Yet the eighties were more liberal in at least one important respect: there may have been violent disagreements about the government’s role in the economy but there was little urge to make the whole of private life the territory of endless management, incentive and punishment initiatives.That is true, but why has it happened under a Labour government?
Now I feel like I’m on the wrong end of a political Doppler shift. The general assumption I grew up with was that past in general was always more reactionary. The sixties may have seen a struggle towards greater social liberalism, but that just went to prove the point. We now seem to be getting to the stage where the past – at least, the fairly recent past - is always more liberal because there was a general acceptance of much greater personal autonomy.
The first reason is simply that many Labour politicians do not care that much about freedom.
The second reason is that among more thoughtful Labourites there is a view that liberal, democratic reforms were all very well in their day, but those battles were fought and won long ago. What matters today are battles for economic and social rights.
The truth is that the battle for liberalism and democracy has to be won in every generation. And we Liberal Democrats should remember that the opposition we face in those battles will not come solely from the right.