Opinion: We won in 2010 with compassion, is it the key to victory in  2015?

imageAccording to the media Liberal Democrats are behaving like rats in a sack with each member trying to eat (and in some cases spit out the other). Of course the media are less accommodating when it comes to highlighting the review that Nick commissioned with James Gurling, Cllr Abi Bell, Cllr Ruth Dombey and George Lyon.

While a review is welcome it is not the whole answer. What will help us in 2015 is engaging with some of those traditional Liberal Democrat liabilities, namely our compassion.

Take Lord Oakeshott. While I can’t comment on the specifics of the case, my perception is what he did was deeply demoralising for me as an activist. That said, I am comforted by one thought, we are allowed to make mistakes in the Lib Dems. So while Lord Oakeshott’s resignation helps ‘kill the story’ we need to ensure it is not symptomatic of our compassionate liberal values getting consigned to the dustbin which will damage the rebuilding process after 2015.

Another area where liberal compassion is needed is dealing with UKIP. While Farages’ attitude on 95% of things may be irrational it is resonating with a huge section of society, some of them for Lib Dem voters. These people will only listen to us again if we employ good old fashion Liberal compassion and rationality in listening to their fears and understanding the language they are employing.

David Miliband tweeted recently a quote from Dr Martin Luther King. “Racism is the colored man’s burden & the white man’s shame”. This is the type of language that pushes people towards UKIP. In the same speech Martin Luther King said: ‘the tragedy of racism is that it… is the idea that the very being of a people is inferior.’ This applies as much to educated white people who take a moral high ground against apparently poorly educated white people, what Mr Miliband’s tweet reflects is the inception of a political cast paradigm with a Liberal cast and a UKIP cast.

As Lib Dems we value robust debate with a plurality of strong opinion because it helps improve and/or reaffirm our worldview. Since the “We are a Party of Government” slogan was introduced our more “woolly” liberal values seem to have been consigned to the dustbin, seen as a liability instead of an asset.

Remember we got into government with our woolly liberal compassion and without engaging that compassionate side of our party’s brain we cannot begin to understand why we lost the argument in the European and local Elections.

We will not get people or (more accurately) liberals back unless we champion our compassion. I’m up in 2015 and I go into the election with a great sense of comfort. Only a healthy democracy can boot out a sitting government. It may be us getting the boot in 2015, but we are the turkeys who vote for Christmas. Democracy is what we fight for! So let’s embrace the challenge ahead employ our compassion and empathy in dealing with difficult questions and put Lib Dems back at the forefront of the UK’s political worldview.

Photo by Olga e Zanni

* Patrick McAuley is a councillor in Stockport

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23 Comments

  • Wait: Martin Luther King, Jr “pushes people toward UKIP”? On what planet does that even make sense?

  • daft ha'p'orth 3rd Jun '14 - 12:55pm

    I’m all for compassion.

    That said…
    David Miliband tweeted recently a quote from Dr Martin Luther King. “Racism is the colored man’s burden & the white man’s shame”. This is the type of language that pushes people towards UKIP. In the same speech Martin Luther King said: ‘the tragedy of racism is that it… is the idea that the very being of a people is inferior.’ This applies as much to educated white people who take a moral high ground against apparently poorly educated white people, what Mr Miliband’s tweet reflects is the inception of a political cast paradigm with a Liberal cast and a UKIP cast.

    This paragraph has lost me completely. Do you mean political caste? If so, what I get from this is ‘Mr Miliband’s tweet reflects the starting point of a tradition/habit of establishing divisions of politicians, including a Liberal group and a UKIP group’? Which one is Miliband meant to be in? I’m lost.

    Incidentally, it’s not in general racist to ‘take a moral high ground’ on a given issue (although ‘moral high ground’ is an odd thing to take), even if the people who take the opposite stance to oneself happen to be poorly-educated. Or are you saying that Miliband believes he has the moral high ground no matter what the issue, or even if there is no specific issue under discussion, by virtue of his education? If that is what you are saying, on what basis?

    What’s wrong with tweeting a quote from Martin Luther King?

  • Patrick McAuley 3rd Jun '14 - 1:08pm

    The MLK quote about people’s ‘being’ being inferior applies to any kind of prejudice not just racism. What I’m highlighting is that D Milibands urgency to use that particular quote reflects a particular kind of liberal that does not reflect on how their own prejudices manifest and therefore can have little understanding of how to deal with general prejudice objectively. In short because they don’t see prejudice in themselves they can’t hope to empathise and with snd therefore have influence over others that extoll prejudice.

  • Apparently Mr McAuley doesn’t understand that “very being” means something essential to a person, something that cannot be changed without destroying that person and which should not be expected to be changed.
    I cannot agree that poor education is part of the “very being” of the poorly educated; defects of education can be amended, and it should not be controversial to suggest that it would be good for people of any age to be better educated.

  • daft ha'p'orth 3rd Jun '14 - 1:39pm

    I see you had a go at Miliband on Twitter too: https://twitter.com/DMiliband/status/473105615116464129
    Again, please, if you wish or anybody else wishes to drag Twitterpated arguments over to LDV it would be polite to provide a link to the original context, just as Miliband did in his tweet.

    So Miliband (who incidentally I have no time for) puts a brief direct quote from a Martin Luther King speech alongside some explanatory text in a tweet intended to link people to a BBC video showing Martin Luther giving that speech, and for this I am supposed to condemn him. The full tweet was: “Racism is the colored man’s burden & the white man’s shame”. Great lost Martin Luther King speech Newcastle 1967 http://bbc.in/1mYypdQ. So, he gave a brief characteristic quote from the speech (and there weren’t that many quotes to choose from because it is a short video and Miliband needed a short soundbite), added a citation and a personal reaction (‘Great lost speech’) and gave a link to the quote. Miliband shares link on Twitter shocker, news at 11.

    We all have difficulty reflecting on how our own prejudices manifest. By necessity we have to learn from experience and sometimes that experience is painful. Perhaps you are right that Miliband has a particularly hard time doing so and is spectacularly poor at it. Perhaps there are quotes out there that prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt. But I don’t get how you conclude that from the evidence of this tweet alone. As far as I can see Miliband is just doing what most twitterati do all the time, which is sharing links in a kind of ‘look at me, I’m totally one of you!’ way, and sure, that means he’s trying to construct a particular kind of ‘right-on’ online identity (a hobby he shares with many LDV participants, Conservative Home participants, UKIPers, Guido readers etc), and of course that makes him a subjective participant in a host culture with which he self-identifies… and?

  • Patrick McAuley 3rd Jun '14 - 2:14pm

    David-1 I think your over thinking what I’m saying . What I’m arguing is that in order to educate you have to be able to empathise and get under the skin of prejudice. I am also summising that if one were to ask Mr Miliband “are you a racist?” He would reply “no”. Therefore the quote he finds inspiring has no meaning for him and so by extension is not aimed at him. Your view that poor education (assuming your using it in the same cultural or social context I am) can be altered is one I share. What I’m arguing is that when it comes to the UKIP debate there are Liberals who misunderstand fear and incapacity to articulate ones self as prejudice which is why I believe we need to as a party look inward at what it is we are say wrong, that is preventing us from getting our point across. This is not just a question of words and campaigns but actions…… Is my argument.

  • Patrick reveals to us :
    “Another area where liberal compassion is needed is dealing with UKIP.”
    and
    “What I’m arguing is that in order to educate you have to be able to empathise and get under the skin of prejudice.”
    So all Ukip voters are of low intellect, prejudiced due to their poor education, and have barely any sense of comprehension or of humanity or empathy for their fellow man? Ahh,.. now I see where you are coming from. What you are trying to inform us is that a superior Liberal intellect, needs to show compassion to small brained, dull witted, knuckle dragging Ukip voters. Yes, I see now, you are going to have to SHOUT the ”’..Liberal message…”’ louder, and pitch it lower to get through the thick skulls of us Ukip voters?
    Good luck with that sanctimonious and condescending approach Patrick. It’s that attitude that turned Nick Clegg from -57% to -65% and collapsing further into the abyss by the day.
    Or you could just acknowledge that Ukip have the political zeitgeist, and LibDems have totally lost the plot?

  • “I am also summising that if one were to ask Mr Miliband “are you a racist?” He would reply “no”. Therefore the quote he finds inspiring has no meaning for him and so by extension is not aimed at him.”

    I still don’t understand why you think Martin Luther King’s language “pushes people towards UKIP”, and I really think it would be better if people didn’t say this kind of thing. Or if they must, they should express themselves more clearly.

  • Shaun Cunningham 3rd Jun '14 - 5:21pm

    Quote .. I’m up in 2015 and I go into the election with a great sense of comfort.

    Most people I talk to are dreading the thought. Compassion is a mere side show to what this party needs to face up to.
    If “understanding” was to replace compassion well we would be on the right track. Nick and Vince sitting in a pub having a drink together is not a exactly a picture the public will warm to, they need to be a little more inventive than that.

  • daft ha'p'orth 3rd Jun '14 - 6:20pm

    @Chris
    I suggest the author goes to the Martin Luther King center in Atlanta and has this discussion with them. ‘Martin Luther King scholarship encourages right-wing populism! Make it stop!’

    Why condemn a Miliband or anybody else for having an interest in civil rights? I just do not see this one at all. The Miliband/MLK paragraph blights what would otherwise be a moderately unexceptionable article.

  • Patrick McAuley
    I was very surprised indeed to read some of the things you have written here.
    Please heed the words of others in this thread.
    Dr King was and is an inspiration to millions around the world. If you want to insult Ed Miliband that is up to you. But if you drag in the name of someone who is revered by people irrespective of party you may find you offend a lot of people, especially people who are Liberal Democrats.
    Can I ask you about this sentence ? — ” Since the “We are a Party of Government” slogan was introduced our more “woolly” liberal values seem to have been consigned to the dustbin, seen as a liability ….”
    Could you elaborate on this thought?
    Would you like to list a few of the “woolly” values you had in mind?

    Did you write this piece all by yourself or did you collaborate with a team of advisors? Did you base it on something someone else has written.? Is it perhaps inspired by the speeches of Nick Clegg or the writings of Jeremy Brown? I am sure other people will be as curious as I am to know who your heroes are.

    One of my heroes is Martin Luther King who I think many would place on their list of great Liberal heroes. I assume you must be inspired by others, but I cannot work out who they might be.

  • Patrick McAuley 3rd Jun '14 - 11:25pm

    John

    MLK is a hero of mine and the speech D Miliband refers to was in itself a good speech, but a good speech of its time. To suggest, highlight or intimate that racism is ‘the white mans burden’ today is a) to completely ignore the historiography of racism but more importantly b) alienate a section of society that are fearful of the other.

    Helen I’m affraid you’ve misunderstood the article. It’s nothing to do with Miliband and MLKs views on white people.

  • Patrick’s latest attempt to explain leaves me as mystified as ever by what he said about Martin Luther King’s words. Unless he can explain what’s wrong with what MLK said, perhaps we can all agree that MLK’s reputation should remain unsullied?

  • daft ha'p'orth 4th Jun '14 - 12:06am

    @Patrick McAuley
    “To suggest, highlight or intimate that racism is ‘the white mans burden’ today…”
    How helpful therefore that Miliband quite clearly cited the origin of the quote and made it clear (in 140 characters or less!) that he’d given it as an extract from a speech dating from 1967, now available online at see-link-here. Had he written, ‘Hey, that MLK quote about racism being the white man’s burden, interpreted totally literally, is totally the best way to look at prejudice today!’ then okay.

    From what I’ve seen of the various UKIP members posting on here, I get the impression that they are often sharply politically aware and far from thick. Many of the older members of my family voted UKIP this last time round, and they’re not thick either. In fact they all used to vote Lib Dem, make what you will of that.. Most likely neither Miliband is a favourite of most UKIP voters, but I doubt it’s because of the time when a Miliband quoted MLK saying something heartfelt. UKIP seem robustly capable of coping with the existence of material from the past that isn’t today’s idea of politically correct . UKIP voters appear to be more likely to be repulsed by being told that you’re not allowed to quote Martin Luther King on Twitter for fear that someone might take offence. To be honest, I’d share their reaction to that.

  • “To suggest, highlight or intimate that racism is ‘the white mans burden’ today is a) to completely ignore the historiography of racism”

    I don’t agree. And I think that to deny that racial prejudice is still alive and active, or to deny that in western countries like the UK “whites” are the disproportionate beneficiaries of racial prejudice, is to completely ignore the modern reality of racism.

  • Richard Dean 4th Jun '14 - 12:24am

    Compassion is great, but I can’t remember winning in 2010.

  • Patrick McAuley 4th Jun '14 - 8:34am

    David-1

    I’d recommend a trip to India or Zimbabwe…….

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 4th Jun '14 - 2:44pm

    UKIPers need to understand where they are projecting UK – they want to be small or nothing. I don’t. I want to show the benefits of education and democracy, world-wide, to all who will listen, and have a chance in their lives – to grow a belief, to contribute as well as living for the next day, with a small bowl of rice – maybe all they have. That is what I promote every day during my retirement – look up, be strong, be equal, kick out company-think, add to a positive legacy for your family, we all must survive.

    And all the Tory [quaint at best] government can say is, “don’t eat so much saturated fat please as it will fill our hospitals with almost dead people and we cannot afford it from the bankers’s ill-gotten gains – we need a stronger economy”. Heard that twist anywhere? [IDS comes to my mind – paraphrase , cannot afford what the poor cannot provide for themselves]

    Of course we need a better economy, based on compassion for those who need positive action not negative action. Why doesn’t the government tell people that the government is stupid! Yes, we know, stupid governments are just that and don’t tell the people. And many an online tweet is the prime example of Tory waffle. Are we sleeping into a time when someone will or will not pay for an issue which our citizens need? Answer – Yes ! It’s getting too much about ‘do you have money to pay or you will die!!!!’

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Jun '14 - 4:08pm

    Patrick McAuley

    Take Lord Oakeshott. While I can’t comment on the specifics of the case, my perception is what he did was deeply demoralising for me as an activist.

    Why? We are a democratic party, which means we have a right to replace our leader by someone who is more to our liking. So if we have a right to do that, what is wrong with those who want to do that organising some sort of poll to prove their point that a different leader would be better for us?

    The argument you use here is similar to saying that you would be demoralised as a British citizen if the Labour Party carried out an opinion poll in order to see if Milliband would be a more popular Prime Minister than Cameron. In countries run by dictatorial regimes they often use the argument that open expression of disagreement with the Leader and campaigning for a change is demoralising and therefore should be banned. Perhaps you should go and live in such a country, it sounds like that’s your way of thinking.

  • Quite apart from the MLK nonsense – ‘won in 2010’, huh? Won David Cameron’s heart?

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