Opinion: We Must Stand for Something

Stephen Tall has written a salient piece on LDV, What must happen for the Lib Dems to overtake Labour? The question posed is not as unrealistic as it may sound. The Liberal Democrats, I believe, can be the main party of opposition within the next ten to fifteen years.

Stephen is right in his assessment that in the foreseeable future the only possible party that we can replace is the Labour Party, and his analysis that Labour has abandoned any commitment to a socialist ideology is so very obvious, that the primary reason for the existence of a Labour Party is no longer valid.

But where does that leave the Liberal Democrats?

It is my belief that both Labour and the Conservatives have abandoned the principles which have underpinned their ideology, Labour certainly so, the Conservatives to a lesser degree. The Conservatives are still the party of pragmatism, tradition, hierarchy and authority, but have recently trespassed into the Liberal areas of freedom, justice and the individual, for the obvious reasons.

Stephen suggests a number of strategies, but whatever policies we have and whatever strategies we use they must be fortified by the fundamental concepts that underpin Liberalism. Today politics is seen as nothing more than a quest for power, which for the cynics amongst us, will eventually lead to an abuse of that power. (Remember Lord Acton’s statement: ‘Power corrupts etc’).

If the public see politics as nothing more than a pursuit of power then our beliefs will not matter one iota, they will be seen as nothing more than hollow words or propaganda designed for achieving votes. As Liberal Democrats we have to convince a sceptical electorate, and indeed the disillusioned from other political parties that we stand for something. That underneath our quest for a truly progressive party there lies a set of principles and beliefs, and that the main theme and the foundation of Liberalism is a commitment to the individual, and a desire to build a society in which people are allowed to achieve fulfilment and satisfy their interests.

We should remember the concepts that provide the pillars on which we stand; we should in fact be making a cogent argument for freedom, justice, tolerance, and reason. In a comment to the original article Niklas Smith quotes Gladstone’s definition of what the Liberals should be:

The principle of the Liberal Party is trust in the people, only qualified by prudence. The principle of the Conservative Party is jealousy of liberty and of the people, only qualified by fear.

If we are aiming to be the main party of opposition and then possibly a party of government, we need, metaphorically, to know that the ground beneath the house is based on a strong foundation, then at least we can start inviting people in.

* Steve Pitt is a Liberal Democrat member in Wallasey.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Really enjoyed that, thank you.

  • David Evans 8th May '09 - 12:23pm

    Spot on Steve.

  • The flaw in this is that there’s a presumption that we no longer need a mass socialist party in the UK which, for all that it’s abandonded most of its principles, the Labour Party remains.

    Labour emerged from the old Liberals only after further expansion of the vote in the early 20th Century. At a grassroots level (and as a Fife councillor I can see this) there remains the old working class support for Labour which is as steadfast as ever. In fact, in many ways it’s just as strong as the upper class Tory support – Labour is still seen as being the party which represents the working man, and is savvy enough to throw out the occasional statement or press release which reminds its supporters of this.

    I’m very cagey about timescales for being the “official” opposition – ten years ago, after all, we were predicting we’d be the “official” opposition to Labour by now. There is an in-built resilience in Labour which means that, eventually, it will repair itself – it might take five years, it might be fifteen. But I’d caution against predicting its imminent demise.

    Historically there’s also a need for a “working peoples’ party” in most democracies. Usually, this is filled by a socialist or social democrat party (SPD in Germany, the Democrats in the US, for example) but sometimes it is filled by a very right wing party (as in Germany in the 1930s.) The Liberal Democrats don’t really fit into that category, although our policies often do, but if we were to try and replace Labour we’d really need to bring in more social democrat policies, which I don’t really see happening.

    Blair and Clinton often talked of the “third way” – one not of socialism nor naked capitalism, but a sort of “caring capitalism” if you like. Maybe we’d have a better chance of growing if we looked at this – taking votes from both centrist Tories and Labour.

  • David Heigham 8th May '09 - 12:33pm

    We know what we stand for. It is here and clear on this blog.

    We are the party of the underdog. The government and the big corporations are pushing all of us around. It is time and past time to slap them back.

    We are the party of freedom. Our rights matter. Nagging, nannying and stirring up fear is being used to take rights away from us which were never threatened by our own Governement even in the World Wars.

    We are the party which knows what needs doing. We saw the problems coming. We have worked out what to do about them; and it is a long, hard haul ahead to sort out the mess.

    We can and must say those three things loud, often and with fire in our bellies.

  • David Allen 8th May '09 - 5:33pm

    “We must stand for something” “the fundamental concepts that underpin Liberalism” “a commitment to the individual” “freedom, justice, tolerance, and reason”.

    Well yes, up to a point. I am certainly not going to say that freedom, justice and civil liberties issues are not important. They are. The problem is, they don’t on their own amount to a full programme for Government. So if we only talk about civil liberties, we will look like a pressure group, not a serious contender for Joe Average’s vote.

    David Heigham gets it better by flagging up three really big issues, fairness (“the underdog”) and competence (ie Vince saw it coming), as well as freedom. That’s miles better, because it begins to offer Joe Average a lot more of what he wants to vote about.

    I think there are two more really big issues to add. We are the party who actually care about your children’s future and will get something done about climate change. We are the only party that doesn’t believe in bombing the fuzzy-wuzzies into submission all around the world, and will work out how to live alongside our neighbours internationally, without starting any more crazy Middle Eastern wars like Iraq.

    Yes, that’s five big issues. Too many? No, because on each issue we have something very distinctive to offer, and because the voter wants a complete package that makes sense.

  • Martin Land 8th May '09 - 6:16pm

    Do we really always have to define ourselves by what we stand for? I know what I stand against.

    Conservatism; The Conservative Party. Hypocrites. Liars.

    Sorry, keep repeating myself….

  • Clearly the Lib Dema do not stand for returning stolen money, however the circumstances in which it was received.
    The Lib Dems biggest donor was sentenced in absentia today.
    Does any Lib Dem contributor to this blog have the moral courage to say that the party should return these stolen funds??

  • rantersparadise 8th May '09 - 6:49pm

    Really good article..

    @ KL

    Agree completely about labour.

    There is this natural need to fight for the land and the people. I have so many friends who are socialists and we will argue until we are blue in the face but they won’t vote Lib because they have this nostaligia or utopian idea that people are all good blah, blah and they tend to see me as this evil person who is breaking their bubble…

    So with that, you are talking about a belief that is intrinsic to the person, similarly to Conservatism to Tories..

    It’s a way of life…

    And it will NOT be eradicated, at all….the new generation of socialists are bubbling underneath creating future operations…

    And finally, they have some sort of unity and community feeling, which is addictive.

    Do we have that? I’ve not seen that…

    And I agree about clarifying what we stand for. I help out with the party in Tunbridge Wells and also producing a few campaigns and I really want to feel secure in what we believe in..

    I mean we’re so seperated…some people are more centre right…others more centre left…some are libetarians..

    What would you say to someone who wants to join a party, hoping to be part of a party that is warm, welcoming and creates a sense of unity?

    THIS is were we fail time and time again because we feel it doesn’t matter but it does.

    That’s why the BNP despire the useless policies are getting people to join the party…

    This is why despite Labour’s failure, so many of my very bright friends are still clinging on to that ‘hope’….

    And well, Conservatives are always Conservatives.

  • Yes Old Hack, I think we should give the money back if only to shut up people like you who bang on about it at every conceivable opportunity! Seriously, though: sure it would cost the ordinary members like me who would have to make a substantial additional contribution to Party funds in order to raise the money, but I believe that it would gain us enormous moral credibility at a time when all politicians can be portrayed as being mired in sleaze

  • Paul Griffiths 8th May '09 - 7:49pm

    Call me old-fashioned, Old Hack, but I think it’s Michael Brown who should give the money back. After all, he’s the one who stole it, not us.

  • Ian Stewart 8th May '09 - 8:38pm

    I still think the banner for the 2005 election was spot on: Freedom; Fairness; Trust.

    All of which still resonate today….
    …..especially the Trust bit.

    Let’s keep the nosey State out of our lives; let’s make it easier for people to just, well, live their lives; let’s help enable people to do for themselves and not wait to be done unto; let’s show that “me, me, me” doesn’t achieve much for “us, us, us”.

    …..and, today, let’s hope that our Parliamentarians are of a different calibre to those of the other main parties.

  • Ian Stewart 9th May '09 - 8:27am

    “rantersparadise”……what a lovely facade to hide behind. There is always a balance to be achieved between anarchy and despotism, and in Britain in 2009 it is more like 1984. The intrusion of the State needs rolling back.

  • So there it is, nobody has the decency to acknowledge that funds, like goods, which have been stolen should be returned to their rightful owner.
    Let’s be clear about the yellow slinking hypocrisy in all this; Had the donation been made to the Conservatives there would have been a queue of contributors lining up to berate and hound the Tories.
    You people need to clear up your own mess before you have any sort of entitlement to criticize anyone else for any matter relating to party finance. For in the eyes of the man on the bus you are ‘just the same’ and for the Lib Dems that means irrelevance and it doesn’t matter a damn what you think you stand for.

  • Getting back to the point, I think the Lib Dems should stand up for Europe more. We are a pro-European party and we should say so unambiguously.

  • Paul Griffiths 9th May '09 - 10:04am

    So, Old Hack, if I steal £5 from you and give it to, say, the Royal National Institute for the Blind, the RNIB owes you a fiver and I don’t owe you anything?

  • David Allen 9th May '09 - 6:20pm

    Old Hack,

    Michael Brown wasn’t our finest hour, but we did spend his money on leaflets, not on doing up second homes, and he’s pretty old news. Why mention him just now? Not trying to distract attention from the news about Labour and Tory MPs, by any chance?

  • Getting back to the point, I think the Lib Dems should criticise Europe more. We are a Eurosceptic party and we should say so unambiguously.

  • Revisiting the point, I think the Lib Dems should criticise Europe more. We are a pro-European party. Europe must be reformed if it is to thrive, and that’s what we should say unambiguously.

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