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.

Monday, August 20, 2007

How Representative are Lib Dem bloggers ?

A recent comment on my blog described the political balance of the Lib Dem party this way :

'orange bookers' are under-represented among the party activists, but more numerous than the 'beard and sandals brigaders' among the ordinary members and the Lib Dem voters. How would you explain otherwise, that Ming was elected as leader rather than Simon Hughes? And the parliamentary party is divided roughly between 1/4 'orange bookers', 1/4 'beard and sandals brigaders', and 1/2 'unconcerned centre'.

Now it is my **perception** that the centre of gravity as expressed by online Lib Dem bloggers over-represents those who put an emphasis upon 'economic liberalism' and a more explicitly free market political orientation. The wider party, I believe, is broadly centre and centre-left, but is the party dynamic changing and the 'Orange Book' tendency more influential than I thought ? I certainly don't see much in the way of such ideological zeal in my local party here in Torbay. How typical is this ?

Other parties ? Well ConservativeHome certainly indicates that the unelectable swivel-eyed brigade is alive and well in the Tory party. Maybe the debate between the 'modernisers' [those seeking to get elected at any cost so we'll say anything we hope might be popular] and 'traditionalists' makes for interesting reading ! Let's have more of John Redwood to remind the wider public as to how out of touch they are !

Labour ? Fairly restrained and debate not as sharp as on the Tory and LD offerings. Where's the left perspective comrades ?!


Anonymous wit and wisdom said...

Interesting comments which I can neither confirm nor deny. I am avowedly 'Orange Book' but I often feel out of step with our party's mainstream.

Luckily we don't seem to tear ourselves apart over such matters so long may the debate continue.

3:38 pm BST

Blogger Jock Coats said...

Depends what you mean by "free market".

You might want to consider that from about 1880 to 1930 "free trade" was the cry of the "left", and that even if you think L-G was a bit bonkers by that time, he left the National Government because of its apparent lurch towards protectionism primarily driven by Tories.

The Labour Chancellor Philip Snowden penned a foreword for a 1929 reprint of Henry George's "Protection or Free Trade" which promoted Free Trade policies as the best way to make more of the value of production feed through to the working man or woman. Snowden is not well liked nowadays by those who think that Labour's history should be all about state socialism.

4:41 pm BST

Blogger James Shaddock said...

Why is is so-called 'orange book-ers' look down on us liberal to the point of rudeness with comments such as 'beard and sandals' brigade. It's attitudes like that that make me think there could one day be a major split in the party

6:54 pm BST

Blogger Jonny Wright said...

It's worthwhile contrasting political leanings within the party against the balance of opinion amongst Lib Dem voters, and the general public. We have to, if we want to keep coming up with consistently good policy, and increasing our support.

What I take issue with is the way you (and, to a greater extent, the person who wrote the comment you quote) divide liberal ideology into two opposing camps. I really don't think it's anything like that simple. Certainly there are different tendencies, but they have a complicated and subtle relationship, and the "Orange Book/ Beard & Sandles" dichotomy is a very misleading one.

I also get worked up when people try to describe our party in terms of "centre" or "centre-left" - I know it's tempting, and I know those terms give off the right sort of vibe to people, but if we want to go around telling voters that left and right have become meaningless, we can't continue to use the left/right spectrum ourselves!

8:03 pm BST

Blogger Tristan said...

Your analysis falls down at the first hurdle.
This 'Orange bookers' thing is a false label. Simon Hughes wrote a chapter in the Orange book.

We need to get over this stupid thing. The Liberal Party was brought together by advocacy of free trade and a concern for equality under the law. I'd like to think that is what unites the Liberal Democrats.

Perhaps us so-called 'orange bookers' are less swayed by the socialism and big government of the post war era and more suspicious of government, but that's all part of our party's heritage - especially skepticism of government.
I'll even admit to thinking Thatcher ushered in some much needed reform - although she made many mistakes.

8:55 am BST

Anonymous Arwen said...

I tend not to tag myself - in some ways I am very Liberal in other ways more pragmatic. I enjoy the Orange Book. I sometimes wish the party could be a bit more radical and that I had been alive in the times when it definitely was so!

That said, I am a member of this party because of our core philosophy and I believe that is what unites most of us - it is more than politics, it is a deep belief in how society should be.

Yes, I have met some members where that manifests in a rather odd way, but on the whole there is a genuine warmth and determination amongst those in our party who believe in the same thing. I kind of pick that up on the blogs too.

4:02 pm BST

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barrie Wood and James Shaddock, please stop playing victims! It so hypocritical that you, representing the wing of the party which has for decades bullied the market liberals within the party (which is probably the cause why market liberals are underepresentes among the activists) are now presenting yourselves as some kind of martyrs. Barrie Wood's post in 3 August is a good example; he is complaining, that 'On the downside the 'Orange Book' element and the strident economic liberalism of some is far from where I am. Many Lib Dems in blogoshere represent this strand of liberalism, although I believe them to be over-represented online in terms of the wider political balance of that party.' - And the he dares to complain when somebody answers with the same tone. Barrie, what do you want the 'Orange Book element' to do about it? Stop blogging? Why don't you just stop bitching about it? I think the reason why the proportion of the blogging market liberal Lib Dems is higher than the proportion of market liberal activists, might be related to the fact that they have often been bullied out from activism.

James Shaddock and Jonny Wright, 'beard and sandals brigade' is a term used often in the media, and it wasn't meant to be a rudeness, at least it is much less rude than some things some people from that camp, like Barrie Wood have said, but I guess that doesn't count, because they are always right. I used the term, because Barrie Wood was using the term 'Orange Book element' (which with the word 'element' sounds rather rude, not speaking about the comparison in his posting 20 August to unelectable swivel-eyed brigade), and I didn't know any other term which would some how descibe the kindred spirits of Lord Greaves within the party, other than "Left", which is a term I try to avoid along with the terms "Right" and "Centre", because they are terms which don't tell much about the actual thoughts of a person, and which different people associate differently and are therefore misleading. How would you for instance place on a one-dimensional Right-Left political spectrum Lib Dem MPs such as David Laws, who is known to be pro free market, but has always voted for equal rights for homosexuals, or John Pugh, who is known to be on the "Left" of the party, but has voted more often against equal rights of homosexuals than for them? (source: Public Whip) As for a a possible split within the party, I guess it could happen, but because of the bullies like Barrie Wood and James Shaddock, not because of how they are answered.

Barrie Wood: "The wider party, I believe, is broadly centre and centre-left" - Why do you assume, that the centre prefers to be bundled together with centre-lef than with centre-right? Your choice to bundle together centre and centre-left naturally creates a "centre and centre-left" majority, but another, just as subjective choice, would create a "centre and centre-right" majority. Anyway, I object the use of such derogatory terms as "left", "centre" and "right" for the reasons I told to James Shaddock and Jonny Wright.

Tristan, Simon Hughes didn't contribute to the Orange Book. You are probably thinking of Steve Webb, who is considered to be on the "Left" wing of the party, and coincidentally is also the least social liberal of the contributors, as was his contribution itself. Despite this, "orange booker" is a term which is, in the lack of a better term, often used about the market-libeals within Lib Dems.

4:57 pm BST

Blogger Jock Coats said...

"Socialists attack capital, Liberals attack monopoly" W L S Churchill, 1906

7:46 pm BST

Blogger Jo Christie-Smith said...

I know that you're analysis is focussing on the left right continuum but I have often noticed that Lib Dem Bloggers are unrepresentative of the party and definitely the world 'at large' in a few other ways.

For example, I'm one of the few women who blogs (parliament is actually more representative, I think) and there are very few black & ethnic minorities bloggers, as far as I am aware.

Why is that, I wonder?

9:50 pm BST

Blogger Barrie Wood said...

A few responses :

I use the left / right continuum, even tho' it upsets some LD's, for this is the vocabulary the public understands ! Usually I also refer to the liberal / authoritarian axis too. Both 'measurements' are important.

With this in mind I can often agree with the socially liberal free marketeer David Laws more easily than 'left wing' but socially conservative figures like George Galloway. The Tories ? Too many are authoritarians of the first oder and social conservatism still predominates from what I can see.

Jock - your historical analysis is spot on.

Tristan - you always disagree with me - no change there, even if your own blog is often informative and thought provoking ! What you say is true, but the radical 'social liberal' perspective is equally party of the party's [more recent] heritage.

Anon - whilst it is your prerogative to conceal your identity it says little for your political courage. 'Bullied' by people like me, oh come on - you're too sensitive by far ! Your tone is, surely, much more strident than my own. True, the term 'Orange Book' is a lazy shorthand for a strand of opinion, but on Lib Dem blogs it is well understood - as are the terms left / right / centre by the wider public.

Lord Greaves - top man - just as you'd expect me to say !!

Arwen - that debate should rage and political direction be in a state of flux is a good thing. I think I was also trying to contrast the level of healthy debate on LD Blogs with the pragmatism and less ideological but 'doing' brand of politics of local parties such as Torbay. Never mind economic liberalism versus social liberalism, it's the next Focus and the local council that seems to dominate members thoughts sometimes !

Jo : I'm in something of a minority in the Lib Dems - I live in a struggling Torquay community and bring with me a chippy, argumentative, 'working class' influenced perspective - I'm not your typical LIb Dem member !

4:33 pm BST

Blogger Jock Coats said...

Thing is Barrie, whilst you say my "historical analysis is spot on" I am firmly of the belief that the last century, with its focus on socialism and state ownership versus protectionist capitalism, in which battle the Liberals were quite lost for various reasons, was an aberration and that by recolonising the "true free trade" and anti-monopoly, level playing field agenda, we *can* have both social liberalism in the sense of levelling out opportunity for people and leave as much as possible to the real engine of growth which is people's own hard work and not government manipulation of that.

We seem to want to focus on a "split" that in my opinion does not need to exist and is the product of nearly a century when Liberals did not know which of the other two to which to hitch their fortunes. If we are to break through we to to buy our own wagons! And they will look remarkably like those driven by Liberal Leaders from Gladstone to Lloyd George.

6:29 pm BST


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