is in the US. The centre of political gravity in the UK is far to the left of the centre of US politics, such that many US Democrats could only fit into the Conservative Party.

I am reminded of the old joke told by a British comedian to a US audience: “In England, we have two main political parties: the Labour Party – or as you would say, the Democrats – and the Conservative Party – or as you would say, the Democrats.” The joke still works: only our most conservative Conservatives could find common cause with today’s Republicans. Yet these winds are blowing across the Atlantic: UK politics is becoming more divided, more partisan, and more populist. In politics, as in culture, we are trending American.

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