We are not a party of compromise

In the autumn of 1980, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was urged by political commentators and members of her own party – including Ted Heath – to U-turn on policies that ushered in a fierce liberalisation of the economy. In a response that was to gleam through the decades as one of the most memorable moments of UK politics in recent history, with her now-iconic sternly glare and aura of authority, she addressed her party at the Conservative conference with the immortal phrase, “You turn if you want to – the lady’s not for turning”. And so, Thatcher’s ferocious refusal to compromise was to solidify her part in British history, play a juggernaut role in keeping her in power for the next eleven years and earn her the nickname ‘The Iron Lady’.

However, for the past six years, public perception has been that the Liberal Democrats are the antithesis of that caricature Thatcher had built for herself – we have been branded as the party of the centre ground; the party of compromise. The party that sells itself as radically centrist, able to flexibly navigate in and out of both the left and right, pandering to voters on both sides. I am here to argue that this is not only unabashedly false, but frighteningly hurtful to the causes of liberty, freedom and equality, the three main tenants of our party.

But first, we should as a party note that Nick Clegg did what he believed to be right, and in his time as deputy prime minister liberal policies were indeed implemented. Same sex marriage was finally legalised; the snoopers’ charter was halted; he helped us stop vicious cuts to our NHS – Nick did more than what most would have done in his position, but still this idea of us being a party that sees things down the middle prevailed, and at the time advisors and the higher-ups of our party gleefully, though wrongly, took that brush and helped paint the perverse picture that lost us an unprecedented amount of votes.

But the reality is, there is nothing compromising about us. We are a party of social democrats, liberals and libertarians, united together in both our strengths and in our beliefs, defending without pause the right to individual freedom; waving the flag of free speech higher than any of the other parties; pushing for drug policy reform; campaigning for the rights of mental health patients; lowering taxes and balancing the economy while not stepping in to socialism like Corbyn’s Labour will certainly do, or crony capitalism like the Tories. We are first and foremost a party of ideology, and that ideology is one centred heavily round personal, economic and social freedoms. We are classical liberals and democrats, and there has never been anything compromising about these schools.

Our crushing defeat in the 2015 election was not because we held on to these ideas, but because the public perceived us to leave them at the door when we entered a coalition with the Tories – but thankfully, defeat does not translate to failure. I’ve not a shred of doubt in my mind that if each Liberal Democrat does his or her duty, becoming louder and carrying more certainty in what our party stands for, then we shall set sail in to these uncertain waters of 21st century politics, ride calmly – with Tim Farron as our captain – through the political storm that has sunk the ship of New Labour and once again re-establish ourselves as the champions in the corner of a fair, equal, and most importantly, free society.

There are those who will tell us that our fight is over. Those people are gravely mistaken. As the twenty-first century unfolds, it is becoming evident that there has never been a time where liberalism has been so important and greatly needed. With the refugee crisis, the EU referendum coming up, on-going wars in the Middle East, the rise of far-right politics in Europe and America, and strains in the relationship with Russia and NATO, I cannot imagine a convincing argument that would suggest we’re not needed – we are. And we are still in this fight.

* Dean Moore is a student in Salford and has been a member of the Liberal Democrats since February 2016.

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29 Comments

  • Thatcher’s refusal to compromise was a myth. She was more than capable of doing so. Where she didn’t it was usually where she was utterly wrong, as in her economic policies in 1980, or the poll tax or aparthied. Or where it was covering up a mistake such as the Falklands, or where she was driven by hatred, ie the miners strike.

    She did not ‘liberalise’ the economy, she Conservatised it. Liberalism is not compatible with libertarianism or ‘classical liberal’ – it should be no surprise that libertarians and ‘classical liberals” and ‘neo-liberals’ were Thatcher’s greatest fans.

    The Lady’s not for turning speech is part of a Tory myth, that Thatcher proved her critics wrong and that there was no alternative, both of these are untrue.

  • The reason for the crushing defeat was indeed because Clegg did what he thought was right, ignoring Liberal policies he didn’t like. Like Thatcher, despite every drubbing in the polls or loss of seats, he wasn’t for turning.

    The idea that same sex marriage or mental health are somehow the property or unique selling point for the Lib Dems is both laughable and insulting and politically stupid. David Laws was bemused that time and again the Conservatives claimed credit for Lib Dem policies they opposed in private, it never occurred to him that they only allowed the Lib Dem policies they could support to go forward and that opposing them in private was a pretence, a trick, a sham.

  • Tony Greaves 21st May '16 - 11:17am

    I agree with the central argument of this posting. But I don’t think we are libertarians. I don’t think we are social democrats in the usual meaning of the word. And I think we are Liberals not liberals. Anything else is meaningless mush.

    Tony Greaves

  • Hi Tony, while I’m not one of either aforementioned group, I’ve met a lot of members who would, i’m fairly sure, identify themselves as social democrats. As for libertarians, they’ve nowhere to go in the UK, so they tend to split between us, UKIP (bizarrely!) and the Tories, depending on their other beliefs aaide from their libertarianism.

  • Thatcher could not afford to compromise in the first half of her term. The Winter of Discontent, raging inflation, an IMF bailout, crippling taxes, inefficient nationalised industries soaking up huge sums of money. This was the background to her rise to power. She also had the lessons from Heath’s attempts to take on the miners. You probably need to be over 50 now to have a recollection of the 3 day week, routine power rationing (cuts), and shortages of various commodities from time to time. Some unions were undemocratic fiefdoms largely out if control. Scargill was an unrepentant Stalinist who would later criticise Polish Solidarity for breaking Communist control whilst attempting to buy a council flat in the Barbican under Thatcher’s right to buy. But we still had student grants and free tuition and public railways and postal service. She presided over the final breakup of the Empire and a major step change in social mobility since reversed to some degree. The reason I joined the Liberal Party in 1980 wasn’t because of what Thatcher was doing, it was how she went about it. No compassion, deliberately contrived conflict, destruction of industry and communities. The Thatcher legacy can be seen in all parties today including this one since none have or would reverse what she did. It was a Lib Dem Secretary of State that presided over the privatisation of Royal Mail. For me the differences we represent are integrity and compassion and people first over minority vested interests, none of which Thatcher or current Tory and Labour leaderships possess.

  • David Evans 21st May '16 - 1:47pm

    Firstly a warm welcome and congratulations to Dean on joining the party and on having an article on LDV. There are a lot of interesting things in this post that I can agree with, but it is a little disappointing to see that a few misunderstandings are also contained within it which have not been picked up by the Editors which have led to some fundamental errors in its content.

    When the article refers to , “… liberty, freedom and equality, the three main tenants of our party,” the first thing I think of is ‘Where do we refer to these three tenants (I presume we mean tenets)?’ I know as a party we are keen on triplets, Indeed the Preamble to the Constitution begins “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community,” and goes on to say “no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.” However, “liberty, equality and community” as a triplet lead to a fundamentally different position to “… liberty, freedom and equality.”

    Liberal Democrats, are by definition both Liberal and Democrats, we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and so we believe that on occasions the needs of community outweigh the needs of the individual, even though we have a fundamental drive to protect the individual. We are not libertarians, but we are much more than that self- limiting ethos. Hence we do compromise; indeed we always have to, in order to balance those fundamental values. However we do so to enable every individual to have the best opportunity to develop to its fullest possible potential by enabling, sustaining and nurturing a community/society that does this.

    After all wasn’t it Margaret Thatcher who infamously said “And, you know, there is no such thing as society.”

  • Eddie Sammon 21st May '16 - 2:29pm

    If Jeremy Hunt didn’t compromise we would have had huge damage done to the NHS and vulnerable people.

    It’s not about compromise for me, I think you just begin to realise that the compromise is often better than the original positions.

    So I’ve explained why the right or even economic liberals should compromise, but what about the left? Well, investors and creditors go on strike too and when Prime Ministers and Presidents begin to see the capital pouring out of their country they start to try to assuage the concerns of the business community and actually people often think they don’t like high taxes anyway, especially when they are usually privileged and educated enough to be national leader.

    And that’s just economics. On foreign policy there are always big rows and again the compromise often seems the best solution.

    I do however understand when people see the racist, sexist and homophobic part of the far right and simply want to be the opposite.

    Best regards

  • Thank you all for your replies.

    Caracatus, I agree with you that the ‘Iron Lady’ is a myth – but a believed myth, nonetheless. Much like the myth that the LibDems are a party with no ideology besides “being the compromising middle ground” between Labour and the Conservatives.

    Mark, I agree – libertarians in this country have nowhere to go, so they often align to either the LibDems, UKIP or the Tories. But as UKIP are inherently non-libertarians (as they advocate stricter borders), as are the Tories (being, by definition, social conservatives – though their economic policies might be attractive to a libertarian). The LibDems offer social policies similar to what a libertarian might believe, so I will make the argument that, though our economic and green policies might not fit the bill, there may be a libertarian presence within the party that is yet to be tapped in to – and that presence ran off to either UKIP or the Tories in the 2015 election. Perhaps by opening up a discussion on liberalism and economics – not necessarily changing policy, just opening up to new ideas – we might find such voters returning.

    Again, thank you for the replies. It’s pleasure to read what everybody thinks 🙂

  • I agree with Dean Moore that “We are a party of social democrats, liberals and libertarians”.

    @ Tony Greaves
    “I don’t think we are social democrats in the usual meaning of the word.”

    We have member who believe they are social democrats, who joined a long time ago. I don’t think we try to appeal to social democrats to join the party as since 1994 they have been joining the Labour Party in greater numbers than us. I expect since at least 2007 we have emphasised our economic liberalism more than our social justice and tackling economic inequalities.

    @ Mark H
    “As for libertarians, they’ve nowhere to go in the UK”.

    In the UK there is a Libertarian Party – https://libertarianpartyuk.com/ founded in 2008.

    @ Dean Moore

    I have not considered how libertarian UKIP is but I think Nigel Farage would identify himself as a libertarian. I don’t think having border controls and restricting immigration into a country is a non-libertarian policy, as political parties answer to their national population not the world population.

    I think Conrad Russell put it best – “Libertarians are for minimum government; Liberals are for minimum oppression. We want to see all power subject to control …”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st May '16 - 6:06pm

    Democracy is about compromise. It is about representatives coming together and reaching an agreement that has the maximum level of support without causing disproportionate harm to minorities. That does means individuals giving up their ideal if it is an ideal not shared by many others. That does not mean simply abandoning one’s ideal, and it certainly does not mean one should be silenced from expressing one’s ideal, but it may mean accepting a modified version of it if the modified version is closer to a different ideal that others feel to be better. It may mean working out and arguing the case for something which is not one’s complete ideal rather than sitting back and saying one will only accept one’s full ideal and so letting something worse than the compromise get through. We need to make sure the representatives truly are representative, so that an agreement they come to is what would have the maximum support of the whole population, but that must be after the careful consideration of all aspects. That is, democracy must be about listening to others and their concerns, and using that to modify your own position if you realise that it has effects you did not realise on others. It means changing your mind if you get evidence that what you first thought to be best you now realise is not. So it certainly does not mean rigidly sticking to one’s initial position regardless of the beliefs and feelings of others, regardless of evidence from others of what one’s original ideal might do, regardless of practical realities that inevitably arise over time.

    If you do not believe in compromise, if instead you feel it is better that there is a rigid set of ideals put together with absolute conviction that must always be held to and pushed onto others regardless of their feelings and opinions, well, there is a word for the ideology you believe in, and that word is “fascism”. There is no compromise because it is all about one person being supreme and not arguing and debating with others, just pushing his ideals absolutely. I use this word in its original 1920s meaning, note that the racist aspect that later got attached to it was introduced in the German variation.

    The arguments used for elected mayors in this country are essentially the arguments for fascism, that it is better and more efficient to have all power in the hands of one person than to have tiresome political debates and compromises made in a chamber of representatives.

  • Matt (Bristol) 21st May '16 - 10:13pm

    “…there is nothing compromising about us. We are a party of social democrats, liberals and libertarians…”

    … who have not in any way reached any kind of compromise to cooperate together?

    Odd, that.

  • Richard Underhill 21st May '16 - 10:36pm

    “Liberal Democrats, are by definition both Liberal and Democrats,”
    There are many kinds of Democrats, so what kind of Democrats are we?
    Liberal Democrats!
    Mrs Thatcher conceded the NUM to give her more time to build up coal stocks at pitheads and to have a general election (1983). Nigel Lawson was Energy Secretary and wrote memoirs.

  • Tony Greaves,

    “I don’t think we are social democrats in the usual meaning of the word.”

    I think that’s rather unhelpful. It is an implicit acceptance that, as is generally the case with political labels, different people mean diffferent things by “social democrat”. Some of them are now members of the Liberal Democrats!

    Now, you may wish to identify some rather more specific ideas which some “social democrats” stand for, and tell us why you don’t like those ideas. But until you do that, you’re just being rather negative and unconstructive, I fear.

    35 years ago I joined the SDP, although “social democrat” was only an imperfect description of my views. I did that, in preference to the Liberal Party for whom I had previously always voted, primarily because I could see that politicians like Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams were very clearly anchored on the side of fairness and social justice. Although many Liberals clearly had good ideas and principles, I did not have the same confidence that the Liberal Party was quite so firmly anchored.

    Subsequent history, of course, showed that I was right to be worried about these points! Though I was not necessarily right to prefer the 1980s SDP to the 1980s Liberals on such grounds. Clegg, of course, was a 1980s Tory.

    Please don’t drive people away, just because they use political labels in a way that you don’t.

  • Dean – I’m not sure that you are right at the moment when you say that the Conservatives are, by definition, socially conservative. There are certainly large numbers of social conservatives still in, and supporting, the Conservative Party but they feel betrayed by measures like equal marriage. Many social conservatives have probably switched their support to UKIP, but UKIP is not, ostensibly, a socially conservative party. If the UK votes to Remain on June 23rd it is quite possible that the socially conservative right of the Conservative Party might join UKIP, and UKIP might become a socially conservative anti immigration party. There is certainly political space for such a party in England at least. I think that would make it even more difficult for the Liberal Democrats to differentiate ourselves from the socially liberal Conservative Party that would have shed its right wing.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd May '16 - 11:23am

    “Clegg, of course, was a 1980s Tory.” No. ISBN 978 1908 0960 98 HB

  • I have voted Lib(Dem), almost exclusively, since 1964….Clegg’s coalition was not my kind of Liberalism; although, pre-2010, our promises were…..That coalition showed that there are tenets on which we should never compromise if we wish to have a party at all…

  • David Allen 22nd May '16 - 4:30pm

    Richard, a search on your ISBN number gives me “Some Chaotic Points in Cuprate Superconductors” – which I suppose is a near-miss reference to Clegg’s political past?

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd May '16 - 10:03pm

    Dean, I applaud your article. I think you are right to point out that our party has been branded as centrist, able to flexibly navigate in and out of both the left and right, pandering to voters on both sides … this was one of the reasons for our failure in 2015, I believe, because voters could see we would go into coalition with either main party, and they often hated the idea that we could compromise with the party THEY happened to dislike. Basically, I applaud your radical stance, and I don’t care about the niceties of defining the types of Lib Dems we are. Though I think Matthew Huntbach is right that to get things done we have to compromise, I think you are really looking for passionate commitment to radical policies, and that is what I believe we must have as a party. I get worried by woolly amiability and semantic nitpicking. With my own university Lib Dem friends, whenever we met afterwards we would discuss radical viewpoints and drink Confusion to the Tories! Please develop your own radical stance, the passionate development of policies that lead on from freedom, equality and community, to help our Fightback which requires a lot of hard work from us all.

  • Simon Banks 23rd May '16 - 8:34am

    We could do with an intelligent, friendly discussion (not online) about the similarities and differences between social democracy and social liberalism. I’ve tried on occasion, but my problem is, I have a pretty clear idea of social liberalism, but my idea of social democracy is based almost entirely on what people commonly described as social democrats do, not what principles or priorities may underlie that. I can best say that Vince Cable appears to me to be a social democrat at heart, and Julian Huppert a social liberal, while Charles Kennedy began in the SDP but was at heart a Liberal.

    As for compromise and its sibling consensus, they are necessary parts of any political system and any effective party, but they cannot define a party or it has no core and no passion. Thatcher did compromise, but it was clear where her mean heart was. The same (probably minus “mean”) can be said for any leader of the left or of Liberalism who achieved much.

    Any politician who refuses to compromise and prefers purity is irresponsible and betrays the people (s)he could help. But the most effective politicians and parties have a clear idea of where they want to go (though it may change a bit as they go along) and pull the politics of their time and place in that direction.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd May '16 - 8:45am

    David Allen: The Clegg Coup by Jasper Gerard 2011 hardback http://www.gibsonsquare.com

  • Richard Underhill 23rd May '16 - 9:09am

    There are different kinds of compromise, not just meeting somewhere in the middle.
    When President Bill Clinton lacked a majority in Congress he achieved the Clinton Compromise, in which each party gets all of what it wants on part of the subject and none of what it wants on another.
    When Winston Churchill was in the Liberal Cabinet before World War One there was a debate in Cabinet about building large and very expensive military ships
    “The Navy wanted six, the Economists offered four and we compromised on eight.”
    This affected the budget. David Lloyd George went for a guns and butter option and asked the rich to pay, leading to the Parliament Act, a compromise, as Roy Jenkins noted.
    Modern technology examining wrecks has shown (ITV) that the losses of capital ships, including the Queen Mary, was not caused by gunfire from the German Navy at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. In order to achieve rapid firing in combat safety doors were left open, leading to catastrophic explosions of ammunition.
    There was controversy for years after the war with rewriting of history.
    In the following two years of war millions died on land.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd May '16 - 10:17am

    1916 was also the year of the Battle of the Somme, as the British Legion are reminding us today. David Cameron and Francois Hollande went there recently, comparable to Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl going to Verdun and holding hands.
    This is also why the European Parliament meets monthly in Strasbourg, expensively. A symbol to the French of peace with Germany, despite military history.

  • Matt (Bristol) 23rd May '16 - 11:04am

    I was thinking about this, and I came up with:

    We don’t want to compromise on our principles, but our principles lead us to value intelligent, constructive compromise and dialogue as part of reasoned, open, democratic political debate and decision-making.

    Yes, I know it wouldn’t fit on a banner.

    Now, we can argue about what our principles ARE.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd May '16 - 2:39pm

    Caracatus

    The reason for the crushing defeat was indeed because Clegg did what he thought was right, ignoring Liberal policies he didn’t like. Like Thatcher, despite every drubbing in the polls or loss of seats, he wasn’t for turning.

    Well, yes, but it is rather obvious that if party A and party B come together to form a compromise between them, any policy that is shared by both will be part of that compromise. A policy that one likes and the other doesn’t actively oppose although does not regard as a priority will also probably go through. A policy that one likes and the other actively opposes is much less likely to go through.

    So, inevitably the image of party B will be skewed, because what goes through is mostly those policies of B that A agrees to rather than the full spectrum.

    My concern is that arguments here seem to be divided resolutely into two opposing sides. The first does not understand my point, and so thinks that what the Liberal Democrats achieved in the coalition is what the Liberal Democrats are all about and thinks that is a good thing. The second does not understand my point, and so thinks that what the Liberal Democrats achieved in the coalition is what the Liberal Democrats are all about and thinks that is a bad thing.

    I look at LDV from time to time, and see it hasn’t changed, it is still like that. What is more, it seems to me that both these sides want to destroy the party I was once so active in and proud to be a member of. The first in order to change it to being a party which sees “Liberal Democracy” as all about lowering taxes, turning over control of life from democratic government to businessmen, supposing that the best way to improve services is to increase the stress of those providing them by threatening them with job loss if they don’t “perform”. The second because they oppose the first, but want to see the Liberal Democrats destroyed, so while they oppose the first they are obsessed with claiming that the first really is what the Liberal Democrats are all about, and people who were once mainstream Liberals like myself are just a tiny minority who should be despised for not joining them and jeering “nah nah nah nah nah” at the Liberal Democrats.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd May '16 - 2:50pm

    More inclusive electorate, getting who and what it voted for.

  • Richard Underhill 29th May '16 - 9:55pm

    Dan Snow led an analysis of the Battle of Jutland, with the help of the Royal Navy, shown on BBC2 at 9 pm on 29/5/2016. The conclusions are the same, not incoming gunfire, not ship design, but out of date strategy and unsafe procedures with explosives in order to try to achieve a rapid rate of outgoing fire.

  • Yes, I saw that too Richard.

    Confirmed my view that Asquith’s policy in imposing the blockade was ultimately more important than Lloyd George’s hyperactivity and interference.

    Interesting too that LL.G. appointed the flawed Beatty over the more cautious Jellicoe….. and of course LL.G. was economical with the actualite when he claimed to have introduced convoys,

  • Richard Underhill 29th May '16 - 10:33pm

    The BBC programme ends in 1918 and therefore ignores the political events after WW1.
    It includes evidence about the effectiveness of the blockade.
    If the outcome of the battle had been different WW1 might have ended 2 years earlier than it did. Although the casualties in the naval battle were high, the casualties on land were hugely higher in France, Belgium, UK, USA, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia … … …

  • Richard Underhill 6th Feb '19 - 12:07pm

    Theresa May is in Northern Ireland to talk about the “backstop”.
    Maybe some people will quote Winston Churchill (not knighted until after WW2).
    Before WW1 on compromise, the admiralty wanted six battleships, the economists offered four “and we compromised on eight”.
    Before WW1 he promised to “speak for an hour on Home Rule in Belfast” which he did.
    After WW1 he wanted Dominion status (slightly less than full independence, accepting the monarchy as head of state) rather less than they decided for the 1937 constitution.

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