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, July 06, 2006

Labour the Competition ? Tories the Enemy ?

As the title of my blog suggests I am a left-leaning member of the Lib Dems, even if the left -right divide is being increasingly little more important than the authoritarian / liberal axis that divides parties. 17 years ago I was a Labour councillor, but that party's authoritarian drift, the illegal war in Iraq, pro-nuclear stance, lukewarm engagement with Europe and paternalism meant they left me as much as I left them. That is not to deny the attractiveness of the Lib Dems : commitment to personal freedom, social justice, progressive taxation and the environment are all bone-fide reasons for progressives to consider supporting the party. And, for members, add greater internal party democracy !

Despite the above, this 'Labour' government has done some good things. For example, Gordon Brown with a mixture of skill and good luck has ensured generally capable stewardship of the economy. Measures like the national minimum wage, tax credits [albeit complicated] to help those on limited incomes, increased [but not always well targeted] increases in spending on education, devolution to Scotland and Wales are all plus points.

The Tories, be it the fake 'liberal' Tories of Cameron projection or the legion of 'nasty' Thatcherite Tories would have enacted none of these measures. The mask of the new liberal Tories is slipping, as evidenced by their opposition to the European Convention on Human Rights. To me the Tories are still the enemy. It is between Labour and ourselves, in competition, to offer progressive alternatives. So I do see Labour [ and the Greens and continuing Liberal Party] as competition and the Tories as political foes. I dread the political arithmetic at the next GE making a Tory/ Lib Dem coalition even a faint possibility for even discussion, although I think a grand coalition of ideas as we already have in places between Labour and the Tories, suggest they'd make better putative partners for the Conservatives!

Lib Dems have achieved much in sharing government with Labour in Scotland and previously with a measure of success in Wales. But how would other readers react to a Westminster tie-up with the Tories ? Do you see yourself as equidistant between the two main parties ? What would be your second voting preference, if you have one ?

For my part, unless I could see a huge tranche of Lib Dem proposals likely to be implemented any formal co-operation with the Tories at a national level would probably mean me exiting the party.

The Tories, for me, [ouside of the BNP / UKIP 'headbangers'] remain the principal focus of opposition. Your thoughts ?


Blogger Tristan said...

For me the enemy is authoritarianism.
This manifests itself in both Labour and the Tories (and sometimes, regrettably in the LibDems)
Labour classically through economic policy, the Tories through social conservatism.

Thatcher was a huge change in british politics, away from the collectivist consensus to the individualism at the heart of Liberalism. In some ways she was a Liberal, in others still very much a Tory...

I remain opposed to the very essence of the Labour Party. They are as much an enemey as the Tories. Labour is essentially collectivist, classically exhibiting itself through economic control, these days through the treatment of society and centralisation.

The Tories are essentially to do with maintaining the power of their favoured group (traditionally the aristocracy), Labour with theirs (traditionally the 'workers' and the intellectual elite). There is not much to choose between them apart from the rhetoric.

Liberals will often find themselves making common cause with both parties on different topics. The Tories are generally more in alignment with Liberals on economic issues (a far cry from the Liberal heyday when the Tories were the protectionists and Liberals the free traders, now the Tories have generally admitted to the benefits of free trade). On social issues, more common ground is found with Labour, although the obsession collectivists have with grouping people by labels is not very liberal.

There is for me, a great divide between Liberalism and Social Democracy and Socialism.
The aims are very similar, but the means are different. Socialism and Social Democracy use the means of Conservatism and coersion to achieve their aims, liberalism holds freedom of the individual to be higher.

Social Democracy et al also hold the idea of equality of outcome to be important, in liberalism this is anathema as to get that you necessarily have to curtail equality under the law and equality of opportunity.

Fundamentally liberalism is about removing concentration of power, coercion of the individual by others and then granting equality of opportunity whilst acknowledging difference.
Socialism in its various forms will subjugate these to try and obtain some sort of objective of equality of outcome, although different forms will go to varying lengths.

That said, there are liberals in both the Tories and Labour. Charles Kennedy and Chris Huhne were both Labour Party members, and they are both Liberals, I think there are more members of Labour who are Liberals. The same goes for the Tories, I see many Tories expressing Liberal ideas (the Adam Smith Institute throws its lot in with the Tories, but they base their thinking on Liberalism, although many of us Liberals will disagree with some of their conclusions). Neither party however is founded upon Liberal principles, and neither leadership is going to embrace Liberalism (Cameron seems to be trying to deceive us in the way Tony Blair did...)

Of course, both parties have done good liberal things and bad illiberal things in power; Thatcher did much good by curtailing the dispropportionate power of the Unions and the denationalisation program (although not all of it was done in the best way perhaps). Labour brought in the Human Rights Act and gave the Bank of England its independance.
Thatcher however was still socially conservative and authoritarian and damaged the institutions of democracy, Blair has shown himself to be authoritarian also and has further degraded the democracy of this country.

Bear in mind also, that the Conservative and Unionist Party was founded with the merger of the Conservatives and the Liberal Unionists, and offshoot of the Liberal Party. The Liberals also almost merged with the Tories in the 50s and Thorpe came close to going into coalition with the Tories.
Then again, the Liberal Democrats were formed from the Liberals and the Social Democrats- an offshoot of Labour. The Liberals also propped up a Labour government the LibDems seemed close to merging with Labour in the 90s and going back to the beginning, the Liberals were a combination of many Whigs, a group of Tories and the Radicals.

Perhaps this illustrates that Liberalism is not so tribal as the postwar Left-Right divide. It certainly is not concerned with groups of people, it is concerned with enabling every individual to make the best of the circumstances, whilst (rightly in my view - some liberals may disagree) providing support for those in society who need it.

So, to summarise, the Tories aren't the enemy and Labour competition, they're both enemy and competition.
The same goes for the Greens who are actually very illiberal, but put across one message which competes with a major part of the LibDems message.

1:39 pm BST

Anonymous Bernie Hughes said...

Broadly speaking, I accept your analysis in theory. In practice it's a little more complicated. While many politically aware Labour voters are progessive, the Labour party machine , and the Labour tribe that keeps it running, are deeply conservative. But then I live in central Scotland, in a seat which has been Labour since it was created, in a Local Authority that has been Labour since in was created. So I don't like them much. I prefer to see Liberals in Scotland working more closely with the SNP. They have an eccentric fringe, but generally speaking they are very close to us on a whole range of issues.

2:12 pm BST

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me too. In all my adult life (and I'm 58) I have never seen the Tories in any of their guises as a more acceptable direction of government for this country. Even when one had to accept the commonplaces of 1970s statist/corporatist politics as a busted flush, it didn't follow that Thatcherism was the only alternative.

I worry that too much about the party leadership's current movement is seen to be about managing perceptions faintly rightwards, simply to attract Tory votes.

It's one thing to say we can't hang on to the same old shibboleths for their own sake, but to reinterpret the spirit - and what was politically distinctive - in the light of changing circumstances: going for green taxes over income taxes makes sense in that context as a re-expression of the need to engage voters and taxpayers in honest debate about what it will cost to have what they want.

It's quite another to flag up a retreat from progressive taxation in principle, still worse to let it be thought in some quarters that that what's afoot, and in others that it's not really - well, only a little bit.

2:20 pm BST

Blogger Barrie Wood said...


I can understand what your saying coming from a 'one party state' locally. The Scottish context of Labourism means that maybe the Greens and SNP are a maybe better alternative than the monolithic and conservative Labour Party machine.


A thoughtful piece and a reminder [which I hinted at myself] that Liberalism doesn't 'fit' neatly on a left-right poltical axis. NuLab has been every bit as authoritarian as Thatcher. On civil liberties issues they have been a disaster. On issues like civil partnerships for example they have enacted progressive social legislation.

Anon talks about flagging up a shift to the right. I think some of this is window dressing in order to keep soft former Tories on-board. It is imperative to introduce green taxes, but the overall tax take must be based on an ability to pay. I am especially mindful of the awful Council Tax that disproportionately hits low income households like mine.

So far I'm not over enthused by Ming Campbell's leadership. A bit of tinkering here and steady as she goes seems to be the current Lib Dem motif. Inspiring ? No !

As for Labour as the enemy, I'm sure the view in say Rochdale where the fight is largely a two party one beteen Liberals and Labour the view is different [especially with the Tory / Lab coalition on that council] than in Torbay where Labour are an irrelevance.

3:56 pm BST


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