Sunday, February 19, 2006

Coalition: what is it for? Where is it going?

Update: changed a few misleading titles, nothing deleted, for honesty's sake.

So, James and Joe ask a very important question and raise some valid concerns; what is the campaign for. By defining it as purely against Labour, James is correct when he says:
If there is to be a “coalition of the willing” on civil liberties issues, then let it be for real civil liberties, not a handful that Conservatives have deemed electorally useful to cherry-pick. Let it concentrate on individual candidates and politicians, tactically opposing any candidate who doesn’t sign up to X, Y, Z rather than letting individuals off the hook and supporting “best fit” political parties who subsequently will be under no pressure whatsoever to carry out their reforms.
We have to be careful to be in favour of something, not just against something. We need to be campaigning for liberty and reform, not just against the current government, we need to be a positive force, not a negative force.

So, as Bishop Hill observes here:
There are two strands we need to cover.

1. Getting Labour out (campaigning methods and tactics)
2. Keeping the next lot in order (Constitutional stuff, what are we after?)

I suggest we start with broad areas of principle and move on to specific issues at a later date. It will be very easy to get bogged down in detail on "social rights" or the right to bear arms.

For issues like this it may well be better to leave doors open rather than to try to slam them shut and risk alienating potential supporters.
And I agree completely. Consequently, the campaign needs to effectively have two, linked, branches, effectively operating semi-independently of each other. The first is a tactical voting campaign, starting with the forthcoming local elections and moving on from there. That campaign has acquired a [provisional] name already, it's nice, simple, catchy [that I'm no longer sold on, mistake].

Vote Anyone But Labour Tactical Voting Campaign

More on that later when details are finalised; I'm in contact, privately, with a number of people that are putting together nascent ideas. This is going very fast (there's a lot of frustration out there), but the worst thing to do is rush into something and make mistakes.

Next up?

Liberty Central

Unity already has this started, discussed further at Talk Politics - Where liberty is, there is my country, a nice little quoting of Franklin I believe. Nick Barlow has also suggested that a broad based Constitutional Convention, learning from the success of the Scottish experience, but also from other, older attempts; the US founding fathers have been mentioned.

Bishop Hill (Bishop Hill: British Constitution) and Chris (strange stuff: The new British Constitution) have already started a discussion about this, and there are others, specifically some of those involved in the Campaign for an English Parliament, amongst others, that are distinctly on the Right that have been arguing for a new constitutional settlement for some time.

It needn't, in my view, be a radical shift or a massive change in the structure of the country. I, personally, may favour radical changes, but I've read my Burke, I know that people don't like sudden, drastic changes. But I also know that
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing
I wouldn't, actually, go so far as to describe Blair/Brown et al as evil. But they are walking roughshod over both the traditional constitution and modern liberal values of liberty.

We need to establish a campaign for freedoms, liberties and a redrawn constitution. It can, and should, include such other, established campaigning groups with whom we can make common ground. Liberty Central. Bringing them all together. Cross party, non-partizan in favour of those fundamental beliefs that make a modern liberal country.

Joe's right though:
There are many decent people in the Conservative Party, but there are many nasties too. So I have no inclination to give them a hand up. I am rather enjoying their plight, grinning smugly at Cameron's desperate spin
To which I respond with two points. First, from my post when Kennedy resigned:
Cameron's apparent conversion of the old Tory party into a modern, forward looking liberal party is a welcome, and necessary, developement in British politics. Those of us who looked on in horror at the old Tory government can, it appears, approach Cameron's Tories with cautious optimism; they are no longer at the top right, enemies of the blood, but at the bottom mid-right, enemies merely of the head.

It is esential, in the months to come, that the LibDems recognise the new shape of British politics, and look to a leader who can both work, constructively, with Cameron on areas, such as civil liberties and personal freedoms, where they agree. But that leader also needs to be able to strongly emphasise the differences, push that they're not both the same, that it's not a case of "vote LibDem, get Tory".
I stand by my analysis in that post, although I'm not sure I fully agree with the conclusion now. For both Joe and James, and any other LibDems who share their, legitimate, concerns, both read that post and comment here; we need to make a breakthrough, the LibDems need to sweep up the Tory votes in those parts of the country where they are weak; what happened at Dunfermline? The Tory vote collapsed. Why? Because the LibDems were the challengers. Third party squeeze is something the LibDems are very familiar with in those seats where they are the thrid party.

Now, the Conservatives are getting used to it in those areas where they are the third, or worse, party. We also need to ensure that in those seats where the Tories challenge Labour, that we (and, to an extent, UKIP) do not cost Tory victories; Cameron says he's going to ensure the candidates echo his "modern" values. Yes, I don't trust him fully either. But I do know that there are a number of Tories who do echo our need for liberal values. Specifically, I refer you to Gav, here:
the younger blood in the Conservatives would still have been uncomfortable with the party’s previous position on homosexuality, marriage and other illiberal policies.
and here:
The Tories are realigning themselves as the party of the liberal economics (as it was already) and liberal social policy (which is a major and welcome change). Pragmatic Conservatives are more and more understanding that the “Back to Basics” policy of Major and the unenlightened social policies of Thatcher were off the mark
He's a very vocal Tory blogger, but pretty sure there's a groundswell like him.

Yes, there will always be the headbangers, and I don't trust Dave to be more than saying the right thing and manouvering like Blair. Which is why I think we need Liberty Central. Let's commit him to things, and hold him to them.

I would like to think we can persuade the Conservative party to commit to electoral reform. It would be in their best interests given the way the electoral system is backed against them now. Maybe, possibly, it could happen (Gert has more). But we could at least get a cast iron promise to a commission and a referendum. And we can maximise the number of LibDem (and other) MPs to keep it on the agenda as well.

I cannot risk another Labour govt after this one. ID cards would become entrenched, the NIR would take hold, the basic principles many of us have been fighting for, campaigning for, dreaming of or writing about for years would be lost. Replaced by a centralised, authoritarian bureacracy that reserves to itself the right to censor and approve. Even Shirley Williams is buying into elements of authoritarianism.

I, we, cannot sit there and do nothing. Yes, this means being anti-Labour. Yes, this means campaigning against something. But we do it because it's an attack on everything we stand for.

So, what are we for Joe? We're for Liberty. We're for Democracy. We're for Parliamentary power over the executive, we're for decentralisation and freedoms.

We're for a Britain in which liberty is a central tenet. We're for those things we can all agree on.

Are you with us?


Anonymous said...

“The problem is with Nu-labour” I quite agree, but is the problem with Nu-Labour because they are in power at the moment, would we not have a similar problem with Nu-conservatives. Yes I accept that Nu-Labour has gone further than any other political party, but would that we had voted Conservative at the last election changed things.

I am with you on forming a coalition to get Nu Labour out at the next election, but feel that this will not answer the problem. A point you make in your post:

We need to establish a campaign for freedoms, liberties and a redrawn constitution. It can, and should, include such other, established campaigning groups with whom we can make common ground. Liberty Central. Bringing them all together. Cross party, non-partizan in favour of those fundamental beliefs that make a modern liberal country.

Unless we can convince a political party to stand on these issues we will have achieved very little.

Would we not also have to address the issue of the EU, because many of the problems begin with our membership that organisation, it is no good electing a party to Westminster hoping they are going to halt and reverse the process that Blair has started, if they also have to follow agreement made in the EU, which Blair has been following and in some places leading.

If we take ID Cards for instance The EU Commission in December 1999 established the eEurope Initiative. It states its objective as being "accelerating and harmonising the development and use of smart cards across Europe, the production of a set of common specifications". Given that the UK government is co-operating with this project of its own volition the responsibility for introducing this measure lies with the British Government, not Brussels. However, the fact is that there is a clear EU agenda on ID Cards. If we elect a government on the promise of stopping the introduction of these cards and then a Pan-European ID card system is put in place, our government would have to address this issue, which would require some movement away from the EU or at lease an open argument, because we would be going in the opposite direction. The same argument could be made for other elements of the EU "unified legal space" policy, the EU is working in one direction and this coalition would be arguing for the opposite.

On the other hand if we ignore the EU it would be easer to build a coalition, but our gains could end up being elusory.

Joe Otten said...

There's a lot to answer here. But one brief point. You make it yourself, in a comment on another blog:

"Not, note, Old Labour. Just the non-authoritarian liberal(ish) left that are still in Labour. Unity is one, there are many others." which case calling it opposition to New Labour is just confusing. We will have allies in the Labour Party who are not Old Labour.

Yet, all the way through, it is New Labour this, Nu-Labour that. The message it sends is that we think the rightward shift of Labour is the cause of its authoritarianism, and that therefore liberation comes with socialism.

Anonymous said...

I agree with large chunks of what Ken said.

I don't think there's any point being anti-Labour - partly because it isn't the entire party, partly because we've no guarantee that the Tories would be any better (I'm still not buying into this Cameron love-in; show me some policies please, Dave)...

...bust mostly because the next election is not for at least three and a half years, and very possibly longer.

What we need to do is to campaign about issues. We need to be trying to shift things away from authoritarian measures such as ID cards and 90 day detentions. Your polling tells you that these measures are popular does it, Tony? Well we've got a bunch of voters here who won't go near you unless you ditch them.

What this means in practice... well, I don't think any coalition should just be stamped "anti-Labour" or even "anti-New Labour" (as someone pointed out, that implies "Tony Blair bad, Tony Benn good"). For the next three years we need to be arguing against the government's authoritarian measures: and that means we don't want anyone to be able to dismiss us as "just a load of partisan troublemakers".

After all, if all these measures do go through, can anyone really see a Conservative government repealing them?

We should be trying to influence debate now rather than hoping to get rid of this lot in three years time with no guarantee of anyone better turning up.

(I may post a more coherant version of this at my place later.)

chris said...

MatGB might have some different ideas on this. But in my Eurosceptic view by trying to get a written constitution, with limits on government power and an recognition of British sovereignty, we do limit the EU as well. By setting limits on the power of national government we will automatically also set limits on the amount of power that it can give away to a supra-national government.

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, the whole point of the VABL [Vote Anyone But Labour]is that the Labour Party is the problem. There isn't a Labour/New Labour split.

I have been vanly waiting for the 'good guys' in the Labour party to stand up and be counted. They haven't. They all trooped through the aye lobby behind Tony and Gordon last week.

It isn't New Labour that give Bliar et al their support, it is the Labour party.

If the good guys want to stand up and be counted, they can. If they continue to remain members of the Labour Party, with respect they are part of the problem.

The Liberty Portal project is a constructive positive exercise. looking forward to what comes next.

VABL is exactly what it says on the tin. It isn't about voting the Lib Dems or Tories in, it's about voting the Labour party out.

It is a negative campaign, but that is it's strength. Hopefully it will work closely with others about what comes next, but VABL is simple, hopefully so simple the mainstream will be able to understand it:)

AS a once lifelong Labour supporter, it has taken last week for things to finally sink in, I grew up with the idea the Tories were the enemy, and that is the basis of the Labour election strategy, aimed at people like me.

I have in no way become a conservative, but I have come to the conclusion that the real enemy is the Labour party.

Anonymous said...

God knows what's wrong with my trackback thingy....

My link to you

Anonymous said...

Chris, of course you are right, but as was the problem with Michael Howard’s promise to bring back fishing under national control, it totally ignored the EU dimension the EU treaties and the Acquis. Because it ignored those reasons it was not a serious policy, merely an attempt to placate a section of society in the run up to an election.

We will need to ensure that the answers to our problems are fully thought through, without doubt the real problem lies in Westminster. I am not however totally convinced, that it is a problem which can be laid solely at Tony Blair’s door. I have written to leading members of the Conservative party on several occasions, and get the very strong impression that they do not object in principal to many of Blair`s policies.

Before the last election my local MP was LibDem, and I did get the feeling that the LibDem`s as a party were concerned about civil liberties.

If we do create a campaign to vote Labour out, (this government) we need to be absolutely clear of the reasons for doing so, and equally clear that we will only vote for people to represent us, people who understand those reasons and promise to do something about the state of the British constitution.

In general
For my part other than the obvious incursions on our freedoms, trial by jury, Habeus corpus etc. I feel there are far too many framework laws, which allow the government powers, without specifying exactly how those powers can be used. Far too many laws which are not clear, “exactly how are we supposed to decide what is a reasonable amount of force to use against an intruder in the middle of the night” for instance.

The government also seems to be creating a civil law society, by moving aspects of criminal law into the control of civil authorities and endowing those authorities with police powers. By decriminalising aspects of law we the people are being denied a fair trial, we are found guilty and punished on no evidence whatever, merely on the say so of some small town hall employee, be he a parking attendant, weights and measures officer, or the new animal protection officer, thus the balance of power has shifted in favour of the state. Further evidence of this movement is seen in Sir Ian Blair’s call for the police to be given summary powers to fine people or remove their driving licences etc. a call that has found a welcome in Downing street, this totally undermines the concept of innocent until proven guilty and reverse the burden of proof instead of the police having to prove guilt we will be placed in the position of having to prove our innocence.

Joe Otten said...

My response is here.