I am slapping a preservation order on Charlie Kennedy, and listing him as a Grade One landmark of our culture
Are the LibDems left wing? Right wing? In the mythical "centre ground"? Boris thinks that the party having disagreements over policy is evidence of doublethink. No, not really Boris, it's evidence of the party being a broad church coalition. Remember them? That's what both Labour and the Conservative (and Unionist) party are, broad churches. A cross section of views and viewpoints, each from a part of the spectrum, and banding together for electoral advantage and common support. 'Better them than that lot' we hear Old Labour say. In 1997, I agreed with them. Now?
The old arguments used to be about ecomomic policy;throughout the C20, socialism, mixed, free market, capitalism, regulation, privatisation, nationalisation. That was what mattered; what you though on these mattered placed you on the economic spectrum, everything else was secondary. The Left and the Right fought, and all else, including the Radical, the Green and the Libertarian were marginalised, ignored or absorbed into the Big Two. The old Left Right argument has been displaced in modern discourse. It's no longer about economics, we talk about it, but broadly, consensus has been reached. Broadly. We quibble over details; how much tax, how free the market, to regulate or not. Anyone heard a call to nationalise recently? Thought not.
We have a much bigger argument to resolve, it's far more important. You're reading this blog, you already know the answer, and you pretty much already know what side most bloggers are on. The big issue now, as Strange Stuff observed a few days back, isn't economics. It's liberty. The state versus the individual. Where do you stand, do we need a strong state to "protect" us, or do we want the freedom to live our own lives, to take risk of our own, to debate, to dissent, to campaign? If you're reading this, you already know which side of the divide I'm on.
So, back to the broad churches. The Tory party was broadly Right, it included Libertarians and Patricians, authoritarian moralists and individualist free thinkers. The vital part was you believed in private ownership and economic freedoms. The Labour party was broadly Left. It believed in welfare provision, redistribution, workers rights and a lessening of the power of capitol. It included those who wished to decentralise and those who wished to nationalise. Statists and individualists, in both parties.
The LibDems were always a broad church as well. But it was a broad church, not on left vs right terms, but on up versus down terms. I'm assuming any reader of this blog already knows of the Political Compass, but essentially it splits viewpoints on a 4-way section, with economics left to right, state versus individual up to down. If the state is at the top, the individual at the bottom, Tories like Boris (and, it appears, Cameron) are on the Right, but in the bottom quadrant. Other Tories are in the top right quadrant. For many, many years, Labour occupied the left two quadrants. Unfortunately for the nation, under Blair's NuLab, it's been forced up. And up, and up. In fact, it's now almost at the top, and moved into the centre. NuLab isn't on the Left anymore, it's on the Top. Over at Devil's Kitchen awhileback, a typically hyperbolic analysis of this move was published. NuLab is no longer on the Left, it has instead occupied the ground of the Populist Authoritarian. The LibDems have always been opposed to Authoritarianism. The Tory party has it's authoritarians, its hangers, floggers and moralist puritans. Old Labour always had a few who disliked the State, and sought to limit its power.
The LibDems have recruited activists, campaigners and politicians who, in previous times, would have been in one of the Big Two. They're a broad church of the liberal Bottom. Are there moves within the party to move it "to the Right", to ally with Cameron et al? Is the party splitting on these issues, the Left vs Right? From an outsiders perspective, I see it not. It is natural that the Tory party has moved to the grounds it can oppose Blair from, the Bottom. It is to be expected that when they finally start looking, they find LibDems on the Right of the party that they get on with and agree with. They've always been there, it's not a new thing. It's the Tory party that is moving, embracing it's Libertarian wing. The LibDems remain a broad church, able to critique the NuLab from both the Left and the Right. But always from the Bottom. A position most Bloggers seem to also occupy, regardless of whether they be Left or Right. The LibDems have their faults, but there shoul be no surprise that a party that still subscribes to free debate and membership involvement disagrees with itself openly.
There should also be no surprise from the Tories to find that, when they move their centre of gravity down to oppose the Authoritarians, they find their new territory already occupied. I know what the LibDems stand for. Given my liberal-left position, I broadly support it. I just wish they were a little better at getting the point across.
Left vs Right no longer matters, it's all about Up vs Down. For the first time in my life, I'm on the same side of the big argument as a whole bunch of Tories. I haven't moved, neither, really, have they. This Govt has changed British politics. Their current policies are a basic affront to the freedoms of England, the principles of Britain. Is it any wonder a new front is opening up, in which those who oppose it are finding they can make common ground?
Update: Follow up post here.