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Homeless liberals

By Alex Chatham
June 19th, 2017 at 1:10 pm | No Comments | Posted in Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy, Libertarians

For some, Tim Farron’s resignation as leader of the Liberal Democrats demostrated the failure of the party to live up to the first part of its name. It is more likely that the equivalnt of Lib Dem ‘men in gray suits’ wanted Farron out because he failed to secure many more MPs at the General Election. Of course, the party has long been associated with nannyism and a desire to interfere in people’s lives: none of which is very liberal. It is certainly nothing like its previous incarnation. The old Liberal Party might have had its quirks but the liberal tradition of John Locke, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill coursed through its DNA.

If the Lib Dems are’t liberal, who is? Conservatives for Liberty are doing their best to stake out liberal ground within the Tory party. The problem is that Conservatism is a broad church and some of that church, as we have seen recently, doesn’t much like liberalism. Even the Tories who argue for low taxes and a small state don’t talk about limiting government, a key component of classical liberalism. Of course, you can keep making the case and right now the Conservatives are about the best you will get if you want economic liberalism.

The other options are to support a liberally-inclinded think tank or individual electoral candidates. At some point, we might get a liberal party committed to the rule of law, limited government, tolerance, liberty, plurality, peace  and free markets. In the meantime, homeless liberals have to work out how best to maximise freedom in a climate rather unsympathetic to the liberal creed.

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The Illiberal Left

By Sara Scarlett
September 18th, 2015 at 7:30 am | Comments Off on The Illiberal Left | Posted in Labour, Liberal Democrats, Libertarians

The election of Jeremy Corbyn has obviously increased the chatter about the positioning of parties on the left/right spectrum. Tim Farron has flaunted the somewhat incredulous claim that Labour MPs will defect to the LibDems…

 

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 23.17.03

I am amused by the suggestion that the Blairites would find a happy home in the LibDems. It would probably be like being a Libertarian in the Tories… Tony Blair’s New Labour was not liberal in any sense of the word. Nanny statist, warmongering and prone to top-down diktats; civil libertarians despaired.

The zeitgeist has changed and a too many political activists and commentators, overwhelmingly on the Left, have not caught on. In the 1980s the dichotomy was clear. Thatcher represented the authoritarian right and all who opposed her amounted to a broad and diverse liberal left.

The authoritarian right versus the libertarian left set play no longer applies. Blair’s administration turned the left into authoritarians, different from the right-wing authoritarians, but authoritarians nonetheless. This new left felt/feels justified in increasing the erosions of our civil liberties and deeper policing of thought, speach and lifetstyle. This is not only enforced by little Hitlers in town councils but in offices, schools and more private places (like cars and homes) not to mention on social media!

In the 80s the Right’s authoritarianism was anti-gay and racist but now if you are perceived to be anti-gay and/or racist, the full wrath of the authoritarian left will chew you up and spit you out.

This is most noticeably seen on issues such as smoking tobacco versus smoking cannabis. Almost every LibDem I’ve met, with a few exceptions, would legalise smoking cannabis tomorrow. Almost every LibDem I’ve met, with a few exceptions, would ban cigarettes off the face of the earth today. I struggle to understand this fundamentally contradictory set of beliefs despite the fact that they are held simultaneously by so many.

The only way I can assume that this is justified in their minds is because cigarettes are manufactured by companies and cannabis is not. (Surely they must realise that once cannabis is legalised, ‘Big Cannabis’ would become a thing instantly?) The anti-capitalism/evil tobacco companies rhetoric comes before the small matter of personal liberty/lifestyle choices. The left-wingness comes before the liberalism.

I believe this is why Jeremy Corbyn et al. are comfortable talking talking to the undesireables he talks to. The capitalist ‘West’ is the big bad guy and anyone who opposes them are underdogs. I believe in the back of Corbyn’s mind he knows that those folks throw homosexuals off buildings and beat their wives but I strongly suspect that it just matters to Corbyn so much less than the anti-Western capitalist imperialist thing.

This is one of the reasons I’ve never been a fan of the ‘enemy of your enemy is your friend’ schtick.

Liberals are scattered and disjointed and remain dhimmis in all parties despite attempts to define left-wing populism as ‘Liberalism.‘ Attemts to portray Cameron as an arch-Thatcherite also make little sense as he is a moderate above all else. Cameron has been made more authoritarian by power but that’s typical. He’s not a liberal but he’s never called himself one either. It’s not just the gone-to-seed activists that populate the increasingly tragic comment threads on LDV who are willfully unaware of this; activists my age define themselves by a dominant school of thought that hasn’t been true in Britain since the 80s.

The left simply don’t realise that they are not the liberals anymore. Or, worse, they don’t care.

 

Liberalism: Is the tide turning?

By Editor
June 1st, 2013 at 1:28 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Libertarians

An exciting couple days for all us liberals out there. Not one, but two hat tips:

First, the good news that “we are not alone”. Liberalism is not just alive in the UK, it is positively thriving. A major feature in the Economist, of all places, states “Britain’s youth are not just more liberal than their elders. They are also more liberal than any previous generation“.

Young Britons, it turns out, are classical liberals. The Economist reports:

“…as well as prizing social freedom, they believe in low taxes, limited welfare and personal responsibility. In America they would be called libertarians.”

This totally uplifting piece goes on to say

““Every successive generation is less collectivist than the last,” says Ben Page of Ipsos MORI, a pollster. All age groups

Graph courtesy of YouGov/Economist

Graph courtesy of YouGov / Economist

are becoming more socially and economically liberal. But the young are ahead of the general trend. They have a more sceptical view of state transfers, even allowing for the general shift in attitudes”

And it isn’t just IPSOS MORI saying this. The same article reports

“Polling by YouGov shows that those aged 18 to 24 are also more likely than older people to consider social problems the responsibility of individuals rather than government. They are deficit hawks.  They care about the environment, but are also keen on commerce: more supportive of the privatisation of utilities, more likely to reject government attempts to ban branding on cigarette packets and more likely to agree that Tesco, Britain’s supermarket giant, “has only become so large by offering customers what they want”.”

Do go read the article in full to get a warm fuzzy feeling all over.

But what to do about this?

Second: Mark Littlewood (who get’s a mention in the above Economist item as will be noted by conspiracy theorists everywhere) seems to have the answer. Writing in the Times [paywall] on Friday he suggests “The Lib Dems should try being real liberals“. In his hard hitting comment piece Littlewood (former spin doctor of the party and LV founder and blogger) points out the all-too-obvious malaise within the party:

“There is no acute leadership crisis, just a general sense that they are sinking. It is near impossible to discern what their recovery strategy is. Mr Clegg and his close advisers encourage the party faithful to “hold your nerve”…. But that sounds more like psychotherapy than a plan.”

Front Cover of the Economist : June 1st 2013

Front Cover of The Economist : June 1st 2013

Well said. But, this isn’t just a piece pointing out the parlous state of the party right now, he has a sensible, practical solution. Here are the key bits:

“First, they (Lib Dems) need to stop doing and saying things that have little resonance outside their declining base of party activists.”

“Second, the Lib Dems need to take a leaf out the books of many of their sister parties on the Continent. Many European politicians rightly view them as rather an odd, mixed bag with a left-leaning social democratic agenda. Not very liberal at all, in other words.”

“…the Lib Dems often come across as no more coherent than a confederation of residents’ associations. Few voters understand any driving philosophy behind their policy, merely that it is “middle of the road”.

“The party does have a strong commitment to civil liberties hardwired into its DNA, but on lifestyle issues, such as smoking, drinking or reading magazines with airbrushed photos of female models, it can’t resist the urge to agitate for greater state intrusion and control.” [see a previous post on LV “Norman Lamb: Doh!” for more on that one].

“…this actually makes a strategy of being a small state, pro-business party even more attractive — mainly because most Lib Dem MPs find themselves in close fights with the Tories”.

“A consistent, clear, genuinely liberal narrative, in which the State plays less of a role in our lives, and individuals have greater freedom to keep their own money, run their own affairs and make their own choices does not guarantee electoral success. But it surely offers a much better prospect for the Lib Dems than anchoring their ship somewhere in the centre of the ocean, as they slowly slip beneath the waves.”

Whether the appearance of his comment piece in the Times on Friday is coincidence, or deliberately timed to coincide with the Economist report, only Littlewood will know. But taking those two articles together we see not only that there is a real, and growing appetite, for classical liberalism in the UK, but there is a compelling case that Lib Dems should not just be spectators to this upswing, but capitalise on it. Britain looks ready to embrace a real liberal party – but is the party ready to be it?  Here’s hoping so.

(PS Young liberals out there might like to find out more about Liberty League and Freedom Week by clicking on the links.)

 

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Hats off to Norman Baker

By Tom Papworth
August 3rd, 2012 at 2:34 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in freedom, Liberal Democrats, Libertarians, Nannying, Personal Freedom, Transport

Stephen Tall, Research Associate at Centre Forum and Editor of Lib Dem Voice, has kindly posted my choice for Liberal Hero of the Week on the Centre Forum blog.

So (ahem!) hats off to Norman Baker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport with responsibility for cycling, who described as his “libertarian right” to cycle without a helmet on.

And if you want to find out why, you can read the full article on the Centre Forum blog.

transport-ministers-cycling

(PS: Do I win a prize for squeezing the most links into my opening sentence?)

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The Strange Rebirth of Classical Liberalism

By Simon Goldie
November 24th, 2011 at 11:00 am | 19 Comments | Posted in Liberal Philosophy, Libertarians, Liberty League

When George Dangerfield wrote The Strange Death of Liberal England it looked as though liberalism was no longer relevant to the body politic. The Liberal party had been overtaken by its rivals: the Conservatives and the newly-created Labour party. Many liberal ideas had become part and parcel of the political landscape, which might have explained the demise of the party.

In 2003, David Walter wrote The Strange Rebirth of Liberal England. The author argued that liberalism was back. But that liberalism was very different to the one that was withering away decades before.

It is no surprise that a political philosophy will adapt to changing times. Recently, though it would appear that the advocates of classical liberalism have re-entered the mainstream political debate.

One could argue that the Whigs who entered the Conservative party in the 19th century carried on that classical liberal tradition. The problem is that a political tradition co-habiting with another that pulls in a very different direction inevitably compromises and has its voice dulls.

There is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that classical liberalism has rediscovered its voice.

In the last few years, we have seen the creation of the Cobden Centre, Learn Liberty, a reinvigorated Institute of Economic Affairs, Liberty League, a plethora of classical liberal blogs, the creation of the Libertarian party and lastly, but no means least, Liberal Vision.

This doesn’t mean that all these groups agree with each other. There are differences over tax, the Europe Union, constitutional reform and human rights legislation. It does mean that the case for classical liberalism is being made: arguments for sound money, plurality, tolerance and individual freedom.

How much impact these disparate groups will have is an open question. What we can say for certain is that this reinvigorated classical liberal movement is, once again, having an impact on the public policy conversation.

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