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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Liberal Vision (Again) - Pressure Group ? Faction ? Entryists ?

Let's be clear, I have an inherent dislike of closing down debate and respect there are many libertarians who pose questions and raise issues that otherwise would go unheard in the Lib Dems. In that context, they firmly belong within the broad church that is, and should be, the Liberal Democrats.

Now my formative political years were spent (like Messrs Littlewood and Fernando) in, ahem, another political party. My time as a Labour member and councillor saw the rise of the 'Militant' faction within the party. Despite being on the 'left' the damage this group did to the wider left and to Labour in particular is now a matter of record. They had a separate agenda, a different ideological base and ran parallel to the party they resided within. They were not too keen on their own internal democracy either. To my mind Liberal Vision [LV] share some of these 'entryist' and factional tendencies.

Mark Littlewood argues that they are no different from any other organised group within the party (minus internal democratic elections of course), such as ALDTU, Women Lib Dems, DAGGER et al. But, there is a difference the SAO/SO groups all sign up to the preamble of the party, rather than the pick and mix approach of those who support the politics of LV.

As I said in a previous post, LV is I believe a subsidiary of Progressive Voice and has a remarkably similar narrative to the UK Libertarian Party. Just take a cursory glance at the policy proposals of the UK Libertarian Party and compare them to the proposals of Progressive Vision.

As for the policy thrust of LV, consider this currently unpopular truth. It has been a progressive centre and centre-left agenda influenced by liberal and social democratic thought that has delivered over the last three elections (1997 / 2001 / 2005) for this party the greatest number of parliamentarians for us since the 1920s.

Although critical of an over-bearing state the Lib Dems and it's predecessors have never been afraid to legislate and be 'interventionist'. The welfare state has a Liberal DNA running right through it. The LDs, since it's foundation, has been a progressive tax party to fund improved public services. Now it seeks to be the party that offers a quasi-Thatcherite helping of tax and spending cuts. This looks like an opportunist attempt to stem the Tory tide across a swathe of southern English seats.

The party, rightly, continues to be interventionist. Presently it has offered distinctive positions on policy debates relating to issues as diverse as 'nationalisation' of banks through to minimum prices for alcohol (although I strongly disagree with this very illiberal proposal - booze for the wealthy only - what a vote winner !!!).

LV has little to say to the poor, little to say on the environment. Further as Thomas Gilbert remarks on Lib Dem Voice many Lib Dems have fought against the small government, low tax agenda for years. Mr. Littlewood and others like him wants us to spin around 360 degrees and offer the electorate something totally inconsistent with what the Lib Dems have offered since the formation of the party, thereby putting at risk the coalition of support built up thus far.

Even so far, the mild shift in emphases doesn't appear to be working. But to suggest that’s because we’re not moving far or fast enough to the right, that we are not radical enough is nonesense to my mind. This line of argument reminds me of Tony Benn and others arguing that Thatcher's victories over Labour were because they were not sufficiently socialist enough ! He also saw the disasterous Labour performance of 1983 as several million votes for 'socialism' ! Pity those of us less well off who had a torrid time under Thatcher, at least we could console ourselves with the fact that an impotent Labour Party had turned to the left. Let's not allow the Lib Dems to repeat elements of that kind of experience through our own internal battles and striving for a vote-losing LV inspired narrative.

Luckily the shrill voices of many libertarians and classical liberals online may not match the reality in the constituencies. I know of no-one active within my local party (Torbay) that would subscribe to the ideas being promoted by LV and others. Is this the same for others ?

One of the things I've most enjoyed about the 4 years or so of LD membership, some of them active and some not, is the lack of organised factionalism. However, it might be necessary, and with some reluctance, for the 'left' of the party to come together, become organised and challenge the classical liberals / libertarians in the party. An open, democratic organisation, maybe modelled on the lines of the Compass grouping within Labour, might be a useful starting point. The Beveridge Group, if it opened out beyond the 'great and the good' might do this, but otherwise we need to do it for ourselves. What do people think

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Blogger Jennie said...

I vote entryists. Both of the leaders are "ex" Tories.

11:25 am BST

Blogger Duncan Borrowman said...

I think the Beveridge Group may well be the vehicle that is needed, though I would rather we didn't have these factional groups. The Beveridge Group only appeared because of the need to challenge Economic Liberal groups (let alone Libertarians...)

By the way it is Terry Gilbert

12:04 pm BST

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no sign that these entryists have any serious support within the grassroots of the party where I am (E.Midlands). I first joined back in the eighties. Back then we used to joke about being big enough one day to be capable of being split on factional lines. Perhaps now we have grown big enough that the day has arrived? The Beveridge group has been fairly ineffectual so far. Maybe because the great and the good are too busy being great and good to give enough time to it? If so then opening it up would give it the boost of energy it needs.

1:19 pm BST

Blogger James Schneider said...

Wasn't Mark Littlewood Ming Campbell's press officer (or something similar)? That would suggest that he's a lib dem, not an entryist. Would it not?

12:30 am BST

Anonymous Anonymous said...

However it was dressed up Mark Littlewood was **sacked** as a Lib Dem Press Officer. Whether he officially 'resigned' after being 'pushed' is immaterial. In short, he was booted out !

8:38 am BST

Blogger James Schneider said...

I'm not sure but I think the circumstances were he said to the press that PR would not be a make or break issue at a hung Parliament (or something to that effect). It directly contradicted party policy, so he had to resign. I think that is what happened. I've never heard anyone say he was booted

It appears that Mark Littlewood is a lib dem and has been for rather a long time. The evidence doesn't stack up for him being an entryist. PV/LV is not the Tendency.

12:47 pm BST

Anonymous oranjepan said...

If LV/PV opens a window for others to join our party and be converted to liberalism and democracy then they should be encouraged.

If they are trying to convert us I shall stand up and laugh!

12:15 pm GMT

Blogger Ed said...

When the Liberal Party was formed the founders ensured that the president of the party recieved a book of office 'On Liberty' by the 19th century philosopher JS Mill. This is the bible of Lib Dem libertarians. Yes the party is a broad church and this is absolutely a good thing but the party needs a soul and that soul lies in its founding principles.

If there are late arrivers it is the Beveridge Group whose ideas come from the post war era.

We need to have some consistency in what we are saying to the electorate. Although the social liberals are many they disgree in what they want to ban and nullify their own arguments. Eg some voted in favour of the religious hatred bill and some did not. Some want to ban late night drinking and some want to allow it. There can't be any consistency because with social liberalism all policy is made up on the hoof and the 'philosophy' cannot provide a clear answer.

We need to fashion liberalism into something that is electable. Social Liberalism will never do that because it is not a real philosophy, classical liberalism could in theory be the heart of the solution.

I support what Mark aned Chandila are doing I think it is good for the party that a clear debate is opened up.

Ed Joyce

12:30 am GMT

Blogger Left Lib said...

It is wrong to say that JS Mill is a libertarian. See this article here;
According to the article, there are even circumstances that according to Mill "despotism is a legitimate form of government". A good example of that would be Iraq, where the people have suffered more than they did when Saddam Hussein was president.
The Liberal party has NEVER been a libertarian party.
The 1 day LD conference I went to recently in London, hardly a libertarian comment was made. It is on the internet where libertarians proliferate. They are a small section of the Liberal Democrats, as in fact they are in the other political parties as well.
The recent financial crises which represents a failure of free market economics has put libertarians very much on the back foot.

8:35 pm GMT


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