the party should emphasise its commitment to localism in one of the most suffocatingly centralised states in the developed world. The two big parties both nod earnestly in support of devolved decision-making – and then promote policies that hoard power in Whitehall.
The government’s decade-long refusal to reform local government finance speaks eloquently to its determination that city, town and parish councils do nothing but what they are told by the Treasury. Mr Cameron’s response is to pretend that the best way to reinvigorate local decision-making is to encourage referendums to cap the council tax.
There is similar space in the clash between civil liberties and an increasingly authoritarian state. This is not just about opposing the extension of pre-charge detention limits for suspected terrorists or dangerously illiberal identity cards. As important is a sustained assault on the ethos that says the state can gather more and more data on every citizen – and use that information as it pleases. The mislaid personal details of 25m taxpayers represents the tip of a very big iceberg.
Finally, the Liberal Democrats should promote the idea that pluralism can be the natural ally of fairness. With Mr Blair gone, Labour is slipping back into its default prejudice in favour of monolithic mediocrity in the provision of public services. The Conservatives still leave the suspicion that their preference for market-based disciplines is careless of the need for equity. There is room here for what Mr Blair would have called a third way: choice and diversity harnessed to the cause of fairness as well as excellence in publicly funded schools and hospitals.
All in all, this adds up to a distinctive, liberal manifesto. For all that the two main parties have been monopolising the headlines, there is still a large pool of uncommitted voters. The Liberal Democrats should keep it simple. They might learn, though, to be more careful with their leaders.
Monday, December 10, 2007
The FT's advice to the Lib Dems
And good advice it is too: