Friday, December 16, 2005

Boris on the LibDems; methinks he misses the point

On a purely entertaining level, I like Boris. On a political level, sometimes I read him and agree with every word, othertimes I disagree vehemently. Sometimes, like today, I chuckle at his attempt to play partizan, and note that he, like many others, completely misses the point:
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.


Devil's Kitchen said...


The problem is that the LibDems really don't know what they stand for, which makes it difficult for them to articulate it.

The LibDems opposed the ID Cards: excellent. But then, in an interview before the election, Kennedy advocated more interfernece in markets than even Labour are. So whether they are for or against state control over our lives is unclear.

In general they are, but sometimes they're not. Who knows?


MatGB said...

Oh, agree, it's the muddleheaded way they present themselves that annoyed me enough to not rejoin, however, markets do, IMHO, need some regulations, some 'interference' in order to ensure they remain markets; the natural tendency to merge and consolidate can lead to anti-competetive practices.

But I'm pretty sure CK managed to not say that, not even sure he believes it; d'you, by chance, have a link to what he said so I can go through it?

Anonymous said...

The Libdems are left and libertarian and the Tories are right and increasingly libertarian, as you said. However the Lib Dems have a nasty tendency of trying to be all things to all people.

In the country they're free-market liberals who'll protect the countryside. In the cities, they're intellectuals (with beards) who believe in freedom of everyone including votes for paedophiles.

As you say, the Tories and the LibDems haven't really moved, while Blair's regime has taken the authoritarian route. This, it seems to me, is an acceptance by the left in Labour that Socialism does not work. Yes, there has to be some state interference, but not much.

The Tories and Labour are consistent in this:
- The Tories believe in free markets and free people.
- Labour believes in regulated markets and regulated people.
- LibDems believe in regulated markets but free people...

MatGB said...

I disagree when you say the Tories are consistent, and note I didn't say the Tories haven't moved. They most certainly have.

The Tories contain, still, a number of moralisers who bought into Thatcher's "victorian values" thing, and attack people who have a lifestyle they disapprove of. Cameron wants to marginalise them it appears, wants to project the party forward as liberal and tolerant. I really hope he succeeds, I just don't hold my breath he will.

If you want to dumpt the authoritarian wing completely, great, then I'd consider taking up his offer of today, but I don't see it happening.

Essentially, I strongly believe in markets, but believe that without regulation they'll become oligopolies. NuLab isn't in favour of markets, they're corporatists. Unfortunately, there are a number of Tories that aren't far off the corporatist agenda, and believe in giving succour to Big Business instead of market competition.

However, the degree of regulation is less important, overall, in the economy; no one is pushing for command-control anymore, no one wants a centralised system. Well, no one serious.

A completely free market ceases to be free, untrammelled capitalism is the antithesis of market competition. But this is a post about the tuff that matters, the economics matters aren't for this thread, the point is that the disagreements over them are minor in comparison.

Weird that I'm reading your blog as you're commenting on mine, ah well...

Gavin Ayling said...

Absolutely agree Mat.

PaulJ said...

It seems to be agreed amongst most Lib Dems now that the way forward is to move away from the overly-liberal, hearts-but-not-minds policies like votes for paedophiles, dog licenses and all the other policies which people delighted in asking high-level Lib Dems about in the run up to the election.

'Thankyou for your detailed insight into the war in Iraq(+50000 votes); do you seriously want to give Myra Hindley the vote?(-100000 votes)'

In some ways it's a shame because there are some real issues being dropped in favour of not being portrayed as quite so barmy. On the other hand, there's no way in hell the Lib Dems are going to get in whilst retaining those ideas.

the sea change in politics which is being discussed here is the kind of thing which could really rejuvenate the political debate. But will the average voter really buy into it?

Perhaps that's the big question over the next 5-10 years...

beatroot said...

I was a socialist and am now a libertairian. I can't see the difference between ,greens, left/liberals and conservatives. They all stand for regulating all sorts of things in all sorts of areas that the state never went into before.

And I can't agree that the Tories are becoming more libertairian. Take the debate about how long we should be able to hold some poor bastard without trial just in case we think he is a terrorist. New Labour, 90 days...everyone else 40 says, 28 was like some sick auction. None of them are libertarian, they are all moving with the authoritarian trend in Britain.

MatGB said...

I can't agree that the Tories are becoming more libertairian. Take the debate about how long we should be able to hold some poor bastard without trial just in case we think he is a terrorist. New Labour, 90 days...everyone else 40 says, 28 was like some sick auction.

Well, y'see, without the Tories, it would have been 90 days. And they opposed the 28 days as well. There's also still hope they'll do more in the Lords.

There's an authoritarian trend, yes. But the Tories were always led by authoritarians, but contained libertarians as well. If they're genuinely moving in a libertarian train (note the if), then that's a good sign.

I utterly opposed the extention of detention powers, as did most Tories. That, I think, is what's tipped me from wondering whether I could work with them to believing it may be a good idea, and I'm strongly on the Left, no doubt in my mind on that.

Electorally, they've got no choice. The maths says Labour has the Authoritarian ground, and the centre economically, they have to oppose them somewhere, if they can get the economic centre and the Libertarian votes, they're better off. The psephologist in me can see it clearly. And they pay much better people to do that sort of analysis full time.