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.

Working with the Conservatives proves the Lib Dems are committed to hearing all sides of the debate: they took an open, comprehensive offer and delivered structural changes to the way we fund education and the way we cushion the poorest from tax which will outlive this outgoing parliament.

Labour and the Tories, meanwhile, colluded to scupper voting and lords reform to secure their mutual interest in a duopoly of power.

Meanwhile, the SNP and UKIP use identity to promote a politics where people can be excluded from having their say on the basis of their nationality. While Sturgeon’s social democratic aspirations are fine and good, her party wants to run Scotland as an oil baron.

The Greens promise plenty I’d like to see, a greener economy and a fairer society, but would they do it? Could they? Even if they had the votes, they wouldn’t be prepared to get their hands dirty with power and enact the legislation they promise.

Only Nick Clegg has consistently argued for better funding for poorer pupils (yes, at the expense of those in society able to pay tax on their university education), a greener economy, a more progressive tax system, and democratic reform.

He even forced the Tories to stick to their own pledge on gay marriage, which finally gives my relationships the equal status they deserve.

With the minor parties dragging the Conservatives and Labour further from prudent and progressive positions, only the Lib Dems are prepared to defend the principle that in a democracy everyone has something to contribute: it doesn’t talk down to UKIP, it charges at them, as Nick did in the European election debates.

It doesn’t exclude Labour, who it worked with on phone hacking, and it didn’t discount a Conservative party which was eager to adopt Lib Dem positions: indeed, the Tories have now stolen some of those policies but say they can’t wait to break free of Liberal Democrat fetters so they can pursue some really right wing policies, like £12 billion cut directly from welfare.

Imitation is flattery: their frustration is proof the Lib Dems have moderated their worst excesses.

If our democracy returns a result in which a majority has no voice, where compromise cannot be found, where government cannot be formed, that will be chaos under this constitution.

If that is the case, I want a party which promotes cooperation in good faith and the name of reason to have a strong voice that can stand up to those who would again gerrymander our system to the advantage of either the big two, or a “progressive alliance” that would deny the Tories and UKIP have positions that can even be discussed without censure, with all that implies for the health of our democracy.

I want a party with “Democrat” in its very name.

* Toby MacDonnell is a Lib Dem member. He is a graduate in history from Sussex university reading Keynes and Baudrillard in preparation for postgraduate studies.

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  • I agree with much of this, which is why it is so disappointing to see Nick effectively ruling out a coalition, or even an arrangement for confidence and supply with the SNP, when we all know that this may well turn out to be the only option available. (Perhaps he intends to resign immediately if that is the case, though?)

  • @GP Burnell this is sensible politics in an election campaign, and doubly so when you think what an SNP/Labour coalition would be like and our 3rd place in it. It would be a far worse position than we had with the Conservatives. Third place at the table whilst Labour and the SNP spend us into oblivion?

    No thanks.

  • “the point of democracy is that nobody should win outright”

    Not really, if enough people vote for one party (even in a proportional system) they can win outright.

  • Interesting article, Toby.

    I disagree with a number of elements within it. I especially with your statement that —
    “…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.”

    There is a clue in the construction of the word democracy which indicates that it does not mean “nobody should win outright.”. One might argue that it means that everyone should win. It is just sophistry to make the claim that it means nobody should win.

    As a student of Baudrillard I guess you will be familiar with simulation etc as in this quote —
    “…The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true”

    Those who are more familiar with the Chelsea Football Club version of ‘simulation’ might want to check out Wiki on —
    Simulacra and Simulation (French: Simulacres et Simulation) is a 1981 philosophical treatise by Jean Baudrillard seeking to examine the relationships among reality, symbols, and society.


  • paul barker 27th Apr '15 - 7:41pm

    Slightly off topic – 3 polls so far today, 2 give us 9% & the other 8%. Also 2 Con leads (3% & 6%) & 1 Labour (3%).

  • Baudrillard would point out that everyone winning and nobody winning are two sides of the same coin: that the principle at stake is between the two, and contains these two antagonisms. I think the glass half full and the glass half empty metaphor is a perfect example: it is not that it is either half empty nor half full, but that the contention between the two is where the simulation begins.

    So in this case, the contention between the principle of everyone winning and everybody winning is the self-contained antagonism. Given that the simulacrum is true, that these are both valid observations of the simulacra and that choosing the one or the other is what cathects the simulation.

    In Seduction he writes that we have a choice between depth or appearances, and in Impossible Exchange he writes that our reality is either totally true or totally illusory. Given that the current simulation of democracy in this country contends that the winner takes all, and according to John Stuart Mill this forms only the tyranny of the majority, the simulation I would like to see is one in which no-one’s singular viewpoint wins out over anyone else’s viewpoint: that by acknowledging failure as the only possibility, success becomes more stark by contrast.

    Baudrillard also writes in Impossible Exchange that “Good is at the driving wheel of the suicide engine”: that the more we rig out system toward a “Good” or positive outcome, the more Evil emerges from the irresolvable cracks in the system, and disillusions us to the idea of Good and Evil altogether. It seems to me that our democracy, in emphasising majority rule, victories in debates, unity, unilateral opposition, can only disenchant us as to the value of those things. If Britain looked at the glass half empty, our democracy would be a more valuable thing, and I think PR is a way to reorient the meaning of democracy from one side of the principle to the other.

    I have in this case chosen to cathect the simulacra with John Stuart Mill as an introjecting influence,

    Thank you for your comment: I’m pleased to see Baudrillard is known in these circles. Five hundred words is a bit limiting for a full explanation of how Baudrillard might provide us with insight into Britain’s democracy, so I did need to run through the conclusions rather than the citations.

  • Having been a liberal democrat supporter for many years I think the leadership are living in cloud cuckoo land and putting themselves before the party. Not one of the people I know who voted liberal democrats in 2010 can stomach another coalition with Tories. The party will be lucky to hold onto 50% of there seats in n 2015 and after another coalition with Tories is could be the end of the party. It appears the party has ruled out completely a coalition with Labour. Liberal Democrats have nothing in common with Tories at all. I will be voting liberal democrats at my local council elections but labour in national elections as the thought of the Tories having another 5 years in power really concerns me for the poor and disadvantaged in the country. I think 9% in the polls tells you everything about where the party is. I hope I am wrong but if people like me are turning away from party what chance in the election

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Apr '15 - 6:08am

    Toby it is good to see someone argue for tolerance in democracy, but I am very concerned about the campaign for STV. I must have visited the electoral reform website about 25 times and I think I have only just worked out how STV works, so how is the rest of the electorate going to buy it? Apparently people thought AV was complicated.

    I don’t think the problem is necessarily STV, but one problem is definitely the Electoral Reform Society, which talks about first and second preference voting in one section and then throws in ranking and donkey voting in another.

    I am surprised that it has got to this stage with hardly anyone rocking the boat on STV and the Electoral Reform Society.

  • @Eddie salmon watch the CGP grey video. It explains STV very well.

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