Carswell: Free Liberal. How it might have been (part 2)

This is the continuation of an article posted previously on Lib Dem Voice. New readers should read the earlier post before this one.

…Do you remember…… changing the mind of pretenders?…

‘September’, Earth, Wind and Fire

As September 2014 began, even the most complacent Westminster journalistic eyes were swiftly turned away from Douglas Carswell’s Liberal insurgency, and towards events North of the border. The Scottish Independence Referendum was approaching within a fortnight, and Salmond and his remarkable growing coalition of voters were coming up fast/ A shock Panelbase poll published on 2nd September put the ‘Yes’ camp ahead by 1 point in the Independence Referendum. The campaign was electrified. For many Westminster politicians, it seemed as though they were waking up suddenly. Waking up, and booking train tickets to Scotland…

Carswell, having relinquished his seat of course, was campaigning hard in Clacton, where his Free-Market, anti-European Union, reformist but cosmopolitan views were winning over some voters (including some exasperated Lib Dems, polls showed) but confusing or alienating some others. A ‘Free Liberal’ was not always guaranteed a welcome in ‘all our yesterdays Britain’, as Matthew Parris controversially dubbed Clacton in The Times. Farage had certainly done Carswell a favour by not standing a UKIP candidate, and probably the Conservatives too. Britain First, however, were not so gallant, sensing a thirst for anti-immigrant rhetoric that Carswell was unwilling to provide. All polling in Clacton suggested that the result on 8th October, being held the same day as the Heywood and Middleton by-election, was going to be close.

But for now, Clacton seemed very marginal, in more ways than one. Scotland dominated the front pages. In what was (correctly) seen as a panicked response to the ‘Yes’ camp’s outlying poll success, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg put their names to a theatrical ‘Vow’ published on the front page of the Daily Record on 15th September. This promised to deliver substantial devolution and new powers for Scotland, in the event of a ‘No’ vote. Cynics, perhaps sensibly, scoffed at the vagueness and evident desperation of the ‘Vow’, but many wavering voters seemed somewhat re-assured, and the polls settled back into a slight but persistent ‘No’ lead. All three main Westminster parties were of course publicly supportive of the vow, but there seemed to be a certain queasy ambiguity, and certainly a lack of discipline, in the Scottish Lib Dems.

Maybe Carswell’s recent defection had stirred Liberal longings for independent thought and devolved decision-making north of the border. Maybe possible future ‘Federalism’ wilted in the face of immediate potential liberation and structural reform. In any case, many Lib Dem MSPs and councillors in Scotland seemed to hover on the brink of calling for a ‘free vote’ amongst their supporters when it came to the Referendum. Online murmurings were such that Willie Rennie had to make a statement, restating the Li Dem commitment to Federal change within the UK. He looked like he was trying to convince himself. Reports continued up to polling day that many local Lib Dem activists had starting handing out ‘Make Up Your Own Mind’ fliers. It was harder to confirm that some Glasgow activists had actually started distributing ‘Yes’ literature, a rumour almost certainly manufactured and gleefully spread by ‘Yes’-activist blog Wings Over Scotland. Nick Clegg’s face on the front of The Record started to seem more isolating for him as Party Leader….

On the morning of 19th September, the results were clear by 5am, after Glasgow’s declaration. The ‘Yes’ camp had lost their battle, but ran the result much closer than most had thought possible, and come within 5% of winning the vote. Final vote share was as follows:

No – 54.2%   Yes  45.8%

David Cameron that morning, looking exhausted but triumphal, announced the kickstart of ‘English Votes for English Laws’, in tandem with rapid, pledged devolution. Labour immediately accused him of partisan opportunism, and hurriedly attempted to prepare a line to take at their Party Conference in Manchester. Alex Salmond dutifully resigned that evening. However, SNP membership was already surging, and was to easily overtake the Lib Dems’ membership by the end of the month. In Clacton, Carswell, collared by a reporter, commented only that “change is not a talisman only held by Nationalists, and it will come.”

To look at the Labour Party Conference, which began on 20th September, an observer would barely know the Referendum had taken place. Gordon Brown, whose stirring speech in the final days before the vote was credited with securing the ‘No’ result, was no-where to be seen. Miliband’s speech was uninspiring and lukewarm, and was pounced on by the press for its lack of deficit-reduction substance, which Miliband later explained as an honest mistake. However, the final Party Conference before a General Election was hardly the time for memory-lapses, and the Labour Party gritted its teeth, with an eye on Heywood and Middleton. Following on from Labour’s Manchester misfire, the UKIP Party Conference start was overshadowed by the Parliamentary vote on action in Iraq against ISIS, a piece of timing which (whether deliberate or not) certainly played right into Farage’s insinuations that the Tory leadership were trying to smother the Kippers like a chip-pan fire threatening to engulf their kitchen. The vote passed overwhelmingly, but there were several rebellious MPs who refused to tow the consensus line, including two Lib Dem MPS.

One of the Tory rebels was Mark Reckless, who was to make an extraordinary entrance onto the national stage at UKIP conference on 27th Sept. Introduced with tangible glee by Farage to the ‘People’s Army’, Reckless, first-term MP for Rochester and Strood, had decided to defect to UKIP, and fight his seat. Farage’s insurgency, having narrowly failed to recruit Carswell, had finally hit the jackpot. Reckless spoke of his admiration for Carswell’s boldness, although he compared ‘Liberalism’ to “a chocolate kettle” as a tool to fix Britain’s problems. Reckless had perhaps lived up to his name: Rochester and Strood would be a fight, and it would be a difficult one. Newspaper cartoonists instinctively portrayed Reckless as Farage’s ventriloquist dummy, and in one sketch as a naïve cavalryman, strapped with dynamite, charging toward the Tory ranks while Farage, hidden behind a rock, plugged his ears and waited for the blast. However, while Farage’s talk was about Rochester and Reckless’ prospects, his actions, and UKIP’s resources, were focused elsewhere……

The timing of the announcment had been spot-on though. The Conservative Party Conference in late October was utterly dominated by the Reckless defection. Tory whips and members howled for retribution, with none of the relatively relaxed attitude which had been largely observed towards Carswell’s departure. David Cameron was largely thought to have done well, though, with a simple but direct speech which undoubtedly tacked to the right, but successfully put the Tories on a “war footing”. The Rochester contest, Cameron boasted, making reference to an ebbing meme, would be “an ice-bucket for Mr Reckless, and for those others who would split the Conservative family.” That remained to be seen, and opinion polls throughout September were indecisive, but overall the Conservatives seemed to be well-composed.

The same could not be said of the Lib Dems. For the Yellows, general panic and ‘Carswellian’ chaos reigned. On the first day of October, it became clear that at least one MP considered the Liberal Democrats to be less a family and more an abusive relationship. And he had clearly had enough. Jeremy Browne, Lib Dem MP for Taunton Deane and ex-Home Office Minister announced that he was renouncing the Lib Dem whip. Always to the perceived Right of the leadership, Browne announced that Carswell’s decision had inspired him, despite their various differences in opinion and ideology, and that he would be going to his constituency as soon as possible, standing as a ‘New Liberal’. The fact that he had deftly avoided ‘Free Liberal’ as a tag, whilst still using the Liberal tag to directly challenge Clegg’s crumbling hegemony, was lost on no-one. Echoes of ‘New Labour’ and the ‘Third Way’ were also there, and perhaps appealed to many Blairites and Labour journalists, impatient with Miliband and Balls. When asked by a journalist if he and Carswell were now de-facto the hub of a New Centre-Right Party, Browne accurately reflected the post-conference mood by quipping bitterly “Does it look at the moment as though Parties are the answer?”

Browne and Carswell refused to give interviews together, but their slyly co-ordinated press-conferences in Glasgow outside Lib Dem Conference from October 4th took the media’s breath away for chutzpah and gall. Both using the phrase #Beyond the Fringe to describe their presence, they circled the Conference wagons, often giving several separate press-conferences a day, and sucking what little oxygen there was away from Clegg and the rest of the leadership. Cable, Farron, and even Alexander seemed cautious in their endorsements, with the dominant mood seeming to lie somewhere between anticipatory calculation and stunned Stockholm Syndrome. Clegg’s speech was adequate, for what it was, but seemed to being given into a vacuum. Rumours of other defections and realignments were rife. Conference Season, by all possible standards, had been astonishing.

And then, in the early hours of 9th October, the by-election results arrived, like letterbombs . . .

carswell1
carswell2 

* David Faggiani is a young-ish Liberal living in London, ex-smoker and co-founder of 'Game of Seats' political discussion group on Facebook and Twitter.

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38 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Nov '14 - 12:58pm

    You are again using this what-iffery to push the idea that there is a big latent support in this country for a political party that is so free-market extremist that it regards the others with contempt for not being enough like that, and that such a party deserves the name “Liberal”.

    The reality is that all three main political parties have pushed down this road, and it seems to be a major reason why people are so disaffected with politics. Many people in this country who used to vote Liberal Democrat have abandoned us because they see what has happened with the coalition and with the influence of the “Orange Bookers” and think our party has moved way down this direction, and they don’t like it. Maybe you are one of the few we have picked up who like this idea, but if there was a big lot of voters waiting for us to go that way, how come we’ve lost support rather than gained it for seeming to have done so?

  • David Faggiani 10th Nov '14 - 1:48pm

    I think you may be slightly misinterpreting my intention in writing this article, Matthew Huntbach! Thanks for commenting though, I really appreciate it, I am new at this.
    For the record, I do not endorse the opinions and platforms of Douglas Carswell MP (UKIP) in real life, let alone the fictionalised Douglas Carswell MP (Free Liberal). And this article is many things (I hope – flaws and all) but it is certainly not intended as me saying, in any way “this is what I think the Liberal Democrats should be doing, or saying”. It is not prescriptive, it is speculative. If I thought I knew how to improve the Lib Dems’ fortunes, I would write an article openly saying so.

  • Free=Neo?

    I’m frankly mystified as to what this piece is meant to communicate and what possible relevance Douglas Carswell has to the Lib Dems.

  • paul barker 10th Nov '14 - 2:19pm

    I am not sure I get this at all. I am prepared to welcome all sorts into Our Party but people who are willing to flirt with Racism & Nationalism ? No.

  • matt (Bristol) 10th Nov '14 - 3:07pm

    Well, Carswell has flirted with the mantle of Gladstone (almost the most used clothes in the political dressing-up box), and … if I stretch terminologeeeeeeeee thiiiiiiis muuuuuuch he is possible describable as some sort of liberal under some usages of the term.

    I guess this piece is intended to inspire thinking about the usages of ‘liberal’ in our political culture and what and how this ‘liberal’ party alongside and other so-called ‘liberals’ is best placed to create a more liberal politics inside a political culture that is lsiding ot the right.

    It doesn’t exactly do that for me, and it feels too long and self indulgent. But I think I might sort of see where you might think you are sort of going. Sort of.

  • matt (Bristol) 10th Nov '14 - 3:45pm

    I’m still nursing a hurting head from shouting at Radio 4 during Mr Carswell’s appearance on Any Questions this Friday and Saturday.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Nov '14 - 5:14pm

    David Faggiani

    I think you may be slightly misinterpreting my intention in writing this article, Matthew Huntbach! Thanks for commenting though, I really appreciate it, I am new at this.

    You have proposed a scenario whereby a Conservative MP who has hitherto been an economic right-winger leaves his party and declares himself to be a “Free Liberal”. You clearly mean by this, and from your comments in the previous article you wrote, and from your example linking him to Jeremy Browne who wrote a book attempting to define “authentic liberalism” as this sort of thing, that he was in favour of the “small state” idea of drastically reducing the services provided by the state so as to allow big tax cuts.

    There have been strong forces pushing this sort of thing, regular articles in the right-wing media pushing the idea that “real” or “free” or “authentic” or some other such word “liberalism”, ought to mean the adoption of this sort of policy, and that the Liberal Party (pre merger – this has been going on for a long time) and then the Liberal Democrats are not really “liberal” because they do not (or did not until the Orange Book started pushing it) go along with that idea.

    In the scenario you give, this adoption of extreme right-wing economics and giving it the name “Free Liberal” is massively successful, attracting public enthusiasm while the Liberal Democrats who do not go along with it crumble.

    Well, it is very hard to imagine why you would write such articles as your first contribution t o this site unless you agreed with this idea. Much of what you write in these articles just assumes the rather dubious proposition about extreme right-wing economics being a freedom-enhancer that is what real liberalism should be about.

    If I were to write some imaginary scenario in which a very different model of Liberalism is adopted and leads to great success, would you believe me if I tried to argue afterwards that it was just make believe and I wasn’t actually proposing or even favourable to that model myself? Of course you would not.

    So, if I am getting your intention wrong, what is it? All I can see is yet another dreary attempt to rake up the old arguments we have had so many times before in this website on this issue.

  • Malcolm Todd 10th Nov '14 - 6:19pm

    I think this is probably best treated as equivalent to the “civil liberties for dogs” article yesterday. Not worth getting hot under the collar about.

  • David Allen 10th Nov '14 - 6:49pm

    That’s ruffly how I feel, Malcolm. The article is, er, a bit of a dog.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Nov '14 - 9:30pm

    David Faggiani

    If I thought I knew how to improve the Lib Dems’ fortunes, I would write an article openly saying so.

    Instead, you’re agreeing with right-wing attacks on our party for it not being right-wing enough – at a time when our party is losing huge numbers of former voters because they think it’s moved too far to the right. So, David Faggiani, it seems to me you are writing an article whose active intent is to destroy our party.

  • An interesting read David. Thank you for publishing. I agree with Daniel on the intent of the article. It is clear that an increasing number of people want change and so are moving away from the 3 main parties who they feel are not satisfactorily delivering this. Carswell is rocking the Lib Dem boat. Perhaps someone is needed to reassess the direction of the party . This could win back the voters who would consider themselves Liberal but have been let down by unfulfilled promises or out-of-touch policies/ideals.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Nov '14 - 11:53am

    Stephen W

    Anyway, the fact of the matter is that the Lib Dems problems are not simply being too right-wing. The Lib Dems are being visibly replaced as the UK’s 3rd party by a party that is well to the Right of Jeremy Browne (or even David Cameron).

    Yes, and this is being done by it fooling the people as to what it is really about, and to the right-wing press giving it enormously biased coverage, which is part of a deliberate attempt to divert people from supporting the politics of the left. Oh, come on, this is a very old game. When in trouble, invent an enemy and blame it all on that enemy, and whip up a bit of populist support by posing as the champions of the people against that enemy. One can see this tactic used countless times across the world and across time.

    David Faggiani is going along with the latest version of that game, I am not.

    If the people of this country were REALLY enthusiastic for the sort of extreme right-wing economic approach that people who advocate it are trying to get called things like “Classical liberalism”, “Gladstonian Liberalism”, “free liberalism”, “authentic liberalism” and the like, then they;d be out there calling for cuts in state services and cheering them on when they happen? But they aren’t, are they? If the people of this country REALLY wanted this sort of small state vision, then they’d be calling for the abolition of the NHS, cheering on Tory reforms which are semi-privatising it, and booing the LibDems for standing in the way of that and insisting in weakening what the Tories wanted. But is that what we in the LibDems are getting booed for and losing support for? As I’ve already said, it is fairly obviously the other way round.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Nov '14 - 12:01pm

    George Potter

    This is alternate history/speculative counterfactuals. E.g. it’s a piece of fiction intended for entertainment purposes

    Well, ok, suppose I write some similar piece of “entertainment” which involves a politician proposing nationalisation of the banks and the top 100 UK companies, and putting them all under the control of workers’ collectives, and this being enormously successful, attracting mass support and causing the collapse of the Labour Party for being insufficiently committed to such things.

    Would you in that case dismiss any suggestion that in writing this piece I was trying to push some particular ideological view of how politics should go? Would you say that anyone who read that intent in that piece was just a “nincompoop”?

    No, of course you wouldn’t. You would see me as some sort of ideologist pushing an extreme view of politics, but cowardly trying to avoid deep discussion by pretending “oh, it was just a piece of fiction written for fun”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Nov '14 - 12:09pm

    Domo

    An interesting read David. Thank you for publishing. I agree with Daniel on the intent of the article. It is clear that an increasing number of people want change and so are moving away from the 3 main parties who they feel are not satisfactorily delivering this

    But change to what? Yes, people are unhappy about the way things are in this country, but are they moving towards any sort of coherent alternative? If you ask people, of course they’ll say what they want is big improvements in state services and big cuts in taxation, new housing built to meet everyone’s needs but not in my backyard, protection of the environment and cheap energy and no restrictions on what equipment I use, etc. They may get angry with the main political parties, and follow any new party which has some hand-waving solution which will supposedly deliver all of these. However, it doesn’t really answer the question as to what they ACTUALLY want out of conflicting choices.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 11th Nov '14 - 12:13pm

    @georgepotter. Please don’t call people nincompoops. It’s not polite.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Nov '14 - 12:14pm

    Daniel

    If you accept that many people have grown to distrust the Lib Dems, Labour and the Conservatives, then it makes sense to ask why, and what the Liberal Democrats can do to win back trust

    Here and elsewhere I have answered these questions. However, you and others like you don’t like the answers. I am criticising the alternative answers you are giving. Like, if people really want what right-wingers like you love to call “Free Liberalism” etc, how come there aren’t big call for the abolition of the NHS in the way there is big public vote-winning opposition to even a mild form of the NHS in the USA?

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Nov '14 - 12:16pm

    Caron Lindsay

    @georgepotter. Please don’t call people nincompoops. It’s not polite.

    It didn’t bother me, Caron. I hope that now you have released my reply to him, it can be seen that in using this term he was just showing himself up to be one that it applied to.

  • David Faggiani 11th Nov '14 - 12:40pm

    (sigh)

    Anyway, folks, here are the OTL outcomes for the two by-elections, just for easy comparison!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clacton_by-election,_2014
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heywood_and_Middleton_by-election,_2014

    In the Carswellian Continuity, I had the Scottish Referendum being closer to ‘Yes’ (but still ‘No’) by over a percentage point, which a friend pointed out was probably a bit overstating the case. I quite concede that! Got carried away with the psephological drama.

  • matt (Bristol) 11th Nov '14 - 1:00pm

    Ultimately, I don’t know whether I am comfortable with using counterfactural fiction (and I recognise it is fiction and I really am not trying to over-read anything into the poster’s motives) as a tool of political debate, which is what I thought this site was more-or-less for.

    This is for the basic reason that there are enough rosy-spectacled hopefuls / naieve optimists / outright fantasists / conspiracy theorists drawn like moths to the flame of political debate, and what the ‘facts’ of a mtter and /or past event actually are is a constant struggle we will always have.

    Debating what the facts of a hypothetical situation that may or may not happen might be if we stretch our imagination is fascinating and stimulating to some (me included), but adds an element of confusion to that already confused scene I have alredy sketched out, that for me, anyway, bends the whole concept of ‘debate’ to breaking point…

    ‘What if’ is great. I like ‘what if’. But surely engagement in politics is not ultimately about ‘what if’. It needs to be about ‘what now’.

  • matt (Bristol) 11th Nov '14 - 1:01pm

    ‘Counterfactural’ is a great word my fingers have typed for me. I sound like Steve Bell’s George Bush.

  • David Faggiani 11th Nov '14 - 1:24pm

    Ha!

    That’s an interesting point, matt (Bristol). Are counterfactuals actually too risky, or clouding, to put out, when the recent historical narrative is still ‘settling’, or under construction? I’m certainly not one of those evangelists who claims that they’re ‘necessary’ (whatever that means) but I do love them. Blame a childhood spent in front of ‘Star Trek’, ‘Dr Who’ and books like ‘Man In The High Castle’.

    I suppose I hope debate will be stimulated about the potential for chaotic realignment, when all three main parties are vulnerable, and when words (such as ‘Liberal’, or ‘Nationalist’) are so potent. UK Politics feels like its on a knife-edge at the moment, and this is just a way of giving it a somewhat plausible nudge down a different track. I think it should be clear from my ‘cliffhanger’ (Labour losing Heywood & Middleton to UKIP, which of course very nearly actually happened!) that I’m not just interested in illustrating the Lib Dem’s vulnerability.

    The next part, whether or not it goes up on LDV (I hope it will!) will have rather a lot more to say about Labour….

  • David Faggiani 11th Nov '14 - 1:29pm

    and of course, even counterfactuals come in different flavours, including ‘predictive’ future narratives. Here’s a link to one by David Herdson from January 2014, which I keep referring back to each month as its general momentum (but not some crucial details) gets more and more true…. http://www1.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2014/01/25/it-couldnt-happen-could-it-pm-farage/

  • SIMON BANKS 11th Nov '14 - 5:35pm

    Carswell has some Liberal views, but he is not a Liberal. He’s happy to campaign against immigrants, against people on benefits, against foreigners (but not against people who used to be foreigners or the descendants of foreigners in the UK). And his anti-progressive-taxation views are fundamentally illiberal because he would rob many people of opportunity to concentrate it with a few.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 11th Nov '14 - 5:38pm

    Matthew Huntbach, your reply is equally impolite. If you two can’t debate constructively, without name-calling, you will not be allowed to take any further part in this thread.

  • David Faggiani 11th Nov '14 - 5:52pm

    Simon Banks, I agree. He is not “my-kind-of- Liberal”, I would say, certainly not in the way(s) that I define myself to be a Liberal. But he certainly at least briefly considered terming himself one (if you believe the Guardian profile that inspired my piece, quoted in part 1) and that would have been very interesting in and of itself. But I am certainly no cheerleader for Carswell, and the choices he has made.

    I would love to talk to the Guardian interviewer, or Carswell himself, and ask how on edge about the decision he really was. I would guess, probably not much. But it was still irresistible for me as the basis for a ‘what-if?’.

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/19/ukip-douglas-carswell-mp-clacton

  • David Allen 11th Nov '14 - 6:24pm

    The counterfactual by Herdson linked to above, which puts forward a scenario whereby Farage wins the next General Election, is fascinating and thought-provoking. Crucially, it makes no implausible or unproven assumptions as to how its participants might behave.

    By contrast, the counterfactual by Faggiani takes a real person, Carswell, and has him take a political stance substantially different from the one he actually chose to take. That’s just a bit creepy, really. It then goes on to indicate some odd consequences for the Lib Dems that might have sprung from the original false assumption. Creepier and creepier. Not just “entertainment”.

    Matthew has attempted to write a deliberately duff counterfactual about Labour in order to illustrate the problems. I think he should have further developed his story, such that Ed Mili forms the breakaway Trotskyite Alliance in revenge for the recapture of the Labour leadership by his brother David, and in disgust, the nation responds by handing a landslide General Election victory to Salmond’s new “SNP International” Party. Anyone game for a laugh?

  • Bill le Breton 11th Nov '14 - 7:02pm

    Philip K Dick.

  • David Allen 11th Nov '14 - 7:33pm

    Careful Bill, Caron will ban you for using rude words….

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Nov '14 - 8:40pm

    David Allen

    By contrast, the counterfactual by Faggiani takes a real person, Carswell, and has him take a political stance substantially different from the one he actually chose to take.

    Not really. Carswell described himself as a “Gladstonian Liberal”, and we all know that these days that’s a term extreme free market fanatics like to use in order to give themselves credibility. It fits in very well with the way that UKIP say one thing to the people they are trying to get votes out of – mostly the victims of the drift of politics in this country towards the extreme free market – and quite another thing to the people funding it from the top, mostly extreme free market fanatics whose disagreement with the EU is that they don’t like the way it can act as a brake on the way big business plays off one country against another.

    So I don’t see the Carswell in Faggiani’s story as “substantially different” from the real Carswell. All I see is a story based on the idea which has been put forward so many times in the right-wing intellectual media, there was an article taking just this line a few months ago in the Spectator, that there is some big urge out there in this country for what they call “Real Liberalism” or whatever, and all we need to do as a party is enthusiastically take it up, and votes will come flooding our way. Despite the fact that in the real world, people in this country are in despair at the drift of all three mainstream political parties this way, the Spectator was saying that all three parties are far too socialist, so whats really needed is a much more extreme free market party than all of them.

    All I could see was Faggiani enthusiastically pushing that line, just illustrating it by shifting Carswell a bit from an extreme free market fanatic who joined UKIP to someone with much the same sort of policies who actually called himself “Free Liberal”.

    Our party has been WRECKED because there are too many at the top who have sympathy with that idea, and have used the coalition to push it forward. Most people in the country believe we have done just that – shifted from where we were way to the political right with our seeming enthusiasm for Tory economic policies. And it hasn’t won us increased support, has it?

  • Will Jackson 12th Nov '14 - 1:25pm

    More and more people are waking up to the coercive and totalitarian nature of Thatcherism. God knows, it has taken them long enough. Matthew Huntbach is right – all three ‘main’ parties have signed up to this without realising how corrosive it is. A Liberal Democrat party should be just that – market freedom is not real freedom, increasingly those left in the Lib Dems are Thatcherite Tories under a false flag.

  • Firstly I want to agree with Matthew Huntbach. Secondly I question the idea that this article or series of articles will stimulate a debate about the realignment of political parties.

    To turn to some of the details of David’s imagined future. I cannot see that any Scottish Liberal Democrat politicians would support independence. There is a strong liberal case against the centralisation of the present Scottish government. Also the Scottish Liberal Democrats have a strong tradition of support for devolution and a federal structure for the UK.

    I cannot envision those Liberal Democrats who attend conference being in a general panic, but I could see the press falsely reporting it as such. The idea that Jeremy Browne would leave the Liberal Democrats does appeal. As does the idea that those economic liberals/ libertarians would leave soon afterwards, but why would they leave with Nick Clegg as leader and the party not having a radical agenda for the next general election. So maybe the Liberal Democrat conference section could have been made more interesting with the leadership suffering lots of defeats including the rejection of the draft manifesto and changing the constitution to have the manifesto working party elected by conference reps and the only MPs on it would be the leader and president (if an MP) and it being instructed to bring to an emergency conference in February a radical programme for government to solve the social ills of the nation within the lifetime of a parliament while rejecting as a policy the aim of a balanced budget and replacing it with the joint aims of full employment and building enough houses to reduce the waiting time for social housing for everyone to less than 3 months. Then Jeremy Browne could resign from the party, followed by Danny Alexander resigning from the government.

    I am not bothered by the by-election results imagined by David, because with two parties with the name Liberal in them our support might well fall further. Of course there is the practical problem of would Douglas Carswell and Donna Tyler have formed their new parties and registered them by the time of the by-elections?

    However with the Liberal Democrats returning to their liberal traditions and those economic liberals/ libertarians leaving there would be some re-alignment. Then Cameron could announce there are no circumstances in which he could be PM and lead the Out campaign in a referendum and so the number of Conservatives resigning and joining UKIP would become a flood. And I leave it to David to provide the backstory for the realignment in the Labour Party.

  • David Faggiani 13th Nov '14 - 5:02pm

    Thanks Amalric, really good feedback, I’ll take it on board. I hope it does stimulate debate, obviously!

    Yes, you are definitely right to question the plausibility of my treatment of Scotland. Perhaps I should have skipped over that part entirely, merely implying that events there proceeded much the same as in OTL? Or maybe I should have had alt-Carswell say something provocative, something that might actually have prompted (minor) revolt? Either way, drama for drama’s sake perhaps, in a narrative that should have focused more on Party Conferences…

    As you suggest, a more detailed look at Lib Dem Conference in this universe would have been better, along with more analysis of exactly what public reaction alt-Carswell and alt-Browne were getting, just to emphasise how alt-Carswell, freed of the UKIP straightjacket, might operate. I love loads of your suggestions for the specifics (emergency motions, Alexander’s resignation, etc.).

    I am glad you enjoyed the by-election tables, they were great fun to tweak. I found myself almost operating an AV system in my head for transferring votes! It’s interesting that in the Carswellian Continuity, Clacton is by no means a safe hold for alt-Carswell in 2015. So I’ll try and have him act more as a man who knows he probably only has 7 months to operate, in the next part… I’ll also try to include some tweaked national polling in the next one, to show how the Lib Dems (and Greens, UKIP etc.) actually fare in this continuity after the by-elections….

    The Tories will also receive some treatment, of course. Cameron is definitely going to be facing some tough choices next week after Rochester (in the real world!) Of course, when I turned in my draft for this, we were only just starting to see how shaky the Labour ship actually might be 🙂

  • David Faggiani 13th Nov '14 - 7:29pm

    As for how long it would have taken for Carswell to register ‘Free Liberal’ as a party in time for Clacton, you’ve got me bang-to-rights, I have no idea on likely timescales. A cursory examination of this and I’m none the wiser… of course, he could have just run as an Independent candidate, and made it clear (on the news, on social media, in speeches etc.) that he was appropriating a ‘Liberal’ platform. But it’s an interesting point…… http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/find-information-by-subject/political-parties-campaigning-and-donations/political-party-registration

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Nov '14 - 1:48pm

    I am a “liberal” that doesn’t believe in free speech.

  • David Faggiani 19th Nov '14 - 12:18pm

    It’s starting to come true! Browne has gone rogue! https://www.libdemvoice.org/jeremy-browne-hits-out-at-arbitary-mansion-tax-43423.html

    😀

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