Author Archives: Toby MacDonnell

We can learn from UKIP!

UKIP is dead in the water. Their voters have swung to a Tory party committed to Brexit with no final consultation and the opening new grammar schools, both signature policies of UKIP: their task is done.

Meanwhile, we Lib Dems are bigger than we’ve ever been; and yet in spite of a 2% swing to us, we are not making the gains we deserve. Both Labour and the Tories have sticky voters who aren’t coming over to us: if Corbyn was as much of a dead weight as people say, I would expect a bigger swing from Labour; and Tory voters seem optimistic the consequences of Brexit can be weathered in a safe pair of government hands.

We need to learn from UKIP. To be victims of our own success would be a great pleasure. As most people see it, we are victims of our own stupidity; the one totem policy people associated with us got dropped. The ins-and-outs of policy do not matter to the man on the street. The strides we made in government, of which we are rightly proud, simply aren’t important.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 55 Comments

Three ways our democracy is being undermined

The articles that have appeared after the BBC’s referendum debate in Glasgow have given a lot of prominence to that one man who blamed the state of political discourse for his confusion as to how to vote.

This was too interesting not to comment on.

The audience was divided into leavers, remainers, and undecideds.

Leave and Remain both have their own ‘Project Fear’. Leavers tout a cultural crisis in the form of mass migration. Remainers raise the spectre of economic catastrophe.

Fear Projects, whereever they come from, are a concerted attempt to sway the public with threats dangerous enough to repeat frequently in scarce media time.

On the face of it my generation ought to be the most engaged generation there has ever been. Social media has turned every one of us into campaigners and journalists: we auto-report our lives and volunteer our opinions publicly. We are also happy to parrot or share anything we agree with.

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Remain where?

Europe’s wasted every crisis it’s faced: the sovereign debt crisis, the Syrian exodus, and the Paris terror attacks could all have been used to make the case for federated European institutions needed to put an end to this rolling catastrophe.

I have written before that those of us who believe in the United Kingdom as a union between nations ought to support a single, European state on the same principle: that nationality can be transcended by common goals and institutions.

If one is British, it’s not a big leap to be European. But nationalism only persuades nationalists. How to make an optimistic case for the EU when it has failed to settle any of its major crises?

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Defeat ISIS? Reform Europe

Go to war or don’t go to war: it amounts to the same thing. Intervene, and the deaths will be collateral. Don’t intervene, and the deaths might have been preventable. So long as ISIS and Assad are intent on having a war civilians are going to die.

Conventional warfare normally looks like this: you cost the enemy so much that they have to come to the table, and accept terms they would otherwise reject because the threat of further losses is too great to risk.

This strategy is not viable.

The Caliphate seeks to create a state under a radical, neo-traditionalist interpretation of Islamic scripture without the corrupting influence of ‘modern’ philosophy. It does not matter if this influence is from the West or Muslim scholars. This state will then provoke the ‘armies of Rome’ into a battle at Dabiq, which is supposed to precede the apocalypse.

Anybody who opposes, disobeys, or resents the law of the self-appointed Caliphate is a potential victim. Gays, Christians, women, Jews, free thinkers, and any Muslims who doesn’t accept the Caliph as their sovereign, can all legally be killed under their law. There is no room for negotiation. 

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Agenda 2020 Essay #2 What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today

Editor’s Note: The party is currently running an essay competition for members of the Liberal Democrats, to submit 1000 words on the theme “What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.” The deadline for contributions is 2nd November. If you would like us to publish your submission, send it to [email protected]

To be a Liberal Democrat today is to be tilting at windmills. After decades of being the wasted vote, we broke into coalition government. Then we collapsed. But the need for Liberal Democrats is more pertinent than ever.

Ignorance: The Cycle of News

Whichever paper I am reading, the same themes return again and again: that public trust has collapsed, that few people believe that politics has the power to deliver change, and that our society is divided between the nihilistic, the apathetic, and the outraged. With every case of child abuse, each random murder, every scandal of public expenditure, the news asks ‘What are the politicians doing about it?’ The government replies, and the opposition scoffs. The news cycle begins again.

The news wields Occam ’s razor as a maiming instrument. Issues of dynamic complexity are boiled down to yes-or-no answers. Questions are posed to politicians which no-one could answer, and when the politician stumbles it is held up as a triumph of journalism or a failure of political leadership. If the politician replies with nuance, he has avoided a straight question.

Our media landscape is dominated by duality: by left and right, us and them, yes and no, right and wrong, government and opposition, Conservatives and Labour. The pace of television news has accelerated and amplified the basic conflict our constitution is predicated on: the two party, first past the post system. This is carried over to the online world where debates between nuanced and considered comment pieces are hijacked by the us-and-them narrative in the comment section.

The glut of news belies our ignorance of government.

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Entente Nucleaire?

We have had a lot of articles about Trident in the build up to conference. Now the motion has now passed with amendments, conference has commissioned a working group on what to do without Trident. The group has been asked to assess strategic threats; how best to promote non-proliferation and disarmament; the implications for Britain’s defence commitments to both NATO and our European alliances; and the scope and implications of other kinds of nuclear deterrent. Here is a proposal to consider.

In his article, George Cunningham argues that the international situation has changed enough that we should retain our nuclear capability after a broader re-evaluation of defence policy.

And George Potter writes that our stockpile is overshadowed as a deterrent by America’s NATO-wide umbrella, but enough of a threat to hostile nuclear powers to single the UK out as a target.

My sympathies are with the unilateralists. The reports and rumours I have read about outdated protocols, lax discipline, and the resulting almost-accidents are enough to make the blood run cold. The presence of nuclear weapons and their destructive force is a permanent risk to all of our lives. In an ideal world, we would use the scrap to plough our furrows. (In an ideal world, the radiation would make the crops super-big.)

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Dear Labour…


You can stop the Tories from ever having a majority again. Your party is caught in a tussle between its beliefs and its electability. The main weapon your right wing has against the front runner is the threat that your party will remain powerless: Corbyn supporters reply, “but this is what we believe in”.

If your party exists not to represent the kind of people who support Jeremy Corbyn but to be a socially conscious alternative to the Tories, then to win your party is always going to be wearing a Tony Blair mask. You’ll beat the Conservatives through state compensation for continuing Tory policies: will it really be worth it, or will victory always have the sour odour of spin?

If a Labour-SNP coalition remains a frightening prospect to England then the possibility of a Labour fightback is slim. The SNP are going to be hard to shift, based as they are on dying your clothes tartan: unless the SNP proves it won’t hold you over a barrel for their own ends England won’t vote Labour.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 62 Comments

Opinion: The UK is dead – long live the EU

The English are the last on this sceptred isle to realise that Britain is dead.

It’s hard to remember that the nation-state is a modern invention: the Treaty of Westphalia gave birth to the conception of crown and country. Britain herself was an elaboration on 18th Century statecraft.

Each of our constitutional nations brought their talents to bear on Britain’s great endeavour: the British Empire. A merchant empire defended with regiments of Welsh and Scots infantry and English seamen; managed by a ruling class composed of feudal aristocrats and nouveaux riche industrialists and merchants.

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Opinion: Revolution is not a dirty word


Revolution is not a dirty word: it is the honorific given to moments of dramatic change by their benefactors, which became suspicious in its connection to the prophecies of Marx’s illiberal inheritors who wished to usher in an era of benevolent totalitarianism.

Constitutional change is a common revolutionary cause. The American Revolution founded the world’s first Democratic Republic out of the writings of Publicus and Thomas Payne; the Revolution in France turned an agrarian feudal monarchy into an Empire in the mould of Rousseau’s Social Contract; and the Glorious Revolution established the supremacy of our Parliament in the vein of Hobbes’s Leviathan, until today.

Devolution, multi-party politics, European governance, and the tide of frustration that has risen since the financial crisis all call into question Britain’s constitutional settlement. Whether EVEL, the EU referendum, fiscal autonomy for Scotland, or electoral reform, Britain’s constitutional settlement has become its most contentious political battlefield.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 23 Comments

Opinion: Labour isn’t Keynesian – that’s why Liberal Democrats had to be


When Labour bailed out the financial system, it misapplied Keynesian economics. Keynes writes that stimulus should be used to stimulate a depressed economy that isn’t at full employment: what Labour did was use the stimulus money to stabilise a system that was falling apart under the weight of its own contradictions.

The instant they did that, it committed the UK to paying back the money it had borrowed: it transferred the debt that would have been wiped out by private sector bankruptcy to the state.

While this reduced the loss of value in the economy (public sector debt has prevented private sector bankruptcy to accumulate a negative multiplier effect: the cost of propping up one domino has prevented the others from falling), it means that regardless of who is in charge we need to reduce the deficit to maintain the creditability of the state by which the rest of our economy is guarantored.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 20 Comments

Opinion: I’m voting Lib Dem, without holding my nose: not for liberalism, but for democracy


We are the only party prepared to campaign for genuine democratic reform and to put their money where their mouth is.

When I voted in 2010, I knew full well we might prop up the Tories: Brown had had it, and the Labour party has always been high handed and patrician-like to smaller parties.

When I hear supposed progressives railing against the Conservatives, I hear people who only want the arguments closed, who want a winner: the point of democracy is that nobody should win outright.

The only route to power should be to govern in a way people not of your party can get onside with. Democracy is a process of discussion and persuasion.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 9 Comments

Recent Comments

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