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I wish Gavin Webb well in the Libertarian Party, but here’s why I won’t be joining him…

By Mark Littlewood
September 9th, 2009 at 5:31 am | 57 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

gavin-webbGavin Webb’s defection to the Libertarian Party will come as little surprise to those who know him. Having been on the receiving end of a spectacularly botched -and totally pointless – membership suspension from the LibDems, he probably feels he’s been spending more time watching his own back than publicly advocating his own views. No campaigner wants to be in that position.

In so far as the Libertarian Party has any ranks, you can expect Gavin to rise through them rapidly. He will presumably contest their (only) “target” seat at the next election and will probably poll rather better than other Libertarian Party candidates – all of whom will forfeit their deposits.

I won’t be joining him though and here’s why:

Even if I agreed with the entirety of the Libertarian Party’s platform, the party’s prospects of electoral success are, to put it politely, limited. No one would expect a small, new political party to win swathes of seats in its early days, but there are strong signs that the LP will take decades to make even modest headway. Their result in the Norwich North by-election was parlous (being outscored 4 to 1 by the Monster Raving Loony Party) but even more significantly, they seemed only capable of fielding a single candidate in the 2009 local elections. With around 2,500 seats up for grabs last May, to only be making an effort in one of them is indicative of a hopelessly flimsy party infrastructure.

Secondly, if Gavin wishes to agitate for pure libertarian policies, he’d be far better doing so without the enormous distraction and expense of attempting to help maintain the semblance of an electoral machine. In contemporary British politics, a myriad of pressure groups, think tanks and campaign organisations are doing far more to influence opinion and debate than the LP could dream of achieving. To contest the next general election – even half properly – would cost the Libertarian Party about a million pounds (and they still wouldn’t win a single seat) Influential, high profile, high impact Westminster think tanks operate on smaller annual budgets than this.

Thirdly, the Liberal Democrats remain the best chance of securing some of the crucial changes Britain needs. Radical constitutional change is the most obvious of these and I’d urge everyone who supports such a transformation in our democracy to rally to the LibDem banner, almost (but not wholly) irrespective of their views in other policy areas.

But another key point is that the Liberal Democrats are actually open to debate and persuasion. When you put aside the very small number of oddballs in the vehement green ink brigade – who believe that airing any difference of opinion with the official party line is “infiltration” or “factionalism” and can reasonably be dealt with through means of physical violence – most LibDem members are basically rational, decent people, who are pretty damned open-minded. This doesn’t guarantee any individual or group will succeed in getting their way, but it does mean that outfits like Liberal Vision can at least make a decent fist of it.

So, I wish Gavin all the best in his new political party. But I fear he may become a less effective advocate of increasing personal freedom now he’s wearing the colours of the Libertarian Party.

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