Author Archives: John Dixon

A warning from the Labour party: The difference between leadership and management

Politicians think government is 90% policy and 10% management, in reality it’s the other way round.’ Civil service aphorism

As iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens  another.’ Proverbs 27:17

A lot is being written about the Labour leadership election and rightly so. That a candidate unable to get the support of more than 20 MPs from the fringe left may be about to become leader of the opposition is astounding. Good reasons have been given for this state of affairs but I fear one more than any other has been glossed over.

Jeremy Corbyn is a far better candidate than Yvette, Andy and Liz.

Objectively he makes the best speeches, is the best communicator, has the clearest message and has the most coherent and (at least within the party) popular ideas for changing the labour party. Now whether the rest of the country will warm to him is another thing but one question that has to be asked is how a parliamentary party with 231 MPs to choose from has picked such mediocre mainstream candidates? Compare it with the recent Liberal Democrat leadership election and Norman Lamb and Tim Farron’s impressive campaigns.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 45 Comments

Opinion: An off-hand economic miracle, courtesy of new SNP Parliamentarian Tommy Sheppard

Last Sunday on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour the subject turned to the Scotland bill and the SNPs abandonment of their call for full fiscal autonomy.

About 05:20 minutes into this clip you can hear this exchange:

Carolyn Quinn – ‘Well Tommy isn’t it the case that the IFS say that if full fiscal autonomy is implemented now it would deprive Scotland of £8billion in revenue’

Tommy Sheppard MP – ‘That’s an academic estimate based on doing absolutely nothing to change the way the economy is run in Scotland.’

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 11 Comments

Opinion: TTIP and the inversion of the Free Trade debate

The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership provides an interesting case study as to how the very meaning of ‘Free Trade’ is changing. The treaty itself is on the rocks with increasing opposition from France and Germany alongside a powerful combination of unions and anti-globalisation advocacy groups. Nothing about that is particularly unusual but a crucial difference is the arguments these groups are making. For the first time they are talking about consumers.

Traditionally trade deals meant hitting producers to help consumers with the abolition of tariffs, subsidies and protectionist legislation. Although there is an element of this in the TTIP the majority of it is actually about the harmonization of consumer standards and it is this which flips the traditional free trade debate so firmly on its head.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 49 Comments

Opinion: The Politeness of Freedom (A short essay on Political Correctness)

Political correctness is an odd matter for we Liberal Democrats. The inherent contradictions contained within it seems to symbolize the strains between the right and the left of our party.

However, we cannot simply continue to ignore the issue, for doing so is allowing the debate to be taken over by a reactionary right-wing press incapable of fully understanding the complex implications of this issue upon society. To allow these people to go unchallenged would be a crime in itself and so we must work out a truly liberal response to the modern threats to political correctness – and not just tackle it in policy but take the debate to the public.

We are confused as a nation about political correctness. On the one hand we don’t want discrimination or identity based divisions between ourselves; and on the other we care deeply about freedom of speech. Add to that the desire for relative equality between the people of all identities and you have a web of confusing philosophical contradictions.

This gap has been exploited by those on the right, by those who think all this ‘pandering’ to minorities comes at the expense of the freedom of the ‘majority’. Even that ‘liberal Conservative’ David Cameron (before he was leader) made a speech about gay rights getting in the way of the majority’s needs. How should we left-leaning liberals respond?

Well, at the moment, we simply don’t. There is a void, a silence, emanating from Britain’s liberal majority when it comes to political correctness. It is the elephant in the room, a mildly embarrassing necessity which, much like the question of the EU, is often shunted to the back of our priorities while others of a less reasoned persuasion are allowed to dominate the debate.

The cries heard again and again from the right-wing camp proclaim a false world in which their freedom is being destroyed by either ‘thought Marxists’ or ‘liberal fascists’. “Political correctness has gone mad” is the rallying cry and the vast majority of the population, to some extent or another, agrees with them. There is not just a deception going on here, but also a gross misunderstanding about the nature of liberty, and this must be exposed in order for political correctness to be defended.

Posted in News | Tagged | 33 Comments

Opinion: Freedom is not a 10 pound note

Q: Mr Huhne. The word “liberal” implies a willingness to allow others their freedom. Since your party – the party of high taxes and economic regulation – respects freedom the least, can we please have our word back? Posted by Tim S on November 20, 2007 10:20 PM

RyanBerks: Right now if I had to think of one thing to differentiate the liberal dems, the only thing I could think of is that they want to tax us more, in a stealthy way of course… bizarre for a supposedly Liberal party!

There are more, plenty more, and not just from outside the party. The concept of freedom is one that all Liberal Democrats should hold dear to themselves. The entire point of liberalism which separates it from conservatism and socialism is that it aims to free the individual (whether within society or without it). This means that the government aims to allow people to live their lives their own way without trying to patronise, or control the actions and thoughts of those individuals.

Conservatism puts government as an institution to keep order and stability; Socialists consider it to be the means of taking control of private property and declaring public ownership of the means of production and establishing equality; and for those of the Third Way persuasion government is the political manager of a country (how frightfully dull) attempting to give people what it thinks they want which happens to be social democratic principles delivered through new right methods and the acceptance of the world view of the new right.

For liberals, however, government is simply nothing more than the tool that allows people to live their life in prosperity and happiness as they individually please. If government is to act then it is to free people from the coercive and inhumane consequences of it not acting and even if this is so it should only act if it has a mandate from those people which its actions shall affect. Government should not take a moralistic patronizing line with its citizens but rather allow them to make up their own minds on controversial personal moral issues even though the views these people come to may be offensive to everyone else, including the liberals themselves. If people are being prevented from doing something that will make them happy but would not harm any other individual then the government has a duty to step in to allow them to do as they wish.

New Labour talks about maximising statistics, economic indicators, social statistical indicators, reducing waiting times, reducing statistical poverty because only the numbers can tell the truth, only the numbers are a true measurement of success in the great challenge of competent political management.

Conservatives talk of the moral nature of Britain, of its degradation under New Labour, parents living in sin, the rights of minorities, gypsies and gays getting in the way of those of the majority, a utopian worship of a Britain long since passed that the government must protect and even strive towards although this fantastical vision of a traditional Britain may neither be historically real or appropriate for the modern world.

Liberals however talk of freedom, individuality, choice and tolerance. People are not numbers, happiness cannot be measured, humans cannot be made happier, better, more moral beings. It is only through them and through their own society that people can make themselves happy, make themselves better and choose their own beliefs. To a liberal there is no set way of life, no right or wrong way, there is only one way of life and that way is your own, you own your own life, and you should choose how to live it. Government is there to stop other individuals, organisations and even, to an extent, situations coercing you and dictating your life, People must be free from coercive force as much as is rationally possible, and coercion must be used only in the prevention of harm and coercion to others. That is my freedom, my liberalism, my liberty and it is one shared, although perhaps not understood, by so many others like me.

Posted in Op-eds | 34 Comments

Opinion: How the Republicans are trying to win the 2008 presidential election

A prominent Republican lawyer is trying to put a ballot to the vote in California which would mean the presidential votes of California in 2008 would distributed by district rather than by state. This would practically destroy the Democrats’ chances of an easy victory, and give the Republicans approximately an extra 20 votes (the same as the state of Ohio).

For anyone not familliar with the strange workings of American politics this is because, in a general presidential election, it is not the candidate who gets the most votes who wins the election, but who gets the most states. …

Posted in Op-eds | 17 Comments

Opinion: The myth of classical liberalism

‘To give is Liberality,
In him that shuns two contraries;
The one is prodigality,
The other hateful avarice.’

Cervantes – Don Quixote, the 2nd part, 1614

I have been pondering a while over how to approach this subject. And, although I have only just got back from hospital, I feel that I am now ready to deal with this most troubling matter. I wish to discuss a phenomenon, one which used to relate only to America, that seems to have spread (or, perhaps I am wrong, and simply showing my young age) to our country.

My curiosity was sparked earlier when I asked a good friend why he was a Conservative. He replied that he believed that there needed to be order in our country (or ‘society’, as any non-Thatcherite would have put it). An interesting and fine response, especially since this colleague was not simply a Conservative foot soldier, or someone who would simply vote Conservative, but also happened to be an incredibly intelligent man; and one who not only truly believed in the ideas of Conservatism and Thatcherism but understood them also.

He also later told me one thing that got me started along this thread of thought, that he believed himself to be a ‘classical liberal’. His version of the word ‘liberal’ certainly did not correspond to mine.

I have heard many other non-progressive thinkers describe themselves with this word – for example Friedrich Hayek (an Austrian aristocrat who once described altruism and ideology as irrelevant), Milton Friedman, and, of course, Mrs Thatcher herself (two people who both supported Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship).

There seems to me to be something fundamentally wrong about the assertion that these people are indeed ‘classical liberals’, and not just because a lot of the people who assert that they are classical liberals are in fact incredibly authoritarian.

Posted in Op-eds | 45 Comments
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