We positively glory in upsetting Conservatives. If someone got up during a debate at a Lib Dem Conference and said we should not support civil liberties in case the Daily Mail and the Tory Party attacked us, he would be howled down. And rightly so.
But our attitude to Labour is very different. Here is Paul Holmes, chair of the Lib Dem parliamentary party, writing in today's Liberal Democrat News:
Those who talk of "breaking up the NHS" need to explain in detail what they mean, although the damage is already done in terms of Labour leaflet writers. Decentralisation and local accountability would be in tune with Liberal Democrat core values. But the headline writers seized upon hints of cut-throat competition and USA style personal insurance (whatever other title it is dressed up in).Liberal Democrats love to describe themselves as "radical", but for many there seems to be an unstated assumption that to be radical means to be like the pre-Blair Labour Party.
Why is this? In my Liberator review of the Orange Book I suggested that:
for most of the twentieth century liberalism was in decline and socialism was seen as the ideology of the future. It was not surprising that some liberals concluded that the way to prove that liberalism was still relevant was to show that it had anticipated socialism or was really a form of socialism too.We need to be more confident in liberalism and to enjoy outraging socialists as much as we enjoy outraging the Tories. Our policies should emphasise individual liberty and local democracy to an extent that scandalises the Labour Party.
Perhaps the philosophical differences between liberalism and socialism are harder to appreciate if you do not remember Labour before Blair. And these days Liberal Democrat policy is closest to New Labour on precisely those issues which are central to New Labour's view of the world. I am thinking of childcare and antisocial behaviour.
But ultimately, what is the point of having a separate Liberal Democrat party if our policies do not annoy Labour politicians and journalists?