Or so said Vincent Van Gogh.
Since its publication in 2004, and especially since the formulation of the Liberal-Conservative Coalition, there has been an astonishing amount of guff written about The Orange Book. Barely a day goes by without someone decrying the influence of those supposedly unsavoury rightist ‘Orange Bookers’. However, Edward Stourton’s recent Analysis programme on Radio 4 was an intelligent and more measured approach to assessing its political impact. In short, it questioned whether yellow + blue = orange.
Personally, I’ve discovered that those most vehemently against The Orange Book are those most likely never to have read it. One of those interviewed in the Analysis programme was the historian and now Labour MP Tristram Hunt (post-Naughtie/Marr, I must ensure that I spell his last name correctly). His recent piece in The Guardian is a fine example of the hyperbole that surrounds it:
“For these neoLiberal Democrats of the Orange Book school remain determined to junk social liberalism for economic liberalism. Their guiding light is the Gladstonian ideal of a low-tax, laissez-faire, “night-watchman state”". And yes, he did say night-watchman state…
It is because of this that for the first and possibly last time on a Liberal Vision post, I’d like to propose to ban something – the unnecessary and overuse of the term ‘Orange Booker’ in political discourse.
For me at least, The Orange Book was just a coherent set of essays that looked to all strands of liberal history when devising future party policy; it was about looking at liberalism in its entirety – economic and social liberalism. It had nothing to do with Tory entryism in the same way that the authors of Reinventing the State weren’t closet Labour supporters. It certainly wasn’t an updated version of Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia.
Just look at those who penned chapters for The Orange Book: Steve Webb could hardly be described as a man of the right and both Chris Huhne and Vince Cable were ex-SDP and Labour members. Charles Kennedy wrote the foreword (one presumes he actually read the contents of the book prior to publication?).
Edward Stourton was correct in saying that the book may have had a profound effect on British politics. Many of its authors now sit round the Cabinet table. However, the formation of the Liberal-Tory Coalition in 2010 was as much to do with The Orange Book as with the modernisation strategy pursued by David Cameron to bring the Conservatives back into the centre ground of British politics.
(P.S Please include any ridiculous examples of the term ‘Orange Booker’ in the comments).