This blog is a political blog from a left-of-centre perspective. This is not specifically a party political blog, but does have a Lib Dem orientation. Constructive enagement with radical liberals, social democrats / democratic socialists and greens is particularly welcomed.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The language of politics 2006

In the UK it seems like the three main parties are trying to outbid each other in seeming to position themselves onto the centre ground of British politics.

Of course, the centre of gravity as to what constitutes the centre ground has actually been decisively shifted rightwards by Blair's authoritarian Labour party since 1997.

In the early days of Ming Campbell leadership we've had the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail passed by the Lib Dem Spring Conference and David Laws proposing cutting state benefits to lone parents. Now Ming repeatedly claimed to be a 'creature of the centre-left' during the leadership campaign, but these proposals will surely be a real vote loser amongst the centre and left inclined voters.

The language used by leading spokespersons seem to more frequently echo that of 'New' Labour and the Cameroonians.

Modernise - in progressive parties this seems to mean moving the party further to the right than their tradition or party activists generally support. Greens, Labour, Lib Dems have all been ripe for being 'modernised' and 'fit for the 21st century'(sic).

'Credible' policies - means abandoning most areas where your party is most distinctive and in economic terms offering the same explicitly free-market solutions as your opponents.

Public Service 'Reform' - as above. 'Choice' [for some] and a view of private provision good, state provision bad prevails. Good job the 1906 Liberal government and the Beveridge inspired welfare state had a differing view of 'reform' !

Radical - now means daring people wishing to go against the grain of party tradition and surprise, suprise, move their party rightwards.

Dinosaur - usually confered on people like me who seek to adhere to the progressive left-of-centre social liberal tradition within the party. Pre-eminent amongst these in Lib Dem terms is 'Lord' Tony Greaves. Donnachadh McCarthy used to qualify but is now a extinct Lib Dem dinosaur.

One quaint tradition with the party dinosaur - with Tony Benn being Labour's equivalent - is that as you become an 'elder states[wo]man' and as you begin to have less influence you get to be described as being 'much loved' by the party faithful in the media. You get cheered for making radical speeches at conference, but trouble is, party leaderships persuade representatives / delegates into voting for something the dinosaur virulently opposes.

Simon Hughes should worry already as he is frequently described in the press as a 'favourite' with party activists. Another ten years and dinosaur status could be his too !

In the case of the Tories most of these words mean to suggest as if the party is moving leftwards from their recent Thatcherite history. There are no actual policies to confirm the reality of this 'radical' shift to date though.

One common feature is also to talk lots about the environment, but especially in the case of the Labour and Conservatives , means actually make no tough decisions !

Where have the real radicals gone ? Even the youth / student wings of the three main parties seem so orthodox and on-message these days.

Ah for the 'good old days' of the Liberal 'Red Guard', the NOLS and Trots bunfights within Labour and the preposterous 'Hang Mandela' T-shirts and craziness of the Federation of Conservative Students !

Unlike David Cameron, I don't mind the occasional bit of 'Punch + Judy' politics. It shows passion and difference and much better and honest than the 'Richard + Judy' politics-lite of Blair. Political opponents should be on the canvas from a knockout polical blow and not on the bloody sofa !


Blogger Tristan said...

Ming is centre-left. Thankfully he's not much further to the left and he's first and foremost a Liberal.

Modernising for the LibDems means continuing the tradition of evolving liberalism around its core of regulating power and promoting individual freedom. It does not mean abandoning core principles, it certainly does not mean becoming authoritarian (not that Labour did that, it always was authoritarian by nature).

We need credible policies. Being distinctive isn't everything, otherwise the Monster Raving Loony Party would win a landslide. We will never give up our core defining principles, we just use them to develop responses to the world.
We cannot propose unworkable distinctive policies, unless we wish to remain a third party forever...

Radical - it has always meant proposing radical solutions. It is not a matter of left-right politics.
Why this hostility to free trade? The great radical Richard Cobden campaigned for free trade. If he was not a Radical Liberal I don't know who could be called that.

Dinosaur: Hayek was a dinosaur. Or so his socialist opposition said. He was the one with true vision it seems... so don't be despondent (although Benn is quite simply wrong on many things... and I feel other 'dinosaurs' are on many issues, but by no means all, and they're still important voices)

We get over this stupid left-right schism you're trying to create.
Liberalism is what the party is about, not providing an alternative left-wing party to Labour (or an alternative right-wing party to the Tories).

And please, social liberalism is not incompatable with economic liberalism. They are complementary when taken with policitical and personal liberalism.

Also, the party is not under the domination of one group, Hughes still has a voice, so do many of his supporters, in the parliamentary party and outside. They are listened to (probably a lot more than Laws is) and they inform and engage in debate. The results of which I don't always like, but at least there is debate and the membership actually has a voice (and not just a simpering agreeing voice).

When it comes down to it, we are not drastically shifting rightwards, although I feel we are returning somewhat to the core of liberalism (which includes the social liberalism which was spawned by 19th century liberalism).

11:43 pm GMT

Blogger Barrie Wood said...

I am not trying to create left / right schisms. I use the left / right dimension for that is the language the wider populace understands best. To that I would add the liberal / authoritarian axis.

In that context I'd describe myself as a left-of-centre liberal.

I am not anti 'free trade'. I believe that the market generally works well, but needs regulation at times to challenge monopolistic power / corporations to ensure genuinely open markets.

I remain far from convinced however with regard to the marketisation of public utilities - eg Water, Rail network, health and social care.

I DO believe in devolving power downwards and making public services more accountable and priorities being set according to local needs by local people.

This is quite different from the 'guidelines', targets and diktats and central control typical of Labour [and the Tories].

As for being distinctive Tristan's use of the MRLP is a poor one. No-one would sensibly suggest THAT degree of 'distinctiveness' ! It was meant in relation to the Labour and the Conservative parties. As those two parties become increasingly indistinguishable the Lib Dems DO need to be distinctively different, even if it doesn't fit the ideas of credibility as espoused by the media / political classes.

The post was meant - in large part - tongue-in cheek, but wasn't taken in that context. It was mostly an attack on the meaningless buzz words currently in vogue, like moderniser, credible, confused use of words like radical, liberal and choice - not necessarily by those in our party I might add. Cameron's claim to be a liberal conservative being a case in point.

As for the 'dinosaurs' there are fewer personalities in all the main parties. There are fewer parliamentarians willing to stand firm to what they believe in even if those views become unfashionable in their party.

11:25 am GMT

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I quote:

"I try to follow the debates within, and would like to discuss with, left-leaning activists be they Lib Dems, Greens, Labour, continuing Liberals and those of no party at all".

So basically, you only like to debate with people who share largely the same opinions as yourself?

Doesn't say much for the strength of you political convictions if you are unable to unwilling to discuss them with people who will hold a contrasting viewpoint.

Strange that I'm putting this as I was looking for a Forest Blog. Gutted about missing the play-offs...

Tim @ The City

11:51 am BST

Anonymous Anonymous said...

And you even have comment moderation??? It's not like I support County or Mansfield you know!

11:52 am BST

Blogger Barrie Wood said...

Anon : from a fellow Forest fan - gutted too, but we didn't deserve it over the whole season.

Here to better things next time. At least my local boys - Torquay - stayed up !

5:01 pm BST


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