Seizure of power and strong leadership

If I get the 10 pm bus out of town on a Wednesday night (usually after a session with the Campaign for Real Ale), I can look forward to a decent political discussion on the way home if Michael gets on. That’s actually his real name but in political and folk-singing circles he is better known by a pseudonym which I shall not reveal here. Michael is happy to have me as one of his councillors but we have no illusions about our political differences. He is an honest Marxist within the Labour Party and he will say, “You are a bottom-up Liberal, insisting on working with people on the ground whereas I am in favour of a command and control from the top model.”

Much has been made of Boris Johnson hiring Munira Mirza to join his Downing Street policy team with the setting up of a “race inequality commission” as one of her first tasks. Mirza was involved with the Spiked website, a successor to the Revolutionary Community Party in which she began her political activism. Moving from the Marxist far left to the nativist right is actually a well trodden path. Claire Fox, formerly of the RCP, threw in her lot with Nigel Farage. Remember that these people are extreme anti-Liberal authoritarians who believe in “seizure of power” along with “command and control” as the route to changing society.

In a time of crisis this has a superficial attraction. Boris Johnson desperately wants people around him who can make things happen. He has not twigged that if you want to drive things forward from the top you have to drive yourself as well. And if you have insufficient application you will end up being driven by the authoritarian movers and shakers – whatever the substance and track records underneath their reputations.

Part of the Lib Dem task is to offer different models of strong leadership to those wished for by the right wing media. We espouse leadership that involves consultation, accountability, working with neutral public servants to put agreed policy into practice efficiently and effectively. There is no substitute for sheer hard graft, working to agreed evidence based strategies. The abdication of leadership in the White House and Downing Street should not be met with with amusement and scorn but with outrage and compassion for the victims, including those whose lives it has cost.

UK Liberal Democrats often struggle to make sense of antipodean politics. There is no recognisable liberal party of any substance in either Australia or New Zealand. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leads the New Zealand Labour Party which more or less draws on socialist philosophy. Her party’s tensions will be familiar to Labour watchers in this country. However her non-bombastic, careful and straightforward language coupled with her application in driving forward her country’s response to the pandemic offers a credible model of what authentic strong leadership can look like.

* Geoff Reid is a retired Methodist minister and represented Eccleshill on Bradford City Council for twelve years

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Jun '20 - 2:06pm

    This is a didactic and insightful article.

    Geoff is correct about the excellent work of Jacinda Ardern. She self describes as a social democrat, so not far from many of us in this party. We forget, or some others do, this party, is the sucessor to both the Liberal and social democratic parties.

    ms Ardern is both impressive and likeable, warm and able. Her response to the Covid virus, was supported. What the Marxists come libertarians do not understand, is that social Liberalism, or social democracy, is not either or, but neither.

    We can have a restriction of liberty in the pursuit of defending liberty. Munira Mirza and Claire Fox, claim to be libertarians, but they do not understand that they are authoritarians if of the view that the survival of the fittest is their favourite way out of anything!

  • Peter Martin 22nd Jun '20 - 2:43pm

    “Moving from the Marxist far left to the nativist right is actually a well trodden path. Claire Fox, formerly of the RCP, threw in her lot with Nigel Farage…..”

    I’m not sure if it’s that well trodden. It took pretty much the entire RCP membership to hack their way through the undergrowth and find a way to move the party as whole across the entire length of the political spectrum. Quite an achiement! Did you notice them pass the Lib Dems by in the centre ground 🙂

    The RCP hasn’t existed for many years, it was, at on time known, as the “Living Marxism” group but that became LM as they moved to the right. Therefore, all the leading figures are “formerly of the RCP”. They have regrouped around the Spiked Website.

    Names that spring to mind are Frank Furedi, Brendan O’Neill, and Mick Hume.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Jun '20 - 6:11am

    “There is no recognisable liberal party of any substance in either Australia or New Zealand.”

    Just on point of information: The ruling party of Australia, led by PM Scott Morrison, is also known as the Liberal Party of Australia. They were established towards the end of WW2 to represent the interests of business and commerce. The party’s ideology has been referred to as liberal-conservative or classical liberal and promotes economic liberalism above social liberalism. But many Australian Liberals would say it’s not far behind.

    To their right we have the National Party which traditionally represented graziers, farmers, and and began as the Australian Country Party. The party also represents, as the name suggests, a more Nationalistic strain of right wing opinion which sometimes doesn’t go down too well with their Liberal counterparts.

    Many UK Lib Dems would be quite at home in the Australian Liberal Party. Anyone who was reasonably happy with Nick Clegg’s leadership and what went on in the Coalition years wouldn’t find too much to complain about.

  • Peter Martin. Perhaps I should have made it clearer that the well trodden path for ex-Marxists was a reference to a process going back over decades. But as for the recent RCP ramblers I don’t think their route took them anywhere near the Liberal Democrats and I’m very happy with that.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Jun '20 - 9:22am

    @ Geoff,

    I’ve been trying to think of some examples which might prove your point but other than the oddities of the ex RCP I’ve not yet managed one!

    I do remember Sue Slipman, ex President of the NUS, from my student days who was a member of the CPGB at the time. Made quite sure everyone knew too! But then later she flew off to the right, over the top of the Labour Party, and alighting on the SDP. Did she wind up in the Lib Dems?

    Maybe you’d not be too happy about that!

    Incidentally I’m surprised that even CP members would express any support for ” a command and control from the top model”. Sue Slipman, even in her CP days, certainly wouldn’t have argued that line. It’s a complete misrepresentation of modern day socialist thinking.

  • Gwyn Williams 23rd Jun '20 - 11:58am

    “Mirza was involved with the Spiked website, a successor to the Revolutionary Community Party in which she began her political activism. “
    Everybody else is too polite to point out that it is the Revolutionary Communist Party. But thinking about it the Revolutionary Community Party would be a name that many Liberal Democrats would be happy to appropriate.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Jun '20 - 12:09pm


    I was a very stalwart member of the Old Labour, Young Socialists, in Putney, years when our candidate was the fine ex Liberal radical, Peter Hain, early eighties, Sue Slipman was in the labour party then, came to see us as a good speaker, nice person.

    We were all anti Militant tendency, peter a lovely fellow, first person to buy me a drink in a pub, me, a non drinker, the drink, a coke!

  • Peter: I think Sue Slipman moved to the SDP – no problem with that. I vaguely remember seeing her at a Federal Conference. Journalists of a certain generation – e.g. Christopher Hitchens and Malcolm Muggeridge made the journey slowly in the course of their lives. Across the pond there are people like David Horowicz. And on a wider international front the former Warsaw Pact countries are awash with people who have turned their authoritarian tendencies into support for the far right. Former high profile communist in France, Jose Everard is now a loyal supporter of Marie le Pen. If we have fewer people making the journey in the UK than some other countries there is a sense in which we can be grateful for that. But I think we ought to recognise the dynamic. These people are about as far away from liberalism as you can get and they don’t pretend otherwise – which has a certain merit!

  • William Wallace 23rd Jun '20 - 5:04pm

    Geoff: Sue Slipman was a close associate of David Owen during the SDP-Liberal Alliance – and he was an authoritarian through and through. I recall a meeting in which she was determined to block Bill Rodgers from speaking at a joint conference, on instructions from Owen. Neo-conservatism in the USA drew many of its early intellectuals from disillusioned Marxists; no, they did NOT pass through liberalism on their journey from one ideology to another.

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