Guardian endorses Lib Dems in Euro elections (more or less)

Following the endorsement of its sister paper the Observer and its leading columnist Polly Toynbee, the Guardian editorial today all-but formally recommends its readers vote for the Lib Dems in this Thursday’s Euro polls:

The case for supporting the Liberal Democrats is now very strong. Anyone who believes Britain should be an engaged member of the European Union – who does not believe scare stories about the Lisbon treaty and who wants to back a party that campaigns on this – should vote Lib Dem. So should anyone who cares about constitutional renewal. Nick Clegg’s party has ancestral roots in the battle to establish democracy, and its radical ideas stand in uplifting contrast to Labour’s still too cautious agenda. The higher the Lib Dem vote, the more progressive plans for political renewal will be shown to have popular backing. People should remember, too, that on two other great crises – the debt-driven collapse of high finance and climate change – the Lib Dems led the way.

I see from the comments thread under the Toynbee endorsement some unhappiness that the Lib Dems should have won her backing. I could say I understand the malcontents’ sentiments: Ms Toynbee is not my favourite columnist, and her backing of Labour at the last general election with her conveniently slippery ‘clothes peg’ argument was frustrating-to-the-point-of-mendacious double-think. BUT… if the Lib Dems are ever to make the critical breakthrough we need to achieve power we are going to need a lot more endorsements from voters who think a bit like Polly. Heaven forfend we may even need the votes of people we disagree with even more than we disagree with Polly.

I recall an interview with Tony Blair in the lead-up to his 1997 election triumph in which he recalled with amused bafflement the complaints from some of his own party that ‘even Tories are voting for us now’. The Lib Dems will never get a whiff of power if we do not attract the support of those who are not currently Lib Dems.

Now, of course, that does not – absolutely not – mean sacrificing our principles in the relentless pursuit of power at any price. Yet if you look at the Observer, or Guardian’s, or even Ms Toynbee’s reasons for voting Lib Dem I challenge anyone to show that their reasons are rooted in anything other than respect for the party’s progressive, positive and pro-internationalist outlook.

I see no reason why the party should shudder at the touch of erstwhile opponents if they are won over by sound liberal principles. Some of the voters I recall most fondly are those I remember being ‘soft Labour/Tory’ voters on first canvassing, and who, over the course of the campaign, were gradually won over to voting Liberal Democrat because they reconised that their political values were in actual fact well-reflected by the Lib Dems.

All that said, do I actually think endorsements are vote-winners? Probably not. Newspapers (and indeed their star columnists) follow public opinion at least as much as they shape it. For the Guardian or Observer to declare full-throated support for Labour at the moment would ring hollow to the ears even of the most tribal of Brownite partisans.

More important than any one editorial is the paper’s sustained coverage over a period of time. It was not The Sun putting Neil Kinnock’s head in a lightbulb on 9th April 1992 which helped lose him the election – it was the paper’s relentless negativity in the preceding nine years of his leadership which made it hard for the public to imagine him as Prime Minister. For the Lib Dems, therefore, it is far more significant that the Mail newspapers have contracted our deputy leader Vince Cable to write a regular column – and that their editorials garland him with praise – than that the paper should ever formally endorse the party (which clearly isn’t going to happen).

What a newspaper endorsement does do, though, is boost party morale, and help shape the news agenda. That the Lib Dems are attracting heavyweight support – combined with that ICM poll and the sunny weather – is pretty much the perfect way to approach this Thursday’s polls.

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11 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jun '09 - 11:28am

    I’m not always in agreement with Polly Toynbee, but I’m more in agreement with her than with the right-wing headbangers who have infiltrated our party and who are reacting in horror at getting her endorsement.

    Toynbee, unlike the headbangers, understands that “freedom from poverty” is an issue, and if her remedies for it are not always the best, I think her concern over this is her main motivating factor. Toynbee sometimes also adopts a deliberately provocative criticism of sloppy right-wing-liberal assumptions – that’s why the headbangers hate her, because they hate being made to think. These headbangers are conformists by nature – “the only freedom that matters is the economic one” has been the dominant political message since the Thatcher/Reagan era, and the headbangers, like the Trotskyists of old who grew up when socialism was the dominant ideology, think they are being radical but are just showing their slavish conformity to the dominant ideology by saying “look, I show my total allegiance to it by adopting it in its most extreme form”. They also would prefer to be enslaved by ignorance rather than have to confront awkward facts which people like Toynbee sometimes reveal.

    I for one welcome Toynbee’s endorsement. Go on headbangers – if you think that means I’m not worthy of a place in your party, move to expel me.

  • Toynbee is a laughing stock after her multiple mind-changes re Brown and Labour.

  • Matthew – you’re setting up yet another straw man.

    I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds Polly’s hypocrisy and, to use Stephen’s phrase, her “frustrating-to-the-point-of-mendacious[ness] double-think” unpalatable. I am not a “right-wing headbanger” and also find the term meaningless in the context of our party.

  • Well, I have no love for Tonybee. I could say the same for many right-wing columnists. But I will always welcome them telling people to vote Lib Dem.

    I may not want them to influence the direction our party takes- but I will always welcome almost anyone directing people our way at the ballot box.

    Thats what elections are all about.

  • Isn’t it time we left the “right-wing headbanger” vs “left-wing loonie” stuff in the university dorm room where it belongs?

    Its so juvenile and has very little relevance for the party in parliament, the members and the vast majority of activists.

    I’m so tired of how pathetic this ‘political’ debate has become.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jun '09 - 4:05pm

    Some of Toynbee’s recent writing has been “I’ll make the case for what the Labour government is doing because no-one else will”, which is fine. In this I see her more as someone who believes the case for the defence needs to be made, rather than an unthinking and uncritical supporter of the government (readers may recall I’ve sometimes adopted a similar position here re the RC Church). So just on those lines I do see a touch of illiberal mob mentality in those here who have expressed such dislike for her.

    Changing her mind on Brown is no different than something we all do. I am sure there are many issues where we are not sure and change our minds as time goes by. For example, I’ve changed my mind backwards and forwards several times on Clegg as leader – you all know I never really liked him and think it was a mistake he got elected, but I do swing between still thinking that and worse, and thinking “ok, he’s not doing a bad job”. Now isn’t that a part of what liberalism ought to be about – we don’t take a position and stick to it out of blind loyalty, we are prepared to think and be critical, so that may mean one day we’re on balance in favour of someone, one day against?

    Now, I am accused of bringing in “university dorm room” stuff. No, I am actually disturbed by the vehemence of the reaction against Toynbee’s endorsement of our party. Toynbee is not BNP, or Soviet-style Communist, or Islamist, or someone else whose political views are so far removed from the aims and objectives of the Liberal Democrats as stated in its constitution that her endorsement deserves the reaction it has got from supposed supporters of our party writing here. I don’t always agree with what she says, but sometimes she hits it just right, particularly when she’s pointing out how cripplingly enslaving poverty can be, and attacking the consensus growing gulf between rich and poor in our society.

    There are few voices in the media which have been quite as prepared as Toynbee is to criticise wealth inequality and the dangers of the unthinking worship of the businessman which has become the political norm in recent decades. So what does that say if we single out Toynbee as a figure so evil that we find it embarrassing to get her support? To me, it says we regard it as fundamentally wrong to have a concern about poverty or to be critical of the way wealth inequality has grown enormously in this country since the 1979 election and all that followed it in terms of assumptions about economics. Well, if that is so, our party has changed very much since I joined it in 1978, and agreed to stay with it when it merged with another in 1988.

    Toynbee was a member of that other party we merged with, she didn’t agree with the merger, neither did I, but it wasn’t because she was too left wing economically. Having been a member later of the branch of our party in the borough where Toynbee once stood as an SDP Parliamentary candidate, I know members who are still around form that time regard her with some affection still. I do not think they regard her as some figure so evil and so opposed to our politics that her mere endorsement of us is an embarrassment. Nor do I believe most active members of our party feel of her and her views in that way. The sort of person who would regard Toynbee as an evil figure is the sort of person associated with the economic right-wing of the Conservative Party.

    It wasn’t me who expressed unhappiness about Toynbee’s endorsement. Those who did so, I believe, are making a fundmental political and factional statement – they are saying they want our party to change drastically from what it was and what the pre-amble to its constitution says it is.

    So why am I accused of being “juvenile” and having “very little relevance for the party” when I express my concern about this? It seem highly political and factional points can be made by extremists on one wing of our party, but those who dislike this wing are not allowed to fight back. This is the classic way in which infiltrators work. They do their stuff gradually moving the party away from what it once was, but when you fight back they accuse you of being the factional one. I’ve seen similar happen in so many different circumstances.

    So, as I said, I welcome Toynbee’s endorsement of our party, and I invite her to rejoin it. She would make a good member of it. And I ask anyone who thinks me wrong on this to show the courage of their conviction and move for my expulsion from the party for saying it.

  • Matthew,

    Its not you that has little relevance for the party in parliament, the members and the vast majority of activists.

    It is the factionalism which has little relevance.

    The party as a whole cannot be moved by a few blog comments no matter from which side of the political spectrum they come.

    I do understand your motivations however. It is always tempting to insert some balance. But I don’t believe that that can be done by unsing the type of invective you did in your earlier post.

    Much more effective is calm reason. Let the headbangers bang, let the loonies wail all over the blogs

    Organisation at conference and in local parties is far more effective.

    in the spirit of truce…….

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jun '09 - 8:43am

    Greg,

    There seems to be a pattern here. Those on the right wing of our party can fill LibDem bloggery with their views. But when someone on the left fights back, suddenly it’s “nasty dirty factionalism, we don’t want that round here”.

    So – what are you saying? I should go back to what I did for twelve years, quietly working as a Liberal Democrat councillor, delivering Focus, keeping the party running at local level, hardly bothering with what was happening at national level? And let people whose views simply do not fit in with our party’s stated aims and objectives as written in its constitution, slowly take over its national image?

  • Hi Matthew,

    No, I am not saying that. I am saying make your case with calm reason. Don’t get drawn into the invective – that actually turns most people off and means, just as they write off ill-judged comments from what you call ‘the right’ as usual suspects, so they will write off comments from you as usual suspects from the other side.

    Where I think we differ is that you seem to believe there is some danger that the party’s national image is being taken over by “right-wing headbangers” – my view is that this is very far from being true.

    Our national image is dictated, not by comments on blogs, not by ginger groups like ‘Liberal Vision’ or ‘Social Liberal Forum’ but rather by:

    1. What our national politicians say and do – that is now resting almost exclusively with Nick and Vince – neither of whom is a right wing headbanger.

    2. Our policy as passed by conference and how that is translated into manifesto committments ie lately – scrap tuition fees, free childcare, tax cuts for the many paid for by the very rich. None of which is right-wing headbangery – in fact it would be helpful if you could point out which of our federal policies would earn this moniker.

    3. How we act in local Government and in our campaigns. This will differ from region to region – but again right-wing headbangery (which to me is BNP, UKIP, high Tories paternalists and nasty Tory populist oiks) does not seem to be part of our local make up.

    My conclusion is that I agree with your sentiment and understand the urge, but believe that you don’t really have to worry to much.

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