Friday, February 03, 2012

Come on Davey light my fire

The Liberal Democrat blogosphere has been an odd place over the past few days. There has been talk of "betrayal and loathing in the Lib Dems," our MPs have told to hang their heads in shame and someone appears to have declared war on the leadership.

I have never been an enthusiast for conducting politics in this slightly paranoid language. That distaste is one of the many reasons I have never been attracted to the Labour Party. It reminds me of poor old Michael Foot waving his arms and talking about treason.

Nor do I have any sense that the ambitions of those using such language in the Lib Dems this week do so from an ideological position that goes much beyond leaving things much as Labour left them. Surely, after 90 years out of power, we should have something more to say on health than "Andy Burnham got it about right"?

But then I have long argued that a lack of ideology is the weakness of the Liberal Democrats. When asked what we stand for we tend to talk about individual liberty, but we have tended to combine that with a fear of going against the sort of policies that receive warm words from Guardian editorials. It is now wonder that proves an awkward combination when it is put under pressure.

I also think that some in the party have adopted an almost Bennite view of the political process. You win a majority for your programme within the party, the party wins an election and then implements every last dot and comma of that programme.

But as anyone who has been a local councillor - in fact anyone who has worked in an organisation of any size knows - politics is not like that. You are constantly buffeted by unforeseen events and you have to win support for your policies from far beyond the party even if you have a majority in the Commons. And that is a thousand times more true if you are the junior partner in a coalition.

You could say the party has its values to fall back on, but I am not convinced that talk of balancing liberty, equality and community quite cuts it. Surely everyone wants to balance those elements? It's just that they would all strike the balance in a different place. But then I was around in the old Liberal Party, so the preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution has always sounded to me like the compromise it was rather than a clarion call.

Anyway, it the midst of this week's dramas Gareth Epps' headline Ed Davey is not fit to be a Cabinet minister almost counts as moderation. I don't share that few, though like Gareth I was hugely unimpressed by Ed's handling of the widespread concern about the pub trade. And, like Gareth, I would much rather have seen Norman Lamb promoted to the cabinet.

But then I have always been a little unimpressed by Ed Davey. I know many people who are great Davey supporters: in the past they have even talked of him as a future party leader. It's just that, going right back to his days as Lib Dem education spokesman, I have never seen much product from all this promise.

Let's hope he can surprise me in his new role as Energy Secretary. Come on Davey light my fire.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice


Mark Littlewood said...

Agree with this. There is little ideological coherence in the party. And often an almost defiant pragmatic anti-ideological reaction (to ideas of all persuasions).

Did I really ever call you "bitter and obsessive" by the way...seems, at the very least, to be somewhat out of context!

Neil Stockley said...

I agree that the Lib Dems lack a certain coherence when it comes to notions of "equality"and "social mobility", with an accompanying schism on public services policy. But even if that was sorted out - and all parties have their philosophical arguments and blind spots - it wouldn't necessarily stop the sorts of arguments we have seen on the Lib Dem blogosphere this week.

Jonathan Calder said...


I have the tweet where you said it, but if you are going to start agreeing with me I might have to reconsider using it.