The Independent View: Neal Lawson’s letter to Liberal Democrats

Dear Liberal Democrats,

This is one a series of letters to the progressive parties. I know you didn’t ask me to write but hope you will read it with the same emotion as it was written, a spirit of generosity, hope, realism and just a bit of frustration.

So, it’s one year on from the election and where are you? Recent results were mixed. In some councils you won back seats but in London and Wales little headway was made. Maybe bottoming out is a success – I can see that. But I can also see the potential for you to grow and be a huge part of the political and electoral force a progressive Britain needs. What is the strategy to do that?

Let me start from the fundamentals. Liberalism matters. To be liberal is to be open, to cherish freedom and start politics from the only place we can – from us as people in all our wonderful diversity. Of course liberalism can go one of two ways – you can be a neo-liberal and worship the market or you can be a social liberal and recognize that we only make sense as individuals within a social context. For me it’s the role of the social liberals that is crucial to the future of progressive politics. Indeed is there any real difference between social liberalism and liberal socialism? Someone once wrote that socialism is organized liberalism. I concur.

Of course some would like to dismiss you completely. They think you committed the unforgivable sin of going into coalition with the Tories and have no place in a progressive future. There are two reasons why they are wrong.

First, on entirely pragmatic grounds other progressives need you to do well in 2020. In a number of seats, especially in the south west, only you can defeat the Tories. Some would rather see the Tories win than work with you. Shame on them. Absolute certainty in the singular and unique role of any one party is the politics of the past. The only way we meet the complexity of the 21st century is with an equally complex and, yes, liberal response. Yes, we are members of different and proud tribes – but we must all be open tribes, willing to learn and work with each other.  Otherwise there is only one result – Tory hegemony.

But second, the nation should have much more sympathy for your plight and give some guarded thanks to the fact that you actually entered into a coalition – as we now see what unfettered Toryism looks like. Back in 2010 the nation voted for a coalition or minority government. Labour was too tired and too lost to work with you. It stepped away from power. The choice was a stable government via a coalition or vote by vote rule until, is was presumed by everyone, the Tory war chest would see them through to an outright win within months. And as a centre party cruelly denied the seats your votes warranted, what were you supposed to do when the fleeting chance for influence happened? Some Lib Dems understandably too didn’t want to do a deal with the Tories and left or went into internal opposition.

Your record in government was mixed but the people’s verdict wasn’t. Like smaller coalition partners the world over – you got smashed. All of this is clear. But the verdict on you has to be more mixed, you deserve some credit (scrapping ID cards, same sex marriage, tax reform and more) and some blame.

But what have you done in the last 12 months? I don’t follow every twist and turn of your party, I look on an as sympathetic and interested outsider. But I cannot recall one article or one speech that has really stood out and tried to get to grips with the scale of your defeat or the role of liberalism in the 21st century. I admire your ability to lick your wounds and just get on with ‘operation fight back’. But has there been a big debate, an inquest and a series of lessons learnt?

Of course, column inches let alone broadcast coverage is tough for the nations joint-fourth biggest party based on seats. But even so! Tim Farron, whose heart I think beats to the left, has been virtually absent from the national stage. I’m sure it not for want of trying. But if Caroline Lucas can make some waves surely he can say something to gain interest? But then what is the strategy? Over the first part of last summer he was pitching to the left of Labour. Then came the Corbyn Surge and he started pitching to the right of Labour hoping for defections that never came. Are you a party of the centre-left or centre-right?

And this is the key point. It seems you remain stubbornly equidistant, like hired guns who will side with anyone if the price is right. But you must surely have a preference? How can it be otherwise for the party of Gladstone, Keynes, Beveridge, Grimond, Williams and Kennedy? I understand that on some important issues like civil liberties, some Tories are more progressive than many people in Labour. This is to be lamented and changed. And of course if Labour refuses again to form an alliance with you there will be no choice if no clear winner emerges in 2020. But you must tell the nation what you would prefer before they vote for you. Otherwise no one from the left will lend you their vote. It means you have to stop being everything to everyone.

But the game is up for any party that mixes its messages in an age of social media. And the prize of setting out a clear vision and set of policies for a social liberal future could be huge. The days of the remote state and free market are receding fast. Your deep commitment to a good Europe and sustainability flow with the tide of history too.

When I attend your conference and events I feel at home, we want broadly the same things. Let’s work on that sentiment.

Look, believe me, I know all the problems of Labour. But the party is starting to shift on key issues. An opposition led Constitutional Convention would let all progressive parties work together to shape a new democracy. Labour is edging faster to support proportional representation with strong support from John McDonnell and growing support in the unions. Labour and Liberal Democrats are working hard to keep Britain in Europe. We all want much more social justice and sustainability. Of course, in 30 years time you might have counted enough cracked paving stones to get a foothold back in local politics. But who can now wait that long?

So come on, define the new liberalism for our new times and commit yourself now to help build a progressive alliance with Labour in its new guise, the Greens and the SNP based on a joint mandate to ditch our wretched and unjust electoral system and a commitment to an economy that works for everyone. The prize of a progressive century lies ahead of us. A strong social liberalism is key to that future – but you are going to have to be brave to make it happen. But I’m unsure there is an option. Good luck. Compass is here to help. We are with you.

My best, always

Neal

 

* Neal Lawson is Chair of Compass

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74 Comments

  • paul barker 23rd May '16 - 5:00pm

    I have some useful advice for comrade Lawson, presuming he really wants to make friends & not trouble.
    a, dont patronise.
    b, dont use meaningless words like Socialism. What use is a word that covers both Progress & The SWP ?
    c, dont distort the real situation. We increased our vote share a fortnight ago, Labour didnt. Labour are going to split in the next 3 years but of course on issues like Electoral Reform we will work with both parts. I have been very heartened by The Labour Lefts shift toward support for fairer voting – keep up the good work.

  • Daniel Carr 23rd May '16 - 5:04pm

    ‘Of course liberalism can go one of two ways – you can be a neo-liberal and worship the market or you can be a social liberal and recognize that we only make sense as individuals within a social context. For me it’s the role of the social liberals that is crucial to the future of progressive politics. Indeed is there any real difference between social liberalism and liberal socialism? Someone once wrote that socialism is organized liberalism. I concur.’

    This is where working with people who hold this view becomes difficult. I’m a social liberal primarily, but I’m also cognisant that free trade and the breaking down of cosy monopolies (state-sanctioned if not state-run) has been a big reason people on the whole (worldwide) are living much better lives than they were 50 years ago. I’m not subscribed to austerity thinking on budget matters, so the Green / Labour Left opposition to that idea doesn’t bother me, but their distrust of free trade and new business ventures like Uber and Airbnb is anathema to my liberalism, which holds that people should be able to contract with whoever they want (not to mention the evidence that this lowers prices for all).

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 23rd May '16 - 5:32pm

    Thanks for your article Neil.

    We don’t agree on everything (nor always do all Lib Dems) but there is common ground between a lot of liberals in many parties.

    We should work together if it stops illiberalism.

  • Leave the Labour Party to its rediscovered anarcho-syndicalism, any liberal socialism will be vanquished.

  • Paul and Alex – big 🙁
    I really didn’t want to sound patronising and Im sorry if I did. Like a proper sorry. I tried to witness genuine respect for your party and tradition. And I don’t think everyone should be Labour or Tory – how dull that would be. I want diversity and richness. the best metaphor for the politics of the future is the camp site – where we keep our identity but share our values and resources where and how we can.

    And George – i look forward to hearing more about what you are up to.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd May '16 - 6:13pm

    I didn’t think the article was patronising. But my main problem with it is it assumed the left is morally superior and I don’t buy it.

    I can accept equal morality between the centre-ground and the centre-left, but not superiority. There’s too many people for whom the current left doesn’t speak for, such as working class white men, soldiers and police offices and some victims of terrorism for the left to claim superiority, in general.

    Small business owners too. I don’t want to go on more, so basically I think the left needs to look at itself a bit more critically. Regards

  • Ruth Bright 23rd May '16 - 6:19pm

    Neal – lovely to hear from you. No we haven’t had the big inquest/debate and we need to.

  • Zack Polanski 23rd May '16 - 6:32pm

    Neal.

    Great work. I think the age of partisan, tribal politics is either dead or we all metaphorically die with it as we watch the Tories change boundaries and rule for the rest of our lifetimes.

    All of us can’t be having conversations soon enough. And whilst I agree with above comments about creating distinct identities and maintaining our differences – our similarities feel like so much more.

    Zack

  • “Someone once wrote that socialism is organised liberalism. I concur”. I don’t – and for the fundamental reason that as soon as you begin to organise other people liberalism goes out of the window. I don’t mean the nitty-gritty of community politics – getting people to sign petitions, write letters to the council, holding public meetings and so on. I see socialists as having a view of how society should be organised, and holding that view they set up structures which enable their vision to be implemented. Liberals may start from many of the same policy positions as socialists, and indeed as a leftist Liberal I’m probably a lot happier with many of Jeremy Corbyn’s beliefs than most members of his parliamentary party, but we know that you cannot impose beliefs on individuals and that progress in politics is usually slow because the only true progress occurs almost imperceptibly, and often without reward to those who promulgated the change. Thank you for the article, though, Neal – thoughtful and stimulating, and I would take up other points but I don’t want to try people’s patience.

  • David Allen 23rd May '16 - 7:06pm

    This article is far from perfect, but it’s a darn sight better than the mean-spirited responses from some of our leading tribalists here. Yes, granted, Labour also has mean-spirited tribalists. Thanks mainly to Labour and Lib Dem tribalists alike, Cameron rules.

    Neal Lawson’s analysis of the Lib Dems benefits from an outsider’s clarity of perspective and is pretty much spot on. Ignore it at your peril.

    I’m less convinced by his analysis of Labour. It does rather look as if the progressive alliance must be built, in Lawson’s view, much more by everyone else converging with Labour than by Labour adapting to everyone else. Now, a lot of Corbyn’s supposed lunatic policies are an invention of the Tories, but not all of them are. Perhaps Neal might think about how a bit of adaptation towards other people’s principles might actually make this “progressive alliance” a great deal more electable?

    Here are some points that many people might make. Labour needs to work harder at understanding liberal principles, and at understanding why green issues desperately matter. Labour needs to work harder at looking like a credible government, and you don’t do that by (for example) promising the unions you will build expensive useless submarines with no weapons on board.

    Now, here are some quite different points, which a very different bunch of people might make, but are perhaps even more important. Labour (and Lib Dems) also need to pay far more attention to the way real “working people” actually think these days. Harking back to old-style labourism and the Durham Miners Gala is to bury Labour’s head in the sand. There is a cry of pain throughout the Western world – expressed as support for Trump, Sanders, Hofer, and Brexit – from ordinary people who just think that liberal intellectuals don’t understand them.

    That’s perhaps our hardest challenge. We know that “working people” often get politics just plain wrong. But we also know that they’re hurting, and that they want to hit back at those who ignore their interests. They want change. If we can’t work out how to give them “change they can believe in” (to coin a phrase), then UKIP will get there first.

  • Colin Green 23rd May '16 - 7:44pm

    I’ll leave asside the tone of the letter which could be seen as a little hackle raising and answer one the questions posed. Is there any real difference between social liberalism and liberal socialism?

    Social Liberalism is the balance bettween a cohesive society (the social) and individual freedoms (the liberty). It is the very DNA of the Liberal Democrats and is found in paragraph 1 of the preamble to our constitution. Without looking up a definition, a Liberal Socialist would seem to be a Socialist with concern about people’s liberty. It’s perhaps the Socialism that is the difference. Socialism leans towards state control, public ownership of the means of production and the like. Liberals tend to be very wary of anything that can stifle liberty.

    In writing this, I recall a “debate” I had with some of the more statist members of Labour, about education. They were firmly of the opinion that all schools that were not state run should be banned. As a Liberal I argued that people should be at liberty to run shools in all 3 sectors, state, private and charitable or 3rd sector. Each will have their strengths and weaknesses. The roll of the state should be to provide education that was good enough to allow everyone the ability to fulfil their potential. They didn’t agree. Divisions between Liberals and the more statist Socialists may never be bridged but there is an element of both our parties that are perhaps closer to each other than they realise.

    Social Democrats differ from Socialists in that they accept a regulated market economy, rather than a state controlled economy, as the best economic model. An economy with some freedom, but with limits to stop social harm. They both believe the role of the state is to create provision of services that aid the disadvantaged and helpe them propser. There are Social Democrats within the Lib Dems, including myself. There are many within the Labour Party. I’ve even met a few who are Tories. It is the Social Democrats, with blue, red or yellow hue, that have the most in common. And it’s by working together that we will best achieve our common cause.

    I’m pleased you’ve reached out from Compas to the Lib Dems. I believe we have much in common and hope we can work together to achieve our common aims.

  • Conor McGovern 23rd May '16 - 7:48pm

    I may not agree with everything in this article, but the general premise is a good one – that in order to defeat the greater evil, the Tories, reality dictates that we join Labour and other progressive groups to make that happen. Whilst I hate some Labour types thinking the Lib Dems are their little cousins and should fall in line, Jeremy Corbyn’s party does seem to be genuinely changing and starting to embrace pluralism in the form of PR. This is a huge moment – if they endorse it as a party. We would be mad to shun Labour if it means we lose this one big chance to transform politics and the economy. We owe it to our voters, past and present, to reject narrow triangulation of the Blair and Clegg kind and work to build a green, liberal, prosperous Britain.

  • Mark Blackburn 23rd May '16 - 7:58pm

    How is this article patronising? Polite, considered, humble – and spot on analysis. We only have one chance to make a comeback – and it isn’t as the same centre-right neoliberal party which doomed us to 8% of the vote.

  • Simon McGrath 23rd May '16 - 8:36pm

    We should be just as much opposed to the socialism of McDonnell and Corbyn as we are to the Conservatism of Cameron. Once we define ourselves as just another anti Tory party we are done for – which of course is what Compass want. They hope to suck in the more naive Lib Dems with absurd claims that extreme socialism is OK if Labour make nice noises about PR. Which they have not the slightest intention of carrying out.

  • @ Colin Green. “Liberals tend to be very wary of anything that stifles liberty”. There’s the rub. Poverty stifles liberty. The concentration of power and wealth with the 1% of non Dom tax evading billionaires. – especially the ones who control the media and the Philip Greens of this world – they stifle liberty. There is a radical agenda out there but whether a party of 8% split between neo con liberals and social liberals are capable of facing up to this is still an open question.

  • James Moore 23rd May '16 - 9:54pm

    I agree with pluralism and working together in a progressive way but I’m afraid you lost with me “Someone once wrote that socialism is organized liberalism. I concur.”. I am most certainly a liberal. I am most certainly NOT a socialist.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd May '16 - 10:37pm

    Neal Lawson

    Of course liberalism can go one of two ways – you can be a neo-liberal and worship the market

    No, that is just NOT liberalism. The biggest issue in politics now is why this is not the case, but I would say that to anyone with any decent sense of humanity it is OBVIOUS it is not the case. The shift towards a businessmen-oligarchy which is what this means has taken away people’s feeling of freedom and happiness, resulting in a miserable over-stressed society in which people feel trapped. It has not worked, except for 1% or so of the population, the very rich.

    Any decent Liberal Party should be saying this loudly and clearly. They should be shouting across the rooftops:

    SO-CALLED NEO-LIBERALISM IS NOT REAL LIBERALISM IN ANY SHAPE WAY OR FORM.

  • Geoffrey Payne 23rd May '16 - 11:00pm

    I wonder what is going on in Labour right now. I approve of their rejection of nuclear weapons which are pretty well useless for today’s circumstances, and I approve of their support for civil liberties and I am impressed that Sharma Chakrobarti has joined Labour. And yet in my own patch in Hackney I see the culture of the hard left and I wonder how they can be pluralistic with anyone.
    I think from the point of view of Compass, of which I am happy to be a member, there is an urgent task to persuade the huge influx of new Labour members to be pluralist rather than dogmatists. It is in the interests of the Liberal Democrats that Compass succeeds otherwise a Progressive Alliance will be very difficult.
    For some who we form alliances with depends on the mathematical outcomes from elections. I would argue that even more important than that is what do we want to do, what is our mission. We did things in Coalition such as scrapping national ID cards that we could only do with the Tories. But what now? What is there that is worth doing that we can only do with the Tories? It has all been done (plus some other things that should never have been done). With Labour we can can about devolving power to local government, tackle climate change, reduce poverty, tackle the housing crises, treat refugees fairly, improve civil liberties, improve relations with the EU, introduce LVT… the list goes on and on. We should welcome Labour people who want to talk with us about these things.

  • Jonathan Brown 23rd May '16 - 11:26pm

    I’m pleased to see this article and take it in the spirit in which it was very clearly meant.

    I’d have to agree with George Kendall in saying that besides my own concerns about Corbyn’s agenda for the Labour party I’m very worried that he and the Labour leadership are and will remain so unpalatable to the country at large that they will doom any ‘progressive alliance’.

    If Labour really are genuine about electoral reform, then I would be happy to agree with them, the Greens and the SNP to bring in electoral reform and to hold another election under the new rules. Despite having a great deal of sympathy for much of what people I admire in Labour fight for, I’m not sure that a formal coalition that aimed to do very much more than that would be practical.

    There are certainly things about the Labour party tradition and and culture today that I admire. I do think we Lib Dems are, on balance, closer to Labour on many core issues than we are to the Conservatives. But I’m no keener on being crushed by Labour than I enjoyed being crushed by the Tories.

  • “If Labour really are genuine about electoral reform”….

    I think Blair genuinely intended to do it if he needed to do it. But he didn’t need to do it, so he didn’t do it.

    I think Cameron genuinely intended to do it if he needed to do it. But he didn’t actually need to do it, he only needed to pretend to try to do it, so he didn’t do it.

    Neal Lawson says that Labour are “edging faster to support proportional representation”. Too edgy, I fear.

    The progressive alliance won’t be built on this shifting sand. If it happens, it will be because both sides are “braver” than that, and make formal commitments to their allies ahead of an election.

  • David Allen
    I am a working person. I will be off to work in the next hour. Actually Ukip is financed by millionaires as it still is very much a breakaway group from the Conservative Party. This whole referendum business is about the split over the EU within the Tory Party.
    These days working people have to deal with faceless government bureaucracy within a declining job market.
    David Raw
    Socialism does not make people well off. Under socialism Burma became one of the poorest countries in the world.
    The current leadership (or lack of leadership) of the Labour Party is just a return to the failed ideas of the past. Worker control will not solve the problems of the British economy. Britain needs a new economy, a much stronger hi-tech sector.
    Liberalism has never been more needed in Britain and a Liberalism that generates new ideas and solutions.

  • Neville Farmer 24th May '16 - 7:14am

    It’s very disappointing to see the knee-jerk reactions of some of the responses here. It echoes the rudeness and self-interest of the Labour team when the LibDems approached them in the pre-coalition negotiations. It helps no-one to take offence too easily. I see Neal’s letter as a positive and suggest we stop and think before snapping back.

    I have a problem with some of Neal’s ideas, because it is hard to trust Labour on past experience. Labour is as wedded to a bi-partisan hegemony over our democracy as the Tories and that has to stop if they really want a fairer voting system. Even now, its determination to give the opposition a bloody nose often gets in the way of what’s right for the people. But John McDonnell’s support for PR is a hugely positive step and we need to encourage it. We must seize this moment to push for a more proportional electoral system and that inevitably means all those involved being willing to co-operate, rehabilitating the word coalition as a positive.

    I believe Labour has more to learn here than us, but I believe the public has to be convinced, too and that requires a strong group effort and, as Neal points out, a clearer message from the Liberal Democrats.

  • Well I can see why the letter got so many heckles up. It reads like a weak attempt at persuading members to abandon liberalism, the “liberalism is the little cousin of socialism” argument.

    I don’t think that was the intention though, it just shows how large the gap actually is.

    One glaring difference is the attitude to power. Liberalism is about dispersing it (even if often achieving this has been a mixed bag).

    Labour (and people with their roots in socialism) are happy with the concentration of power but consider the issue to be with who has the power. As a result the attempts to limit power or disperse it (on the occasion when they do it) is a pragmatic move to undermine their opponents ability to use it when they gain power. Liberals have more of an inherent dislike of concentration of power, distributing it is an inherent good.

    It looks to me where the driver of some of the divisions inside Liberalism come. Those who complain about “the 1%” or those who object to many of the mechanisms to break that down (creating tools that then concentrate power).

    You see it in relation to markets where there is little concern expressed about markets where there is no powerful players but lots of concern where power members exist (in my case why I worry about Facebook but not YKK).

    It is also why one of the disappointments of the coalition that people are less keen on speaking about is the likes of secret courts, it was a terrible idea and no-one even seems comfortable playing devils advocate about it.

  • That is the reason I don’t think Labour will ever deliver on PR where they hold power. When they have power they will not give any up and they only rediscover it when they have no power to deliver it.

    This letter reminds me of the section in ‘a fortunate life’ where Blair can’t understand why Paddy wouldn’t joint one of the big parties and “wait their turn in power” there is a total lack of understanding.

  • Bill le Breton 24th May '16 - 8:32am

    If Neal Lawson has got us wrong perhaps it is not his fault, but our fault; what have our actions, what have our leading spokespeople been doing and communicating for a decade?

    Psi says that Liberalism is about the dispersal of power. OK, but how? The idea of dispersing power contains the element that some one has ‘collected’ power and then ‘laudably’ dispersed it. There is a fundamental mistake in that approach which I hope you can all sense.

    What members in the 70s did was begin to campaign along the lines that the break up of illegitimate power was done by people like us working in communities (of all types and not just geographical communities) to help people take and use power.

    We have lost touch with that mission.

    Yes, we have not had that hard look at ourselves that Ruth urges. The world today is much more about disruption of old power structures and it is actually much more about creating new communities and helping people in those communities take and use power.

    How do such community activists work? Well not like staid party structureens working in parties run like Labour or the Liberal Democrats (or the Tories for that matter). The weakness of that approach common to most political parties is their weakness.

    But we have to undertake a revolution in our own party first.

    As for banding about slogans about socialism -the one I particularly valkue is that of Stew Albert in the 70s (again) “”socialism in one person, that is capitalism””. But then Neal and many many other members of the Labour Party are not like that either. But they too are lost in habit.

    Liberalism? That is working with others to take and use power in existing and new communities. Who agrees with that is my comrade.

  • Maurice Leeke 24th May '16 - 8:48am

    Labour, Lib Dems, Greens are separate parties with different, and sometimes competing policies and aspirations.
    The common thread that may unite us is the desire to avoid the “twenty years of Tory rule” prophesied by Neal.
    Although Labour had 13 years of power with a thumping majority to do something about it – and did nothing – I would be very willing to co-operate with them and others on a firm, shared General Election campaign to introduce STV.
    If Labour are committed to working with others for a progressive future – rather than just their own self-interest – they will support that.
    The ball really is in their court – and it is the delivery of that simple commitment that will determine whether we all march together or not.

  • Neal Lawson mixes astute journalistic observation and evaluation with a rather crude message.

    “you can be a neo-liberal and worship the market or you can be a social liberal”

    Who claims to be a “neo-liberal”? – Anyone? Can anyone be found who self-identifies as a “neo-liberal” in the Lib Dems? – I doubt it. A “social liberal”, however turns out to be a socialist:

    Someone [Who?] once wrote that socialism is organized liberalism. I concur.

    Neal Lawson says that Liberalism matters but denies Liberalism a separate space in UK politics; he is saying there is only a binary choice. The impetus of promoting the ability of individuals to maximise their potential, to place limitations on centres of power, whether they are multinational businesses or governments and have more sense of control over their lives is given scant recognition.

    His message is that LIb Dems are almost irrelevant, but not quite: Lib Dems are needed to displace Tories in some areas, particularly in the South-West. Neal Lawson presents some important evidence, notably a lack of headway over the last year. In particular and embarrassingly, he draws attention to a wasted year of progress in policy development. Unless something interesting is happening behind closed doors (which would not be the Liberal way), the lack of progress on policy and the tendency to turn instead to internal matters of Party procedures is of more concern than patchy performance in regional and local elections.

    Neal Lawson’s article should be treated as a wake up call to the Party.

  • Simon McGrath 23rd May ’16 – 8:36pm….They hope to suck in the more naive Lib Dems with absurd claims that extreme socialism is OK if Labour make nice noises about PR. Which they have not the slightest intention of carrying out……

    I believe the article was worthy of serious thought/consideration…Responses like the one above will ensure we NEVER recover as a party….

  • Although John McDonnell has voiced support for “proportional representation”, he has not indicated what form of it he favours, and unless he is going to come out for STV, which does not seem especially likely given the Labour Party’s past attitudes, there is not going to be anything for us to be get excited about. In any case, ss we know all too well, the Labour Party’s 2010 election manifesto commitment to AV was jettisoned once they went into opposition, and even if the Labour Party were to make a commitment to STV in their manifesto for 2020, and they were write it in gold letters on a Corbynstone, we would be well advised to treat that commitment with extreme caution.

  • Neil Sandison 24th May '16 - 9:38am

    Neal Lawsons article is thought provoking as was his other recent article in Compass on the alleged death of social democracy which came from a Labour point of view .Truth of the matter is Social Democracy has moved to a new centre and is now more likely to be found in the Liberal Democrats than the Labour Party under the heading of social liberalism .What will underpin the progress of our progressive party is defining the economic and social model best suited to a political movement in the 21st century whilst being acutely aware of the rise once again of nationalism and fascism which is only just under the surface in european nations but has reared its ugle head in the EU debate. How does social liberalism/democracy operate in globalised markets where wealth is not contained by national boundaries and redistribution of wealth is so uneven leaving most of the developing world impoverished and coping poorly from man made climate change which is the outcome of a consumer led economics ,resources are finite and should not be consumed by just a small proportion of the worlds population without a better understanding of it implications. I am not advocating old style state socialism of the alleged golden age but a more liberal and empowering economic and social order that respects both the right to choose whilst delivering a sustainable outcomes for the planet and its populations.

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th May '16 - 9:40am

    I think David Allen speaks for me.

    This looks serious (on Neal’s, and maybe Compass’s behalf), and although he doesn’t hit all our pet preferences and doesn’t quite get some of his terminology right for everyone – I for one am baffled by his decision to not at any point use the term ‘social democracy’? Is this now a taboo word with Labour?

    But this really doesn’t seem to be because he wasn’t trying or didn’t care.

    And really, many LibDemmish observers and waverers share his concerns – what is the party’s point, it’s national narrative and purpose now? Can we have one view on the economy in this party? Where is the ‘centre’ of British politics and do we really want to be in it? How far can Cameron and his successors take this country and what shape will it be in when he’s finished?

    I was someone who felt that there was a flaw in Nick Clegg’s own centrist rhetoric that we were ‘anchoring Britain in the centre-ground’ – that that implied a party that routinely moved from coalition with the Conservatives to coalition with Labour, preventing either from having freehold on government – the flaw being that we had little concrete to persuade Labour or its voters that our leadership would choose coalition with Labour unless at knife point, after being dumped by Cameron.

    But what concerns me is I can’t see what’s actually on the table here. Is anyone offering a constitutional convention as Neal proposes? How is this to be brought about?

    If this on behalf of the Labour leadership, or a faction within Labour who are trying to persuade their leadership and other parties to a deal simultaneously? (I don’t want Neal or whoever else to be Michael Collins to Corbyn’s De Valera).

    LibDems and LibDem voters might lean left (well, some of us – I do) but they won’t give Labour a blank cheque. Can Labour constrain itself to work in effective partnership with bodies outside itself who obey different rules and logics?

    And – this isn’t directly connected – but how is local independence and democracy to be guaranteed in a ‘progressive alliance’ set-up? In my town, Greens, Labour and LibDems getting together or even declaring a truce would create something quite close to a one-party state which is the exact opposite of what I want.

  • David Garlick 24th May '16 - 9:55am

    Don’t rise to the bait. (I don’t think that was what was intended anyway.)
    Do take the bait off the hook.
    Take it away.
    Chew it over.
    See if there is anything worthwhile in it. (I think that there is)
    If so then use it.

  • Bill le Breton

    “The idea of dispersing power contains the element that some one has ‘collected’ power and then ‘laudably’ dispersed it.”

    I don’t think that is an inherent characteristic, perhaps I chose my words to sloppily. I would also include preventing the collection of power under “dispersing” short hand so not ideal. But the point I was making is that a significant number of people in Labour and the Tories both see concentrations of power as a good thing but disagree about how it should be wielded, so their disagreement is simple to understand but they try and engage with liberals in the same premise and find themselves not speaking the same language.

    So yes the LibDems could be clearer in their focus, how they wish to achieve things but I’m not sure speaking to those on the “authoritarian” sides of the Labour or Tories will ever be that clear. Given Blair (and many of his generation) inability to understand I don’t think it is a last 10 years thing.

  • Richard Underhill 24th May '16 - 10:12am

    “only” is a four letter word.

  • Thanks for this Neal and I am sorry that a few of my fellow Lib Dems fell into their defensive trenches rather than remove their rose-tinted glasses and listen to someone, whether or not they agree with everything you say, who I know to be a friend, not an enemy. I think you are right to challenge us about where we are going, we have been so damaged by the coalition, not just in the massive loss of seats but also in terms of trust and a clear sense of who we are and what we stand for. That is beautifully demonstrated in the range of comments in this thread. Someone commented on their belief that the Labour Party may well break into 3, well, reading the above comments we could well face the same fate! I just don’t see how equidistance is an option any more.

  • I just had a quick look at Compass’s website. Very worthy. I also read Neal’s letter to the Greens. He said: “When I speak at Green Party meeting I always say how short sighted of Labour to stand competitively against Caroline in Brighton Pavilion. And you all clap loudly. Then I say how short sighted of the Greens to stand competitively in next door seat of Brighton Kemptown – and stop a progressive Labour candidate from winning and hand the seat to the Tories. And of course you don’t clap then.”
    That resonated with me. A ward colleague and I have just lost our council seats to two Tories. Greens turned up from far and wide, got out their every vote and took just enough votes to let the Tories sneak in and take the other two seats. The Greens realise that the same people who support us also quite like the idea of them, making this ward their best (only) hope in this borough (region). So they are drawn to it like moths to a candle. So they’ll be back.
    This is the trouble. We are doomed by First Past The Post. Until it goes, the Tories will go on laughing all the way to the council chambers and Westminster. They will never let go of FPTP because it’s the only thing that enables them, a minority, to get a majority of seats. To get rid of FPTP you have to be big enough to give away some of the perceived advantage your party has got. David Cameron certainly isn’t big enough, and he’d be toast anyway if he tried it. Tony Blair wasn’t big enough. He threw away the chance to give us a fair election system in 1997 because FPTP had just given his party a landslide. Now Labour has been wiped out in Scotland, the unwisdom of that is clear to all. The Lib Dems in coalition agreed a referendum for the wrong thing (AV) – the best opportunity missed. What a disaster. The Greens are not in a position to do anything about FPTP. They just eye the parties with seats enviously and carry on interfering. Meanwhile the Tory power machine just goes rolling on.
    We are where we are. Until something major changes (what will that be?) we have just got to buckle down and work those individual seats to get rid of the Tory majority the hard way. Individual battles. The two-horse race. The squeeze argument. After half a lifetime trying to achieve real change, what now?

  • Error due to enforced editing (I’ve just found the hard way that there is a word count limit on comments on here). I also wanted to say that we got more votes than any other party in my ward and our Nick Barlow topped the poll. By “the other two seats” I meant the second and third seats which went to Tories. So much for FPTP.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th May '16 - 11:22am

    Neal Lawson

    And this is the key point. It seems you remain stubbornly equidistant, like hired guns who will side with anyone if the price is right. But you must surely have a preference? How can it be otherwise for the party of Gladstone, Keynes, Beveridge, Grimond, Williams and Kennedy?

    As my previous comment suggests, in policy terms I prefer the Labour Party to the Conservative Party, and I think despite the determined attempt by a small but well-funded minority in recent years to pull the Liberal Democrats to the economic right, that still applies to most Liberal Democrat members.

    Nevertheless, I find your comment here quite insulting, and it is typical of Labour people, what it means is that you don’t really understand democracy. I have made this point in more detail in a previous comment here. You describe what democracy is about in these words “like hired guns who will side with anyone if the price is right”, well to me that means you are part way to the other ideology I mention in that comment, which I think could be termed “neo-socialism”, at least if you want me to accept the term “neo-liberalism”, because it and socialism have a similar relationship to each other as what you call “neo-liberalism” has with proper liberalism.

    Coming to a compromise agreement that is not one’s ideal but reflects how the people have voted is not some bad thing, as you suggest, but what democracy is about. Matt (Bristol) puts the point very well, if there is no freedom for all parties to negotiate to find out which are most willing to reach a compromise with each other, in effect the power of smaller parties to have an influence is thrown away. This is particularly important in the case where the party one might normally form a coalition with has been in power for a long time and become exhausted and complacent, and so for democracy’s sake there is a need for a change.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th May '16 - 11:39am

    Neal Lawson

    Of course, column inches let alone broadcast coverage is tough for the nations joint-fourth biggest party based on seats. But even so! Tim Farron, whose heart I think beats to the left, has been virtually absent from the national stage. I’m sure it not for want of trying.

    Well, it is somewhat hard when the national media joins with you in jeering “nah nah nah nah nah, you are bad people, you jumped into bed with the Tories just out of self-interest” rather than showing any understanding of what democracy ought to be about. The general line now seems to be that whatever the Liberal Democrats might say, it won’t be covered in the media, just more jeering “shut up, you have been destroyed and you deserved it”. Isn’t it rather unfair to accuse the Liberal Democrats of being “absent from the stage” when it is you and your jeering that has led to this?

    Labour just does not understand pluralistic democracy, and therefore its response to the formation of the coalition was five years of jeering attacks, rather than support for the Liberal Democrats when we were trying to fight for our ground in the coalition and needed to show that what we were saying had plenty of popular support. The bargaining point a junior coalition partner has is that it can pull out and form an alternative, but the ability of the Liberal Democrats to use that was taken away by the way Labour acted. Those of us on the left of the Liberal Democrats, who were unhappy at the way some used the coalition to try and push the Liberal Democrats permanently rightwards, were particularly undermined by the way Labour was happy to push the line that all of us were Cleggies and to want to see all of us destroyed.

    Of course the Tories and Tory press were and are happy to join in with your attacks on us, because they knew full well what destroying us meant: a big bonus to the Tories as they won back all those seats which we had worked for decades to take from them an which you in Labour would never have been able to win.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th May '16 - 11:57am

    Jo Hayes

    I just had a quick look at Compass’s website. Very worthy. I also read Neal’s letter to the Greens. He said: “When I speak at Green Party meeting I always say how short sighted of Labour to stand competitively against Caroline in Brighton Pavilion. And you all clap loudly.

    Why should people who like the Green Party but like Labour better be denied the opportunity to express that, and vice versa? There was absolutely no need for this to happen because there’s a simple way round it: the Alternative Vote system whereby you can express what you want most, but if that’s a minority opinion be able to go for your second preference.

    The opportunity to have this system was there, people could have had it. Then there would be no need to make this point, no need for this idea that candidates must step down in order to avoid “splitting the vote”. It would have ended all this “Oh dear, who shall I vote for, I really like X but I think I have to vote Y in order to stop Z from winning” calculations that people are forced to make.

    And what was Labour’s reaction to people being given this opportunity to have a system where they could vote for what they really wanted rather than have to make this sort of calculation? It was “nah nah nah nah nah, the Liberal Democrats proposed this, so vote against it to punish them”.

    In theory Labour was actually in favour of AV, but who knew that? Loud voiced Labour people joined in with the Tories to argue against it in the grounds that a system that propped up the largest party by giving them many more seats than their share of the vote was best, and any Labour people who might have accepted the arguments for AV remained completely silent, so allowing the case to be lost.

    By doing this Labour propped up the Tories in a deeper way than the Liberal Democrats did when they formed the coalition. By destroying us, the main challengers to the Tories in much of the country, and keeping to an electoral system that will always benefit the Tories, they gave complete control back to the Tories, they gave us the government we have now. They didn’t have to do this, but they did, because they would rather be the sole and permanent opposition to a permanent Tory government than to accept political pluralism and real liberal democracy.

  • Most of us (Lib Dem, Labour, Green, or whatever) are very good at “proving” that it is the tribalism of the other parties that is the problem. So, Neal says something slightly mis-phrased such as “socialism is organized liberalism”. Lib Dem tribalists then triumphantly shout “Got ‘im!”, parlay this the molehill into a mountain, and go away satisfied with a morning’s destructive work well done.

    Mind you, there is also a more subtle way to play the tribalist game. That is, to speak candidly, to admit your own party’s deficiencies, to turn openness and frankness into a gentle boast, and then to ask the other side to make all the concessions first. Neal, I fear that you come close to falling into that parallel trap.

    Back in the days of the SDP-Liberal Alliance, people didn’t think like that. They didn’t just content themselves with low-level sniping. They didn’t wave around pious-hope solutions such as “edging towards PR”. They sat down and agreed who would fight which seats and how that would produce a genuine alliance. It wasn’t a love fest, on the contrary there was plenty of aggravation and hard bargaining. But there was also a real determination to succeed, and that’s why the Alliance in 1983 was a genuine alliance and did succeed. (It wasn’t recognised as a triumph at the time, but it was also a high-water mark in popular support that has never been repeated since!)

    Until the “progressive alliance” gets beyond pious-hopery, it will remain a pipe dream, and the Right will continue to steamroller onward. Ultimately, we are letting ourselves down and we are letting ordinary people down if we carry on like this. And the pious-hopers will be almost as badly at fault, I am afraid, as the out-and-out tribalists.

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th May '16 - 3:27pm

    For what it’s worth, for all my frustrations and worries, if LibDems talking more seriously to Compass is a viable option, we should go for it, if only to forestall for tactical reasons the horrible future spectre of Osborne talking to the rival Labour group, Progress and winning them over to his way of thinking.

  • Thanks Neil. Despite all the nit picking I am still of the view the being a liberal is being not Simon McGrath.

  • David Allen 24th May '16 - 4:13pm

    Matt (Bristol), I agree. The Compass glass is half full. So let’s look at it that way. After all, the Lib Dem glass is also still a long way below the brim!

  • John Medway 24th May '16 - 8:15pm

    Neal – thanks for what you’re doing. I’m with you, as I hope are a majority of Lib Dems.

  • Leekliberal 24th May '16 - 9:43pm

    @ John Medway – Agreed but Labour must make a genuine commitment to PR for it to happen.

  • @Leekliberal – yes, but I’m optimistic that Labour’s commitment to PR will come about, if only because Labour members must realise that their chances of ever gaining an overall majority again are now looking very slim. The electoral tectonic plates have shifted. I may, of course, be wrong in that, but I think Neal’s efforts are well worth backing nevertheless.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th May '16 - 2:55am

    Neal Lawson

    Your well intentioned article misses the point on something important.

    Firstly, social liberalism is the very core of most Liberalism today and virtually all Liberal parties in Liberal International ,however centre right a few of them are on economic markets , they do subscribe to a social liberal agenda on social policy , and that is a fact.

    Usually what most people do not understand is that where in other countries liberal parties are great enthusiasts for the free market economy , they are , because of the totalitarian history , distant or recent , in those countries.Therefore , even a more left leaning Liberal , in Britain or Canada or the US , should see ,actually , those centre right economic views are in favour of liberty , of peoples rights to be innovative , free , creative , and favour success for the economy , tax revenue for their governments , and a future success oriented country that can help its deprived .And the same parties are not in favour of a market society .

    People should understand , if your country has experienced totalitarian control of everything , to let loose , the economy , can seem very radical and liberty loving , and , in a sense , humanitarian, compared with the government dictatorships , often of the communist variety , many countries have experienced.

    I differ with the Liberals of Latin America and Germany and one or two or more in Eastern Europe on aspects of their economic policies, but I see them as my friends far more , and especially on civil liberties and caring for others less fortunate , than any socialist , nationalist , communist , fascist parties that have reared their ugly heads to govern dictatorships !

  • Two things are needed, a Labour party commitment to a specific form of proportional representation and an electoral pact to implement it.

    The chances of the Lib Dems winning more than a dozen seats without such a deal is minute. The chances of Labour getting into Governemnt without such a deal are very small.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th May '16 - 2:13pm

    In reply to Lorenzo Cherin:

    In most of Europe, liberal parties originated as anti-clerical parties, fighting the dominance of established Christianity. In Britain though, the Liberal Party had close connections with non-conformist Christianity. So from the start it had the Christian concept of a moral duty of care for others, lacking in continental liberalism.

    Additionally, elsewhere, the pro-aristocracy party that became our Conservative Party, disappeared. Social conservatism in most of Europe was led by Christian Democrat and Peasantry parties, who tended to be centrist in economic terms, with some fairly left-wing streams.

    In the 19th century, championing the free market meant supporting small businessmen (big businessmen hardly existed) against the power of the Church and the aristocracy. Since then, businesses have become national and global, and become the equivalent of the old Church and aristocracy. That is why true liberalism should be opposing their entrenched power, not supporting it by being uncritical of conventional free market policies.

    The survival of the Conservative Party in the UK meant it took on the role of being the pro-business party that in the rest of Europe was taken on by liberal parties. Indeed, there were two big splits in the UK Liberal Party resulting in substantial numbers of Liberals joining the Conservative Party. So, what was left of the Liberal Party in the later part of the 20th century was really the most left-wing elements. Those trying to push the UK Liberal Party as a party of the economic right ignore that: it is not what the party is historically, and there is already a party that is that, and that party is the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party has in the last few decades thrown away almost all of its remnants of social conservatism, and certainly has no care for that sort of thing if it goes against the interests of big business.

    In many ways, the closest equivalent to the 20th century UK Liberal Party on the continent was actually the left-wing elements of Christian Democracy. The UK Liberal Party worked at surviving by looking for a third-way alternative, involving things such as co-operative and state redistribution of wealth, not unlike the pro-peasantry movement on the continent. Its most radical form was distributism, much more influential on the Liberal Party’s survival than many want to admit.

  • Laurence Cox 25th May '16 - 3:17pm

    When the Labour Party is ready to accept STV for Westminster elections (and I would happily make a few exceptions by using AV for the Scottish Highlands and Islands, where the constituencies would otherwise be ridiculously large), then we can talk about co-operating with Labour. In principle, there is no problem with parties choosing not to stand a candidate against the Tories, so that there is a single anti-Tory candidate (apart from UKIP etc) in each constituency. Clegg’s failure in coalition was to support a preferential voting system (AV) that no-one really wanted. If a commitment to introduce STV is in all the parties’ (Labour, Lib Dem, Green & SNP) manifestos then the election result means that no further referendum is required.

    Of course, the details will have to be hammered out; the STV Bill will have to be prepared and the boundaries agreed before the election and there will have to be an agreement not to introduce other contentious legislation, even if one party ends up with an overall majority. In the end, though it comes down to trust and Labour must show that they deserve to be trusted (unlike Blair’s New Labour).

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th May '16 - 3:40pm

    Mattew Huntbach

    Thanks for your excellent analysis.I would say more on the recent history and on liberty as at first , freedom from the state, in ex totalitarian countries , unites all liberals, and in our nations that have readily accepted responsibility to fight tyranny , that bond with them is important.

    Your explanation of free trade in the 19c is excellent and could yet unite us internationally. In most countries the Liberal party does have a strong antagonism to the lack of level playing field in business.It even unites libertarian Democrats and Democrats of a socialist Bernie Sanders variety. They criticise corporate welfare , often in the vain of Martin Luther King , who said America had become a country of ” socialism for the rich , rugged individualism for the rest !”

    I believe that the history of the UK parties is too fluid to say that because may surviving Liberals were more left wink in the later 20thc, that is how it was is and should be.
    Jo Grimond was to the left on some things , centre right in his attitudes on a few , and radical centre on much.He was a Liberal. Many feel David Steel is a social democrat .
    Too many call Nick Clegg a conservative.Others , like myself , think of people like Lord Greaves as what appears to be a Liberal socialists.I think all comers are welcome , at home and abroad.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th May '16 - 3:43pm

    Apologies

    Above should read “because many surviving Liberals were more left wing”

  • Simon Hebditch 25th May '16 - 4:54pm

    Neal’s article has at least generated a reasonable debate about h0w we create a viable progressive alliance. If we are committed to reducing tribalism, and growing an effective alliance to confront the possibility of another decade of Tory rule, then we have to work with other parties and campaigning movements. Even with the best will in the world, the Lib Dems may rise to the giddy heights of 20 Westminster seats in 2020 if they are incredibly lucky. Equally, Labour has a veritable mountain to climb.

    So, for both principle and pragmatic reasons there must be an alliance which agrees on the introduction of electoral reform, develops a joint programme constitutionally which transforms the UK into a federal system consisting of four nations, promulgates a public investment led economic recovery and focuses on a couple of urgent social policy priorities including the renewal of public housing. Why is no-one yet discussing putting a practical programme forward which could gain the support of the Lib Dems, Labour, the Greens and the SNP?

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th May '16 - 8:11pm

    Lorenzo Cherin

    I believe that the history of the UK parties is too fluid to say that because may surviving Liberals were more left wing in the later 20thc, that is how it was is and should be.

    I was an active member of the Liberals and then Liberal Democrats for over 30 years, a councillor and leader of the council group in a London borough during the time of great growth there for the party (all lost, thanks to the Cleggies). I joined the party because it was how I describe it, and until Clegg and the Orange Bookers came along, I was very happy in the party. If you think it should not be like the party I was happy with and instead be a right-wing economic party, I have no interest whatsoever in becoming involved again.

    To me, arguing the case for conventional free market economics now, what some call “neo-liberalism” and saying the Liberal Democrats should move in that direction, is like arguing the case for conventional USSR style communism in the 1970s. That is, arguing the case for something which is obviously not working, and being dumb enough not even to be able to see that.

    Just as in the 1960s and 1970s, the big political question was why conventional socialism was not delivering and indeed seemed to be doing the opposite of what it was set up to do and claimed to do, so the big political issue now is why “liberalism” of the right-wing economic variety (i.e. including much of the UK Conservative Party) is not delivering and indeed is doing the opposite of what it was set up to do and claims to be doing. The difference is that in the 1960s and 1970s, the Liberal Party here seemed to have the answer and the alternatives, now it does not. It seems to be following what you suggest and saying “me too” to the failing orthodoxy.

    I was really hoping the Liberal Democrats would learn from the Clegg era and pull back from that, which is why I still occasionally glance at LDV to see. But I am sorry to say, from what I see I find it a deeply unattractive party: obsessed with a few fringe issues but blind to the real deep cause of lack of freedom in this country which is the gross economic inequality, and the deep class prejudice amongst leaders of all sorts that is happy to see that continue. The only thing in the Liberal Democrats’ favour for me is that I find the other parties even more unattractive.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th May '16 - 8:33pm

    tonyhill

    Liberals may start from many of the same policy positions as socialists, and indeed as a leftist Liberal I’m probably a lot happier with many of Jeremy Corbyn’s beliefs than most members of his parliamentary party …

    The problem with Corbyn, and I remember saying this around the time he was elected as Labour leader, is that he has never had to go out and win votes. He himself demonstrated that when he made a remark about that time, I forget the exact words, but something like “There’s nothing wrong with my politics because I’ve always been re-elected with a big majority”. Well, yes, and so have many others in Labour safe seats, that’s why to them politics is about fighting internally because the actual real votes will always come in for you.

    Labour just think they have a right to people’s votes. From 1979 to 1997 they believed the only reason they were not getting the votes they had a right was the nasty Liberals and SDP people “stealing” them. They resumed this way of thinking in 2010, supposing that electoral victory just involved jeering “nah nah nah nah nah” at the Liberal Democrats, and all the ex-LibDem votes would come flooding their way, and they’d win. No need to actually go out and win votes with positive actual policy. Well, we saw what happened, didn’t we? They didn’t even seem to realise (or perhaps didn’t care) that destroying the party that had been the most effective opposition to the Tories in huge parts of the country (most of the south-east, not just the south-west as Neal Lawson suggests) was not a sensible thing to do if you really didn’t want the Tories to stay in power.

    The Liberal Democrats also had a good role in stirring up political thought and keeping people on a left-wing track in those parts of the country where Labour was dominant and complacent. I know because the seat I held in Lewisham was once a prime target for the BNP, and we won it because we provided an alternative to Labour for people who had good reason for be fed up with the local Labour Party and who without us would have been easy picking for the BNP, and now UKIP. We only won that seat because we worked hard in it and kept in touch with the people there, whereas in Labour-held wards in the borough you only ever heard from your councillors every four years when they wanted to be re-elected.

  • Helen Flynn 25th May '16 - 9:57pm

    There seems to have been an absence of consideration in the comments of what the voting public may think of a progressive alliance. We Lib Dems sent a campaigning message of triangulation to win elections for decades without being clear about basic liberal values, leaving the public unclear of what liberalism is. Going into coalition compounded that situation. What would entering a progressive alliance mean for liberalism? Much as I admire Neal’s intent, I do fear that it may leave us virtually irrelevant in the eyes of the voting public, With the standing of politicians at an all time low amongst the general public, great care has to be given to how voters would view such a political alliance. Arguably it is better to offer people real choice from a plurality of parties rather than limiting options. I am no fan of the Tories and do dread continued Tory rule, but I don’t think that a progressive alliance is as straightforward or attractive (especially to voters) as it may appear.

  • Simon Hebditch 26th May '16 - 10:18am

    Helen. The trouble is that the Lib Dems are “virtually irrelevant” now. What alternative to a progressive alliance is there? It is not enough to hunker down and say that we have to undertake the long march back from last year’s catastrophe. If everything goes swimmingly, the Lib Dems might be up to 50 seats in Westminster by 2030 while Troy governments continue to abolish the public realm. Either we come together in some way or we abandon the struggle.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th May '16 - 10:52am

    Helen Flynn

    We Lib Dems sent a campaigning message of triangulation to win elections for decades without being clear about basic liberal values, leaving the public unclear of what liberalism is. Going into coalition compounded that situation.

    Did we? Or is that how a hostile media that does not understand liberal democracy chose to put it? Liberal democracy is about electing representatives who are truly representative and so together can produce government policies that reflect people’s wants and needs.

    We should avoid the alternative model of politics, that most people seem to assume is how it works: that a political party is about putting together a rigid and inflexible ideology and policies based on that, and be elected to force that on people. That model derives from Leninism, and it does not work, and it is a major reason why people have been put off politics and so democracy. I regret the way this has evolved over the years so that election manifestoes have moved from short statements of general principles to Leninist five-year plans.

    I am not sure how much this means to anyone, but it is like the difference between the
    Agile and Waterfall approach to software development. Professionally I work as a lecturer in software engineering, and I have pushed the Agile approach, in some ways that reflects my view of how politics should be.

    A big problem with the coalition is that it was not put as it should have been: a compromise based on the balance of representatives elected by the people, so obviously very far from our ideal, and not a fair balance due to the disproportional electoral system which we oppose but Labour supports. Instead, a small group of right-wingers in the party tried to push it as somehow our ideal, a natural coming together of like-minded people. If you wanted to throw away most of our vote, that was how to do it.

    I was very, very sorry to read in the latest edition of Liberator that arrived yesterday that a leading member of that group has been appointed as “head of press” for the Liberal Democrats. The book written by that person was hugely damaging to our party. That alone is enough to put me off becoming active again.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th May '16 - 11:05am

    Lorenzo Cherin

    People should understand , if your country has experienced totalitarian control of everything , to let loose , the economy , can seem very radical and liberty loving , and , in a sense , humanitarian, compared with the government dictatorships , often of the communist variety , many countries have experienced.

    Yes, and the way that leading members of the dictatorial party seem to metamorphose into leading members of the business elite when that happens indicates why those who swallow this line have been fooled rotten.

  • In my experience, whilst Labour and the LibDems are closer policy (at least when defined as desired outcomes), there are big differences in terms of process – both macro in terms of how these outcomes are to be achieved – and micro in terms of how we see politics operating. On the latter we are closer to the Tory view of trusting in individuals to get the job done, than Labour’s obsession with accountability and control. In my view this explains the paradox that many Councillors will have experienced that, despite the wider gulf in desired outcomes, doing and managing a deal with the Tories is very often easier than trying to deal with Labour.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th May '16 - 9:44pm

    Matthew Huntbach

    You quote me but do not seem to understand what I am saying.

    I do not advocate neo liberalism , and am saying neither do other Liberal parties to the economic right of ours .What they are is a reaction to far worse than corporate power.If Idi Amin has been your head of government , Nike seem quite welcome light relief to an Africal Liberal !

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th May '16 - 11:20pm

    Lorenzo Cherin

    I do understand your point, but I disagree with you. You were trying to defend the Liberal Democrats being pushed to the economic right and away from the left-liberal position that was why I joined the party in the first place. So, you were arguing the case for my lifetime’s political work to be destroyed, and the party I joined as the most effective opposition to Thatcherism to adopt Thatcherite economics. Sorry, but yes I AM offended by that.

    Sure, people who have been harmed by one form of political nastiness often react by moving towards another. We can see this in the success of Trump in the USA and UKIP in the UK. Many of the supporters of Trump and UKIP are poor non-elite types who have been harmed by the move towards elite-dominated free market economics. Does that make Trump and UKIP ok? I say, no. Rather I feel appalled that those who have been harmed are being tricked in this way into supporting types who have no real sympathy for them but are cynically using them and their discontent.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th May '16 - 3:35am

    Matthew Huntbach

    Unfortunately you do not seem to understand , I am defending the Liberal parties of the developing world being keener on more unregulated free markets than we might want , as in their case , a response to brutal years of dictatorship when they had no such luxury ! I am trying , as a fellow Liberal , to see it from their perspective.I am not defending any such economics in this country or the USA, I am in the centre of our party and on economics , centre left .

    As a further point , by the way, the party you joined was , do you not think , in the centre left ,not left , Jo Grimond was centre on most things , he was only left ,compared to Tories ! Indeed he was a little centre right in a few attitudes.But ever a Liberal.

    I would say Liberalism is many different things .One of these ,is ,it is flexible.This means that it has an emphasis on opposing dominant centres of power.It should do so in order of urgency or importance . I feel that neo liberalism is not Liberalism , and you and I agree on that , but that in developing world countries , and former dictatorships , even what you and I might not like on economics , many there who are Liberals , do not mind , and often , rather like ,as a refreshing change from the horrors of brutal control .

    Hence, though not able to do so as Liberals , because it is a one party dictatorship that does not have freedom , China embraces a state, rather than democratically regulated, capitalist economy ,as it is adorable compared to Maos hideous enforced collectivisation and industrialisation !

    Germanys Free Democrats have always favoured the market approach to economics more than we have , in part because it has a background of reaction to , and release from , the war era and all that entails .

    Similarly , in much of Africa or Latin America and all of Eastern and central Eastern Europe, they all have recent, or past experiences, of terrible state control, and to them , as with the Liberals in 19thc UK , the economy , even as it is now , with very different capitalism , being free of too much state control , feels to them , and is , freedom , compared to the actual alternatives they have experienced and the feared alternative they do not want at present.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th May '16 - 3:03pm

    Lorenzo Cherin

    I don’t know what you are arguing about, because I think my previous words:


    Just as in the 1960s and 1970s, the big political question was why conventional socialism was not delivering and indeed seemed to be doing the opposite of what it was set up to do and claimed to do

    indicate that I do understand your point.

    People opted for dictatorial communism in the past because it a refreshing change from the horrors of brutal control of aristocratic rule. That is what happens, when people feel oppressed they often do opt for simplistic alternatives that themselves are pretty horrible, or that turn out to be in the long run. See “Islamic State” for another example. Or see Russia now, where simplistic jumping onto the free market when Communism collapsed very quickly turned into a plutocracy.

    We need to be careful about accepting simplistic alternatives. I think the simplistic extreme free market line pushed as the answer to everything from the days of Margaret Thatcher onwards has now been found very much to be wanting. Thus my point, that the Orange Bookers jumping on that bandwagon at just the time when it was becoming obvious that it was not delivering what it promises were doing something daft and damaging to our party.

    If you want to call my urging caution “centre left”, then that’s fine, I think I would accept that, it’s why though I tend to the left I was never attracted to simplistic arguments put by those who call themselves “socialist” and who never had convincing answer to my question “OK, so why is it that it all went wrong whenever people using the same line as you use now took control?”.

  • It’s all fine and dandy to talk about a progressive alliance but it takes two to tango. Few in the Labour Party’s rank and file believe in it. Much of the Labour party remains highly illiberal.
    At times of economic recession liberal values become eroded, it is time for the Liberal Democrats to extend the helping hand once again to those in need.

  • Neil Sandison 27th May '16 - 5:01pm

    Ian agree with your comments with regard outcomes at a local government level .Some Labour councillors are very much in denial of the realities of local government finance and budgets and seem to prefer perpetual opposition. It should also be noted that where they retained their council seats voter turnout was markedly down in their wards some only returned by 25% of those eligible to vote. This means 75% could be attracted to a party that resonated those residents concerns but was thought to be reasonable competent to manage the councils finances. at a national level the public has lost confidence in Labours economic soundness as competent managers .Which hurt Ed Miliband and I would suggest will harm Corbyn

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th May '16 - 5:37pm

    Matthew Huntbach

    Yes to everything you said in your latest comment , apart from the use of the arguing word , as I am certainly not arguing with you , as, whereas I am sure we would disagree on some things ,strongly , here we actually do not , but I do think you took me for a strong advocate of a centre right economic stance , which I am not .

    Actually , Matthew, I think there is a big misconception of the Orange book and its writers .The bulk of it was not , in fact or specifics , about pure economics at all.It was about awareness that what was is no more , and what does that mean and where do we head from here. The most controversial , article in it , was the most compassionate .On health care reform , by David Laws. He wrote it , not as a “city slicker ” but as a constituency M.P., disgusted by the one to two year wait for treatment , of someone who came for help. He advocated a social health insurance model beloved of centre left parties throughout the world , and of the left and far left in the USA, and the preferred model of that well known right wing extremist , Bernie Sanders !

    The problem with the Orange book contributors was the same problem of its critics in parliament too.

    They ended up not promoting just good , new or old ,Liberal ideas , but lousy Tory government ones ! Had it been a coalition with Labour it may have been a stitch up too, but it would have been a centre left one at least !

    George Kendall

    You are , in common with some of the great and good in our party including two of my heroes , Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams , the embodiment of the decency , intelligence and humanity in the best of social democracy !

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