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The Central Question

By Andy Mayer
September 12th, 2010 at 11:05 am | 17 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy, Opinion

There is some pressure on Nick Clegg to deliver a speech in Liverpool next week that sets out what it is that defines the Liberal Democrats as an independent force in British Politics. Co-incident with that there is a party-led ‘strategic-review’ that attempts to either help him do that or remind him that some Liberal Democrats find the idea of their Leader actually leading somewhat troubling.

Within that debate there will be a raft of suggestions about philosophy, policy, and tactics ranging from what community politics means, to our view of the EU, and electoral pacts.

I have one small contribution I’d like to add. Nick should make an overt, aggressive and comprehensive pitch for the centre-ground. Specifically he should crush attempts by his left-wing to reinforce an idea we are a narrow party of the centre-left only interested in competing to replace Labour.

The party currently has a positioning problem. Nick typically describes us as liberal, avoiding the left-right labels. Previous leaders and opponents have suggested it is a non-socialist alternative to Labour, equidistant, orange Tories, and so on… most commentators use centre-left without any correction from the party.

This is a mistake.

The first point to make is in the main, most of our supporters (around 55% according to YouGov poll in the middle of the last decade) self-define as centrist, as do most voters. the next largest LD group around 30% as very slightly left-of centre, with a small tail to the left and a few slightly right-of-centre. We are more credible as a centrist party than a centre-left faction.

The Labour party is unambiguously the strongest force on the left, the Conservatives on the right. It should then be to the Liberal Democrat’s electoral advantage to reinforce what is already broadly true, that Labour are left, the Conservatives are right and we are the natural party of the centre-ground. That can be conditioned for different audiences or aspects of our movement… the liberal centre-ground, the radical-centre, anti-authoritarian moderates etc… but it should be clear and repeatedly expressed that the Liberal Democrats are interested in attracting support from across mainstream opinion.

Avoiding the left-right issue in most contexts is perfectly sensible politics. The labels tend to put-off those who do not share the identity more than they attract. They do not entirely describe what it is you are about.

But organisations also do not control their reputations, they can only influence them. If you are believed to be something you are not, you do need to remind people, from time to time, what you prefer to be, through consistent language, positioning and correcting misrepresentation.

Being sold as centre-left is not an advantage. It sends two messages, one is the moderate centre-right are the enemy and should support the Cameron project, the second is that we are a faction in the same space as Labour, not distinct movement in our own right.

The underlying goal of those who bang on about the centre-left and progressive alliances against the Tories is either replacing Labour by becoming Labour or we must believe they have no grasp of the electoral reality that split votes favour opponents. Either way the UK doesn’t need two mass-movements on the left, any more than it needs two conservative parties. The gap is a clear and credible force in the middle.

The centre-ground is attractive  in that it is distinctive and does not alienate. To be considered centrist in British politics is a mark of high esteem. It says you are pragmatic, considerate of the diversity of opinion, one-nation, able to work with others, a broad church that can adapt the best thinking of your opponents… or in other words tolerant and… liberal.

If this party has a future as a mass movement it must then decide, are we a faction of the left, or the liberal bulwark against extremism with ambitions to dominate the centre-ground we define and our opponents only borrow. Nick’s answer to this central question and vision of the future needs to be: yes.


The Libertarian Review

By Sara Scarlett
September 10th, 2010 at 11:00 am | Comments Off on The Libertarian Review | Posted in Liberal Philosophy

Some good news from the Cato Institute today. Back issues of The Libertarian Review are now available online.

Over on the Cato-at-Liberty blog, David Boaz explains the significance of the magazine and points to some highlights. Enjoy.

Toothless media gum to death a blogger?

By Angela Harbutt
September 9th, 2010 at 4:26 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in Opinion

Why is it, I wonder, that the apparently toothless media – which has largely been pathetic at holding the government to account in recent years  (with the obvious exception of the expenses scandal which was sold to them)  – and has always been happy to hitch a ride on the back of the blogosphere whenever it can – has turned so violently on one Guido Fawkes?  (Well turned on him – not sure about the “violently“).

Across the last week or so a story has emerged of a cabinet minister sharing a bedroom with a junior aide, then appointing that aide to the position of Special Adviser (breaking his own PM’s rules on the number of advisers into the bargain) without any shred of evidence that this aide has any qualifications or experience that would make him a “must have” in the department. At a time of austerity and declared self-restraint from the Government this is surely a strange appointment?

To any journalist worth their salt this would raise certain questions…why did the Minister break the rule of only two advisers (when swingeing cuts are promised across Whitehall surely this is hypocrisy?)…why was a millionaire sharing a room with a junior aide ( this is unusual behaviour at the very least?)…why was someone with so few qualifications appointed to the post of Special Adviser –  one of the most influential jobs in the land?(this is our money being spent folks and we should expect our politicians to appoint the best qualified – not give “jobs to the boys” like some old- fashioned favour system).

When the Special Adviser then resigns -and the minister in question issues one of the most bizarre press statements witnessed in a very long time – totally unforced and widely considered ill-advised…one has to conclude that something is not right. And this is potentially very serious indeed. One of the most important portfolios in the country –Defence Foreign Office – is acting oddly. Should not the journalists smelt a whiff off something? Should they at least consider the possibility that this is a matter of serious concern? Should we not all be concerned?  Has the minister behaved inappropriately?  Has there been blackmail? Has the office been infiltrated by a terrorist network?…OK I grant you that this is probably not likely given the checks that people have to go through to get appointments approved. But then who would have thought that a Government would sex up a document , lie to us and then take us into an illegal war? A weapons inspector may have been murdered and the incident covered up by Government officials. Let’s be right “unlikely” stuff can happen.

So given the importance/sensitivity/security issues surrounding the department in question, the curious circumstances of the appointment and then resignation of the adviser and the frankly odd behaviour of the minister in question you would have thought that the national media would be all over this story like a rash?

Yet what we have witnessed from the established news media, is almost incomprehensible. First they ignore the story. Then they seem to have  put  the man, who placed the information in the public domain, on public trial …reporting the story, with a sort of shrugged embarrassment, that “this” blogger is asserting “that”. Well sorry…but the BBC alone employs scores of political journalists, has vast resources at its beck and call, spends hundreds of thousands on so-called “political-reporting” and yet the best it can do is invite the blogger in question onto a radio talk show for HIM to explain to the BBC why HE thinks it’s a story… What on earth has happened to the BBC that it cant see a story when it slaps them round the chops , let alone be the ones uncovering it in the first place?

For the record I do not know Guido Fawkes that well. I have no personal axe to grind here. But I do read his website. This man shows no signs of being homophobic as has been suggested elsewhere.  He shows every sign of being one of the last men standing in the country who has an ounce of journalistic instinct – and the courage of his convictions.

It is inconceivable that the Government has “lent” on the whole of the national media to put a stop on this story gaining traction. So what can explain the reluctance of the national media to treat this with the seriousness it deserves?

 Is Guido Fawkes so far off the mark on this one that they are only reluctantly reporting at the fringes because they “know” that he is just plain wrong on this? If so why not say it?

 Have the national media truly got too cosy to those that they are supposed to be reporting on that they can’t see beyond getting the next “exclusive interview” with some important bigwig in Government? 

Have they been shown up one too many times by Mr Fawkes (this is not the first time that the blogger has been the one to break the story) and are down on their knees praying he his wrong. Because to conceive that  he has been first (and right) again would be simply too shameful for words?

Is it, afterall,  a sign of  the inevitable growth of the blogger and the inevitable decline of “traditional” political reporting?

Well time will tell … the truth will out eventually. In the mean time I hope that the so-called established media get their act together. Because whether Guido is right or wrong on this (and I do really hope he is wrong)  his instincts to ask the questions must surely be correct?

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Do they learn NOTHING?

By Sara Scarlett
September 9th, 2010 at 10:30 am | 3 Comments | Posted in Personal Freedom, Policy, US Politics

Here’s a very informative little vid from the good people over at Reason detailing moves in the US to outlaw Menthol cigarettes:

The move to ban Menthols, and other ”flavoured smokes”, marks the transition to an outright ban on the sale of cigarettes. But I’m just astonished that politicians are moving in this direction.


I’ll say it again.


When has prohibition ever worked? It hasn’t/still isn’t. So why are we even going down this path? Looks like the 2020s are going to be marked with prohibition just like the 1920s was. And once again it will end in failure and costly procedures to have the legislation repealed. Politicians are stupid and Government is a joke.

Britain swarming with immigrants, yadda yadda…

By admin
September 8th, 2010 at 5:41 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

One of my favourite aspects of the anti-immigration argument goes as follows.

Anti-immigration Advocate says: “It’s not about race.”

Anti-immigration Advocate, 10 minutes later, says something like: “By 2050, half the UK’s population will be foreigners.”

What they mean, of course, is that half the population will be either foreign or the children of foreigners. Or even the children of the children of foreigners.

But if they’re born here, these children of foreigners, then they’re not foreign, right? Surely that makes them British.

Well no, argues Anti-immigration Advocate, because they’re still the children of foreigners and, well, you know…

Yes, Anti-Immigration Advocate, we know. We know exactly what you’re thinking.

But even still, they say, the country is FULL, and packed with immigrants.

This graph from the Guardian, however, suggests otherwise:


I found it on the excellent Roving Bandit blog, so many thanks to him.

As he sensibly conludes: “You might ask what all the fuss it about.”