Tuesday, July 06, 2010

What is the point of the Liberal Democrats?

The question has been asked before. What is the point of the Liberal Democrats? Who are they? Why are they? And now that they are in government, what do they stand for?

I don't think, so far, this government has put a foot wrong politically. I don't agree with their abolition of regional development agencies, to reinforce that I mean this in a political sense, not practically. But I do accept the basic premise of the modern times: there is a financial crisis that needs to be faced up to. When the previous government, bravely, bailed out the banks there was a recognition that this would have to be paid for in the future. I'm not sure Labour had the stomach to do what George Osborne and David Laws settled down to do. That Laws is not now in government is a great shame, for him and the party. But there is a fundamental question gnawing at their very being and I don't ask the question with quite the sneer it may first convey.

There are turf wars between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories and the same team wins every time. RDAs, personal allowances, defence spending, VAT and capital gains tax are all Tory victories. They are all sensible practical policies that can cut the deficit and stimulate economic activity, but I don't detect they are part of the liberal agenda, in the way that they serve a conservative one.

Here's the marker though, what happens at the end of this parliament? Where will these leave the junior party in this government? What will they campaign on? What will they attack? What will they defend? What, I can only say again, will be the point of the Liberal Democrats?

2 comments:

David Thame said...

Ah well, you see...

I'm not sure you're right about all these "tory" victories within the coalition. I have a feeling that falls into the trap many LibDems fall into of now really (ever) understanding with the Liberal Party was, or Liberalism is, about. Nothing the government has done so far gives Liberals a reason to worry - rather, much to applaud.

Here's a story: The coalition talks have shown that some Lib Dems think of themselves and their party much the same way as old Commies thought of the GB Communist Party, e.g. as a kind of half-party, there to keep Labour honest.

Too many of the same people have also fallen for the Labour Party's cherished self image (the big Labour lie) that they are on the side of the angels, angels with dirty faces maybe, but angels all the same, folk whose goodness is undoubted. It's rubbish, of course.

These misunderstandings are a symptom of a wider problem which will be worrying Nick Clegg. Not long after he thought he had buried the anti-politics and addiction to fixing of the old Lib Dem leadership style (started by Steel - continued, lavishly by Ashdown and Kennedy), it comes back to haunt him big style.

If Labour has its spin-cycle, so do the LibDems, and it seems to be stuck on it once again: superannuated fixers like Lords Steel, Ashdown and, no doubt in the background somewhere, Holme of Cheltenham, have long hoped to deal their way to political ends. The ends are fine - electoral reform is urgent - but the difficulty is that their chosen tactic has been to devalue politics itself by attacking the other parties for, of all things, disagreeing (as if somehow the Liberals didn't disagree with anyone).

These Lords of the dance have risen from their political graves - and the consequences within the party, let alone outside it, will be considerable. Politics by deal, and by spin, all governed by cloudy misapprehensions about the "progressive left", cannot lead to anything good. Labour has spent 13 years proving that much.

Labour over the last 13 years has been as illiberal as a government can get - albeit an illiberalism tempered by a few acts of client-satisfying inclusiveness. Have they forgotten that so very soon? And by what crazy measure is Labour "progressive"?

These questions - along with the related but already half-forgotten mystery of why the Clegg bubble burst so suddenly on 6th May - will trouble thoughtful Lib Dems for many months to come.

NB. So when does T. Bloxham MBE get his peerage? All this waiting but the *killing* him....

Michael Taylor said...

Well put. The Labour good, Tories bad is clearly nonsense. Progressive just makes me laugh.

I'm still no nearer to understanding what the party will stand for. There have been glimmers of it since I first posted on this. Prison reform, repeal of ID cards, but the department with the biggest beast in the Lib Dem jungle (Vince) was shafted by Eric Pickles seemingly trying his best to torch anything created by John Prescott.

As for Lord Blox of Tom, I can only assume his alternative tactic is to receive an honorary degree from every university in Britain.