Tag Archives: centre ground

Vince Cable and Lib Dems should lead centrist movement

Last weekend, the Sunday Times revealed that 38% of people would vote for a new right wing party that is committed to Brexit, and a quarter would support a party which was explicitly far right, anti-immigration and anti-Islam. This should be a wake up call for progressives.

The electorate is faced with the choice between a deeply divided Conservative Party whose Eurosceptic tail is wagging its political dog or a Labour Party that thinks it knows better than the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance on how anti-semitism should be defined. The party I belong to, and campaign for is still polling at under 10%, even with all of the chaos which surrounds us.

There are Tory MPs who have received death threats as a consequence of some outrageous headlines in the right wing tabloids and even the broadsheets, describing them as traitors, saboteurs and mutineers. The Prime Minister’s response to this has been dismally weak. She has formed an alliance with far right governments in Hungary to support the UK’s Brexit position. A government which has eroded press freedoms and is clearly homophobic.

On the left, we have seen a Labour MP, Margaret Hodge, told she was being investigated by the Labour Party within hours of a tirade against Jeremy Corbyn, while real anti-semitism cases have taken months to be investigated. We have seen Corbyn refuse to condemn Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, despite the fact that his government last year rounded up political opponents in the middle of the night and arrested them. Looking as an outsider at these two parties is like looking at the scene of a Greek restaurant once the waiters have done their plate smashing routine.

For this reason, I believe it is the duty of the centre to re-align. We can be a spectator as the slow motion car crash which is Brexit plays out or we can do something.

Centrists already work together. Vince Cable has written before with Chuka Umunna in the Evening Standard. The Greens and the Lib Dems worked successfully together to defeat the Conservatives heavily in recent local elections where I live in Richmond. South West London MPs have worked together to campaign vigorously against Heathrow. But why can this not lead to a permanent change in British politics?

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 64 Comments

A long read for a Wednesday lunchtime: Tim Farron on Vince, Vulcans, the centre ground and “identity politics”

A couple of years ago, Tim Farron’s often powerful speeches excited and enthused Liberal Democrats and beyond as membership more than doubled in his two years as leader. Too often these days his remarks or his actions cause anger and anxiety. I know that when I see the word Farron on Twitter, I’m thinking “Oh no, what’s he done now.”  Don’t get me wrong, given the same choice I had in 2015, I’d vote for him again. However, in his quest to become leader and president before that, he went out of his way to build alliances with certain groupings in the party. It’s fair to say that some of those people feel intensely let down by certain of his pronouncements. They bear the scars of defending him in the face of some pretty hostile stuff from within and outwith the party. He shouldn’t underestimate what people went through showing loyalty to him.

To them, it feels like Tim is throwing a flame thrower at the bridges. On the other hand, Tim doesn’t seem to understand why they’re so upset. The way he sees it, he’s not picking on one group of people because he thinks we’re all sinners. Having spent a lot of time amongst evangelical Christians in my teens, I strongly suspect my registry office do 30 years ago doesn’t quite fulfil their standard of marriage.

I don’t actually care whether he thinks certain bits of my life are sinful or not and it makes no difference to how he treats me. We’ve worked perfectly well together in the past and I’m sure we will do so again. The big thing is, though, that you don’t tend to get beaten up for having a registry office do. You are more likely to be the victim of a hate crime if you are LGBT. That’s where his comments on these issues can cause actual harm to actual people. It legitimises those who would undermine just and equal treatment of LGBT+ people. I think that Tim needs to understand that. 

On Monday night Twitter started to get a bit unsettled again. This time it was his comments on “identity politics” at an Oxford Union speech that caused some fairly widespread consternation amongst Lib Dems and others.

The term “identity politics” is generally used as a derogatory term by those on the alt-right about any marginalised group who are fighting against discrimination. And they don’t just do it for themselves, they show solidarity with others who are marginalised, too. Jennie Rigg explores the concept here.

If you point out the gender pay gap, or that bisexuals routinely have horrendous mental health, or that black women are held to impossible standards of behaviour that white women aren’t, or that 45% of trans youth have attempted suicide, as sure as eggs is eggs you’ll get some white guy moaning at you about identity politics, and how we should practise “equalism, not feminism”, and how we’re all equal anyway these days now.

When people use the phrase “identity politics” they are generally saying that all those marginalised groups should just stop fighting for fair treatment and leave all the power to the white men where they think it belongs. It was surprising to hear Tim, who has stood up for some of the most marginalised groups in our society, echo this sort of language. 

I thought the only fair way to judge it was to look at the whole speech in context and I’m grateful to Tim for kindly sending me a copy. The stuff that’s caused the controversy is not even the main subject of the speech, which is about whether the centre ground of politics is a myth and exploring the common principles that tie it together and looking at the prospects of a new party.

For me, that section just doesn’t fit in. Apart from anything else the sort of people who need to work together or be appealed to are the sort of people who are generally reasonably fair minded people who understand  the discrimination women, LGBT folk, disabled people and  people of colour face – and the intersectionality between those groups – or if they don’t, they are more likely to  be persuaded by evidence. How much better would it have been to say: “We’re seeing attacks on different groups of people from the likes of Trump and the right. We need to make sure that the equal rights and legal protections that have been so hard won are not compromised in any way.” The far left and far right don’t get this stuff at all.  They are more interested in their own brand of revolution. 

There are a few interesting observations on modern politics and some uncomfortable ideas in the speech, but I’ll let you find them for yourselves. Let us know what you think (politely) in the comments.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 48 Comments

What now for the centre?

‘When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame/One hasn’t got time for the waiting game’. So sang Frank Sinatra on September Song and it is hard not to mirror his impatience. In many ways the June general election was a disappointment for Liberal Democrats, but the way that politics has fragmented in the fallout from the vote does offer some points of reflection- not all of which are negative.

One theme of the summer was a revived interest in a new ‘centrist’ party that could lead the fight against Brexit. I’m sceptical about the need for another party, but it was interesting that few responded with the line ‘What about the Lib Dems’? As hard as it may be, Liberal Democrats have to face up to why- as a pro Remain and centrist party- they are not seen as a natural answer to this question.

A major problem for the Liberal Democrats is an inability to get a foot hold into the news cycle and its associated commentary and review platforms. The Liberal Democrats will need to start punching above their weight in order to get noticed and Vince Cable’s ‘I can be the next prime minister’ rhetoric was clever in this regard. The party also needs to stop feeling bashful about its role in the coalition government; much good was done and some mistakes were made, but owning it and being proud of that time and the good things achieved will be crucial.

One big opportunity for the Liberal Democrats is also a potential problem; namely Brexit. The party has managed to forge itself as the predominate political party opposing the UK’s exit from the European Union. While this did not result in an increase in votes at the last general election, there is good reason to believe this may change as the government’s handling of Brexit and the Labour Party’s mixed messaging starts to become apparent to the public. However there are two major negatives in the Liberal Democrat’s pro EU line. The first is the danger of being seen as a single issue party, there will need to be an offer to the public that goes well beyond the narrow arguments about the Brexit process. The second issue is that- after the financial crisis of 2008 and the following ‘austerity’- many voters see the EU as part of the ‘status quo’ that has seen people’s pay and opportunities diminish. Insisting the Liberal Democrats are the sensible and moderate party who oppose Brexit may well reinforce the view that we are the ‘business as usual’ party. 

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    Richard Underhill Many Liberal Democrats are members of the Alliance Party and vice versa
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