Monday, 23 August 2010

Where are we and where is Social Liberalism?

So, here we are progressing towards the end of the summer recess, the beginning of the 2010 party conference season and over 100 days from the beginning of the “history coalition”.

But where has it led us to?

I must declare from the outset, that I am a card carrying member of the Liberal Democrats since 1994 and an activist at that.

So, New Labour lost the election on both counts that count (% of votes cast and numbers of seats in the House) and became Labour again.
It needs a leader and will eventually get one. It is also losing many “collaborators” to the coalition reform agenda and this could become problematic, if the creative brains of the party melt into history.
Its allies, in the shape of the Cooperative (Labour) party still command an authoritative voice within Labour and are yet to provide the best of the soft left, in my opinion; though there stirrings from the old Labour left.
Its conference will be a rallying cry for power and they remain well placed for a return to it and achieve by-election wins.

The Greens have achieved their breakthrough in an age of major changes to our planet and its inherent dangers.
Every time Caroline Lucas rises to her feet, we are watching and seeing the moral conscience of this Parliament. Good luck to her and let there be more of them.

UKIP increased its share in some areas but lost in others and did not get an MP at Westminster. It is rudderless at the moment and may provide Nigel Farage, with his post crash comeback.

The BNP is disappearing into a financial abyss of its own making and failed to gain a seat or increase share of votes, virtually melting in the media sunlight and from the force of Labour’s tug on the working (?) classes’ heart.
It also faces a battle for its soul with an internal election, which has returned Nick Griffin as its leader and changes to its constitution after a lost court battle.

The Nationalists did all right in the Wales and Scotland as well as in Northern Ireland, but the media, fascinated by the New Epoch at Westminster, has no time for them; though NI could be coming back into the fore due to extreme Irish nationalism.

The Respect Party lost, literally, all of its respect and has internal problems due to it being a loose partnership of opposites in the shape of the diehard of the left, the Socialist Workers Party and disaffected Islamic Elders and their followers.

The Conservatives are in a power sharing government, sorry coalition, with the Liberal Democrats. The expected Conservative victory failed to materialise and the Tory grassroots as well as the right in the Parliamentary Conservative party, is unhappy with Cameron’s cooing and courting of the Lib Dems.
The 1922 Committee just about kept its independence from Cameron’s grasp and are likely to stir trouble during the life of this Parliament. While happy with the public sector cuts, the Tory right is mostly unhappy with almost everything else.
Cameron will have to produce a stonking conservatively flavoured performance at the Conservative Conference, to keep his party with him.

Which brings me nicely to Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats, and their role in all this and what is happening to its soul.

Coming from nowhere and being “Nick who?” the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg has brought the LDs into government. Not for him the standard arrangements of old, the pact.
Oh no, this time the progressive voices in the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats were going to go for the full blown thing,

Potential Coalition!
The agreed price: Electoral reform and AV.
And with it, the 3 Cs of the new Epoch: compromise, cooperation and conciliation.
So far so good, eh?

Actually, no.

The polls are not good viewing for LDs at the moment and there is a sentiment from some of the floating support acquired during the election run up, that we have betrayed everything we ever stood for.
You see, they remember what we were all about, once …

The Liberal Democrats like any other party are in themselves ,a coalition.
Within it, there are myriad of trends, leanings and stances.
Born in essence from Locke, Smith and Ricardo, and given meaning by Bentham and Mills, it emerged as classical liberalism.

After WW1, the Great Depression and its horrors, the Liberal Parties in Europe began a slow march to the political centre left, creating the New Liberalism or what it is now termed Social Liberalism.
Social Liberalism held sway in most of the western nations after the WW2, with most of the political left, centre and right adopting varying degrees of its mantra- Liberalism with a heart.

Practical Social Liberalism is the progeny of Liberal visionaries such as Beveridge and Keynes.
The Labour party of ’45, for all its socialist credentials, was in fact, a social liberal party.
The Conservatism of the Macmillan –never had so a good- years was also a social liberal party.
The concepts of human rights, constitutional democracies, welfare state and pluralistic society –all Socially Liberally developed concepts.
Such a noble cause!

What happened to it?

Friedman, Reagan, Von Hayek and Thatcher 
(It is like touching sulphuric acid, typing these names).
These 4 Horsemen of the Social Liberal Apocalypse happened to it.
Reviving the corpse of Smith’s invisible hand and the original Liberal economic meaning of keeping the state out of the markets, Social Liberalism was on the ropes everywhere.
And so begun the march to the centre...

After merging with the SDP, the liberal party had to accommodate 2 differing political traditions and a slow process of change began to take effect.
Alas, Nick Who and the Orange Book brigade, have slowly been taking the party into ‘electability’ (oh how I hate that word!!!), and moving rightwards towards the Tories, who in turn, had been moving left since becoming the “Nasty party” of opposition.

But surely Social Liberalism still has a place, in the leadership of party that carries its name?
Not so I fear; a little insistent Southwark mosquito perhaps…

Social Liberalism is still alive, however, in the Social Liberal Forum and growing….

So here we are.
The Tories went left,
The Lib Dems went right.
They collided in a Coalition.
Labour became new and then old again.
Some parties rose and others fell in politics ever changing landscape.

And even in this volatile political place,
I remain a Liberal Democrat.
I will fight from within, talking to all who will listen and preaching to those who won’t.
I will declare time and time again,

I am a Liberal Democrat.
In Coalition, Government and Opposition,
I am a Liberal Democrat

And a time will come again, when Social Liberalism will be restored to its rightful place. At the heart of the Liberal Democratic Party, burning a bright yellow beacon and signalling the return to our core beliefs and values, against which all of our actions and policies must be measured.

“…a society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one, shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”
Preamble to the Liberal Democratic Party Constitution.

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