In protecting the liberal age, the charge of elitism must be avoided

There is a sense that if an election happens at any time in the next year, it will be fought out as much on values as economic policy. The argument is no longer just about fairness and equality. It is also about a philosophy of life.

Fears that the liberal age is now under threat both from Right and Left has the potential to galvanise those who have previously taken our liberal traditions for granted. The #libdemfightback has the potential to happen.

Identifying the 48% Remain voters as fertile ground for the Liberal Democrats was a fast and valid response, not just a sound political gambit for a party polling so low but one that was true to the party’s internationalist values.

Remain voters are desperate to embrace a coherent narrative and the liberal attitudes held by many of them will only turn into Lib Dem votes if that narrative is provided.

But that should only be the beginning. The Lib Dems must also respond powerfully and clearly to the illiberal, isolationist and anti-elite sentiment that lay behind Brexit.

We must not ignore the fact that globalisation and the 2008 economic crash have left voters insecure and resentful. They are scathing about political and corporate elites, resentful of falling living standards and job insecurity and, as a consequence, have become increasingly authoritarian and reactionary.

There is an unfortunate irony for the Liberal Democrats that in 2010, as the party understandably felt the need to look more corporate to prove itself fit for Government, elitism was becoming such a dirty word.

The Lib Dems’ long-term commitment to localism gives the party ample evidence that it cares about individuals and communities across the UK.

But in such negative times that alone will not be enough to protect the party from charges of elitism.

So when the Lib Dems speak for Remain, we must be wary of the slightest suggestion that we are speaking for London – or that we are isolated from the world beyond the capital. We must speak for Remain voters the length and breadth of the country.

Secondly, the Lib Dems must respond with clear policies both to alleviate the sense of detachment that can be a negative by-product of globalisation and to address more than a decade of stagnant and insecure living standards.

Espousing internationalism, and the freedom of labour that comes with it, must come with:

  • A belief that the economic benefits must be shared by all.
  • A concern for adequate housing and schools, support for small businesses against faceless corporate entities.
  • The upholding of the minimum wage and other employee rights.

Only then will the Lib Dems earn the right to defend internationalism with confidence and passion. Only then can we say that expertise is not a dirty word, but an aspiration for every one of us in our chosen fields. Only then can we do what the 48% Remain voters want us to do – and proudly challenge the authoritarian and reactionary mindset of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party and the destructive malcontents of UKIP.

* David Hopps is a journalist who spent 20 years on The Guardian and is a new Liberal Democrat member in West Yorkshire.

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23 Comments

  • Kevin colwill 22nd Jul '16 - 5:39pm

    I’ve long argued that when it comes to the crunch political parties are judged on their economic policy. Times have certainly changed and by the next election there may be sharper divisions on attitudes to individual rights than on plans to run the economy.
    More people may be more ready to define themselves by where they sit on the liberal/authoritarian divide and fewer may be interested in the old issues about the size of the state and free market vs. socialism. That does not mean the old divides cease to exist and it doesn’t mean economic policy can be fudged.
    No amount of social liberalism can address the concerns of those left behind by economic liberalism. The party of Beveridge needs to embrace develop themes of genuine social security in an all too insecure world. This is a core part of modern British Liberalism and the part that grounds us in communities that didn’t vote remain.

  • David Allen 22nd Jul '16 - 5:55pm

    Good article. I guess, however, that the question we are all struggling with is, where did Leave get its 52% vote from? Who are those guys?

    One view is that they are the dispossessed and ignored, the workless working class from the provinces, the left behind, the harkers-back to a better past. On that view, we – all the parties – are all guilty of their neglect. The Right have only been interested in finance and business prosperity, the Left and Lib Dems have only been interested in middle-class concerns such as education and social liberalism, and all have ignored the plight of the Leavers. Now the Leavers have found a way to get heard.

    Well, there is something in that view, but a harder-edged analysis comes from Prof. Kaufman of Birkbeck, whose opinion research shows that voting Leave is not directly a question of wealth or poverty, but of attitude. There is a very strong correlation between voting Leave and voting for bringing back hanging, or for violent punishments for sex offenders. In other words, Leave voters are the angry, the resentful, the vindictive, and the authoritarian.

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/vince-brexit-and-inequality-a-day-at-the-social-liberal-forum-conference-51340.html#comment-410282

    And doesn’t this make intuitive sense, when we listen to the way so many UKIPers speak?

    Brexit, like Trump, and like the Nazi Party before them, is the march of the angry losers – whose sheer numbers can, paradoxically, turn them into winners. They do not truly seek to “Take Back Control” (as was proved when all the lead Brexiters quickly spurned their chances to control anything at all!), but simply to give a kicking to those now in control. They are unfazed when the economy tanks, and they are unfazed by our dismay, because that’s exactly what they wanted to see.

    Stupidity talks over the heads of the rational, and connects directly with the angry losers. Plagiarising Michelle Obama wsn’t a stupid mistake, it was a Trump campaign technique, because it had the “intellectuals” sneering. Thus it confirmed in many Americans’ minds that if you don’t like feeling patronised by intellectuals, you can get revenge by voting for Trump. Or Hitler. Or Brexit.

    I fear that Kaufman’s work clarifies what we are up against, and who the enemy is.

  • David Allen 22nd Jul '16 - 6:21pm

    Kevin Colwill: “No amount of social liberalism can address the concerns of those left behind by economic liberalism. The party of Beveridge needs to embrace develop themes of genuine social security in an all too insecure world. This is a core part of modern British Liberalism and the part that grounds us in communities that didn’t vote remain.”

    Yes, emotionally and philosophically I very much connect to those sentiments. But are they the key answer to the angry, resentful nihilism which Brexit and Trump represent? Kaufman’s findings (see my previous post) suggest not.

    A German “centre-leftist” politician in the 1930s might have said “Our problem is social inequality, not race. No rich individuals, whatever their religious beliefs, should be allowed excessive or secretive power. We can educate you to understand a superior kind of politics. Do not vote for Mr Hitler, he is uncouth and poorly educated, and his economic policies are rejected by the established experts. You may not understand our plans, but don’t worry, we are acting in your interests, even though we do not have much in common, and we know what it is that you need. We can beat Mr Hitler by calm, rational debate, and by assuring you that we are on your side.”

    Mr Churchill took the counter view that Nazism was evil, that it could not be understood or appeased, that it just had to be fought. He may have had a point. When we see Trump’s mob screaming “Lock her up!”, when we see Marine le Pen extol Brexit as “beautiful”, we may need to take the same point.

  • David Allen’
    I’m a Leave voter and I’m none of those things. I just think the EU is rubbish and balk at the idea that all hail the mighty commissioners and ode to joy nonsense. The fact is more people voted out than in and not everyone on either side is of one mind. Maybe instead of trying to explain why Leave had a majority, they should start asking how many of those who voted Remain really supported the EU and how many were simply worried by the possibility of economic problems. In other words is it not possible that Remain voters were more influenced by caution/fear than commitment to the EU project.

  • Leave The EU 22nd Jul '16 - 8:28pm

    @Glenn “In other words is it not possible that Remain voters were more influenced by caution/fear than commitment to the EU project.” – indeed, it would be interesting to know how much percent “fear” was a primary factor for Remain voters as opposed to actual approval of the “EU superstate in the making”: president/flag/parliament/anthem, etc..

    Peace.

  • Leave The EU 22nd Jul '16 - 8:38pm

    @Glenn – PS here is the actual official Brexit announcement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaigq_p2bt0 (2 minutes, 8 seconds).

  • Good article, David…

    Always enjoyed your reporting,…… and share your appreciation of Bluey Bairstow. Good to see his lad doing so well.

  • “Only then can we do what the 48% Remain voters want us to do – and proudly challenge the authoritarian and reactionary mindset of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party and the destructive malcontents of UKIP.”
    Couple of points :
    I’ve noticed this idea on several threads,.. that the 48% Remainers, are some kind of rich feedstock for future liberal votes. Ukip [malcontents?], got 4 million votes in the 2015 GE. But to extrapolate that into the referendum and assume that the 17 million votes for Leave are going to all be Ukip potential voters, is frankly, dumber than a dumb thing. I put it to you that the demographic of *both*, the Leave and Remain camps, are so diverse that no coherent conclusions could be drawn for their future voting intent.?
    The rise of ‘reactionary Corbyn Labour’, and the ‘UKip malcontents’, should lead us to one obvious conclusion,.. and that is that,… centrist politics is dead. Centrist politics was a curious notion that by sitting mid way in the vote spectrum, you can garner just enough moderate votes, to win an election and thus gain power. What centrist politics never took into consideration is that in its very endeavour to garner just enough moderate vote support from a strata of … *I’m doing ok*, middle class, elitist demographic, you then, by definition,.. created a peripheral ‘ignored class’,… and lo and behold,.. the ignored, festered into a ‘left behind’ class with no political voice. So pursuit of Centrism created the ‘left behind’. Who’d a thunk it.?
    Is it not obvious then,.. that those with no voice will eventually seek their voice in the unlikeliest of [desperate?], places…. Trump, Bernie Sanders, Corbyn, Farage, Tsipras, Le Pen……..[fill in the rest here]…
    I guess, if you happen to be one of the cosy, economically secure, middle class, centrist, metropolis elitists, it must be very difficult [and possibly painful], to fully grasp what exactly is going on here. Well,…. that falling masonry sound, that you can hear all around you,.. is the death throes of elitist centre politics. And frankly,..it’s a three cheers good riddance, to an elitist political centrism, which spoke only for the few, and spent years sneering at, and giving the two fingered Geldof,.. to the many.?

  • jedibeeftrix 22nd Jul '16 - 9:00pm

    @ Glenn- “Maybe instead of trying to explain why Leave had a majority, they should start asking how many of those who voted Remain really supported the EU and how many were simply worried by the possibility of economic problems”

    This question should be required reading here about!

  • J. Dunne,
    I actually suspect the conclusion one is supposed to draw from this article is that maybe the Lib Dems should edge towards the possibility of another coalition with the Conservative Party. Hence the lack of criticism.
    I’d also point out that it is possible that the “reactionary Corbyn labour” vote contributed to keeping remain as high as it was in London and that the dreaded Lib Dem bogeyman the SNP did a lot for it in Scotland.

  • Jane Ann Liston 23rd Jul '16 - 10:01am

    David, I’m a bit worried if education is considered only a ‘middle-class concern’ (whatever you mean by ‘middle-class’, it is clearly not complimentary). It reinforces the ‘books are no for the likes of us’ and ‘dinnae bother wi the school, hen’ mindset which dooms the utterers almost wilfully to a life of poor jobs and struggle with the necessities of life which include a requirement to be literate and numerate. Education is for everybody, which is why I was dismayed to hear our new PM saying she supported people trying to get their children into a ‘good school’, rather than wanting to ensure that all schools are good. For many parents, for example in a rural community, there is only one school which their children can attend, so it is essential that it is a ‘good school.’

  • Andrew McCaig 23rd Jul '16 - 10:24am

    It does not really matter if the strong supporters of the EU are 48%, 30%, or 20%. All those figures are far more than 8%… all those millions of people feel their future is threatened and as the most consistently europhilic party for many decades we are their natural home. Parties that try to appeal to both sides of the EU argument from a starting point of 8% in the polls are doomed to failure and we should stick to our guns now and in the future.

  • Richard Easter 23rd Jul '16 - 10:55am

    Trade unionists (e.g. Southern train guards and drivers, junior doctors, firefighters, those protesting outsourcing to Capita in Barnet) are demonised as “militants”, “communists”, “luddites” for not accepting corporate values, redundancy, unmanagble levels of work to compensate for others being made unemployed, or deskilling, decided by arrogant people who will never suffer poverty, prosecution at work or unemployment.

    Those who have lost their jobs and either claim benefits or work in poor unstable zero hour contracts or agency work are either treated as scroungers if on the dole, or needing benefits to top up poor earnings and rent, or like animals.

    Those workers who are finding they are competing with large amounts of foreign labour and have found their wages and conditions reduced by this, housing spiralling out of control, or indeed their jobs shipped abroad, are derided as racist for being annoyed at immigration and offshoring.

    These are the people who voted to Leave. Because the elites have treated them like trash, and continue to do so.

    So when Mr Corbyn, Mr Farage or Mrs Lucas speak out against some or all of the above, it is not surprising that they attract voters who hate corporate power, hate TTIP, hate economic liberalisation, and hate open borders

  • Christopher Haigh 23rd Jul '16 - 2:11pm

    @David Allen. Just a question to your point re who were the 17.41m leave voters ? Who were the extra 2.87m voters who voted in the referendum over those who voted In 2015 general election ? If we assume as suggested 30 % of labour and liberal Democrat + 100% UKiIP and strange others voted leave +new voters, that would leave about 57% tory voters voting leave. Cameron and Osbourne really did a poor job fronting the remain campaign in terms of gaining tory voter backing. Do you have more accurate figures than this ?

    +

  • Glenn – fair enough, not everyone who voted Leave was motivated by anger and resentment, and I recognise you as someone who argues rationally and often makes valid points. However, Kaufman’s survey would suggest you are in the minority amongst Leave voters. Indeed, I’m a bit unsure exactly why you are a Leave voter. When you say “I just think the EU is rubbish and balk at the idea that all hail the mighty commissioners and ode to joy nonsense”, my reaction is that it hardly sounds like a strong enough reason for abandoning the cornerstone of British foreign and economic policy!

    You ask “how many of those who voted Remain really supported the EU and how many were simply worried by the possibility of economic problems?” I’m not sure you can actually separate these two questions. I support the UK and would be terrified of the economic consequences if we split up into 28 small nations, but I don’t think everything is perfect about the UK by any means. In the same way I support the EU and am pretty sure we shall suffer serious economic problems if we leave, but I don’t think everything is perfect about the EU, either. That doesn’t stop me from arguing with great conviction that we should stay In!

  • David Allen’
    Kaufman’s research actually indicates political and to an extent social conservatisms as one of the main factors in voting leave. This is born out by the reality that a large proportion of Leave voters were also Conservative voters. Fairly obviously , the same applies to the leadership of the Republican Party. This is the real context of Donald Trump, who is actually fairly liberal compared to say Ted Cruz etc. You go well beyond this and start calling people angry vindictive losers and claiming nihilism!
    As for why did I vote Leave. I simply realised that I favoured the Nation State over the supranational state. It turns out that I am not an internationalist or a globalist, that actually I’m basically a left leaning socially liberal little Englander who does not see nationalism as innately any worse than internationalism. I looked at the big project then decided it was not really my kind of thing. Plus, I’ve got jewfish roots and I’m sentimentally attached to the idea of England being separate from Europe.

  • “Jewish”

  • @ Glenn “I’m sentimentally attached to the idea of England being separate from Europe”.

    That’s just the sort of Anglo-centric comment that provokes derision north of the border. It may have escaped your notice, but there is a country called Scotland (at present) in the United Kingdom…………… and of course Scotland has a very different view of Europe to people who could be described as Little Englanders.

    As to Donald Trump’s liberalism….. a lie down in a dark room is always a good idea.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Jul '16 - 5:31pm

    David Raw

    Actually , while I do not share Genn s position on the EU , he is talking specifically about England , and as an Englishman who feels my country having an agenda of its own, is too often ignored, and contributed to this result ,your sharing in derision of his view is just the sort of thing that south of the border shall lead to more of the same!

    You , again , are wrong on Trump . A wretched candidate , yet , Glenn is correct , compared to Cruz , he is far more socially liberal , on the issue of gay rights or abortion or civil liberties , hard to imagine , consult references to the very marvellous Jimmy Carter about the very topic !

  • David,
    I said little Englander because it’s flung around as an insult. I also support the principle Scottish independence if that ‘s what the people of Scotland should ever choose.

  • It would be more accurate to say Trump is less horrendously right wing than Ted Cruz…. though that is not saying much.

    Consider, Trump opposes marriage equality, and to quote the Huffington Post, his choice of vice-presidential candidate, Indiana governor Mike Pence is of course among the most extreme governors in the country on abortion and LGBT rights.

  • @ Lorenzo Cherin ” the very marvellous Jimmy Carter ” – It’s a pleasure to agree with that part of your post.

    When I was in South Africa a number of years ago I was privileged to witness some of the former President’s successes in providing education, clean water and other facilities in KwaZulu-Natal province. By contrast, Trump wants to build a wall and “Put America First”.

    On a more Scottish level, I suggest you consider the way he has treated local people in Aberdeenshire who got in the way of his golf course.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th Jul '16 - 12:52am

    David Raw

    Please , dear fellow Liberal , liberal and Liberal Democrat , I am a man who married a wife of American origin and have a mother in law in New Jersey who is a Democrat who thinks Trump is almost but not quite , another Hitler ! I do not need anyone to convince me how bad he is , but he is politically not as bad as Cruz !

    And I have been and am more convinced than most on here and elsewhere that Hillary Clinton is a candidate , flawed but with very good experience and needed ability to be President . Actually lefties are already criticising her new running mate , a bit free market on economics maybe , but a man with some truly admirable qualities.

    Very glad to read of your President Carter contribution in response to my comment , one of the finest people ever to hold office.

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