Whatever else that is said about Jeremy Corbyn, no one would claim he is a liberal. As he attempts to move the Labour party to the far-Left and the Conservative party moves further towards the centre Left, it is a perfect opportunity for a party to make the liberal case for policies that would allow people to run their lives through a free market, limited government and a safety net that catches people from falling into destitution without trapping them into poverty. A party like that would be robust in its liberalism, making it clear that markets create wealth and stops government interfering where it shouldn’t. If only a party like that existed…
Transport for London (TfL) has launched a consultation on private hire regulations. The consultation sets out proposals to regulate private cars and apps that allow customers to book a vehicle. TfL has said this is not an attack on Uber. Putting that argument to one side, it is certainly an attack on the free market as the proposals would force companies to adopt certain business models.
Anyone can respond. If you support a free market then it is worth spending the time answering the questionnaire and setting out your objections to some absurd regulatory suggestions such as having to wait for five minutes after booking a cab even if the car is nearby and can be there within a minute or so.
The consultation is here.
This is not a good year to be a British liberal. The Conservatives are putting up fences on the borders. The hard left have taken over the Labour Party, the soft left are running the Liberal Democrats, the Greens remain shrill and extreme, and the SNP/Plaid use left-populism as a rhetorical device for having a pop at Westminster.
If you are live-and-let-live on personal matters, internationalist, think markets work better than state planning, that devolution means empowering individuals as much as communities, and want more democracy, you don’t have an obvious home. You are though a liberal.
Not an economic-liberal… classical liberal… Orange-booker… New Labour… Notting Hill Tory… radical centrist… or any of the other micro-strains of labelling that are largely about what you are not…
You are a liberal.
And it’s a good thing, whichever way you happen to vote.
The desire of liberals in all the various tribes to own a narrow part of that tradition, or relabel themselves in the context of their tribes however makes the huge coalition of interests in the liberal coalition very hard to see. What is possibly the most successful political movement in British political history. A strand of thinking that has dominated the Leaderships and lasting reforms of Government for century is largely invisible. For example:
The Conservatives are currently the most liberal Party available on the economy, but they fail to impress on a range of issues around the constitution and civil liberties. The party’s instincts remain patrician and unsurprisingly… conservative. They have still not adapted to the logic of federal Britain, they doggedly defend and entrench privilege in the House of Lords. Their tendency to be seduced by grand schemes and vested interests is every bit as severe as that of Labour. They have though a very strong liberal tradition, and it’s currently running the Party.
The Liberal Democrats are reliable reformists and civil libertarians (unless you smoke, drive or drink), but are retreating into ‘not them’ opportunism on the really big questions that used to trouble their former leadership. They are happier today talking about 1 hour bus tickets, and the rights of BBC millionaires to claim rent for Strictly Come Dancing, than deficit reduction or public service reform. They are currently publishing articles about how great Jeremy Corbyn is going to be, and celebrating winning Parish Council by-elections. It is a liberal Party, but an increasingly narrow one with a very uncertain future.
Labour’s liberals are regrouping. They’ve had 5 years of Miliband’s brand of parochial populism to prepare for obscurity. They’ve now got another 5 years to prepare for a comeback tour. They are though lacking any obvious leadership or central purpose beyond an appeal to pragmatism and electability… both of which… require good leadership to be convincing. It’s a paradoxical mess. One that opened the door to Corbyn. And may cost them years in the wilderness. A new SDP looks very unlikely. There is no gang of four. There is every reason to believe that a membership that votes for rebels will not punish them for doing a Corbyn to Corbyn over the Parliament.
The SNP has liberal elements. The People’s Front of Caledonia they are not. Nor is Scotland a 1970s parody of Scandinavia. They are though somewhat diluted amongst the populists. They are like the nationalist Scottish right prepared to operate under the left umbrella for the greater goals of separation. Should that ever happen, the first victim of it, would be the unity of the SNP. The parrot of Scottish liberalism then is resting, not deceased. It may yet express itself more strongly in this rampantly successful election-winning machine.
So what should liberals do?
I’m fairly sure the answer isn’t to try and start a new Party. Tribalism isn’t a liberal value. Parties are principally vehicles for achieving power, not the battle of ideas. It shouldn’t matter greatly to liberals which coalition of interests, in which wrapper, are forming the Government provided their instincts and leadership are broadly liberal. The competition between groups within Parties as to owns the liberal tradition, one wider and deeper than any of them, does not I think serve that tradition well.
A cross-party Liberal Movement conversely, bringing together liberal talents, reminding each other that there are common causes, and coordinating resistance to the illiberal extremes, has some appeal. There is a vast pool of liberal minded think tanks, campaigns and other groups that already form the basis for such a network. There are groups within all the Parties that represent the liberal view. They just don’t talk to each other, nearly enough.
Perhaps they should.
The newly elected leader of the Lib Dems, Tim Farron, has already taken to air stating that his ambition is to bring all liberals into the Lib Dem fold. That would work if the party was actually liberal. Unfortunately it is not.
Mark Littlewood, (formerly of this parish) said what we were all thinking…
Mr Farron is going to have his work cut out keeping the liberals he has inside the party, if he really does intend to move the party massively to the left of where it is now.Tags: lib dems, liberal, Mark Littlewood, Tim Farron
Hat tip: In case you missed it, do go read a brilliant analysis of Britain’s so-called “tooth decay crisis” by Christopher Snowdon.
As reported in the Sunday Times, according to Nigel Hunt, dean of the Royal College of Surgeons’ dental faculty, we are facing [yet another] health crisis, this time relating to child tooth decay. The basis of theDean’s complaint is that some children are having to wait months before they can have teeth extracted under general anaesthetic in a hospital. As Mr Snowdon says, “This is a disgrace”, but, he points out that this is not due to an epidemic of tooth decay, our oral health has been improving, not declining, in recent years:
“According to a report by the Royal College of Surgeons”….” ‘oral health has improved significantly since the 1970s’. Does that include children? You betcha. ‘The dental health of the majority of British children has improved dramatically since the early 1970s,’ according to a 2005 study, mainly because of ‘the widespread availability of fluoride containing toothpastes’. This was confirmed in a 2011 study which concluded that ‘since the 1970s, the oral health of the population, both children’s dental decay experience and the decline [in] adult tooth loss, has improved steadily and substantially.”
The problem, Snowdon suggests is not our willingness or ability to make kids brush their teeth, but rather the inability of the NHS to conduct the operations required. So the crisis, if there is one, is within the NHS. Rather than accept that the problem lies there, and call for a review of health provision in the UK, or a demand to root out the inefficiencies of the state monolith, Dean calls for… wait for it… graphic photos of rotten teeth to be placed on sweets and fizzy drinks.
This of course echos the demands, issued earlier this week, by the doctors trade union, the British Medical Association, [BMA] to put a 20% tax on sweet drinks, because of the obesity crisis.
Serendipity that two medical groups demand action on fizzy drinks within days of each other? Or a coordinated effort to divert attention away from the failings of the NHS and point the finger at the preferred “evil” industry on which to pile up all the blame?
Or could it be a concerted attack on Government, currently considering “a range of measures to curb the nation’s intake of sugar“. If only the medical profession would apply such diligence and “joined up action” on the real NHS problems, rather than finding ever-new scape-goats.
Snowdon elegantly concludes:
Christopher Snowdon, Department of health, health warnings, Royal College of Surgeons, sugar, sugar tax, tooth decay
“As Douglas Murray observed in The Spectator last month, victim-blaming has become the medical establishment’s default response to its own failures. The shrill demands for government action are a crude diversionary tactic. Can’t get the waiting lists down? Bring in a sugar tax! Unable to carry out minor operations? Put graphic warnings on Mars bars! It is a shameless distraction from the real issue, but when combined with the media’s gross misrepresentation of the facts and the political class’s thirst for legislation, it is a pretty effective one.”
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