Opinion: Why a nationalist should vote Lib Dem

So much of the attack on the Lib Dems is based on the idea that we are a “sell out” to Europe. That we won’t stand up for Britain – though it often really means England. This attack has – to us at least – the slight feel of the American survivalist right criticising the US Democrats for selling out to a UN-based “world government”. In other words: it’s nonsense.

But that is an argument to be settled by details. We should also make a positive case. Of course we could have said patriot but let’s go the whole way: why should a nationalist vote Lib Dem? This has been especially relevant following the foreign policy debate which the other parties have seen as the best attack on the Lib Dems.

The two-party system sets up a contest of opposites and then lets one of them win.

For decades those opposites were based on class interests with a sharp north-south regional divide and a simple conflict between capitalism and socialism. What nationalists want is a nation divided – by class or by region or by any other sectarianism.

Once one of them won too often they set about implementing policies which worked only for certain groups. Since the system let them win alternately no group ever made any real progress – at best having a few years to recover from the bashing the other lot had just given it.

For decades we had debates that were symbolic for vested party interests but with no chance at all of success. Nationalisation: debated long after its failure was apparent and a block on a proper industrial policy. Grammar schools: a campaign item long after it was clear they would never be reintroduced. Tax and benefit rates: portrayed as a simple up or down issue long after it was clear that random unfairness in the system had much greater impact than the rates themselves.

The most obvious disaster was to industrial production. The result has been an economy skewed to one part of the country, to one set of skills and, increasingly, one market.

The underlying message of the debates is that there are always more than two positions in any debate. They have shown that politics is more complex than Labour or Tory spin doctors wanted it to look.

We haven’t had government in the national interest for at least a generation. Let’s get it back.

What about Europe?

Mandelson now points out how sad it is that we buy high-tech trains from France and Italy and could not ourselves build a nuclear power station. (Let’s not be distracted by the debate for the moment whether we should want to). Cadbury could not have happened in much of the rest of Europe. The other two parties have clearly not worked out a way to get policies in the national interest which don’t fall foul of EU regulation. That does not mean it can’t be done. It may require us to learn from other countries in Europe. There are lots of ways to get a “better deal”. Since the amount paid to the EU is related in part to economic success the best deal really does not come from paying least.

Stop and think. How many of the country’s challenges are based on not having a tough enough foreign policy? How many are based on messing up our own internal policies?

* David Lawson is a Lib Dem member in Lewisham.

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8 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Apr '10 - 12:23am


    So much of the attack on the Lib Dems is based on the idea that we are a “sell out” to Europe

    Most people who say this have only the faintest idea of what “Europe” does to us. In the meantime, it seems to me our country has become much more American rather than European over my lifetime. Kids seem to speak with semi-American accents, and think of the world as the USA puts out thanks to a constant diet of USA-produced entertainment.

    I listened to the UKIP candidate at a hustings last night, and he was the biggest liar of the lot. They pretend just to be about “UK independence” but they are actually a hard-right extreme free-market big business party, and it is stark-staringly obvious that it’s big business that has really taken away our country’s ability to control itself and made it dependent on others.


    For decades those opposites were based on class interests with a sharp north-south regional divide

    Oh, PLEASE be careful on this. Just because the electoral system distorts the representation so that the south elects mainly Tory MPs does not mean everyone in the south is a Tory voter, or teh sort of person who does well out of the Tories. I am getting sick and tired of those Westminster Bubble media commenators who go on and on about “Don’t upset voters in the south” when trying to push us into policies which benefit only the super-rich. When will these thickoes learn that actually not everyone in the south is a worker in the City living in a million pound plus house?


    Nationalisation: debated long after its failure was apparent and a block on a proper industrial policy.

    Oh, come on, when was it last seriously debated?


    Grammar schools: a campaign item long after it was clear they would never be reintroduced.

    Why? We’re not banned from it. To say “we can’t debate it because it’s clear it won’t be introduced” is undemocratic. It’s perfectly possible to introduce the idea, just very stupid. The world doesn’t work like it did when grammar schools seemed a good idea, we now need what were then grammar school skills in most kids rather than the top 20% or so.


    We haven’t had government in the national interest for at least a generation. Let’s get it back.

    Yes, a disappointment this line was not put more strongly in tonight’s TV debate. Why can’t we be saying to the rich who moan when asked to pay their share “Let’s have a country where all pull together, and the strongest pull hardest”? In the past, people were asked to go and give their lives for this country. Now the stinking rich think it unacceptable to be asked to pay a bit more tax for the good of this country in this time of crisis. They say they will only work hard if they don;t have to pay so much tax. Well, kick the lazy bastards out then, and give their jobs to decent people who would work hard for half their pay.

  • Andrew Suffield 30th Apr '10 - 4:51am

    Oh, come on, when was it last seriously debated?

    We don’t have serious debates with the government. No matter whether it’s Labour or the Tories, what happens is they stand up and declare what they’re going to do, and then the opposition stands up and begins posturing about how they disagree while the government representatives are walking out the door. That’s not an actual debate.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Apr '10 - 9:21am

    Andrew

    We don’t have serious debates with the government.

    That’s not what I was getting at. David wrote “Nationalisation: debated long after its failure was apparent and a block on a proper industrial policy”, he didn’t say this was Parliamentary debate. I was assuming he meant discussion on political issues in all forums in this country.

    I don’t know what he meant by what he wrote, perhaps he could get back and clarify. When was the last time nationalisation was seriously part of political discussion in this country? I am just saying it has not been for many, many years, so it is silly to write about it as if it has. Was it really “debated long after its failure was apparent”? No. Those nationalisations of industry that did take place tended to be to prop up industries that were falling down anyway, not done as part of a serious debate in which nationalisation was thought in general to be a good thing.

    Now, this country has nationalised some banks and railway companies recently, but more by accident than design. We also have found quite a few other things nationalised, such as energy companies we rely on, but it’s been other countries’ government buying them up thanks to Mrs Thatcher opening the back door to this foreign control of our infrastructure.

    I heard Clegg on the debate last night saying the banks should get lending to industry. Well, yes, but isn’t the whole point of the free market economy that they are best placed to decide what to lend to and what not to lend to? Wasn’t nationalising the banks one of those extreme left policies that were rejected by the great and good decades ago on the grounds it would just mean silly government people telling the banks to lend to industry while anyone sensible could see those banks knew far better what was good for this country? Though, as we now have found out, actually the people who run the banks couldn’t give a shit for this country. All they were – and are – interested in is themselves and grabbing as much as they can in bonuses so they can lead lives of extreme luxury, which they’ll do in Switzerland or Monaco or somewhere in the Caribbean if by their actions they have turned this country into a hell-hole.

    Well old-style nationalisation may not have worked, I’m not calling for it. But it seems to me the economic system we have had for the past 30 years and which is now assumed to be how it must be has been just as bad. So much of it underneath was all about lending money to puff up house prices, this being by far the biggest cause of the “broken society” because a decent affordable family home is the bedrock of a decent society, making so many people feel good about having huge debts by use of ridiculous concepts such as”housing ladder”. When I heard the leaders on the television last night still going on about this as if it were a good thing (I think they all did) I was almost banging my head against the wall on the stupidity of it all. This whole puffing up of house prices is designed to put ordinary people in debt and fund the fat cats’ flight out of this country, so they can live somewhere else where they don’t have to pay the taxes needed to keep this country going, while we are still in our chains of debt paying out to them.

    So, what the fat cats want is a world in which we shall be like the imperial territories, milked for what they can get from us, while they sit running us from their little islands and mini-states and the like. They can pay to pump out the propaganda, through Ashcroft funding of election campaigns or party political literature masquerading as newspapers, to keep us believing in them and voting for their tame men. Come on now, isn’t this what we did to Africa? We came and we had the Bible and the Africans had the land and we said “Close your eyes and pray” and they did and when they opened the we had the land and they had the Bible. Now their Bible is this big business ideology, and their God is whatever it is that Goldman Sachs claims it is doing the work of.

    Now, I am being theatrical of course. But the scary thing is when I think more deeply about it, reality isn’t so far from what I’ve painted here. I want political leadership in this country which recognises that and reawakens the idea of politics as the people fighting back against the powers that be, all the bankers and fat cats who have run this country down and care only for themselves. Imagine if instead of Clegg last night we’d had someone powerfully putting that point.

  • david lawson 30th Apr '10 - 1:42pm

    Just skimmed the above so apologies if I have missed something but since you ask me to clarify…

    My point was “for decades” – So far as possible in a few hundred words anyway. I guess nationalisation was last proposed in 83 and debated until the end of the Blair purges. However I wasn’t saying this is the recent thing but – the system has locked us into a series of debates of symbolic importance to certain vested interests, forcing people to take sides in a false debate. There are numerous others, eg grammar schools – let’s spend the time on something practical that might one day help someone.

    However if your wider point is that the last decade plus has seen the end of ideological splits, false or otherwise and that some ideology is a good thing – well I see your point.

  • Andrew Suffield 30th Apr '10 - 2:12pm

    Well, yes, but isn’t the whole point of the free market economy that they are best placed to decide what to lend to and what not to lend to?

    That idea’s been debunked by modern (post-1950s) economics. You’re referring to 19th century economic ideas that said corporations would act rationally in a free market. Research has conclusively established that they do not. If left to their own devices, large corporations do not even act to maximise profits – they act to maximise press releases, since these give superior stock market performance to actual profits.

    I know it sounds ridiculous. The state of our economy is ridiculous.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Apr '10 - 4:56pm

    Andrew Suffield

    You’re referring to 19th century economic ideas that said corporations would act rationally in a free market.

    Yes, but you may have missed that what I wrote was meant to be in Heavy Ironic font. I do, of course, agree with what you say. It is a pity that most commentators and people with political influence don’t, and so continue with these 19th century ideas even when we don’t have a 19th century market.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Apr '10 - 5:00pm

    david lawson

    However if your wider point is that the last decade plus has seen the end of ideological splits, false or otherwise and that some ideology is a good thing – well I see your point.

    My point was don’t make assumptions even when arguing against making assumptions.

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